Shivani chugged down a cup of black coffee. It was her third one that morning. It was another Monday morning and that meant another boring weekly meeting. Exhaustion clung to her body these days the way a leopard jumped on its prey. It would grab her and not want to let go until it consumed her.
She rubbed her eyes and focused her gaze on the computer screen in front of her. She really needed to focus on work, but it was becoming harder and harder by the day. Her mind was usually occupied by matters at home, but also a part of it was because she was beginning to lose interest in her work. Recruiting candidates felt so mundane, but it was providing her with the funds to survive and she had to keep going.
To add to her dismay, before coming to work this morning, she had transferred three thousand from her savings bank account to her father’s bank account to pay off this month’s home mortgage loan payment. Her hand reached for the mouse and she right clicked on a tab on the computer screen. Her online bank account popped open. Her eyes narrowed on the money left in her savings. $2000.09. She heaved a sigh.
Aaron’s antics had cost the business a lot more than they had thought. She had taken up the hard task of firing Aaron and they were left only with Lisa now who agreed to work full-time until a replacement for Aaron came. She and her mother went almost every day to the convenience store to keep an eagle eye on Lisa and the store operations.
It was not enough. Lisa did her job, but never as efficiently as her father used to praise her for before. This was not her convenience store, so why should she care? She did only as much as she could to get by. On several occasions, Shivani and her mother had found expired cans or bottles stocked on the shelves. They chided Lisa telling her to be careful, but couldn’t go overboard as they had to depend on her to manage the cash register while Shivani worked and her mother took care of her father.
Another big factor was that with her father resigned to rest at home for a few months; he couldn’t be present at the store on a day-to-day basis. Her father was popular among the customers and they usually flocked to the store only because of him. He could strike up a conversation about nothing with anyone. But with Lisa not showering the same attention on customers and the shelves stocked with fewer goods as before, customers started to trickle away. Which meant profits began to go down. Which meant they had less money to pay their bills. Which meant they had less money to buy supplies. Which meant even lesser customers came. It was a vicious cycle.
Still, she and her mother tried their best to learn more about the business operations from her father. Just two days ago, she had been at her parents’ home learning how to manage their business bank account, pay the convenience store’s utilities, and manage the relationships with the soda, juice, ice cream, and cigarette suppliers. One huge hurdle was that these suppliers only came during the weekdays, not weekends to drop off goods at the store. And that too during working hours, between nine to five. This meant Shivani had to whisk off from work during lunch time and meet her mother at the store to pick up the inventory goods from the suppliers to ensure the proper goods had been purchased.
“Time for another meeting.” Samantha stuck her head out of her cubicle, breaking Shivani’s thoughts.
She rolled her eyes. “Tell me about it.”
Samantha cocked her head sideways and pulled open her drawer with her blue manicured nails and pulled out a small glass bottle. “Want a shot?” she said with a wicked smile.
Shivani cranked her neck to take a better look at the bottle. The label read Absolut Vodka.
She jumped up from her seat. “Samantha, you brought vodka to the office? Are you kidding me? I thought you were only joking! What if human resources busts us?”
And Samantha was the one with a husband and adorable little son. If she was like this at work, how the hell did she act at home?
“We joke about it all the time, so I thought why not make it a reality finally?” Samantha’s emerald green eyes glowed.
“You’re one of a kind, you know that.” Shivani stood up, shaking her head. She looked at her watch and tapped it. “Now put that bottle away. Time for our meeting.”
“Okay, okay! After the meeting we’ll take a shot though, right?” Samantha slid the bottle back into her drawer, her voice dead serious.
Fifteen minutes into the meeting, Samantha elbowed Shivani and she snapped her eyes open in the conference room. She quickly scanned the room and glanced at the projector. Thank goodness, no one had noticed her closing her eyes for a second. Maybe she should’ve listened to Samantha and downed a shot of vodka.
