Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Writing Prompt: Small Talk and Shield Drops

“So, uh… I didn't realize that we lived in the same building.”
After a small pause, he answered, “It’s a small world.”
Another half a block meandered by.
“I take the bus,” I volunteered. He looked at me. I clarified, “To work.” He nodded. We crossed the street, and by the time we'd gained the sidewalk on the other side, I was determined not to say another word.
Then I abruptly changed my mind. “This thing I've been trying,” I snapped, “where I talk and wait for you to talk back? I just wanted to make sure you knew it’s called conversation, and doesn't work if you never say anything.”
He laughed.
My annoyance began to melt away as I looked at him in surprise. I’d never heard Tristan laugh before. I’d never heard him say much either, and I had a flash of realization that maybe it was stupid of me to insist on small talk. Maybe he didn't like it; maybe getting angry with him was unfair of me.
He was the most boring guy in the office. It wasn't as though he was tedious or repulsive. He just hardly spoke to anyone unless it was work related. And it wasn't as though he didn't look interesting. The new receptionist Kendra surprised all of us with her determination to get him to ask her out. She drilled all of us for any information about him, and was disappointed when we had none. Three months of trying hadn't produced any results that she was satisfied with. Finally one morning she left the break room in a huff to try to engage him in conversation about the word-a-day calendar he kept on his desk. “I don’t know why you’re all lying to yourselves,” she sniffed, “he’s the best looking guy in this entire office.”
There was no way for us to deny it. Tristan Mallory was easy on the eyes. But it was sort of like when you get to know someone and they become more attractive because you like them… only the opposite. It was easy to have a crush on him in the first three weeks of working together, but after finding out that he didn’t like to talk about himself, would only join in on conversations about work, and never flirted with anyone at the copy machine, he was just as easy to forget. Despite his good looks, Tristan melted quietly into the background. He was… boring.
I ended up walking home with him after our boss took us all out to dinner to celebrate a particularly good quarter for the company. Kendra, who was hoping to get a cab home with him, asked which way he was headed, and that’s when we found out he and I lived in the same building. “Try to get something out of him!” she whispered at my back as I put my coat on. “Find out what his type is, or if he has a cat or something. Anything!
When Tristan Mallory laughed, it was like he was lowering a shield. I could really see for the first time that he was attractive.
“Sorry, I kind of suck at this,” he said, pushing his dark hair away from his forehead like some kind of Disney Prince. “I walk.” I was trying not to blush so I didn’t answer right away, so he probably felt like he had to clarify: “To work.”
I glanced up at him and nodded, torn between being embarrassed for snarling at him and being struck by the way his eyes glittered in the light of the streetlamps.
“There’s actually a really great footpath past a park nearby, and there’s ducks in the pond and a coffee stand, and it’s pretty peaceful.” After another moment of silence, he added, “Sorry.”
“For what?” I asked.
“Well, taking the bus can get expensive, but if I’d known you lived in the same building I still probably wouldn’t have told you about it.”
The look on my face said, “Why not?” and I was trying to figure out a way to say it that wouldn’t come out as insufferably rude as it was sounding in my head when Tristan laughed again.
“Looks like we can have a conversation even if you never say anything,” he observed. We crossed the street again, and I kept my face turned away so he couldn’t see that I felt like a complete idiot.
He sighed and stuck his hands in his pockets. “I probably wouldn’t have told you because it’s a nice way to start the day. Alone with my thoughts, I can let my mind wander. And besides, people already look at me funny for talking to the ducks.”
“You talk to the ducks.”
“Well, I quack at them. They wouldn’t understand me otherwise.”
I finally turned back to look at him, and the grin on his face made him look like a twelve year old kid who was teasing the girl he liked.
“You never thought to ask if I liked to quack at the ducks?” I asked with a smile.
“I guess I wouldn’t have, if I’d known sharing my morning routine with someone was a possibility. Some things are nicer when you keep them to yourself.”
“Is that why you never talk unless it’s work related?” I asked without thinking about it first.
Tristan didn’t seem offended when he answered, “Maybe, but I really like talking about work. I love my job.”
“You love…” I began disbelievingly, “being… an insurance actuary?”
“Yeah!” he responded enthusiastically. “Why, don’t you?”
“Not…” I started, then stopped talking, confused. “I mean, I don’t hate it, but I wouldn’t say I love it, either. It’s just my job.”
He nodded, and I got the idea that he was slightly disappointed.
“I guess everybody has something that they love,” I added. “I just never really thought of actuarial science as that exciting.”
“People don’t usually think that the things I’m interested in are exciting,” he admitted quietly. “Not that many people want to talk about poetry, either.”
“You like poetry?” I asked.
“Reading it, mostly,” he replied. “Anything I try to write myself is mostly terrible.”
I looked up into his face as we reached the front of our building. “Tristan Mallory, I think I unlocked your soul tonight,” I told him.
He smiled. “I think maybe you did.” He held the door open for me and we walked into the lobby. “What about you?” he asked as I headed for the elevators.
“What about me?”
“How do I unlock your soul?”
I pushed the button and the elevator doors sprung open. “I like yelling at pigeons,” I confessed.
He leaned forward held the door open as I stepped onto the elevator and pushed the button for my floor. “Meet me down here at eight tomorrow,” he told me. “We’ll walk through the park to work, get some coffee, and see what the ducks are up to.”
I smiled. “It was nice to really meet you tonight.”
He returned the smile. “You, too.”
Writing Prompt #750

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