Although Mr Carver had only recently started at the office, Janey Richards was already sick of him. There was nothing in particular about his personality that she disliked - he seemed like a pleasant young man - but rather it was his work ethic. He thought it fit to take a break every fifteen or so minutes, standing up at his desk and stretching out with a groan. This was a particular annoyance to Janey, since she preferred it to be silent when she worked. Mr Carver also liked to go outside for a cigarette every hour on the dot, dawdling on the balcony of their floor as he smoked. For some reason, the bosses, Mr Dean and Mr Sheilings, had not yet reprimanded these actions, though they clearly violated company guidelines. Janey took her designated half hour break at one fifteen in the afternoon each day, eating a small meal in the canteen on the ground floor and arriving promptly back at her desk on the third at one forty-five exactly. She wasn’t a rule breaker. In fact, had she not been somewhat timid and shy, she would be a strict rule enforcer. She would have very much liked to stand up on the desk with her hands on her hips and shout at Mr Carver for his tardiness and general disregard for rules. But she couldn’t, and wouldn’t, because one of the company rules prohibited workers from climbing on the furniture.
Mr Carver had introduced himself as Lewis, with a cheeky grin plastered across his young face. He was perhaps twenty, twenty one, only a few years younger than Janey herself. He hadn’t offered to shake anyone’s hands on his first day, which Janey found strangely rude. Did he not want to touch them? What was wrong with their hands that made him not want to shake them?
“You want a coffee?” He asked aloud from his desk one day, and it took a moment for Janey to realise he was talking to her since he phrased it so informally. Their desks faced each other, and when she looked up from her work, he was peering around the side of his computer monitor.
“No, thank you.” Janey politely declined. It was against the company rules for employees to have hot drinks at their desk, to decrease the risk of computers being damaged if they spilled.
“Go on!” Mr Carver insisted, standing up from his chair. “You look like you need one.”
Janey thought this remark about her appearance was rude, but she ignored it and shook her head at him. “I don’t want one, thank you.”
Did his mother never teach him his manners? She thought as she went back to her work. Perhaps he was an orphan - that is terrible of course, but it would explain his lack of general regard for others. Maybe his mother was a drunkard or a-
“I’m making you a coffee, you look as though you’re about to fall asleep!” Mr Carver interrupted Janey’s thoughts as he appeared in front of her desk, stretching out his arms like he always did.
“I must insist that I don’t want one, thank you.” It was getting ridiculous now, she really didn’t want or need a coffee. All she wanted and needed to do was finish the report on her desk so that she wasn’t fired.
Mr Carver laughed. “Well, I’m insisting that I’m making you one, call it a gentlemanly gesture.”
What sort of gentleman does he think he is? Janey went back to her thoughts. No gentleman I know of is this abrupt and rude in his interactions. Mr Carver had wandered off towards the breakroom and she knew she’d lost that short battle. I won't drink it, she told herself, but then immediately decided that it would be too impolite to do that. I will drink it, but I will tell him I am trying to quit caffeine, so he won’t make me one again. But then she thought about how wrong it was to lie and didn’t know what she’d do if he tried to make her one again.
She pushed the thoughts away and went back to her report. It was nearly finished, written out in pencil on lined paper in case of mistakes. Then she could type up a perfect version in a few minutes and email it to her bosses before the end of the day.
“Do you have sugar or milk in your coffee?” came Mr Carver’s voice from behind her. Janey practically writhed in annoyance as she turned round to answer him.
“Neither, thank you.”
“Ah hah! I predicted that you were a black coffee kinda girl!” He presented a styrofoam cup of boiling hot black coffee from behind his back. “Here you go!”
Janey smiled at him, a little weakly. “Thank you kindly, Mr Carver.”
Mr Carver somehow found these words as an invitation to sit on the edge of Janey’s desk.
“Call me Lewis, please. You’re Joan, right?”
“Ah, my bad, my bad. There’s so many people here and I still don’t know all their names. You worked here a while, then?”
Please go away, I need to finish this report is what she wanted to say. “Since I was eighteen, yes.” is what she actually said. A friend of her mothers had worked there at the time and helped Janey get the job after she left school. Although she had been a studious student, she hadn’t opted to go to university, preferring to jump straight into the working world. University seemed like more of a social gathering - a rite-of-passage type nonsense.
