MARK CROMER hears the whispers
A workplace romance can be like an oasis in the middle of a minefield. The allure is in the danger of getting to the sweet spot in one piece. Flirting by the coffee machine. Double entendres by the water cooler. Little notes left on a desk calendar or on a windshield wiper.
Intrigue. Seduction. Risk.
One wrong move and the whole thing can blow up in your face.
A couple of times in my life I’ve thrown caution to the wind and gone dancing through the minefield . . . and eventually come home missing a few emotional toes.
So by the time I took my desk at a small newspaper in the L.A. suburbs a couple of years ago, my ground rules were fairly simple: Get the story. File by deadline. Go home.
It seemed a simple enough game plan. But it didn’t take into account the blonde sitting at the desk next to me.
Anne was an intoxicating mix of a woman. A hybrid of the older sister I never had, a quick-witted reporter I admired and the sophisticated sort of lady I desired. She had brass and she had class.
Submerged as I was on the cop beat, I found myself drawn to her amid the daily diet of murders, drive-bys, wife beatings, child killings and corrupt cops.
We bonded like a couple of soldiers sharing a foxhole. She worked courts and I worked cops. Amid the angst and anger and stress of our beats, we fed off each other. When the shelling got heavy, the humor grew darker-and our bond grew stronger.
Some nights after deadline, our stories filed, we’d walk over to the Hilton for a few drinks in the lounge. I’d buy the smokes; she’d get the first round. Over glasses of wine and bottles of beer we’d retreat into each other, telling stories and sharing secrets.
There was a strong undercurrent as we absorbed each other through that boozy haze. I suppose it was partly sexual, but it felt more spiritual. I knew I wanted to kiss her, but I was more interested in frolicking in her essence.
And there was the cold reality of life to consider. She was married and I had a girlfriend.
Attractions and temptations aside, we both had relatively happy relationships at home.
The taboo of breaking our respective vows was never really discussed beyond a few jokes or, after a few drinks, the pondering of what it might have been like had we met when we were single. That question was usually followed by a moment or two of awkward silence and then a relieving laugh.
I would usually concede she probably would have been too much for me to handle, though it would have been a lot of fun trying.
Back in the chaos of the newsroom, it wasn’t all flirting and joking. In such close proximity, sparks would occasionally fly as we rubbed each other like a couple of tectonic plates. I’d bark and she’d bite. I’m sure we looked or sounded like a couple of lovers. I sent her flowers a couple of times, even risking roses. It inspired talk, but we just relished the gossip like only two people not having an affair can.
Two years later, as I prepared to leave the paper, the end of my relationship with Anne started to sink in. I knew what to expect. We’d tell each other that we’d stay in touch, but geography and time being what they are, we’d both drift away. I felt sick about it, but helpless.
I knew Anne had indeed been a workplace romance. The purest kind. A romance of the heart. The sort of coupling tinted by desire but uncomplicated by sex.
I know my girlfriend has had her suspicions, and if she’d ever asked if anything was “going on,” I’d have to confess to her that, yes, “something” was going on. In fact, a lot went on during those days and nights Anne and I spent together. Just not the things she was worried about.
At my going-away party, I had the last dance with Anne. I’d like to think she saved it for me, but she’d just laugh and say I got lucky. Slipping our arms around each other in the safety of a crowded dance floor, we drifted around in a slow groove to Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On.” She nestled her head into my neck and I draped my hands across the small of her back. It was long and sweet.
A little later, we walked out together to our cars, we embraced for a final time and told each other what we’d known for a long time.
Driving home, I hummed a Sinatra tune and concentrated on the scent of her perfume. I suppose I did get lucky.
I think we both did.
This column was first published in the Los Angeles Times.