Romance Fiction posted April 14, 2018

This work has reached the exceptional level
Is Longing Better Than Reality?

The Longing

by Stacia Ann

Romance Writing Contest Contest Winner 

I hated my job. Which you might think is a strange way to start a love story, but bear with me. It's relevant.

It began, this little episode of lovesickness, unrequited love, crush, whatever you want to call it, in the company cafeteria. On a typical Tuesday. When I caught sight of Brian Fleming and noticed how gorgeous he was.

So you're probably thinking it was the first time I'd ever seen him or something, but no. We'd worked at the same company for about six months.

But for some reason, sitting alone at a round lunch table, watching Brian at the cashier, digging through his pockets for change, I noticed his long, lean body. As if for the first time. The tawny skin and sweep of black eyebrows. The long lashes I could see even halfway across the room.

But I'd heard he was married. Or in a domestic relationship of some kind. I couldn't get involved with someone in a committed relationship. Okay to dream about, but not do anything about.

When he walked past me, carrying a tray of sushi, which I found endearing for some reason, I looked away.

And of course that drew him back to me.

"Hey, Sandy. Mind if I sit here?" He dropped in the seat across from me and attacked his sushi with gusto. "I almost didn't see you."

"Of course." I tried to joke. "How could you miss me?"

He looked at me with serious eyes. Brown shot through with green. "Right. How could I? So what do you think about the new program?"

He was referring to the new software program we used for recording customer data and setting up service calls.

"Well, I'll just say it's pretty bad when the individuals other people contact to fix their computers can't fix their own computers."

We worked at probably the last place in the United States with a staff that walked customers through fixes for their computers and then sent out service technicians when they could do no more themselves. Most of that had been outsourced.

"We must be the only place left in the United States to still do this," Brian echoed my thoughts.


He started telling me some story about a particularly annoying customer who called up and then wasn't able to tell him her own address when he tried to set up a service call.

"'Do you have a piece of mail lying around?' I ask her," he was saying. "'No,' she says. 'I only get junk mail so I throw it out.' 'What about when you're sending out mail?' You know, for the return address. And she asks, 'Why would I send myself mail?' Sheesh." He shook his head and took another bite of sushi.

So what did you finally do?" I asked after a minute. His shirt was opened one button at the neck, and I was staring at the indentation in his neck below his Adam's Apple. That was so sexy for some reason.

"Oh." He shrugged. "I found her address in our database, asked her if it sounded familiar, then sent out the tech."

"That's good."

"Sandy, are you okay?" Brian asked.

"Yes." I jerked my attention back. So strange daydreaming over someone I'd known, talked with for months. When he was sitting right here. "Just tired from the weekend, I guess."

"It's Tuesday," he laughed. "You're still tired from the weekend on Tuesday? It must have been one heck of a busy weekend."

"It was." I'd spent most of it watching old episodes of "Monk" and doing laundry. "And yours?"

He shrugged. "Spent it with family."

So that answered that question. Not surprising. Why would a guy like Brian be single in the San Francisco Bay area, which had the lowest ratio of straight men to women on the planet? He wasn't interested in me.

Still, it was so disappointing he was married. Or in a relationship.

And I went right back to thinking about what he'd look like without his shirt.

I stopped by my friend Dana's office before I left. She worked in human resources.

Her desk, as usual, was a mess of stacked files. A pencil was shoved behind her ear below her short dyed red hair.

I paused in the doorway. "Can we talk a moment, Dana?"

Her sharp blue eyes fixed on me. "About what?" She set down a file. "Another guy?"

She knew me well. "Can I sit down?"

"Sandy, I'm about to leave. I want to beat rush hour--"

I sat down in the chair across from her. "It'll just take a minute."

She sighed, leaning back in her chair. "Who is it this time?"

"Who said it's about a man?"

"Well, then what is it about? Your pet alligator died?"

"It's an iguana," I said. "No. It's about--" oh, heck, might as well tell her. "Brian Fleming."

"Oooh, Brian Fleming." She leaned back in her chair. "Good choice, I have to admit, this time. But you do remember what I've said about affairs with coworkers. Especially married ones."

