“Ted, we should get married.”
It was a testament to the way Ted’s week had been going that this barely made the top five weirdest things that had happened in the last seven days.
First, there was the potentially sentient edible umbrellas, followed by the wearable knockoff Jell-o which had turned into the wearable knockoff Jell-o incident—and then subsequent radioactive wearable knockoff Jell-o had bonded to the potentially sentient edible umbrellas. All in all, somehow, this still only made the top five on a technicality.
But anyways, back to Veronica.
“I’m sorry, what?” said Ted, looking up from the report reporting the umbrellas were for sure not sentient (anymore) and that the radioactive knockoff Jell-o had been very much permanently disposed of (for now). He was pretty sure he’d heard her right, but also assumed he really couldn’t have.
“Married,” Veronica repeated. “The thing where people get rings and get gifts and have a party and then live together, or whatever.”
“And make lifelong commitments to love each other and start a family, but sure.” Ted cleared his throat. “So, I’m sorry, why?”
Veronica huffed like he was being obtuse on purpose. “Well, Mordor is off the grid with his second or sixth or something-th wife. I can’t marry Chet, because he’s Upper Management, and I can’t stand the presence of any of the other slobbering drones on this floor.”
Veronica rolled her eyes, continuing with barely a breath in between statements.
“I already asked Linda, but she gave me some syrup-sweet speech about love and romance, and I had to get out of her cubicle before I retched all over her kitten pictures. Then I asked those lab rats downstairs, and they just squeaked gibberish at one and then one passed out.”
She threw her hands up in exasperation. Ted honestly wasn’t clear whether she meant Lem and Phil or the actual rats down in the lab, and then decided he really didn’t want to know.
“Which leaves you,” Veronica finished with a mighty, aggravated sigh.
Ted tried not to let his ego feel too badly bruised when he mumbled out, “So I’m...your absolute last choice?”
“Well, of course.”
“Gee, thanks. I guess I’m glad I rated above Dr. Bhamba, but that really does not make me feel better.”
“Oh, please. I actually like you, Ted. I didn’t want to have to marry you on purpose and ruin that, but it seems I’m out of options.”
Ted blinked and couldn’t quite digest what exactly she was saying. “Okay, but why are you asking people to marry you, at all?”
“You, Ted, not people.” She came and leaned against the edge of his desk. “It’s just a little fugitive situation, that’s all. A few run-ins with the Education Minister of Albania, a couple martinis, a gun or three, and then boom, you’re on the run for two years until you can escape to America and run a company—you know how it is.”
Ted gaped at her. “I—you—no, I really don’t. Albania?”
“Look, legal says if I want to keep my job and my hair, then I need to marry somebody by the end of the month. So are you in?”
“Haven’t you listened to anything I’ve said?” When Ted made some strangled, puzzled noises, Veronica huffed again. “God, you’re worse than Linda.”
She got up and circled his desk, snatching a paper clip off his desk while he gaped, opening and closing his mouth like an asphyxiating goldfish. She bent the paperclip into a little triangular coil, and proceeded to kneel. Or rather, she made to kneel between his desk chairs, but her tight pencil skirt and black high heels made her wobbly and able to descend only a few inches. Veronica winced at him and thrust the triangular paperclip ring at him.
“Please help me stay in the country?” She grimaced.
“Very romantic,” Ted grumbled.
“Time is of the essence, Crisp.”
He stared at the coil, his thoughts pinging around in a squall of confusion. Her hair? Married? What about Rose? Fugitive? Her hair ?
He couldn’t decide if it was awkward that she was asking because she was technically his boss or that she was his twice-time lover or some other reason altogether. He also couldn’t figure out how on earth Veronica, of all people, would need a green-card marriage or whatever this was. Or why on earth she’d considered asking Chet, of all people.
(Which didn’t matter—it was not even in the top twenty list of problems and questions he had with this whole thing. But still. Chet? )
Veronica grunted a little, and he realized she was still balancing in a half-squat on her high heels, so he hastily grabbed the ring.
“Okay, look, fine, just for now—I’m not saying yes, but I’m not saying no, either. We’ll figure something out for you.”
