New Earth

“Is that him?” Iris asked. She looked out over the top of her cubicle at the young, smiling man in a navy blue suit. He was having an animated conversation with several coworkers surrounding him.

“Uhuh. I got to meet him this morning when he came in; he’s super nice,” Alice said. The older woman leaned closer to Iris and looked around them to check for accidental eavesdroppers. “What’s his number?” she asked. Alice was the only person Iris trusted enough to share her secret with. The graying woman often baby-sat Iris when she was younger and Alice helped her get a job with the same company she worked for.

Iris grew concerned when she noticed Alice’s number getting lower. She looked up to the woman: Alice always sported a bright green “4” floating above her head. One day it dropped to “3”. Iris did not think much of it at first until she noticed her friend seemed weaker than usual. It dropped to 2 before Iris said anything. Three years and an oncologist later, Alice had a green “4” floating over her head and she believed Iris about her secret.

Iris left the wall, sat down in her chair, and looked up at Alice.

“10,” she said in an awed whisper. “I’ve never seen a 10.”

No, he’s not,” Alice said in her best “you’re kidding” tone. “He’s too nice for that.” Iris shook her head; her shoulder-length auburn hair bounced with the motion.

“It’s not about being nice. He doesn’t have to be evil to be dangerous,” she said. “But, we should stay on his good side,”

“Stay on whose good side?” A deep, smooth voice asked. Both women looked up at it. A tall, portly man with chubby cheeks and a full brown beard asked. He had a sprig of mint pinned to the breast pocket of his navy blue suit. His soft, hazel eyes sparkled with friendliness.

“Girl talk,” Alice said quickly and she moved to leave Iris’ cubicle. “That statement has about five years of history behind it,” she distracted him with the truth on her way out. The man seemed to accept the explanation and shrugged, then he turned his attention to Iris. And he stared silently.

“Uh… Hi?” she asked after several uncomfortable seconds. He seemed to realize he was staring and looked around like Alice did a few minutes ago as if he was checking for nosy ears. He stepped fully into Iris’ small cubicle and sat on her desk. He looked down at the seated young woman.

“Do you have a tattoo?” he asked.

“Ummmm.  I’m going to say that’s personal,” she said. “Who are you?”

“Oh I’m sorry, I didn’t even think of that. You’re right, I shouldn’t have asked like that. What I meant was do you have a tattoo with the number…,” he looked her up and down again. “…52 on it?”

“I still don’t know who you are,” Iris reminded him. She tried to keep her exterior calm. Inside she was surprised and panicked to hear him ask about her favorite number. There are an awful lot of numbers. It meant something that he casually mentioned her favorite the first time they met. The man stood from her desk and offered his hand to Iris.

“Andersen Stone. I’m the new floor manager,” he said with a broad smile.

“Iris Potter,” she said with a small, polite smile.

“So, Ms. Potter, are you doing anything after work today? I’d very much like to sit down and talk to you about a few things,” he said.

“Mr. Stone, I don’t want any misunderstandings so let me be perfectly clear,” she said with a firm tone. “Any tattoos I may or may not have are none of your business, and I do not want to go on any dates with you. If it becomes a problem I won’t hesitate to visit HR.”

“Ahh hell. I’m sorry, I’m bad at this,” he said. “Okay, since we’re being clear. I do not want to date you, I’m actually gay.”

“Then why are you asking me out?” Iris interrupted with sarcasm. Andersen shook his head, then he used his fingers to point at a spot above his head; the exact spot where the number ’10’ hovered.”I can tell you about whatever you see here…,” he said. “…and why you can see it.” Iris’ eyes went wide in surprise. Andersen chuckled. “By the way, Mr. Stone was my father. You can call me Mundo.”

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