“So, ladies, I presented both Jenny and Daniel to the Maxis Healthcare management, but unfortunately Maxis Healthcare rejected them,” Aman said smugly.
Oh, God, not the .Net developer requirement again. It came back over and over to haunt them like a ghost. They must have submitted ten candidates by now and every single one had been shot down. She stole a look at Samantha who raised her eyes brows. Her gaze drifted over to Prakash, aka the Mouse, who was tapping his fingers on the table.
“But why? And without an interview?” Samantha asked, her forehead wrinkled in irritation and eye brows creased. “Both Jenny and Daniel have a strong healthcare background, are local in Chicago, and meet the salary expectation.”
“Well,” Aman answered, fiddling with his fingers. “I tried to push them in. In fact, I spoke to the vice president personally to interview them, but they wanted someone with more experience. More like over nine years experience.”
“But, Aman, at our last meeting, we had submitted three or four candidates with over nine years experience and you said the client had rejected them on grounds of being too senior,” Samantha said in a low voice, her luminescent skin turning scarlet.
Classic move by Bullshitter. Shivani lost count on her fingers how many times Aman had played the “Please get me candidates for this requirement because this is a huge project and super urgent and I am so chummy and pally with the hot shot management, so the candidates will sail through interviews smoothly, get the job, and the project will be a glorious success” card. Then, once Shivani and Samantha submitted candidates, he threw out the card, “I submitted the candidates and I spoke to the vice president personally, but he won’t interview them because they don’t meet his standard of quality. Let’s start fresh again and submit more candidates.” And then the whole cycle started all over again.
Shivani chewed on her nails in exasperation. Her throat had the urge to scream at him. Normally, she and Samantha would have just laughed it off, but after weeks of sending candidate after candidate, it was starting to become damn irritating.
“Well, they didn’t have a strong enough healthcare background,” he mumbled.
“Fine,” Samantha said flatly with gritted teeth.
“Shivani and Samantha,” Prakash interrupted. “Let’s try to get some more candidates. The project is changing their focus a bit, so that’s why they’re now looking for more senior candidates.”
“Sure, Prakash.” Shivani glanced at the rest of the sales team around the table.
They looked like they were literally going to drift off into sleep any second. It was time for her to slip into her best “confident woman in charge of herself” voice. Hell, her appraisal was still right around the corner and she wanted to clinch a promotion as everyone believed she would. But not anymore because she really wanted to, but because she needed the money. After all, promotion equaled higher salary.
“Considering we’ve submitted around twenty candidates already,” she continued. “Could we perhaps set up a call with the client team and Samantha and I? This way, we could understand exactly what they’re looking for and deliver better results.”
Prakash’s eyes sparkled. “That’s a great idea, Shivani.” He turned to Aman who looked like he had just seen a ghost. “Please set up a call with the client and Shivani and Samantha so they can address any questions directly regarding the requirement and project.”
Aman scratched his pale face and a drop of sweat rolled down his neck. “Um…let me check with him. The vice president is kind of busy…” he stammered.
Prakash frowned. “The call doesn’t have to be with the vice president. I meant setting up a brief call with the project manager or any other team member, so these ladies can understand the requirement better and not waste time.”
“Um, sure, I’ll certainly speak to the vice president and get the call set up,” Aman said nervously.
“Thank you. And by the way, didn’t you mention to me today that you know someone who could be a good fit for the job? Clinton something…I forget his last name, he’s your good friend.” Prakash tapped the table with his fingers even faster.
Samantha cocked her head at Shivani who gave her a sly smile. Oh yes, everyone in the world was Aman’s best friend. She rubbed her hands together. She could only imagine what he would pull out of his magic hat this time.
Aman’s face lit up. “Mr. Long! It’s Clinton Long!” He snapped his fingers.
