It wasn’t until she opened her mouth wide to pronounce the word “procedure” that I noticed the way her lips had to stretch just to cover the jut of her teeth.
Whereas my lips fit pretty seamlessly together, hers required effort just to touch each other. The word “crucial” exposed the problem: her gums covered a wide expanse of her mouth, taking up equal real estate with her teeth. I ran my tongue over my own gums, making sure they were as small as I’d thought they were. I’d never given much thought to the size of my gums in relation to my teeth, but now that they had come to my attention, I was pretty glad to find them in a favorable ratio. So I had that going for me.
“Absolutely imperative” revealed those enormous teeth again, perfectly aligned except for the degree to which they pointed at me.
Fairly white, as well, which made me suspect that they were probably false. You don’t get to be that age and have bright teeth. I had to be twenty years her junior and the stains have already crept up on mine. It’s the coffee. I should quit really, and stick to green tea or something. The antioxidants would be good for me, not to mention the calories saved…and the money! I could brew my own tea. I’m not an idiot. It’s the non-fat caramel lattes that are beyond my capability.
The quiet that marked the end of her speaking alerted me to the fact that I had forgotten to pay attention to the content of her words again. She looked around the conference table, eyeing each of us in turn.
Nope. I was pretty sure that I would get along just fine. Besides, what would I ask? What this entire meeting had been about?
Laptops abruptly closed and chairs scraped the thin gray carpeting. Lunch time. We were getting Pad Thai today from the French restaurant in the shopping center adjacent to our office. It billed itself as French/Japanese fusion, but really it sold Thai food, with some sushi choices. I’m pretty sure the Thai people were the result of a war between the French and the Japanese, and there was an occupation where the Thai people were conceived. World War I? Anyway,Laverne was an homage to that. And you couldn’t beat the price.
I cornered Travis back at our cubicles. “What is this new procedure?” I asked him, rummaging through my pocketbook for the frequent luncher’s card. One more and I get a free appetizer. Holla!
Travis let his eyes roll, but it was a quick one, so I forgave him that. It probably was pretty annoying to have to reiterate everything he’d just heard, but no matter. I’d pay attention in the next meeting.
“The entire order of things has changed,” he told me. When he pressed his lips together to enunciate “important,” I saw for the first time how plump his lips were. Full, Angelina Jolie lips that had eluded me the whole span of my career, sitting right next to me. How had I never seen them before?
Was there a mustache recently shaved or something? A goatee grown? I took a long look at first his mouth, then the whole face, trying to place the new realization in context of what I’d always seen. There was some scruff today. I’d call it a three o’clock shadow, black hair under the surface, trying to break out through the skin to reach freedom and light.
I wonder if men can feel the follicles growing on their faces, a buzz of rapid growth. Maybe that’s why their skin was always warmer than mine, there was so much going on. I thought of my legs, growing stubble as he spoke. If I stayed very still and focused, could I feel the hair growing?
I put myself into a meditative state, hearing everything and nothing all at once. I forced my mind to still, to empty itself of all thoughts. Through the power of my concentration, the room grew quiet, but for the hum of printers waiting to print, and computers itching to compute.
Travis was looking for me to say something. “Understand?” he asked me.
“Got it,” I said.
I reached down to scratch my leg under my pants.
I was going to have to wing it.