Chapter 2: Coincidence
Delores kept using the "Dad" mug throughout the week, and it was driving Herman crazy. He started losing focus on his work. He'd be filling in a spreadsheet, or typing up a report, but every few minutes he'd glance over and see those three infuriating letters, D-A-D. He wanted to ask, needed to ask, but just couldn't. How do you even bring something like that up? He couldn't just ask if she had kids, or if it was her husband's mug. That would be way too personal. But he had to know, because it didn't make any sense. It was wrong, and Herman could tell he wasn't the only one who thought so.
Every once in a while, when he turned to look at Delores, a coworker would catch his eye. They would raise an eyebrow or give him a slight frown as if to say "I know, right? It's crazy. What does she think she's doing?" The whole office started to slow down. Deadlines were missed, mistakes kept getting made, and pretty soon the boss was getting on everybody's case, asking what was going on. Randle gave some vague excuse about how everyone has off weeks and it was just a weird coincidence that the whole office was having one at the same time, and everyone murmured in agreement. No one was about to say that they were all obsessing over a mug.
Randle's excuse gave Herman a good idea. Coincidence. That was how he'd get the bottom of this whole Dad issue. After work that Friday, he drove straight to the mall. After searching what felt like hundreds of shops--what kind of store exactly sells novelty mugs?--he finally found a store with a mug that had "Dad" printed on the side. It wasn't quite the same font as Delores', but he supposed it would have to do. He brought it up to the counter.
"Is your dad's birthday coming up?" the cashier asked.
"No, this is for me," Herman replied.
"Nothing. That'll be $2.79"
"What was that 'oh' about?"
"It's nothing sir. Now are you paying with cash or a card?"
"Don't change the subject!" Herman slammed his hand down on the counter. He couldn't remember the last time he'd yelled at someone. It felt good.
"It- It's j-j-" the cashier stuttered, "just that people usually don't buy that for themselves. They usually buy it for their dad."
"Well why shouldn't I buy it for myself? Huh? What's wrong with that?"
"Nothing's wrong with it. It's just a little weird." Herman glowered at the cashier, who rushed to correct himself. "I mean, not weird, just... unusual. Why would you buy it for yourself?"
"I don't need to
explain myself to you, you little punk!" Herman yelled.
"I'm sorry," he replied, and then hastily added on "Sir."
"Whatever," Herman replied, throwing a five onto the counter and walking off with the mug without even waiting for his change. As he drove home, he wondered to himself why he'd blown up at the cashier. He could have easily let that "oh" pass without a comment and had a calm, easy transaction, but instead he had made a scene in front of the whole store. And for what? So some random stranger wouldn't judge him? He didn't really care about that, he knew, so what was it?
He quickly set aside the question to focus on a more important topic, his game plan for Monday. He couldn't ask Delores about her mug directly, but now his own "Dad" mug would provide a way to start the conversation. With any luck, she'd make a note about the coincidence, or if not he would comment on it sometime after lunch. No one would think it weird that he had a "Dad" mug. After all, he was a man in his late 30's in a boring office job. People always assumed those kinds of guys had kids.
Herman hardly left his apartment the rest of the weekend, he was too busy mapping out all the potential directions his conversation with Delores on Monday. He invented a whole backstory around his mug. If Delores asked him how he got the mug, he would tell her an amusing anecdote about his wife, who he decided to call Deborah, and his son, whom he named Jason. He would then segue that into a question about the origins of her mug.
Monday morning came, and Herman walked proudly into the office at 9 am sharp, holding his new mug aloft. Several coworkers gave curious looks at his mug. Clearly they could tell he was planning something, but they didn't seem to know exactly what that was yet. He sat down at his desk and carefully positioned his mug on the right side of his keyboard, with the letters facing directly towards Delores. She said hello when he sat down, and her eyes flicked towards the mug, but she made no other comment.
All morning Herman just sat there, waiting for a comment from her. He pretended to fiddle with a spreadsheet for a while, then pulled up a report and deleted and retyped some sentences at random. He couldn't think about work anymore, not until he had his conversation with Delores. Lunchtime came, and he ate at his desk, as always. Delores had gone out to lunch. She would come back at 12:58, as she always did, and he was ready to start the conversation just before the
lunch break ended.
Instead, his boss, Mr. Haverstein, came over to his desk at 12:57. "Can we talk in my office?" he asked. Herman looked over at Delores' empty desk. This would throw off his plan, but he didn't see any way around it, so he got up, walked the few steps into Haverstein's office, and sat down again. He heard the door shut behind him, and Haverstein slowly walked around to the other side of the desk and sat down.
"Herman, what's going on with you?" he asked.
"What do you mean, sir?" Herman replied.
"I pressed Randle on what was going on last week, and he finally revealed to me that you've been slowing everything down. Everyone has been trying to make up for your mistakes, but they just can't keep up when you're not pulling your wait. And now Delores is in my office, saying you've been staring at her this whole time. And for some weird reason you decided to get the exact same mug as her. She's really creeped out."
"The whole mug thing is just a coincidence!"
"Steve saw you on Friday buying the mug, and yelling at some poor cashier. So you're telling me it's a coincidence that, a week after she brings this mug into the office, you bought the exact same mug for yourself, even though you're not a dad and you don't drink coffee or tea?
"It's not the exact same mug. The font is slightly different. And how do you know I'm not a dad?"
"Everyone knows you're not a dad Herman. You've never brought a kid or a wife to any office parties, you've never had to miss work or show up late for a child emergency, and you don't ever talk about a family. It's not that hard to see."
"So why don't you think it's weird that Delores has a 'Dad' mug?"
"I don't know, she probably borrowed it from her husband or something."
"She has a husband?"
"Of course she has a husband. I know you don't talk with your coworkers a lot, but you've worked here eight years. How do you not know that? Wait... is that what this is all about? Are you... interested in Delores?"
"No! No, of course not."
"You know what, I don't care what it is. As long as it stops affecting your work. Catch up on all the projects you've neglected, leave Delores alone, and for God's sake, get rid of that stupid mug."
"Yes. Yes sir." Herman got up and backed out of the office, nearly tripping over himself as he pushed open the door. What was he going to do now?