Shivani’s mouth hung open. Samantha shot her a look like she had just been struck by a bullet. Her eyes bulged, lips flared, and skin turned pink. Clinton Long?! Either Aman was making this shit up or he really did know a man named Clinton Long. Leave it to him to find the one man in the world with this name. In trying to not burst out laughing, Shivani snorted and the noise echoed across the conference room.
Aman suddenly looked at her. The smug look had been wiped off his face and replaced with bewilderment as he realized what he had said. The entire sales team woke up from their blasé state and their eyes sparkled with amusement. Even the Mouse had turned red. This was probably just about the most exciting moment in the history of their pointless Monday weekly meetings. Samantha placed a hand over her mouth from cracking up.
“Aman, please send me the contact details for Mr. Long. I’ll certainly make sure to speak to him today,” Samantha said with a twinkle in her eye.
“Um, sure.” Aman gulped, looking down at his phone. He was clearly embarrassed.
Boy, was it wonderful to see him this way.
After about twenty minutes of more mindless talking, the meeting ended and Shivani picked up her laptop and walked with Samantha back to their cubicles.
Samantha punched her in the arm. “Looks like we finally managed to get Aman speechless.”
She laughed. “Priceless I tell you.” The pocket of her blue jeans vibrated. She looked down. It was her phone. “Hey, let me take this call and I’ll meet you back at our cubes for lunch.”
“Don’t you worry, take your time. I’ll be too busy waiting for Mr. Clinton Long’s contact details.” Samantha flashed a naughty smile.
Shivani laughed and strode into the hallways with cell phone in hand. It was probably her Mom about the suppliers.
“Hi, Mom,” she answered.
“Mom?” a deep, velvety voice said.
“Huh?” she said, startled.
“It’s Alan, Shivani.”
Her face grew hotter. Were embarrassing moments becoming a way of life for her with this guy?
“Sorry, I thought it was my mother.” A smile sneaked onto her face as she remembered his warm, twinkling brown eyes and boyish smile from the bar that night.
He laughed. “Got it. So, I wanted to see if you were free this weekend for dinner?”
“Eh…sure.” She bit her lower lip, suddenly finding uneasiness blooming in her stomach and rising up to her chest.
“How does Maggiano’s Little Italy in San Jose this Saturday sound?” His voice was steady and calm.
“That works.” The words spewed out slowly.
“Great. I have to go now, but I’ll see you this Saturday.”
That was it? No small talk? Boy, was he to the point. She shifted her feet standing in the empty hallway.
Her upbeat mood suddenly plunged. Closing her eyes, she let a silent breath slip out of her. A somber uncertainty swept through her. A million thoughts bubbled in the silence of her heart. Should she feel happy that she was finally going on a date? Or should she feel sad? Or should she feel indifferent? Was she making a mistake? Should she try to contact Shaan once more? How did she end up standing here alone at this moment in the hallway in silence?
“Hi there,” Alan said on the phone in his thick, sultry voice.
“Hi, Alan,” Shivani muttered and cupped the phone against one ear while her free hand carried two dresses.
Why was he calling her an hour before their date? Did he change his mind? She had finally mustered the courage to just go on the date and not make a big deal out of it. After all, it was only one date. Excuses floated to her mind like dead bodies drifted across the water after being dumped by a merciless murderer.
Sorry, babe, I’m sorry something came up, but I’ll call you later. Or the charming I ate something bad last night and I think I got a horrible case of food poisoning.
She jumped over a puddle of undergarments in her bedroom and dropped the two dresses in the center of the bed. Her heart beat wildly.
“Shivani? You there?”
“Yes, sorry,” she huffed. “How are you?”
Bending over the bed in her white satin bra and panties, she popped open the jewelry box with one hand and a boisterous snapping sound shot out. She rummaged through the assortment of mostly black, white, and blue earrings, bracelets, and necklaces. Really, she needed to listen to Carmen and throw in some more color into her jewelry collection.
“I’m good.” He paused. “I was thinking Santana Row would be too crowded today, you know, it being a Saturday night, so I was thinking of another place. Do you have something in mind?”
