“What did you do this weekend, Karen?” Seth asked his coworker once she was in the office on Monday morning. “I missed you on Saturday.”
“Yeah,” Karen said slowly, twirling a stray piece of hair that had fallen into her face already, “I ended up having to do a lot more than I thought was required . . . sorry about that.”
“No worries, no worries,” Seth said, waving her off easily. “It wasn’t a big thing, so it’s all right that you didn’t come. I just thought I’d throw an invitation out your way. No worries.”
Immediately, Seth felt that he was over compensating to try and hide the fact that he had actually been hurt by the fact that Karen hadn’t shown up on Saturday. And if he felt that he was over compensating, then he could be damn sure that Karen felt that he was over compensating, too. Why did he always over compensate when he talked to Karen? She was one of his best friends, and she could tell when he was trying to hide away his emotions from her. Yet he always did that. He always tried to hide the way he felt whenever the way he was feeling made him look weak. Trying to shake off the fact that he was over compensating, Seth cleared his throat and decided to take the conversation in a much more comfortable direction.
“So, Karen, what are your Thanksgiving plans, this year? Are your relative all coming over to your house again this year?” Seth really loved Karen’s family. It was large, it was loud, and it was just the way that a normal family was supposed to be.
“Oh yeah. We do the same thing every year,” Karen replied easily, throwing a grin his way. “But you should know that by now. You’re welcome to come over again this year, if you want. We’d love to have you over.”
Seth was grateful for that. He could remember that first Thanksgiving without his mom, and how the Walker family opened up their arms, hearts, and home to him. Thanksgiving is not a time to be alone, dear, Karen’s mom had said to him once he walked in the door. You are like family to our Karen, and therefore, you are like family to all of us.
Although, looking back, it had taken a little time for the whole family to actually act like he was part of their family and not just someone that was ogling Karen. Seth could remember the intimidating stare he had gotten from Jack the first couple of hours that he had been over at their house. Jack just continued to give him that cold-blooded, stone-cold stare the entire night. When Seth finally decided to call it a night, Jack followed him outside.
Seth tried ignoring the fact that Karen’s older brother seemed to be following him, but when Jack put his hand on the car door to keep it shut, Seth finally had to look at him. “Look, you seem like a nice guy, Seth,” Jack had started off. “And Karen brought you home, and she has never done that for anyone before. So, you’ll have to forgive me if this seems a little forward and or you think I am making a presumption, but I need to tell you this. Do not, under any circumstances, hurt my sister. Karen is the baby of the family. She is my youngest sister. I don’t care what she does, I always have her back. If you hurt her, in any way, I will come find you, and I will beat the living shit out of you. Do you understand me?”
Seth could still remember the cold stare that had been on Jack’s face that first night. It haunted him, for like, a year. It wasn’t until Seth showed up at their house again the next year, and saw Jack being completely jovial toward him, that Seth thought that maybe Jack liked him. After all, he had only ever said one cold thing to him, and it had been that warning, all those years ago.
“It’s a date,” Seth said, smiling easily at her.
To his pleasure, she took the statement extremely well. She smiled her warm, bright, inviting smile, and punched him lightly in the arm. “Done deal. My family will be glad to hear that you are coming over.”
That was most likely true. Over the years, as Seth got to know all the members of Karen’s family, he caught on really quickly that they did not usually like the men that Karen was dating. And though they knew that she was not dating Seth, they did like Seth. Some of them even considered him to be part of the family already. Of course, perhaps that meant that they would not be able to see him dating Karen. Wouldn’t that be incest, or something of a similar nature? Anyway, Seth had gotten to know a lot of her extended family over the years, through Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s Eve, and about three birthdays a year (Karen’s, Claire’s, and usually Jack’s, though not every year).
