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The Cubicle Next Door
by Siri Mitchell


Jackie Harrison is a civilian who loves her job at the U.S. Air Force Academy. That is, until she is forced to divide her office into cubicles and share the space with a new history instructor, Lt. Col. Joseph Gallagher. A charmer in a flight suit, Joe wants to explore both Colorado and a growing relationship with his new cubicle mate. The office was bad enough, but Jackie’s beside herself when Joe shows up in her home and church, even turning her grandmother’s weekly bridge game into poker night!

Jackie goes online to vent, but she eventually finds herself admitting her conflicted feelings about this office neighbor who drives her crazy and makes her heart flutter. But when her blog—The Cubicle Next Door—is featured on TV, everyone begins to read it, including Joe. Will he figure out the anonymous confessions and frustrations are written about him? And how will Jackie ever express her heart offline?

 

Chapter One

“So what do you think, Jackie?”

What do I think? Funny Joe should ask me. He’s just finished reading my blog. He’s just quoted me to myself. Or is it myself to me? Do I sound surreal, as if I’m living in parallel universes?

I am!

The blog—my blog—is all about Joe. And other topics that make me want to scream. But the clever thing is, I’m anonymous. When I’m blogging.

I’m Jackie, Joe’s cubicle mate, when I’m not.

And that’s the problem.

Joe is asking Jackie (me) what I think about the Anonymous Blogger (also me). And since I don’t want Joe to know the blog is all about me and what I think of him, I can’t tell him what I think about me.

My brain is starting to short-circuit.

If I can’t tell him what I think about me, I certainly can’t tell him what I think about him, so I’m going to have to pretend not to be me. Not me myself and not me The Cubicle Next Door blogger—TCND to my fans.

I have fans!

If I were clever I’d say something like “Look!” and point behind him and then duck out of the room when he turned around.

But there’s so much computer equipment stacked by my desk and so many cables snaking around the floor that I’d probably break my neck if I tried to run away. So that option is out.

I could try pretending I didn’t hear him. “What?”

“SUVs. What do you think about them?”

But then we’d basically end up where we started.

So how did I get myself into this mess?

It was all Joe’s fault.

* * *

The year Joe came into my life, I’d been working the same job for ten years, doing the same things I’d always been doing when the department hired one too many people. Had I been working for a private company, it might not have been such a big deal, but I was working at the U.S. Air Force Academy as a civilian in a building classified as a National Historic Landmark. So it’s not as though we could carve an extra office out of a closet or bump out a wall somewhere. At least not without 51 requests in triplicate, 32 meetings with the architect’s office, and a project deadline scheduled for 17 years after the date of my death.

May God rest my miserable soul.

We could, however, order extra cubicle panels and subdivide an existing office as long as the panels didn’t cost more than a specified number of dollars.

So that’s what happened.

I should know.

I was the one who ordered them.

Unfortunately, no one bothered to tell me it was my office that was going to be subdivided.

Maybe I should have suspected. I mean, how long can a civilian GS-07 keep an average-sized dimly lit interior office to herself? It was only a matter of time, right?

I ordered the tallest panels I could find. And after they came, I called the casual status lieutenants to install them. They were freshly graduated Air Force Academy cadets who were hanging around the department until their real jobs came open. And when they came into my office, they asked the question that would change my life.

“Where are they going?”

“Where are what going?”

“The panels.”

“I don’t know. Don’t you guys?”

“No. Who ordered them?”

“I did.”

They stood there in front of my desk, all three of them in camouflage battle dress uniforms, arms crossed in front of them, ready to take on the world. “So…what do you want us to do?”

“Go find out who they’re for.” Duh. Double-duh.

They just stood there.

“Go ask Estelle.”

That made them happy. Estelle was the department secretary. She knew everything—except how to use a computer.

That’s what they’d hired me for.

They sauntered off down the hall, but they came right back two minutes later. “They’re for you.”

