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Work Wife

by Andrew West


 
I sit at my desk, staring at the pile of extra work I accepted from my boss this morning, wondering why a word as simple as no is so hard to say. My mom told me often growing up that my favorite word when I was a toddler was “no” it was the answer to every question and the punctuation to every statement. I can’t help but think that perhaps I have simply used up all of my “no’s” early on, and now I am relegated to being an unwilling yes man. I know in reality that my desire to appease my boss and my unwillingness to go home are much more reasonable explanations than using up my allowance of refusals, but still I wonder.
I begin rifling through the comically tall stack of folders I’ll have to get through before leaving. I know I have to call Will and let him know not to expect me until late. Again. A task I’ve been procrastinating all day in the hopes that by the time I finally call he will be a few beers in and the inevitable argument that follows will be shortened by his inebriation. I pick up the phone but stop short of calling, on second thought maybe I’ll wait another half an hour, let him get really tipsy, hell, maybe I’ll even get lucky, and Will will be passed out by the time I call.
Mr. Barber walks out of his office with his bag around his shoulder clearly done for the day. How nice for him. Mr. Barber gives a little wave in my general direction and I suppress the slight urge to throw a stapler at him, knowing my aim is far from accurate and not wanting to damage something that close to perfection. Did I not mention that my boss is gorgeous? Well, he is. Mr. Barber stops midstride and turns, his curly brown hair flopping about his head, and walks towards my desk. I look down at my keyboard desperately trying to avoid eye contact.
“I just wanted to thank you, seriously I don’t know what I’d do without you Andy.” His words are glossy and sweet like melted sugar. He says Andy as if we are old friends, even though no one else has ever called me anything but Andrew.
I swallow hard and look up at Mr. Barber careful to keep my gaze focused on the space between his eyes in an effort to not get sucked into his charm. God, even that random spot of his stupid face is handsome. The skin is smooth and fresh, and I can’t help but wonder what it would feel like, I imagine like porcelain or warm metal. Then all too suddenly I remember I have to say something back, that’s how conversations work.
“Uh yeah sure thing Mr. Barber.”
“You’re the only one who won’t call me Ryan.” He chuckles lightly, either annoyed or amused.
“But really, I do appreciate your help. Do you think you could leave the folders in my office when you’re done? I need them first thing in the morning.” He smiles, runs his hand through his hair, and turns to leave.
I don’t even attempt to answer, partly because I’m so focused on trying to look like I’m not floundering for words and because it doesn’t seem like Mr. Barber is waiting for one. I try not to watch Mr. Barber as he walks away, I really do, but my resolve is nonexistent and my eyes are disobedient. My eyes scan the length of his tailored suit all the way to his ridiculously shiny dress shoes. I watch him stroll over the carpet runner and wonder darkly if it too ever longs to hold those who walk all over it, or if that is a desire unique to me.
The elevator dings and just like that I am the only person in the office.
It takes only twenty minutes of filling out requisition orders before I halfheartedly begin to consider just getting up and leaving, walking out the office doors for the final time, and forgetting about this impossibly tedious job and all about my silly schoolgirl crush on a man that wants nothing to do with me. Not to mention a man that I shouldn’t even want- I’m with Will after all. The fantasy is a nice escape from the monotonous button pushing but I know it to be only that, a fantasy. The kind of thing that can happen only in that private roped off part of our brains where we can actually picture ourselves happy.
I turn up my music and scream-sing along to the lyrics I know, and hum atonally to the ones I don’t, one of the very few perks of being the only one left in the office. It’s almost an hour before my phone buzzes and rips me from my deskbound solo concert. It’s Will. This is not going to be fun.
“Hey babe, I was just about to call you!” I aim for cheerful but sound fake.
“Right. So what’s up? You almost home?”
“So, I’m stuck at the office I-”
“Again?” He already sounds annoyed.
“Yes again. They really needed my help to finish these reports before tomorrow.”
“He did, you mean?”
“What?” I play dumb.
“Mr. Adonis needed your help right? That’s what you mean?”
“He’s my boss Will. I can’t just say no.”
“Yes you can! That’s exactly what you say- if he needs his reports he can do them. He always does this to you.”
“He doesn’t do anything-”
“And you let him.”
“What does it matter to you? Does my absence interrupt your big plans of drinking on our couch?” My anger coats my words with a bitterness that feels wrong on my lips.
“Why does it matter to me that my fiancé is never home and would rather spend his time following around his boss like a little bitch boy? Hmm let me think.” I can hear the alcohol now creeping into his words, slurring them ever so slightly.
“That’s not fair.”
“No it really isn’t.”
Silence.
“Are you sleeping with him?”
