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At the sound of an old-fashioned wolf whistle, Marnie LaTour looked up from her laptop, which was currently sitting on the serving counter of the Deli Dally next to her cold meatball sub. Her three coworkers from Carnahan Custom Softwareall malehad swiveled on their stools to stare out the window.
"Whoa, would you look at that?" murmured one. Marnie looked. A long-legged blonde walked by in a flippy skirt that fluttered alarmingly in the San Francisco wind. Glued to her side was one of the men from Technical Support.
"All right, Gregie boy!" Two of the guys highfived each other.
Marnie watched long enough to see that Greg was taking the blonde to Tarantella, the new Italian restaurant down the street, then returned to the screen full of code she was trying to debug. If she had written the code in the first place, there wouldn't have been anything to debug.
"You think she's wearing a thong?" This comment came from Barry Emmons, who was sitting next to Marnie since it was his program she was trying to fix.
She assumed he meant that as a rhetorical question and didn't answer.
The three men slid off the counter stools and walked over to the window.
"All I'm asking for is one really good gust of wind before they make it to the door." It was probably Doug.
"Oh, yeah." That was Barry again.
Marnie wished he'd stayed with her instead of heading for the window with the rest of them. She also wished she was dining alone with him at Tarantella instead of going with the guys to two-for-one Italian night at the Deli Dally. After all, she'd just spent three hours fixing the code for his animated oilfield tool instructional video. At least he'd bought her meatball sub.
Well, actually he'd paid for his and had given her the free one. Still. It was something. A start. And right now, Marnie needed a start.
She'd worked at Carnahan since graduating from college six years ago and had eliminated all the dating possibilities among her co-workers. Barry had been working at Carnahan less than a year and was still in the "possible" column. Word was that he'd spent time in a couple of women's "possible" columns, but wasn't dating anyone currently.
Marnie figured it was her turn, except that Barry was proving slippery to pin down. Thus, she'd volunteered her code expertise to help with his projects. Several times.
She glanced over her shoulder at the men. Clearly, he needed a nudge.
While they stood at the window, Marnie found and corrected a repeating error in a line of code. And that should do it. She brought up the animation of a rotating tool that did who-knew-what on screen and watched as it turned, opened, swiveled and let yellow arrows parade through it.
"Hey, you fixed it!" Barry and the others returned to the bar stools, the wind apparently not having cooperated.
Barry leaned one hand on the counter, blocking her from the others' sight. "You're a genius," he murmured and looked down at her, smiling.
Marnie looked up at him and her heart gave an extra blip. It was a movie moment. Inches separated their mouths and if he'd wanted to, he could have kissed her, not that he would here in the delicatessen in front of their co-workers, but still, Marnie knew they'd made a connection.
He reached in front of her and typed on her keyboardalmost suggestivelyso that the program ran again. "Man, I owe you, Marnie."
She waited a beat. "Take me to Tarantella and we'll call it even."
"Tarantella." He made a rude noise. "Good one, Marnie."
"Hey, I'm serious!" She'd heard the restaurant was expensive, but it wasn't that expensive. She'd even order spaghetti instead of the seven-layer lasagna.
"Come on." He sat on the stool. "Tarantella is where you take your lady for a very special" he raised and lowered his eyebrows "evening."
"I happen to think three hours of my time fixing your mess is worth a special evening."
"What do you say I buy you a six-pack? You name the brand. I'll even spring for imported."
"Ooo, imported," the others mocked.
Marnie extended her hands palms up, imitating a scale. "Let's see a six-pack of beer dinner at Tarantella helping Barry out of a jam letting him spend all night trying to figure out where he screwed up in time for the client's demo tomorrow. Gee, Barry, I dunno."
"What, you want wine instead?"
There was general snickering.
Marnie glared down the bar. "No, I want dinner at Tarantella."
The others looked at each other, then stared at their plates.
"Marnie, Tarantella is a date restaurant. You know, it's dark, there're candles, booths, tableclothsall that stuff. There's even a violin dude."
"Yeah, chicks love that stuff," Doug said.
Barry lowered his voice and leaned toward her.
"It's where you take your girlfriend."
Marnie waited for Barry to connect the dots, but he was as bad at that as he was at writing code. "So?" she prompted.
He laughed as he picked up his soda. "You're not the girlfriend type."
Until a few nanoseconds ago, she'd kinda, sorta thought she was on her way to being his girlfriend. "What do you mean?"
Barry was still chuckling. "You know."
"Apparently I don't."