“No, they’re not. I ordered them, but they’re not for me.”

“That’s what Estelle says.”

* * *

Estelle was usually right, but this might fall under the Scanning Software category of things in which she was completely mistaken.

The previous year, the colonel had asked me to install scanning software on her computer for the new scanner, and in between the time it took me to store the software disks in my cabinet and come back to show her how to use the program, she’d dropped a textbook on top of her keyboard, pressing all of the F-key functions at the same time.

Never, ever do that.

I snatched the book from her computer and contemplated hitting her on the head with it, but I dropped it onto her desk with a bang instead. “What are you doing?”

“Scanning. The colonel wanted me to scan the chart on page 137.”

“You don’t scan that way.” It really killed me not to be able to kill her.

“But you just installed the software, so I held it up to the screen for it to see.”

“The screen doesn’t scan it; the scanner scans it.”

So you see, the Scanning Software category was a gigantic catchall for tasks, both large and small, that Estelle just didn’t and never would know how to do.

After we replaced her keyboard and reinstalled all of her software, The colonel made me the official scanner person for the department. Which gave me one more title to add to official digital camera person, official video camera person, official department website person, official overhead-slide-projector person, and kick-the-copier-in-just-the-right-spot-to-make-it-work person. That’s why I needed all of my office space. It wasn’t just me in there. It was the scanner, the cameras, the slide projectors, and assorted small appliances that didn’t work anymore but might be useful if there were a nuclear explosion and technology devolved back to the Bronze Age.

* * *

I marched out of my office and down the hall. The lieutenants trailed me to the front office in perfect flight formation.

“Estelle?”

“Mmm?” She was rubbing lotion into her hands.

“Those cubicle panels are not for me.”

“Of course they are. That’s what the colonel said.”

“When?”

“In the e-mail.”

“What e-mail?”

“The one where he said we’d be getting one too many instructors, so we’d have to find a place to put him.”

“And?”

“And so he said to make room for him. And I e-mailed back that I thought your office would be perfect.”

It was. It was perfect for me.

“And someone was going to tell me about this when?”

“Um…no one told you?”

I shook my head.

“That’s funny. Because I thought…” She began dragging her mouse around the screen, clicking at various folders in her Outlook program.

“See. Right there. It was in April. Good idea. Lt. Col. Gallagher will share Jackie’s office.” She read further, mumbling words, running her finger across the computer screen and leaving behind a greasy streak. “Oh. Huh. I guess I was supposed to tell you. Sorry.” She looked up from the computer and raised her eyebrows. Smiled.

“Is the colonel busy?”

“Let me see.” She took a scheduling calendar from a stand on her desk and found the day’s date. Consulted her watch. “Not right now.”

I told the lieutenants I’d get in touch with them later, and then I stepped around Estelle’s desk, walked about three steps, and knocked on the colonel’s door. I peeked my head around the corner. “Sir?”

“Jackie? What can I do for you?” He stood up as I approached and fiddled with a pencil on his desk.

“I want my office back.”

“Office?”

“The one you decided to subdivide in April? Because you hired one too many instructors?”

“Oh, yeah. Well, not really. Greg got the dean’s extension, so he stays for another two years. If he’d gone, we’d have been right on target with the number of instructors. You know how it is.”

“No, I don’t. Your office is bigger than mine is. Why don’t you subdivide yours?”

His eyebrows shot up into his hairline. People don’t usually talk to colonels like that. But see, they couldn’t fire me because nobody else knew how to kick the copier. And I was a civilian. And I was a woman. “We chose yours because it’s the only office that will work. We don’t have to reconfigure any overhead lights, there were enough outlets, enough telephone jacks. Space is at a premium in this building. You know that.” He shrugged and sat down.

The interview was over.


Taken from The Cubicle Next Door by Siri Mitchell
Copyright 2006 by Siri Mitchell
Published by Harvest House Publishers, Eugene, OR;
Used by permission.