Part 4- https://stantonsislandblog.wordpress.com/2017/06/24/the-football-match-part-4/
“Morning, William,” Norman said, greeting William as he entered the office and walked past the receptionist’s desk.
“Morning,” William said with a brief smile at Norman and a nod to Michelle. The smile turned to a scowl as soon as his back was to them, and Norman returned to his hushed conversation with the receptionist. William placed his cup of coffee and bottle of water down on his desk and looked at the clock on the wall, which read five minutes to nine. He took a deep breath, leaned back in his chair, and took a big sip of water. Then he placed the water bottle down and got to work.
“How’s it going, William?” Norman asked, making himself at home in the guest seat across the desk from William. William shrugged.
“Well, enough, I guess. Though I suppose you’re about to tell me.”
Norman chuckled. “Fair enough. I did want to talk to you. Do you have a moment?”
“Sure. Go ahead.”
Norman looked surprised by the response. “Really? No wise-ass remarks? No trying to avoid or postpone our conversation?”
William shrugged. “It will only delay the inevitable. Playing those stupid games only wastes both our times. What did you want to talk to me about?”
“Well, this, actually,” Norman said, leaning forward momentarily before sitting up straight in his chair. “Your demeanor. These past few weeks I’ve noticed a change in your attitude.”
“Really?” William said with a confused look. “Because I’ve always been a miserable prick. Frankly, I don’t know how you didn’t pick up on it until recently.”
“No, that’s just the thing. You used to be a miserable prick. These past few weeks you’ve been, I don’t know. More content. High on life, almost.”
“Are you suggesting I’m bipolar? Because they make medications for that, but I assure you I’m not. I can show you a doctor’s note if need be.”
“No, but you’ve seemed better. Happier.”
“Really?” William asked.
“Well, less prick-like at any rate,” Norman said, qualifying his response. “The point is that your attitude has improved.”
“And this is a problem because?”
“Like any company, we want to grind our employees into the ground until they become depressed, defeated husks of humanity droning about their tasks as they await their inevitable death, and you’re messing with our modus operandi.”
“That’s what I figured.”
“In all seriousness, though, I’m not the only one who’s noticed,” Norman said. “Talking to Michelle earlier, she said the same thing.”
“Michelle said that?”
“And a few others,” Norman said, nodding. “I haven’t heard any feedback from clients to that effect, but I’m sure if you keep it up, they’ll take note as well.”
“So what I’m hearing is that you want to give me a raise?”
“Haha,” Norman said with a broad smile on his face. His face quickly turned serious and severe. “No. I haven’t seen any hard numbers that say your actual performance is improving.”
“Are you saying the sunshine shooting out my ass isn’t increasing profits?” William asked. “Then what’s it matter to you?”
“It matters because your new attitude hasn’t impacted your performance. Yet,” Norman said. “But if you keep it up, it will. Take today for instance. I wanted to talk to you, and you immediately asked what it was about instead of jerking me around like the dick you are for twenty minutes like you used to. And you were in early. I can’t remember the last time that happened.”
“It’s been awhile,” William conceded.
“No. I can’t remember it because it’s never happened. My point is that this increased efficiency and punctuality will pay off if you give it time.”
“I hope so,” William said, waiting for Norman to finish. When he didn’t continue, William asked, “So, is there a point to all this?”
“Not really. I just wanted to say good job,” Norman said, rising from his seat. “You know, my job isn’t only to lash the whip when people slack off. I also like to make sure people know that we notice when they do well.”
“I’ve never seen you do that before.”
“You’ve never done well before. Keep it up,” Norman said, looking down at William’s desk. He started to leave, when something caught his eye and he stopped suddenly. “What’s this?”
“Oh, it’s just a donation sheet for some charity thing,” William said, grabbing the sheet away. “Hugh’s school is doing it, and I agreed I’d participate. That’s all.”
“Yeah, I’m aware of it. Devon’s dealership is one of the sponsors of the event,” Norman said. “I guess I’ll see you there. You going to be running?”
Norman shrugged. “You just never struck me as much of a runner, that’s all. Well, unless you’re running after a football.” Norman pulled a pen from his pocket and reached out his hand. “Here. Let me pledge for you.”
“Oh, you don’t have to do that,” William said dismissively.
“No, I want to,” Norman said, his hand still reached out. William hesitated, and Norman persisted. “Please. I insist.”
“Alright,” William said, acquiescing and handing over the sheet to Norman. As Norman filled out his space on the sheet, William added, “I guess it’s good to donate to stuff like that, you know? It makes it look like you care.”
