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Red Hot Christmas by Mara White, K. Larsen (14)

 

Amber

 

Red or black? Black or red? Black with red lingerie and the red shoes? Green velvet dress with the deep V-neck and black lingerie?

She had all three possibilities hanging from the molding over her closet. Green dress, red shoes? It might be fun and Christmas-y, but it also might be clownish or seem exclusive to all of their Jewish, Muslim and non-Christian holiday employees. Or maybe they wouldn’t give a fuck because there was open bar, a karaoke machine and a very adult magician with a sexy assistant who wore next to nothing.

Amber wanted to wear the red shoes, that she was sure of. Her mother always told her to wear black when in doubt. She grabbed the black dress and the red shoes and threw them on the bed.

She’d gotten her hair done which was something she never splurged on. They’d added platinum highlights to her already strawberry blonde locks. The change startled her every time she walked past the mirror. The smoky eye shadow and flicked eyeliner made her feel like Bridget Bardot. Her rosebud lips were nude with the faintest touch of sparkling gloss. Amber wanted to take a selfie and post it to capture the look, but it felt too juvenile and besides, then everyone would know who she was.

She threw on a pair of dress slacks and a turtle neck cashmere sweater, slipped her feet into nude pumps and slipped on a Cartier bracelet. First she had to survive a whole day at work before the party started at seven. Most people would go home and shower, get ready and come back. Since she had to oversee the set-up, Amber only had this one chance to get everything together. Her hair and makeup would have to survive the demands of the day. She wanted everything to be perfect, but not for herself. She just liked the idea of perfection and the employees and Russ and Ogden deserved one hell of a holiday party for their hard work.

Amber purposefully lingered on the first floor talking to Clyde. Telling him who would be arriving when and where to send them—to buzz her or Jerry every time. If Frankie was working a day shift, his start time was nine. If he was on the later shift, she usually saw him arrive around four. There was an overnight schedule as well, but she wasn’t sure how those worked.

It was already ten after nine and she hadn’t yet seen him. She folded the black dress in the garment bag over her arm, on top of her long camel jacket. The sexy red shoes dangled from her left hand. Her nails were painted a shiny, sleek crimson to match them precisely.

When the elevator doors opened and she stepped inside, she heard Frankie call her name. She turned around and put her hand against the sliding doors.

He appeared in front of the doors, looking like he’d been running.

“Amber!” he said.

“Coming up?” she asked him.

“Actually, I’m off, just picking up my check. Merry Christmas!”

Her face fell, she knew it.

“Merry Christmas, Frankie!” she told him in earnest.

Frankie’s eyes then fell to her left hand, the red shoes suddenly felt like fire in her fingers. Fire that burned more than she did. She almost dropped them. Amber could feel the color rise in her face, she’d never been able to hide a blush growing up and things hadn’t changed much. But what surprised her even more was Frankie’s smile when she looked up. Charisma leaked from the man’s pores. His smile was like dawn break, promising, devastating, and impossible to tear your eyes away from the anticipated heat it would bring.

“Red_Jimmy_Shoes?” he asked her still holding strong with a grin. She dropped her arm holding the elevator doors.

“Fit_And_Full_Frankie,” she said. The doors closed over his gorgeous face.

 

At four o’clock, she stepped out of a live auction for the first time in months to instruct the party rental company where to place the bar and long tables that would be accommodating the food. A small stage had yet to be set up as well as the DJ booth. She and Anthony had decided on a whim to let all non-essential employees go at three o’ clock. It was the Christmas Spirit leading them and also the eggnog they’d sampled at lunch.

Jerry slipped out the door of the auction and marched across the main expanse of their offices on the way to his office.

“Somebody piss you off, Jer?” Amber asked after him.

“I’m sweating!” he said, fists balled at his sides.

Jerry hated being hot more than almost anything else.

“Go home and change. You’re free to go! I told you that at three!” she yelled to his back.

“Let’s hear you say that when you get a boss who works fourteen hours a day and never breaks a sweat!”

“I sweat!” Amber yelled. She wasn’t even going to try denying the long days.

A huge black man with a bald head dressed in all white walked into the space. He took off his sunglasses and whistled at the decorations.

“DJ?” Amber asked him. Anthony had picked the DJ and hired him for her.

“Head bartender. This the party that ordered six cases of Fireball Whisky?”

“Yes, and Peppermint Schnapps! Did you bring the red hots and candy canes?”

“What are you fixing to do, kill all your employees?”

“Something like that. We gave them a survey last year and purchased exactly what they responded with. The man was looking around and nodding, taking in the Chinese food catering with wide eyes.

