My Christmas Kink by Mika Lane
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“Please see me in my office in five.”
Ugh. As fast as my boss’s IM flashed across my computer screen, I responded with a cheery sure thing!—exclamation point and all. I was so upbeat and positive at work it made me want to puke.
If you were to ask most people like me how we got into whatever line of work we’re in, we’d stumble and fumble— if we were honest— and admit we just sort of fell into it. We’ve all got bills after all and, as much as we wished it, the damn things don’t pay themselves.
It was my own experience, in any case, that this was the way things worked—a friend knows a friend who has an opening. We get our foot in the door, get a promotion, and a few years later, stop and look around and realize we’re knee-deep in a career.
The whole, ‘find something you love to do, and you’ll never work a day in your life!’ mantra wasn’t necessarily untrue, it just wasn’t what happened for most people.
However, I considered myself one of the fortunate ones.
I’d planned for my career. There’d been no accidents, lucky or otherwise. I hadn’t fallen into anything. I’d barged right into a career, telling the universe this is what I want, bitch, and left nothing to chance.
My focus paid off. I liked my job most days. I could pay my bills, I had health insurance, and could hang out with my friends as long as we drank cheap beer.
What more could I ask for?
As it turned out… more. Lots more.
It took what I thought was my dream job to land the real job of my dreams.
I’d known what I wanted to do since I was a little girl, never wavering from my goal. I went to school for it, got the job, and I ought to have been enjoying the view from the mountaintop, right?
Okay, I wasn’t at the mountaintop yet, more like in a cubicle with no windows by the bathrooms. But the potential was there. At least that’s what I told myself.
I was going to be Lois Lane.
Her pen was mightier than any sword. She could take on every corrupt politician and supervillain in Metropolis, look like a million bucks doing it, and all the while have the most powerful stud in the universe, Superman, wrapped around her little finger.
And that’s who I wanted to be.
With my nerdy, singular focus, I’d taken my high school newspaper from a forgotten piece of crap to a respected example of high school journalistic excellence that everyone talked about. I did the same at my college paper, earned my journalism degree, and busted out of there ready to change the world!
Until Marshall Edison got a hold of me.
He was my editor at The Independent Daily. This was a man who’d reached his mountaintop. The thing was, The Indy was light years away from the New York Times, which, in his adorable but delusional thinking, he seemed to think was our main competitor.
In fact, he was so convinced our small-ish local paper was on par with the great papers of the world, that no one had the guts to set him straight. It would have just been cruel. The man would have been destroyed.
And because we were just a second—or maybe even a third—rate paper, I was about as far from being Lois Lane as I was from dating Superman.
I’d spent six months at the paper assigned to ‘human interest’ stories, and I was ready to close my eyes, jump off the top of our building, and hope that some superhero would extend his arms and take me far, far away.
I could only write so many stories about flower shows, arts and crafts fairs, and farmer’s markets before I started wondering why I’d gone into so much debt for college.
As far as I could see, there was no real news in my future. No Pulitzers or other prizes. And no raise that would allow me to afford an actual, full-price beer. In fact, I was pretty sure the closest I’d ever come to a Pulitzer would be the blue and yellow Lily Pulitzer dress I bought when I visited South Carolina last year.
Which meant I never would. That dress was one of those regret purchases that you take home, hang in the back of your closet unworn, and after a couple years of feeling like an idiot for spending money on it, you take to Goodwill, convinced it will be perfect for someone else.
To be honest, the uninspiring assignments weren’t my biggest gripe. What was really killing me was my status at the very bottom of the office ladder, and having to take care of crap like picking up the cakes for our monthly birthday celebrations, collecting money for group baby shower gifts, and the most egregious of all—getting stuck decorating the office for the holidays. My boss would give me a whopping twenty-five bucks or so to go out and buy stuff, as well as lay on me his well-practiced ‘inclusivity’ lecture, so I was sure not to leave out any possible celebration of the season.
So there I was, four minutes and forty-five seconds after getting his IM, hoping against hope that I’d paid all the dues one could and that I was scheduled for sort of a conversation about moving me to a news desk, where I’d have real news to write.
I was a positive thinker. Really.
“Ellie! Come on in and have a seat. How’s everything?”
I could swear he looked at my boobs.
“Great, Mr. Edison, thanks.”
“Marshall! How many times do I have to tell you ladies to call me Marshall? Or Big Daddy if you prefer! But when I hear ‘Mr. Edison,’ I expect to see my father standing there.”