“I do care,” Norman said, finishing up and handing the sheet back to William. “After all, without the internet, how are those kids going to watch porn?”
“I’m telling you he’s mocking me,” William insisted to Hugh as the two showed up for the fun run. “I’ll bet the whole reason he agreed to donate for me was so that he could make fun of how far I ran. Probably so he can make fun of me behind my back to that slut Michelle that he’s banging.”
“I doubt that. And you said yourself that you have no evidence that they’re banging.”
“She’s French. They’re banging,” William said matter-of-factly. “Having sex is like shaking hands for them. It’s more common courtesy than anything else.”
“Alright, well, I’m not sure that’s true, but why do you have to be so cynical?” Hugh said as he saw his wife waving to him and the two started to walk in her direction. “Maybe he just wants to donate to a good cause.”
“Please. Giving porn to kids doesn’t exactly make you Mother Theresa,” William said. “Besides, I can feel the judgment in his eyes every time I talk to him. Hi, Amy.”
“Hi, William,” Amy said sweetly, hugging William before kissing her husband on the cheek.
“Just because you can feel it, doesn’t mean it’s there. You may be reading your own insecurities into his actions,” Hugh suggested.
“What the fuck does that mean?”
“It means that you feel bad about yourself, so you assume he’s judging you for the same shortcomings for which you’re secretly judging yourself,” Hugh said, looking down at William and raising his eyebrows. “Perhaps if you took this new training regimen of ours more seriously, you wouldn’t be in this situation.”
“I’m going to find the kids. I’ll see you after the race,” Amy said, starting to walk away. “Good luck. Good luck, William.”
“Thanks, Amy,” William said, starting to stretch half-heartedly. “And I do take our training seriously. I haven’t missed a day yet.”
“No, but you still go out drinking every night.”
“So, when you show up, you’re always tired and hung over.”
William scowled. “Not always,” he said quietly.
“You’re tired and hung over now.”
“But you knew you had a race, and you still didn’t get a good night’s sleep. That’s my point. Getting into shape requires more than just getting a little more exercise. You have to take care of your body in general. And when you see someone like Norman who does that, it makes you feel insecure about your own inability or unwillingness to do so, and so you assume he’s mocking you for it, when in reality it’s just your own subconscious gnawing at you.”
“I don’t know. Maybe you’re right. On the other hand, maybe he’s a cunt and I should punch him in the face.”
“I wouldn’t recommend that,” Hugh said.
“Why not? It’s freedom of expression. I am a human being and have an innate right to express myself. In this case, by punching Norman in the face.” William paused for a moment, continuing to stretch. Then he looked at Hugh. “Violence is a protected form of self-expression, right?”
“I don’t think so, but that wasn’t my point,” Hugh said, bending over and trying to touch his toes. He looked up at William. “My point is that he would kick your ass.”
“He wouldn’t…” William began. He stopped and thought about it. “Shit. He would, wouldn’t he?”
“Absolutely. He’s got half a foot and about 3 stone on you,” Hugh said, standing up straight. He looked around sheepishly. “Alright, I’ll see you after the race.”
“Wait. Where are you going?” William asked as Hugh started to walk away. Hugh stopped and turned around, walking back up to William.
“I’m going around back to take a leak behind the dumpster,” he whispered into William’s ear.
“That’s a great idea,” William said, clapping his hands. “You do that, and I’ll go take a dump in the sink.”
“Why would you take a dump in the sink?” Hugh asked with a confused look on his face.
“Because we’re defiling this event. Aren’t we?” William asked. “Is that not what we’re doing? I thought that’s what we were doing.”
“Why would we defile a charitable event?”
“Because Devon’s car dealership is sponsoring, and he’s a dick.”
“No. My school is also responsible for this,” Hugh said, walking away slowly. After a few steps, he stopped and turned around. “I’ll see you after the race. Don’t, uh, please don’t defecate anywhere in the meantime.”
William crossed the line, completing another lap, the lap that would be his last of the day. He stepped off the track and held his hands above his head before collapsing red-faced onto his ass. After catching his breath for a few minutes, he slowly made his way back to his feet and walked over to the table where volunteers were handing out water to the participants.
“Water, sir?” one of the volunteers asked as William approached.
“Only if you don’t have any beer,” William said. The volunteer laughed and handed William a plastic cup filled with water, which he accepted with disappointment. He took his water and stood off to the side, watching the remaining runners continue around the track. He managed to identify Hugh and the Stinger brothers, all of whom were still going strong.
“William?” A woman’s voice from behind caught his attention. He turned around to see Jackie Lewison standing behind him, looking beautiful, in his eyes at least, despite her flushed face and messy hair.