"So he is married?"

"I didn't say that. You know I can't disclose that. Just that you should know that having affairs with people in committed relationships is just asking for trouble."

"I've never had an affair with anyone." I'd hardly even had a relationship with anyone.

"Then whatever it is you do, Dana. The moping, mooning, crushing over these guys. Just no."

She was right, I knew, but I didn't let it go.

"So you're saying he's listed a wife or domestic partner on his forms?"

"Not saying that at all." She looked at me. " Why don't you ask him?"

"Oh, like I'd do that. Just walk up and ask someone if they're married."

"Well, does he wear a ring?"

"I've never noticed."

"You've never noticed if he wears a wedding ring?"

"Have you?"

"No, but about the first thing I'd look for when I decide I'm in love with someone is if he is wearing a ring."

"No." I could picture his hands now as he picked up his lunch tray and left. "He doesn't wear a ring."

He could still be in a committed relationship."

I looked at her. "Are you saying he is?"

"I told you I can't tell you. But off the record, from what I've heard around, maybe yes. Ask him. Or find out some other way. And if he is, he's off-limits. That's all you need to know. But that's why you like him, right?"

"No! Why do you think that?"

"You only fall in love when you find out they're married, or on probation, or live in castle where they keep fair maidens captive or some crap."

"Not true." But when I thought about it, it kind of was--she pretty much had described my past "relationships" with Jonathan, and David, and Jerry--except for the castle stuff, which was pure hyperbole.

"I've got to go." Dana rose. She hesitated then hugged me. "I care. You know that. You're like a little sister. That's why I advise you to just stop this. Find someone who can really love you."

She was right. So I spent the next two days trying to keep busy. I was extra polite and helpful with customers and colleagues. Trying not to think about Brian.

And you know the old saying. The way to think about elephants is to tell yourself not to think about elephants.

And work was pretty much hell between hysterical customers and a software program that kept crashing. Thinking about Brian, his long strides, his sweep of dark hair, expressive face, quick laugh, kept me going.

I did ask a couple coworkers about him, if he was married. They weren't sure. He didn't talk about his personal life, which I respected him for. I thought about websearching him but decided that was too creepy, like stalking him, almost.

And why ruin the mystery? When I found out who a guy really was, it was invariably disappointing. Instead, I could fantasize about Brian, the gorgeous and devoted father--to my kids, not someone else's...

"Hey, Sandy." Brian caught me in the hall the following Monday. I was passing him with a box loaded with computer components when he popped out of an office to stand in front of me. "How's it going?"

"Fine." Actually, not so fine as I really wanted to get to the tiny corner office we used for old furniture and storage to dump this box, and he was blocking my way.

He grabbed the box from me and started, with his loping strides, down the hall. I had to almost run to keep up. With any other man, I'd resent the overbearing behavior, but in Brian it was endearing. And it gave me a chance to be near him.

"Thank you," I said when he dumped the box in the office.

"No problem." He switched on the light, and the brightness was so in contrast to the darkness of the hall that I blinked. Brian's skin glowed golden, and his black hair was creeping over his shirt collar, as if it had grown over the weekend.

I cleared my throat. "I should get back to my desk."

"Sandy, need to talk to you."

"What about? I really should go back," I said.

"Just for a minute." He pulled out a chair at the table. I realized he was holding it for me. I sat, after first testing that the chair wasn't broken.

"What is it, Brian?"

He sat next to me, on a chair that did wobble. I stared at it, picturing it collapsing under him. It was different dealing with Brian than with David and Jerry, who were both so remote that avoiding them wasn't hard. But I couldn't avoid Brian's direct gaze.

"Just wondering why you turn around and run from the room when I come in?"

"I do not," I said, feeling my face heat up. I did. Because I basically couldn't handle conversations like these. "I think you're imagining things."

"I don't think so." He still didn't look away.

Damn it, a guy who would actually engage in serious discussion, and now I didn't know what to say.

"Do you know your eyes are hazel?" I blurted.

