...Now What
by Simon sNowlock

     So there's this girl.
     A lot of stories actually begin this way. The problem is that mine didn't start there and really hasn't ended there. It started in February of this year when I began interning for a freelance journalist who specializes in editing amateur writing for publication and acting as a PR for a major NGO in the US. I met him at my high school when he was doing a story for Newsday on a racial integration program being implemented in New York high schools.
     While I was only supposed write that one article with him, he was impressed enough with me that he asked me to stay on, as he saw a journalist in the making. It looked fun, sounded great, and he said he would even pay me for some of the work.
     So I did.
     I've been with him for over five months, coming in after school to work on manuscripts and help write the other newspaper articles he has floating about. During the summer, I walk in everyday at twelve-thirty and leave around nine, keeping myself busy for the eight and a half hours by reading and editing, interviewing people for articles and researching statistics.
     Just about the same time that I began coming in at twelve thirty for summer vacation, I got my friend working there too, just as an organizer and computer geek. He's a pretty good comp jockey, and wanted a summer job, so I recommended him to my boss. He came in and has been ever since.
     My friend comes in most days at ten forty-five in the morning, then leaves at six. After a few of those early entrances and early exits he said to me, "Dude, did you see that hot girl in this morning?"
I could only laugh at him. There were three separate businesses cramped together in the suite. One office belonged to my boss (where Lucas and I worked), another to a lawyer, and two to an advertising firm. All were run by old men, and my boss, Peter, was just as old as they were. "What are you talking about? Why do you make such bullshit up?"
     "No, I'm serious. There's a hot girl who comes in in the mornings. She has like, a two hour lunch break and then she's here until four."
     "Yeah, then how old is she?"
     "She looks old, like twenty-four or somethin."
     I really didn't believe him. He was the type who enjoyed torturing his friends with shit like this, (though in his defense he's reliable and loyal). So, one night when both of us were stuck there late, I turned to my boss with half disbelief, and said, "Hey, is there a hot girl in the office in the morning? Lucas keeps telling me there is."
     My boss leaned back in his chair and thought for a second. "Yeah, I know who you're talking about."
     "What? There's actually a girl here? Who is she?"
     "She's... Mr. Harper's... daughter, I think. Harper's around seventy and has gone through a couple of divorces. She's 16, working as his secretary during the summer."
     I shut my mouth and didn't look at Lucas's self-satisfied smile.
     I work in Suite 307 on the third floor of the building. The suite opens up directly from the door into a L-shaped hallway that links everything together. In front of the door, and the elbow of the hallway, is one of the advertising offices. Then a computer station and the other ad office. Our office is at the end of the hallway right next to the lawyer's room. After my boss told me about this girl, I began noticing books, shoes, jackets and half empty coke bottles sitting at the computer in the hallway when I would walk in.
     And then I finally saw her. I had been sitting in our office working on a manuscript when Lucas suddenly perked up from the computer and said, "she's here."
     "What the fuck, you suddenly have telepathic powers, you can just tell?"
     "No, asshole, I heard the door close out there. She got back from lunch."
     I ignored him and went back to work, though I couldn't really concentrate now that I knew the only thing separating the office hottie from me was our door. Finally, on the pretense of a bathroom break, I went out to the hallway.
     "Wow," was the only word that managed to stay in my mind. She was absolutely stunning. Dye-Blonde, with incredibly gorgeous eyes. She wasn't just hot, she was beautiful. A hot girl is a piece of meat, doused in chemicals that turn every man on and turn every head when walking down the street. She did more - hell, she was so much more. This girl had the elegance of beauty, the charm and grace in even the most simple movements that can be described only when you see something so pure and real and need to keep seeing it because it's that amazing -- rather than just rip its clothing off.
     Just looking at her made me dizzy and lightheaded. I wanted to smile, laugh, faint -- but I also wanted to remember my name. The only thing that was still there after being blessed with her presence was a voice saying, "WAY out of your league, buddy."

