As she emerged from the elevator on the 14th floor, she nearly collided heads with the last co-worker she would want to cause a workplace accident with. Elevator etiquette was a maddening thing anyway, an unwritten set of rules involving doors held open, who gets on and off first, should you let the people headed to Immigration know that it's not their floor yet, etc. Nearly running somebody down was an everyday occurrence. But she hated it the most when the other person was Dominic Brodsky.
A tall, rail-thin, smiley-eyed near-stranger, Dominic was the boy that Calisto had, knowingly or not, carried a torch for ever since she started working at the Hawaiian Airlines call center. She was still going around with (and thus hopelessly pining after) James at the time when she started, but even then she felt unnerved and self-conscious around him in a way that signaled to her when she liked a boy. The very first time she saw him was in the kitchenette. She came in that morning and had crouched down to put her lunch in the fridge, but other people's lunches were stacked up nearly front-to-back, and she had to shift some of them around to make room. At the same time, she had left the freezer door open, as she planned to leave her water bottle in there last.
Dominic walked in and they said nothing to each other while still noticing and somehow acknowledging each other just the same. He stood next to her, opening cupboards above as if looking for something, then, seeming to find it, bent down to fill his mug with water from the sink.
Calisto had finally found space for her lunch and, hoping the boy wasn't watching her, stood up too quickly. "Ow!" Her head bumped up against the freezer door as she rose and she recoiled from it in shame and horror.
The boy either didn't notice or covered up that he did. As soon as he was done with the sink, he shut the water off and turned to leave. "Ow!" In that movement, he had walked directly into one of the cupboard doors he had left open. As far as first meetings go, this one seemed almost too cute, like something that would happen in a dopey romantic comedy to shorthandedly convey that the two leads were perfectly matched. To this day even, she had doubts as to whether that was a feat of true clumsiness on his part or if he had contrived his own embarrassment to let her save face.
So when she and James had finally sputtered out, and Naomi had been trying to lift her spirits with "other fish in the sea"-type talk and prodded her to think of anyone else in either of their peer groups who may pique her interest one day, she thought of this boy right away, and told her "There is this one boy at work who I have weird sexual chemistry with." And from that time on, Naomi (and Calisto too, at least in her mind) would refer to Dominic as "Weird Sexual Chemistry Boy".
None of this meant that Calisto held Dominic in any special regard as a person, nor that she even found him particularly attractive. It simply meant that any time they had any sort of one-on-one interaction at all, some other force took over. Neither one could talk to the other without getting flustered, speaking too quickly, or becoming anxious for the conversation to be over. It could be excruciating at times. The electricity between them could turn palpable, to the point where she would wander away in a sort of daze, unable to understand or explain how she had been made to feel that way. It was distinct from other times when she'd had crushes on boys in that this was less romantic and more downright dirty. Perhaps it was just a more mature version of the unrequited schoolgirl puppy love she fell victim to when she was younger. Emotion, as she knew it, did not even seem to enter the picture. It may have been all in her head or it could have arisen merely as the result of hormones or pheromones or chemicals passing between them but as far as she could tell she and Dominic had always wanted to fuck each other's brains out, for reasons neither one of them could articulate or even fully recognize.
Not that their banter together was flirtatious or even particularly friendly. Mostly they just nodded hello and then endured the awkwardness for however long it would last. Knocking heads together would have been par for the course in this case, actually. As it was, Dominic just about jumped back to avoid smashing foreheads with her; they were at practically the same level despite their height difference, with the way the carriage of his head tilted acutely downward.
"Whoa!" he said, avoiding her just in time and letting her pass. "My bad."
"Sorry," Calisto said, and hurried past him. Great, just what she needed.
"Hey," he called after her as she made a beeline for the office door. "So are you gonna apply for that opening?"
"What?" She stopped with her hand on the door handle, not hearing.
"The Loss Inspector position. Did you see it got posted?"
"No. When did that happen?"
