A roommate was a wonderful thing most of the time, Wendy had always thought. Lacey helped with rent and utilities, she stuck to eating her own tofu-centric food items, and she was great company. Many times, the two young women had talked about how they might have lost touch without living together to give them time to socialize. Lacey had lamented e-friending as a general trend, and Wendy had given her a big non-virtual hug.
Then there were the days when all they did was trip over each other and their respective possessions. The mornings when the coffee only lasted one of them, and the other had to start the machine again. The mornings when the get-up-and-go routine Wendy had to perform interrupted Lacey's more bohemian stay-in-and-dream schedule.
It was one such morning when the Middle apprentice dropped a full cup of coffee, smashing the cup and sending a spreading pool of life-giving brew across the floor. She ran for the mop, got most of the liquid, and then swept up the porcelain shards. As she moved to dump them in the trash, the broom clattered from where she'd leaned it on the wall. Wendy gritted her teeth and waited for the traditional light bitching that accompanied early morning acts of clumsiness.
“Are you in that much of a hurry to go service Sexy Bossman,” Lacey groaned snidely, her face barely rising from the crush into her pillow.
If it had been fifteen minutes later, or she'd had some of the coffee before it landed on the floor, Wendy might have considered her rejoinder. If it was closer to the weekend, or there was something good on tv that night, she probably could have reserved judgement on Lacey's snark level. If her watch hadn't chimed another reminder that she was expected to help save the world on an empty stomach, Wendy Watson might not have said what she said.
“Don't be crass, we call it making love.”
Her tone was flat, but she grinned as she pulled open Lacey's bedside drawer and took out a condom. Tucking it into her pocket, Wendy waved over her shoulder. She forgot about the joke long before the elevator delivered her to the first floor. Her mind was on the mission.
Hours later, after a briefing on wereducks, a lot of dithering about possible use of deadly force toward wereducks, and discovering what was reported as a wereduck was really just a duck with a smear of ketchup from a french fry, Wendy watched her relieved Boss feed the entirely normal and innocent water fowl.
“So, this is your hobby, and you were afraid you'd have to shoot one of your little feathered friends,” she quipped, secretly glad not to have seen his soft heart break.
“Gosh darn it, Dubbie,” he said quietly, no doubt thinking of the ducks' innocent ears and peace of mind. “They're peaceful ambassadors of nature. Their deceptively clumsy waddles hide rather fine minds, among the birdbrained.”
A mother duck led four goslings toward The Middleman, and he immediately lowered a handful of breadcrumbs for the babies. They pecked at the food with their mother, and her Boss smiled with quiet joy. Rolling her eyes, Wendy retreated to a bench and waited out his Snow White bonds with the animals moment.
He really would insist on calling it making love, she thought humourously, even the quickies.
Upon turning the corner, they both spotted the protesters at the same time. Lacey was up on a literal soap box, with a hand-painted sign proclaiming, 'Feminism Works, so Work It!' A very apathetic Noser was strumming along to the chants of Lacey's half-dozen followers, who were toting other signs that boasted the 'Power of Women' and 'Entitlement of NO Entitlement.'
Wendy had a bad feeling about this. She checked across the street, hoping to see a new strip club, and sadly had to let go of that rationalization. Lacey was protesting her servicing Sexy Bossman.
“Okay, Boss? Here's the thing . . . I spilled coffee this morning, and long-story-short, you have to lock yourself in until I get this squared away, okay? Let me out, just slow down, and keep driving right into the garage.”
She slid off her seat belt and cracked the door, ignoring his sputtering, “Dubbie, they look mad at me. Why do they look mad at me? What does that one say about 'banging'?”
“Don't read the signs, it's all a misunderstanding,” she barked, using her emergency voice. He knew it from every battle they'd fought, and trusted it without question. “Go! GO!”
Hopping out and slamming the door, she waved the car into the garage. He went, slower than she would have liked if he were really escaping an angry mob. Luckily, six of Lacey's protester friends and Noser did not constitute a serious threat. Mostly, Wendy didn't want to see The Middleman have his feelings hurt.
“-institutional inequality of female employment!” Lacey was yelling at the closed garage door. “Is this what generations of women have toiled to create?! Is this where we want future generations to be trapped!?”
Briefly dazzled by a sign that said “Breasts are not a Bullseye!” Wendy was delayed getting to her roommate. She nodded to Noser, who seemed to be embarrassed at his part in the protest. He had a sign, too, but it was propped a little bit away from him, as if he needed the remove from the sociopolitics of the event.
“Lacey, sarcastic morning jokes,” Wendy griped. “We've had this issue before! What I say in irritation before nine AM is likely not admissible as truth!”
The blond stepped down from her perch and handed her sign off. Noser took it reluctantly. Wendy shot him an apologetic look, which he acknowledged with a shoulder tilt. Lacey crossed her arms and leaned in.
“So you're saying,” she began in a furious whisper, “I rallied my fellow confrontationalists because you are infected with cynical overuse of ironic speech that has ruined countless dialogues for people of our generation. You're saying you learned nothing from the shrimp incident, or Burning Man?”