“I started my old job aged eighteen too. I left recently because, well - I was fired.” Mr Carver shrugged, nonchalantly as if that was something normal.
Janey’s eyes widened. Fired?! And they let him work here? Though she was not a curious teacher, and thought asking personal questions was intrusive, Janey was compelled to ask why he had been fired. It must have been something serious if he was fired, but it couldn’t have been that serious if he had been allowed to work here.
“Why were you fired?” She asked, picking up the cup of black coffee and raising it to her lips.
“I worked in a supermarket, right, and we had these flat surfaces with wheels on for transporting crates of food,” Mr Carver chuckled at himself and took a sip of his coffee. A few drops dripped down his white shirt, but he didn’t seem to care. He wiped his mouth with the sleeve of his blazer. “And one day, when there weren't many customers, I tried to skateboard down the aisles on one of them. It was going very well until there was no way to stop and I crashed into a fridge full of milk and, well, got myself and the floor covered in milk.”
The way Mr Carver was telling the story - like it was some hilarious joke - told Janey that he didn’t take his work seriously. She knew that already, but it just solidified it in her mind. Never leave him unattended, she noted in her mind, as if he were a child. Taking a sip of her coffee, she slowly turned her attention back to her report, but Mr Carver kept talking.
“I bet you’ve never done a thing wrong in your life, have you?”
Well, no, nothing like that. “I once forgot my calculator, though it was on one of my very first days here. I haven’t forgotten it since.”
“That doesn’t count!” Mr Carver started to laugh at her but composed himself quickly after seeing the rather serious and concerned look on her face. “I mean, that’s not that bad. Doesn’t it get boring, being so, well, good?”
I think it would be much more boring if I were arrested and put in jail for the rest of my life because I decided to be bad. Janey sighed. “No, I like sticking to the rules and not getting fired, thank you.”
“There must be SOMETHING you’ve always wanted to do, but it’s against the rules.” His voice practically filled the whole room, and Janey felt her cheeks go bright red, hating to think that they could be disturbing other people’s work.
“No.” She said quickly, shaking her head.
“Not even one tiny thing that-”
“Not even one tiny, teeny little thing-”
“Not even one tiny, teeny, itsy, bitsy little -”
“I always wanted to take the lift.” Janey gave in, pushing her report to the other side of the desk and picking her coffee up again. “We’re told to take the stairs and that the lift is for clients and bosses, so I take the stairs. But I always wanted to take the lift.”
Mr Carver jumped up from the desk, knocking his coffee all over the floor. “Perfect!” He looked at the clock on the wall and grinned. “I make that quarter past one, time from lunch, right?”
It was half-past twelve, but Janey knew she wasn’t going to get any work done unless Mr Carver went away, and perhaps she could persuade him to go away by accompanying him to lunch. She stood up from her chair and followed him dutifully out of the room. He led her over to the lift, which was directly opposite the stairs, and pressed the button to call the lift to their floor.
“Ready to break the rules?”
No, I am terrified and want to take the stairs. “I don’t think that this is a good idea, Mr Carver.”
“Nonsense! It’s just a lift, look!” The lift arrived and the doors opened, revealing an empty interior. Mr Carver stepped in, and Janey hesitated, with one foot in and one foot out. “Oh get in!”
He pulled her in by her shoulders, and she stumbled to the back of the lift. Could he get any ruder? “I didn’t appreciate that, and now I’m feeling quite nervous.”
And she was feeling very nervous. In fact, she didn’t believe she’d felt this nervous since her first day of work. She was a woman of routine, and liked things to be the same. Yes, she had always wanted to take the lift instead of the stairs, but that was more of a backseat curiosity that she thought about whilst climbing the stairs to keep herself occupied. This was a rather spontaneous move, on her part, but it seemed to be usual for Mr Carver to break the rules so effortlessly. He just went and did it, no fuss, never being reprimanded. Apart from his last job, of course, where he was fired. And rightly so.
The short journey was uneventful. Muzak played quietly in the lift, and neither of them said anything. Should anyone summon the lift and get in, she thought, they would think us the most unlikely pair.