ONE FLOOR UP
by Don Tassone
It began in an elevator.
It was just after noon on a Wednesday. I was on my way to the cafeteria. It was only three floors up. Normally, I would’ve taken the stairs. But I was in a hurry, just grabbing a sandwich to eat at my desk.
The elevator stopped at eight. You were standing there alone, holding a book.
“Ten, please,” you said softly, as you stepped inside. Then, as you turned around, you saw the button was already lit. “Never mind,” you added, with a small laugh.
You were standing right in front of me. Under the bright ceiling lights, I noticed the red in your chestnut brown hair and a few strands of grey too.
The doors opened at nine. Several more people got in. You took a step back, and your left heel came down hard on the toe of my left shoe.
You wheeled around.
“Oh, I’m sorry!” you exclaimed.
Turning around that way just as the elevator started ascending again threw you off balance. Instinctively, I gripped your upper arms from behind and steadied you.
“It’s OK,” I said.
Your arms were surprisingly firm under your white blouse. You faced forward and said nothing more. I imagined you were embarrassed.
The doors opened, and everyone got out. I walked over to the deli counter. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see you heading to the salad bar.
As I stood in line, I watched you place a plate, silverware, a napkin and your book on a tray and make your salad. I noticed how slender you were and how snugly your black skirt fit. You were wearing low heel pumps. No wonder my left foot was throbbing.
You stepped over to the drink station. I noticed your toned calf muscles. You dispensed Diet Pepsi over ice into a plastic glass.
You waited in a short line for the cashier. I didn’t see anyone with you. You paid, stopped for some salad dressing and headed into the dining room.
I grabbed my sandwich and a drink and headed back to my office. As the elevators passed the eighth floor, I wondered if that’s where you work.
You were at least ten years my senior. But for the rest of that day and all the next morning, I couldn’t stop thinking about you. I wondered if you went to the cafeteria for lunch every day.
I took a chance. Just after noon, I got on the elevator. Once again, it stopped at eight. And once again, there you were.
Today you were wearing a light blue sweater and a dark blue skirt. Once again, you were holding a book. You turned around as the doors closed. Once again, you stood right in front of me. And once again, the doors opened at nine, and several more people got in.
This time, though, you looked down before stepping back. The elevator was more crowded today, and I needed to move back too to make room. But I could go no farther. My back was against the wall. You avoided stepping on my toes. But you backed into me, your bottom pushing against my thigh, your back against my chest. Once again, instinctively, I gripped your upper arms.
“Pardon me,” I said. But I didn’t let go.
You turned your head and looked up at my face.
“It’s OK,” you smiled.
I dropped my hands. But your backside remained pressed against me. Your hair smelled like flowers. I looked down at your left hand and noticed you weren’t wearing a ring.
The doors opened at ten. Everyone got out. You looked over your shoulder. Your eyes were honey-brown.
“Goodbye,” you smiled.
I waited in line for a sandwich again and watched as you made your salad and headed into the dining room alone.
It was Friday. Everyone in my office dresses down on Friday. Some even wear jeans. But today I wore a suit, though without a tie.
All morning, I kept checking the clock. A few minutes after noon, I got into the elevator. I prayed that the doors would open at nine.
They did. And there you were!
Today you were wearing a sleeveless, red dress. Your hands were empty, folded in front of you. You were looking at the spot where I always stand. When you saw me, you smiled.
“Hello again,” you said.
“Hello,” I smiled.
Once again, you stood right in front of me. Once again, when people crowded in on nine, you pressed against me. And once again, I gripped your upper arms. This time, though, I could feel your skin. It was soft, with goosebumps.
“Have a good weekend,” you said, turning to me as you got out. Your step, like your body, was lithe.
“You too,” I said.
I watched you get in line for salad. I couldn’t take my eyes off you in that dress.
Waiting for my sandwich, I watched you disappear into the dining room. But this time, I headed there too.
I saw you sitting alone at a table next to a window. As I walked toward you, you saw me. In the sunlight, you looked older and even lovelier.
“Would you like some company?” I asked.
“I’d love some,” you smiled.
Don Tassone lives in Loveland, Ohio and teaches public relations at Xavier University in Cincinnati. His stories have appeared in a range of literary magazines. They’re posted at http://dontassone.com