I tasted vomit and took a deep breath to keep my stomach calm
Really? Big Daddy? I was pretty sure talk like that was against all sorts of HR policies.
So, being the chickenshit I was, I just chuckled.
“Anyway, somebody from corporate will be in on Monday. I don’t know if we’re being sold again or what’s happening. Just between you and me, I hope they send that redhead who showed up last time. A little too much caboose for me, but pretty in the face. Do you remember her?”
What the fuck?
And who cared about some redhead when corporate was coming? They might be firing us all. You never knew about these things.
Marshall must have missed the look of horror on my face because he continued talking about the redhead. “She came with the old man, Gehring. I don’t know what her position was, but she was about your age. I thought maybe the two of you had hit it off, you know, got to be friends on Snap Tok or whatever it is you girls do these days.”
Because I was stunned into silence, he leaned over his desk as if I hadn’t heard him. “Are you friends with her? Think you could put in a good word?”
How to tell him I not only had no idea who he was talking about but even if I did I wouldn’t ‘put in a good word.’
“Um, well, Mr. Edis—I mean, Marshall—I was pretty busy. Didn’t get to talk to any of them.”
“Well, if she’s here again, make sure you put in a good word for me, won’t you?”
“Um, okay?” I answered, my voice lifting into a question.
I could only imagine what he expected me to say.
“Anyway, Allie, I have a project I know you can knock right out of the park.”
“Ellie,” I corrected, sitting on my hands to hide my crossed fingers.
Please, please universe, let this be my big break. I need it so badly…
“Right,” he said, not listening. “Anyway, Christmas is right around the corner. We’ll have our Secret Santa party and all that, but with corporate coming, we need to have this place decorated. By Monday morning.” He gestured toward the rest of the office like he was Vanna White on Wheel of Fortune.
My spirits didn’t just sink, they dropped like they were tied to a giant concrete block.
I was beginning to think the barista at the coffee shop had slipped something in my drink.
I tried to keep my shit together as Marshall held up a just a minute finger, and took a call. On speaker. About his tee time for Saturday.
When he finished, he looked at me, confused. “Where were we?”
“Christmas decorations,” I said in a flat voice.
Maybe the Christmas decoration conversation was just a precursor to the more important news I was hoping for…
“Oh, right, right, yes. The Christmas decorations.” He slid some money and a set of keys across his desk toward me. “Here’s twenty-five dollars from petty cash, and keys to the storage room. Hopefully you can repurpose what we had for last year and save the company the twenty-five bucks. Be a doll and take care of it, won’t you?”
I just wanted to cry. And I’m not a crier.
My voice cracked as I responded. Of course, he didn’t notice. “You want me to do the lobby, like last year?”
“Oh no,” he said, tossing his head back in laughter. “We need the entire newsroom this year. Everything. I want Old Man Gehring to think he’s stepped into the offices of the goddamn North Pole Times when he gets here. Hector or one of the other maintenance guys can bring the boxes up from storage if you need help. He likes you since you speak his language.”
The man had grown up in the States and his English was perfect.
Not that Marshall would ever take the time to discover that.
I got to my feet before I said or did something I might regret. “Sounds like a big job,” I said, looking through Marshall’s glass office walls into the expanse that was The Indy’s operation.
How in god’s name would I decorate the whole fucking place by Monday morning?
It was already Friday afternoon.
“It is a big job,” Marshall agreed. “But so is reporting. Real reporting, the kind of work I know you’re itching for. Things like this go a long way toward proving you’re part of the team, that maybe you deserve a shot at something juicier than what you’ve been working on. Dontcha think?”
Ah, there was my carrot.
The stick couldn’t be far behind.
I didn’t see how putting up holiday decorations related to my ambitions as a journalist, but I nodded like I did.
Marshall slammed his hand on the desk. “I’ll tell you what. Get this place all ‘Christmas’ed up,’ and then write an enterprise article for us. We’ll see where it leads,” he offered. “But don’t forget the holiday train display down at the fieldhouse. See if you can find anything new to write about it that you didn’t last year.”
An enterprise article. Did he know how many fucking enterprise articles I’d already written, where I came up with my own idea, ran it past him, and then worked my fingers to the bone on my own time until I had something to submit to him?
Further, the holiday train show at the fieldhouse had been going on for almost fifty years. The only way there could be anything new to say about it was if it caught on fire and burned to the ground.
Which was not a bad idea. I’d never have to write about it again.
I took the keys off his desk, and left. As I did, I sensed his eyes burning into my backside.
I picked up the pace to get out of his line of sight, and went off in search of my buddy Hector.
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