As the tone of her voice registered, Barry stopped laughing and shifted on the bar stool. Marnie was aware that the other two guys had gone very quiet.
He cleared his throat. "Well you don't give off girlfriend vibes."
Did he really think she'd helped him because she loved extra work? And she'd just asked him to take her to a romantic restaurant. Clearly she wasn't vibeliterate. "Vibes how?"
"For one thing, you don't dress " He made a vague gesture at her jeans and baggy sweater. He, himself, was wearing Dockers and a golf shirt with a dribble of sauce from the meatball sub. Hardly the stuff of fantasies.
Marnie thought of the blonde. "Short skirts, stiletto heels, that kind of thing?"
"Hell, yeah," Doug chimed in.
Barry made a slashing motion with his hand at others. "Not so much that, but there's a certain attitude that lets men know you're girlfriend material."
"I see." Marnie didn't like what she saw.
"Hey, don't worry about it. We like that you're one of the guys."
As if that weren't bad enough, there were murmurs of agreement from the others. Marnie just stared at him.
"It's a compliment," Barry added.
She glanced from the green awning and the liveried doorman outside Tarantella to the partially eaten, cold meatball sub next to her laptop. "It doesn't feel like a compliment."
"Trust me, it is. You're easy to work with 'cause there's none of that man/woman stuff going on."
"Oh, the available-for-sex vibes. Right."
There was not a sound in the deli.
Okay, then. Marnie saved the program to a disk which she ejected and handed to Barry.
He looked relieved. "Thanks, Marnie. You're a pal."
"Yeah, that's me. Areal pal." She closed her laptop. Barry gave her a look. "I'm telling you, you'd hate Tarantella. It's not your style."
Marnie gave him a look right back. "It could be." He wanted vibes? She'd show him vibes. One of the guys? Not anymore. Attitude? Just wait. She was going to show him so much attitude he'd beg her to let him take her to Tarantella. She'd make all of them take her to Tarantella.
Barry squinted at her before shaking his head. "I'm just not seeing it. Better take me up on the beer." He cuffed her on the shoulder. "What kind do you want?"
NOT THE GIRLFRIEND TYPE. Vibeless. One of the guys. A pal.
Barry had all but called her sexless. Or maybe he had. He'd definitely made it clear that she held no feminine appeal for him and, while he was at it, included the entire male gender. Even worse, the other guys hadn't contradicted him.
At this moment, Marnie wasn't too pleased with the entire male gender.
It was true that she'd prided herself on being a team player and that the guys included her in their downtime. Working with them was comfortable. She hadn't realized that it was because they'd forgotten she was a woman.
So, she'd just figure out a way to remind them. One of the guys. Not girlfriend material.
On her way home, Marnie mentally chewed on Barry's words as she got off the bus and walked toward the 24th Street Mission BART station where she'd spend the next hour or so riding the train to Pleasant Hill, where, yes, she lived with her mother. Her mom was a great roommateeven if she weren't Marnie's mom. She did more than her share of the housework and cooking and didn't bug Marnie too much about where she was going at night mostly because by the time Marnie got home, she was in for the evening. How exciting was that?
Yeah, now that she thought about it, that sounded like a vibeless existence. The thing was, she'd never expected that she'd end up single and still living with her mother at the age of twenty-eight. What person thinks as a kid, "I want to live at home when I grow up?" When she was young, she'd had this image of what her future would be. She couldn't exactly remember what it was, but living with her mother and sleeping in the same bedroom she'd had all her life wasn't it.
Marnie was ready to settle down, as they say. But with. Or even settle for. girlfriend?
Marnie stopped walking right in the middle of the sidewalk, next to a trendy boutique, one of a string of them in this block.
There had been Darren, but that hadn't lasted long and it had been the same kind of cheapie meal and occasional movie relationship she'd always had with guys. That had been fine when they were all starting out, but lately Marnie wanted more.
And, darn it, she was going to get it. Somehow. She'd been gazing into the distance, but now she focused on the display window of the boutique. Skirts. Skimpy sweaters. Purses too tiny to be useful. Girlfriend clothes.
Marnie wore jeans and sweaters or T-shirts just like everyone else in her department. How stupid would she look if she started wearing clothes like that to work? And why should she have to change the way she dressed and fool around with her hair and makeup? She used to wear makeup, but she liked the extra sleeping time. Anyway, San Francisco's windy weather made her eyes water and the stupid mascara run, so she'd get to work and have to do everything over again. Waste of time.
And did it matter? Were men really that shallow? Of course they were.