Zach went to sleep that night in a contemplative mood, and woke up optimistic, for reasons he was unsure of. It could only be because of Zoe, which was odd, as he had reigned himself to a platonic relationship. Abused or not, she seemed okay with her current situation. And he would never consider a girl who would cheat on him. He’d rather be alone.
He seriously considered swinging by the Starbucks, but decided not to torture himself. Instead, he went to McDonalds and had coffee with his breakfast there. When he checked his messages, there were no new replies from Zoe. He wrote to her anyway.
“Hey Zoe. How are you this morning?”
After fifteen minutes with no reply, he pocketed his phone and left. It was probably too early for her if she was off or working a later shift. But he couldn’t put her out of his mind.
He went on a bit of a tear that day, being much harder on his crew than normal. It might have even been necessary to keep people from getting too slack, but everyone noticed the change, although no one brought it up with him. Being second in charge to Renee granted him a lot of deference, ordinarily good-natured or not. The end result was a cleaner, safer, more productive job site, so no one could really complain.
At nine o’clock break, he checked his phone. Nothing.
Zach worked even harder after that, sublimating his confused feelings into extra effort. He inspected rigging, throwing a few questionable items. He submitted three completed lift plans, two of which were weeks ahead of schedule, in the hopes of pushing the project forward. Finishing ahead of schedule – the standard at Zen – meant hefty bonuses all the way down the chain. He successfully distracted himself to the degree that he worked through lunch, only semi-conscious of the fact. But by three o’clock break, he broke down and checked for a message again.
Still no reply.
Zach went into a port-o-let, and for the first time since he was a child, he silently cried. After the sorely needed emotional release, his sadness turned to worry. What if something had happened to her? He did his best to put the thought out of his mind.
At quitting time, he resolved to actually calling Starbucks, against his better judgment. When he was almost through the turnstiles, his radio came on. Renee.
“Zachariah, come see me…”
He sighed, and got back in the gator. She was on the phone in her office, haggling with her legal team, but when he walked in, she immediately said “I’ll call later”, and hung up.
“What the fuck is up?”
“What do you mean?”
“Don’t be coy with me. Three people have been in here today about you.”
“I don’t think we need whiny bitches like that on the job site. It’s to be kept clean, the work is to be done safely and efficiently. I’m not backing down from that. If that’s too much to ask, you can load their boxes. Or mine.”
He eyed her squarely, jaw set.
“Whoa, cowboy. Calm down. They came to me because they were worried about you. Consequently, I’m worried about you. So, what gives? Problems with one of your glorified hookers?”
“They’re not hookers.”
She rolled her eyes.
“Then what is it?”
Zach began to recount the story of meeting Zoe, including her black eye, when she interrupted him.
“So you’re in love. First time?”
“I’m not… I mean… Is it always like this?”
“Sometimes it’s much worse.”
“Sometimes things are perfect. Then they die,” she said.
Zach suddenly realized he’d never seen Renee sad before.
“I’m seriously considering sending him a message.”
“Like a note?”
“Like having his fucking legs broken.”
“That would do it.”
She knew he had the means, and even people on site that would do it with a smile on their faces. To her knowledge, she even currently employed three convicted murderers.
“My advice, for what it’s worth?”
“Don’t. I understand you feel strongly about this girl…”
“Zoe,” he interrupted.
“About Zoe. But she feels strongly about him, clearly. I know it doesn’t make sense. Life is funny like that. But if you hurt him, you’ll lose her. It would be like hurting her.”
“So I should just let him beat her?”
“Show her who you are. That you care. But she has to make the decision. I think, given your character, that she’ll make the right one, eventually.”
“She’s in danger.”
“But nothing. Butt out. You’re too good for this. And,” she said, “I need you… I can’t have you involved in fuckery. Furthermore, you barely know her.”
Again, he sighed.
“You’re probably right.”
“I usually am. And so are you. So split the difference. I’m right about this. You’re probably right about her. She’d be the luckiest girl in the world to have you…”
“Yeah, right. I’m single for a reason.”
“Because you have high standards, and impeccable taste. She must really be something special. What is she, nineteen? Blonde?”
“Wow, Zach. I’m amazed. You’re definitely in love. So tell her. Show her. The rest will take care of itself.”
“I’ll try. I’m sorry it’s affected my job.”
“Fuck your job. Protect your heart. If she hurts you, I’ll break her legs…”
“You’re sweet, Zach. Remember that. If I fucked like a porn star, I’d snag you myself.”
“Stop,” he said. “Please.”
“Okay. Sorry. I know you’re going through enough as it is.”
“Are we done?”
“Not quite. I need you to inspect the new site tomorrow. Chicago, Mr. Superintendant.”
“You heard me. Effective immediately.”
“Where does that leave you?”
“Fucking rich and worry-free. CEO and majority stockholder, remember? Plus, I’m hiring myself as a consultant for a million a year.”
“Can you do that?”
“I can pretty much do what I want.”
“I don’t know what to say.”
“Thank you, maybe?”
“Definitely thank you. I won’t let you down.”
“Go pack. Your flight’s tomorrow at nine.”
Zach walked out, stunned. So stunned he momentarily stopped worrying about Zoe. That lasted all of twenty minutes. In his driveway, he dialed Starbucks.
“Yes, hello. Is Zoe working today?”
“No. She called in sick,” the girl who answered the phone said.
“Oh. Okay, thanks.”
He made it all the way to the front door when his phone rang.
“Zach? It’s Ashley. I’m at the airport. I thought you were picking me up?”
“Ashley! I’m so sorry! Something came up. Look, I’ll pay you, okay? Take a cab, the room’s paid for.”
“Work stuff,” he told her.
But it wasn’t work stuff. It was Zoe.
“Fine,” she said, clearly pissed, and hung up.
I’m an idiot, Zach thought, and went to pack.