Note: This is an entry for the Valentine's Day Contest 2014. Enjoy!
The taxi came speeding down the city street straight at me, and there was no way it was stopping in time to miss me. My life began to flash before my eyes. In second grade I had pushed Emily down and denied the whole thing, I still feel bad about that. In third grade I.....
Instinct cut in as the blaring horn of the taxi cut through my whirling mind; and, my muscles went into involuntary overdrive. Somehow, someway, I propelled my body into a lunge forward, narrowly avoiding becoming road kill. I looked up and around the busy city corner, but no one returned my glance. Just another day in the city.
I crawled up from the ground; and, as the adrenaline from my near miss began to wane, I realized that I had landed, if only partially, in a puddle of icy slush. I made a chide remark about how the icy puddle and the freezing wind did nothing but improve my mood. Brushing myself off the best I could, I made my way down the street and into my office building. I didn't wave to the door man today, nor did I stop to chat with the janitor. Instead I stormed into the elevator and went straight to the 15th floor.
I slammed the office door, walked into the small lobby entrance of my firm, and then slammed into the small door in front of me as I attempted to open and walk through it in one quick motion, only to be foiled by the lock.
"Oh! Sorry sir, you're early sir!" The girl sitting at the desk behind the glass tellers' window buzzed the door open; but, I didn't move for the door. Instead I hung my head, put my hand against the door and took a deep breath. I turned toward the girl behind the desk and played a quick mental game of guess who. Sally? No, Sally has red hair. Jen? No, no... Jen had more weight to her. Think, Brandon, think. Ah!
"Cher!" I exclaimed out loud in my 'aha' moment as I involuntarily pointed at her.
She shied back away from the window, looking at me like I was about to come through it at her. I threw my hands up and shook my head at the misunderstanding.
"Sorry, I wasn't yelling at you. I just couldn't remember your name. Then when it came to me, it kinda jumped out of my mouth. It's no big deal."
"My name is Claire." She said timidly from the other side of the window. I couldn't help but chuckle at how absolutely horrible everything was going, and now here I was, making a complete fool of myself.
"I'm sorry Claire, it's been a rough day, and it's only seven. Plus we have like, six interns in the office that all started two weeks ago, and as you may have gathered, I don't spend much time out of my office."
"It's ok, really, I'm sorry about the door." The poor girl still looked like she was terrified of me. I guess my foul mood wasn't very welcoming. "Um, you're all wet, Sir."
I looked down at my coat and suit, dripping wet on my left side, and covered in a murky stain. Good thing I wasn't going anywhere important today.
"So I am. I tried to jump over a taxi this morning, and things didn't work out quite the way I was hoping." I fiddled in my pocket trying to find my bathroom key as she puzzled that out. Sighing in dismay, I realized I left my office keys back at the condo. "Claire, would you happen to have a spare key to the men's bathroom handy? I'd like to try and clean up the best I can, and I seem to have misplaced mine."
"Let me see if it's in here somewhere." She took to opening and closing the drawers and fiddling around inside of them. "I'm sorry sir, I don't really work the front desk, I'm just covering for Amy this morning. I can't find any keys."
"Please, don't call me Sir. My name is Brandon, but you can call me a mess. I'll just make do."
"One second." She reached into something under the desk near her feet - it must have been a purse or bag of some sort, and came up with a couple keys. "I have the keys to the women's room. You could use it really fast. No one really gets here before 8."
"I think I'll pass." She was right, most people didn't start til 9, and precious few arrived before 8:30; but, with my luck so far this morning, I wasn't about to take any chances. "I don't want to risk making an even bigger fool of myself today."
"I could stand outside the door and watch the hallway for you." She offered.
"Well, I really do need to wipe some of this off of me, and I don't have any other options. So if you stand guard, then I'll give it a go."
She smiled, hopped up off her chair and came around into the lobby as I ventured off toward the bathrooms. Once inside the ladies room, with Claire posted outside to keep lookout for actual ladies, I took off my jacket and began to use the paper towels by the sink to pat myself down and wipe away some of the muck. Once I was fairly cleaned up, I threw some water on my face and looked into the light brown eyes in the mirror. My brown hair had an ashy tint to it that I was terrified would turn grey at an early age. I was only 24 but the last few years hadn't been nice to me. I worked out at the gym to keep my body in some sort of shape and to burn off some steam. I spent decent money on good clothes, and tried to look kept. Try as I might though, no matter what I did, I still had that tired, over worked, over stressed look that made people add at least five years to my age.