“Shots and Chinese? Y’all are asking for a puke fest.”

“I have it all under control. What can I do to help you set up?”

“Nothing, the bartenders are carrying up the booze now.” He’d barely finished saying it when six tall and modelesque looking guys in white shirts with bowties walked into the room with hand trucks carrying boxes of bottles. Just then the music turned on booming out of the speakers. Anthony peered over the balcony into the wide common space and gave Amber a thumbs up.

“I got Santa hats for the bartenders. They’re at the reception desk.”

“Too Christmas-y?” Amber questioned.

“Santa’s non-denominational. He just groups the boys and girls as either good or bad, naughty or nice, doesn’t matter who you worship. Go change, Amber, if you want to. We got this covered!”

“Yeah, when have you ever known any of us to fuck up a party?” Sam asked. He sauntered out of the auction room sweat dripping down his neck into his collar. “You got the fucking fireplace going for affect, Amber?” He unbuttoned his shirt until his chest hair was visible. Of all the frat boys, Amber guessed that Sam was the sleaziest. But it wasn’t her concern whether or not he partied like Chase had. As long as he showed up sober and ready to work, she didn’t care what he did on his off time.

“Let me call operations and see if they can do something about the thermostat.”

“GO HOME, AMBER!” yelled Cage, coming last out of the auction.

Amber walked to the reception to retrieve the Santa hats ignoring all of them. She brought the Mistletoe over in a box to the head bar tender.

“Careful, it’s poisonous. Hang it, don’t eat it.”

 

By the time she was done checking on the food, the decorations, the DJ and the drinks, there was no way she could make it home and back. She’d just throw on the dress and shoes and a little red lipstick. People were already arriving. She loved seeing her crew dressed in their best and excited about the party.

“Amber!” It was the head bartender again, now holding a shot out toward her.

“How’d you know my name?”

“Asked who the bitch in charge was and they said Amber, I figured that was you.”

She put her hand on her hip and didn’t know whether or not to take what he said as insult.

“Try this. It’s the fireball shot with a splash of peppermint schnapps,” he put the glass up to her nose.

“How’d you get it so pink?”

“Red hots like you wrote in the email suggestions. They’re not easy to come by this time of year. But I gotta say, that idea was the bomb. Just so you know, I’m stealing it.”

Amber tipped the shot back and Anthony clapped watching from the balcony. She tried to cough out the fire in her throat and her eyes flooded with water. The shot burned, spreading fire under her skin and singing all her nerve endings.

“Delicious!” she told him in a hoarse voice. “Now I feel even hotter. I’m going to go change. Keep up the good work!”

 

Amber washed her armpits with wipes and water from the tap. She shimmied into her black dress, a dark green bra and panty set, her secret ode to Christmas, even though no one would see it. She yanked her newly platinum hair out of a bun, fixed her eye makeup, and slid into the four inch red heels. They felt like butter. Like silk. Like pure indulgent sex.

The dress was tight but decent enough as long as she didn’t plan on leaning over too much.  She spritzed on a light fragrance; a matte red lipstick completed her look.

By the time she walked back into the office, it was packed. Strobe lights were seizing and hyped up Christmas carols were already blasting. Anthony asked her to dance and they christened the dance floor to cheers from just about everyone in the office. Anthony could dance, that was never a question. Amber had taken ballroom lessons a few years ago, convinced after watching Dancing with the Stars that she  was missing out on a necessary social skill. Anthony dipped her at the end of the song and likely revealed her green underwear to everyone.

 

Four Fireball shots and a duck taco with plum sauce later, Amber was dancing by herself under the lights and wearing a Santa hat. The heat was infernal and she was drenched in sweat, along with every other employee at Ross and Ogden, including the ones who weren’t wearing sweaters or dancing their butts off. She stepped off the dance floor to tell Cage to call operations and have them check on the central thermostat. It was true it had been a warm fall, but this voracious heat was unnecessary.

She found Cage by the giant Christmas tree throwing back shots. He was with his wife Sarah, and Whitney from accounting who was wrapped up in the arms of some guy in a tux with his head turned looking out the window at the skyline. She took two more precise steps in her red shoes, nearly slipped and sucked in a breath when she realized it was her ex-husband Chase who was groping Whitney with transparent and obvious intention. Possibly to shock her or to make her angry, but Amber’s jealousy had been long spent and no longer figured into the equation.

“I’m her plus one!” Chase told her viciously. He was drunk, maybe keyed too. The idea that Chase may have been banging Whitney in the office right under her nose was a thought that tried to shake her footing, but she wouldn’t let it. What did it matter now long after the divorce?

