Okay, I screwed up. This entry was supposed to be private and I can’t make it private and…to hell with it. Why? BECAUSE MERCURY RETROGRADE!🤦♀️
Life is tough enough without an entire planet coming for you…
Abbie was an adult. A level-headed, practical, calm adult. Unflappable. Okay, maybe she was a little flappable sometimes, but wasn’t everyone? Well, apparently today was her day to be flapped, because she found herself on the verge of tears over a spilled cup of coffee. Granted, it was all down the front of her ivory blouse—the hand-wash-only, expensive little item she trotted out on rare occasions when she was feeling saucy—turning it tan and transparent. Now she was not feeling anywhere close to saucy. Also, she now had no coffee, and that was inconceivable.
She was probably using that word wrong, but if she could still come up with a quote from The Princess Bride while her brain was short-circuiting, she was doing better than she expected. She was still damp, though.
“Abbs? Abbie? You okay?”
Abbie looked up from the large stain on her shirt to find her friend and coworker Viv studying her closely, concern-shock in her wide dark eyes. What were in Abbie’s own blue ones must have been alarming—that short-circuiting thing, she was sure—because Viv immediately hustled her into the sanctuary of the breakroom. She planted Abbie in front of the sink and started dampening a paper towel.
“There isn’t enough stain stick in the world to get that out. This’ll have to do.” Viv dabbed the tiniest drop of dish soap on the paper towel, squeezed it a few times to suds it up, and handed it to Abbie. “Here. I love ya, hun, but that stain is in your no-fly zone. I don’t want to get written up for sexual harassment in the workplace.”
Viv gently took the newly empty mug out of her hand, and Abbie started dabbing at the coffee splash. The warm water chilled immediately, which didn’t help her mood at all.
“You know,” Viv ventured, “it’s only a shirt. And only coffee.”
Stricken. That was probably the expression on Abbie’s face now, because Viv immediately changed tack, hustling to refill her mug, doctoring the coffee with healthy streams of creamer and sugar, just like Abbie liked it. Unapologetically. She could respect black-coffee drinkers, but she would never be one.
“Sit,” Viv ordered.
“I can’t. I have to—”
When Viv, the office manager, put on her tough-mom voice, people obeyed. Abbie was no different. She sat.
Her friend settled into the plastic chair across the small, crumb-laden table in the middle of the room. “I take it this is more about that, um, incident with Fiona than the coffee.”
Abbie groaned and dropped her head into her hands. The ends of her longish brown hair nearly dipped into her coffee. Hey, why not? If she played her cards right, she could be coffee-covered from head to toe by lunchtime. She heaved a breath, pushed her hair out of her face, and slouched on the table.
“Can you blame me?”
Viv placed a warm, dark hand on top of Abbie’s. “It’s not that big a deal.”
Raucous laughter nearly drowned out Viv’s soothing words, and the table rocked as Krista plopped into the chair between them.
“Nice one, Abbs. Stellar.”
“Not helping, Kris,” Viv sighed.
“Hey, it was a good laugh,” Krista barked in her sandpaper voice. “Take the L, Abbie. Get it? Take the L!”
“You suck,” Abbie groaned.
It had been a day. And it was only 8:30. Dear God. But in the scant two hours she’d been vertical, she 1) had been pulled over for having a headlight out, even though it was broad daylight, resulting in what would be an astronomical fine, she was sure; 2) had ruined her shirt; and, most horrifyingly, 3) had been called out by her scary boss in front of the whole office.
Abbie had hustled into work only slightly late, despite having to sit on the side of the road for 20 minutes, gawked at by rubberneckers eager to see who had gotten pulled over, obviously thankful that it wasn’t them, while the cop took his sweet time writing her ticket. After a small but necessary detour to retrieve some coffee from the breakroom—hey, she may have been slightly late, but she had her priorities—she thought she was in the clear. Then her boss had swooped in and blocked her path to her desk, all angel-of-death-like. Fiona had been holding a sheet of paper tightly in her fist; when she’d started waggling it at her, Abbie knew whatever happened next wasn’t going to be good.
“Did you look at this?” Fiona demanded.
“What, uh, what is it?”
“The press release about the new playground.”
Ah, Fiona’s pet project, and for good reason. It was ideas like these that were going to put her on the fast track from city council to state representative. Fiona had plans.
“Read it to me. Out loud, please,” Fiona said, thrusting the paper at her interim PR person.
This drew a new batch of rubberneckers, who were just like the drivers from earlier that morning: gleeful that it was Abbie under the microscope and not them. Only Viv was watching the exchange seriously. Krista bounced around behind Viv with her “yikes” face on, her amber curls bouncing around, making her look for all the world like Sideshow Bob’s sister.
