June 22nd, work trip.
They finally walked out of the office tower after a long day of meetings. The city air was dusty and humid, and the uneven sidewalks were peppered with potholes and loose tiles. Julia threaded carefully in her heels, feet sore from the all the walking from one site to another.
“Dinner? But if you prefer we can also do room service.” AJ sounded tired too after the three straight hours of negotiations.
“Let’s go out.” she suggested. “Alright, let’s take the train and have some adventure.” The night was still young.
He came down to the lobby in T-shirt, shorts and flip-flops. Julia has never seen this casual side of AJ. He looked even younger, almost like a frat brother, if not for the crow’s feet that gather around his eyes whenever he smiles. “Better to dress down than to attract attention around here.” The city was famous for pickpockets preying on unsuspecting tourists. He grinned as he looked down at her. At six foot two he towered over her five foot four frame.
They walked through the congested streets, ducking electricity wires hanging chaotically above them and telephone poles planted randomly in the middle of sidewalks. “Sorry, am I walking too fast?” He realized she was panting beside him. “Yes, my legs are not as long as yours.” She deadpanned.
The train was not too full but there was no seat left. He stood close to her beside the grab pole, hunching over a little so he doesn't hit the roof of the train car. She commented on the humidity. The poles on the train were disgustingly wet with condensation and sticky to touch. The train turned and his abs lightly brushed the back of her hand on the grab pole. She felt electricity running through her body but kept her cool. After all he was her boss, even if only a year older.
“Which way shall we go?” They got off the train and looked for an exit, lost in the sea of people and confused by the dizzying humidity. Let's just say AJ’s sense of direction was not the most reliable. He forgot the connection train exit and took a wrong turn earlier in the day when they were looking for an airport lounge. “Let’s go this way.” Julia signaled. “Whatever you say.” He followed behind.
Their first meal together alone. They shared food and a couple of beers, finally relaxing after a long day of work and traveling. Conversation flowed from one random topic to another. Coworkers, family, hobbies, travels to a hill resort near her hometown, summer plans. He took a call outside, probably from his wife back home. She checked her Facebook page while waiting.
"If you want to walk around we can stay out a little longer." He turned to her as he settled the check.
"Nah, the shops are closed, and it's only nine-thirty, unbelievable." She said matter-of-factly.
They came back out to the hot July night, passing through the square on the way to the train station. "Two tickets, please." He smiled as he looked at her. "Thank you." "No problem, you paid for the way here."
They sat beside one another on the train. She glanced at him and smiled, satisfied. "Happy?" he asked gently, like a big brother. "Yeah, but I can hardly move now." She gestured to her belly. "Do you want me to carry you?" She laughed.
A random guy with a huge camera and footlong lens appeared and took pictures of some passengers on the other side of the car. AJ talked about his street photography class back in the days. It was challenging to take pictures of strangers. "Yeah, just don't get punched in the face." She teased as they alighted the train. "Ouch." He faked being punched. Julia laughed. She was surprised at how goofy he could be.
They passed through makeshift street food stalls and the local diners they served. The traffic was finally moving. Cars honked and motorbikes zipped by.
"If you want we can take the overhead bridge." Julia pointed to the overpass a block away. "Nah, let's just run across." She hid behind him as they darted to the median and waited for oncoming cars to pass. A few honks later they made it to the other side, panting after running across the four-lane traffic.
"Yeah, we made it!" He held his hand up like it was the most natural thing to do as he looked down at her. She high fived back, surprised at his friendliness. "Yeah, you almost got us killed back there." She laughed as they continued their walk to the hotel.