Jill pulled another folder from the leaning stack occupying the mesh basket at the corner of her desk.
A soft bell rang from her computer.
With her stout red pen poised to bloody the errors on the page, she flipped open the folder and glanced at the glowing screen.
Dinner, the calendar’s reminder window stated, 30 minutes overdue.
“Ah!” she groaned.
Slamming down the manila cover, Jill jumped out of her rolling chair. As she grabbed for her jacket and purse with one hand, she dealt with shutting down her system, stowing away the paperwork and pulling the string on her desk lamp with the other. With her bag in one hand, she squirmed into her jacket as she trotted through the sea of empty cubicles, all doused with shadows.
Banging on the down button failed to speed the lift, but she bashed at it repeatedly anyway.
“You’re never on time,” she said to her reflection in the elevator’s gleaming doors, mimicking her mother’s admonishing tone. She imagined the waggling finger joining the reprimand and shook her head.
After a long exhale and a dozen taps of her toes, the elevator slid open. Stepping inside she gave the lobby button the same assault with her manicured fingertip.
After a quiet descent, the elevator opened up into the ground floor with an echoing ding.
Jill trotted toward the exit, the clack of her heels rising up into the open expanse of the dim lobby. By the front doors a janitor circled a rumbling polisher, leaving a gleaming row of marble tiles.
She gave him a wave and he nodded, shaking the cords of his headset, the wires disappearing into his chest pocket.
Pounding rain greeted her as she pushed through the frosted glass door. Jill skidded to a stop and glared up at the sheets of water lit by the stalks of lamp posts in the front parking lot.
She glanced down at the handle of her purse and sighed. The two loops meant to hold an umbrella dangled empty.
Where did I forget it this time?
Jill’s shoulders sagged as the image of her umbrella, splayed and lying on the floor before her passenger seat came to mind.
Pulling her jacket close, she lifted her purse above her head and started to scamper toward the lone vehicle occupying a crisply outlined stall.
Water splashed against her nylons and drops soaked into her skirt. Each hurried step through the puddles seemed to find a crevice for the tip of her heel, leaving her wobbling and lurching to stay balanced.
She dug for her keys as she neared her car door, her fingers cold and growing numb. The metal ring felt dull in her hands and she fumbled to slip the key into the lock, adding another tiny scrape to the azure paint. Ducking inside, she slid onto the leather seat like a can out of a vending machine. She tucked her legs inside and shook out her purse. She gave the dry umbrella a glare and then dumped the damp bag into the well, causing droplets to scatter across the floor mat.
Pulling the door closed she shivered, buckled her safety belt then thrust her key into the ignition. The engine roared to life. She flicked the defroster on and pushed the gauge to the fattest end of the red line.
She drew the pip of her phone’s headset to her ear as she began to navigate out of the lot.
“Call home,” she said to the device propped on her dashboard as she flicked on her wipers and pressed the gas. The seconds seemed to draw out until the other end of the line picked up.
“I’m sorry. I’m on my way now.”
Daniel laughed and Jill frowned as she merged onto the main road.
“How long have they been there?” she asked.
“They’re not here yet.”
Jill frowned and growled as the street light up ahead turned red. “What?”
“They called at 7 and we talked for a bit.” Daniel chuckled. “You mom asked how things were going so I told her about the Anderson account. She figured you’d be late so I told her I’d call them when you called me to say you were on your way.”
Jill sagged into her seat as she drew to a stop. “Am I that predictable?”
“Maybe a little.”
She shook her head and wiped away some residual drips of rain. “Why do you put up with me?”
“Who else can I test recipes on?”
“My parents, Chef.”
“I should call them,” said Daniel with a smile in his voice. “They’ll probably be here when you are, and dinner will be hot from the oven.”
“You’re too good for me.”
She hung up and drew the pip from her ear as the light turned green. Pressing the gas brought on a whirr from her tires. The back end of her car swung out in a hydroplaning spin and she circled into the middle of the intersection. Her hands gripped the steering wheel as her eyes widened at the encroaching sets of headlamps.
Horns seemed to blare from all directions and tires squealed. Water splashed into her windows and then the car jolted as a pair of cars slammed into her front and rear.
The air bag blossomed out of her steering wheel, her seat belt tightened across her chest and then everything turned quiet.
Jill took a deep breath as the inflated bag began to sag. With a trembling finger, she pressed the call button on her phone, still tucked in its stand.
“So, now I really am going to be late.”