Wrinkling her nose and slumping, Wendy nodded. She actually still believed the shrimp incident was not her fault, but it wasn't a good idea to open that argument again. “And you probably hurt my Boss' feelings, too. He's really sensitive about being a good guy. He's way too nice to take advantage of me,” she admitted.
Lacey covered her gasp with an entirely sincere gesture. “I hurt Sexy Bossman's feelings! Pack it up! PACK IT UP! There is no injustice here but my own!”
To her credit, Lacey took the minutes of stowing away the protest signs to yell an apology at the building, and Wendy only winced a few times at the very personal information slipping in between the rhetoric.
“I honour your commitment to equitable employment,” Lacey bellowed, “And I honour the attention you have paid to Wendy's sexual being. To be equals is truly the goal of every partnership, and it is by no means my goal to oppress the truly rightgeous love-making that fuels your bond!”
“Oh my god,” Wendy heard herself muttering. Somehow the fictional nature of her Sexy Bossman sexing had not gotten through, and now it was practically public record.
Noser gave her a single pat on the back, and she forced a half-smile in gratitude. The next time Bossman went to the Neighbourhood Watch meeting, she was going to have to keep him from talking to anyone. Guarding him like a jealous girlfriend wasn't going to calm the rumours much, but it would keep them out of their working relationship.
“You have given her stability, purpose, and love in a life that was once a string of heartbreaks,” her roommate continued.
“Hey now,” the apprentice Middleman grumbled. It had not been that bad. “I was doing fine.”
“You have ignited her womanhood-” Lacey's voice was lifted in the kind of blissful positivity that was almost mindless to the things she was revealing, and Wendy had to stop her before the blue pudding-pop and elliptical machine incident came to light.
“OKAY, Lacey! Great job! Thanks!”
Wendy yanked her down, getting a thwap on the head from the 'Our Apologies-Pax' sign that was over Lacey's shoulder. She shoved her roommate toward the car of ex-protesters, and Noser grabbed the soap box for future use.
“See you at home!” Wendy waved until they turned the corner, then plodded into the office. She paused for Ida's mockery, and the android just snickered.
“Oooh, Peaches . . . “ she trailed off, shaking her head almost sympathetically. She was smiling like the sociopathic computerized lunatic Wendy knew her to be.
“It's all a very simple misunderstanding,” she insisted. “Two minutes and I'll have this off his mind forever.”
“But what of the shrimp incident, or the blue pudding-pop and elliptical machine,” Ida sneered knowingly. “Real-time Situational Recording. I heard everything I'm inclined to hear – which is not much – but on a day like today it seems worth it!”
Something in her brain broke at the extremely bad luck. The lack of coffee was making the wildly firing synapses crackle and short-out, but Wendy at least managed a dirty look as she left the room. She found The Middleman in the armoury, his face set in a neutral expression.
“Hi, Boss, so that out there . . . Lacey thought I had been wronged by my working conditions, and was protesting on my behalf. I corrected her on the matter and really, what more is there to say?”
She nearly held her breath as he paused before answering.
“I gather your facetious inferences regarding our physical intimacy do not reflect any ill-will or exploitation you feel toward me, Dubbie,” he asked flatly, eyes fixed on a howitzer.
Wendy stifled a groan and tried not to wish too hard he would shoot her instead of making her say it. It was pretty obvious she had a blast at work, and enjoyed his company.
“I love my job,” she said clearly. “And I did need something in my life, though I wasn't quite the wreck Lacey makes me out to be. Being with you has made me believe that two people can really operate on a level of oneness. That's not about sex, though I'm sure we would call it making love and I'm sure you could ignite anything you wanted.”
Her lame joke wound longer and longer, and as her voice dropped in embarrassment, Wendy feared it sounded wistful. She smiled desperately and stuck her hands in her pockets, trying to emulate breezy disregard. She hadn't considered how romantic their partnership could sound if it was described out loud.
“Did I mention I never got my coffee this morning,” she whimpered.
“It's a drug, Dubbie,” The Middleman told her sternly. “Head out. I'll call you if I need you.”
She yanked her hands out of her pockets and the condom she took from Lacey that morning flew through the air. It landed on the floor between them. He looked down, then grazed his eyes up her body until he met her mortified blush. Bending deliberately, Sexy Bossman earned his unofficial title with long, fluid movements. He put the condom in her sweaty palm, and closed her fingers on it. His fingers were very warm and gentle.
She desperately needed coffee, and maybe an MRI for that protest sign to the head. It hadn't seemed very rough at the time, but Wendy was pretty dizzy now. She had an unfamiliar urge to swoon against his chest, knowing he would catch her and carry her to safety.
“Okay, well, see you,” Wendy breathed.
She backed out of the room and slid herself along the walls until she was out of range of his wholesome yet powerful presence. Maybe Lacey was on to something, but she was going to get some coffee and think hard about the situation.
At the very least, it was tacky to jump her boss the same day he was the subject of a sexual harassment protest in her dubious defense.