My brain-challenged secretary was smiling knowingly when I arrived at work on Monday. On my desk there was a huge vase overflowing with peach roses.
"You made my Shabbat as beautiful as it could be," the card read. It was from Harris.
I looked at the card and then at the roses, and then back at the card. I'd heretofore viewed flowers somewhat skeptically. I'd rarely received them from past friends unless they were trying to make something up to me.
I dialed Harris' cellphone.
"Did you do something bad?" I asked.
"Jess!" he said, the smile evident through the phone. "No, not that I am aware of... Are you at work?"
"Yes, I am. And I am looking at one of the loveliest bouquets of flowers I've ever seen."
"Oh?" he said innocently. "You like them?"
"They're gorgeous." I was somewhat at a loss for words.
"They're not nearly as nice as you are."
Somehow, I knew he was going to say that.
We talked for a few minutes and then he said he found out that morning that he had to go to San Francisco for a meeting.
"Oh, um, okay," I said, trying to hide the sullen notes in my tone. We had plans for several nights this week, including a Suns game the next evening to which I was looking forward immensely. Harris had snagged his firm's tickets, just a few rows behind the home bench.
"You still get the Suns tickets," he said knowingly. "I'll have them messengered over this afternoon, okay? You can take Alison and whoever else you want, all right?"
But I wanted to go with you, I whined in my head.
But I wanted to go with you, I whined in my head.
"Hey!" I thought aloud, brightening. "Why don't I take Rina and Steve?"
I'd had an inordinately positive reaction to the couple who'd hosted us for Shabbat dinner. I'd felt an immediate kinship with Rina and we'd stayed talking until very late. The next day, I'd called to thank her for a lovely evening and we had stayed on the phone longer than seemed necessary, chatting easily, agreeing that we'll get together sometime soon.
"Yeah!" I chimed. "If they get a sitter, we could even take Ari!" (I'd fallen madly in love with their 5-year-old son.)
Harris laughed, seemingly indulgently. "Whatever makes you happy, Jessica."
I heard him ruffling papers for a second and clicking at his computer. "Hey -- can you squeeze in lunch with me today? It won't make up for missing the game, but I want to see you. You can pick up the tickets."
I looked at the seemingly endless "To-Do" list I'd left myself on my desk Friday afternoon in between piles from my overflowing inbox.
"Well, I have to eat, don't I?"
Harris' office looked like one of those exclusive society clubs women are always suing for membership access, dark-paneled wood and brass nameplates everywhere.
"Yes, Ms. Shaeffer, Mr. Parker is expecting you," the pleasantly efficient receptionist told me. "He's not in his office at the moment, but his assistant will take you back, if you don't mind waiting."
Why can't I find a secretary like her?
I felt like I was playing dress-up as I followed Harris' poised and professional aide-de-camp back to his office. I sank into the overstuffed couch opposite a picture window looking toward downtown and, beyond, to South Mountain.
They were speaking in hushed tones as they typed -- about me!
I heard the secretaries outside his door adeptly tapping away on their computers. They were speaking in hushed tones as they typed -- about me, I realized with a stifled giggle. I could see their partial reflections in the window and I wondered if they could see me.
"No, he obviously likes her," one said. "He made me call half the florists in town until I found one that had peach roses..."
Just then, I saw them jerk straight and go silent. Harris had rounded the corner.
He had a stony expression on his face as he dropped a file onto the desk of the one who'd shown me back here. Leaning down to her, he said something in cold, even tones that I couldn't understand. As he walked into the office, I saw the secretary shrinking into her chair.
His face warmed when he beheld me; he apologized for the few moments he'd kept me waiting. As we hustled out, I glanced at the secretary and caught her narrowing her eyes at him. Our eyes locked for a moment and I gave her a small smile intended to reassure. Don't worry, I said silently, I too have been rebuked publicly by my boss.
Harris and I grabbed a quick lunch at a deli on the way to the airport. Over sandwiches, he explained how he'd nearly distributed some report to the senior partners that had a few errors that were supposed to have been corrected in the previous draft.
"It's impossible to find competent people," he fumed, as his eyes searched the restaurant for our waiter and brusquely asked -- for the second time -- for more water.
I commiserated by telling him about my stunningly unskilled assistant. "But, I remind myself every time I get frustrated with her how glad I am to have my own secretary at 27," I said, conscious of how Pollyanna-ish I sounded. "When I was at the magazine, I had to share an assistant with 10 other people, and when she was unavailable, one of the senior editors seemed to think I was her substitute. I try to remember how she made me feel."
"Such a positive outlook," he smiled.
"It wasn't even my job to help her," I recalled, "and it always irritated me that she never once thanked me."
He nodded contemplatively and leaned forward with a series of questions about my job -- questions as much about how I feel about my job, more than about what I actually do. I was flattered by the intensity with which he seemed to be listening. I drew back slightly.
At nearly 30, I still discuss my feelings in the language of a third-grader.
"Harris, you're so interested," I smiled, intending it in a teasing manner.
He raised his eyebrows a little. "Yeah, I am," he paused, "but not just in your job. Jessica, I really like you and I am really hopeful that this, that we, will go somewhere."
I tried to keep a shocked look off my face. Declaring his intentions over a greasy pastrami sandwich? How charmingly Lower-East Side.
"Um, I really like you too," I said, somewhat lamely. I am nearly 30 years old, I thought to myself, and I still can't discuss my feelings in language much beyond that of a third-grader.
Harris smiled. "Good. I'll bring you another magnet from San Francisco to add to what will hopefully become a large collection."
"Harris," I smiled, "stick with roses."