“Start with my first quote,” her boss directed her.
“Okay…” Abbie muttered through the introductory sentences until she came to the line Fiona was asking about. “‘Councilmember Fiona Charles states, “I’ve long been a champion of this public project because—”’”
Abbie glanced up to find her boss pinching the bridge of her nose. She focused on the press release in her hand. Clearing her throat, she reread the line. “‘Councilmember Fiona Charles states, “I’ve long been a champion of this pu… ”’”
The words died in her throat. If Abbie were a cartoon character, she would have literally crumbled apart, and the pile of pieces, with eyeballs perched on top, would have skootched across the floor to hide in a dark corner for about three hundred years. As it was, however, the very human Abbie, still in one piece but knees watery, just murmured, “Oh.”
“Ms. O’Brien, do I have to put you on document shredding duty until Maureen comes back?”
Maureen was Abbie’s immediate superior, a PR superhero who was always on top of things, knew every fact about the city without having to look it up and, most important, never, ever mistook an adjective describing an extremely private part of the human body for the word “public.”
Abbie could feel Fiona’s deep regret over her decision to allow Abbie to cover for Maureen. It was seeping through the space between the two women like a cloud of heavy, clammy fog. Abbie wasn’t psychic, but she knew, at this moment, Fiona was desperately trying to figure out how to drag Maureen back from her maternity leave two months early.
“I’m so sorry, Fiona. I’ll fix it right away.”
She probably resembled that pile of crumbled cartoon pieces, because her boss softened—a little, anyway—and shook her head. “Just…be more careful, okay?”
Swallowing around a huge lump in her throat, Abbie nodded, ducked her head, and scooted toward her desk. When she looked up across the open office, the first thing she saw was Viv surreptitiously pointing toward the breakroom. Abbie nodded. Whether she fixed the press release in two minutes or twelve wouldn’t matter. She couldn’t look any worse in Fiona’s eyes than she already did. She tossed the paper onto her desk and spun around to cross the office again.
And that was when she’d collided with a coworker, dousing herself in her own coffee. Because of course. The person she’d run into—Riley, she thought his name was—seemed like a decent guy. He was new, and Abbie hadn’t even spoken to him before this, yet here he was, apologizing all over the place, only stopping short of trying to wipe the coffee off her shirt. That no-fly zone again. Abbie brushed off his apologies before she started crying right then and there, and something in her demeanor, that je ne sais quoi that telegraphed a nervous breakdown was in her very near future, convinced him to back away with one more “really sorry” and give her space to dash for the breakroom.
Take the L indeed.
So. Massive screwup at work, with her car, with her outfit. Not bad for a morning’s efforts. But Abbie didn’t want to wallow, and the pitying looks from her friends were just embarrassing. She brushed her hair back again and straightened her shoulders.
“Okay, I’m not going to ask ‘what more could possibly go wrong?’ because I’m sure the universe would be more than happy to show me, so I’m just going to say I’m going to get to work. I mean, I’d rather go back home and hide under my bed, but I’m scared I’ll, I don’t know, get hit by a bus or something on the way. You might find me hiding under my desk if things keep going like this, not gonna lie.” She sighed and mustered a smile for her friends. “Thanks, guys. I’m fine. Really.”
Abbie went back to her cubicle, but she managed to stay in her chair instead slinking into the tempting-looking cave where she tucked her knees. Pulling on her cardigan to try to hide the stain on her shirt, she reminded herself she was an adult, and her unfortunate typo would be forgotten by lunchtime…even as any coworkers who passed her desk ended up snickering at her nearly X-rated faux pas.
She brought up the press release on her computer and did a search to make sure there was only the one spelling mistake. She planted a nice, solid L in the middle of the word to make it most definitively pubLic, then ran yet another search just to be sure.
“Hey, Abbie? Hi.”
Riley leaned into her peripheral vision, on her right, appropriately deferential. She appreciated that. Good boy, Riley.
“Sorry again about the coffee.”
Abbie wrapped her cardigan a little tighter. “Don’t worry about it. It was an accident.”
“Pay for your dry cleaning?”
“Nope. I shall pay for my own klutziness.”
“If you’re sure.”
When Riley stayed where he was, Abbie ventured, “Anything else?”
“Oh, yeah, actually. Can you, uh, email me that press release when you’re done with it?”
“You mean that press release?”
The new hire fidgeted. “Um, yeah.”
“With or without the offending word?”
“Either way is fine. Let’s go with without today, though.”
Despite her miserable morning, Abbie felt a small tug of a smile. “Okay.”
As he walked away, Abbie called, “Riley?” He turned around immediately. “What’s your last name?”
“That is my last name,” he said. “Everybody calls me that.”
“Then…what’s your first name?”