Though the skeptical part of Seth’s brain was going off like live-wire, a very small, tiny piece of his stomach was flipping joyously. He knew that Karen did not see this “date” as an actual date. At least, that is what he was telling himself. But Seth, though he was trying to convince himself not to get too excited, couldn’t quite convince himself that Karen had only said “date” because he had said it casually. Maybe, just maybe, she was hoping that it would turn into an actual date, too.
But how could he tell that for sure? For sure, as in be one hundred percent sure that Karen was viewing it the same way that he wanted to if he didn’t tell her that he was viewing this as an actual date? And, to take it a step further (which, Seth could admit) almost always took it a step further in the wrong direction, what if she did say yes, but then realized after the date that they weren’t meant to date? Would Seth still be invited to all of their family gatherings if Karen and he actually tried to date but decided things weren’t working out? Maybe if they decided against it really quick . . . then they could still be friends and he could still go, but not if they dated for a prolonged part of time, right? Maybe it was just him being over analytical (after all, he certainly was that on most days). Surely a friendship for as long as he and Karen had been friends could survive a small dating experiment.
Trying to get his mind off the fact he didn’t know how him liking Karen an trying to date her could (or would, or might) affect their friendship, he left the question on its own (or tried to, at the very least), and tried to get Karen talking some more, so he would have a distraction from the list of things that could potentially go wrong if the two of them ever dated and broke up out of his head.
“What would you like me to bring this year? Is there anything in particular that you would like, or do you just want a new Green creation?”
That thought, of him making something always amused Karen, as it did after he said it right then, as well. “Green creations” were what Seth liked to call his attempts at traditional family dishes, but always seemed to go horribly wrong. For Christ’s sake - he had tried to make Easy Mac one year and it came out more like macaroni soup. But, Lord love them, every single one of the Walkers always took at least a spoonful of whatever Seth brought, and ate it, too. They may tell him that it was “delicious” (like Karen’s mom and sister), they might tell him that it was an “interesting attempt” (like Karen’s dad), or they might just tell him point blank (as Jack did every year), that it was “fucking disgusting.”
“You know, I actually may have something that you can make this year,” Karen said, her voice getting a little tingly, as it often did whenever she was excited, “it’s a S’more dessert creation. All you need are a bag of marshmallows, a box of graham crackers, a six pack of Hershey’s candy bars, and a stick of butter. It must be impossible to mess up something that is only made from the three most delicious creations ever, right?”
“I don’t know, Karen . . . I’ve got a reputation to uphold. Do I really want to actually try to make something that tastes good this year?” Seth joked, raising his eyebrows inquisitively.
“Oh Seth,” Karen laughed, rolling her eyes. “You are not a bad cook . . . you just haven’t had to do it very often. The only time you attempt to make something is for our Thanksgiving and Christmas meals. Now how can anyone expect to be a fantastic cook if they only attempt things for two meals out of the . . . what would it be . . . 3 times 365 days a year . . . or, 366 days this year, because of Leap Year, right?”
“Yeah, 366 days this year,” Seth said easily. He was pretty happy that he always was able to keep track of math skills . . . That was one thing that he was always better than Karen at. She was a horrible mathematician. If it were up to Seth, Karen wouldn’t have ever passed her math classes. Honestly, he didn’t know how a self-respecting teacher could pass her when she didn’t even know how to divide. Perhaps she took some “extra credit” but if that were the case, then Seth was damn sure that he did not want the details on what the extra credit entailed. It was hard enough trying not to imagine her climbing on top of Jordan, but at least he was their age. Imagining her climbing under one of her professors just made Seth want to puke. And he hadn’t even eaten anything today, yet.
Trying to change the subject before the image of her being involved with one of the math teachers took absolute control of his mind, Seth asked instead, “So how’s your story coming along?”
“Pretty good, actually. I just have a couple more people to follow up with, but other than that, I should have the story written by the end of tomorrow.”
“And when is the story due?” Seth asked, giving her a curious look.
“I think the story is due on Thursday,” Karen responded as if she were answering an easy question like “What day does school start on?”