Jesus, what a strange guy. Who changed the location of the first date an hour before?
Holding a delicate silver necklace with a single baby blue pendant, she said, “That’s fine. I’m not very familiar with restaurants in San Jose. Wherever you want to go.” She bit her lip. That was a total lie. She had been to plenty of restaurants in San Jose with Shaan.
“Let me do some research. I know a couple good places. I’ll text you a good one. You can Google it.”
“Alright,” she mustered out.
Really? He was going to research restaurants now, an hour before their date. Did he not know what the freaking time it was?
Shivani parked her car in a secluded, dimly lit parking garage, threw her keys into her purse, and rushed outside the garage. Alan had ultimately selected a cute, quaint family-run Italian restaurant that featured reasonably priced dishes ranging from pasta, sandwiches, salads, to pizzas prepared fresh in a homemade style.
She had eventually settled on a body hugging knee-length black dress with short sleeves and thick black belt around the waist. To brighten the outfit, diamond studs adorned her ears and a clunky bracelet made up of glittery clear, white, and black beads embellished her wrist. Her long hair gently flew behind her as she strode to the restaurant. The air was still crisp and chilly, but nothing a casual jacket couldn’t handle.
A pain shot up her ankle. She glanced at her right foot. Oh, shit! Her black three inch heels were cutting into her ankle. She winced at a touch of blood smudged against her skin but shrugged her shoulders. She had no choice; she’d have to make do with the shoes. It was a pair of black heels she had found hidden in a corner in her closet. She had purchased them a couple months ago and was planning to wear them at the opportune moment with Shaan. She sighed and raised her eyes up at the sky. At least, the evening was beautiful; the sun was setting and a mixture of purple, blue, and green made up the sky.
There he was, standing in front of the restaurant entrance; one leg perched against the red brick wall of the entrance. He gazed into the distance wearing a black V-neck shirt that was not too loose or slim and medium blue jeans. She couldn’t make out exactly what he was looking at. A half smile crept onto his lips. His longish brown curly hair flowed in the light breeze.
“Hi, Alan,” she said.
Suddenly, his eyes flickered to her instantly.
“Hi.” His brown eyes sparkled. “There’s a long line. I took the liberty to put our names on the waiting list.”
“Sure, that’s fine.”
He eyed her fidgeting with a strand of her hair. “How has your day been?”
“Just a normal day. I ran some errands and helped my parents around the house.”
He nodded. “Alright, babe, let’s go inside,” he said, gently touching her shoulder and turning on his heel.
Babe? He was calling her babe already? Wasn’t such formality a bit too early?
His tall, lean frame stood at six feet three inches. The lady in front of the reception desk was a petite Asian woman no taller than five feet.
He looked down at her and said with a confused and a tad sheepish grin, “My name’s Alan. I’ve been waiting for half an hour. Is it almost our turn?”
The woman looked up. “Hmmm, let me check, sir.” She ran a finger down the long list of names on her clipboard.
“By the way, I like your perfume. You smell really nice. What’s it called?” he said with a devilish smile.
Did he just try to charm his way into getting a table? Or was he genuinely trying to flirt with the hostess?
“Um, what?” The hostess blushed.
He leaned a little closer to her and whispered, “Your perfume. It smells nice.”
Shivani rolled her eyes. The lady looked at her and then to him. “Oh, thank you…it’s that new Beyoncé perfume, Heat,” she stammered.
“Heat?” One of his eyebrows arched up.
“Yes, Heat.” The lady blushed fifty shades of red. “Um, I think I can have a table cleared up for you and your…”
“My friend,” he replied with a twinkle in his eyes.
She narrowed her eyes and stared at him. She glanced at the petite hostess and then back at him again. This was what her love life had come to. It was her first date, months after the Shaan fiasco, and she had been demoted to friend status in a matter of minutes.
“Would outside work? That’s the best I can do,” the receptionist said.
