tagErotic CouplingsNellie's Sketchpad

Nellie's Sketchpad

byRandiTGreer©

After Allen got sacked, she and I became cubicle mates.

It was such a change after sharing that small, sterile space with the man-boy whose shirttail wouldn't stay put in his trousers, billowing out by mid-morning and finally working free by noon. The half moon edge of it would hang over the seat of his pants and onto his arse, which was half as wide as his waist.

The grim, smooth smiles of the face cards stared back at his acne-pocked face as he stared at the screen for hours, days, and weeks. His online gaming obsession reaped a lack of productivity that finally came to the attention of the firm's manager, Mr. Grisham. It broke Mr. Grisham's heart to do it, but Allen was sent packing. Our cubicle smelled like onions for a week after Allen left.

After a month or so I began toying with the idea of turning in my resignation, not out of protest at the removal of Allen, whose lack of productivity was only matched by his lack of humility. It was mostly for a lull in my own career, which had stagnated there in that little cubicle where I came up with small time ideas for small time companies, ads for rural weekly papers to be run on the back pages next to the supermarket specials. I couldn't help feeling that there was something more for me, that I should leave England and go back to Canada, maybe find Dad and learn how to install carpet. And maybe he could teach me the fine art of flirtation, when and how to raise an eyebrow, or when and where to deliver a light touch, or the subtle tilt of the head that meant meet me outside.

I had worked on my resignation letter over the weekend, and had even printed it out. I was proofreading it one more time, going over my reasons for leaving, and thanking Mr. Grisham for taking me on and giving me a chance. One more run-through and I would deliver it to him in his office.

A throat cleared at the opening to my cubicle, and a girl with a satchel appeared. Her face was round and freckled, and when she smiled, her lips pulled across crooked teeth and her eyes glowed crystalline green. Her eyelashes radiated out from the green like the rays of a sun that a child might draw. Her hair was blonde and bobbed, parted on the side and swept down across black eyebrows. She had on a brown twill skirt with a chevron pattern and a yellow long sleeve blouse.

She was middle height, and Mr. Grisham's towering frame loomed behind her. His red face was rimmed by a graying blonde cloud that could only be referred to as facial hair, not a beard or sideburns or a mustache. He looked like an old-time sea captain who had been lifted up and transported across a century or two and dropped into a three piece suit at an advertising firm in London.

"Pete, this is Miss Bell, Penelope Bell. Goes by Nellie. Isn't that right?" He turned to her, and she smiled and nodded. "Nellie, Pete Beaufaire," he gestured with an upturned palm. I turned from my screen to shake her hand. It was as smooth as ivory and melted in mine. Faraway in other cubicles phones rang and were answered and conversations took place.

"How d'ya do?" she asked. Her accent suggested the Midlands.

"Hi," I returned. Our handshake lingered for a minute. Mr. Gresham clapped a hand on my shoulder and smiled. He likes me.

"See to it you make Miss Bell feel at home," he said.

''Yes sir, certainly,'' I smiled and nodded and returned to my work as he disappeared down the corridor.

"Desk is there," I said gesturing but not looking up. She paused. "It's all yours," I told her, briefly looking up and acting like I was a busy man who had endured the introduction as a momentary sidetrack. She sat and pulled things out of her satchel in a steady stream like Mary Poppins. I pretended to work on a file, but instead I watched her in the reflection of my blank computer screen. Finally, I got up and took my resignation letter and ran it through the shredder. I decided to give the firm one more try. What a difference a few minutes' wait can make.

We were put together because our names were next to each other in the alphabet. Mr. Grisham was odd like that; it was important to keep order in things and things in order. The twenty or so employees of Corporate Concepts were arranged beginning with Asbury in the front corner all the way to Yancy in the far rear. And in our cubicle there we were, Beaufaire and Bell. I suspected it went beyond orderliness and was also an attempt by Mr. Grisham to play matchmaker.

Like Allen, my new coworker ate constantly, but despite the steady parade of sweets past her ruby lipsticked lips, she never seemed to gain so much as a feather of weight. Her sketchbooks lounged about haphazardly over her desk space, all opened with drawings and notations in various stages of completeness while her mind flitted about from one idea to another like a tiny winged fairy. When given an assignment, however, she quickly got to it, so that within half an hour she had a dozen or so renderings, and within an hour she had another dozen and by the end of the morning they were all neatly organized. Mr. Grisham was pleased. I was fascinated.

