I could taste the faintest scent betrayal in the air, the tang of impending disappointment overshadowing the heady flavor of the whisky I nursed in secret. She couldn’t see me from where I stood by the bar, but I watched her while she laughed and flirted with her coworkers, as she worked the room effortlessly, a beacon of holiday cheer in the stuffy office party.
The company had sprung for a DJ this year, but the end result was the same: an uncomfortable blend of stilted conversation, obligatory questions about the boss’s grandchildren, and casual glances at the clock above the exit. It was an open bar though and that helped.
I took a steadying sip of my drink and then began to make my way through mingling corporate drones and over to where my wife was engaged in conversation with a member of the Accounting department. I froze as she reached out to brush his arm in a way that seemed too familiar.
What was his name, again? I’d seen him somewhere before.
I marked the moment when she first noticed me out of the corner of her eye. She smiled, taking an unconscious step back from the man as I approached, and settled herself into a more professional manner.
“I didn’t even see you come in,” she said. The false smile didn’t quite reach her eyes. “How long have you been here?”
“Not long,” I lied. I slipped my arm effortlessly around her, pulling her to me at the waist so our sides were touching. “Just a moment, really.”
“Oh!” she said, remembering our audience. “ Where are my manners? Honey, you remember Jones, don’t you?”
I reached out to shake the accountant’s hand, “Yes, of course. From July 4th. How are you?”
Jones gave a quick, tight lipped smile. “I’m great, thank you.” He stood awkwardly for a few moments, shifting his weight from foot to foot. “You know what? I need to speak with Stan from Marketing and I think he just walked in. If you’ll excuse me?”
“Of course,” I replied.
Jones made a quick exit and I pulled my wife to me in a tight hug. She smelled like cinnamon and shampoo. “Something going on there that I should know about?” I whispered into her ear.
She pulled back in surprise, but recovered quickly. “No,” she said, smoothing out non-existent wrinkles in her skirt. “Nothing at all.”
“If you’re sure,” I said. My voice dipped into a nonchalant demeanor. “I’d prefer not to fight over Christmas, but…”
“I assure you,” she replied hastily. “That’s nothing. He just has a little crush.”
I smiled. “Well who wouldn’t? You look lovely.” I took her hand in mine and spun her towards the dance floor. “Merry Christmas, darling.”