Veronica straightened herself out and smoothed her hands down her skirt. “I’ll have the paperwork to you by this afternoon.” She turned on her heel and made for the door.
“Whoa, whoa, hold up.” Ted shoved his rolly chair back. “This afternoon? A minute ago we had a month, and now we have an afternoon?”
She kept walking into the hallway, calling over her shoulder, “Why wait?”
Ted hurried after her. “For starters, so we can find a way out of your...weird Albanian legal problems—”
“Keep your voice down, Ted.”
“Sorry. Your...situation. That has something to do with your hair and you getting...arrested?”
Veronica laughed. “I’d like to see them try.”
She shot him a How ridiculous are you? look.
“Well, what then?” Ted tried not to be exasperated, but Veronica was being unusually exasperating.
“I’m afraid I’m not at liberty to say.” Veronica said airily, striding into her office.
Ted followed, and let out a huff of frustration of his own. “For Pete’s sake, Veronica—”
“Pete has nothing to do with this, and you can tell him I said so,” Veronica snapped. She circled her desk and settled into her chair. “Look, if I told you, Ted, I would have to kill you, and it would be silly to kill my new fiancé when marrying him is going to save me from what I can’t tell him anyway. And then I’d be back at square one trying to find someone else to marry. Obviously.”
Ted blinked and decided there was no point trying to dig into this further at the moment. He’d get proper answers later.
“Veronica, we’ll find a way out of whatever it is, without forcing yourself to marry somebody,” he said. “Second, if I’m gonna marry anyone, I’m gonna date her first.”
He held up the paper clip coil and she stared at him. One eyebrow raised unnervingly slowly.
“You want to...date,” she said, forming the word like she’d never heard it before in her life. “You and me.”
“Hey, you’re the one who proposed two minutes ago. I’m just saying if you want it to look legitimate, we should at least pretend to be in a relationship.” Ted shrugged. “Maybe we could pretend we’ve been dating a lot longer so it looks to be on the up-and-up. Then, we can fake break-up before we fake-marry after we’ve fixed your real whatever-it-is.”
“You’ve thought about this a lot,” Veronica said, eyeing him suspiciously. “This better not be the part where you tell me you’ve been in love with me since the moment you saw me—though I could hardly blame you if you were. I simply don’t have time for your romantic-comedy shenanigans right now.”
Ted sighed through his nose. “It was one time and who hasn’t gone through a pottery class and pictured Patrick Swayze?” Before Veronica could reply, Ted went on hastily, “I’ll help you however I can, is my point, and we should pretend to date in the meantime in case we have to pretend to get married, too.”
Veronica regarded him thoughtfully then squared her shoulders. “Fine. Deal.” She thrust her hand out and he gave it a firm shake.
A great company and its customer are like a great marriage.
You are a team, and everyone has their part to play. Even if that part means the customer sometimes just needs to accept that this is how things are and go make dinner already.
Veridian Dynamics. Marriage. Yay?
Though Ted didn’t tell anyone—not even his desk plant—somehow, it was common knowledge within days that he and Veronica were “dating”. Coworkers on his floor were suddenly nervous and cagey around him at best. At worst, they were flinging themselves into the stairwell to avoid a conversation with him, as Rick had done on Thursday morning.
Ted didn’t normally storm, but today he stormed into the lab. Patricia shrieked and fell off of her stool. Dr. Bhamba jumped out of his seat, bowed to Ted, called him “Your Most Handsome Highness,” and offered him a plate of meticulously decorated cupcakes. Lem proceeded to pout that he hadn’t been allowed to have one.
“Okay, that’s enough,” Ted snapped. “What the hell is happening?”
“Everyone is freaked out by the force of nature that is Tedronica,” said Phil. He cocked his head and looked to Lem. “Ved?”
“Hmm,” said Lem thoughtfully. “Vertedica? Crisper— Palmsp. No.”
“We’ll get it,” Phil assured Ted.
Ted, who frankly did not want to hear his name being combined with Veronica’s in some sort of Brangelina situation, glared at the scientists. “What are you talking about?”
“The big boss is dating the bigger boss,” Lem supplied, pushing his glasses higher on his nose. “People are scared.”
“Not us, though,” said Phil, though the high-pitched squeak was hardly convincing.