“Shit, Karen,” Hank Joffrey said, sticking his head over the little wall separating their cubicles, “can you please stop being so prompt with your stories? Hooker is going to chew my ass and spit out the remains because I still haven’t turned in my story that was due on Friday!”
Seth chuckled to himself and slapped Hank on the back. “Aw, cheer up, Hank. Karen outshines everyone on this floor. Hell, she even outshines Hooker, and he’s been the boss since before me and Karen started here!”
“Oh, please,” Karen scoffed, waving a hand at the men. “Just because I know how to follow a deadline-”
“No, Karen,” Hank said quickly, cutting her off. “You don’t just ‘follow a deadline,’ you beat the living shit out of that deadline.”
Karen laughed and said, “Call it what you want, Hank. It’s not my fault that you can’t follow your deadlines.”
“Ah, too true, too true,” Hank laughed good-naturedly. “Well, I have to get back to typing up this article or Hooker’s going to be down here in five minutes demanding my head.”
“Oh no, we don’t want that,” Seth agreed. “We’ll leave you be, Hank.”
For about an hour, Seth and Karen kept to themselves. Hank was able to finish his article right before Hooker came storming toward their desks, with theoretical storm clouds crashing over his head. Oh of course Hooker was not pleased with the fact that Hank’s article was late, but at least he could put it in for the online issue of the paper today.
“Well done, Hooker,” Karen congratulated him once he was alone.
“Thanks, that was a close one, for sure,” Hank laughed, leaning back in his chair to stretch out.
“I was going to go down to the snack cart to grab a granola bar or something,” Seth said, now that he had regained his stomach and he could hear it growling. “Would either of you like anything? My treat.”
“Sure - if you’re paying!” Hank laughed. “I’ll take a blueberry tart!”
Seth nodded and turned to Karen. “Karen? You want anything?”
“I’m good for right now,” she said easily, typing away furiously on her laptop. “Thanks, though.”
“Sure thing. I’ll be back in five,” Seth said, walking over to the elevator.
It took him a couple of seconds to cross over to the elevator and he was just about to get on when the elevator doors were stopped by a hand that held the doors open. When the owner of the hand that had stopped the elevator doors finally appeared, she was a long-legged intern.
Oh my God, Seth thought, trying to keep himself from staring at the beautiful creature standing before him, where did she come from? But he didn’t ask that question out loud. Instead, he smiled weakly and said, “Morning.”
“Good morning,” the intern said, fixing her glasses and then running her hand through her hair. “How are you doing, today?”
“Not too bad. What about you? Is your Monday starting off right?”
“I don’t know . . . I’ve been trying to find a reporter, but everywhere I’ve looked, they say that I have the wrong floor. I really thought this was the floor I was looking for, but the guy I was talking to didn’t seem to know what I was talking about.”
Seth looked over at her and asked, “Who were you talking to?”
“Erm . . . ” the interns said, shuffling her hands around until she managed to find the piece of paper she was looking for. “The guy I was trying to talk to was named Danny.”
Ah yes, Seth thought bemused. He probably was too taken aback that a pretty girl was talking to him. You probably made his week . . . Maybe even his year for talking to him. I doubt that he actually heard a single word you said. Again, though, he kept those thoughts silent, and he turned to face the intern again. “Who were you looking for? Maybe I could help you find them.”
“Really? You’d be willing to help me out?” she asked, flipping her hair.
As much as Seth wanted to say Hell yes, he held off and said instead, “Sure thing. Who are you looking for?”
“The reporter I was looking for is woman, actually. Karen Walker. Do you know who she is?”
Seth’s mouth dropped. “Yeah - she sits at the desk next to me. We’ve known each other for years.”
“Really? Will you take me over to her desk? You weren’t headed out, were you?”
“Oh no. I was just making a coffee run. But sure thing, once we get the coffee and Hank’s breakfast, we can head on back up and I’ll introduce you to Karen. It’s funny . . . she didn’t mention that she was getting an intern.”
