Gathering Hour – 9/27

Louisa rubbed at her temples, then pulled off her glasses and gave her eyes the same treatment. She leaned forward on her elbows, cupping her drooping head. Creaks and snaps erupted from her desk and the casters on her chair while her stomach grumbled and papers listed. She sighed and glanced at the clock on her screen. Her pulse began a quick staccato.

The morning flipped into afternoon.

A rhythmic set of taps sounded against her cubicle wall. She spun and found Charlie peering through the slim opening. His multicolored tee shirt brightened up the cluttered space and countered the stormy clouds hanging outside the tinted windows.

She tried to keep her smile from looking too weary while Charlie’s gaze scanned her desk and then the stacks on the floor before settling back on her face. Louisa set her glasses on her nose and hoped her eyes weren’t puffy or red from the rubbing.

“Looks like you’re ready for lunch,” said Charlie with a half grin.
“I guess,” she said, pushing some errant straight brown locks behind her ears. She swept her eyes over the folders waiting in her box. Rubber bands stretched around the packages like nooses.

“Who’s coming?”

“Just the regulars.”

Louisa looked down at her fingers as she winced.

“Sam’s swamped.”

“No,” she said, looking back up at Charlie. “This is swamped. He procrastinates.”

Charlie held up his hands, palms defenseless.

Louisa shook her head, hefted her bag onto her lap from its spot beneath her desk and began a search for an aspirin. “Where were you thinking? I could go for Pisa’s?”

“I’ve got a craving for The Barn.”

The smell of burnt meat flared into Louisa’s button nose. She grimaced as the white bottle turned out to be as empty as a freshly rolled cannoli. “Didn’t we go there on Monday?”

“Really?”

She leaned over and shook her drained cup complete with straw and the restaurant’s mustard stained name emblazoned across the paper thin sides.

Charlie propped his elbow on top of the cubicle wall and scratched at his chin like a standing Rodin. “Thai?”

Louisa checked her watch. She blew out a long breath as she shook her head. “I’ve got a meeting at 2.”

“Ready?” Adam paused at the cordoned wall. He hooked his thumbs through the belt loops of his sagging jeans as he bounced on his sneakered toes.

“We’re still deciding where to go,” said Louisa.

Ned strode up and towered behind Adam, his bushy brows dented as he tilted his long stork neck to crane a glimpse inside. “I thought we were getting sandwiches.”

Rain began pelting at the panes in hard wet slaps. Louisa scooped her jacket off the back of her chair. “It’s pretty cold out.” She stood and slipped on her coat.

“Supposed to rain all afternoon,” said Ned.

Adam rubbed at one of his needle thin arms. “Something hot would be good.”

“That salad bar place has soups,” said Charlie.

Louisa adjusted her cuffs. “Wasn’t that where you got food poisoning a few months ago?”

Charlie frowned. “I don’t think so.”

“No, I think she’s right,” said Ned. “The tuna fish, if I’m recalling correctly.” Louisa met his cocked eyebrow with a nod.

Charlie winced and drummed his fingers against his stomach. “Okay, no sandwiches.”

A waft of doughnut-sweet perfume preceded Angie’s swirl into the gap between Charlie and Adam. “Hey Louisa. Guys.”

Adam shifted aside to give her and the cloudy scent more space while Charlie’s mouth drooped into a grin.

“Angie,” said Charlie, the corners of his lips curling.

Angie tousled her blond hair and gave him her glistening smile.
Louisa shouldered her bag as Angie’s liner rimmed eyes settled on her like two pitted olives. “What’s the plan?”

“We’re still deciding,” said Charlie. He raked his hand through his hair. “Any suggestions?”

Angie shrugged and twisted a golden tendril. “How about Pisa’s?”

“Sounds great to me,” Charlie said.

Louisa watched his eyes dribble down to Angie’s finger tips as she tended to the hem of her floral print skirt. Louisa gripped her bags straps and tore her widening eyes from Charlie’s preoccupied face. She settled them on the molding between Adam and Ned. “Guys?”

“Sure,” said Adam while Ned bobbed his head in assent.

“Then let’s go,” Louisa said, motioning toward the exit with a sharp exhale. “Before I lose my appetite.”

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