When I made it back to my desk, the first thing I noticed was that neither Donnie nor Bethany was present. Nothing unusual there. Probably Donnie had come back while I was away, and Bethany had gone away with him again.
Ellen Watson was at her desk, typing away on her keyboard. She gave me a sullen look as I walked by her. I merely nodded this time. I had tried to play friendly with her earlier in the morning and I had gotten nothing for my efforts.
On the rebound from my unpleasant conversation with Claire, I had grasped at straws with the Brown-Eyed Girl, over-interpreting simple workplace politeness as real interest on her side. This highlighted how barren my personal life had become. The day was still young and I was already in a bleak mood.
At least I still had my job, though, and that was going well, much to the chagrin of Donnie and Bethany.
I sat down and started to work. I first checked my email: My Lotus Notes inbox was full of new messages from my supplier contacts.
About fifteen minutes later I was absorbed in my tasks when I heard Donnie and Bethany return. I had no idea where they had been, and at that moment I could have cared less. The only reason I looked up at all was because they were talking louder than they should have. Not bothering to be discreet, they snuggled against each other as they walked. They were making no effort to be quiet as they exchanged their usual banter.
The office space of the Thomas-Smithfield Electronics headquarters building was almost never library-quiet. The open floor configuration meant that there was a constant background buzz of phones going off and people talking.
Nevertheless, it was consider impolite to carry on at a volume that would disturb others, especially if you weren’t talking about a business-related matter, as Donnie and Bethany clearly weren’t.
They saw me looking at them and they both stopped short of their desks, looking at me now.
“What are you looking at?” Donnie challenged me. Clearly, he was still spoiling for a fight.
“Not much,” I said. I wondered if he would catch the double entendre there.
The subtle barb went over his head. “You were listening to our conversation,” he shot back. Bethany nodded in agreement with Donnie, and nudged herself even closer to him. Where had the company found these two? Why had they even been hired in the first place?
“No, I wasn’t,” I said. “And if I’d wanted to listen to the two of you, it wouldn’t have taken much effort, would it? The two of you have been yammering like you’re on a stage.”
“You son-of-a—” Donnie said. He stepped around his desk and stood before me. Lunging distance. I was still seated, but I wondered if I should stand up, too. This sort of thing wasn’t supposed to happen in a corporate workplace, of course. But what should you do when it actually did occur?
Plus, there was the not-insignificant fact that if it came to a physical confrontation, Donnie Brady would have easily pounded the crap out of me. But given my current mood, half of me was ready to go down fighting.
I resisted the urge to stand. I was not only concerned about Donnie pounding the tar out of me. I was also cognizant of the fact that if the two of us came to blows, there would be repercussions from the company. Both of us would be sitting in HR within the hour. I was therefore determined that there would be no ambiguity about which one of us had been the aggressor.
Perhaps sensing some of this, Bethany walked around my desk and joined Donnie, so I was now facing the two of them. But instead of piling it on, she attempted to talk him down.
“Come on, Donnie,” she whispered urgently. She had grasped him by one arm with both of her hands. “We’re at work, in the middle of the office. You’ll get fired. It isn’t worth it. Think about it.”
Smart girl, I thought. But would Donnie be smart enough to listen to her?
Donnie paused. For a moment he seemed to waver between backing down and ripping me out of my chair—which he probably would have been capable of doing. I braced myself for whatever might come next.
Then finally Donnie shrugged off Bethany’s grip, and looked at me as if to say, This isn’t over yet.
I wondered if any of my colleagues had seen the confrontation. I looked around to see if anyone was staring.
I saw a few faces turned in my direction. When I made eye contact with them, they became urgently summoned by their computers, their phones, the piles of papers atop their desks. The message was clear: Don’t ask any of us to get involved.
Donnie and I hadn’t raised our voices that much, and we hadn’t actually come to blows. The only real witnesses to the exchange had been Bethany and Ellen. Bethany was solidly in Donnie’s corner, and Ellen leaned that way. There was no way I could have made trouble for Donnie over this, even if I’d wanted to.