[Prompt: Some days, you can never get the smell of loathing out of your laundry. ]
His co-workers shifted around him as they shared the elevator ride up to the offices. Bryan watched their shoes, noting the small steps they took to inch further and further away from him. He sipped at his coffee, the simmering on his tongue matching the undertones of his mood. He despised his peers yet he had taken care to shower that morning as to not offend anyone’s sensibilities. In fact, he had gone the extra mile by putting on deodorant and product in his hair. He should smell better than a damn daisy but his co-workers still edged away from him as if he had rolled in a compost pile.
Bryan glanced down at his freshly ironed shirt and wondered what these people could possibly be picking on to act so judgmental toward him. Again he sipped at his coffee, this time as a means to stop his teeth from grinding themselves to the gums. He already had a headache and clenching his teeth all day wouldn’t help alleviate the pain.
The elevator chimed, the doors slid apart, and Bryan made his way to his lone cubicle.
Stacey, the girl in the cubicle across from him, arrived shortly after him. She tossed her pack under her desk before sitting in the chair and giving it a spin, stopping it only when she was fully facing Bryan with a knowing grin. “You’ve got a bad case of Mondays.”
“I don’t know what you mean,” He rarely did.
Stacey rolled her chair over into his cubicle, “Your grouch-o-meter is at the top.”
Bryan ignored her, still not entirely sure what the bizarre woman meant, and reached to turn on his monitor.
“Case in point.”
“I’m trying to work, Stacey.”
“Okay, okay,” She wheeled back over to her own cubicle, but the silence was only temporary. “You reek anyway.”
Bryan turned to face her, “How can I possibly – no, you know what, never mind.”
“You smell like loathing.”
That didn’t even make any sense. Bryan shook his head and focused on the monitor. He brought up his first client and began to assess their case, but his mind kept circling back to Stacey’s words. He discreetly glanced at his from the corners of his eyes. She had always been a curious one, namely in the way she didn’t shy away from him like everyone else did. Perhaps he really did give off a strange odor. When it looked like Stacey was busy with her own monitor, Bryan lifted the front of his shirt and gave it a curious sniff. It smelled fresh to him.
“You can’t smell your own loathing,” Stacey purred at him, smiling at him from over her shoulder.
“That’s not a real thing.”
“I bet you use something like ‘Summer breeze’.”
“Spring Fresh,” he mumbled the correction.
“Then you get in your car,” Stacey continued undeterred, “and you make that long commute to work, and you stew in your seat the whole time. You gripe about bad drivers and unfair tolls. You glare at the people using the car pool lane but have no passengers. You reeked of loathing before you even stepped in the doors, Bryan.”
For having never shared a car together, Stacey was strangely knowledgeable of his morning. He half wondered if she stalked him outside of work before dismissing the thought as irrational. Stacey was just weird, end of story.
“That kind of loathing,” She clucked her tongue, “it doesn’t wash out.”
Bryan set his hands against his desk in an effort to keep his calm, “Why do you enjoy tormenting me with this nonsense?”
“Tormenting you? Ha!” Stacey feigned a laugh while spinning around in her chair. “Don’t you get it Bryan? I’m trying to help you.”
Doubtful of her intentions, Bryan turned away from her mania and slid on his headset to further distance himself. He sent out the call to his first client, but before the second ring, Stacey was back in his cubicle. Her hand came down on his desk phone, ending his call. His gaze traced up her tattooed arm, to the uniform sleeve that was folding up to nearly her shoulder, then his glare settled on her smirking features.
“Personally, I like the way you smell.”
Bryan slid his headset to rest around his neck and leaned back in his chair to get a better view of the mad woman who insisted on poking him for a reaction. His jaw tightened as he resumed grinding his teeth. His fingers gripped the arms of his chair as she stepped forward, her slender leg slotting between his knees. He snorted at her antics, “There is something seriously wrong with you, Stacey.”
“What’s wrong with a girl whose got a thing for angry guys?”
“I’m not-” He growled as she shifted her weight to rest on the invasive knee. “-angry. What are you doing?”
She pushed his chair back and away from herself then slowly retreated back to her own cubicle. She sat down in her chair, smirking as was her way. “You scare people, Bryan, but you don’t scare me. Just remember that, the next time you come into work intent on hating the world.”
Stacey turned to face her monitor and Bryan did the same. He flipped his headset back over his ears and with more anger simmering on the back burner, he set about his work while contemplating how to wash out the loathing from his laundry. The last thing he needed in his life was an element of crazy in the form of a overly forward woman. Why, he asked himself, did he always attract the crazy ones.