Tony was still doing his best to give Susanna a hard time at work. He had updated his song selection to “Wake Up, Little Suzie” and “Susie-Q.” Every day he criticized her wardrobe selections, saying, “Mighty colorful today—are you trying to catch someone’s attention?” and, “How can you keep your balance on heels that high? And why would you even bother to try?” Conrad actually agreed with Tony about the heels, but he would never confront a woman about her clothing, especially not in front of other people. Susanna did not show any irritation at Tony’s ribbing. Sometimes she forced a small giggle at one of his comments. Usually she waved her hand at him or simply ignored him.
Conrad was also not bold enough to rise to Susanna’s defense. He wanted to tell Tony to leave her alone, to stop being such a bully, but instead he suffered in silence.
He tried to find ways to start little conversations with Susanna, but most days “Good morning” was as far as they got. On Mondays he would try, “How was your weekend?” but Susanna replied with one-word answers such as “fine” or “OK.” She wasn’t unfriendly toward him; it was clear that she just didn’t want to talk.
She opened up to Tina, though. The two of them conversed about Netflix and recipes and their cats. With his back to the conversation, Conrad was able to listen while he appeared to be working. He loved the timbre of Susanna’s alto voice and the jingle of her laugh when it was sincere, not forced. He resented the Saturdays and Sundays when he didn’t see her or hear her voice. Constantly he waited for the clue that she was ready to accept the offer of a date.
Then, one Friday morning as the women were visiting, Tina said, “Oh, by the way, how was dinner last night?”
“The food was just OK,” Susanna answered. “The company was not as bad as I feared. He can be decent and polite and gentlemanly when he tries; he just doesn’t seem to want to try too often.”
Conrad tried not to jump to conclusions. Susanna might have gone out to eat with her father or brother or some other family member. But in his heart he was convinced that she had had her first date in a long time, and obviously that date had not included him.
About a week later, Tina asked a similar question—“How was the movie?”
“It seemed long,” Susanna admitted. “I guess I’m just not into car chases and explosions and ten minute fights that devastate an entire city.” Conrad knew which movie she was describing. It was new to the theaters that month.
Tony happened to be walked toward the door when Susanna spoke. He stopped and looked at her. “I’m sure that when you choose the movie,” he said, “it’s going to be some girly romance with mushy music and long gazes into each other’s eyes, and I’ll be bored stiff.”
She looked up at him, a twinkle in her eye. “I hadn’t planned on such a movie,” she said, “but if that’s how you feel, then that’s what I’m going to choose.”
Tony imitated Susanna’s way of waving away an insult and went on his way. Conrad sat stiff in his chair, staring at the monitor. Out of the corner of his eye, he thought he saw Susanna dart a guilty glance in his direction, but he might have imagined it. He tried to focus on his work, but his mouth was dry and his heart was dancing in the middle of his chest. “Why Tony?” he asked himself again and again. “What could she possibly see in him?”
A few minutes later, Susanna grabbed her coffee mug and headed to the break room. A few seconds later, Conrad followed. He was relieved to see that no one else was in the room when he got there.
“I know it’s none of my business,” Conrad began, and a truer statement had never left his mouth. “But I have to know… did I just overhear that you and Tony went to a movie together?”
“Well, yes,” she said, and she looked down at the floor. Her cheeks were beginning to turn rosy.
“Didn’t you tell me a couple weeks ago that you aren’t ready yet for that sort of thing?”
“I didn’t want you to know,” she admitted. “I’m sorry you overheard. Honestly, I would never want to hurt your feelings.”
“I just don’t understand. How can you be ready to see a movie with Tony but not ready to see one with me?”
“I don’t want to have to answer that—please,” she begged. Her rosy cheeks were now glowing bright red, and a tear welled out of her right eye.
Conrad knew that he was probably making a big mistake, but he persisted. “I think I have a right to know.”
Susanna set her mug on the counter next to the coffeemaker. “Look,” she said, “It’s this way. I accepted a date with Tony because I knew what to expect—a night out on the town, nothing more. For that, yes, I’m ready. And if he wanted anything more, it would be easy to tell him no.
“But with you…” she shook her head. “With you it’s different. I’m not ready to get involved quite yet, not ready for a serious relationship.” She looked up at him, “When I’m ready for a man in my life, a real man, I promise to let you know.” She turned, filled her mug, and went back to her desk.
Conrad stood in the middle of the break room for several minutes, staring out the window.