For once, she could not keep her irritation in check.
She whirled around in her chair and chucked a pen at Robert over the partition that separated their cubicles. She was rewarded with a startled, “Ouch!” accompanied by the soft thunk from the pen no doubt hitting him in the head.
Robert’s mop of blond hair, complete with half of a pair of headphones attached to his ears, poked up over the wall and, with a deadpanned look, held up her pen. “Did you lose this, Ellen?”
“Maybe,” she said.
He dropped the pen unceremoniously back on her desk, where it bounced and rolled behind her computer. “What was that for? I can totally report you for abuse or harassment.”
“You keep tapping against our wall,” Ellen said. “It’s driving me crazy.”
He blinked. “I didn’t even notice… My foot taps with the beat of my music. Why didn’t you just ask me to stop?”
“I did,” she said. “Multiple times. Through post-it notes, face-to-face, hell, I even e-mailed you a sound clip of me telling you to knock it off just last week! I figured with the way those headphones of yours are glued on your head that something like a music clip would work.”
“You should be!” Ellen bent back over the report she was supposed to be processing. “Now turn back around and leave me alone. And, for the love of God, please stay quiet.”
For a moment, she heard nothing, and she believed that Robert had actually listened for once. However, there were soon the sound of footprints and she looked up to see Robert standing at the edge of her cubicle.
“Ellen,” he said quietly, “is something wrong?”
“Yes,” she snapped, turning so her back was to him. “I keep hearing this insistent insect by my ear and it won’t go away.”
“I don’t see any bug–”
“I meant you.”
Robert was silent for all but two seconds before saying, “Look, I’m sorry for apparently making a racket… But I’m not the only person bothering you, am I?” She didn’t respond, and he continued. “If you need to talk, or for someone to deck Tony across the jaw, I’m here.”
Ellen didn’t move until she heard Robert’s footsteps return to his own cubicle, didn’t move until she heard Robert start typing away on his computer once more. Only then did she let out a shuddering sigh before working on her own report.
She didn’t need to talk to anyone, let alone Robert. And if anyone was going to deck Tony – not that he needed to be decked, because everything was fine – it would be her.
Ellen took a deep breath.
That’s right. Everything was fine. It had to be.