While breaking up with a lover over MSN messenger at my office job, I start to notice that the new girl in the cubicle to my left is a cute-looking bundle of possible rebound love. I soon discover that the administrator in question is also mid-breakup. We skilfully conclude that the two stages of grief over a relationship ending are 1) sadness, 2) drinking. So we plan an off-site non-date to drink away the girls who once held our hearts.
We probably owe what follows to the blond tattooed girl at Kei's Bar on Shaw Street who hands out free Jägermeister shots at last call. Our professionalism slips away in a haze, and the game officially begins.
There is nothing hotter than two secretaries sneaking kisses between walk-in inquiries. Our casual post-it note poetry, sexy comic book doodles and carefully aloof yet longing stares are elaborate enough for the stage. "Would you like anything from Starbucks? Purr, purr," becomes a breathy invite for inappropriate staring.
Clothes that used to be too good to waste on work begin making their way into my day-shift existence.
Nothing turns the tedious grind of a repetitive job into the come-hither choreography of an 80s teen movie's prom scene like an illicit office affair.
I'm never late. I begin making my lunches. Meanwhile, for no apparent reason, she starts arriving 20 minutes early for her shift, which overlaps with mine by one hour.
The clock-watching comes to a sudden halt. No longer am I glancing at the digital numbers on my phone in mid-file. Sliding my shoes along the always-electrified office carpeting brings new sparks. While teaching Joe Guy from upper management how to press send, I caress the fax machine like one of those sassy blonds from The Price Is Right exhibiting a new washing machine.
Friends warn us: "It's never, ever a good idea," says my practical (and married) friend Amber. "What if someone finds out?"
So begins the second stage of inter-office dating: lying.
"Are you dating anyone?" asks a curious co-worker.
Covertly trying to cover hickeys on my neck with a casual pat of my left hand, I answer, "No, no. Not really."
"How about you and the new girl?"
"No, we're just, um, hanging out." It isn't a total lie. We aren't labelling anything yet. We're still single and getting over our exes. At least, that's the official line.
"Great, 'cause I have a crush on her."
I give this co-worker a weak, unconvincing smile. "Well, you should go for it then."
"Really?" she asks.
"I think I hear the phone ringing," I say and depart awkwardly.
While I hug other co-workers hello, I pat the new girl on the shoulder in a manner usually reserved for semi-strangers.
She nods politely at me, but when others' backs are turned she hands me a love note.
It's the holiday season by this point, and we're both present at many office parties. We sidle up to each another at the punch bowl, smirking. She even brings me to a party at our boss's house, where I'm careful not to get too saucy on the red wine and spill the beans. We're simply new friends.
Outside the office job, I work as a freelance writer for a magazine. She's a photographer and artist. She's assigned to take my photo for an article about my book. I'm assigned to review her upcoming visual arts exhibit.
At this point, you'd think that we would just let the cat out of the bag and admit it. But what began as a rebound fling of inter-office fun has turned into something entirely unexpected. Love.
We're not flinging paperclips at one another in an immature lust-filled manner while trying to find love.
In fact, 'love is for suckers' is the tag line for many of our first dates. We will not be tied down - outside of the bedroom. We're young! We've been done wrong. We're single, with the added bonus of having someone to kiss covertly at Ciao Edie on Sunday nights.
Once I've left that job, we're free to admit to ourselves and others that a rebound doesn't qualify as such if it lasts more than a few weeks. Especially when the breakfast conversation is almost as fun as the no-sleep nights.
But in case you're sizing up Bob from marketing while reading this on your lunch break, keep the following things in mind if you want to keep it on the down low.
Do not wear your lover's shirt to work if you forget to go home the night before. Stick with your own, even if it smells like smoke and bar. Drop by the Body Shop for a quick spritz of cologne. That should do. Wearing his or her cologne is a sure-fire sign of inappropriate mingling.
The only place to kiss without getting caught is the elevator, and only if it's well timed.
Let only one co-worker in on the secret. It's more fun that way. And, years later, s/he will be able to tell embarrassing stories about the first few months and be paid back for all the confiding s/he had to endure.
Never send sexy e-mail. Ever. It has a way of going terribly, horribly wrong.
Last but not least, always send each other flowers. It brightens up the office and keeps the curiousity flowing. That's always amusing and definitely helps pass the time.