“Well, we’re a little scared,” Lem admitted.
“A lot scared, really,” Phil agreed. “I’ve been practicing talking to you all day so I wouldn’t pass out when you came down here.”
“Guys—this is ridiculous!” Ted burst out. “No one should be acting any different or treating us weird. We’re just dating, that’s all.”
“How can we put this in terms you will understand,” Dr. Bhamba mused. He set the tray of cupcakes down and Lem eyed them covetously. Patricia edged a couple inches closer. “Imagine if the sun, the most beautiful and powerful entity in the universe found another sun and tried to mate with it.”
Ted wasn’t sure if he should feel flattered or worried.
“Now,” said Patricia, eyes wide and hands gesturing. “Imagine that those two suns blow up—or, maybe, they break up.” She shuddered.
Lem moved his fingers towards the cupcake tray.
Bhamba smacked his hand down on top of Lem’s. “BAM. The universe has ended.”
Lem yelped and recoiled. “He’s not even eating them,” he grumbled petulantly.
Ted looked between all of them. “So you all think...if Veronica and I break up, the...company falls apart?”
“Also you’re both too pretty to look at when you’re together-together,” Patricia added. “It hurts our eyes.” She still hadn’t blinked and was watching Ted the same way Lem was still watching the cupcakes.
Ted had about a dozen replies to this ridiculousness, but none of his responses seemed like they would properly result in calming the team down sufficiently. Things like, Veronica and I are functioning adults. Or, we make our own decisions, so butt out. Or, we couldn’t take Veridian apart if we tried. Of course, there was also, we’re only pretending to date just in case I have to marry Veronica to make sure she stays in the country and keeps her hair. Instead, after many years’ experience with these particular people, Ted said what they needed to hear.
“I’m not going to leave you if we break up, and she’s not going to fire you, okay?” Ted looked at each of them in turn as he spoke.
They collectively sighed and relaxed. Patricia almost cried, then came around the table to crush Ted in an uncomfortably long hug, while Lem thanked Ted like he was a doctor informing a once-terminally ill patient that they were going to live. Phil left to call his wife, and Dr. Bhamba scooped up one of the cupcakes and bit into it with relish.
“Now, can we please get to work?” Ted begged.
The weirdness levelled out by the end of the second week, thankfully. Ted figured it was mostly because there was always some new bit of gossip to overshadow the problem of the week. Once, it broke that Debbie was in rehab after trying to assassinate Sheila over a misplaced stapler, and that was almost all anyone could talk about for nearly a month.
His and Veronica’s “courtship” was pushed farther from everyone’s minds when the testing of a new biodegradable perfume resulted in somehow summoning packs of ravenous dogs to Veridian’s grudgingly ADA-compliant doorstep. The bottles went back to the lab for further refinement, while all the dogs were rounded up and returned to their owners.
“I think it’s so great that you guys are together,” Linda said happily. “I mean, really great. If it couldn’t work between us, then I think it’s super great that you and her are a thing. I know I’m saying great too much, but it’s really great. Really.”
Ted chuckled. He and Linda could never get the timing right. They were the on-again-off-again couple who never was quite on-again, and he suspected there’d always be a lingering what if. She’d been dating some adorably vanilla dude named Will for a few months and, though he’d assumed it’d bother him, it hadn’t really bothered him.
“So great,” Linda repeated. She exhaled. “I’m genuinely trying not to say ‘great’ and it keeps coming out anyways. Which is not great. But, I mean, I am actually happy for you.”
“It’s fine, Linda,” Ted said. “I appreciate it.”
“Are you ready for another outing tonight, my love?” Veronica asked loudly, coming up behind Ted and smacking her hand down on his butt. He wished she’d stop doing that.
“Yes,” he said through his teeth.
“Great!” Veronica chirped and strode away.
“Now I got her doing it, too,” Linda grumbled. “Great.”
At dinner, Veronica laughed too hard at his mildly amusing jokes. She kept flipping her hair over her shoulder—she’d worn it down in long, loose waves and he kinda wanted to comb his fingers through it because it looked so soft. Then, worst of all, she tried to feed him a bit of her food.
