“Finally,” she exhaled in relief, scooping up the stack of completed paperwork on her desk. She pushed her chair backward, rolling across the small office to the bank of filing cabinets, and slid open a drawer. Depositing the papers into their waiting folder gave her a sharp jolt of vindication, and she was grinning as she sailed back to her desk on the rolling chair. A glance at the clock confirmed she had an hour left in the work day, and she only had one project left to tackle before it was time to go home. “Perfect,” she murmured, pulling up the program she needed. Time to plug in and put her head down. Hell, she might even get to finish answering her emails before it was time to go.
The second earbud was halfway to her ear when a sharp knock sounded on the door frame. She only just managed to bite back a groan. “No,” she said under her breath, then, meeting her newly arrived coworker’s gaze, “no. I just finished entering the tracking data, and I still have to do the end of month report. Anything else can wait until tomorrow.” She tried to sound like she believed it.
At least he had the decency to look sheepish. “Wish it could. But the boss wants this compiled before end of day, and he wants you to do it.” She muttered something uncomplimentary under her breath and he bit back a chuckle, glancing back over his shoulder before leaning further into her closet of an office. “You know that when you drop into Spanish we all know you’re cussing, right?” Well, that wasn’t true, she thought, but it wasn’t like anyone around here bothered to learn any Spanish. Let them think she cursing at them all the time. She just rolled her eyes and he laughed again. “Whatever. I had a meeting cancel on me. Send me the link to the tracking data, I can do the monthly report.” He set a new pile of papers in her inbox with an apologetic shrug.
“Thanks,” she said, feeling a little of the stress lift from her shoulders. Still. She fixed him with a hard gaze, “Just make sure you plug the numbers into the right sheets this time?” There was a reason she’d taken over the end of month reporting.
“Cross my heart,” he said, sounding sincere. Then he winked and added, “I know better than to make you look bad. You’d probably write a song about me so my shame would live on forever.”
She snorted, allowing him a smile in return. “I don’t write the lyrics. Those are on Cammy and Bobby.”
“Huh,” he said, nodding in thought. “That’s cool. Hey, speaking of, when’s your next show? Been telling my boyfriend about you guys and he wants to see you play.”
“Next Friday,” she answered, “at Moonshine. Doors are at eight, and we go on at eleven.”
“Cool. I’ll bring him.”
“Want me to put you on the band’s guest list?”
He paused to consider it, then shook his head. “Nah, I don’t mind paying for a good show. But hey, if he wants to get a cd, you’ll have everyone sign it, right?”
“Right on. He shot her a thumbs up and turned to leave. “To work, I guess. Catch you later.”
“Later,” she agreed, turning back to her desk with a sigh. She popped in the second earbud and grabbed the new stack of papers, firing up her music. “To work,” she muttered, and got to it.
He jerked awake with a start, eyes searching for the clock on the wall before his mind even registered why he was so panicked. Easy enough to remember when he saw the time. Five-fifteen. Merda! She would be home any moment! How had he let himself fall asleep? He’d gotten too used to napping all the time. Now he might have put everything in jeopardy.
Heaving himself off the couch, he moved across the room, replacing the book he’d drifted off reading on the apartment’s small, but brimming, bookshelf. He didn’t bother checking to see what page he was on. He’d just skim through tomorrow and find the last spot he remembered. “Cos’altro?” he muttered to himself as he glanced around the room. Ah. The music player. He picked up the small device and quickly returned it to the selection it had shown when she left this morning. Nothing else looked to be out of place, or at least not more out of place than could be accounted for by his expected presence. He made a quick circuit of the kitchen and bathroom, assuring himself that all was in order. The towels were askew, so he straightened them, making sure his own towel was back where it belonged after its earlier laundering. A small sigh escaped his lips. She was bound to notice the increase in her water bill eventually. When he figured out a way to get himself out of this mess, he’d come back and repay her. Somehow.
Steps sounded in the hall and he tensed. Time was up. He strode back into the living room, drawing a deep breath and changing between one step and another. He spared a second for an inward grimace, not because the transformation hurt, but because it didn’t. Nor was he any longer disoriented by the sudden shift in his perspective. It was unnerving. He was getting used to the change, and that was the last thing he’d wanted. The last thing his parents had wanted. Yet here he was, able to change without even a second thought. Maybe there was a lesson in that about fate or destiny, or learning to accept yourself for who you really are. He really didn’t care at the moment. All of his focus was on the door of the apartment, his ears twitching forward at the rattle of a key in the door.
His hearing was better like this, and he could hear her on the other side, talking on her phone. In English, this time, so to one of her friends, rather than her family. She entered at last, catching sight of him waiting, and knelt down to scratch behind his ears as she carried on the conversation. “All right, Cammy. Sure. I should be able to make it. Let me double-check the calendar at work, but…right. Okay. Yeah. I’ll let you know.” She shut the door and locked it, setting down her keys and purse on the small table beside the entrance. Then she turned back to him, a wide smile on her face. “Hola, pequeño! How was your day? I bet you’re hungry, hmm? Let’s get you some food.”
He would have smiled back if he could. Instead, he just followed her into the kitchen, the thought of food once more pushing the guilt of his lie to the back of his mind.