This story is by Sophie Myers and was part of our 2017 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the Spring Writing Contest stories here.
Michael was not good at meeting new people. He stuttered, couldn’t make eye contact and answered questions they hadn’t asked him. On one memorable occasion he had even punched an elderly woman in the armpit by accident. His eyes had been on the floor as usual, and his hand had gone sailing straight into the fleshy and slightly damp pit of his girlfriend’s grandmother. It was in fact, safe to say, that Michael was down right horrible at meeting new people.
Michael didn’t know exactly why he failed so miserably at making first impressions. He usually did very well at second or third meetings. And he was the life of the party with people he had met at least five times.
These days Michael rarely had to meet new people at all. He had a small, but close circle of friends, who had all successfully made it through their first introductions with Michael. His job as an accountant was relatively risk free. He’d been in the same job, in the same company, for seven years. There had been several opportunities for advancement with rival companies, but Michael had always held back from making the leap. The fear of meeting an entire team of new people was more than enough for Michael to assure himself that he didn’t need that pay-rise. Or that fancy office with his name on the door. Or the free company car and credit card.
But unfortunately, the choice had been taken out of Michael’s hands. The higher-ups at head office had recognized his superb accounting talents, and had organized his transfer to another branch at their earliest convenience. The exorbitant promotion and pay rise had almost been enough to convince Michael that this would be a good change. Almost.
The remaining time in his old office seemed to fly by at such an alarming rate, that Michael began to question the reality of time itself. With each passing day, Michael became more aware of the horrifying fact, that there were over 50 people working in this new branch. He didn’t know how he was going to manage to meet them all without some form of bodily fluid spewing out of his body. Just to be safe, he ate nothing the day before or the morning of his first day. This wasn’t his first rodeo.
His pep-talk began on the drive to the office. He practiced introducing himself, over and over to imaginary people in the review mirror. He knew that preparation was the key to success. He needed to be ready for every eventuality.
“It’s nice to meet you. It’s nice to meet you. It’s nice, to meet you!”
Michael made eye contact with the people in the car next to him at the traffic lights, and quickly picked up his phone to indicate that he was speaking to another human being. A siren flashed from behind him.
One fine and a sever talking to later, Michael pulled into the office car-park. He waited until there was nobody walking from their cars to the building, before he exited the safety of his car, and made a dash for the doors.
He saw the receptionist lift her hand to wave him over to her desk, but barreled straight ahead for the lift, determined not to make eye contact. He managed to get to the lift unquestioned and frantically jabbed at the up button.
Mercifully, the doors opened and he rushed inside, and began the same frenzied button jamming routine on the close doors button.
Once he was safely ensconced in the lift, Michael took a moment to collect himself. He didn’t push the button to his floor straight away, he just needed a few more practice rounds in the mirror.
“It’s nice to MEET you. It is NICE to meet you.” Michael held out his hand and pretended to shake someone’s hand.
The elevator doors opened and the receptionist made to walk in, just as Michael began to practice his loud introduction, for the any potentially deaf colleagues.
“IT’S NIIICE TO MEEEET YOOU!!!”
The receptionist stopped abruptly, one foot inside the elevator. She looked at Michael’s still shaking hand, and up to his panicked face, before slowly stepping backwards, one step at a time, all the way back to her desk. The doors closed once more.
Michael groaned. It had begun.
The first person he saw as the doors opened was David, the Office Manager responsible for this whole transfer mess. He held a clipboard and pen in one hand and waved at Michael with the other. Despite his earlier resentments towards David, for disrupting his life so completely, Michael could have kissed the man, so great was his relief to see a familiar face.
David strode forward and snatched up Michael’s limp and sweaty hand in his own for a firm handshake.
“Great to see you Michael! Now we’ve got an orientation set up in the conference room around 10, but I thought I’d introduce you to some people around the office. Get you familiar with the team. How does that sound?”
Just say no. Michael thought. Say you’re not good at introductions and you want to go to your office.
Michael made a noise that sounded like, meep. David must have taken that noise to mean yes. He placed a hand on Michael’s shoulder and steered him towards a cluster of desks in the middle of the office.
“Attention everyone, I know you’re not officially on the clock yet, but I’d like you to meet Michael, our new Head of Accounting!”
Several people looked up from their desks and chorused, “Hello Michael!”
Michael’s stomach was in turmoil, he could hear it churning in the expectant silence. So many people, all at once! What if they wanted a speech? He cleared his throat.
“It’s NICE to meet ME!” He half yelled at the waiting employees.
A few faces looked back at him in blank shock. One or two looked partially amused, or disgusted, Michael couldn’t tell.
