Wren is late for work. That’s the second time this week. Damn it. It’s not her fault. Well, not fully. It’s Winter, it’s cold. The city is as much as buried under all this snow. And buses are late – or don’t come at all. And she doesn’t drive.
Wren swears, her foot has just slipped on a patch of ice hidden under snow. She’s also pathetic at swearing, it comes out unimpressive. She huffs in irritation. Her ankle boot is full of snow, and she’s jumping on her other foot, trying to scoop some of the cold yuck out with her crooked finger. Last time she was also late because of her bus, and this time she surely could’ve been smarter and left her flat earlier. Instead she kept on savouring her tea and clicking Pinterest – and now she’s late.
She pushes the door of the office open and smashes into the wide and very masculine chest of none other than John Thorington. Oh, the chest. Wren would like to say that his massive weight meeting hers at full velocity is to blame for her breath hitching and the panting she’s doing as if she just finished a marathon, but that would be poppycock. She’s lusting after her colleague. She has lusted after him since day one, and she can’t do anything about it. He’s talented and… gorgeous. But mostly she appreciates his brain, she’s not shallow, thank you very much. His updates to the packet forwarding and routing, Layer 6 application control, Intrusion Protection (IPS), DNS/DHCP services, and VPN connectivity firewall are works of art.
His looks contribute, of course. Computer scientists are not supposed to look like that. Almost two-metre tall, the body of a Greek god, luscious dark ponytail, blazing blue eyes. Fanfiction worthy physique. Installing on-premise appliances with him is a torture! He wears Davidoff Adventure. Wren dreams of licking his neck. That would be surprising. They’re hardly even mates.
Wren pulls up a smile. Her magnetic card is already in her hand, and she stretches it past him towards the scanner, when the most surprising thing happens.
John Thorington – the ever so calm, slightly grumpy, cold, professional John Thorington – emits a barmy strangled noise and jumps away from her. His left hand is fisted, tightly. His fist is giant, and his knuckles are white. Then he waves his left hand in front of her nose, in a gesture the meaning of which Wren fails to comprehend, and then he sprints by her towards the exit of the building.
Wren has to admit to a wee bit of stalking. She might discreetly watch him over the top edge of her monitor sometimes. They have early shifts together, and she has learnt his habits. Right now she’s certain he’s on his way to Starbucks for his Dark Roast with three shots of Espresso. What in the name of Rassilon was this spasmodic waving and the hasty retreat? Is he in need of his fix that much?
Wren shrugs, swipes her card, and takes the lift upstairs. After a proper verbal arse-smacking for her tardiness from the Department Head, through which she nods mournfully, looking appropriately regretful, she goes to her desk.
As usual, fifteen minutes later Thorington is back at his monitor, the cup with the mermaid with naked tits on the corner of his desk, and he disappears in the code for his network intrusion detection system. Wren stares a bit longer than it’s appropriate. To think of it, he didn’t ask if she wanted anything. He always does. She sometimes wants some Earl Grey. What’s wrong today?
Their third colleague is on vacation, so it’s just the two of them in the room, and Wren just can’t seem to concentrate on her work. It probably has to do with the memory of her hand on his chest, his solid muscles under his soft cashmere jumper and a tee. He rows. He also plays rugby. Now she can’t stop thinking that there’s chest hair there. She knows, based on the experience of that – bloody hell! – work picnic two years ago, and his white shirt, and two open buttons – but now she has tactile proof. Also, he wore shorts then. She might have fantasied about his hairy calves. He also rolls up his sleeves a lot.
Her palm is itchy right now. She rubs it on her denim, but of course it doesn’t help. Wren sighs and decides to get a cuppa. She lifts her eyes and realises that John Thorington, sitting at his desk across the room, isn’t working. He’s staring at her. He has been for a while probably. And she just caught him.
He blushes. Like a schoolboy. In her wildest dreams she wouldn’t imagine he even could. There are bright red spots quickly blooming above his beard. The beard Wren habitually imagines playfully biting into. There’s a jaw underneath it. It is a very masculine and stubborn jaw, and it gets set when he’s not happy with the analysis reports.
He immediately drops his eyes to his keyboard, which obviously makes it look much worse. Now, he can’t pretend he actually needed something. Now, it’s clear that he was just staring. Wren gets up and hastily walks by him to the loo. There’s a mirror there, and she checks her face. There’s no dirt. Her glasses aren’t askew; her orange, mental hair is, of course, sticking out, but it always does. Her freckles are still there. Wren sighs and drags herself to the kitchen.