“Jesus Christ Will, I’m not cheating on you.”
“Not yet.”
“I’m not doing this with you over the phone.”
“Great, then come home.”
I sigh.
“You know I can’t.”
“Right. Wouldn’t want to disappoint the man in your life.”
A door slams somewhere in the office and my heart beats out of time. What the hell was that? I get up from my desk and start walking the lined cubicles towards the offices with actual doors.
“I have to go, I think Mr. Barber is back. We can talk later okay?”
“Of course you do. Tell your new boyfriend I said hi.”
Click.
I let out all the breath I had apparently been holding in during that phone call. The truth is I’m not sure whether I so willingly spend all my time at work because I’m infatuated with Mr. Barber or if it’s because I don’t want to be at home. Things with Will haven’t been good for a while now, every conversation seems to end in a fight. I still love him, or have love for him or something like that, I just didn’t think it would be this hard.
When I get to Mr. Barber’s office, I can see light streaming out from underneath the door. I stand there for a minute trying to come up with a reasonable excuse as to why I need to go home. One that sounds better than “I need to go reassure my boyfriend who thinks I’m having an affair with you that even though part of me very much does want to sleep with you, that I am not currently doing so.” Maybe I’ll just say I have diarrhea. Nobody asks follow up questions when you say that, though the thought of saying that to Mr. Barber makes me want to pitch myself out an open window. I’m still weighing the options of various fictitious ailments when I hear a crash come from inside the office.
I knock, still too afraid to enter without permission. “Mr. Barber?” I call out tentatively.
There is no response.
“Mr. Barber is everything okay?”
Another crash followed by the sound of glass breaking comes from behind the closed door.
“Mr. Barber I’m coming in.” I open the door slowly.
Standing over Mr. Barber’s desk is a tall blonde woman. Her makeup is smeared from crying, and she is typing frantically on the computer. A picture frame lies on the floor on the other side of the room from the desk where it once sat.
The woman looks up at me and then immediately goes back to typing on the computer as if I’m not there.
“Um. Who are you?” I try to don an authoritative tone but it is clearly all bluster.
“Rebecca.” She chirps matter of factly without looking away from the computer.
“Okay. Rebecca. You’re not allowed to be in here.”
“Then make me leave.” She sniffles but sounds up to the challenge.
“I will call security if you don’t-”
“Call them.”
I open my phone and start searching for the number for security that I’ve never had to use before this moment. Then it hits me, I’ve seen this woman before. I walk over to the smashed photograph and turn it over. Staring back at me from underneath the shattered glass is this woman and Mr. Barber smiling goofy grins at the camera. This is his wife.
“Are you Mrs. Barber?”
“Not for much longer.”
What did that mean? Did Mr. Barber leave her? And why did that make me the tiniest bit excited?
“Oh umm. I’m sorry- but I still don’t think you should be here.”
She finally pries her eyes away from the screen. “Neither should you. Why are you the only one here?”
“Well I was just finishing up some reports for…”
“For Ryan.”
“For Mr. Barber, yes.”
“So, you’re the one.”
My stomach jumps to my throat. “The one what?”
“The guy my husband makes finish all his work. The little gay boy who has some puppy dog crush on Ryan. Aaron? Arthur? Something like that, right?”
“My name is Andrew but no- I’m not- I uh don’t.” My cheeks start to redden as all my blood rushes to my face.
“Oh, relax sweetie. I don’t care.”
“How do you know that I… well ya know?”
“He’s my husband he tells me things, including about his employees who fawn all over him.”
“I never-”
“I’m sure your denials are going to be really entertaining and not at all convincing so can we just skip them and get to the part where you help me break into his computer?”
Wait what?! “What the hell are you talking about?”
“You work here, you’ve gotta know how to get in.”
“No, I don’t and even if I did I wouldn’t-”
“He’s cheating on me.” She stops typing for a moment and lets her head hang limp over the keyboard, not making eye contact. Her body shudders slightly as she suppresses a sob. She regains composure and continues on, “He’s cheating on me. He keeps telling me he is working late but he’s not here and he’s not at home. He’s acting different, I know there is someone else, but I just need proof, or else he is just going to smile and talk the way he does and convince me I’m imagining it all. And I’m not. I’m not imagining this, okay?”
“I don’t think he’s-” I don’t know why I am so quick to jump to Mr. Barber’s defense but I don’t even get the chance.
“I wasn’t asking what you thought. I’m desperate here so either help me or leave me alone but don’t stand their and tell me what a good guy he is.”
I’m not sure what to do in this situation part of me want to go up to her and comfort her and the other part still wants to call security and have her removed. She takes a few deep breaths and continues trying to crack the password. Something in her makes me think of Will and a feeling reminiscent of guilt washes over me.
