Josie was just coming around the corner, and just about to re-start humming to herself the song she’d had stuck in her head all day, when she heard Max’s voice in the partially-darkened lobby. Hadn’t he said he was going on a date, had to wait for ‘that special someone’ to get off work? She shrugged to herself. He must be talking to Blake, waiting for whoever-he-was to get finished.
And then she stopped, thought for a second: Everyone knew Max was in a relationship again, but why didn’t anyone know anything about the man he was seeing? He didn’t talk about him at work, didn’t allude to him very often in conversations – and even when he did, it was only in the most general of terms. But this was Max, who was seemingly as open as the day was long…so why the secrecy? It didn’t make sense…
Around the corner, a male voice growled something – growled?! – and Max responded with laughter. And when he spoke again, his voice was husky and very much come-hither.
Josie stopped dead a second time. Was he…and in front of Blake, too? Was his boyfriend here, or was Max cheating on him with some other guy?
She had never claimed that she was above wanting to know…well, everything. Science! So, moving quietly – sneaking, really – she crept up to the corner and peeked around it.
Just in time to see Blake – short, balding, stuttering Blake – push Max up against the gold wall mural Elise had insisted on putting up in the office even though everyone else hated it. He growled, Max said something, and…
She drew back, eyes wide. Okay, that was…
She peeked again. Blake was very obviously the one in charge. Max was very, very obviously okay with that.
Josie managed to extricate herself from the office that night without running into either Max or Blake, mainly by going back to her desk and waiting until she was sure they’d both left. Once at home, though, she let her mind fully finish being blown. Which she was willing to admit was a poor word choice, considering. Max was gay, everyone knew that. Blake was apparently also gay and nobody had known until her, just now, tonight. But why would two men who worked for an online dating service hide what looked like a smoking hot relationship when they were at work? She knew for a fact that Elise didn’t care, she didn’t think most of the other people at the office did either…
…And then she remembered the tire-iron incident. Rumor around the office had it that someone had made a complaint to HR saying that Max was ‘harassing’ his fellow employees as part of a sex-for-favors scheme between he and Blake. Which had been ridiculous, of course…but hadn’t Max turned into a workaholic after that? Josie remembered making fun of him for it, taunting him about being alone and working all the time and not having a social life. Okay, honestly, she’d been kind of a bitch about it. But she’d just been playing! He knew that. She knew he knew that. And he’d even gotten into it with her a few times, giving back as good as he got…okay, but he’d been kind of defensive about it, so maybe she’d gone a little too far, pushed a few too many of his buttons.
Still, the tire-iron incident had all started with an accusation – false, at the time, she knew – that Max was sleeping with Blake. So maybe they thought they had to hide their relationship from the rest of the office to keep Max from getting harassed or even fired. That would make sense. It sucked, but it made sense. Josie got up and went into the kitchen, coming back with ice cream and flopping back down on the couch to eat it. She was tired and confused and her mind was still kind of blown from the surprising hotness of Blake shoving Max up against the wall and kissing him senseless. Some Brownie Avalanche with candy sprinkles would help her get her thoughts back in order. And then she’d go to bed and hopefully not have sex dreams about people she worked with.
The next morning at work, Josie was tired and frustrated and Max was…well, he was bouncy and glowing, so he’d obviously been happily getting his brains fucked out the night before while she’d been eating ice cream and candy by herself in her apartment. She pushed aside the pang of Derek-loss that the collusion of those two thoughts still gave her – gummy bear treat! – and gave him a halfhearted glare for being so cheerful pre-coffee first thing in the morning. “I’m guessing your date went well.”
“They always do.” He smiled like a well-fed cat. “What did you do last night? We don’t have any big projects going down right now, but you look like you pulled an all-nighter.”
“I was doing some research, looking for ways I could possibly improve the match algorithm, and it…got away from me.” He accepted that with a nod, because there’d been many other times it had been true. She decided to give the situation a poke, see what he said or didn’t say – research! Purely research, for real. “Sooo…how come you never talk about him?”
He shrugged. “I like my private life to stay private – we work in an office full of busybodies, half of whom think like you do, that you can boil love down to a set of numbers and calculate it. I believe love is magical, special, something precious.” He leaned over the cube wall and grabbed her coffee cup. “You need more caffeine if you’re gonna be in Elise’s meeting this morning and not get eaten alive, I’ll be right back.”
He walked away, taking the cup with him, before she could say anything else. She frowned after him. He was telling the truth, and she’d heard even more than what he’d said thanks to her ‘intuition’ when it came to people talking about themselves. Max was afraid they’d try to take his magical, special, precious love away from him, take it away and pick it to death and finally destroy it, with science. Because Josie, who loudly and often avowed that she was Science, had proved over and over again that there was no situation she would not apply that science to in order to try to get the upper hand around the office.