I had been successful early on. I got a lucky break and was managing my own department at the R&D firm. I only had a 2 year degree; but, I knew someone at the firm and got a temp job that turned into a permanent position. It helped that I lacked a personal life. I immersed myself in my work and rode a slew of promotions until I was handling our biggest client all within 3 years. It came at a price. I lost a lot of friends who moved away from the city; and, the girl I dated in college left me when she went to continue her own education, partly because of the distance, but mostly because I didn't have as much time for her as she wanted. So now I worked during the week, researched when I got home at night, and went to conferences and expos during the weekend. My company loved me for it; and, both their pocket book and mine benefited. But I doubt running that myself into the ground was doing me any good. I tore away from my reflection and went out into the hallway where Claire was waiting.
"How do I look?" I asked, holding out my arms.
"Give me a twirl." She made a loop in the air with her finger that looked condescending; but, she sounded completely serious.
"You had some on the back of your jacket. I want to make sure it didn't soak through."
I tried to look at my own back and turned at the same time. I probably looked like a dog chasing its tail. What a fantastic start to my morning, indeed. When I finished 'twirling' once, she gave me the thumbs up sign.
"Thanks for all this by the way. Here's your key."
"No problem." She smiled warmly, took the key and started off toward the office. I took the opportunity of being behind her to give her the mandatory once (over. I am but a man, for I am weak. Her blonde hair came down just past her shoulders atop her thin frame. She had on a small suit jacket, and her white blouse poked out the back just underneath. I scoured mental images and didn't recall seeing any cleavage this morning. I ,therefore, assumed she was either conservative, or didn't have appropriate work attire that looked decent but also managed to show off what were either a pair of large A cups or small B cups. She had on what looked to be a pencil skirt that was probably a size to big, as it didn't really hug her hips and legs the way I thought it was meant to. Then again, I am a guy and my knowledge on women's clothing or fashion of any kind is near non-existent. It could also be that her petite frame just wasn't built for form fitting skirt suits. My eyes slipped off her cute and round, if small, butt to her legs that complimented the rest of the body they carried. I made a mental note to take her to lunch a few times to see if I could stuff a few pounds into her. Girl needs a sandwich.
We reached the lobby, where I was able to walk about 4 feet before I ran into Claire. We both cursed out loud as I grabbed her hips to keep her from toppling and almost fell forward into her. She threw her hands up and caught the door to break our fall. We regained our balanced and got a grip on the ground. I silently thanked my stars that no one else was there to see us, with my hands on her hips, my body pressing into her as she held herself up with the door; it was a compromising position to say the least and I was immediately embarrassed. She swore again as she smoother her clothes out.
"I'm so sorry, I didn't know you were stopping an-" She cut me off.
"No, not you. The door. Amy works the front, so she gave me the key for this morning. But I didn't put it on my ring with the rest of my office keys."
I looked at her, at the empty desk, then back to the door, and finally at my watch. 7:15. I had entirely too much work to do to wait for someone else with a key to show up.
"I have an idea." She went to the window that looks out into the lobby from the front desk and slid it open. "I already unlocked the window!"
"Oh good! Can you reach the key?"
"No." She looked back at me and shook her head. "It's in my purse under the desk. But I think I can fit through the window, if you help me up."
"I'm willing to try anything once, let's give it a go." I walked toward her but stopped a foot away. It was a more than a little awkward.. How do you lift up someone that you don't know? Where do you grab? My thoughts must have been painted on my face because she took the initiative.
"Just grab onto my waist and give me a start up. Once I can get my knee inside the window, you can let go and I can just crawl in." I nodded and she turned around toward the window and I gently grabbed her waist. She put her hands on mine and turned her head back toward me. "Just don't, like, look up my skirt or anything."
I chuckled, "Of course not."
"You don't seem like the sleazy type, but you can never be too sure." She laughed, trying to break up the awkwardness.