I was fascinated by the way her hair changed colour from week to week like a moody chameleon, strawberry blonde to black to platinum blonde to copper red to magenta to blonde again. At the nape of her neck she had a tattoo of two crossed ballet slippers. There was a dark mole at the corner of her mouth that levitated a little when she bit her lower lip in concentration on the charcoal pencil tip and the paper. She was fond of light coloured blouses and darker coloured bras, and would usually leave several buttons undone to show off the lace. When she wore an especially sheer blouse, I could make out the tattoo of a vine ascending her right side with a bird nestled in it. And every time she leaned forward in her chair, the T of her thong would pull up above the zipper in the back of her skirt. More than once I was tempted to flip the tag of the washing instructions down, but I resisted.

I may have gotten my last name and my fluency in French from my French Canadian father, but I had not inherited his easy way with women. In him, it was something that had taken on a life of its own like a chain reaction in a lab, the eruption of a volcano, the flow of lava. His skirt chasing tendencies were as unstoppable as the force of geology. He was a renaissance man, a flooring installer whose specialty was laying carpet and women. He could flirt in five languages and announce 'I'm Coming' in three of them, It was a fact I learned when Mum yelled it at him during one of their last arguments, right before a plate shattered with a stellate echo against the wall. His indiscretions, as he called them, had finally driven my mother, with me in tow, back to her native Kent when I was thirteen.

The last argument they had was on the back porch of our house in Montreal. Mum made a remark about Dad playing the field, and Dad made one about at least he played the game at all, as opposed to Mum, who just sat on the bench. Then Mum said that Dad treated sex like it was a buffet line. Dad threw down his cigarette; I had come to understand that whoever threw their cigarette butt down first declared themselves the winner. Then Dad said something.

An affair is the language of the unwanted, he said. He got up and I heard him stomp through the downstairs and out the front door. Below my window, Mum sat smoking and wiping her eyes with the back of her hand. The orange ember of Dad's cigarette burned until the snow around it turned to water and the glow evaporated into wispy smoke.

The next week, Mum and I left to go to the airport. We drove down Pontiac Avenue one last time, past the vacant lot where my friends and I used to play football, North American football. It was on brittle-cold afternoons when the ground would slap you hard like cold marble and you got up and laughed off the pain. Then on the next play you took off with the ball under your arm like a loaf of bread and your breath heaving out into a vapor as you heard the drumming footsteps of your friends, some pursuing and some blocking the pursuers. And you scored and you were sure you would play for the Montreal Alouettes one day.

But when we turned onto the freeway to the airport that day, I knew that I would never play for the Alouettes. Mum was going to make an Englishman out of me.

My mother and her friends would talk about me over tea in the afternoon. They sat in the downstairs parlour in velour workout suits that were all too tight and never used for exercise. The only sweating ever done in them was due to hot flashes. Mum held a plate of biscuits that orbited between them.

''So, your boy Pete, he's got a girlfriend, does he?''

''No, not that I know of. Keep's quiet, that one.''

''You don't think he's...'' her friend would lean in like someone else in another room was listening as mouthed the word, ''Gay...now do you?''

''Now why would you think that? Just hasn't found the right girl, that's all.''

Her friends would change the subject, disappointed at dipping into the gossip well and coming up empty. Mum never seemed worried.

She had a strong idea that I wasn't gay. Once, she printed out the browsing history of the computer we shared, with all the porn sites I had visited. She just printed it out and left it on my desk while I was out. It was sort of a warning shot across my bow, though there was never a word between us about it. There were no gay porn sites there, only straight ones. That was when I bought my own laptop and set up the wireless.

In our cubicle, Nellie and I settled in as coworkers. We said very little in the course of the first few weeks. Coming in from lunch one day, I found her sipping a coffee and scrolling through some of her pictures, mostly scenes of her and her friends. Her elbow was propped on her desk and her fingers were laced over the ballet slippers on the back of her neck. I paused at the opening to our space, watching her click through her memories.

