On your first day of work as a receptionist for Lindholm Construction after you have finished training, forget at least 50% of what your trainer taught you. When customers call, transfer them to the wrong departments. When a vendor calls, hang up on them instead of placing them on hold. Stare at the switchboard like it’s the controls to an alien spaceship. Think: Fuck. Dig frantically about the desk among the scattered papers there for your notes between these failed attempts at doing what you were hired for. When you find them, the phone will ring again. Answer it and do your best to help the customer on the other end. Say: I’m not sure about the answer to that, sir at least four times. Say: I’ll have to check into that for you, sir at least five. Wonder if he can hear the fake smile in your voice, if he knows how close you are to having a complete breakdown. When the call ends, breathe a sigh of relief. Sit up straight in your chair to type in his information, glad that something is finally going right. Scooch in and stare at your own horrified reflection as your computer clicks off, and the screen goes black. Stifle a scream and try pressing every button on the keyboard and tower. None of them will work. Realize you must have hit the power strip with your foot. Crawl under the desk to find it. Before you do, the front door will swing open with a slam. Jump and bang your head on the desk. The pain will slide along your skull like water. Decide enough is enough. Think: Whoever that is can just turn around and walk right back out . Cry. Make sure it’s not too loud by pulling up your knees and pressing your face into them. Put your hands over your ears to drown out the world. Make sure you don’t hear the strange, rhythmic tap-clunk-tap-clunk-tap-clunk that echoes into the room.
Try to compose yourself. Think: You have a job to do. Think: Grow up for God’s sake. Slowly open your eyes and lift your head. When you do, you’ll see a man directly in front of you, peering at you under the desk. He’ll be seated cross-legged, though one of those legs will seem to be some kind of peg painted in yellow and black to resemble caution markers. The other will sport a big, black, steel-toed work boot with a yellow sole. He will be hunched forward to see you, leaning his chin on his left hand with its fingerless glove that shows off his black nail polish and resting that hand on his knee. His other hand and forearm will be bright yellow metal and gripping what appears to be a large cup of boba tea. A thick green straw will lead to his mouth, and you will be able to see that his teeth are as sharp as the rest of his features. His eyes, amber like flame, will be staring right at you from under thick, bushy eyebrows, flame-like also, an echo of his hair that swoops upward into many sharp points. Remember, unbidden, the campfires of your youth, the warmth and comfort they provided on those cold, frightening nights in the middle of the woods. Once he has your attention, his angular grin will grow wider and sharper. When he speaks, it will be with a thick, Australian accent: G’day! Name’s Jamison. You new here?
Notice his tight, black t-shirt with the word DEMO printed on a small yellow rectangle on his chest. Recognize it as the uniform of the demolition crew of Lindholm Construction. Don’t trust your voice not to break. Nod instead. He’ll nod back and ask: You alright? You can have some of me boba if you want. Always cheers me up.
Be confident that you are not, in fact, alright. Open your mouth to tell him you’re fine and make up some excuse for being caught weeping under a table. Fat tears will begin rolling down your cheeks, surprising you both. Break down. Tell him everything. Tell him how hard you’ve been trying, how badly you need this job. Tell him about each mistake you’ve made. Tell him about the rent that’s due and the car you already had to sell and the fear that you’ll just end up fucking this up too, the way you’ve fucked up all your other chances to get yourself into a good spot. Speak until you have nothing left to say, until he knows about all the things that have brought you to that spot under the desk. He’ll stay on the floor with you, hunched over and listening to every word. He’ll nod in the appropriate spots, make noises of disapproval at those who’ve wronged you, and not say a single thing until you’re done. Sit there in silence for a moment, spent and exhausted. Part of you will be pushing toward another breakdown, this one in mortification for spilling your guts to a stranger, a co-worker, to Jamison. But he’ll stop you with a grin, saying: My second week on the job, I blew off me own arm and leg fucking around at me shop at home. Took near six months to be able to come in, much less do anything. Ol’ Torb didn’t fire me for tha’, so he ain’t bloody likely to fire you. Let your eyes widen in horror. Try not to stare at his peg leg or metal arm. He’ll laugh, and it’ll be louder than you expect. He’ll thrust the boba in your direction and say: Come on then. Drink up! Take a sip before thinking about how unsanitary it is to drink after someone you just met, but the tea will be sweet and smooth, and to your surprise, it will cheer you up.
