I never did work out why, but Bashir became convinced that I was trying to make time with the girls in the Sales department. But it wasn't until he declared that to the entire office that I in did, in fact, start seeing one of them. It all started with the health insurance.
Our insurance agent came in to explain to everybody how our group policy worked. This was my first introduction to the concept of the HMO. Having come from a country with government health insurance, and having possessed a private health policy on top of that, I was fairly unimpressed with what was on offer, although the agent told us that ours was one of the richest policies available. Being a nerd with typical nerd weaknesses, short sightedness includes, I quickly opted in to the optical extras.
A few weeks later, Donna, one of the sales girls had gone to get some new specs and discovered that an undocumented feature of this new health plan was that there was only one optician in the city that would honour it. A few months later, when I needed new specs myself, I went and asked Donna for information about where this optometrist was.
One peculiarity of the office setup there was that we were all set up with Microsoft Internet Messenger clients, which we were expected to keep open all day so we could converse with other people in the office without having to resort to email, or, worse yet, to get up and see them. This was mandatory, and it was set up for all of us by the IT department. (I would later discover that the owner of the company had spyware installed alongside it so that he could monitor what we were doing and saying). Donna and I started chatting in what we believed was privacy--firstly about the health insurance, and then on topics like music, movies and 80's fashion.
I invited Donna to a community theatre production, in which a friend of mine was acting. She agreed, but then at the last minute backed out. Then, over IM, she invited me to go over to her place to watch DVDs.
I stopped to buy some beer on the way up to her house. I was in my new car Honda Civic, which I had purchased from a neighbour who was leaving the country. I'd owned it for less than a week. Soon as I got onto the highway one of the tires blew out.
I pulled over beside the guard rail and changed it for the compact spare, then limped off at the first exit in search of a gas station. I was in luck: I found one that was next door to a tire shop. I was also out of luck: the shop had already closed, and the gas station couldn't help me. I parked the car at the tire shop and called up Donna, who was very understanding. She came to collect me and told me that I could stay the night, saying that she'd drop me back at my car on the way to work the following morning.
The tire shop was open when Donna dropped me back there the next morning, but they didn't have an appropriate tire in stock for me. They put some more air back into my compact spare and sent me down the highway to the nearest Honda dealership, in peak hour traffic.
They didn't have a tire for me at the dealership, either, but the were able to order one for me. I called the office and told them I was going to be late. I wondered if Donna would say anything at work. Hours passed, and finally my tire arrived. I rolled into the office around lunchtime.
I had no sooner found my seat at my desk than a neighbour of mine, Reg, came to the door of my office. I waited for him to brace me about Donna.
"Hey, Pike, you remember System of a Down is on this weekend?"
I had forgotten. I had in my possession three tickets: one for me, one for Reg, and one for his girlfriend Miranda.
"Well, Miranda's sick and we can't go."
"The show's not til tomorrow, Reg."
He shrugged helplessly and I could see what was going on. "We'll pay you for them."
"Ah, let me see if I can't unload them."
Once he left the office I sent an IM to Donna. She didn't know the band, and had in fact never been to see a heavy metal gig, but she sounded keen to come along. It was a date.
It was already starting to seem like a habit.