This is the fourth and final instalment. (the story is below in its entirety)
Destiny’s betrayed me, I think as I slam my breakfast into the sink. The spoon clangs in protest and milk lashes out over the rim of the bowl and onto my hand.
I should’ve been a shoe-in. No, I was a shoe-in. Heavy rain made angry pangs on the balcony’s cement and I focused on the miniature water bombs.
I’d put in for a new job placement two weeks ago; Head of Displays.
The Box, a large designer store, had employed me for six years and I’d snailed my way up and over the shelves from part-time stock girl to full-time smock girl while slogging through an upper echelon school for which I was still making hefty monthly payments. It had taken me four years to attain my Bachelor’s and I felt I’d more than proven my commitment to fashion.
“And along comes Denise”, I pretty much spit as I paw at the milk dots on the cuff of my blazer with a damp cloth. “Or ‘Denise the piece’ as she’s known amongst the male lunch crew when they think no one sporting alternative equipment is around.
“Piece…my ass!” I chuck the cloth into the sink to join the bowl and spoon. It stares me down while sullenly sucking up the spilled milk.
Denise appeared about a year ago. I’d choked on her perfume before she’d even hit the lunchroom, decked in a low cut blouse, red hot mini and leopard stilettos; complete with ballooning bosom and legs all aglow.
I had to admit I’d known in that instant that I was doomed. If Nigel had gotten any closer she could’ve breast fed him and every other male in the room would’ve stood in line behind him.
My boss is a lady’s man. At least, he tries to be. Nigel is tall and lanky, never having surpassed his high school physique and in his skinny ties he reminds me of a zipper, his tongue, the toggle. His black hair is a little too shiny and his thickly rimmed glasses don’t quite depict a scholar. He’s always been nice enough to me, but I’m not his type and to show my gratitude for that, I try not to step back when his spit bubbles burst onto my face. Nigel’s a bit of a close-talker.
I look around the kitchen. It’s clean and tidy and for ridiculous reasons this brings me some peace and the strength to head into work.
Snatching my satchel from the velour chair in my entry, I check for my phone. Straightening my slim-cut cargos, I slip my feet into well-worn combat boots and take a deep breath. Grabbing an umbrella, I swing it like a sword and march out the door.
I don’t make my usual stop for a skinny macchiato. It’s raining too hard and my hands are too full, one gripping my swaying umbrella, and the other, my slippery phone. Aware that any sensible person would ignore a text under these conditions, I swipe away, trying to access Nikki’s message but my fingers are wet and slide uselessly over the slick screen.
I’d vented to her last night over the phone after she’d told me what Denise had said and she was probably worried I was about to do something crazy.
My attempt futile, I slip the phone back in my pocket and wish I’d made a java stop after all. Now I’d be forced to drink the ‘coffee’ Troy made every morning. Bless his little stock boy heart.
The store is quiet and everything, as it always does when The Box is closed, seems surreal. I know a lot of the staff feel eerie in the big store when it’s not open for business, but not me. My spirits lift the moment that warm whoosh of air escapes the big glass doors and meets my face. There’s something about the white, high-glossed floors and the atmosphere fused with leather, lavender, lotions and limitless blood, sweat and tears. It’s home to me.
Taking a moment to right myself, pulling in the calm and pushing out the clutter, I feel my heart rate slow as drops of water meander off my boots and onto the gleaming floor.
“Mornin’ Lenore,” Seth greets me as he places a bold Caution: Wet Floor sign on the tile. “Jeez, yer soakin’ the place. Dry up, would ya?”
“Very funny,” I reply. “Don’t push my buttons today Seth, cuz I can’t be held responsible for my actions.”
“Aww, the weather ain’t that bad! Chin up, doll face.”
“Seth, you’re pushing…” I walk away smiling. “I’ll see you at lunch.”
The ride up the arced escalator is soothing and the view from half way is simply stunning. I drift up backwards, taking it in. The Swarovski handrails glisten and magnificent flecks are scattered throughout the store. Billowing silk screens, blown by forced air, almost lick me as I glide by and Jalisse, a raven-haired black beauty looks like she’s swooning to the piped-in Musak as she greets me at the top. Draped in a royal blue Maxi dress, she smiles gracefully, letting me know I made the right choice. Her new attire pleases her.
I’m almost completely pacified by the time I step off. My ‘you didn’t get the promotion because I’m in love with Denise’ worries nearly forgotten, I pass Jalisse and notice a dot on her chin, a little white chip marring her beautiful milk chocolate complexion.
Tiny, but enough to drive me right back to crazy town.
Vigor returning, I head to the lunchroom sporting blinders to all around me.
“Nigel, I need to talk to you.” I look directly at him and head for the coffee pot.
He’s sitting in a fuchsia chair at the lunch table, long fingers wrapped around a cup of sludge. His dark, thin brows lift when he hears my tone.
“Well, you’re all business bright n’ early, love. Not even a mornin’ for your crackerjack boss, then eh?” Nigel’s British lilt, though normally one of his few redeeming qualities, borders on annoying this particular day.
“I’m not kidding, boss. A serious face to face – when are you free?”
I look down at the dark liquid spilling out of the carafe. With bits and pieces of brown substance bobbing up and over the spout, I swear I see an entire bean pass through the flow and into my mug, Espresso, stock boy style.
His fingers punctuate his words and as he stands, Nigel’s tie uncurls like a snake’s tongue. “I may have time post lunch,” he grazes on my attire, tasting his way from my boots up to my shabby but chicly ‘bunned’ hair. “You do have a way when it comes to assembling”, he observes. “An eclectic ensemble indeed.
Reluctant to portray self-doubt, I don’t review my outfit in front of him, but resurrect a mental image of my full-length mirror from this morning; Meh, I was good.
“I do like to think outside The Box once in a while, you know Nige…? There are options beyond…” Small pools of sweat form in my pits as I wonder if my metaphor is over his head, but I continue to doctor my coffee, now morphing into a latte as I add more and more milk.
“As I say,” he sprays, slipping silently up beside me; “I’ll text you after my lunch. I’m not sure how long I’ll be with Denise,” Was it my imagination or did he hiss the S? “But it won’t be quick, I’m sure.”
“Actually,” I venture, “I don’t think I can make it ‘til lunch. I need to talk now.”
My phone buzzes like an angry hornet trapped in my pocket. The pools of sweat begin trickling down my sides and the waist of my Cargos becomes Martina Navratilova’s headband.
Nigel tries peering at me without turning his head, but the arm of his specs proves too wide to see past.
“Lenore, love. It wouldn’t be prudent until I’ve taken care of the other business, yeah? Sensitivity’s of the utmost…I wouldn’t like her to be the last to know.”
A snap of his tongue and he slithers away. I toss his cold mug into the sink and use my still damp cuff to wipe his venom off my forehead.
Unable to ignore it any longer, I swat to squash the mad buzz but when I see I have twenty-two notifications from Nikki, my heart drops.
“Red alert,” most of them begin. “It was a set-up – promo yours. Abort, abort!”
The urge to slap Denise was fierce, nothing new there, but absolutely foreign to me was wanting to kiss Nigel. In the blink of a text his snake’s skin had shed and he’d emerged a Superhero, complete with tight blue suit and red cape.
As quickly as the thought came, I let it go. I’d almost quit a job I loved over a rumor and I wasn’t about to start another.
I’d quietly stroke the snake. No skin off my back.