“I’ve paid enough in taxes on this business for a lifetime invite,” Chase staggered toward her like he wanted to make a scene.

“I had nothing to do with this, Amber. Had I known, I would have told him to chill out and crash somebody else’s party,” Cage told her defensively.

“It’s fine. It doesn’t bother me at all. I’m going to go see about the heat,” she directed at Cage, and to her ex-husband she quipped, “Drink and eat all you want, seeing as you paid for it.”

Whitney leaned in with a drunken sneer, breast implant cleavage riding high, lipstick on her teeth and smeared in the corner of her mouth like she’d been making out with Amber’s ex-husband. Amber walked gracefully through the crowd, discreetly swiping a bottle of Fireball from the table. The head bartender handed her a plastic glass with red hots and candy canes, flashing her a conspiratorial smile. She held her head high and placed one foot delicately in front of the other all the way to the glass front doors of Russ and Ogden.

Her heels made almost no sound on the marble as she approached the elevator and continually pressed the down button, the only hint of her distress. She stepped into the elevator alone and fixed her hair in the mirror, the cooler air wrapped around her neck and helped to lower her blood pressure. She made it to Clyde’s desk but no one was at the post. It was technically after hours and Christmas Eve, so maybe they’d been excused for the night. She walked to the service elevators, which were at another bay, pressed the B button for basement. She tossed back a few red hots and crunched on the hot candy as the car descended. She’d been to the basement once before, for what she couldn’t remember. It was a brightly lit space with low ceilings and none of the grand 1930’s Art Deco detail of the beautiful upper floors. This space was drab and had been maybe updated in the 1970’s at best.

“Hello?” she called to an echoing hallway. She walked trailing her hand along the wall, feeling suddenly alone and vulnerable. She wasn’t scared of rapists or robbers, but more of impossible encounters like Freddy Kruger, Jason, or Voldemort.

At end of the hall, she arrived at a sign with a legend that pointed the way to the boiler rooms, central air, plumbing and vault. Amber decided that she could turn the heat down herself, unless it wasn’t digitized or was an un-turnable valve or something that required a tool.

The boiler room was open and it struck her as funny that anyone could come down here and mess with the thermostat. Maybe someone already had and that was the reason for the blazing inferno presently melting the employees of Russ and Ogden. She found a wall that indeed had red lights indicating floors and digital arrows up and down that appeared they would do the trick. She pressed the down arrows all the way to sixty-two and put her hands on her hips congratulating herself. She’d always been industrious, but even this was above and beyond her usual call. She practically skipped back to the elevator and jimmied the up button. Amber threw one foot up behind her and tipped back the whiskey in celebration of a job well done.

But the up arrow didn’t light up, so she pressed it again, a good fifteen times, in quick succession. Maybe the red ring of light was broken and the lift was already on its way. She leaned the side of her face against the cool steel doors and happily awaited her carriage. She’d still have fun even if Chase was trying to rain on her parade. She stood a good four minutes with her ear pressed to the door. She couldn’t detect and rumbling sound or sense movement of any sort. She stepped back and stared at the door where she saw a warped reflection of herself looking all dressed up, but she was stuck in a scary basement with nowhere to go. Amber pressed the button furiously and kicked at the doors. Nothing. Someone had restricted the floor and the elevator was not coming back for her no matter how much she fussed or pushed the damn button.

Christmas Eve.

Alone.

In the basement of the Empire State Building.

 

The basement took on a sinister feel as she paced the low ceilinged hallways, looking for an inter-building phone. The space was seemingly endless and she didn’t want to wander too far from the elevators. She found a red one hanging on the wall in the break room. A coffee pot was still on. Fire code violation, but there was apparently not a soul over-seeing operations tonight. She tried the front desk, the security desk, the headquarters for operations, let the phone ring at Russ and Ogden until she couldn’t take the apathy of the unanswered ring any longer. Nobody missed her. At least they were enjoying the party.

Her fingers hovered over 911 and then she pulled herself back. She didn’t want to get broken out by the fire department in front of all of her employees and least of all her ex. She fortified her character by using the positive affirmations Lou had taught her, and decided to sit at the break tables by the elevator until someone else came down and found her. The building could be reduced to a skeleton crew but there was no way it could be unmanned entirely—not even on Christmas.

She plopped down in a chair at one of the round tables, dumped the red hots and miniature candy canes in the middle. She crunched on the candy and tried not to cry. Then the elevator arrived and the doors of the middle carriage opened right in front of her teary eyes.