A single bead of sweat blooms left of center of my widow’s peak and trickles its way down the craggy landscape of my unshaven face. Pausing for a moment of contemplation, it chooses the path of least resistance down the inward slope of my jaw, dangles at the edge of the world, then drops into oblivion.
“Are you sure this is right?” I mutter tensely through gritted teeth.
“Yes…no! I…I don’t know! Just…just give me a second. Let me think!” The back of Paolo’s yellow linen shirt is soaked with perspiration.
“Yes, it’s right. It has to be. I’m sure,” he says, though refuses to look me in the eye. He’s developed a sudden fascination with the scuffed tips of his black Kenneth Cole loafers, bought from the clearance rack at Marshalls.
“Yeah, well, you were sure the first four times and look where it’s gotten us!” I snap testily. The strain of the moment is starting to get to me. It’s time to get this over with.
“Look, Paolo, this is it. We don’t get any more chances. No more mistakes. You have to be right.”
Paolo bows his head in concentration, thumb and forefinger repeatedly caressing the bridge of his nose. For a brief moment, I feel a twinge of sympathy for him. It’s a lot of pressure for one person to take on alone. But, I quickly remind myself, he brought this on himself. He was the one who wanted it to be this way, despite my protestations that he share the burden with another. He stubbornly insisted on doing it on his own and now he’s paying the price. Whatever small amount of pity I had summoned quickly leaves.
“Do it,” he says, staring directly at me, a grim, tight-lipped expression on his face.
I hold his gaze for a beat longer, then swivel around in my seat to face the quietly humming laptop, left elbow narrowly avoiding the half-full coffee mug beside it. The cursor blinks expectantly in the empty password box, mocking the futile efforts that have been offered so far.
Taking a deep breath, I plunge forward, pounding out the latest eight-digit code Paolo has dredged up from his island of forgotten passwords. With a wavering forefinger poised over the “Enter” key, I slowly turn my head towards Paolo for final confirmation. After a brief pause, he curtly nods his approval.
I tap the key and the results are instantaneous.
“Dammit!” Paolo roars, the force of his hand slamming on the faux-oak desktop causing the coffee mug to jump, caramel colored liquid sloshing onto the floor.
“Locked out,” I moan, letting my forehead rest on the keyboard, a stream of “G’s” filling up the once again empty password box.
Rubbing his bruised hand, Paolo glances at the wall clock.
“We’ve got an hour ‘til we can try again. I’m hittin’ the john then heading to Starbucks.”
I lift my head off the keyboard and glare at him.
“We’ve got two hours until the submission deadline for this grant. I’m emailing the help desk and getting a new password. This is ridiculous!”
He ignores me and heads out the office door, knocking a blue 3-ring binder off my desk on his way past.
“Get me an iced coffee with milk.” I tell his back. “2%. Unsweetened.”
It’s the least he can do, I think to myself.
Spinning around in my chair, I get back to work.