Later, as they wrapped up their conversation, Leslie chided Dean about not trying the tote for a bit longer.
“Look, it’s not that my masculinity can’t handle a tote, you looked like you had it comfortably. Besides, you’ve got a short commute, right?” Dean allowed his worry to slip into his voice.
“Awww… you’re too cute caring about me like that” Leslie exaggerated her shyness before laughing and grabbing the bill.
“Wait… I got that” Dean protested.
“This isn’t a date, I don’t date coworkers. I got the bill first, you’re too slow” Leslie said a bit more seriously than she intended.
“Be safe heading home then” Dean said presenting his goodbyes.
The ride home was hard. Dean was so glad to get rid of his backpack when he arrived. He’d have to make plans to carry far less. If there was a way to sync up his work stuff at home or have a second laptop for home, this would be good.
How in the world would Leslie fair if her commute was this rough. Biting his lip, he realized he had not asked her about her ride home. There was no real need to do this, but they were already hitting of a friendship. Didn’t friends check in on each other?
Shaking his head, Dean concluded that he was way over thinking things. A long soak in the shower would ease the strain on his shoulders as well as ease the ache in his legs from standing the whole of the commute.
The next day, during lunch
Leslie plopped herself down roughly at the table Dean was using for his lunch meal. Most people were sitting with others while Dean was enjoying himself solo.
“Good afternoon Leslie” Dean politely shared.
“What’s good about it?” Leslie let slip in frustration.
“Can I help you with anything?” Dean asked.
“I don’t know. I had a rough commute and my body is angry with me… thanks to that tote” Leslie sighed as she gathered herself and improved her demeanor.
“I’m sorry” Dean limited his reply to two words, out of worry he’d say the wrong thing.
“It’s not your fault, that bag was ludicrously heavy” Leslie rubbed her shoulders and stretched her arms out.
“I can only imagine” Dean offered in support.
“Can you? Two buses and a train ride. Standing in one of the buses because no one believes in chivalry anymore” Leslie managed to say without pouting or sounding angry.
“Wow. That’s really rough” Dean tried to sound consoling.
What was running through his mind, Leslie needs a backpack to protect her back’s health and save her arms from nerve damage. He had read about some women damaging their nerves by carrying big large heavy totes all the time in the crook of their arms.
It was not his place to point this out to Leslie. They were just starting a cool friendship and working in the same company. Dean hoped that Leslie was less vein and would actually consider a backpack. That commute would ruin her fast.
“I just can’t bring myself to wear the company backpack” Leslie resigned.
“So… you’re just going to tough it out or look for another solution?” Dean asked, hoping he sounded cool.
“If they reimburse me, sure. But if not, I’m not sure what I want to do” Leslie said thoughtfully.
“I think they will” Dean assured. “I don’t think they will argue against that… a medical bill for a bad back is far worse”.
“Yeah… you’re right” sighed Leslie before pepping up “did you hear about the new roll-out coming?”
The excitement took over the conversation. This new roll-out was going to boost their market share and keep them very busy for a while to come. Everyone was excited. It was a great time to have joined the company, everyone was saying.
A few days into the probation period, Dean started to wonder how Leslie was doing. Not that he had reason to care too much, but his friend had a situation with her backpack that could affect her health. That was acceptable reason to wonder… Dean rationalized to himself.
The two of them were working on different aspects of the company, so they didn’t see each other much during the day. But, their cafeteria routine seemed their best chance to meet. Others had joined the table and all shared the same concern about the wisdom of carrying so much on one arm.
Taking a break to check his phone, Dean scrolled down his social feed. One of the recommended profiles had a picture of a lady who looked somewhat familiar.
Upon closer examination, he realized it was Leslie. Her social feed was highly curated and entertaining. She was a master at this.
Trying not to creep too hard, Dean passed on following. He closed his app and moved on to his emails.
There was one little fact that had not escaped his quick stroll into her profile. Nothing she wore could practically match the backpacks the company offered. No wonder the ladies in orientation seemed unhappy.
At day’s end
Dean was pleasantly surprised to hear Leslie’s voice calling out to him to slow down. Happy to see his friend, Dean slowed and turned to give her time to catch up.
His eyebrows quickly furrowed. Something wasn’t quite right.
Leslie was with another guy, seemed like a nice guy, and they were talking politely. However, a knot in his tummy suggested that something was off.
Turning around to head towards Leslie, Dean paid attention to his senses. They had gotten very keenly tuned into the interaction between Leslie and the guy who was with her. But this was not a jealousy type feeling. A sense of protection was bubbling up fast and furious.
“Hey buddy, what’s good?” Dean asked as he watched the guy size him up intensely.
“Oh you know… buddy… how it goes” Leslie replied with heavy sarcasm that confused Dean.
Then a light bulb lit up in his head. Leslie was in trouble and was trying to be very diplomatic about it.
Scanning the distance between the guy and Leslie, it occurred to him what was wrong. The man had his hand on Leslie’s backpack and was acting all boyfriend like with her… but she was not mirroring the signal at all. Instead, Leslie was walking too stiffly for her style.
Making some quick calculations, Dean took a gamble and hoped the man was not armed.