“Check under the lamp.”
Rebecca looks up at me confused and then lifts the lamp revealing a small piece of paper taped to the desk with the password scrawled on it. She smiles weakly up at me.
“Thank you.”
She types into the computer and starts scrolling and clicking away. I back towards the door not wanting to be an audience to this and to give myself some plausible deniability when Mr. Barber inevitably finds out she broke into his office.
“He likes you, ya know?”
I stop in my tracks getting far more excited than is appropriate given the circumstances.
“What do you mean?” I try not to sound so intrigued.
“He’s not gay or anything. Well, not that I know of. But he likes you, do you know why?”
“Umm well probably because-”
“That was rhetorical hon. He likes you because you do anything he says. He likes you because you have no backbone.”
“That’s-”
She continues on as if I hadn’t spoken, an irritating pattern of hers.
“I’m not saying this to be mean or to destroy whatever naïve desire you have for him, you can have him as far as I’m concerned. I, uh, just- well you helped me, and so I want to help you; he’s using you.” God now she really was reminding me of Will. “Why do you think he always asks you? Is it because you’re his favorite or because he knows you’ll say yes?”
I feel embarrassed. I knew there wasn’t anything real between Mr. Barber and I but it was nice to pretend, it was a nice escape from my own bubbling shit storm of a relationship.
“Thanks for the help.”
I turn to leave for good, to march back to my desk put my headphones in and pretend I never heard a thing.
“THAT SON OF A BITCH!”
Curiosity overrides my shame, and I step closer to the desk. “What is it?”
“He’s cheating on me.” She says it this time as if it is the first time she ever actually believed it. All of the theatrics are gone, she put her face in her hands and starts mumbling, “no. no. no.”
I walk around the desk to see the computer open to an email exchange between Mr. Barber and some girl who judging from her thumbnail was quite a bit younger than he or Rebecca. I place my hand gently on her shoulder and attempt to ignore the weird ingenuine feeling that comes from comforting a stranger.
“I thought you said you already knew.” It’s a stupid thing to say but her crying has thrown me for a loop.
She sniffles, “I knew, but now I KNOW, ya know?”
I did and I didn’t. “Yeah.”
We sit like this for a few moments, her crying and me pitifully attempting to comfort her.
Abruptly she stands up and looks down at the screen one more time as if she needs to check again to make sure this wasn’t all some horrible dream. Then with the ease one would shoo away a fly she picks up the monitor and flings it across the room. It goes black and makes a nauseating thud as it hits the wall. Next the keyboard flies and clatters to the floor.
“What are you doing?” I ask in a mixture of panic and awe.
“I’m angry and I’m venting- want in?”
“I don’t think that’s what venting means.”
The last word doesn’t even leave my lips before the lamp that had concealed his password flies towards the door and shatters upon impact.
“Stop! You’re gonna get us in trouble!”
She walks over to the mini putting green that seemingly all pretentious bosses have in their obnoxiously large offices. She picks up a putter and uses it to knock every book off one of the bookshelves.
“We’ve been married six years. SIX YEARS!” She emphasisize her rage with another swing of the club. “And he doesn’t have the balls to tell me he wants a divorce!? Just decides to start fucking some college bimbo!?” She swings again and then stops and offers me the putter.
“No, I can’t.”
“Why? Because he’s your boss or because he’s such a good guy? He uses you too and you know it. Why aren’t you mad about it!?”
I tentatively take the club.
“Come on let it out!” She coos.
I swing half heartedly towards the remaining shelves and manage to knock only a few books down.
“Put your back into it princess!” She screams.
I should probably feel bad about Mr. Barber using me, but I don’t. I’m more angry about my own relationship. About what a chicken shit I’ve been, how I’ve ignored all the issues between us simply because being alone sounds worse than being lonely together. Something unleashes in me and I see red. I remember every fight with Will, every concession we both made in an attempt to hold on to something that has been missing for ages, and I swing. I take down the whole shelf and find myself panting for air.
When I regain my senses, Rebecca is jumping up and down and laughing. It’s an odd sight to see coupled with her tear-stained face. I hand her back the putter.
“You really got into it!” She smiles.
“Yeah I uh don’t know what that was.”
“That Sally, was your backbone- feels good doesn’t it?”
“Yeah it does. How are you so happy?”
Her smiles faulters only for a second. “I’ve been suspicious for a while, I used all my sadness months ago- now I’m just pissed. And the thought of him walking in and seeing his office like this tomorrow makes me feel just a bit better.” She giggles.
