One, Two…You Too? (Story)

Staying late at work had become a pattern for Bella. It had begun innocuously enough. A slipped assignment, a document that arrived late in her inbox, or an unexpected phone-call from Matt her Team-leader who wanted to discuss something urgent with her.
At first, she didn’t notice that staying back and working late was a kind of getaway for her. Her evenings that were trapped in home had already started becoming interminably long. She and Victor, had always maintained that if a person worked hard and smart enough, there wasn’t a need for her to stay back at work. She had followed her own dictum for six years and while she hadn’t slipped, Victor had. Two years into their pact, he had started arriving late.
She remembered the first time he was late as lucidly as it might have happened yesterday. He had called her up and told her that his boss wanted him to be there for an important overseas phone-call. She had eaten her dinner with the television set on, and gone to bed alone.
And then before they realized what was happening, it had become a pattern. She could vividly recall the first few times Victor had stayed back, but then the late-stays became more and more frequent, until they became a blur. Their evenings became her evening, and he spent his evenings with the “Beast,” his euphemism for his work or boss or whatever. And yet, despite working hard, and despite his daily grudge that he voiced in front of her at the time of breakfast, he appeared happier and more content.
His paradoxical behavior perplexed her, but she loved him, and it was good to see him smiling and humming, so she never complained.

Six Months Later…

Bella awoke with a smile on her face. Her dreams that had for long been a drab colorless gray and quite forgettable, had started becoming more vibrant, more lively, more exciting…and last night, staying late had acquired a different meaning altogether. Over the past few months something that had begun as a chance late-stay at work had changed into a conscious choice for Bella. Matt was obviously happy with this change in her and he quite openly acknowledged that he was thrilled that she had started staying back at work.
But last night was different. It wasn’t the regular late-stay that she had become used to; last night, both were conscious of the charged up atmosphere and both felt the under-currents that at least Bella had been trying to ignore. The attraction that existed between them subliminally had bubbled up and so when their hands had touched last night, neither he nor she had tried to pull away. After that incident, an anticipatory silence punctuated by stolen glances and a deliciously heightened awareness had stretched between them.
He had walked her to her car, but hadn’t said goodnight. She hadn’t either. They had just held each-other’s gaze.
Now, in the morning, as she stepped out of her bath, she found herself humming…
“I can’t stop the feeling
I’ve been this way before
But, with you I’ve found the key
To open any door…”
“Anticipating a promotion?” he asked. He was standing in front of the mirror, tying the knot of his tie.
A wave of guilt surged through her.
“Not really,” she said. “In fact, I wish I didn’t have to stay late…” she stopped mid-sentence.
“You too have started staying late?” he asked, his hand freezing in place.
She froze too. He always arrived late but she an hour before he did. He hadn’t known until now, but now he did.
And she did too.
They stood numbed as they heard the crash, simultaneously.

Credits:
Song: Whitesnake
Lyrics: David Coverdale

Written in response to FOWC with Fandingo Prompt: Variety

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