“Okay,” Ted said, momentarily abandoning his killer-good penne alfredo. “What is going on with you? You’ve been weird every time we’ve gone out, and I keep thinking you’re going to relax, but, if anything, you’re getting weirder.”
Veronica sighed and set down her forkful of duck and parsnip. “I don’t know what the hell I’m doing. I haven’t dated properly in ages—all Mordor and I did was adventures and sex, and before that was magic and sex, and before that was pretty much just sex.”
Ted tried not to wince. Mordor had been...well. Mordor.
“I’m supposed to be good at everything.” Veronica crossed her arms over her chest and glared at her meal. “I should be good at dating, too.”
Ted sighed. “Look, if we’re being honest, I’m not that good at dating either. I haven’t had anything long-term since Rose’s mom, and we all know how that went.” He ignored the acrid taste in his mouth at the memory. “All I’m saying is, you don’t have to worry—or try so hard. It’s just me.”
“True,” Veronica said thoughtfully, brightening a little. “Plus, we’re not even really dating, so it doesn’t matter.” She returned to her duck.
Ted didn’t know why that statement stung. He ignored that, too, and got back to his delicious pasta.
Veronica was just Veronica after that—they talked about work, which slid into talk about Rose, then Rose’s schooling (which Veronica feigned interest in for almost a good five minutes, for which Ted was grateful). That moved on, without segue, to Veronica’s trip to Bali last spring. When they finally paid the bill, he was surprised to see they’d casually passed three hours talking.
“This was actually fun,” Veronica said once they were outside in the cool, night air.
“You don’t have to sound so surprised,” Ted joked. “I had fun, too.”
“Of course you did, Ted. It’s me you’re fake-dating.”
He laughed, and she smiled, and for a heart-skipping moment with the glow of the restaurant playing across her hair and the way her eyes sparkled and the way she turned her head just so to look at him, he thought they were going to kiss. But then she just gave him a little wave and reached for her car keys and said goodbye. He knew he’d been imagining the moment, and he shook off the notion that he actually would’ve liked to kiss her just then.
As he drove home, he tried not to think about how nice dating Veronica was turning out to be. After all, as soon as her lawyers found a way out of her Albanian mess, they wouldn’t need to keep up the charade any more.
The hardest part, really, was explaining the situation to Rose. Ted absolutely did not want to lie to her but he absolutely could not tell her the full truth, either.
He sat her down at the kitchen table for a Talk, and she narrowed her eyes at him, suspicious and worried while he struggled to find the words he wanted.
“Honey...you know that...well, Veronica and I… You know that we’re good friends.” Ted swallowed. This was going super well.
“And you’ve been going on dates,” Rose finished, still eyeing him suspiciously.
“Right. Which you said you were okay with, but now…um, see Rose, the thing is… When two adults…”
Rose’s expression cleared. “Dad, do you want to marry Veronica?”
Ted’s mouth hung open for a long time before Rose rolled her eyes.
“Missy Carrington from school could’ve seen that coming and Dad, she’s blind.” Rose looked at him like he was the child in the relationship, and he was being very, very silly.
“How did you guess?” Ted finally managed to ask.
“Dad, I’m eleven, not an idiot.”
“But we’ve only been dating a month, and, honey—”
“You have my blessing,” Rose said airily, waving her hand at Ted like she was some mob boss from an old movie.
Ted blinked. “Rose, honey… Look, no one is replacing your mom, okay? You wouldn’t have to call Veronica ‘mom’ or anything.”
“She probably won’t even live here full-time after the first couple weeks,” he said, watching her reaction carefully.
Still unphased, Rose said, “Okay.”
“Honestly, we’re really only—I’m just doing her a favor, okay?”
Irrationally frustrated, Ted burst out, “Why are you taking this so well?”
Rose smiled. “Dad, I’ve known this was coming forever, even though you didn’t.” She hopped off her chair and patted his shoulder. “You don’t have to convince me, here.”
Ted narrowed his eyes at her. “When did you become so wise?”
She shrugged. “Something about having you for a dad, probably.”
Ted chuckled and enveloped Rose in a quick hug. He didn’t have the heart to explain that this was a completely fake marriage, nor could he explain why it bothered him that Rose believed it wasn’t fake at all.