“That’s classified.” He grinned, a lopsided flash of brightness. “Let’s just say if I used it, I’d sound like I belonged on a cereal box, jigging on a bunch of pastel marshmallows. So I try to avoid it as much as possible.”
The minute he walked away, she spun back to her computer and went to her email. She had to know. Typing his last name into the “to” field brought up “FRiley.” When she tabbed over, she was gifted with his full name, which most definitely conjured up images of pink hearts, yellow moons, orange stars, and green clovers—mostly the latter.
Abbie snickered as she looked over the press release yet another time before resaving it and attaching it to Riley’s email. Before she could even send it, an inter-office instant message popped up.
RILEY: You know already, don’t you?
Abbie surreptitiously peeked over the half-wall of her cubicle, but she couldn’t see his desk from hers. She messaged back.
ABBIE: Faith and begorrah.
RILEY: I hate you. But I walked right into it, so…
Biting down on her bottom lip to keep from smiling like an idiot, Abbie started typing again when another message popped up, this time from Krista.
KRISTA: What was THAT?
ABBIE: What was what?
KRISTA: YOU know.
Abbie started typing her denial, when Krista fired off another message.
KRISTA: I saw you looking all dopey at the new guy. Not criticizing. You should hit that before anybody else gets in there.
Almost at the same time, Riley messaged again.
RILEY: Press release looks good. Thanks.
And Krista again.
KRISTA: Viv and I have decided we’re taking you to lunch. You need it today.
ABBIE: You’re a doll. Love you.
It was a miracle Abbie didn’t scream when she saw that her last message went to Riley instead of Krista.
Because of course it did.
She started to wonder if anyone would notice if she spent the rest of the day in the farthest stall in the ladies room.
“That’s insane. You’re insane.”
‘What?” Krista demanded. “I’m telling you, I know exactly what your problem is today.”
“Yeah, so do I. I suck. Work sucks. The world sucks.”
“No!” Abbie’s friend stabbed violently at her salad with her fork. “This lunch is sad. Somebody should invent a salad that has fries in it.”
“You were sharing some insanity?” Viv reminded her, smugly biting into one of her own fries.
“Oh. Right.” She reached for Viv’s food. Viv slapped her hand. Krista persisted without even a flinch and came away with one of Viv’s fries. “I just realized that today is the start of Mercury retrograde.”
“…So?” Abbie had heard of the term, but she had no idea what that had to do with her miserable morning.
“Mercury retrograde,” Krista repeated, waving around the purloined fry. “You know—happens a few times a year? It’s, like, some weird thing with the planets where it kind of looks like Mercury is going backwards. It isn’t, but it seems like it because of the different orbits. Anyway, during Mercury retrograde, everything goes to hell. Mechanical stuff, communication stuff…Looks like it’s hitting you pretty hard this time around.”
“Wait…wait.” Abbie put down her fork and closed her eyes. “You’re telling me that some giant ball of…what’s Mercury made of?”
“That is not right,” Viv murmured.
“Anyway, this theory is that some giant planet hanging between us and the sun can…”
“Make you find a bug in your salad?” Krista said, peering at Abbie’s lunch and wrinkling her nose.
Abbie pushed the bowl away, wishing she had been carefree enough to order what she really wanted, a grilled cheese, instead.
“Oh wait,” Krista amended, “it was just a wilted piece of arugula. My bad. But you should be glad you’re not, you know, cursed or anything. It’s just Mercury’s fault.”
Abbie considered a moment, then said, “Nope, still insane.”
“Okay, let’s review. Car trouble? Mechanical. Mercury retrograde. Coffee all down your shirt? Clumsiness. Mercury bleepin’ retrograde. Not one, but two communication screw-ups, one with technology involved? Also Merc ret. Face it, sweetpea, you’ve been smacked good and proper by that pesky little planet.”
Abbie’s stomach plummeted, like it did every time she thought about her instant messaging disaster, which had managed to vastly eclipse the typo-in-the-press-release disaster. She’d. Told. The new guy. She loved him. She’d replayed that debacle in her head at least twenty times between the occurrence of said debacle and her escape from the office at lunchtime. And she’d escaped properly, wedged between Viv and Krista, her head down so she didn’t inadvertently catch Riley’s eye.
“Well, tell Mercury to get off my case,” Abbie snapped, pulling her lunch toward her again and digging around in the salad for the candied pecans. “Tell it to go bother somebody else. I’m full up on faux pas today.”
“Don’t worry, it’ll pass. In about three weeks.”
Abbie’s dropped fork clattered against the bowl. “Three weeks? I can’t put up with this for three more weeks!”
“Thought you didn’t believe in Merc ret,” Krista said smugly, biting sharply through another stolen fry.
