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Red Hot Christmas by Mara White, K. Larsen (10)

 

Amber

 

Work dragged and she was grouchy. It was up to the partners to plan the annual Christmas party and as usual her three contemporaries had ditched the chore and left all the decision making up to her. They wanted it off-site and she didn’t want to spend that kind of money. They wanted open bar and didn’t care about music, decorations, catering or entertainment. It was like working with three teenage brothers. Sometimes she wished she’d left the company to Chase even though she was the one who built it from the bottom up. She pressed the intercom button on her office phone.

“Jerry, what’s the name of that catering company that does the duck with Barb-b-que sauce?”

“Peeking Duck.”

“Yeah, whatever it’s called. They do Christmas Eve without charging a limb and the food was great from what I remember.”

“That’s the name of the caterer, Amber. Peeking Duck. I’m getting a ten thousand flat fee on the open bar. Bartenders are separate.”

“Jesus Fucking Christmas. I could buy the bottles myself and set it up Friday morning.”

“I think that’s illegal. You don’t have a liquor license. You go live at four. And by that I mean go get your salad now and have a diet Coke so you’re not a total meanie during the auction.”

“You shouldn’t be allowed to talk to me like that,” Amber said smiling. Jerry was her favorite employee and eased her stress continually. “Can’t you just order for me?”

“No because you need to walk around and get some fresh air, Amber. Go get your own damn salad.”

 

The stupid elevator took five minutes to come. She would have taken the stairs out of spite, but she was a quarter of the way up the whole building and power heels were her secret weapon at work—so that wasn’t going to be possible.

“Oh hey,” Amber said to Fit_and_Full_Frankie when the doors slid open and he was standing alone in the back. Her smile was shaky and she could feel the heat rising up her neck. Even though she was nervous to run into him, it was also the one thing she really looked forward to at work.

“Hey! Happy Holidays!” he said. He seemed so earnest and genuine. He had a large janitorial cart loaded down with cleaners and a large garbage can.

“I’m sorry about the other day in the bathroom. I didn’t read the sign, obviously.”

“S’okay, happens all the time!”

“Probably doesn’t happen too often.”

“Yeah, it’s actually never happened before,” he said grinning sheepishly.

“I’m so embarrassed.”

“Don’t be. Luckily for my generation Victoria spilled her secrets and men know their way around a twisted garter belt.”

She was redder than a beet. He looked like he was sweating.

“Liar.”

“I fixed it didn’t I? Anyway I liked your self-talk. It gave me some insight into corporate sexism. You probably have to put up with a lot, just because you’re so beautiful and that certainly isn’t fair.”

Amber opened her mouth to speak and the elevator doors simultaneous opened on a tourist hub floor. A huge group of gawkers drunk on Christmas lights and wearing Santa Clause hats piled in like a clown car.

Beautiful? Her? He was the beautiful one.

“What did you say your name was?” There were three people wedged between them. Frankie. His name is Frankie. Fit and Full and she already stalked him like a creep.

“I’m Frankie. Francisco, but nobody calls me that.” He reached his arm across the crowded divide and offered his hand out to her.

“Amber. Nice to meet you.” His handshake was warm. Strong but friendly, like he wasn’t trying to prove himself or show how macho he was. “I was just running out to grab a sandwich, you want anything?”

“I’m actually finishing up. Gotta run to the gym and then get home to walk the dog.”

“Okay, well Happy Holidays to you and your family if I don’t see you before then.”

“Same to you! You guys don’t go to the building staff party?”

“No, we do a private function. Which reminds me, do you know anything about office restrictions for Christmas Eve? Is there a building-wide closing curfew?”

“Not really sure. You’d have to ask security. I’m off that day.”

“Security, right. Nice talking to you! Thanks, again, Frankie!” She waved at him through the crowd of people who were piling off in the lobby with her.

She admonished herself all the way to the chain salad joint. She should have invited him to their stupid party. She should have been more direct about thanking him for coming to her rescue and offering understanding about the challenges faced by women in male dominated work spaces. She should have invited him to straighten out her garters at home, or to kiss her in the elevator over the garbage can and through the sea of tourists. She could have kicked herself with her own heels. Was she condescending? Was she rude? He seemed like a really great guy. She was just as bad as the men in her office for lusting after appearances and not looking deeper to see the real person underneath.