“I thought The Bureaucrat was gonna ask me to file a goddamn TPS report after that meeting, iswhat I wasthinking,” Jannon slurred her words only slightly, despite having had a three-margarita lunch. Her voice crackled through the phone because she was underground, and Graham struggled to talk back to her in hushed, work-appropriate tones.
“What? I can’t hear you, I’m—whccsshhhttt—fucking metro,” her voice popped through the static.
‘Christ,’ Graham thought. “Ok, well, I’ll see you at home, baby,” he said. As he hung up the phone, he couldn’t help but wonder why she went and got drunk in the middle of the day, and how she could get away with begging off from work by telling her boss that she was ‘sick’. Graham opened up an IM window to Sean.
Graham281: You heard from your girl J?
xcSeanxc: jannon? what up?
Graham281: Some new boss is a bureaucracy freak, so she got drunk during lunch. She’s on her way home.
xcSeanxc: thats my sister for ya :)
Graham281: It blows my mind that she can do that in the federal government, while I’m afraid to take a day off for pneumonia over here. If I’m out sick, nobody else is going to meet my deadlines for me, and all hell would break loose trying to get the magazine out on time.
xcSeanxc: i dig
Graham281: Oh, well. Our tax dollars may be hard at work, but at least I know that our government isn’t.
Graham281: Back to work.
xcSeanxc: ya, i got a final tomorrow
Graham281: Good luck.
Graham turned his attention away from his computer and cell phone, toward the stack of index forms that had accumulated on his desk. If he could only finish them now, he wouldn’t have to worry about them come October. But all he could think of was how agreeably tipsy Jannon would be when he got home later.
It had been a long winter, and a short cold spring, so people were relieved when the air today was so warm that they wouldn’t catch their deaths if they went out with bare necks. The last of the melted snow and ice ran through the streets and down to the gutters, where it trickled down with an audible tinkle. And in this city, the private alleyways of the tony little houses had turned into private creeks, overlooked by the houses’ open windows and the hired help in the front yards, hurriedly getting rid of last year’s leaves to make way for this year’s grass.
That’s what Jannon saw as she stumbled gamely through her neighborhood, high on the beautiful weather and on her own cleverness. “Ah,” she said aloud, to nobody in particular. “If only more of my problems could be solved by getting trashed in the middle of the day!” There was no doubt in her mind that her supervisor knew what was up, but because he was also a little bit slarmied (only Jannon knew about the flask he kept in his desk drawer), then it was fine. And though her perception had been somewhat tempered by the drink (curse you, Lauriol Plaza, and your delicious mango margaritas!) it had seemed to Jannon that he was in more of a rush than usual to get rid of whatever it was on his computer screen when she came in to see him. ‘Such is life in this city,’ she mused, lustily inhaling the green scent of the late spring thaw. ‘You don’t ask questions, you get what you want.’
Though she was a bit higher on the totem pole than a staff ass, Jannon’s job was mostly clerical work. She was too highly educated for that kind of job, and everybody knew it. So they let her finish her work in half the time that she was allotted, and goof off for the rest of it. She spent a lot of time on the internet, and today, she’d spent a lot of money on drinks at lunch. Life was good.
Then she saw her.
A girl stood on the corner. She looked to be 25 or so, about Jannon’s age, but a bit shorter and even paler in complexion. Her long, dark hair swirled around her head in waves, and everything about her, from her crisply ironed pastel blue tennis outfit to her huge brown-black eyes—it all seemed to sparkle in the sunshine. The only detail out of place was her shoes: tall, white galoshes with deep purple soles and a smattering of forget-me-nots printed all over them. Jannon stopped walking for a moment, struck by the vision of the girl (and a short wave of nausea: perhaps she shouldn’t have had that last enchilada). There were no cars on the road, but the girl did not cross the street.
“Excuse me,” Jannon said, approaching her. “Can I help you get somewhere?”
“Not all who wander are lost,” she mumbled under her breath.
“I’m not lost, thank you,” the girl said. Her voice was velvety and seemed to disappear by weaving itself into the warm May breezes.
“Oh, do you live around here?” Jannon was not the sort to make idle conversation, but she was tipsy and her nostrils were full of early flowers, and there was simply something almost magical about this girl that made Jannon want to get to know her.
