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Red Hot Christmas by Mara White, K. Larsen (12)

 

Amber

 

She worked like a demon in heels to prepare for the Christmas party. She had the urge to hire a clown to throw pies in the partner’s faces for how little they did to help her out. Sam, Cage and Anthony were nothing more than a bunch of grown frat boys at times. And Sam and Cage were in fact frat boys who’d gone to school with Chase and they’d formed unbreakable bonds over beer bongs. Anthony she’d handpicked herself from thousands of candidates. He was black, a Harvard and London School of Economics grad who knocked her socks off in every single interview. The others too were immediately convinced after meeting him and the decision was unanimous. When she and Chase broke up one of the things she most feared was losing Anthony too. He was a powerhouse, smart as a whip, heavy on the charm and a born entrepreneur. But Anthony stayed with her and so did Sam and Cage. Maybe it wasn’t a hard decision for them because they realized that Amber was the real brain and elbow grease behind the brand. Chase had been pretty coked out by the time he left. All three of the partners were married and couldn’t keep up with Chase’s downward spiral. The money and the success got to his head. The other partners managed to remain grounded.

“Surprise!” Anthony came into her office holding a lopsided birthday cake with pink sprinkles and candles.

“Oh shit, you remembered. You didn’t have to do that Ant.”

“Rosa made the cake, I just had to remember to bring it in. She wrote it on the calendar,” he smiled at her while Sam and Cage filed in behind him with balloons and Jerry came in last holding two pints of ice cream.

“Did you get enough for the whole office?” she asked Jerry compulsively.

“Fuck them. How ‘bout “thank you,” Jerry said. He set the two frosty pints down on her desk and stuck his hands under his armpits.

“Thanks, guys. I mean it.”

“Course I got enough for the whole office, but they got doughnuts instead of cake because I’m still budgeting for the Christmas party,” Jerry told her. He yanked down all the blinds in her office and pulled a giant cake cutting knife out of a closet in the corner.

“Jesus, you hiding butcher knives in my closet, Jer?”

The guys sang Happy Birthday and Amber got teary. For the last few years she couldn’t help but wonder insecurely if they sometimes thought of her as weak since her husband cheated on her, multiple times, and it ended in a break up. Not like the infidelity was her fault but that she no longer had a man behind her to back her up, which in a sexist corporate America was treated as a deficit, even if it wasn’t. Losing Chase was probably one of the smartest strategic moves she’d ever made.

Anthony cut the cake and gave her the first piece. It was huge and lopsided and the frosting was uneven. Homemade cake was a beautiful thing.

“Tell Rosa I love her and thanks for this masterpiece,” Amber said between mouthfuls.

“You can tell her yourself, she’s coming to this year’s Christmas party,” Anthony said proudly. “She texted me from the dressing room today to help her choose an outfit.”

“Let me see!” Amber said excitedly. Rosa had been pregnant the last two consecutive Christmases and couldn’t make it to the holiday party. “Ack! I hope you said the silver!”

“Oh snap, I said the pink,” Anthony said, huge smile plastered on his face. Amber cared about clothes, shoes, and fashion more than the average person. It wasn’t a secret at the office that she liked to look impeccable. Clothes were her armor.

“You didn’t!” Amber said, covering her mouthful of cake.

“Yeah, I said silver! What do you think I like? Mrs. Doubtfire. The silver is smoking, right?”

“It’s perfect!” Amber said dreamily. I didn’t denote formal on the invite this year, guys, for a few reasons, I don’t think it’s fair to the lower salaried workers in IT. Those guys make up over fifty percent of the group and I didn’t want them to have to rent or buy tuxes, or gowns. It’s expensive. I know last year’s suggestion box killed the Ugly Sweater tradition. Nobody wanted to do it again.”

“Because the thermostat is fucking haywire in this building. My husband’s hair was wet with sweat by the time we left last year. By the way, did you decide on the red or the black?” Amber was pretty confident with the messages she conveyed with her outfits, but she liked Jerry’s sense of style and so she sometimes consulted with him on big event choices.

“Still mulling it over. Cocktail length either way.”

“Right,” Cage said. “I’m cool with whatever. I know some people like to dress up, but I just like the Secret Santa, the Karaoke machine when everyone is wasted, that’s my jam. Speaking of that, did you hire a DJ?”

“Everything is ready. Including volunteers vetted for next year’s party, which Jer took care of. Because I can’t do this alone, guys, It’s too much stress.” She sunk her fork into another bite of moist lemon cake and groaned as the sugary goodness melted in her mouth.

“Amber, if you’re too overloaded, just let us know,” Anthony told her. Cage and Sam nodded in agreement.

“Thanks. I appreciate that, and if I’m being honest, I probably needed to hear it too. This is the best birthday party I’ve had in a while. Is that pathetic?”

All three of her co-workers nodded in agreement.

 

She left the office last on the night of her birthday. It wasn’t unusual, if there were loose ends, Amber tied them up. She locked the inner doors and even the main door to their firm in the hallway. It was habit more than anything else because operations held master keys and cleaned the office by night. She sometimes wondered if it were Frankie vacuuming under her desk or empting emptying her garbage. It seemed like he usually worked days, but she knew they rotated the schedules. She didn’t leave any identifying markers in her office. No pictures, no name plate on the door or even her desk. It really wasn’t necessary because they rarely held meetings that didn’t involve the key players. Their interactions with clients and bidders from outside was all done over the Internet.

Amber yawned and felt guilty for canceling with Lou. It was something she rarely did and was already regretting her decision. But she had to chill, because tomorrow, like every day, she’d see him first thing in the morning.

When she stepped out into the main lobby the first thing she saw was Frankie in a handstand doing push-ups against the wall. Another maintenance guy was trying to nail the handstand and the guy from the security desk was laughing his head off at the less athletic guy’s attempts.

“Spread your fingers out and don’t put all the weight in your wrist!” Frankie looked as cool as a cucumber while the other guy was so red he’d turned blue in the face.

“Hey Amber! You’re leaving late. Want to do some push-ups before you go?” Frankie asked her, but he was laughing and probably wasn’t serious. He was also upside-down. She was just glad they didn’t know it was her birthday. What kind of loser stays after hours, alone, and only has one demolished slice of cake to show for it on their special day? At least Rosa remembered and was kind enough to bake for her.

“Ms. Hamilton, you want me to call you a car or you’ve got one already coming for you?”

“Thanks, Clyde. I called one.” The Christmas tree in the lobby was stunning. At least ten feet tall and as wide as the elevators.

“Ignore these guys,” Clyde told her still smiling. “Frankie there is a real superstar. Probably moonlights as a gymnast.”

“It’s okay, Frankie and I are friends. This seems like a great way to spend your break. Get a new perspective. Fresh blood to the head.”

Oh lord, why did that sound sexual? And now that she’d walked into his space she realized they had an up close view of her slutty shoes and probably could see straight up her skirt to boot. His face was already red so she couldn’t’ tell if he was as heated as her.

“At least someone around here gets me,” Frankie huffed in Clyde’s direction. “Have a good night, Amber! Killer shoes if you don’t mind me saying!”

She walked by the two upside down men and felt heat spread though her chest. He didn’t know about her spying. Couldn’t know that Amber didn’t take her heels off—for anything, including sex.