"All men are dogs, never trust them." I joked.
"I guess you would know. Ok, on the count of three I'll jump, you lift. One, two, three."
She hopped off the ground and I lifted her up into the window. It worked as planned and as soon as she was up on the ledge, I turned the other way to respect her privacy, but quickly turned around again when I heard her gasp and cry out. She was slipping into the window, threatening to go heels over head. I quickly grabbed her waist to keep her from falling in.
"Are you ok? What happened?" I said from behind her.
"I forgot the desk is lower than the window ledge and lost my balance." She sounded a little scared from the close call, so I didn't let go right away in fear that she would fall again. For the second time in the past few minutes, I found myself in another compromising position with Claire, her knees on the window ledge, my face level with her butt, still covered by her pencil skirt, (though the slit in the back threatened to undo that) and my hands on either side of her tiny waist. Almost too tiny.
"Can I take you out to lunch some time?"
She turned around, eyes wide in astonishment, as I stood there, holding her waist, and cursing the day that God handed out filters for mouths and I missed mine. I smiled hoping she would take it as some sort of joke, and to my relief she giggled.
"Sure, get me in the office and I'll buy you whatever you like."
"I'll hold you to that. Are you good now? I'm going to let go."
"Yeah, I'm good, thanks for catching me."
For the second time I turned around to avoid seeing anything indecent. I heard a click and short buzz and turned around to see her sitting at the desk, her blue-grey eyes looking innocently at me.
"Good Morning, Brandon. Have a good day."
"Why thank you, Claire." and with that I entered the firm and headed to my office.
The next couple days I didn't see Claire much, though I did recall her bending through the office window one particular night while I was alone in my city condo.
As luck would have it, about a week later Claire knocked on my door and poked her head into my office.
"Claire, nice to see you again. "
You remembered my name." she laughed.
"Difficult to forget now, how can I help you?"
"Actually, how can I help you?"
"Help me?" I said, confused. I didn't have an assistant, and never needed one. I didn't request any interns, and I didn't remember being asked to give any of them work.
"Yeah, Mr. Debeur told me that I'd be helping you with the two deadlines you have coming over the next 2 weeks."
"Deadlines?" Kevin Debeur was the head of our firm, and often checked in on the inner workings of each department personally; but, I only had one client report coming up on the 13th of February. I racked my brain for anything I had forgotten, nearing panic mode when Kevin walked in behind Claire.
"Brandon! How's it going? Oh Claire! You beat me to the punch I see. Brandon, listen, we got a request for a proposal I'd like you to handle. I know that you have that FOIA report due the 13th, so I asked Claire to be your personal assistant and help you with both projects.
"Oh, sure. Not a problem Kev, when is the proposal due?"
"The presentation is in the morning on Monday the 16th. I know it's already the end of January, but with Claire helping you should be fine. She's the best intern in the place and we're paying her for her hours with you. If she does well, we may have to give her your job." He winked at her and I chuckled.
"Its hers now if she wants it. I need a vacation anyway."
"Very funny Brandon, you know damn well you can't quit until we say you can. You're ours for life." He laughed as he walked out leaving me and Claire alone again.
"Well? What'll it be, boss?" Claire turned and asked me.
"Ugh, no. Don't call me boss either. Just Brandon."
"Ok Just Brandon, what are we doing today?"
This was new territory for me. I've never had any help before and I tended to micromanage my projects. But if I was going to do everything before the deadlines, I was going to have to accept her help. That meant telling her to do things. I was never very confrontational, and I never had to be anyone else's boss. I preferred doing things all by myself over putting someone else to any tasks.
"I'm not sure where to start to be honest. I'm so used to doing everything myself."
"Just tell me what you want me to do." She shrugged.
"Um, well, go get us some coffee, and we can discuss the mechanics and details of each project, and decide where to go from there. I'll get out the paperwork I have so far on the FOIA request while you're gone."
"Ok, I'll be right back." And she darted down the hallway.
The next several days were a blur of numbers, reports, and information about our new prospective client, while trying to keep things on track for the FOIA request.
Before I knew it a week had gone by and I didn't feel as if we were making nearly enough headway on either project, even with Claire doing nearly as much work as I was.