“Yes,” she said. “I moved in—a couple blocks that way—just last week.” That voice was like butter, melting into the warm air and coating Jannon with something that was somehow pleasantly unctuous.
“Well! I’m Jannon!” she stuck her hand out. “I live down there.” She nodded in the direction of her house. “Welcome to the neighborhood.”
The girl shook her hand and smiled a bright white smile. “I’m Maddie. And, thanks.”
They stood on the corner, smiling at each other in silence for what seemed like five minutes.
“I guess I’ll be seeing you around,” Jannon said.
“Sure,” Maddie smiled, and started to cross the street toward the metro stop.
“Oh hey,” Jannon called after her. “I like your boots. But it’s supposed to be…”
“Thanks!” Maddie called back.
“…sunny.” The sky had gone dark while Jannon and Maddie were standing there in conversation, but Maddie’s smile had been so bright, Jannon hadn’t noticed. A stiff breeze rustled the new leaves on the trees. The water started to fall in fist-sized drops, and Jannon ran the rest of the way home, dodging the rain until it started falling faster and smaller.
***There was nothing about this day that would have made him think of Charles, but that’s where Graham’s mind wandered as he walked home in the rain. The forecast hadn’t mentioned rain, but luckily, he had his emergency umbrella. Perhaps it was the reminder of his Boy Scout-like preparedness that made him think of Charles, his friend and mentor in Eagle Scouts, and his beloved older brother. His brother the soldier had been an officer, and a gentleman. He laughed a little: the most prepared person that Graham had ever known could not have possibly prepared for 9/11. A raindrop blew under the umbrella and landed on the top of Graham’s head, running down his face like a tear. It had been almost five years since Graham had started shaving his head in memoriam.
Even in the rain, it was a beautiful day. The wind rustled the tree branches and whirled the raindrops around like miniature tornadoes. Charles used to like rainy days, Graham recalled, reaching into his pocket to grab his keys.
“Jannon! I’m home!” he called, making sure to rustle the keys in the lock particularly loudly. Jannon didn’t like to be startled when somebody came into the house, and she was even more prone to fits of anxiousness when she was tipsy.
“Graham, daaah-ling!” she effused, breezing into the room in her kimono. ‘Classic Jannon,’ he thought, as he wrapped his arms around her. He liked the way her hair smelled like Herbal Essence shampoo.
“Did you get caught in the rain, babe?” he asked.
“I did,” she grinned. “But I met the most wonderful new neighbor!” Her cheeks were flushed with her enthusiasm. Graham liked the way that she had put her short, dirty-blonde hair back with sparkly clips, and he liked the feel of her soft, white skin against his dark brown hands. He liked looking at her without her glasses on, so he could stare directly into her watery blue eyes.
“Oh yeah? Was he cute?”
She pouted, her eyes narrowing. “Come on! You don’t even know—”
“All right, all right, tell me about our new neighbor!” he chuckled.
“She just moved in a little while ago. Her name is Maddie. And she’s gorgeous. I’ve never seen anyone quite so beautiful in my life.”
“Mattie?” Graham asked. “Like, short for Martha?”
“No, Maddie, like short for Madeline.”
“Well, I’ll have to keep an eye out for this Maddie, then, won’t I?”
“You won’t have to be on any kind of special lookout,” Jannon smiled. “You’ll just see her, trust me.”
“Any chance of…” Graham started to ask.
“Nope!” Jannon laughed. Whenever she came home praising a female friend, Graham took the opportunity to ask for a threesome. It happened often enough that he didn’t even have to ask the entire question anymore. “But if it were to happen at some point…which it won’t…but if it were, it would be with someone of Maddie’s caliber.”
“Wow!” Graham laughed, too. “Now I’ve got to see her.” Jannon whacked him in the arm once, for good measure. He started trying to tickle her, and Jannon started trying to strip him, because his clothes were still wet from walking in the rain. Jannon wanted him dry so he wouldn’t soak their bed by accident when she pushed him onto it and had her way with him. She wanted him dry so that he could sit at the table with her after that, eating leftover Chinese food and drinking Yuengling while they talked about their days. She wanted to tell him all about the new boss, the flask, the computer, and the margaritas. But first, she wanted him dry.