"Today. You know how last time you said the next promotion you don't get, you're leaving?"
"Yeah." She had said this, but last time it had been a promotion to Scheduling that she was passed over for and her breakup had been fresher. It was possible, therefore that these words had been a "heat of the moment" way and not in a vacuum.
"Well, you should find out about it."
"Sure, I'll check it out. Thanks." She let herself into the office. Dominic had missed the elevator that had borne her up, which ostensibly he had been about to board prior to her arrival, and had to wait around for the next one.
Calisto could still feel herself pulsing from that encounter by the elevator doors when she went on her lunch break, praying it wouldn't repeat. Something always felt unfinished about their little run-intos, as if there was some connection which was supposed to have been made and was now left dangling. Surely the uncomfortably overwrought nature of their every hallway hello couldn't have been all in her own head, could it? She'd had enough experience falling into futile he-loves-me-he-loves-me-not circles with boys to know that this kind of overanalysis was exactly the type of thing that wasted the time of everyone involved and would probably even sabotage any spark, imaginary or not, that may exist between them.
But, she thought, the overanalysis part was what made it fun. The uncertainty, the ambiguity so rich and deep it seemed to effectively form a solid barrier through which neither one of them could talk. In many ways it was much more enjoyable to keep these impressions unspoken, because once they could be found to exist anywhere outside of herself they would succumb to the paling effect of mundane reality. She didn't want to know whether he felt the same way. Letting her imagination get carried away with her was far preferable to knowing the truth about the situation.
These reveries swirled within her as she left Seafood Square that afternoon and headed to Almonds on Ward. She often took long, aimless walks during her hourlong lunches that would find her standing outside the clothing store owned by Marisa Almond, her mother's former associate who had purchased Haughty. Her mother never employed more than six or so other people in all the time that she ran her business, and of them all only Marisa had been there since the beginning. Thus, her mother had decided to sell her business to her protege, who had launched her own product line under the auspices of Haughty (and who continued to sell their products, which still moved well) years before. In fact, the selloff had been more of a merger, and Almonds would retain exclusive retail rights to all of her mother's brand merchandise, the cost of which would continue to generate revenue for its retired founder. Marisa would subsist on the sales of her mother's established brand (while hopefully bringing crucial attention and exposure to her own brand) and those sales would support her mother basically until the end of days -- it had been a sweetheart deal that both of them benefited greatly from.
Calisto didn't find out all of this until later. Marisa had been a college freshman when she first met her, who then quickly dropped out to work for her mother. She stayed over at her house during much of that time, pulling all-nighters and constantly running errands while they tried to get her mother's dreams off the ground. Though much younger, Calisto had thought of her as a second mother back then and even called her "Aunty" to this day.
But on those days she would stroll to Almonds following her mother's death, she wouldn't go inside. She wanted a reminder that her mother lived on in some way, through her life's work, without being confronted with it directly. In fact, when Marisa had approached her at her mother's funeral to explain that she would inherit retail sales rights would lapse to her, she remembered dreading their next meeting. Making her mother's death about money had not been something she savored or looked forward to.
Still, as she entered the store on this day to the chime of an actual tiny bell attached to the push bar and a Spoon song playing through the store's speakers, she reflected that she had waited for just the right time to finally have this discussion. Now that she had a plan as to what she was actually going to do with this money, she felt less greedy about coming in to ask for it and thought that surely this must have been what her mother wanted. At least this beat the original plan she had formulated when she found out about the money, which was to use it to develop a debilitating heroin habit and then finance an expensive rehabilitation program upon rock-bottoming.
A young girl wearing glasses and way-too-straight hair greeted her as she walked in. "Hi, welcome to Almonds! Looking for anything special?"
Calisto shook her head. "Actually, is Marisa here today?"
"Oh, do you have an appointment with her?"
"No, not unless you count a standing appointment. She knew my mother, Maile Belter?"
The girl changed the way she was looking at her, and said "I'll see if she's available."