He’s standing in front of the sink and is greedily drinking cold water from his It’s NOT a bug, it’s a feature mug. She knows it’s cold water because it’s still running from the tap – spraying everywhere. And then he fills the mug again and continues. Wren watches his throat move for a bit, it’s like her bespoke porn. She has developed amazing stealth skills over the three years they’ve been working together. She can watch him completely discreetly for hours. Hopefully, completely discreetly.
“John, are you OK?” she asks.
His whole body jolts, and he drops his mug. It falls on the floor and shatters. They’re both looking at it. The water is still running noisily in the background. He clears his throat loudly.
He then mumbles something and leaves, probably to get a broom. Wren turns off the water, shrugs again, and goes back to her desk without a cuppa. Something tells her she should leave him alone in the kitchen.
Half an hour later he’s back, and his keyboard starts to click. She assumes that whatever it was, it’s passed. They work for a few hours, without a word exchanged. They have a chat open, and they send links and data, but that’s it. That’s normal. Wren wouldn’t have noticed, weren’t he so bloody tense. It’s like he’s vibrating on the other side of the room. And he glances – at her. More often than he ever has. His eyes are on her again, then he shakes his head slightly, squirms in his chair, and goes back to work. He never squirms. He never fidgets. Wren’s getting jittery.
It’s lunch time, and it’s either takeaway or leftovers in the fridge. Normally she’d ask, he’d give her a concise answer. Right now she isn’t sure. She stares at him for a bit, trying to determine whether his mental state is back to normal, and then she plods to the kitchen. There’s half a pizza from yesterday, and she puts a slice in the microwave. And then she remembers she left her mobile on her desk.
She twirls and rushes to the door – and smacks into his chest. Again? This time her nose is full of his smell. It’s delicious. Her face is as much as pressed into his jumper. Her palms are splayed on it for sure.
“Fuck it, not again!” he growls, jumps back, and disappears in the corridor leading to the loo.
Wren’s standing, her hands still in the air where his chest was a second ago. She’s blinking frantically. It might just be her, but John Thorington saying ‘fuck’ was sexy. Too sexy. Gods, so sexy.
The pizza bearing microwave beeps, but Wren’s still frozen. Another beep comes, and she pulls the cheesy triangle out. She suddenly has no appetite.
She’s chewing her lunch. It tastes like cardboard. And awkwardness. It tastes like the first year in uni when they told her girls didn’t do computer science, and network security even less so.
Wren fixes her glasses – they always slide down – and throws the half finished slice in the bin.
John doesn’t come back till the end of the break. He’s not in the office, or the kitchen. His jacket is still on the hanger. She wonders if he’s hiding in the loo.
He comes back once the break is over. He smells of ciggies. She didn’t know he smoked. He looks annoyed and sits back at his desk without looking at her. That is her limit. In the half an hour of his absence she has imagined a lot. That she cocked up some code. That she’s about to be made redundant and he somehow knows about it. That he somehow found out how she got arsed up at the Christmas party last year and cried in the bathroom over her unrequited feelings for him. That time only Thea from Marketing was there, and Thea is a rock, she wouldn’t snitch.
Wren decides to conduct one last test. She is an analyst after all. She comes up to his desk and politely smiles.
“I’m going to the vending machine on the ground floor. Want anything?”
She’s keeping her tone light. His hands on the keyboard twitch. They are just as sexy as the rest of him. Large, with long fingers, masculine yet narrow wrists. Wren thinks they are the best in the world. She really wants to touch, and explore, and maybe rub her cheek to the inside of his wrist. She’s clearly barmy. His hands are also warm. Very warm. There have been accidental touches. He’s helped her carry a heavy box, and their hands brushed.
“No, ta. I don’t need anything.”
His tone is almost enraged. He’s actually gritting his teeth. That’s it.
She hisses, and smacks her hand on his desk, “What’s your problem, Thorington?”
Her voice is shrieky.
This isn’t how they were trained to address an interpersonal conflict in the office space. A daft looking, saccharine-sweet talking bird from PR came over, and they had ‘ice breaking’ sessions through which Wren found out that John’s favourite food is cheese. Then they all had to share something from their childhood. Wren couldn’t shake the image of a baby John out of her head for a month after that. Or John’s baby. Bugger.
The PR lady would tell Wren to calmly explain to John that Wren finds his abrupt manner unsettling.
