James had just finished speaking. That went well, he thought, staring at the clock on the opposite wall; he thought that it read 10:15, which was odd; he looked again, and saw that it was actually 2:51. His throat tended to get dry very quickly into a conversation, so he always needed to keep some liquid handy. This particular meeting involved talking for five minutes at a stretch, and he only had to take a drink three minutes into one of these speeches. It seemed well received too, he thought dreamily, as people were nodding understandingly, and nobody was looking at other people or at their Blackberrys. He did this from time to time, as the economic consulting firm where he worked advised various companies and levels of government on economic policies; this particular presentation was to Human Resources and Social Development Canada, with whom his firm was collaborating on a project looking into the effectiveness of Employment Insurance, and whether it or a job-creation strategy would be best-suited to alleviating the financial worry associated with unemployment.
A pretty brown-haired woman getting his attention brought James back into the room in mind as well as in body: “Oh, hello; I couldn’t help you looking at me.”
“What? Oh, sorry.”
“That’s quite all right. My name is Clarissa.”
“I’m James,” said James, quite forgetting that he had told the audience his name when he walked into the room about an hour previously. The meeting was over, and most attendees had filed out of the room. Only James, James’s boss Maurice, Clarissa, and Clarissa’s cubicle neighbour Nicolas remained.
“Clarissa’s a nice name,” said James. Clarissa walked over to the other side of the table where James was sitting and shook his hand.
“That was a very good presentation, James.”
“Thank you.” Her hands were soft and warm to the touch, despite the cold of the office and the fact that it was February, and thus snowing heavily. Her perfume had a lilac scent.
“So, I shall be seeing you again.”
It was a statement, not a question, and Clarissa wrote her phone number on a piece of paper. By now, Nicolas had gathered his notes and had left.
“Do you expect me to call you, and what makes you think I’m single? You’re right, you know; I am single.”
Clarissa smiled. “So am I. I’m looking to change that.”
“Well, I’ll see you around, then.”
Clarissa left the room, and James was alone. He helped himself to the last remaining donut; it turned out to be Boston cream, which was his favourite along with the honey cruller he had consumed at the start of the meeting.
It looks like Clarie finally got lucky, thought Nicolas; it looks similar to the way I met Madeleine. She was single for five years while she was working here, too; she also resisted the advances of the office boor, which was admittedly not altogether hard to do, considering he usually did it as a poorly-conceived running joke, and thus had another similarity with Clarissa; now, Madeleine was working for Service Canada. He had also noticed over the years that Clarissa had been working at the office that she was always dressed well and tastefully; although she was beautiful, her dress was never in any way provocative, and this prompted Yvon, the boor, to tell her to show a bit more skin or curves, perhaps she would attract some more attention from the boys. Speaking of which, when Nicolas was walking behind Clarissa on the way to his cubicle, Yvon came the other way and said, “well, aren’t we happy today,”
His eyes travelled down her body as she passed, primly ignoring him.
Clarissa would always roll her eyes or otherwise shrug off any half-serious advances from Yvon, and never talked to him unless she really had to. This was not to say that Yvon desired her himself: he was married, and had three teenage children, but he had never grown past the stage in a man’s life when he wolf-whistles at any attractive woman he sees. Thus, very few at the office took him seriously, with the significant exception of the directors. Nicolas walked back into his office, and Vilia, who had spent a substantial portion of the afternoon on the phone, followed, with a question from the Minister that the office received periodically. “He’s wondering about the impact of labour market policy on youth,” she explained.
“Very well, I’ll write him an answer,” said Nicolas, and wiggled the mouse around, which got rid of the picture of the ski jumper from Ste-Jovite who had won a medal on Saturday in Vancouver, replacing it with the picture of Madeleine that he had as a background screen.
“Clarissa looks quite happy,” said Vilia; she made comments about people as a way of distracting herself from the stresses of the job.
“She always is,” said Nick; he did not care for Vilia’s interest in people; he was a statistician, and when he gossiped, he did it with the neighbours at his cottage on the Mauricie River, not with co-workers. Vilia had seen the look on Clarissa’s face when she was going to the bathroom and passed Vilia’s cubicle on the way. Nick wrote a response to the Minister’s question, and then regarded with annoyance the snow that was falling outside, which meant that he would have to clear his driveway for the third time in the past week. Shovelling snow, for him, took some of the romance out of Valentine’s Day, when they had received a foot of it; he also had to shovel the roof that day at Madeleine’s behest.
While James and Maurice, who was James’s boss and owner of the consulting firm––he even named the firm eponymously as Valoix Consulting––walked to the elevators, James could hardly notice his surroundings or keep his feet on the ground; he was going on a date with a beautiful woman. He might as well have been walking on a cloud, and he did not want to try to come to earth, which only happened when he heard Maurice saying something.
“That went well,” he said.
“The meeting; you did very well in your talk; I think the government will commend us,” said Maurice, who hoped for new clients and more business, which was then hard to come by. His home life was going on a decidedly different course, much to his regret; Rose was threatening divorce and to take custody of their youngest son, André; the older son, Michel, cared little for the whole proceeding, and as he was older than eighteen, he was left out of the impending custody battle. Maurice’s disastrous home life made him prefer to stay longer at work, just for the sake of avoiding the tumultuous household for a little while longer. He then noticed that James had seemed rather distracted. “Say Jim, did something happen in that meeting?”
“Well, of course, I talked about labour market policy,”
“You know that’s not what I meant,”
“I met a girl,”
“She looked more like a woman and a very attractive one at that; I didn’t really talk to anyone except those two people, Nicolas and Yvon; we were discussing statistics.” Of course Maurice knew exactly who James meant; of the three women in the room, one looked far too young, as if she were in university, the other had the harried look of the mother of several children, and there was the tall woman with shoulder-length, light brown hair; he had seen her and James talking at the end of the meeting from his vantage point at the opposite end of the room. The two then did little talking as they went downstairs, got into Maurice’s car, and drove back to their office.
On the Wednesday after James and Clarissa’s encounter, James phoned her.
“Hey, it’s James. You remember, from the meeting on Monday?”
“Of course I remember. I like your carefree hair,”
“Thanks,” replied James, blushing.
“So, are you doing anything this weekend?”
“I can do anything you like,”
James decided to play it safe with the first date idea: “How about going to a restaurant?”
“Did you have anything in mind?”
“The Empire Café?”
“Sounds good. Say, you sound just as nice on the phone as you do in person,”
“Thank you,” said James, reddening. “Your voice also sounds nice,”
Clarissa laughed, which to James came across as a musical sound.
“So, see you Saturday. How does five-thirty work?”
“Oh, what should we do beforehand?”
“Oh, come over to my place,” said Clarissa, and she gave him her address.