Phillip turned the corner to walk into the small room where they kept the printer and neatly stacked reams of paper in white pressboard cabinets bolted to the wall. He squinted against the buzzing fluorescent light splashing the wall with a slick glare. He wasn’t used to so much light and immediately missed the soft yellow of incandescent bulbs that bathed the carpeting of his home office. But those days were over and he let out a quick sigh as he reminded himself of that fact.
She stood next to the printer, her slender hands tapping the receiver tray with glossy red nails that were long enough to gut a small fish. It was the second time he had seen her and it was only his first day. He didn’t know anybody’s name yet and everybody mostly drifted through the halls while they flipped through papers clipped together, as if they couldn’t read them in their cubicles and somehow had to stand up and walk around to get anything done.
But he knew her name. Charlotte. She had that kind of presence where you couldn’t forget her name and she tugged at the inner yearning of every man that wanted to make sure they didn’t forget her name in case she said something. He was old enough to understand this and right away his mind threw up every barrier against danger it could summon. He looked away, idly scanning the cupboards and taking a mental inventory of their contents. He took time to deliberately notice how the floor shone with a gloss and wondered who came in at night and what kind of wax they used to make it that way. You learned these things to help you ignore women like Charlotte before they could do something to beguile you with the rapture of their enchantment – like say your name or even worse, smile.
He wasn’t old enough to be immune to all of this, of course. Which is why he clenched his jaw and squinted hard at the floor, forcing himself not to look. But then she did it. She spoke.
“Hi. Phillip, right?” Then she smiled – a gate of white ivory beaming at him like a cat to its prey. Oh, sure, it was friendly and happy smile, just somebody trying to make the new guy feel comfortable. You bet.
He cleared his throat and coughed softly into his hand. “Yes ma’am.” His words hit their mark immediately. Her brows fluttered with the slightest of creases and then vanished. No woman who went to the trouble of finding a pencil skirt that hugged her curves just right and suede high-heeled shoes that pushed out her derriere just enough to ensure no man could ignore it, but was still somehow acceptable – no woman who did these things for work (of all places) wanted to be called ma’am. He knew this.
No, what she wanted was for him to blush and then beam a grateful smile because she had noticed him and it was only his first day. She wanted him to fall over himself as she imbued his sense of manhood with something vaguely heroic because she was paying attention to him even though he was the last person anybody else wanted to talk to.
He smiled wanly back at her as he realized that she had to be too new at her trade to understand that men of a certain age who had taken the kind of job he now had with her company were not the kind of men that had what she was looking for. You didn’t spring a man-trap on squirrels and chipmunks. No, women like her were looking for bear meat. So why was she still smiling at him?
Trying to sound bored, he said, “Yes, that’s right.”
The corner of her mouth twitched because he wasn’t doing it right. He felt the tension in his face ease a little as he saw his impertinence again ruffle a thin line just above her brow. But the smile still beamed. She tapped her fingernails on the printer in a quick riffle and then turned to face him.
Leaning on the printer, she spread her arms along its top and crossed one foot over the other. “How Is your first day going?” she asked. “Is everybody helping you get settled in okay?”
No, they’re ignoring me. Because I’m the new guy and they’re waiting to see if I screw up on my first day. He wanted to say this, too, but something told him that slapping the hot girl in the office wouldn’t be the best move politically. He had only been on the job for exactly two hours and not only did he have to contend with figuring out how to show everybody that he really could do what he had said he could do at the interview, but now he had to contend with dodging the advances of a woman who could put him out of his job in five minutes flat if he so much as looked at her wrong. But, somehow, she was still allowed to stare at him with bedroom eyes while she draped her body over the printer and smiled at him with wet red lips that sang across the room with an invitation to dive into a chasm of total and complete disaster.
The printer clicked and hummed and then spit thin sheets of paper into its receiver tray. She slid her hands further along the printer and let her chest swell out at him just enough for the white lace of her collar to peek out from behind her red business jacket, still buttoned at the top in some defiance of physics that only women like her seemed to understand.
He cleared his throat and again coughed softly into his hand. Pointing casually at the printer, he asked, “Um, is that your print job?”
She tilted her head and puffed out her lower lip just enough for it to be passed off as nothing more than preparing to speak. Her tongue flitted across her lips, barely peeking out long enough for him to see it. She let her eyelids droop a fraction of an inch and said, “It’s a big job.”
Oh, for God’s sake. Phillip felt his own eyes narrowing and his mouth thinning into a hard line. He looked quickly at the floor because he knew it would be best if she didnt’ see the look on his face. Not yet. Not until he knew who she really was and what power she had. If she was somebody important, he would have to figure out how to deal with all this in some way that didn’t cost him his job.
Regaining his composure, he stepped back and leaned against the wall, crossing his arms casually over his chest. He smiled politely and went back to his visual inventory of the cabinets, somehow finding the different shades of yellow inhabiting its shelves an oasis of respite that held his rapt attention.
The printer stopped and beeped once, telling them both her print job was finished. As they waited, he could only hear the buzz from the fluorescent lights and his own breathing as he counted the stacks of paper, wondering how so many shades of blue could possibly be useful. His throat tightened when he heard another single riffle of her fingernails tap against the printer. A moment of silence passed through an eternity and back and then he watched out of the corner of his eye as she turned and bent over just a little more than necessary to retrieve the paper from the receiver tray and tuck them along her forearm.
She turned back around and rolled her shoulders back before clicking across the room towards the door. The hair on his neck stood up when he smelled the stinging sweetness of her perfume. Not because it was pleasing or daring or even arousing – but because it frightened him that she had put so much thought into her arsenal of weapons aimed directly at the libido of men. His skin crawled as she brushed his elbow with her rib cage, just behind her breast. It was the briefest of touches, like leaves skipping off a sidewalk and back into the wind. But he knew, with the certainty of seeing the sun come up in the morning, that she had done it on purpose.
As she stepped through the door, she lowered her voice into a husky whisper. “Good luck.”
And then she was gone, strutting down the hall. He let out a long sigh and closed his eyes, thankful that she was now hidden on the other side of a wall where he couldn’t see her. And, more importantly, where she couldn’t see him.
©2017 Michael J Lawrence