     That was Thursday. On Friday, my boss took off to San Francisco for the firm's major client (the NGO that keeps the wheels turning for us). We stayed late that night getting everything set for the trip, had the weekend off …where I could only wonder who she was, if she was as funny and nice as someone as attractive as her should be… then came in on Monday.
     The start of the week, Lucas, the bastard friend no one wants around, decided it was time to be around as much as possible and taunt me every time I reached for the doorknob to our office.
     "No, this time I'm gonna talk to her. Seriously. Just gotta open the door and say..." The truth was, we didn't even know each other. Lucas had had the chance to introduce himself (telling me later her name was Merriana - even her name sounded like that of some legendary nymph from a Greek myth) and would say hi to her on his way in every morning.
     "Pussy. Pussy. Pussy," he chanted, even when I would actually open the door. I'd shut it quickly and reply, 
     "Shut up, dude, there are other people in the office who can hear you. Asshole." I'd go back to my work and admit to myself that I was being a pussy. Not that he wasn't -- he hadn't said anything but "hi" to her the whole few weeks he'd known she was around.
     I hadn't felt that nervous in front of a girl for a long time. It was strange, like being back in my freshman year of high school when I would turn into a bumbling, stumbling idiot in front of someone who should have been on the cover of a magazine. It was nauseating and exhilarating at the same time, which made it even more upsetting.
     Lucas brought a bunch of CDs in that day and played the music real loud while we worked. Our boss was away, so we wanted to take full advantage of the crazy-ass sound system he had in the office. A little into the afternoon, someone began knocking at our door. When I opened it, Lucas looking blank faced at the computer where he was sitting, I expected one of the old men in the surrounding offices to be complaining.
     Of course, for the sake of life and my story, it wasn't. It was Merriana, right there, not a hand span away from me. She was about 5' 4' with shoulder length hair and just an amazing sculpted face that could melt the sun right off of itself. She wordlessly handed me the mail and, because I could not look directly at her for more than a second without losing basic motor controls (which still happened because I fumbled with the mail as she handed it to me), I looked from her to the mail, then back to her face for a second helping. She smiled at me, turned, and I closed the door.
     I hadn't seen her smile before. Oh God, how I wished I hadn't seen her smile -- I could've just ignored everything and put her out of my mind. The dizzying effect her perfection seemed to triple. I half fainted and just fell backwards onto the floor. "Oh, man, that's a killer smile."
     Lucas grunted his agreement.

     Tuesday. Lucas was not coming in. I told him not to (I was the senior guy in charge) both because he was becoming a nuisance for working and because working up courage with the support of a friend like that is like trying to take a whizz in front of a watching audience.
That night I had tickets to a basketball game at MSG. (Okay, fine, I'll admit it was tickets to the WNBA Liberty who, I will defend, are a great team. They aren't all wrapped up in money and sponsorship and actually play like a team, unlike another New York basketball squad I can name. They aren't showboats, and -- even though they can't dunk -- they are still a helluva bunch of players. And, besides, Becky Hammon is really cute.) My family has season tickets, and usually my sister and I go to see them play. Coincidentally, they were on vacation the very week my boss was on the other side of the US. I had an extra ticket, a gorgeous, possibly available girl, and the courage of a mouse.
     If I couldn't do it spur of the moment, I'd have to do it with a strategy. Work out the conversation. Plan ahead. So I planned to start with the simple in, "Hi, you know, I don't think we've formally met. My name is Jay, what's yours?" She would of course say, "Merriana." (It occurred to me that if she didn't that would have to be the ultimate worst sign). Then I'd reply, "Are you Mr. Harper's daughter?"
     "Yeah! How'd you know?"
     Charmingly, "Would you believe me if I said the resemblance is uncanny?"
     She would laugh and say, "I hope not."
     "Oh, well, I was wondering why there was a beautiful girl in this office of old--" ugly...? No, that would imply her father was ugly, keep that out "--men. So Peter told me who you were." Another laugh, but don't forget to put up defense for her heart-racing smile.