“I don’t! I mean…oh hell, I don’t know what I mean anymore.”
“Just be careful. Don’t take any chances, watch where you’re walking and driving, proofread everything, and for God’s sake don’t buy anything electronic.”
“What’s that got to do with anything?”
“Odds are it’ll break.”
“So why doesn’t everybody just stay home and do nothing for these three weeks a few times a year, if everything goes wrong?”
“Well, aside from that not being even a little bit practical, not everything is bad. If you have to, you know, review something or go back to something from your past, Merc ret is a good time to do it.”
“I can’t with all these rules. I liked my life better when I didn’t know about Mercury.”
“But then you’d think everything that happened today was your own fault, and it’s not. So do something positive. What do you want to review? How about that ex-boyfriend? You can revisit your relationship.”
“Don’t do it, young lady,” Viv intoned. “Nothing good comes from picking at a scab. Take it from your older and wiser friend. Do not listen to the impulsive crazy one over here.”
“I agree with Viv. No thank you!”
Abbie made herself sound as decisive as she could, but when she got back to the office she found herself staring off into space and thinking about Rob, her boyfriend of seven months who, up until a month ago, had figured prominently in her daydreams of altars and white dresses and I do-ing. And then he’d popped her little bubble by charging into her apartment one night, fidgeting restlessly, to inform her that he wanted to “take a break.” Abbie had started to protest, suggesting ways they could get over this hump in their relationship—not that she thought they’d hit a hump, although apparently he did—but Rob had been curt and insistent. And then, just like that, he was gone.
Rob hadn’t contacted her since, not even to check in, to say hi, to see how she was coping, let alone wanting to discuss their relationship. But that was surprisingly okay. If she were going to be honest with herself, the farther away he got, the less she missed him. That shocked her; she really thought he’d leave an enormous hole in her life. However, except for the dry toothbrush on her sink and a random pair of gym socks on the floor of her closet, he really didn’t leave much of a lasting impression. It was only when she made herself review all the things they used to do together—going for walks in the park, going to the gym, making fun of bad reality TV—that she felt anything akin to an ache of loss. Still, she did miss him, and Krista’s information about Mercury retrograde made Abbie wonder if now was the time to check in with Rob, see if they could wrap up their time away from each other and get back to being a couple.
She picked up her phone and tapped on her text icon, when a familiar voice said, “Abbie?” She bobbled her phone; it landed under her desk, and she awkwardly went after it, staring longingly at the dark space for a moment before she straightened back up.
“Riley. What can I do for you?”
She couldn’t manage to look him in the eye. Not after her last message had gone astray in the worst way possible.
Riley seemed to be quite the gentleman, though, because he didn’t make a stupid joke at her expense, even though the low-hanging fruit was right there. He didn’t mention it at all, in fact, only said, “Fiona wants me to meet with all the division heads to learn more about each department. She said you’re the acting PR head, so…I was wondering…are you busy now?”
Maybe it was a trap. Maybe he wanted to lull her into a false sense of security and then mock her for her misdirected message. But when she forced herself to look up at him, his face was pleasantly neutral, no wickedness in his eyes at all. Could she trust him to preserve whatever shreds of dignity she had left? She kind of didn’t have a choice. She could put off meeting with him, but Fiona would probably nag her until she did. And the less time she spent in Fiona’s sights, the better.
“Now’s fine,” she said. “Have a seat.”
Riley reached a long arm behind him and pulled a nearby vacant chair over to her desk. “Thanks. I appreciate it.”
“Not a problem. What would you like to know?”
He cleared his throat, then swallowed, and Abbie watched his Adam’s apple bob. She focused on his rather good-looking profile instead of allowing herself to acknowledge Krista, several yards behind him, making rude “hit that” gestures.
“Let me guess—you need to know everything?”
“Just the basics. Of, yeah, everything.”
His lopsided, bright smile surfaced again, and Abbie found herself smiling in return. He really was nice to look at, just her type—tall and lean, with a shock of brown hair and deep chocolate eyes. She caught herself glancing at his left hand, which was resting on his knee. Stupid. Force of habit. No ring didn’t mean anything. No matter what Krista had been miming. A guy like this? Had to have a girlfriend. Or a boyfriend.
“Okay, well, we can start with—”
“How long have you worked here?” he blurted out, then caught himself. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to be rude.”
“No, it’s okay. Um, three years?”
“Was it your first job after college?”
“In my field, yeah. We won’t mention the jobs-of-necessity before this.”
“Retail or food service?”
Abbie laughed. “Both.”
“I’ll bet you were a barista, weren’t you?”
“Nope. I have no idea how to make a latte, but I can put together a custom burrito in under thirty seconds.”