Watch as Jamison crawls forward and reaches past you to flip the switch of your power strip back on before standing up and holding out his gloved hand to help you out from under your desk. He’ll say: There we go. All better. His grin will be all teeth now, slightly discolored with some of them sharp and some gold, and he’ll gently take the boba from you. He’ll give your upper arm a reassuring squeeze. Before he can step away, throw your arms around him. Bury your face in his shirt and take in his scent of diesel and concrete dust and sweat. Note how much taller he is than you thought when he was all hunched over on the floor. Be as grateful to him as you have ever been to anyone in your entire life. Whisper: Thank you. Feel him go rigid, and he’ll awkwardly pat you on the back for a moment before allowing himself to hug you properly. He’ll whisper back: No worries, mate. Stand there for a moment and feel okay for the first time in a long while.
Suddenly, Jamison will push you to arm’s length. Oh shit! I came here for a reason! He will sprint away down the hall that leads to the offices of the different departments before sprinting back with a rolled up blueprint in his hand. Torb’s gonna be as mad as a cut snake that I took so long. He’ll hurtle out the door toward a beat-up orange truck and jump into its cab, turning the key to make it roar to life. Close your eyes and sigh. Feel better. Feel much better. A few moments later, Jamison will startle you again by sprinting back through the door and up to you. He’ll grab a yellow sticky note off your desk and scribble his phone number on it before sticking it to your hand and quickly turning away. He’ll wave as he hurries out the door, shouting behind him: Let’s be mates, yeah? Smile to yourself and whisper: Yeah.
The phone number will be in writing that is legible, but only barely, and there will be a black smudged thumbprint just below it. Look at it and smile. Feel much, much better. When the phone rings again, answer it and transfer the caller to the correct department.
At the end of your shift, watch as the demolition crew returns to the office, led by the owner of the company, Torbjörn. At only about five feet tall, it’ll be almost funny to watch as he scowls and chastises Jamison who’ll trail behind him and stand nearly a foot and a half taller. Torbjörn‘s voice will be gruff: I’m telling ya’, I know exactly where I left those plans. I just can’t believe they’d take ya’ an hour to find them.
Jamison will look sheepish, but he won’t look to you to come to his defense. Do it anyway. Say: Mr. Lindholm, I’m sorry to interrupt, but I watched Jamison search everywhere for those plans. I’m not sure where they were supposed to be, but it really did take him the whole time to find them.
Torbjörn will frown and stare at you a moment. Then he’ll grunt in acknowledgement and head down the hall toward his office. Jamison will beam and give you a thumbs up and wink before following your boss. Stand there behind the reception desk and stare after him. Feel your heart clench tight in your chest. It will have been a while, but you’ll know what it means. Glance at his hastily scrawled number as if you haven’t already memorized it. Think: Fuck .
Time will pass.
You’ll spend much of that time with Jamison, mostly going out to get boba at first. Having already told him your life story under that desk on the first day you met him, you’ll spend more time listening than speaking. Pay close attention to him.
Learn these things: He loves to talk. He moved to your country with his aunt and cousins when he was 18. He has an adorable freckle on his nose. He drinks boba every day. He’s always enjoyed chemistry, especially when that study results in explosions. His laugh is loud and raucous, bordering on maniacal at times. He’s worked for Lindholm Construction for almost 5 years. He has insomnia. He considers himself a barbecue master. He giggles in a way that can’t be described as anything but cute. He is 25. He has the same zodiac sign you do. His favorite part of his job is the implosions. He gets more handsome every time you see him. His best friend is named Mako and still lives in town near his aunt and cousins. He fixes his truck himself. His smile makes your heart ache. He has an Associate’s of Science in chemistry. His last name is Fawkes. He’s really glad you’re his friend.
