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Erik Strand headed for the break room and poured himself a cup of coffee. He didn’t particularly like coffee, but it’s what his coworkers did, and Erik was trying to act at ease; coffee was the prop that supported social interaction at work. Erik would pour in enough cream and sugar to make the beverage palatable, and would nurse a cup for hours, or leave it on his desk until it was cold. Sometimes, feeling brave, he would get himself a ‘warm up’as an excuse to leave his desk again and move around.
“So, how was the game?” asked Erik, with enough enthusiasm to surprise even himself. James Mathus looked up from his newspaper, confused. James was a heavyset man in his late forties, with short-cropped gray hair, a company man who had spent enough time as a field agent to be content behind a desk, counting the years until his government pension kicked in. He had a warm, confident manner about him, a soft gentleness to his face. He was Erik’s immediate supervisor; he was also the only man at the office Erik considered a friend.
“Uh, which game?” he asked.
“Don’t care; baseball, football, some other sport. Anything. Underwater basket weaving. How was the big weekend?” Erik paused, visibly flailing. “I’m just trying to make conversation here.”
“Okay, well baseball season has been over for months.” James looked amused. “I caught part of the Jets game – that’s football – but I think they were stomped pretty hard. I didn’t catch the end, though. Went out to dinner with the wife and this couple that she knows from work. Umm… that was pretty much the weekend, Erik.”
“I went out,” Erik blurted out. “And I met a girl.”
“You finally get laid? Congratulations–”
Erik cut him off. “No, no. I just, you know, met. A girl.”
“Well, first things first, I guess,” James said with a smile. “You chatted someone pretty up at a pub? You get her number?”
Erik looked confused. “No… I, uh…”
“Hey, there’s nothing wrong with striking out your first time at bat. You get her name, at least? You think you might run into her again?” Talking to Erik Strand was sometimes like talking to a small child.
“She asked me for a cigarette.”
“But you don’t smoke.”
James furrowed his brow as he considered this. “So, really, you met a girl in a bar; she said ‘hey’and you said ‘hey’back, and that was about the extent of the conversation.”
Erik pursed his lips. He looked momentarily disoriented, like all of his momentum had inexplicably vanished.
“Well, Romeo, sounds like you’ve got a ways to go before she’ll be riding the ol’sausage train, but good luck anyway.” James stood and folded his newspaper, and looked as though he was about to leave the break room, but appeared to change his mind. He leaned in towards Erik as if sharing a secret. “Look, uh… No real eloquent way to say this, so… Erik, everybody here already thinks you’re sort of nuts. So take it easy, okay? I mean, anytime you want to talk about doing absolutely nothing over the weekend, you can come to me, but you maybe shouldn’t expect anyone else to understand how exciting that is for you.”
Erik nodded, trying to make sense of the advice.
“Alright, then.” James patted Erik on the shoulder. “Get back to work,” he said with a smile.