With a week and a half to go, I took to staying late after everyone left and working overtime. It wasn't the first time, and I enjoyed the time in the office to myself. I turned my music up too loud, took off my suit, tie, and dress shirt, kicked off my shoes, and had few beers while I chipped away at the excess work I couldn't fit into the work day.
On the Friday before the first deadline, I found myself still sipping some wine left over from a retirement party earlier that afternoon with Billy Joel blaring on my speakers, singing something about Catholic girls. Pandora wasn't perfect; but, I could forgive Billy Joel.
I must have had more of the wine than I thought because I was singing along as I compiled and organized the chart. I had just got to the last chorus when Claire popped her head into my office. Whoever said white men can't jump has never seen me scared, because I'm sure that I could have shown Jordan a thing or two about getting some air.
"Holy shit!" I yelled after reentering orbit.
"I'm sorry! I didn't mean to startle you." She claimed, not looking one bit sorry.
"Its ok, I wasn't expecting anyone else to be here. How did you get in?"
"I got a copy of the key from Amy in case I need to cover for her again. I forgot my wallet, so I came back to grab it real fast. What are you doing here?"
"I've been working late, to keep on track with the deadlines. "You know, it's a violation of company policy to make unauthorized copies of keys." "Brandon! You've been working late, and haven't asked me to stay? "
"Um... no. I didn't think you'd like to stay. And I enjoy kicking off my shoes and relaxing in the office."
"And singing Billy Joel?"
"Hey now, don't knock the classics." Great, I sounded like a hippy.
"Brandon, it doesn't matter what I want to do, if you need me to stay late, just tell me to. I'm your assistant, remember. You're supposed to tell me what to do."
"Yeah yeah... I know, I just assumed you had other things to do."
She smirked at that and waved, as if dismissing my comment all together.
"So where you off to now?"
"Oh, just back home. Going to catch up on some TV shows. Don't stay too late Brandon, I'll see you Monday."
"I won't, have a good weekend Claire."
She smiled warmly and disappeared from sight. I heard a phone ring and she stopped moving to answer it. I couldn't help but overhear her conversation.
"Hello? Yes I found it. I know honey. I'll be there soon." She paused and giggled. "I love you too."
Ahh... so she was seeing someone. This had to be a fairly new development, because word around the office a few weeks ago was that she was single. And why should she be single? She was an attractive young woman, she should have no trouble finding someone to make her happy. I was happy for her; but, happiness felt an awful lot like a missed opportunity.
The weekend came and went too fast; and, before I knew it, Monday had reared its ugly head. I made it through the morning without wanting to kill anyone, and stumbled into the lunch room to find Claire eating some vegetables out of a plastic bag, and a salad that clearly didn't understand the adjective 'exciting'.
"Oh for christsake, put the plants in the fridge for later. I'm taking you to lunch." It was no wonder she looked so tiny.
"Brandon! I was looking for you this morning, I finished my usual things and I'm ready to help with the projects some more. But you weren't in your office."
"I had to run a few errands and stop by the courthouse to pick up some deeds, but we can work after lunch. Let's go, put the bird food away, I wasn't joking. Were getting you a burger, maybe two."
"Hey, I like eating healthy!"
"You can get light grease on yours then, and I'll eat your fries."
"I don't joke about fries, reach for them and I'll put a fork in your hand." She was stone cold serious.
"That's more like. Let's ditch the carrots and go get you some fries."
She laughed and gathered her things to join me at the elevator. I was able to give her a glance down on our way there. She had on a Navy blue pants suit that looked pleasantly tight in the rear with a frilly blouse that had ruffles around the v-shaped neck line that threatened to show the tiniest big of cleavage if she was to lean all the way forward. Maybe.
"So tell me about yourself." She turned and looked at me while we waited for the slowest elevator system in the city to begin moving toward our floor.
"Hmm? Uh, like what?" I asked.
"Well, anything. I mean, I don't know anything about you other than where you work, and what you do here... other than stripping down to just your t-shirt, pants, and socks and rocking out to Billy Joel when everyone else leaves." She turned back toward the elevator with a sly smile. Some things you just never live down.