Be really glad you’re his friend too. Be glad for any reason to be around him because by this point you’ll have an enormous crush on him. At some point, he’ll be bragging about his barbecue prowess again. Say:
I’d love to try it sometime.
Watch as his eyes light up. He’ll invite you to come over the very next day. Agree without hesitation.
He’ll pick you up in his beat up orange truck. He’ll listen to old eighties rock and sing absurdly. Laugh and sing along when you know the words. Notice that you’re heading further and further from town. When he turns down a dirt road, ask: You aren’t taking me to the middle of the woods to brutally murder me and hide the body, are you? His laugh will be bright and loud. He’ll grin viciously at you and say: You’d be in the back if that were the plan. Nah, I got a little place out here. Nice and quiet. Retort: Quiet? Watch his eyes sparkle with amusement. Jus’ nice when I’m about then.
When you arrive, realize that nice is a gross overstatement. Look at the single-wide trailer with its dirty white siding, ramshackle front door, and weathered washer and dryer in the front yard. Look at Jamison who will be scratching the back of his head sheepishly. Do your best not to look disgusted. He’ll say: Home sweet home. Hold out hope that the inside of the trailer won’t be as bad. When he opens the door for you, that hope will be dashed. Between the yellowed floral wallpaper, the thinning brown linoleum, the threadbare furnishings, and the damaged mini blinds, the only redeeming quality of the room will be Jamison himself, who will be red-faced and frowning as if he’s just then realizing that his home might be something to be embarrassed about. Resolve to erase that look and keep it from reappearing again. Say: So? When do we eat?
The barbecue will be delicious, better than you expect. Eat at his outdoor picnic table with more abandon than usual. He will grin from ear to ear when he sees how much you enjoy it. He’ll promise to cook for you whenever you want. Say: Oh, I’ll definitely take you up on that. Think about the drab interior of his trailer, of the sad, threadbare couch, of the nicotine yellow walls. Think of him sleeping there at night in the dust and the stale air. Choose your words carefully. Say: You know I’d feel guilty if you were always feeding me, and I wasn’t doing anything for you. How about a trade in services? He’ll raise an eyebrow, look intrigued, ask what you have in mind. Recognize the minefield of a conversation you have started. Maneuver cautiously. Say: My favorite class in college was this interior design course I took. Maybe I could help you decorate in exchange for more of your amazing cooking. Anxiety will fill you as his eyebrows furrow. Say: Sorry, that’s just my best skill. I don’t have much else to offer. I just really want to eat this well again soon, and I’m the kind of person that can’t take advantage of others’ hospitality. Smile. Do your best to make it look genuine, to keep the fear off of your face. After a few moments, he’ll smile back and say: Sounds like a fair deal . Try not to look too visibly relieved.
He’ll bring you inside after eating, let you look around at his small, dingy bathroom, his room with the unmade bed and dresser with broken drawers. He’ll explain that he bought the place cheap when he got the job at Lindholm and had all kinds of plans to fix it up, but after his accident, he had to put them on hold and never got around to doing it once he got better. Watch him grip the place where his arm turns from flesh to metal. Turn away and pretend not to notice. Walk to one of the dirty windows, pull the string on the blinds to lift them up in a fine shower of dust, and slide the window open. The sunlight will stream in, and a fresh breeze will blow your hair gently back from your face. Turn slightly to look at him. He’ll be staring at you. Grin. Say: Thank you for letting me do this. You deserve it. Watch his eyes widen with some kind of revelation. His smile will burst forth like an explosion. Ta’ to you too.