“Oh, yes, that’d be perfect.”
The lady smiled. “I’ll have someone lead you two to your table.”
They took their seats outside in the chilly patio area. Being a date night aka Saturday, hordes of couples flooded the area smiling, laughing, and tinkering with their glasses of alcohol. A band of four middle-aged men played jazz music mere feet away from their table.
“So,” she said, anger creeping into her voice. “That’s how you get a table?”
“Sorry. I was just trying to get us seated.” He chuckled and shrugged his shoulders. “I just didn’t want to wait another half an hour. I thought you’d like this place. It has some good items on the menu. It’s one of my favorite restaurants.”
“Well, it worked,” she replied, relaxing her jaw.
“No harm in complimenting a woman, right? We both got what we wanted. We got a table, and she felt flattered.”
“I suppose so,” she uttered, looking down at the thick red menu as she began to scan over the menu. If it had been Shaan, he wouldn’t have even bothered. He would simply have dragged her to another restaurant.
“Want a drink?” he said, breaking into her thoughts.
“A drink? You don’t have to if you don’t want to, of course.” An impish grin spread across his face.
That smile again. Her knees felt weak.
“I don’t know, I drove here. I usually like Long Islands,” she said, turning the pages of the menu.
“A Long Island? On the first date?” he said mischievously.
“Oh no…eh…I mean, yes, I like Long Islands, but no drinks today.” She looked up at him. A storm of nervousness rose inside her and her blood rushed through her body like the ocean’s wild waves.
“No. I’m sick of wine.” She turned her attention at her menu again.
Why was he interrogating her choice of alcohol like a FBI agent? Out of the corner of her eye, she tried to look at him. His eyes were focused on her and his lips had curled into a delicious smile. Just as quickly, she whisked her gaze back to the menu. Was she an idiot? He was sitting right in front of her for heaven’s sake.
Their waiter, a blond in his twenties, arrived at their table with two glasses of iced water. Before their glasses could even hit their sleek black table, she scooped up the glass from his hand and took a big gulp.
“Hi, guys, would you like to order some beverages or appetizers?” the waiter said, throwing her a quizzical expression.
Still holding the glass in her hand, she reached to take another gulp.
“She’d like a Long Island.”
Her entire body froze in her seat and, before her lips could form a rational response, she made an astounding choking sound and spit the water onto the table like a clumsy fat kid.
“Um, ma’am, are you okay? Should I bring you a napkin?” The waiter snatched up a handful of napkins two empty tables away and handed them to her.
“Uh, yes, sorry,” she said, a deep-seated heat burning her cheeks while she peered down at the sea of water in front of her and began wiping furiously.
Alan examined her carefully and announced, “And I’d like a glass of water, no ice.”
He nodded, “No problem, sir. Would you like to order your meal right now?”
“Nah, we’ll order after the drinks.” He flung the menu on the table.
As the waiter raced away with the menus and an amused grin on his face, the jazz band played the next song preposterously loud. With no menus to look at, Shivani focused her attention on the band. The four middle-aged men all wore identical outfits comprised of black pants and medium gray collar shirts. The music screeched from their instruments, like their instruments were screaming back at the men, howling at them to stop playing.
Alan began to fiddle with his phone. She winced from the loud music.
“So, this is a nice restaurant,” she yelled. “I like the patio area.”
“What?” Alan yelled back.
“I was saying that this is a nice restaurant and the patio area seems pretty cool,” she shouted even louder over the booming music.
He yelled back a response, but she could not understand a word. Grrrr! She fixed her gaze on the jazz band again. If their table was placed any closer, they would be IN the band.
Thankfully, the waiter arrived again to take their orders and this time, with her Long Island drink. After taking their orders, he dashed away, leaving them alone once more.
She took a long pull of the drink, letting her taste buds drown in the sweet and sour flavors. Alan grinned, watching her, his eyes traveling down to her lips. She cleared her throat and looked away. But she could still feel his stare burning her face.
