The term office park didn't usually have such a literal meaning. But her place of work was situated within a circle of eight office buildings, which surrounded a pond, trees, and picnic tables. On her lunch break she usually took the bench in front of the pond if no one else was sitting there. The pond was obviously man-made, but at least it offered some semblance of the natural world. Ducks and geese came to congregate there. She had to look out for goose shit when she walked across the grass, but she’d gotten good at watching her step.
Today she brought half of her leftover fried rice from last night’s dinner. Lately she was in the habit of ordering takeout every night. The meals were so large that she would usually eat half and pack up the rest for lunch the next day. She hadn’t purchased any non-breakfast foods at the grocery store in months. With her fried rice she packed a peach. After a particularly tedious morning, she skipped waiting in the break room’s microwave line in order to spend as much time as possible in the sun. Sitting on the bench, she finished her cold rice and wrapped the Tupperware and fork back up in her cooler, exchanging it for her dessert. The peach was perfect. It had just the right amount of give against her fingers and it smelled of peak ripeness. As she took the first bite she noticed a man sitting at the picnic table several yards away, closer to the opposite side of the pond.
He was looking at her.
After a moment of eye contact, he smiled.
She chewed the bite of fruit. She was right. It was perfect. Juice dribbled down the side of her lip and she licked it off. She hadn’t meant this as a flirtation, but the man’s smile turned into a grin. She could feel her cheeks blush. Luckily he was too far away to notice. He was also far away enough that she couldn’t make out the details of his face. She wasn’t able to tell if he had freckles or not, for example. But she got a good enough picture of the shape of his face, his upper body, a haircut that didn’t appear stupid, and posture that wasn’t overly pompous (like so many of her male coworkers). She felt confident categorizing him as attractive.
Then she thought of that day a few weeks ago when she was walking downtown and she noticed an attractive man heading toward her. She rolled her shoulders back and smiled, anticipating their meeting. But when she got closer, she realized she’d been excited to flirt with a man who was, in reality, just a tall twelve year old.
He hadn't noticed her before. Though this was the first time he had left the department lounge to eat outside. Things had gotten awkward with Janet, so he was doing what he could to avoid her. He needed to clear his head. It only seemed too perfect a sign that this adorable girl was eating a peach. He pulled his own peach from his bag and held it up to her. She was chewing another bite now, so he couldn’t gauge her reaction. He couldn’t see if she hid an acknowledging smile behind her fruit. But he thought he noticed her nod slightly. He took a bite in unison with her next nibble. Was there anything sexier than a hot girl eating a peach?
There was nothing more disgusting than a man sloppily eating fruit, she decided. A familiar shame sat in, the same way it did when she realized she’d been shaking her ass for a sixth grader.
He chewed with his mouth open and she could just barely make out the globs of yellowish fruit he mashed between his gums. His peach must have been ripe as well because she saw him lick his hand. Juice must have run all the way down to his wrist. He turned his forearm and lapped at the back of his hand.
She looked at her own peach. It wasn’t so appetizing to her now. She wrapped what was let of it in her napkin and put it in her cooler.
He finished his peach at the same time she did. She was a slower, daintier eater, he thought. What now? He still had a bag of crackers. He decided to walk to the water’s edge, to the halfway point between them. He’d feed the ducks and she could join him. It was an invitation to interact without being too forward or coming on too strong. When he got back to the office, he knew Brent would tell him he should have just asked her out. But that was the difference between their flirting styles. Brent got one night stands. But he got girlfriends.
Finally he stopped gawking at her and got up. She tensed up when she realized he was not headed back to one of the bordering towers and instead walked towards her. But then he turned to the pond, pulled something out of his pocket and threw it into the water. He was feeding the ducks. It was her chance to escape unnoticed.
On the way back to her office, she stepped through the grass quickly, while still trying to avoid any goose droppings.
About the Author: Shannon McLeod teaches high school English in Southeast Michigan. Her writing has appeared in Hobart, The Billfold, Cheap Pop, and Word Riot, among other publications. Her essay chapbook PATHETIC is forthcoming from Etchings Press. You can find Shannon on Twitter @OcqueocSAM or on her website at www.shannon-mcleod.com.
Story Song: "Peaches" by The Presidents of the United States of America