“That’s a good talent to have.”
“The chicks dig it.”
Abbie found herself smiling. “Is this your first job in your field too?”
Riley nodded. “I would have broken into communications sooner, but I was discriminated against because of my name.”
“I find that hard to believe.”
“Oh, people said they wanted to hire me, but it always turned out they really wanted to lock me in their office and make me grant them wishes.”
Now Abbie laughed outright. Suddenly her day was looking much brighter. This guy was really charming.
Trust Fiona to derail what was turning out to be a pleasant conversation. “Riley, can I steal you for a minute? You can have him back later, Abbie.”
“Sorry,” Riley said to her as he rose and pushed the chair back toward the desk behind her. “But maybe we can continue this over coffee or something? I still feel like I owe you one.”
Did he just ask her out on a date? No, couldn’t have been. They’d just met. They had been talking business. Mostly. Anyway, she insisted to herself again, a guy like that had to have a girlfriend or boyfriend. Or one of each. Who knew? She sure didn’t, because she didn’t know anything about this guy. Except that he was noble enough not to mock her for accidentally telling him she loved him. Which was pretty cool. But Abbie didn’t have that kind of luck.
Which got her thinking about trapping Riley for himself and see if he could grant her some wishes of her own. She didn’t have much time to start developing a nice little locked-in-a-room-with-Riley fantasy before her instant message pinged.
KRISTA: He’s single.
ABBIE: Go away, Krista.
KRISTA: Did you read what I wrote? He’s single. And he’s straight.
ABBIE: How do you know these things?
KRISTA: I’m magic. And I have connections in the HR office. Anyway. Hit. That. Right now. And do NOT say you’re waiting around for Rob, that wanker.
ABBIE: Wanker? Are you ODing on BritBox again?
KRISTA: Focus! Jump on Mister Riley Whatever-His-Last-Name-Is right now.
ABBIE: Are you telling me you got all the dirt on his eligibility but you don’t know that Riley is his last name, not his first name?
KRISTA: Ooh, and you do?
ABBIE: First and last name is pretty basic info. Now go away—I need to get back to work.
KRISTA: What else do we know about him?
ABBIE: He seems nice. That’s all. I have no agenda.
KRISTA: What’s wrong with you? Get one!
ABBIE: Working now. Bye-bye.
But work was suddenly the farthest thing from her mind. She couldn’t help indulging in a little bit of daydreaming about the new guy. What if there was something there? Was coffee just coffee, to make up for her spilling it on herself when she ran into his (seemingly strong, seemingly broad) shoulder? Or had he asked her out? And what about Rob? What did “taking a break” really mean? Was she supposed to wait, in stasis, until her erstwhile boyfriend figured out whether he wanted them to be a couple or not? Or was she free to follow other…pursuits? She had no idea. They hadn’t established any parameters before he’d lurched out of her apartment and out of her life a month ago.
She should text him. She’d intended to, earlier, and then Riley had come over. Her thumbs hovered over the keyboard. What should she say? “Hey?” Weak. How did one approach an ex, anyway? If he was an ex. That could be a good start—“Are we exes or what, dude?”
Maybe not so blunt.
She jumped and nearly dropped her phone under her desk again when a text came in. From Rob. As if he’d picked up on her thoughts, knew she was just about to contact him. Was it a sign? Did he want to get back together? She opened up his text with a slightly shaky finger.
I can’t stop thinking about you.
Well, that was more than promising. Definitely not a “hey.” She frantically tried to come up with the perfect reply. Should she be sweet? Direct? Coy? How should she play thi—
Last night was amazing.
Uh…she hadn’t seen Rob in a month.
I mean more amazing than usual. I can barely put into words how I feel about you, Aubrey.
Aubrey?! Was that a typo or had he forgotten her name already?
Have we really only been together six weeks?
Abbie’s stomach curdled. She and Rob had only been broken up for four.
“It’s a soin.” Krista hung over Abbie’s cubicle’s half-wall, grinning around a lollipop.
“Why are you talking funny?” Viv demanded from her perch on Abbie’s desk. “Do you smell burnt toast?”
“She’s doing Rosie O’Donnell, not having a stroke,” Abbie explained.
Viv closed her eyes and sighed. “Do I want to know why?”
“Come on, it’s Sleepless in Seattle,” Krista said, clattering the lollipop against her teeth. “It’s a soin.”
“‘It’s a sign,’” Abbie translated, rolling her eyes. “With a thick New York accent. A bad one.”
“Yeah, there were tons of signs in the movie. Hey, just like right now, in fact.”
“Bad signs!” Abbie countered. “You can’t out-Sleepless me. I’ve seen that movie dozens of times. I know the ripped wedding dress was a bad sign. As was Meg Ryan’s character meeting the fiancé at work over a mixed-up lunch order. So don’t get excited over soins.”