“I’m so getting fired.” I say it as a light hearted comment but when I hear the words I know them to be true. There was no way Mr. Barber would believe I didn’t hear any of this going on, he’d know either I helped or let it happen, well at least that would make Will happy.
Rebecca quickly catches up to my revelation. “Shit. I didn’t mean for you to get in trouble. Just tell them it must have happened after you left.”
“Strangely I don’t think I care whether I get fired or not. I don’t think this job is working for me anymore, I don’t know that anything in my life is working.”
“That backbone of yours sure came in fast.” She chuckles to herself and then starts rooting through the desk’s drawers. Finally resurfacing with a bottle in one hand and a glass in the other. “Lets drink to that!”
She pours out a glass of scotch and hands it to me and then takes a swig from the bottle. I sip mine deciding that drinking in my boss’s office probably isn’t the worst company policy I’ve broken today. She relaxes into Mr. Barber’s chair and I sit opposite of her laughing that this is the only time I have been in this office without feeling nervous.
“So, who were you talking to on the phone?”
I take another drink hoping to let the question go unanswered but when I look back at Rebecca she is waiting expectantly.
“My fiancé.”
“You have a fiancé? What’s his-” She stops and thinks for a second. “I mean their name?”
I laugh quietly, “He’s a he, and his name is Will.”
“What were you fighting about?”
I almost choke on my drink. I figured Rebecca must have heard me on the phone when she snuck into the office, but I didn’t realize she had listened to any of our conversation. “You’re nosey you know that?”
“It’s not too late to call security.” She smiles wide and spins in Mr. Barber’s office chair.
“We were fighting about me having to work late- well I guess rather me choosing to work late.”
“Another relationship my husband screwed up.”
“To be fair I think this one was mostly me.”
Rebecca reaches over the desk and refills my cup. “What do you mean?”
“I didn’t just stay at work because I didn’t want to tell Mr. Barber no, I mean that was a big part of it but…”
“But you didn’t actually want to go home either?”
“Right.”
“Why not?”
“Will and I used to be so good together, there wasn’t a time I was around him where I didn’t have a huge smile plastered on my face and lately, I feel like being around him is a gamble. Like I am always waiting to do or say the wrong thing and I can see it in him too, that it’s changed for him. He’s drinking more and talking to me less even when I am home. He keeps asking me if I’m cheating on him and I think a small part of him wants me to be- so that at least he'd have a reason to let go.” I sigh deep. I wasn’t expecting to share all of that but as soon as I start talking, I can’t stop myself.
“He doesn’t want that. Trust me.”
“Shit. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to-”
She waves me off. “It’s okay but can I give you some advice?”
“Are you going to tell me even if I say no?”
“Probably.” She smirks.
“Go for it.”
“I know how easy it is to remember how good it used to be, to convince yourself that you’ll get back to that place, if you just hold on. But most of the time you won’t, you can’t. You’ve probably changed and he has too, and that’s okay, that’s natural- it’s necessary even. Just, don’t get so focused on who you two were when you met that you never learn to be together as who you are now.” She looks painfully over at the floor where the shattered photo of her and Mr. Barber still sits.
“Don’t do what we did, don’t let resentment creep in. Promise me.”
“I promise.”
“You’re a good guy Andrew. Even if your taste in men is questionable.” She winks at me and stands. “I think it’s about time I get out of here. I have a man to castrate.”
My face must show my shock at her last remark.
“Jesus, I’m only joking. But I am gonna give him hell before sending his ass to a hotel. You should probably get home too.”
“Right.” I stand awkwardly and head towards the door.
“Just be honest with him it’s hard but its much easier than the alternative.” She gestures vaguely around herself in an effort to illustrate what lies can do. “Oh and send me your resume, I’m sure I know someone who’s hiring.” She takes a step closer to me and throws her arms around me in a hug.
“Thank you.” I mutter into her shoulder.
“For what? That was for me.” She smiles. “I didn’t expect anyone to be here tonight but I’m weirdly really glad my asshole husband made you stay late.”
“Me too.”
###
My apartment is dark when I enter, the only light streams from the TV set which plays an old episode of Law and Order. Will is sprawled out on the couch, his brown hair sticking up in wild tufts against the pillows. He looks so calm, so at peace, he looks exactly like the guy I fell in love with. I shake his shoulder gently, he rouses a bit but doesn’t open his eyes. I run my hand through his hair, and he smiles before opening his eyes.
“Hey baby.” He whispers up at me.
“Hi there.” I smile at him. “Do you think we could talk?”
 
Andrew West is an up and coming writer and free spirit living in San Francisco. You can find him in one of the city's many literary haunts or taking a nap. He is currently pursuing his MFA in writing at San Jose State University and hopes to publish a collection of short stories in the coming year.


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