Wren presses her fists into her hips and barks, “Well?!”
He has rolled slightly away from his desk on his chair and is staring at her. His eyes are widened.
“What did I do? Bugger up your code? Forgot to water your ficus? Didn’t wash your mug? What’s with the ‘tude?”
“Nothing,” he whispers, still staring at her.
His eyes are tense, pupils dilated.
“Nothing?! You said ‘fuck!’ And you keep jumping away from me! What’s your deal?!”
She steps closer and pokes his chest. Damn his chest. It’s the chest’s fault!
She realises she’s just touched him without asking, and she’s ready to apologise, when he gently catches her fingers and moves them away from his body. He lets her go right away. She’s staring at his fingers. They’re shaking.
“Don’t touch me, Wren.” His tone is equally pleading and irked.
“What?” she breathes out.
His hand felt scorching. His body is probably scorching too. These waves of heat coming off his body? She’s imagining them, right? He narrows his eyes.
“I said, please, don’t touch me.”
He pushes off the floor, rolling further away from her, jumps to his feet – and he’s gone.
“I’m sorry!” she calls after him, but there’s no answer.
Wren gulps, trying to sort out her thoughts. His screen is actually blank.
He comes back an hour later and apologises. She does as well. She really can’t understand why she snapped. He reassures her it’s fine. His face is expressionless.
“Well, now that it’s fine, and we both admitted to being tossers today—” She gives him a plastic smile, but he doesn’t return it. “John, are you actually… OK?”
She steps closer to him, now more concerned for him than irritated. He’s actually properly pale. She almost touches his sleeve, and he visibly tenses. It’s quite clear he’s trying not to shy away from her.
“Yeah, I’m ace.”
His voice is lower than usual. Normally it’s all velvet and chocolate mousse. Wren likes to imagine him saying all sorts of things with that very voice.
“I’m just feeling kind of manky.” He takes a deep breath in. “Sorry.”
Wren doesn’t believe him. But this fake politeness of his is still better than the previous full avoidance. She nods and decides to just go back to work. He’s standing in front of her in the kitchen. The fragrance of his Davidoff Adventure habitually tortures her brain and fanny. She’s a big girl. She knows it’s not the cologne. It’s him – his skin. It’s hot and tanned, and Wren wants to know what it tastes like.
He’s looking at the ‘wash your hands’ notice on the wall. To think of it, he hasn’t looked at her once through his or her apology. She suddenly feels sad and tired and wants to go home to her cat Mr. Thornton. He would curl on her lap, and she’d tell him all about how she fancies her colleague and wants to have his babies and he doesn’t even look at her.
“I’m really sorry, Wren.” John’s voice is suddenly sincere and low, and he’s looking down his nose at her. “I’ve been a wanker. It’s not your fault. I mean, you couldn’t know that— It’s all me, and I need to snap out of it.”
He freezes. He clearly understands he’s just talked himself into deep shite.
“Oh, so there is something!” Wren hisses and steps closer to him again. “There is something, and it isn’t my fault, and yet you’re pissed off at me!”
He lifts his hands defensively, as if trying to shield himself from her. Or not to let her step any closer. She wonders what exactly he finds so repulsive about her.
“Listen, John, if you still want to work with me tomorrow.” Her voice is a low menacing hiss. “You’re going to fess up, bloody right now, or help me gods—”
“I had a dream about you!” he barks at her, and she stops in her tracks, her index finger lifted to maybe even poke his chest. Damn the chest. No, she wouldn’t. No consent. But damn the chest!
He closes his eyes for a mo, and then looks at her with some strange tortured expression.
“What?” Wren’s arms hang passively down along her body. “What?! What— You had… a dream? Did I kill your dog in it or something? Are you seriously punishing me for something I did in your dream?! Are you Phoebe from Friends?!”
“Not that kind of dream,” he mutters.
He’s so quiet she can’t be sure she heard him right.
“What?” She has nothing better to say. “What kind of a dream then?”
He sighs. There’s a martyred note to it. He clearly doesn’t want to continue this conversation. He’s probably asking himself why he even opened his gob. And then she gets it. Her jaw slacks.
“You’re avoiding me because you had a sex dream about me?”
He sighs like her Nana’s St. Bernard, deeply and sadly, and is looking at the wall to their right.
Wren’s reaction is her typical one to a sudden and inconceivable shock. She giggles. Muscles dance on his jaw, and he looks like he’s planning another hasty retreat to the loo.