“Uh-huh. What exactly is a sign in this scenario right here?” Viv asked, waggling her finger at Abbie.
“The wanker accidentally texted Abbie instead of his new squeeze. That’s a soin.”
“But it could be a bad sign.”
“No, don’t you get it? In Sleepless, all the signs, good and bad, led Meg Ryan’s character to the right guy. And you,” she poked Abbie, “just got closure and clearance to forget about Rob. He was cheating on you with this Aubrey chick for two weeks before he broke up with you—”
“Don’t forget, he just said he wanted to take a break. He was too much of a coward to actually break up with me.”
“Even worse,” Viv muttered.
“So there you go—Mercury retrograde.”
Viv groaned. “Come on, now, Krista. Not this again.”
Krista ignored her. “I told you this thing would mess with communications and electronics, and Rob just accidentally texted you instead of his side chick. That’s classic Merc ret. But the good news is you just got
the green light to forget about Rob and move on. With the new guy. What’s his first name, by the way?”
“That’s privileged information that’s not mine to share.” Abbie thought a moment, then snapped her fingers as she realized. “You said not to start new things during Mercury retrograde.”
“Oh, you’re listening to me now, are you?”
“Did you or did you not say that?”
Krista made a face. “I did.”
“And why is that rule in place?”
“Because,” Krista said, “stuff you start during Mercury retrograde has a good chance of ending badly.”
“You could say that about anything,” Viv protested. “Start something new, and it has at least a fifty-fifty chance of going bad. Honey,” she said to Abbie, “if you like this Riley guy, and you feel like you’re ready to start something new, then go for it. No matter what the planets are doing.”
Abbie knew Viv was right, but something was holding her back. Damn, Krista was getting to her for real. Which was crazy. But one glance at her coffee-stained shirt and thinking back on all the messy electronic communications—hers and then Rob’s—made her a little fearful of daring to cross Mercury. She couldn’t risk getting smacked by that troublesome planet that seemed to hate her. She was exhausted, and it had only been one day of chaos.
“How much longer does this Mercury bleepin’ retrograde last, again?”
“A few weeks.” Then Krista brightened. “Wait. I might have a fix for this, Abbs.”
“No more weird cosmic theories, Krista. I can’t handle it.”
“When did you meet Riley? Did you meet him before this week? Because if you met him before Mercury went retrograde, then it’s okay.”
“Too many rules,” Abbie groused.
Viv agreed. “This is nuts. You’re nuts,” she said to Krista.
“Just answer the question,” Krista insisted.
Abbie thought about it. Riley had started work last week, but they had never been formally introduced. In fact, she had been out the morning Fiona had presented him to the whole office in a quick standing meeting, and she’d just seen him around the office since then.
She shook her head. “I officially met him today.”
Krista winced. “Sorry, babe.”
“Never mind; it’s okay. Rob’s out of my life for real, so maybe I can thank Mercury for that. That’s all I really needed. Looking on the bright side, here.”
“That’s healthy.” Krista patted her on the shoulder on her way back to her own desk. “Don’t mess with Mercury.”
Abbie tried to keep that in mind the next time she saw Riley, but that was only an hour or so later, and she really hadn’t sorted out her thoughts yet, no matter what she’d told Krista. One look at the guy’s bright smile, and she wanted to take him up on that coffee offer and see what would happen next. Could she put it off till Mercury wasn’t retrograde anymore? Could she be patient, wait a few weeks? That was the least appealing thing she could think of.
But she was an adult. A level-headed, practical, calm adult. Who didn’t need instant gratification. Who was able to wait a few weeks. Who…was suddenly scheduling her life around a cockamamie notion that a planet millions of miles away could influence her love life. That was definitely not level headed, practical, or calm adulting. It was a heaping helping of superstitious hysteria, is what it was.
You know what? she thought. Screw Mercury. She needed to investigate this Riley person further, and she was in no mood to defer to a dead ball of whatever-it-was out in space for the correct time in which to do that.
Abbie rolled back her desk chair, stood up, and smoothed her skirt. Riley was talking to some other employees near the copier. She was just going to go over there, flash her baby blues—coyly, not as if she was trying to dislodge a stray eyelash—and take him up on his offer to go for coffee. Easy peasy.
And then the lights went out.
In fact, with a tired groan and wheeze, everything electronic in the office shut down. Along with the lights, the computers, copiers, and phones all went silent and dark. Screens blipped off, the room was cast in a natural gray twilight, and, without the constant hum of machinery and fluorescents, the office was enveloped in an unusual muffled silence, interrupted only by the workers’ exclamations of surprise and, in some cases, frustration.