     "Well, it was nice meeting you. How old are you, by the way?" There was no way around the question; all I could do was throw it in somewhere out of the way just to make sure she wasn't younger than Peter said. I had the conversation planned. Everything would be smooth. It would be quick. 
     I timed my entrance into the office that day to coincide with the end of her lunch break, making sure she was at her desk when I got there. When I passed her, I took one deep breath turned and began, "Um... hi... you know, I don't think we've, like... met before. My name is Jay." Of course my hand clumsily reached out and shook hers.
     "Merriana." She smiled. My mind went blank. To early! I hadn't put up any defenses yet, I didn't think she'd do it so early. It knocked me off balance before I could get set. The plan was gone from my head. Stall. Stall. Keep going. Say something. My mind momentarily flashed back to an episode of Friends where the character Ross was sitting with his gorgeous cousin (played by Denise Richards) on his couch and ran into the same situation. Finally he said aloud, "You know, I haven't had sex in a really long time." To his cousin. On the couch where they were barely wearing any clothes. It was the funniest episode ever.
     I turned my eyes slightly away and remembered the next line that was somewhere in the plan, "So, you're.. uh... working for Mr. Harper, right?" D'oh! Idiot, you skipped a line. Now you've lost the charming one!
     She kept looking right at me. "Yeah, well, him and my dad, Mr. Henderson." Oh.
     "Uh... uh... you look so young? How old are you? 20? 16?"
     She laughed out loud, like it was a stupid question (which of course, it was). "19."
     I said quickly, "Uh... nice meeting you," and zoomed into my office. Dammit. Not only did I screw up the conversation but all the intelligence I had gathered was wrong. The only thing I had got right was her name. Even worse, I was 17. A line like "you're so young," wouldn't help me out later when she found out I was still in high school, while she was, no doubt, in college.
     I buried myself in work, leaving the two basketball tickets out in front of me to remind me just what needed to be done. So what if you screwed up the first impression? You had the "in" working. Finish the job, I kept thinking. Again and again, I would walk to the door and turn back. She was just too beautiful -- too out of my league. This was the anxiety of being rejected by a goddess for being mortal. No one wants to face that.
     Around three thirty, I said, "fuck it. Just don't look at her and say what you've planned." I went around my desk, banged the door open, and without really looking at her, only in her general direction, said,      "Hey, Merriana, you don't happen to like basketball, do you?"
     She was putting on her jacket, ready to leave. Fuck, my timing was awful. She'd probably think I was waiting for this or something.      "Yeah, I love basketball... why?"
     "Um... I have tickets to the Liberty game tonight and my friend just blew me off. Want to go?"
     "Sure, I'd love to." She hesitated. This was the problem with the plan -- asking her the day of. She left four hours before the game started, meaning I'd have to hope she didn't have any plans. "What time is it at?"
     "Uh, eight o clock."
     "Oh, that's late. I'll have to make a phone call."
     "O-ok." The door closed and my head swelled three sizes larger. The beautiful blonde sprite from heaven had just said yes. Or at least, a partial yes. A, maybe? Well, it was better than no, right? Or, was it just a less shitty way of rejecting me? Ack. I went back to work, which sucked that day because everyone I called was a complete asshole. About a half hour later she knocked on my door. I was in the process of making a phone call, but simply dropped the receiver and squeaked, "Come in."
     She came right up to the desk. "I'm not sure if I can. I'll probably be able to tell in an hour or so. Are you going to be in the office?"
Blank. Say something. Give a number. "Uh... you can just call my cell." She stared at me while my eyes watched the space right behind her head for a moment. Why wasn't she asking for the number?
     "Do... do you want the number?"
     "Yeah." Again, we both stopped. For a second, I thought she was going to seriously impress me or seriously embarrass me by memorizing the numbers by ear, so I started aloud, then stopped when her face changed into confusion.
     "Do you want to write this down or something...?"