“Hmm,” the intern said, as the door opened at the first floor. “I’m Jackie Stewart, by the way. Sorry that I can’t shake your hand right now, but my hands are kind of full.”
“No worries. Would you like some help carrying all your stuff? I have some free hands. Oh, and I’m Seth Green. It’s nice to meet you, Jackie.”
“Oh, no, I don’t need any help carrying this. I’ve actually got it all balanced pretty well at the moment. Plus, if you would be all gentlemanly to carry stuff for me, how would you carry your coffee and breakfast sandwich?”
Seth laughed and said, “Yeah, I suppose that is a good point. So, you’re an intern? Are you still in school or freshly graduated?”
“I’ve got one semester left. I should graduate this December, God willing,” Jackie said, following Seth to the giant vending machine on the first floor.
“Do you have any papers that you are really trying to get hired by? Or are you willing to go anywhere that offers you a job?”
“That’s a good question,” Jackie said thoughtfully. “Ideally, I would get hired by a serious publication, maybe one that I could travel to follow the stories, you know. But realistically, let’s be honest, journalism is a dying art and that makes journalists a dying breed. So let’s be honest, I’d probably jump at the chance to work anywhere that would hire me and didn’t look like it was going to collapse in the next two years.”
“I understand that point of view. I was right there just two years ago. You’ll like working under Karen, though. She is a great reporter. She actually does double duty; writing and reporting for both the hard copy of the Tribune and posting on her blog and writing some articles for the online publication of the Tribune, too.”
“Wow . . . does she ever have time to live her life?” Jackie asked in wonder. “I can’t imagine writing for two publications and still having time to go out and live.”
“Karen was always good at multi-tasking. She always has time for things that she really wants to do. She is probably so good at multi0tasking because she has always been an exceptionally good planner. We went to college together and even then, her schedule was always so full and busy that she had to develop really good note taking skills as well as the ability to make a schedule, outline a game plan, and most importantly, follow through on it. She’s been doing that for as long as I have known her.”
“And how long is that?” Jackie asked. “How long have you known Karen?”
“Eight or nine years . . . maybe a little longer. We went to the same high school and college, although we didn’t hang out very much in high school.”
“Why was that? Did you hang out in different crowds?” Jackie asked, looking thoughtfully at Seth.
“Yeah, and I was kind of a loner back then. I didn’t really grow out of my comfort zone until college. My college buddies did a good job of helping me to become more social.”
“How did they manage to do that?” Jackie asked, giving a small laugh. “Take you to keggers and the like?”
Seth gave a hearty laugh and said, “Yeah . . . they did do that actually. But I was never a really big drinker. Still not really a drinker. That’s more my buddy Pete’s expertise.”
“Yeah, he’s one of my best friends. We’ve known each other for a really long time. Grew up together, sort of.”
“Sort of? How did you meet? Did you go to the same school or something?”
“Sure did,” Seth said. Then, since it was his turn in line to place his order, he briefly turned his attention to the man working behind the counter, placed his order, and once he paid, turned his attention back to Jackie. “But Pete and I didn’t really hang out until after Haley.”
That was an exceptionally good question. The easy answer was that she was a raving bitch. The more complicated answer was that she was a common ex-girlfriend that Pete and Seth shared. They had actually started talking because they were complaining about their exes one day and Haley’s name came up. Seth actually made a couple of friends after that conversation . . . though none of them had lasted as long as Pete had. Deciding to play it off as easily and simply as he could, Seth said, “Eh, she’s a long story. But I guess the easiest way to say it is she is a common ex-girlfriend.”
“I see,” Jackie nodded.
“Yeah, she’s kind of a buzz kill. No matter though, she’s old news. And you are in the publishing business now, so old news shouldn’t interest you. Let’s head on back up to my part of the office and I’ll introduce you to Karen. How does that sound?”
“Sounds awesome,” Jackie nodded. “Let’s do it.”
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