Abbie murmured, “Mercury bleepin’ retrograde strikes again.”
Everyone in the office stood around, halfheartedly speculating about what happened to the power, until they spotted a guy from maintenance make his way to Fiona’s office. Once he’d left again, Fiona came out and announced loudly, “There’s some maintenance being done on the building, and they may or may not have cut through some important cables. I’m guessing that’s a “may have.” Looks like the power will be out till tomorrow morning, so you might as well call it a day, people. If you have a deadline, log on at home. Otherwise, see you tomorrow.”
Abbie thought she was fast on the draw at gathering her things, but Viv and Krista had their coats on and were at her cubicle before she’d even sorted out her purse straps. Being allowed to leave even an hour early was the adult equivalent of getting a snow day; everyone was downright cheerful as the streamed out of the building.
First Viv and then Krista peeled off from her as they wound through the rows of cars in the parking lot. Before Krista left her side, however, she jammed a sharp elbow into Abbie’s ribs and jutted her chin at another person a few rows away. Riley.
“I don’t know, if I were you, I’d be tempted to go after him, Mercury or no Mercury.”
Abbie wanted to agree. But no. “Not right now. Not the way this day has been going, right?”
“Eh, you might have a point. See you tomorrow, kid. Tomorrow will be a better day.”
“Would if I could,” Krista called as she backed up a few steps, then she spun around and hustled to her car.
Abbie gave her own car’s bumper a halfhearted kick as she pressed the button to unlock her doors. She had to find time to get that headlight bulb replaced before she got another ticket.
She tossed her purse and her tote bag onto the passenger seat, slid into the car, and heaved a huge sigh. She’d had better days, that was for sure. But for every ruined blouse and traffic stop, there had been good things: getting out an hour early, for example. Meeting Riley, for another example.
Abbie craned her neck to spot him in the parking lot, but he was gone. Well, there was always tomorrow. She shook out her keys and inserted her car key into the ignition. Before she could turn her car on, she heard labored wheezing from another vehicle nearby. A car wouldn’t start. Oh hey, this time the mechanical bad luck wasn’t hers. A few spots over, she saw headlights blink on and off and the telltale r-r-r-r-r of a car in peril.
She eased her car down the row and stopped perpendicular to the one that was making the unpleasant noise. Abbie peered through the windshield. Riley stared back at her, eyebrows raised, hands in the air in surrender above his steering wheel. When he lurched out of his car, she put her window down.
“Need some help?”
Riley growled, a more powerful sound than the one his car had been making. “I need a new car.”
“Can’t quite help you there, I’m afraid.”
“This is beyond any level of help you can offer, but thanks. I’ll have to call Triple A.”
Abbie blurted out, “You can sit in my car. Stay warm.” When he hesitated, she added, “You’re not a serial killer, right?”
“Come on, then.”
When Riley slid into the passenger seat, smiling gratefully, Abbie found herself thanking that pesky planet for messing with Riley. Maybe you and I are becoming friends, Mercury, she thought to herself. Please, keep doing what you’re doing.
“I’ll have to ask for a little bit of privacy, I’m afraid,” Riley said as he pulled out his cell phone. “I’m going to have to use my first name.”
“I know your first name.”
“Yes, but uttering it…nobody knows what powers it will unleash.”
“I promise to put my fingers in my ears.”
“You should probably say ‘la la la la la’ the entire time I’m on the phone with the tow truck company, just to be safe.”
Abbie laughed, and her heart felt lighter than it had all day. Lighter than it had for weeks, if she was going to be honest with herself. Maybe months, to be brutally honest. Dating Rob had been okay, but it had always felt like hard work. Being with Riley felt…different from that. Easier. She hoped she’d be able to get to know him better, find out that he really was this easy to get along with all the time. She suspected he was.
She studied him openly while he was on the phone with the auto club. It was obvious he was actively trying to ignore her staring at him, but when the tips of his ears went red, she knew he was failing miserably. Abbie kind of liked the effect she had on him.
When he ended his call, Riley said, “They’re really backed up, they said. Even without bad weather, there have been all kinds of car problems today. Weird, huh?”
Not so weird, Abbie thought. “How long did they say?”
“A few hours.” He sighed. “I guess I’ll just go back to the office and sit in the dark.”
“Or we could get that coffee.”
Abbie’s stomach clenched as she feared he’d turn her down, then a rush of adrenalin whooshed through her when he brightened and agreed.
Coffee turned into two cups, and a shared cherry danish as well, and Abbie couldn’t have been more thrilled. Riley was as charming as she’d suspected, and kind, and funny. Then there was that whole burrito-making skill, which she hoped he’d demonstrate for her someday. She resolved to ask him out on a real date (another date?) if he didn’t ask her.