Three girls with faces half-hidden by large sunglasses crowded around each other at the seaside, identical brilliant suns in the lenses. In another there was a collection of boys and girls dressed in the red and white of Nottingham Forest FC with their arms around each other on a sidewalk. The next was a table ringed with Nellie and her friends, each with a pint before them. And then a very interesting photo took its turn.

It was a selfie of Nellie and another girl exchanging a tongue kiss. The other girl had her head tilted and her eyes closed, with her hands on Nellie's shoulders, but Nellie was looking into the camera she was holding at arm's length. The next picture scrolled up and the other girl's hand was in Nellie's shirt and bra and Nellie's eyes were closed. I held my breath and waited for the next photo.

It never came up. Nellie turned around and then turned back to the screen and promptly clicked it closed. I pretended that I had just walked up. My voice stuck in my throat and when it finally came up it was rough-edged.

''Have a good lunch?'' I asked.

''Yes,'' she said into her screen. Then she looked over her shoulder. ''You?''

''Sure.'' I set my paper bag on my desk and hung up my jacket.

We settled into an afternoon at work like nothing had happened. I'm sure we both knew, and no one wanted to say anything. From over in the adjoining cubicle someone's radio played the light tinkle of one of Schubert's piano pieces, like the fall of icicles off the eaves of a roof line, interspersed with the quiet explanation of a man's voice. Nellie and I worked silently, going out of our way to avoid eye contact. I brought something over to Yancy's desk and when I came back she was finishing a muffin and packing her satchel. It was about a five minutes to five.

We sat there waiting for the time clock to hit five. She was brushing crumbs from her hands over the bin we shared. She must have thought that the silence had lingered long enough. We had said very little in our first few weeks.

''You're American, then?'' She said as she swallowed the last bite and concentrated on her fingertips.

''You mean my accent? No, Canadian.''

''Oh. Sounds American.''

''Yeah. I get that a lot. And you? Where from?''

''Nottinghamshire.''

''Oh.''

She reached for the jumper that hung from a peg. As she pulled back her shoulders to put her arms in the sleeves, her small breasts strained against her white blouse and the apparently flimsy-sheer fabric of her bra. Somewhere under the fabric the small mounds of her nipples pushed up and out. She caught me looking and smiled as she flipped the collar of her blouse out. I blushed.

''So what are you doing tonight?'' she asked.

''I don't know. See what's on the telly, suppose.''

''Fancy a drink?''

I hesitated.

''Not looking to get puddled,'' she added. ''Just a drink.''

Somewhere I knew my French Canadian father was shaking his head in disgust at my inertia with this pretty girl. In imagining what I could do to her with it, my tongue had gotten tied in a knot. She gave up waiting for my reply.

''Another time, then,'' she said, and she forced a smile. She must have thought she was letting me off the hook and that I wasn't interested. Far from it. She collected her oversize purse and her laptop case and left. I watched the shape of her waist and hips as they moved down the corridor between cubicles, kicking myself inside all the while.

I waited at the window until I saw her step from the curb onto the bus, and I opened her desk drawer. I'm ashamed to say I wanted to see if there were any more photos like the one I'd seen of her with her friend. The top drawer had odds and ends, paperclips, coloured drawing pencils, a few spiral notebooks. The bottom drawer had half dozen sketchpads; the top five had the beginnings of a number of ad campaigns.

The sixth, at the very rear, was a different story. Simply put, they were charcoal drawings of men having sex. The first few were of nude, muscular men kissing like the couple in Rodin's The Kiss. In one, a man kissed another man's muscular chest. In another a man stood as another knelt before him. The standing man's hands were in the hair of the kneeling man, whose hands were clasping the muscular buttocks of his standing lover. The kneeling man's head was at the level of the other man's cock and it didn't take much imagination to see that oral sex was taking place and that an orgasm was imminent.

I turned through the pages, one by one, looking over my shoulder from time to time. At one point I jumped when the cleaning lady turned on the vacuum a cubicle over. I swore under my breath and wished our cubicle had a door. The best I could do was to turn my back to the entrance and hunch over the sketchpad.

The next few were close-ups of cocks and mouths and tongues. Several of the cocks were drooling down onto open lips or arched tongues. I shifted in the seat. I was becoming aroused, though I'm not sure if it was because of the images or the thought that these were the things that interested Nellie. I always knew that guys like watching two girls. I never thought that a girl would like watching two guys. I kept flipping through the pad. The last drawing was arresting, titillating, disturbing, exhilarating.