Ted happened to be in Veronica’s office going over the month-end reports when she got The Call.
“Hello?” Veronica’s face shifted from her Business face to her Worried face in a second, and Ted stopped scribbling down notes. Her eyes flicked to him. “Yes, and what have you found? Any loopholes?”
Ted swallowed. This was it. This was where they found out if they were getting married at City Hall this week, with a “real” wedding next week, or if Veronica was free and clear from her bizarre—still unexplained, by the way—Albanian legal problems.
She listened carefully, let out a few curt “mm-hmms”, and her gaze shifted to her desk. He couldn’t tell if she was getting good news or bad, and he tried not to wiggle to the edge of his seat to see if he could hear the other end of the call. His heart thumped against his breastbone.
“I see,” said Veronica neutrally. “Thank you. Yes, it is. Thank you for letting me know. Goodbye.”
She hung up the phone and sat so rigidly, she might’ve turned into marble.
“Well?” Ted pressed when he couldn’t bear the silence another second longer. “What happened? What did they say?”
He curled his fingers around his pen so tightly, it made a cracking noise.
“They did it,” Veronica finally said, finally looked at him, finally relaxed. “So that’s it.”
“That’s it? You’re free and clear?”
“They worked it out with the government and the Minister. I’m no longer a fugitive.” She smiled but it looked more plastic than usual.
“Well, that’s great!” Ted said, letting go of his pen. He grinned so forcefully his cheeks hurt. “So great!”
“Of course,” she said, smile widening to match his. “That means we don’t have to date anymore.”
“Or get married,” he added, though his enthusiasm was getting strangled in his throat, so he smiled harder to compensate for it.
“Right, or get married.” She folded her hands together on her desk. “We probably would’ve ended up miserable and bitterly divorced anyways. That’s just how marriage works. No offense.”
“Yeah, you’re probably right.” His heart sunk, though. He couldn’t help thinking they actually might’ve been kinda great together. They would’ve had a strange marriage—but a fun one—and Rose approved, and…well. It didn’t matter now.
“Thank goodness it’s over,” Veronica said. “Dating was the worst. All those fancy restaurants, popcorn sharing, and the things with the balls…”
“The bowling alley.”
Ted chuckled. “You’re just bitter I beat you.”
“You didn’t beat me—that lout two rows over distracted me and I threw one bad round. I would’ve won.”
“You wish,” Ted shot back.
“Don’t test me, Crisp.” She raised her eyebrow at him.
His smile melted away, replaced by the reality. He cleared his throat. “Dodged a bullet there, huh?”
“Yeah,” said Veronica, forcing the syllable out.
He looked down at his month-end reports. He didn’t know why his stomach was churning—he’d avoided the cafeteria’s mystery meat fajitas at lunch, he’d taken his vitamins this morning, and they had never been really dating anyway. There was nothing to be upset about.
And sure, they had some good times, and sure, he’d gotten a little used to going out with her, and fine, he’d spent a little too much time daydreaming about a wedding, but it wasn’t going to happen. She was out of danger. No green-card marriage needed.
“Sorry, you go—”
“No, it’s fine—”
“We don’t have to stop dating completely,” Ted blurted. “I mean, just as friends, we could still, you know, go bowling and eat and movies. I wouldn’t mind, if you wanted to, we could…”
“Eat movies?” Veronica said, staring at him.
“And. I know I said and.” Ted sucked in a deep breath. “Unless I’m the only one feeling...feelings.”
Veronica slowly leaned back in her chair. “Ted Crisp, are you asking me to date you for real?”
“Are you saying ‘yes’...for real?”
She tried not smile when she said, “I suppose it wasn’t really the worst time I’ve ever had.”
His heart rate spiked with excitement instead of dread this time. “We were pretty good together.”
“Of course we were, Ted. It’s me, and it’s you.”
He took her in, from her power-bun to her power-suit, the tilt of her lips and the way her eyes were devouring him in return. He was tempted to lock the door to her office and repeat their original affair. Instead, he summoned whatever self-control he could muster and simply smiled—a genuine, warm one this time.
“Well, then, it’s a date.”
She gave him a knowing nod, and they got back to work.
Ted made a note to send the Education Minister of Albania a massive gift basket.