After about what may have been twenty uncomfortable minutes, the waiter finally arrived with their meals. She was about to dig into her food when Alan pulled out a small black kit from his pocket and placed it open on the table. It contained a bunch of tiny, thin white strips, a few syringes, a tiny bottle of liquid, and a small black instrument that looked like some kind of funky calculator. He then took hold of a syringe, angled it at ninety degrees, and pressed it hard on his arm.
“Ouch!” Shivani grimaced at the sharp instrument poking his skin.
He looked up and smiled, still holding the syringe. “Did I scare you? Sorry. I’m a diabetic.”
“Oh.” The blood drained from her face.
“What did you think I was doing?” He smiled. A flicker of mischief waved across the brown ocean in his eyes.
She shrugged her shoulders sheepishly. “I wasn’t sure…” She trailed off.
“It’s funny. Most people know this is a diabetic kit. But some don’t, and they’ll stare at me strangely, thinking I’m injecting heroin. Sure, at a restaurant.” He chuckled.
He placed the syringe back into the black kit and started in on the giant salad in front of him. Her eyes found themselves staring at his lips munching on the food on his plate.
“Thanks for dinner,” Shivani said, placing her fork on the plate.
“No problem, it was my pleasure,” Alan replied. “That band was way too loud.”
She laughed. “I was yelling at the top of my lungs.”
After wrapping up the last song, the band packed up their equipment and exited the area. The lights flickered on and for the first time, under the bright illumination, she saw Alan’s face clearly. His dark brown stubble gleamed and was about ten days’ worth. His skin was white, but not too pale and had a healthy glow, the kind that one could only get from working out daily. His skin carried a particular roughness and handsomeness, the quality that only a man possessed as he grew older. He was older than she was. Not a few years older, but in his mid to late thirties old.
“A bit awkward for a first date.”
“I guess so,” she stammered.
He was marvelously direct, as if he enjoyed watching her squirm. Why did he have to acknowledge that it was a date? Couldn’t it just be two strangers meeting for a meal on a Saturday?
“Wanna take a walk and get some coffee?”
Coffee was too much to have so soon after dinner, but at least, they would be in a public place and not alone together. The last thing she wanted was him trying to make a move.
“Coffee sounds good.”
They made their way through the streets of San Jose. She could easily see why the city was often jokingly referred to as “Man Jose.” Clearly men outnumbered women here. It was not as exciting and vibrant a city as San Francisco, but it did have its charms. The people inhabiting San Jose carried a casual attitude and walked around without a care in the world, enjoying the warm summer days. Most of them were college students who attended the local school, San Jose State University. Shivani had several friends who were attending the university either as undergraduate or graduate students. In fact, some of her friends might be hanging out at the local bars and clubs today on a Saturday night.
Suddenly, nervousness engulfed her. She lowered her eyes and scanned the area with laser focus. What if someone saw her? Most of her friends and acquaintances didn’t know about her breakup with Shaan. She didn’t want a word of it to get back to her circle of friends. She still didn’t have the courage to accept the changes that had come into her life. And Alan? If she ran into someone, would he or she ask about Shaan? And then they would see Alan right besides her. What would she say? She loosened her shoulders.
They strolled into a Starbucks and ordered their drinks. She expected he’d want to sit down and chat, but he insisted that they take a walk outside. They walked around town for some time. White fluffy clouds filled the sky complimented by a cool breeze. In half an hour or so, the evening would turn to night.
“Let’s go sit there.” He pointed out a bench in the middle of a large, luscious green area. No one else was in close proximity.
“Here?” she said.
“It’s a nice quiet area.”
“Hold on a sec,” she said. She bent down and discreetly looked down at her ankle.
The cut had gotten deeper, and the traces of blood had dried up. Shit. All the walking around town had caused it. She didn’t want to sit in a secluded area, but her feet needed rest. She stood up and saw him sitting on the bench, already punching away on the keyboard of his iPhone. She turned her body at an angle where he couldn’t spot her ankle. No way did she want him to notice the blood. He’d think she couldn’t handle a pair of heels.