Of course, she couldn’t just come right out and tell him she wouldn’t do that, because, well…she’d been considering it. She’d run his and Blake’s profiles – everyone in the company had one, whether they used the site or not – multiple times during her ice-cream binge the night before and never gotten higher than a 48% match. Which was maybe enough for them to be fuck-buddies for a while, but not nearly enough for a real relationship. Not to mention, if she told him that then he was going to want to know why she’d been running that match, how she’d found out he and Blake were dating, and then she’d have to tell him what she’d seen in the lobby. Which would be an embarrassing thing for her to explain because she wasn’t sure she’d be able to hide the fact that she’d found it kind of…exciting to watch. Because he and Blake, although completely doomed according to science, were just so inexplicably hot together.
Josie didn’t realize she’d sort of spaced out on that thought until a small square of sticky notes landed in front of her on the desk with a soft smacking sound, startling her. Blake was on the other side of the cube wall, and he was scowling – which startled her even more, because she’d never seen that look on him before. Ever. “You aren’t saying a word to anyone,” he ordered in a low voice. “I will ruin you if you cause harm to come to him, even if it’s just someone giving him a dirty look he doesn’t understand the reason behind, got it?”
She barely had time to blink before he was gone again, which made her uneasy; she’d just realized that Blake could sneak a lot better than she could. Which was something she really should have noticed before, really, because he was always popping up out of seemingly nowhere and startling the crap out of people. Most likely for fun, now that she thought about it – his own fun, not any of theirs. She flicked through the little square of sticky notes, each tiny page of which had been numbered, shaking her head. Blake could be so weird sometimes. Elise had hired him because he was so good at researching and gathering and compiling data, literally no detail was too small for him to pursue and record. But he couldn’t prioritize most of the data – or if he did, he prioritized it in weird ways – and he was just personally annoying. His mannerisms, his persistent vocal and facial tics, the way he talked…
Of course, he hadn’t been talking like that just now, had he? Josie ran her thumb along the edge of the sticky-note stack again, making the neat tiny numbers flow into a scarily even blue blur. Was it an act? She sat up a little straighter. The numbers, the data, no, of course not, maybe not even the tics…but the rest of it?
Her cup reappeared in front of her, filled and steaming, and three sugar packets dropped down next to it. Max raised an eyebrow at the sticky notes. “Ran out?”
Josie frowned. “How did you know?”
“Because that stack’s still on 1.” He rolled his eyes when she didn’t connect the dots. “You use a ton of sticky notes, you use them for everything. And when you run out you get pissy, and when one of them gets lost you get pissy, so Blake started numbering them and color-coding the stacks. That way he knows what order you wrote them in, if any are missing or not, and when you’re running out so he can make sure you get another numbered, color-coded stack instead of stealing someone else’s and throwing the whole system into chaos again.”
She inexplicably felt a little offended. “You mean he doesn’t number everyone’s?”
Max grinned. “Nope, just yours. Elise likes him doing it, too, so she made that rule that everyone had to get their office supplies directly from Blake for ‘inventory control’, remember?”
Josie scowled down into her coffee, ripping the tops off the sugar packets and dumping them all in at once. “Nobody checks their email often enough, sticky notes are more immediate and harder to ignore.”
“True, but when you leave four or five of them on someone’s monitor they’re also really annoying.” He saw she was upset and moved to fix it, like he always did. “Josie, nobody is complaining now that the notes are numbered, okay? And again, Elise likes it and accepts that you work better that way, so if anyone did complain at this point they’d have to complain to her and then…well, she’d reduce them to gerbil-size with a look and they’d scurry back to their desk like a good little rodent that just escaped being eaten by an apex predator.” He cocked his head. “The numbering thing is helping you too, right? To sort out the reminders you leave yourself, the little snippets of code, all that stuff? It helps you to know which one came first, and how old it is?”
She thought about it, slurping her sugary coffee, and nodded. “Yes, it does help. I just hadn’t noticed that it was helping, it was just…there. But it does help a lot.”
A day ago, she’d have thought the momentarily bright, beaming smile that comment got was just…Max being Max. He was a happy sort of person, usually. Now, though…well, now she knew better, now she could assign a meaning to the wattage of the pleasure he was expressing over what seemed like such an innocuous comment. He walked around the corner to his own desk and sat down, and she sighed as her intuition filled in that one last blank like a masked killer sliding the last brick into the wall his victim was chained up behind. The meaning was that Max was head-over-heels in love with Blake.
Josie put her head down on her desk so she wouldn’t see the new stack of sticky notes…or the place where the old stack, still half-full, had been ripped out of the holder, most likely early that morning before she’d dragged herself in to work. She was going to have to be very, very careful not to piss Blake off before the inevitable breakup happened, because she really wasn’t sure what to expect from him and she didn’t want him putting the blame on her. Which could go really, really badly for her, since gathering data was Blake’s specialty…and apparently, so was sneaking.