He continue to stare but then broke into a grin.

"No, Sandy, I never noticed that," he said. "Stop changing the subject, please. Have I done something to offend you?"

"No," I said. "I told you I'm not avoiding you."

"Then why do you run out of the room whenever I come in? It's like we've been friends for six months, and suddenly you can't stand the sight of me. I want to know why."

Couldn't stand the sight of him. If only he knew the reason I ran out was that  otherwise I'd start fantasizing about him naked.

But he'd called me a friend. That's all I was. That was fine. Better than fine, especially if he already had a girlfriend or wife.

"Of course you're a friend," I said finally. "Of course I can stand the sight of you."

"I was hoping we could be more than friends." He swiveled toward me. He brushed my hair from my forehead. I wanted to grab his hand then and kiss it.

His chair swayed back and forth.

I looked at it. "That chair is going to collapse."

"Damn it, Sandy." He jumped up. I stared at him. Men had sworn at me before, but not Brian. "Damn the chair. Stop trying to change the subject."

"What do you want, Brian?" I was angry now.

"I want--nothing. Forget it." He strode to the door.

I stared after him. Wanting to be more than friends would be ridiculous, terrible if he were in a committed relationship. But maybe he wasn't. He was acting like he wasn't. Maybe I was mistaken. Maybe I had found someone who was free. Maybe it could go beyond fantasy.

The next afternoon was Friday, the night of bacchanal revelry in a college city. I wanted no part of it after a long week at work. What I wanted was to spend the evening on the sofa eating popcorn and watching old movies.

With someone I cared about.

At noon I sneaked out to the parking lot to eat my lunch in my car in peace. And also I had seen Brian go out ahead of me.

I stepped outside into the chill April weather, feeling a smile tug at my mouth in anticipation of seeing Brian.

I did see him.

Talking to a lovely woman with gold skin and long dark hair caught back with a gold band. Even though she was tall herself, she was looking up at Brian and laughing as she handed an envelope to him. A boy in shorts and a girl with her long hair in braids hung behind their mom as she chatted with Brian.

At last he put his hand on her shoulder and dropped a kiss on her cheek. "I'll make it up to you." He then dropped to his knees and hugged each of the children.

What a lovely display of fatherhood. Except the father was Brian. Who wanted to be more than friends.

And I was fully aware of the irony. How I had wished he'd been married before, so I didn't have to think about a relationship with him. And now that I wanted a relationship with him, I found he was married.

Suddenly the longing was no longer fun.

"Oh, hey, Sandy," Brian said as he caught sight of me. He had been walking across the parking lot, looking down at the tickets, I saw they were, that had been in the envelope, a slight smile on his face. "Sorry about that whole thing with the chair yesterday. Glad I caught up with you."


"Oh, because I have these tickets to 'Much Ado,' I mean, 'Much Ado about Nothing,' and I thought you might want to go with me. I assume you like Shakespeare? You seem like someone who'd like Shakespeare."

I stared at him.

"Yes," I finally managed. I began walking back to the building. "Just not with a married man. With the tickets his wife gave him."

"What in hell are you talking about? I'm not married."

"Your girlfriend, then. Whatever. Whoever you're in a committed relationship with. And have kids with."

"Sandy." He caught me by my shoulders and turned me around. "The only kids I know about are my niece and nephew. And the only relationship I have with their mother is a brotherly one."

"Brotherly? So she's your sister?" A likely alibi.

"Twin sister, actually. You didn't notice the resemblance?"

I had, now that I thought about it.

"She just stopped by and gave me the tickets.  She and her husband can't make the show because she's going with him to some company dinner."

We had reached the building. He leaned against it and looked at me.

"So, sorry to disappoint you, but I'm not married. And you're out of excuses. But I don't suppose you'll accept my invitation anyway."

I looked at him, feeling tears form. I looked up at him.

"Yes." I heard myself laugh. For the first time in a long time. "Yes, I'd love to see 'Much Ado' with you."

Even if it meant facing the possibility of the reality not being as good as the fantasy.

But as my lips met his, I thought the chances were that it would be. 

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