     "Uh, yeah."
     I reached for a notepad, "Well, I thought so but for a moment there I was kind of like, whaaat?" I scribbled only the cell phone's number down in my terrible handwriting and handed it to her. "Just call me." She smiled and walked out of the office. I put my head on my elbows and sighed.

     About an hour and a half after she left, I got her call. I let the cell, which I put right next to the desk, ring twice before I calmly answered all ready knowing full well who it was. "Hello?"
     "Hey.... it's Merriana," she said in her light, tranquil voice. Bad sign. Hadn't said my name. Did she remember it? I only mentioned it once throughout the day.
     "Oh, hey," I said. Good idea. Keep it nonchalant.
     "It turns out, I can't go," I sunk in my chair, "I'm sorry. But thanks for the invite."
     "Yeah, no prob."
     "See you tomorrow."
     "Bye." I hung up and stared at the cell phone. Well, shot down. Pretty badly too. Oh well. I realized only at that moment that by giving her my cell we had effectively swapped numbers. Not that it really mattered, she didn't even know my Goddamn name. If I called her, it would be like I was stalking her or something. Still, I didn't erase it off the recent calls list.
     The ball game was cool. It was lonely, but good. It would have been a great place to really talk to her. Movies and parties suck for first dates/hang outs because there you can't; you're stuck in silence or in a crowd or both. At a ball game, you're not only sitting together - talking is fine during the game and in between on time outs. No one is quiet at a basketball game. That was a great way to get to know her. So I wasted the ticket. Don't think I didn't try to at least find someone who could use it though.

     Wednesday, I had the next set of conversations planned. Of course, this had to be her initiation. I couldn't start it without looking really bad and sounding really bad. And if she didn't start it... well, it would really mean only one thing. So I thought of the usual questions she might ask in a situation like this, "How was the game?" or "Did you find someone to go?"
     I came in at the same time after lunch hoping she'd initiate upon my arrival. Instead, she was still out and I was greeted by dirty old bastard Lucas who seemed like he was actually doing work. He didn't stay long, to my delight, and took off at two. I had to go to the bathroom very shortly after he left.
     Both of us said hi to each other (our first considering I introduced myself to her yesterday) before I entered the bathroom. About to go back into my office, she asked, "So, how was the game?"
     I nodded and smiled, "Oh, it was great." I was supposed to follow up with, "too bad you missed it", but my mind went blank when she smiled again. Keep going. "Um... yeah, what really sucked was," First say that you're pissed off with the imaginary friend who blew you off, "it was the last game of the season AND fan T-shirt day."
     Merriana gave a sympathetic, "Oh, no." My courage was gone. I just wanted to get back into my office and crawl under the desk. I can't do this anymore, I thought. Before I could escape she added,      "Did... the team you want to win... win?"
     I hesitated for a moment. "Uhm, you mean… the Liberty? Did they win?"
     "Yeah, they won." Again I was about to go inside. I stopped, "Uh, do you know who the Liberty are?" I tried to keep anything but curiosity out of my voice. Adding shock would seem condescending. She shook her head. I finished, "Oh, well, they're the WNBA." I didn't ask her if she knew what the WNBA was, just went inside. Again, dividing us by a stupid barely soundproof door.
     As I thought about it, I began wondering, "Wait a second. She didn't even know who the Liberty was. She was willing to go to the game without knowing who was playing. What does that mean?" Dammit. I couldn't even dream the possibility that it was because I asked.
     Dammit, why was this girl on my mind so damn much? I have work to do you know.
     Now it's Thursday morning. I'm going to the office at nine, and we'll find out if I have the balls to say anything more, though I don't have any idea of what to do. There aren't any more games that I have tickets to, and sitting at a coffeehouse doesn't exactly sound like the greatest way to start anything, if there is anything to start. It's mid-August. If she is in college, which almost HAS to be true, then she'll be leaving in ten or twelve days anyway to go back for her second year (being that she's nineteen and all)...
     ...Now what?