His silence and scrolling down the screen indicated he’d shut her out, which surprised her. Normally, Mitch wasn’t moody. Finally, he muttered. “I bet you don’t know when my birthday is?”
“Of course, I do. We’ve worked together for over six weeks. There’s no reason I wouldn’t know your birthday. We’re friends.” As she spoke, she made a mental inventory of everything she knew about Mitch. The sound of slamming file cabinet drawers indicated Lauren was still in a snit. The noise didn’t make it any easier to think either.
She should know this. Her hand slid closer to her mouse. A quick peek at the personnel records would help her faulty memory.
“No fair looking it up.”
He guessed her intentions. Damn. “Obviously, I’m a crummy friend. I can’t remember your birthday. Sue me.”
Swiveling his chair, he turned to stare at her. “The reason you don’t know my birthday is I never told you. I never told you because I didn’t expect you to do anything for me. A guy who tells you his birthday expects a big deal. The fact that he told you on the second date makes it even more suspicious.”
Her hand shot out and wrapped around his arm. “Not so fast, boyo.”
He laughed. “What are you now, an Irish gangster from the thirties?”
He was right she sounded bizarre. “It’s your fault.” Noting his raised eyebrows, she added, “Mostly.” She dropped her hand, bit her bottom lip, and wanted to ask why it looked suspicious, but was afraid of the answer.
He inhaled deeply, and then let it out in a loud sigh. “I’m sorry I said anything, but can’t you see Cam is using you.”
No, not this argument again. She glanced at his lips pulled into a frown. Hadn’t they already had this discussion before? Wait that was Leah. Stella denounced Leah’s concerns calling her jealous, which was ridiculous since she’d been with Dylan forever. What did Leah have to be jealous about? “Explain how mentioning his birthday is using me?”
“You didn’t ask for it. He offered it, even mentioned he’d be open to gifts. Told you on the second date.” He made a point of emphasizing the word date, implying their date was no more than laundry duty.
Everything was true. As a tech geek, Mitch knew how to manipulate data. Cam was everything a girl could want if you liked six pack abs, great hair, and a gorgeous smile. Stella almost missed Mitch’s comment as she mentally searched for other attributes Cam might have.
“Wonder how many other girls he’s mentioned his birthday to?”
Her first response was to deny he’d mentioned it to anyone, but how did she know? He could have made up flyers and handed them out to the various sororities. Mitch’s logic was taking her down a path she didn’t want to go.
He muttered, “Forget about it,” when she fell silent.
Goddess, she wasn’t sure, how they even got into this discussion, but wished they hadn’t. A lack of drawer slamming caused her to glance in Lauren’s direction. The female was still staring at her. Strange.
She resumed typing as Mitch stood and walked out of the room. Good chance he left to avoid all the turmoil. More likely, he went to grab a soda. Her fingers flew across the keys to make up for the time she wasted discussing Laundromats rendezvouses and the importance of telling birthday dates. Green and red squiggles appeared under various words indicate that while typing fast, it wasn’t accurate.
Thanks a lot Mitch. Now I have to go back and proof everything. It wasn’t like she didn’t already proof on a normal basis, but now she’d have more to correct. Her fingers slowed a bit as she tried to read each paragraph carefully, making sure she made sense out of the semi-illegible notes. The tiny clock at the right side of the screen reminded her that she had plenty of regular work left on her shift and no real time for her extra duties.
The pneumatic door springs caused the fire doors that enclosed the lab to close with an ominous clang, rather like the sound of the prison gates closing. She looked up to see Mitch brandishing two chip bags.
“Snack run?” She realized the chips made the question unnecessary.
“Of a sort.” Mitch shrugged and placed a bag of multigrain chips on her desk. “Consider it a peace offering.”
The brightly colored bag drew her attention, especially since it was her favorite. Hunger whetted her appetite even more. Her fingers reached for the shiny sack as she considered her actions toward her co-worker. “Thank you. I’m sorry if I went all crazy about the birthday issue. You’re right. No one goes around announcing their birthday unless they want a gift or a big party.”
She certainly hadn’t. Cam hadn’t asked hers, and she hadn’t offered. There didn’t seem to be a point since they might not being dating then anyhow. Ripping open the bag, she picked out the first chip and allowed it to sit on her tongue, appreciating the mix of flavors and the tang of saltiness. She’d denied herself the delicious luxury for quite a while.
The second chip she consumed faster and the third chip even more so. The real reason she never told Cam her birthday was that she didn’t want to be disappointed again. Last year, her father, too involved with his new family, did nothing for her birthday. Her mother had the nerve to send a note about contributing to the crazy church in her name. More likely, it bought her penance, forgiveness, or something. Leah had sent her a present, but the campus postal service delivered it to the wrong dorm. She didn’t get it until almost a week later.
That made her last birthday a particularly depressing day. Wrapping her fingers around the last chips in the bag, she shoved them into her mouth and crunched down hard, causing crumbs to slide down her face. The feeling of hopelessness threated to return. Another bag of chips landing on her keyboard interrupted her visit to birthdays past.
Mitch gestured to the bag. “Looks like you could use another bag.”
Chips packed her jaws, most likely giving her a chipmunk appearance. She looked away from Mitch, in the direction of nearby dark monitor that reflected back her image. A wild-eyed woman who looked on the verge of tears with plump cheeks and food crumbs dotting her face stared back at her. A tissue wiped away the crumbs. Chewing and swallowing slimmed her cheeks, but nothing could remove the lost look from her eyes.