“I have them about you at least four times a week. I don’t behave like a prick after them,” she blurts out.
She isn’t sure if she wants to reassure him, or point out how rude he has been. His eyes fly to her face. And his soft lips open slightly. At least, they look soft, she actually doesn’t know.
“Four times a week?” he asks.
He looks utterly shocked. She decides to continue with the chill tude. What else is there to do, yeah? After you just told a bloke he’s your sex fantasy? Oh poop.
“It’s normal. We’re human. We have hormones. We are both straight, and work in the same room,” she deadpans. “We love our job. We think about it a lot. Thus, we think about each other. And sometimes it mixes in our noggins with the sex stuff – and voila!”
Do you know why she has this well-prepared speech and sounds so reasonable? Because she tells it to herself at least four times a week.
He’s attentively studying her, from his height. She’s hardly five two. His sternum is in front of her nose. He seems less tense now.
She is of course curious what that dream included. She wonders about his tastes. And then she realises she just said he was straight. Maybe he isn’t. That would explain the reaction to the dream!
“Are you gay?” she blurts out.
“Wren, I have just told you I had an inappropriate dream about you–” he grumbles.
“Well, if you were gay, that’d explain why you were so shocked. I mean if it’s your first one about a chick—”
“I’m not. And it’s not,” he interrupts her in the same dischuffed tone.
“Oh, I see. Well, like I said even if you don’t see me as a woman, it still makes sense—”
“I do,” he deadpans.
Wren’s mind quickly rewinds. Oh.
“I just didn’t realise before how much— And now I look at you, and remember— I mean, I know it wasn’t real, but—”
Is he going to finish a single bloody sentence?!
“Was I good?” Wren asks, sincerely interested, and he chokes on his mumbling.
Their eyes meet. Somehow she’s only just realised that his eyes are warm. And emotional. And have been like that since this morning. Or maybe even before. Maybe he’s been looking at her like that for a while, maybe for a few months. Or years. She’s just been too wrapped up in her own fantasies.
“You were fucking mind-blowing.”
His voice is raspy, and it rumbles somewhere deep in his throat.
She isn’t sure how to ask if he would like to conduct an experiment to confirm or deny his ‘dream assumptions.’
“I’ve been into you for a while, but it’s just all—”
“Bubbled up?” she offers with hope in her voice.
He smiles at her tenderly.
“Good,” Wren blurts out.
“Oh yeah,” she answers gleefully.
And she takes a step forward, and her hand hovers over his chest. She is 99.6% sure that she’s now allowed – and still.
“Gods, your hands,” he murmurs and leans towards her.
His eyes are searching her face. She grabs the back of his neck, stretching up, and pulls him to her lips.
His lips are indeed soft. And warm. She’s never had better. He’s enthusiastic, and gentle, and he tastes amazing. His long arms go around her, and then he picks her up and seats her on the counter. He’s right: this is much more convenient. She’s too short. She pushes her hands into his curls, messing them up.
“What if I don’t measure up to your dream?” she mumbles while he’s kissing her neck.
“You’re already better,” he murmurs and slides his tongue along her throat.
He has amazing oral skills. All puns intended.
“There are cameras here,” she decides to remind him.
His lips freeze on her skin. He’s pulled the collar of her jumper down, and now the tip of his long nose is pressed into the muscle between her neck and shoulder.
He’s still immobile, and she wonders if when randy, he thinks slower. Generally he is one of the smartest blokes she knows.
“But there are none in the broom closet,” she offers.
He straightens up and looks at her. And then he smiles widely at her.
“Wren, I was thinking more like a dinner, a film, and then your place or mine— I was going to— you know—”
“Woo me?” She’s smiling back.
“Yeah.” He chuckles.
“Well, I won’t say ‘no’ to that… but the broom closet is right there.” She gives him a wink. “And then you walk me home and carry my schoolbag?”
He picks her up under her arse, her legs go around his waist, and he carries her towards the closet.
“And then I’m buying you dinner,” he murmurs into her throat.
“Poppycock, Thorington!” Now Wren can reach, and she bites his jaw. Finally. It’s google times better than she’s imagined. “We are going to your or my place, and we’re cooking dinner together.”
“Fair enough.” He walks into the dark closet and closes the door behind him with a kick. “But if you feel like it, I’d like to offer a shag on the kitchen counter first.”
Oh, my, goodness. I love it.