8: “She smells like bologna”

Bill had a crush on a woman at work. Her name was Stacey Caruso and he was certain she was the love of his life.

“She definitely isn’t,” Ward told him.

Stacey was beautiful and kind. She had lovely brown hair and warm brown eyes and she smiled at Bill whenever she walked past his cubicle.

“I think she likes me too,” Bill told Ward and Bear one morning after she’d waved at him on her way past their quad of cubicles to the photocopy room.

“She likes everyone,” was Bear’s response. It was basically true. Stacey was far too kind to openly dislike someone. Even if she didn’t like Bill, they’d probably never know unless he did something so grievously terrible that even she had to mention it. He tried to think of what that might be. Murder possibly.

Their director Marlena led a meeting to announce that there would be a new project for one of their clients and announced who would be working on it. Ward was chosen along with Stacey and two of their other co-workers, both middle-aged men named Brad. Bill partly suspected that both Brads had been chosen because Marlena could never tell them apart. In her defense, they were both very average-looking. They were about the same height, the had the same brown haircut, the same bland face, and the same downtrodden attitude of men trapped in marriages they’d never wanted with children they didn’t like. They were the human embodiments of 1990s sitcom dads.

Bill was envious of Ward’s new working circumstances. He felt certain that Ward and Stacey would fall madly in love with one another and ride off into the sunset on horseback on the beach in matching white linen outfits.

“I would look amazing in white linen,” Ward said to that, which wasn’t remotely comforting, but ultimately true. He looked amazing in most things. He frequently wore turtlenecks under what Bill suspected were velvet smoking jackets with matching velvet loafers and somehow miraculously managed not to look like a classy pimp. If Bill wore that outfit, he’d end up looking like he was trying to look like Hugh Heffner and failing miserably. No one wanted to look like Hugh Heffner at all, let alone like someone trying, but not succeeding to look like Hugh Heffner. That was beyond embarrassing.

“I’m so jealous that you get to work with Stacey Caruso,” Bill told Ward on the third morning of his new work assignment.

“I mean, don’t get too excited,” Ward told him in response, frowning slightly. “She smells like bologna.”

Bill refused to believe it.

“What does bologna smell like?” Bear asked, looking up from his computer screen, having previously been ignoring them both completely, or so Bill thought. Trust talk of bologna to pique his interest.

“Not great,” Ward answered bluntly.

“Would it be better if she smelled like another type of meat?” Bear asked thoughtfully.

“What, like bacon?” Ward returned dryly. “No, I think it would be best if she didn’t smell like meat at all.”

“But she’s so pretty,” Bill protested.

“Yes, and apparently very fond of lunch meat,” Bear replied.

Bill observed Ward working with Stacey in envy for a week before he was called to join his own team. Marlena herself was leading what she had chosen to call a task force. They were performing a practice audit on one of their clients who was deeply unprepared for an audit of any kind, whether it be real or not. Marlena asked Bill, Bear, and two of their other co-workers to help her with it. The other two co-workers, Sanjay and Yanmei, were undoubtedly the best choices for the task. Yanmei was, without question, the smartest person Bill had ever met, and in almost every single way. And Sanjay had an incredible work ethic. Next to the two of them, he and Bear paled in comparison. Although, even Bear was a much better choice than Bill, who couldn’t figure out why Marlena had elected to have him as a member of her elite task force.

And then, on the way back from a meeting at their client’s company, Marlena made a pass at Bill in the back of the town car she’d ordered for travel. Bear, Yanmei, and Sanjay had been unceremoniously shoved into the back of their own town car back at the client’s building. It now made much more sense to Bill why Marlena had been itching so badly to get rid of them. In the back of the car, she called him a darling boy and ran her hand along the inside seam of his black dress pants. He played it off by pretending he hadn’t noticed any of it had happened and then leapt out of the car when it stopped like his ass had been lit on fire. He raced up to the fifth floor where his desk sat with Ward and Bear’s desks. He frantically motioned for both of them to follow him to the men’s room on the floor above. It probably looked terrifying, like he was luring them there to do something unspeakable. Ward was very reluctant to move, but Bear, always polite, grabbed him by the elbow and pulled him along as well. Ward was a tall man, but Bear had the advantage of being shaped like an actual small bear.

“Marlena made a pass at me in the back of the town car,” Bill hissed to them once he’d checked to make sure the bathroom was vacant aside from the three of them. Ward and Bear stared at him, processing what he’d said.

“No she did not,” was Ward’s response after a few minutes.

“I assure you that she did in fact,” Bill returned defiantly.

“What did she do?” Bear asked mildly.

“She called me ‘darling boy’,” Bill answered. Ward scoffed at him.

“You are so innocent,” he told Bill. “It’s like you’re from that town in Footloose.”

“And then she ran her hand up the inside of my thigh,” Bill added flatly.

“Oh my,” Bear replied, eyes wide.

“Well, good for you then,” Ward told him. “She’s really hot.”

“She’s married!” Bill protested, pointing out what he felt was the obvious.

“See, this is why monogamy doesn’t work,” Ward said, waving a hand vaguely in Bill’s direction before leaning back against the row of sinks, perfectly at ease.

“Really?” Bill questioned dubiously. “This is the reason it doesn’t work? Because all married people feel up their employees in the back of town cars?”

“You know, when you say it like that, it makes you sound like a classy hooker,” Bear told Bill mildly. Bill didn’t find it nearly as comforting as he suspected Bear intended it to be.

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