“Oh, Jackie,” William said, spilling a bit of water on himself as he fumbled about with it. “How are you?”
“Sorry. I didn’t mean to startle you,” she said softly, with a sweet smile.
“Oh, please. You didn’t startle me,” William said, waving his hand dismissively and laughing off his startled reaction. “So, what brings you here?”
Jackie pointed to her athletic attire and sweaty appearance. “Participating in the run.”
“Right, right. Of course. I knew that. I just wasn’t expecting to see you here, that’s all.”
Jackie smiled. “Well, Devon’s dealership is helping sponsor the event, so I felt kind of obligated. Besides, I like this sort of thing. It’s a nice way to get outside and get some exercise while doing some good and meeting some interesting people.”
“Sure. I completely agree,” William said. He paused and looked around. “Speaking of Devon, I don’t see him around anywhere. Did he bail on his own event?”
“Oh, he’s still plugging away on the track,” Jackie said with a chuckle. She shook her head. “I like to think I’m in pretty good shape, but I can’t keep up with him. We tried to run together for a brief while, but I could tell he just wanted to move faster.”
“Oh, of course he is,” William said under his breath with a scowl. He stood there silently, shifting his feet for an awkward while before Jackie broke the silence.
“So, did you participate?”
“Ah, yes. Yes I did,” William said with a smile, nodding proudly. “And you?
“I already told you yes, William.”
“I know, I know,” William said, shaking his head and grimacing. “It’s just kind of a natural question, you know? Kind of comes out automatically.”
“Sure,” Jackie said with another soft, sweet smile. “So, is this your first time? You never struck me as much of a fitness enthusiast.”
“Yeah, well, you know. I’m trying to take better care of myself,” William said, attempting to shrug nonchalantly. “I even took up meditating recently.”
“Really?” Jackie said, raising her eyebrows with an impressed look on her face. “What type of meditation do you do?”
William shook his head at a loss for words. “I don’t do meditation,” he conceded. “But I’ve been meaning to start.”
“Oh. Well, that’s just as good.”
“Yeah, well it’s a process, you know.”
“Make a lot of small changes for the better, as opposed to try them all at once and get overwhelmed.”
Jackie smiled. “That’s a solid plan.”
“So, I started running. There’s a start.”
“Got to start somewhere, I suppose.”
“And then I started eating healthier. Nothing major, just substituting veggies for chips and the like. Water instead of soda.”
“No, that’s good. That’s really good,” Jackie said supportively.
“I plan to start meditating soon, now that I’ve grown accustomed to my new regimen.”
“I plan to quit drinking.”
Jackie laughed. “Seriously? I’ll believe that when I see it.”
“Well, drink less, anyway.”
“That sounds like a better idea. You don’t have to give up everything you like. Just, you know, moderation. A smarter substitute here or there. That’s all it takes.”
“That’s the plan,” William said quietly. The two stood in awkward silence again. William looked away, and Jackie looked at her feet.
“So, how far did you run?” Jackie asked, breaking up the silence.
“Not, bad,” Jackie said.
“Very impressive,” William said. “That’s a good job.”
“Yeah. Well, I was a bit tired today. I usually can make it ten, but it’s been a rough week.”
“Oh, I’m sorry to hear that. What happened?”
“Oh, it’s nothing. Been a bit sick is all.”
“I see,” William said, faking a cough into his hand. “Yeah, I think I’m coming down with something myself. I was a bit off my game today.”
“It happens,” Jackie said. She smiled at William and gestured away. “Well, I should get going. Devon should be finishing up soon, and we have to get home.”
“Of course. And how far does Devon usually run?” William asked, putting a mocking intonation on the word ‘Devon’ and hoping it wasn’t too obvious.
“Oh, he’ll go at least ten, probably closer to twelve or fifteen. But it looks like the event is wrapping up. I’ll see you around, William,” Jackie said with another soft, sweet smile. She turned and started to walk away. After a few steps she stopped and turned around. “It was really nice to see you again, William.”
“You too,” William said. The two smiled at each other, then Jackie turned and walked away again. William watched, his face long and sad, as she left, keeping his eyes on her until she disappeared into the crowd. He took a deep breath in and sighed. Suddenly, he felt a large slap on his back.
“There you are, buddy,” Lester said, putting his arm around William. “Let’s go. We’ve decided to head to the Holstein for a pint and a bite to eat.”
“You go ahead,” William said, still looking off into the distance. “I think I’ll pass. I’ve been meaning to cut back on the beer and pub food.”