I think I'm in an intricate and precarious May-June/May-July situation.
A woman colleague, let's call her Mary, seems to have a crush on me.
- clung to my arm while walking,
- tried to coyly sit right beside me in the corner at the company group meal,
- asked me if I like her or if I would be interested in older women,
- fawned over the young guy sitting behind me, like patting his head whenever I could catch a glimpse of the two, possibly in an attempt to make me jealous while also revealing something about herself,
- asked me a "what do you see" question that analyzes the personalities of the test takers, going over the positive aspects and agreeing with most of them except "good at expressing one's innermost feelings",
and she did all of the above in the presence of several coworkers and a C-level executive, who I'll call Eric.
Mary works at site A, sometimes visiting site B where I work as she oversees the project that I have been part of. Now I've been reassigned by Eric to work on a new project full-time, and I would be sitting behind Mary. He hasn't told me the details of the new project, just that they needed me, a rather inexperienced newcomer, to "put off fire", and if I remember correctly, he also jokingly said something along the lines of "I'm finding it hard to manage Mary, please help me".
Also, today I asked Eric if I could take a day off (so I could seek professional help from here, though I didn't give him a reason), to which he promptly and gladly granted permission, adding a "wish you good luck" at the end of the message. I find this highly unusual and amusing.
As amusing as this situation might be for reminiscence, I'm really anxious and feel that I, an introverted Chinese male dullard in his late twenties with virtually zero dating/life experience, lack so many necessary skills to properly reciprocate the affection of such a fine lady. I'm also wary of the effect on productivity whether this relationship works out or not, not to mention possible gossips and hard feelings from coworkers. And there's still the possibility that everything is just my wishful thinking, a setup for entertainment or just a means to lighten up the mood.
Going by the statistics, an office romance where the woman is older and has a higher education level than the man rarely ends well, though none of these really concerns the naive me now.
So far I have mostly been a bit cold and avoidant with her, i.e. no idle chit-chat, unless guided by Eric or initiated by Mary. I initially didn't have strong feelings for her and when I realized I do, still wanted to avoid office romance and remain "professional", but it is getting increasingly harder and inhumane to continue this route.
This seems to upset her sometimes. On the other hand, on the most recent account, I decided I couldn't concentrate anymore when she sighed after a short silence and came over to chat with the guy behind me, so I turned my body facing them and listened to their conversation, which quickly shifted towards me and I could see she was more talkative, playful and radiant for the rest of that day (don't know if it's a conscious effort on her part or not, but she also looked more appealing almost exactly a month ago).
I've heard from either Mary herself or a colleague, that she isn't married yet and doesn't seem to want me to have an impression that she is "boisterous". I've also heard people ask about her boyfriend, but I don't know the details.
I would like to tread carefully to get on her good side and not upset or disappoint her if possible. So, how do I tell Mary that I like her and ask her to go out with me without getting permanently awkward or sounding creepy?