Harry tapped his fingertips against his desk, growing more impatient with each passing minute. He’d never had to wait ten minutes for an employee to respond to his emails, and the lack of response had gone from inconvenient to irritating. He scrolled through the list of his direct reports on the company’s instant messenger client, and his brow furrowed when he saw a small, yellow circle denoting inactive next to each of their names and portraits. 

“It’s ten-thirty in the morning,” Harry said to himself. “Where the hell is everybody?” 

Close up of two men shaking hands

After another five minutes passed with no answer, Harry left his office in a huff and paced the rows of cubicles, his irritation rising with each lumbering step. The hunt for his employees was fruitless; every single one of them was gone. Short of breath from both frustration and the brisk walk, Harry mopped the sweat from his forehead as he approached the first occupied cubicle he could find. 

“Hey, um, sport,” Harry said, poorly disguising the fact that he couldn’t remember the man’s name. “Do you know where my guys went? They’re not at their desks.” 

The nameless employee jumped at Harry’s unannounced visit. “I’m not sure, Mr. Williams. But I think I heard some of them talking about taking Joseph out for coffee.” 

“Who?” 

“One of the summer interns that you hired last week.” 

Harry noticed that one of his shirt buttons had come undone during his walk, and he self-consciously moved his tie to cover his hairy exposed belly. “Right,” he said, backing out of the cubicle. “Well, carry on.” 

As he fixed his shirt and headed back to his office, Harry wondered why his entire team decided to leave the office in the middle of the day for a coffee run with the new intern. Wasn’t getting coffee for everyone still an intern’s job? He’d just repositioned his tie clip when he overheard two of his subordinates—Todd and Caleb—chatting by the elevators. 

“Did you hear the joke Joseph made in the lobby?” Todd said. 

“The one about the two astronauts?” Caleb replied. “Yeah! I laughed so hard I gave him five bucks just to say thanks.” 

“Totally, man! I gave him ten. It’s the least we can do for the guy.” 

Harry rounded the corner and looked sternly at the two men. To his surprise, they reacted with neither alarm nor fear at their boss’ sudden appearance. They both looked happy and carefree, perhaps even a bit dazed, and Harry wondered if they had more than just coffee on their break. 

“Hey, Mr. Williams,” Todd said. “Has Joseph told you the joke about the two astronauts?” 

“It’s really funny,” Caleb said. “I think he’s got a future on our team. He really fits in with all of us.” 

Harry couldn’t put words to the way his employees were behaving, but he found it unsettling nonetheless. Both men were unusually favoring their right hands—Todd repeatedly smoothed the hairs of his goatee, and Caleb drummed his fingertips against his lips—and smiling nonstop. 

“Look, men,” Harry said, crossing his arms across his chest to appear imposing. “I didn’t hire an intern just so you all could tell jokes and take coffee breaks all day.” 

“Oh, that was our fault, Mr. Williams,” Todd said. “Joseph doesn’t have a corporate card, and we couldn’t decide which of us got to pay for his coffee, so we all went along and chipped in.” 

Caleb stopped tapping his fingers against his mouth and inhaled deeply. “It was a fun team-building exercise. Joseph would make a great morale officer.” 

Harry took a step back. The behavior of his two employees had escalated from unsettling to creepy, and he needed to get to the bottom of it before things got any weirder. “Tell Joseph I want to see him in my office right away. And no more coffee breaks, gentleman. I pay you to work.” 

Todd and Caleb nodded, and as Harry turned to leave, he heard their conversation pick up right where it had left off. 

“Do you mind if we work through lunch today? I’ve got some stuff I want to catch up on.” 

“No problem, man. Hey, how about we give the money we were going to spend on lunch to Joseph?” 

“Great idea! He deserves it.” 


On the walk back to his office, Harry noticed his entire team behaving just like Todd and Caleb. The cube farm was full of suited men with dopey, vacant smiles, laughing at jokes he didn’t understand and singing the praises of Joseph the intern. All of them were doing the same strange thing with their right hands—keeping them close to the face and pausing periodically to breathe deeply in. 

It was nearly twenty minutes before Joseph finally knocked on Harry’s office door. “Come in,” Harry said, ire resonating in his voice. 

“Hey, Mr. Williams,” Joseph said with a smile and a wave. “Sorry I kept you waiting. I was having computer trouble. I think my laptop needs to be replaced, but the guys on the team said there’s no budget for that.” 

“Sit down, Son,” Harry said. “We need to have a word.” 

Joseph sat down in one of the chairs opposite Harry’s desk, and Harry was momentarily transfixed by the way the intern’s short-sleeved dress shirt hugged his upper body, as if the garment had been made to his exact measurements. The white fabric was also slightly see-through, and Harry could make out the outlines of Joseph’s nipples and the tank top he was wearing underneath. 

“Sure, Mr. Williams. What’s up?” 

“You’ve made quite an impact on my team in the short time you’ve been here, Son, and that’s not a compliment. You’re here to learn, not distract my guys from doing their jobs. Are we clear?” 

Joseph leaned back in his chair and spread his legs, dropping his right hand to rest gently on his crotch. Harry’s gaze landed on the same spot, and as much as he wanted to look away, he was unable to stop staring at the way Joseph’s thumb moved slowly back and forth across his tight bulge. 

“Of course, Mr. Williams,” Joseph said. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to cause any trouble. I know I can learn from everyone here, especially you.” 

“Thanks, Son,” Harry said softly, still staring at Joseph’s crotch and now feeling a swelling in his own. “No hard feelings. Just try to focus on your job and leave everyone else alone to do theirs.” 

Joseph stood, jolting Harry out of the meditative state he’d slipped into, and held out his hand for Harry to shake. Harry looked at Joseph’s extended right hand as he slowly got out of his chair. He felt uncomfortable shaking hands after the younger man palmed his bulge with that same hand during their entire conversation, but he also didn’t want Joseph to think he was holding a grudge against him. After a moment of indecision, he grasped Joseph’s hand and shook it firmly. 

“You got it, Mr. Williams,” Joseph said with a wide smile. “I guess I’ll get back to fighting with my laptop. It sure would be nice not to have to deal with that old piece of junk, but I totally get the budget stuff.” 

Joseph broke the handshake, and Harry’s gaze immediately went to his right hand. It moved, as if on autopilot, up toward his face. He was intrigued, curious, and aroused by the hand that touched the hand that touched the bulge. As he rested his fingertips against his nostrils and inhaled, all his thoughts paused at once, like someone gently lifted a needle off a playing record. He took another deep breath, and then another, enjoying the feeling of happy emptiness. 

“I’ll let you get back to work, Mr. Williams,” Joseph said, turning to leave. 

“No, wait.” 

Harry opened his desk drawer, flipped open his wallet, and pulled out his personal credit card. A vacant smile spread across his face as he offered it to Joseph. 

“About that new laptop…” 

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