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Under the Boss's desk(3)

By:Lena Malick

“Yeah, sure,” he said, resting his head in his hands.

The next morning, I slept in. The lack of sleep finally caught up with me. I didn’t get to work until nine-thirty. I went to Calvin’s office, ready to apologize for being late. I found the door open and half a dozen people inside, all talking excitedly. Calvin saw me and flashed me a huge smile. “Janet! We got it. We got the contract! ” He was like a little boy on Christmas morning, unable to contain his excitement. I nearly broke into tears I was so relieved.

“We did? We got it? Why didn’t you call me?” I squealed.

“I know, I’m sorry, I wanted to tell you in person. The time change. That’s why they didn’t call yesterday. I got a voicemail at four this morning.” Just then, one of the vice presidents put a hand on Calvin’s shoulder and they began conferring, making plans and strategizing, as men do. Some of the others began drifting out of the office. I walked back to my desk and collapsed into my chair.

Ten minutes later, Calvin called me back into his office. Everyone else was gone. “Listen,” he said, coming around his desk, “this wouldn’t have happened without you.”

“Thank you,” I said, blushing.

“I mean it. All the late nights, the weekends. More than anyone else, you were key in getting this done.” I stared at the floor, my cheeks warm. “I want you to do something for me,” he continued. “I want you to start interviewing for your replacement. I’m bumping you up. I don’t want to lose you as my assistant, but it’s not fair, after all you’ve done, to hold you back. It would be selfish of me. I’m making you an executive.” I looked at him just as he took me in his arms and gave me a big hug. I was so caught off guard I barely hugged him back. I was limp. All I heard was that I wasn’t going to be working side by side with him any more. My whole body went cold.

“Thank you,” I sputtered out. “Um, thank you, Calvin.”

“Okay, but listen,” he said, breaking the hug just as I was beginning to melt into it. “Unfortunately, we’ve got a lot of work to do today, then we can really celebrate. They’ve signed the contract, but requested a lot of additional paperwork, all of which I have to send out first thing in the morning. I’ll need you on you’re A game today, all right?”

“Yes, sure. Of course,” I said, straightening up, still eager to prove myself.

The rest of the day I immersed myself in my work, unwilling to let the thought of not working with Calvin enter my thoughts. I knew if I did, I’d break down. Almost everyone else was going out for a celebratory lunch, but I stayed behind, working at a furious pace. At seven, everyone trickled out, meeting up for drinks. I kept working. By nine, I’d finished. I went into Calvin’s office, arms stacked with file folders. “It’s done,” I said, dropping the files on his desk. He swirled in his chair toward me. “Excellent,” he said. “Well done, Janet.” He’d taken his shoes off and was in his stocking feet-an uncharacteristic display of casualness. Maybe he was finally beginning to relax. “You can catch up with the others, I’m sure they’re still out having drinks,” he said, rubbing his neck.

“No, that’s okay. Your neck bothering you?” It always bothered him after he’d flown. Normally, I’d book a massage for him the day he returned, but there’d been no time after this last trip. I remembered the way he was sleeping on the plane, propped awkwardly against the window. The thought brought the whole experience flooding back to me, causing a warm flush to go through my body.

“You slept on the plane,” I said, coming around behind his chair. “That probably did a number on your neck.” I knew the spot that always gave him trouble. I put my hands on his shoulders, sliding them toward his neck until I felt the hard knot under his skin. I began to knead with my thumbs. He rolled forward and let out a low, guttural moan. “Oh, God, yes. That’s the spot,” he said softly.

I’d done this plenty of times before. I’d often massage him before big meetings. I’d read about Japanese women that would touch their men in some way before important events, to enhance their masculine power. A woman’s touch seems to embolden a man. As I worked his shoulders, I looked out the window. Our offices were on the twenty-third floor. The lights of the city sparkled up and down the numerous office towers, some winking dark as people left for the night. I looked down at the back of Calvin’s head, and the thought of not working with him crept into my thoughts. I’d let my guard down. My eyes began to well up. I turned my head and wiped my tears on my shoulder to keep them from dripping on him. I looked out the window again, seeing the tiny form of a cleaning lady vacuuming an office tower across the way.