Two men were standing, one behind the other. The man in back embraced the one in front and had his face buried in the neck of the man in front. The man in back had a hand on the erect cock of the front man, whose face was agape and eyes were closed in a look of ecstasy. The picture was much like the ones on the preceding pages. There was only one difference.

The man in front was me.

I was flattered that she thought me so ripped and well hung under my suit. I don't know how long I looked at it. But a familiar voice made me snap the sketchpad shut.

''Beaufaire, I should expect a young lion like you to be out on the prowl by now.''

''Yes, Mr. Grisham.'' I put the pad face down on my desk. ''Left something in my desk,'' I lied.

''Well, come on, then. I'll walk out with you. I've got something to propose to you, anyway.''

I gathered my things, and we walked out together. One hand held his briefcase, and the other was on my shoulder. I tried to listen but was distracted by the thought that I had left Nellie's sketchpad face down on my desk.

The next morning I rushed to get to the office before Nellie, but there was maintenance work on the Victoria Line, and she got there before me. The sketchpad was gone from my desk. My heart sank. I felt wretched that I had snooped into her desk, and more wretched that I had been caught.

She was cropping an image on her computer, preparing it as part of an idea for an account in Southampton. I said hello, and she said nothing. Then I said I'm sorry. Our cubicle was as cold as an igloo. She spoke into her computer screen.

''If it's not enough to decline to have a drink with a girl, and I'll say a pretty girl as well, then you go off snooping through her desk when she's gone.'' Her jaw was set in anger.

I gulped. She was right.

"I'm sorry," I said again. "Let me make it up to you." She sat facing away from me. I thought I could see a tear in her eye, but I couldn't tell for sure.

''Let me make it up to you,'' I said again, and then I added, ''Mr. Grisham made us an offer last night. You and me.''

''Really?'' She sniffed into the screen. She had been crying, or trying not to.

''What kind of offer?''

''You ever been to France?'' I asked.

******************************************************

"Pete? Pee-tee!" My name soared on Mum's voice, up and through the house. "You've got a phone call, love."

She handed me the phone and smiled adoringly.

"Hello?"

"So it's Peetie, then is it?" I was surprised to hear Nellie's voice over the phone.

"My mum calls me that," I mumbled. Mum was watching me, still smiling with her arms crossed. Girls rarely called for me. Wait. Girls never call for me. Maybe this would be proof to her friends that I wasn't gay.

"Share a taxi tomorrow?" Nellie asked. She had an edge to her voice that suggested that she was excited and trying not to sound like she was.

"Sure," I said. I squinted at the hall clock, figuring the math.

"Our flight's at nine thirty, so I'll be to your place at seven."

"Super," she said.

I hung up, and Mum was still smiling.

**************************************************

A steel-gray English drizzle hung over the city and obscured a pitiful sun that could scarcely warm a cup of tea. The taxi driver pulled up to her flat just after seven. It was a nondescript building, part of a row of buildings on Prince George Road in Shacklewell. She was standing on the stoop waiting in the drizzle under an umbrella and an emerald green beret. Under her mid-thigh black skirt, her bare legs were pale and mottled against the cold. She had on black velvet pumps, not the kind of shoes a seasoned traveler would wear. The taxi stopped, and I got out to get her bag. She shook out her umbrella and got into the taxi with a smile.

"You've got the presentations?'' I asked.

''I've got the ideas Mr. Grisham liked, plus one or two more, just in case,'' she said.

''Show them to me on the plane. My French is just a little rusty, so I want to think how I want to put things.''

We sat facing each other in the back of the taxi with our bags on the floor between us. We rode silently for a while. She pulled her iPad out of her bag and turned it on. I did the same with my phone.

Dark rimmed glasses rested on the bridge of her nose as her finger tapped and stroked the screen of her iPad. I looked out the window at the misty, damp streets, and every time I looked across at her, her legs were a little wider apart. Her finger pulled across her iPad and then pushed a strand of wheat-blonde hair behind her ear.

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byRandiTGreer© 6 comments/ 12906 views/ 10 favorites

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