She limped across to the bench and sat a considerable distance from him. He stretched out his legs.
“Beautiful day today.” He stretched his arms above his head.
“Actually, it’s not been this nice in a while.”
“Perfect day. Not too cold or hot.”
The sky had turned completely dark. Specks of purple, green, blue, and pink could be seen in the sky. Surrounding them was a line of coffee shops, restaurants, and stores. An older couple walked past holding hands, looking lovingly into each others’ eyes. Her lips quivered and a familiar knot of despair formed in her stomach. Wasn’t that supposed to be her and Shaan? A tear welled in her eye, but she gulped to hold it back and keep it from rolling down her cheek. Alan looked at the couple and then looked at her curiously. Her eyes met his crackling brown eyes. She looked away and drew in her breath.
“So, what is it that you do? I never asked you that question yet,” she asked.
He smiled. “Teacher.”
“Teacher?” she gasped.
“Political science high school teacher.” He grinned. “Why the surprise?”
She composed herself. “Sorry, you just didn’t strike me as a teacher. I thought you were some…actually I don’t even know what I thought.”
He looked at her with that grin and said in a low voice, “I’m that forgettable, eh?”
She blushed slightly, the tiny hairs on her arms standing up. Why did his voice give her the goose bumps?
“How do you like it?” she asked, maneuvering the conversation back into safe territory.
“I love it. I love politics, and I love teaching. To me, it’s guiding and shaping the next generation.” His eyes became dreamy.
“Wow, really?” she asked, surprised.
He raised his eye brows, frowning. “Yes, really. Why would I be doing it then?”
“Sorry.” She smiled sheepishly. “I’m not used to hearing that explanation from people in regards to their jobs.”
He laughed, the grin returning to his face. “I guess so. What’s the point if you hate your job? You have to spend at least forty hours a week doing it. I love working with my students.”
“You’re a rare species,” she smiled.
A soft smile opened up on his face. “I guess you need to figure out what you want in life. My younger brother, Mike, he’s a lawyer and has his own business, and he’s doing a pretty damn good job with it. Not that there is anything wrong with having a business, but he’s stressed out ninety percent of the time.”
“He’s doing it for the money?”
“Bingo. I mean he likes it, but mostly because he’s status conscious and likes to be the successful type, you know.”
“It’s still impressive he runs his own firm.” She leaned in, studying the way his messy dark brown curly hair fell. She wasn’t a fan of long hair on men, but she had to admit it suited him. It made him look…strong and manly.
“But at least, it’d be easier for him to go on vacation though, considering he’s his own employer?” she continued.
He frowned. “I guess so. It should be easier, but he rarely goes on vacation.”
“Why?” she exclaimed.
He sighed and ran a hand through his messy, long hair. “He doesn’t make any time. Forget time for himself. He doesn’t even make time for his two daughters.”
So his lawyer brother was married and settled in life. And him being the older one, he was still single? Why?
“And his wife? What does she feel about him working all the time?”
He paused and a tiny flicker of pain swept across his face. “He’s divorced.”
“Oh, I’m sorry,” she gasped.
“Don’t be. He’s coping with it pretty well. But it was a long time coming. They weren’t clicking for a while.” He paused. “What about you? What do you do?”
“I’m a technical recruiter,” she replied curtly.
“I take it you don’t like it very much.”
“My, aren’t you a genius?” She grinned, this time.
“No, it’s not like that. I must confess I don’t hate my job. I like it. My first job right after college was working in finance and that I absolutely loathed doing. I was number crunching all day, but finally I ended up becoming a recruiter. I get to connect with people and still remain a part of Silicon Valley, you know, by helping all those engineers and techie people get jobs.”
He laughed, his eyes suddenly darting from her head down to her legs, making her feel queasy inside. “You don’t seem like a finance type.”