“So let’s get back to the whole burrito-making skill,” she said, resting her chin on the heel of her hand in what she was sure was a dopey, smitten pose, and she didn’t care one bit. “Tell me more about that. Where did you work?”
“I did my best burrito artistry at Mole Olé, over in—”
“Westvale Commons!” Abbie exclaimed. “I lived in that neighborhood when I was a teenager. I must have gone to that place a hundred times. I love burritos.”
Riley gazed at her warmly, even fondly. “Chicken with red sauce, no rice, no onions.”
Abbie gaped. “I always ordered that. How did you…?” Then she realized. “You worked there. And you remember me? From that long ago?”
Riley looked down into his coffee cup and Abbie could see the deep flush of red even in the dim light of the funky bohemian coffeeshop they’d chosen. “I looked forward to you coming in. I kind of…had a massive crush on you.”
“What?” Abbie frantically cast her mind back, trying to remember him, more embarrassed than he was, for the opposite reason. “I don’t…I mean…I would have remembered a Riley, or a—”
“It’s okay if you don’t remember me. It’s better that way,” he laughed. “I was a little—okay, a lot—awkward back then. Pretty scrawny. Acne for days. And I couldn’t talk to pretty girls without bursting into flames. I don’t think I looked you in the eye once. Only a little small talk that made me break out in a sweat. Anyway, besides all that, I went by a stupid nickname back then. My nametag said ‘Skip.’ Thank my grandfather for that one.”
“Oh, that’s cute.”
“Yeah, well…” He shook himself. “And now here it is, years later, and I swear I jumped a mile when I saw you in the office. It was so surreal.”
“You really recognized me right away?”
“You should have said something sooner.”
“I had to get up the nerve.”
“I don’t know, you seem pretty smooth to me.”
“All an act.”
Abbie gazed at him in the half light and tried to see the vestiges of a gangly teen Riley in the planes and shadows of the man before her. She thought she caught a glimpse, a bit of recognition, but then it disappeared, ultimately eluding her. Riley took a breath and glanced up sideways, obviously hoping he hadn’t spooked her.
He hadn’t. She was sure he wasn’t a serial killer or stalker; it was a crazy coincidence that could work out very nicely, if she were lucky.
“Riley,” Abbie said softly, noting that his large hand was close to hers on the table, his long fingers curled casually, inviting her to tuck her fingers in the hollow they made. It took a massive effort to refrain. At least for now.
“I’m going to ask you for a wish, and you have to grant it.”
“You’re not going to—”
“Oh, I most certainly am. Ready?”
Riley sighed. “Do your worst.”
“I apologize for never noticing the hottie burrito maker in Mole Olé when we were younger, and I wish you would forgive me. I also wish for you to give me a second chance to get to know you now, if you’d be okay with that.”
“Is that it?”
“That’s it. I’m going to make you do it now.”
“Grant me my wishes…Finnegan Riley.”
He winced. “Faith and begorrah. Granted. Coming from you, my name doesn’t sound that bad.”
“It’s not that bad. It’s…distinctive.”
“I have another secret.”
“I don’t really like Lucky Charms.”
“Oh, that’s a deal breaker.”
Abbie laughed and started to pull away, but Riley’s long fingers were suddenly touching hers, grasping lightly, and she stilled as a tingle went through her. She stared into his large, warm, expressive eyes.
“You know, today has turned out to be way better than I expected. After what…”
She froze. She had been about to say “after what Mercury retrograde put me through,” when another realization dawned on her.
“We knew each other before,” she breathed.
“Before now? We did.”
“Before Mercury retrograde.”
Riley’s eyes widened. “Is that going on now? That explains my car. Well, it could be that it’s just really old and ready to die…but…”
“I just learned about Merc ret today, and I wish I hadn’t. Except…Krista said it was a bad time to start anything new, but revisiting something is okay. We count, don’t we?”
“Go back a little. Are we starting something new?”
“I think we should investigate that possibility.”
Riley’s voice was warm when he said, “I think so too.”
Abbie could feel the heat from his body on her right side, radiating from him as they sat close together in the crescent-shaped booth. Then his forehead touched hers, and she sighed contentedly.
Despite how many terrible things had happened in the span of twelve hours, meeting Riley offset them all. Negated them all. Had bad things happened today? She couldn’t remember.
“Today has actually been a good day,” she murmured. “Thank you for that.”
She pulled away, but only far enough to kiss him on the cheek. Riley pulled away as well, but only far enough to turn his head, and their lips brushed lightly. A warmth spread through Abbie, and she dared to kiss him again, deeper this time. Riley’s arms went around her, and she felt safe, secure, hopeful…happy.
“Yep, Definitely a good day.”