“That’s not what I meant. I mean it is nice, well, not really for me, it’s actually horrible. I meant, it’s nice to meet you.” Michael said, unable to control the words pouring out of his mouth.
The group of people said nothing. They looked at Michael, then to David, then back to Michael.
One of the men stood up hesitantly, and then when Michael said nothing else ridiculous, walked towards him.
“Nice to have you on board Michael, I’m Brett, I’m the go-to sales guy around here.”
Brett raised his arm and Michael assumed he was going in for a high five. Michael quickly raised his hand to meet Brett’s, but too late he noticed that Brett’s hand had changed direction. It dove down for a handshake and Michael panicked. Their hands met in an awkward embrace between a high five and a handshake. Their fingers were partially interlocked as their hands swayed back and forward between their bodies. Michael’s panicked eyes met Brett’s confused ones as they held hands. It was, intimate.
Was he meant to let go? How long was he supposed to keep doing this, and why was he still maintaining eye contact?!
“Let’s move along shall we? Lots of people to meet after all!” David said quickly and steered Michael away towards another desk, set aside from the others.
Michael felt nauseous, he was just thankful his stomach was completely empty.
“Wendy, this is Michael, our new Head of Accounting.”
A short plump woman in her mid-forties, spun around in her wheelie chair with her legs held straight out in the air, like a child on a swing.
“Michael, this is Wendy, our Office Supply Manager.”
The Office Supply Manager hopped off her seat and waddled forward, raising her arms towards Michael and beckoning him forward with her hands.
She was going in for a hug. Oh no. Panic stations.
Michael didn’t move forward, but stayed rooted to the spot, his eyes almost popping from their sockets in fear.
So many things could go wrong with a hug. Pressure, duration, flatulence, and where the hell was he meant to put his hands?!
“I’m a hugger.” Wendy the Office Supply Manager confessed apologetically, as though this statement justified a strange woman pressing her body up against Michael’s sweating, shaking torso.
Michael panicked. His brain disconnected from his mouth.
“Well I’m a murderer, but now I’ve said it out loud, it makes it okay!”
Wendy the Office Supply Manager’s arms dropped, along with her bottom jaw. So did David’s clipboard and pen. But Michael’s stomach dropped the furthest, it seemed to have dropped right out of his body, through the floor, and down to the bottom level of the building.
No one said anything.
He wasn’t coming back from this.
Wendy’s bottom lip quivered and she sat back down. David cleared his throat.
“Okay. You know, I think you should meet Sarah, our Marketing Manager. You two should get along great.” David smiled uncomfortably.
Michael looked at David incredulously, how was this torture still happening? Michael just wanted was to be pointed in the direction of his office. There he could easily bury his head in his preliminary paperwork, and then not emerge until everyone else had vacated the building.
David led him towards a door at the end of a narrow corridor. Michael stared straight ahead. He was determined to avoid eye contact with anyone else in the office, least he encourage any more introductions.
“I think you’ll get along just fine with Sarah.” David said reassuringly.
The door swung open suddenly, and a small blonde woman tripped forward into Michael. His arms automatically reached up to steady her as she fell, and the mug of coffee she’d been holding went flying, splashing coffee all over his new trousers.
Hot, burning pain.
“Ahhhhhhhhh!’ Michael groaned as the small blonde, presumed Sarah, found her feet and stood up.
“Oh no I’m so sorry! Here let me help you!”
Sarah started patting frantically at Michael’s pants with her hands, batting at his crotch as though she could swat away the burning hot liquid. Her mortification was clear to see on her very red face.
“What am I doing? Here!” Sarah said.
She tore off her cardigan and started rubbing at the fabric of Michael’s pants.
“It’s okay. Let me take that.” Michael said quickly.
Michael grabbed Sarah’s shaking hands and held them still in his own. Their eyes met and Michael waited for the nerves to kick in. Now the word vomit would come out, or actual vomit. Here was a pretty girl, holding his hands, and looking into his eyes. But nothing happened. He was in pain and probably in shock, but there was no anxiety bubbling in his gut, only a pleasant warmth.
The worst had happened. And it hadn’t been his fault. Nothing he could ever do would top this introduction. And he was still here, privates slightly burned, but still alive.
“I’m so sorry! I get so silly and flustered when I meet new people.” said Sarah.
Michael thought that Sarah looked very becoming with her cheeks flushed and her hair mussed.
“Honestly it’s fine, let me get you a new cup of coffee. Perhaps you could show me where the machine is?” Michael asked smoothly.
Sarah smiled, and he liked that look even more.
“That would be lovely.” She said.
She ushered him away down the corridor, chatting happily the whole way.
They left David standing in the doorway to Sarah’s office, looking amused, and perhaps a little frightened at the thought of what he’d unleashed upon the office.