“For sure, no – “
“You seem more like an engineer or doctor.”
She punched him in the arm, surprised at herself for doing it. “Why? Because I’m Indian?”
He raised his hands in surrender and grinned. “Guilty as charged.”
“That’s a stereotype, you know. Not all Indians have to be engineers or doctors,” she huffed.
He laughed. “Is that why you became a technical recruiter?”
“Then, because you love it?”
“Well, I said I liked it.”
“So, you’re settling?”
She became quiet and flustered. What was this? Some kind of interview?
“That’s not it.” She turned away her face.
“So, you don’t hate it, but you don’t love it either?”
“Um, I guess so.”
“Isn’t that kind of worse?”
She frowned, beginning to get irritated at his questioning. “What do you mean?”
“You’re doing something to just get by. You’re settling for second best. At least, when you hate or love something, you have a definite opinion. You’ll do something to change it, rock the boat.”
Flustered, she didn’t know how to react. Okay, maybe she had signed up for a therapy session instead?
“You don’t always get second chances in life.” His voice became soft and edged with a peculiar melancholy. “You might as well do what you love.”
She turned back to gaze at him. The grin was gone and his earthy brown eyes contained specks of wistfulness. His body became still and he dropped his gaze to the grass underneath his feet. What second chances was he talking about?
Her phone buzzed in her purse, breaking her steam of thoughts. “Mom” flashed on the screen. She needed to get home. Unfortunately, she had told her mother she would spend the night in Fremont to sort out things needed to be done at the convenience store in the upcoming week. She sighed, a flicker of dread crawling up her stomach to her chest. Her aunt would be home.
She stood, smoothing her dress and straightening her whole body. “I’m sorry, but I’ll have to head home.”
He glanced at her phone, his gaze lingering at the screen for a few seconds. “Sure.”
“Where’s your car?” she asked.
“It’s over in a parking lot near the restaurant.”
“Oh, that’s far. My car is actually around the corner in that parking garage.” She pointed to the large parking garage between a bunch of shops and restaurants across the street.
“I’ll walk you there,” he said.
They crossed the street bustling with people scrambling in all directions and strode into the parking garage, arriving at her rusty Honda Civic.
She swung the door open, trying to avoid a kiss. “Thanks for today and dinner. I had a good time. By the way, I can drop you off.”
“I can walk, no big deal.”
“No, it’s okay. I don’t want you to walk across town. It’ll take two minutes,” she cut in. It was the least she could do. She actually did have a rather nice time. And he had paid for dinner, even if he had interrogated her.
Alan placed his lanky body into the front passenger seat and struggled to fit his legs into the limited area.
“You can push your seat back. You’ll have more room,” she mumbled as she backed out.
“Got it,” he muttered, his head peering back and his hands fumbling under the seat. Click.
She drove through the traffic, trying to make casual talk. After she cut to the right most lane, they arrived at the parking lot containing his car.
“I guess we’re here,” he said, smiling.
She turned her head back to the wheel, checking to make sure she didn’t rear end the car in front of her.
“Oh, yes. It was nice seeing you,”
“My pleasure.” He leaned in, moving his luscious lips closer to her face.
She wanted to kiss him. His eyes carried a twinkling look, and she wanted to rest her lips on his. But something inside ticked and paralyzed her. Her mind trembled, and a split second before his lips would have landed on hers, turned her head. His mouth landed on her nose instead. The twinkling look vanished in his eyes, replaced with confusion and then a bolt of embarrassment. She opened her mouth to speak, but he had smoothly left the car and mumbled good bye. She turned her attention to the steering wheel and started driving forward. She cocked her head at an angle and watched his tall frame swaggering in the vast parking lot. She turned back to the front and slapped her left hand on her forehead and shook her chin. The heat of embarrassment created pools of sweat on her neck and collarbone. Well, she had blown all chances with Alan.