SKoW Challenge #25 - A Secretary Is Not A Toy by Megs April 23 is Secretaries' Day. Our protagonist should be reveling in the glory of actually being appreciated for once, but fate, it seems, has other plans... Requirements: - must be a one-shot - the secretary is clumsy and/or sexually frustrated - there must be moments of sexual tension between another coworker, boss, or a customer/outside person - the secretary must be sent on some ridiculous errands (errands that potentially have nothing to do with his or her job, for example) Note: Be creative with where he or she works! ;
"Good morning!" a tall, chipper blonde called out as she walked through the door.
"Is not," a brunette responded, sounding remarkably like a certain animated donkey. Not the one voiced by Eddie Murphy, the one with the pin-on tail who's friends with the hunny-loving bear.
"It's Secretaries' Day!" Megan called out cheerfully, dancing to her desk.
Laura looked up and glared at her. "Shut up," she ordered. "You may be my best friend, but that doesn't give you the right to be this cheerful."
"Aw, how come? What's wrong, sourpuss?"
"It's Wednesday. I hate Wednesdays."
"So?" Megan smiled, looking buoyant as she shuffled through some papers. She even started to hum.
"What's with you?" Laura asked.
"You're humming the intro from Les Mis."
"So?" She did a little twirl that turned into a stretch.
"So, the lyrics are, 'Look down, look down, don't look 'em in the eye; look down, look down, you're here until you die. Look down, look down, you'll always be a slave; look down, look down, you're standing in your grave.'"
Megan blushed. "Oh. Right." She sat down, sheepish.
"Seriously, Megs, what's with you?" Laura glanced over, still typing.
Megan grinned. "I told you, it's Secretaries' Day."
Laura gave her a blank look.
"Secretaries' Day," Megan enunciated. "Hello, we do happen to be secretaries."
"Yeah, no, I don't get it."
Megan sighed. "Laur, the boss always gives out these really amazing bonuses on holidays."
"Seriously? And I don't mean seriously as in 'Are you kidding me?' I mean seriously as in 'What did you smoke this morning?'"
Megan raised her eyebrows. "On Grandparents' Day the older employees got a gourmet picnic lunch, free admission to the children's museum the following Saturday for them and up to six grandkids, and double pay for the week. On Leif Erikson Day all the Norwegians got the day off and a gift basket that included smoked salmon, lingonberry jam, crackers, and three types of fancy cheeses."
"Shut up. We all got Veterans' Day off, but the people who've actually served got off the whole week. With pay. Point is, even though McNealy treats us like dirt 364 days out of the year, today he's going to show us how much we mean to him."
Laura sighed. Gullible, innocent fool. "Megs, listen. I'm sorry to break it to you, but the boss isn't going to do jack-squat. He doesn't pay us a pittance because he loves us. Did he give you anything for Peculiar People Day on January 10?"
Megan only smiled. "Just you wait."
Rolling her eyes, Laura turned back to her computer screen. In a moment Megan followed, but not before one last excited sigh.
After several hours of mind-numbing typing, twitching as she copied out grammatical errors word-for-word, Laura finally caught a break. Sort of.
She looked up and gave him a pleasant smile. Normally it would be entirely fake, but this early in the day she still had some humanity left in her. The expression almost reached her eyes. "Yes, Mr. McNealy?"
"I have an errand for you."
She tried not to sigh. "Yes, Mr. McNealy?"
"I need you to go to the store."
"Certainly, sir. Any preference which store, or what I buy?" She could use some new pantyhose, for example. All of hers had tears.
He gave her a sour look and turned away. "The list is in your inbox. I expect you to return in an hour or forfeit your lunch break."
The second he returned to his office Laura and Meg burst into quiet giggles.
"So maybe he can recognize sarcasm," Laura said quietly.
Meg stifled a laugh. "Dangerous," she whispered back.
Laura clicked a few keys and a sheet drifted out of the printer. "Yeah, yeah. So this is Secretary's Day, huh?"
Megan sighed. "So maybe International Skeptics' Day is more your style."
"Skeptics' Day?" Laura repeated.
"And lemme guess, it always falls on a Friday." They both snickered, and Laura stood up. "Right, be back in a jiffy."
Fifteen minutes later she stood in the Huckabees parking lot. "That plaid-covered son of a gun! That––that––tweedy bastard!" She didn't realize she was shouting until a shocked-looking mother dropped her kindergartner's hand to cover his ears.
A passing grandmother-type in the green store uniform stopped. "Are you all right, dear?" She gave her a practiced plastic smile. She was quite good, really; Laura wouldn't have recognized it as counterfeit except that she wore the same one often.
Laura waved her list. "Peachy," she said with a toothy grimace. She'd intended it as a smile, but it didn't quite work.
"I'd be happy to help you," the woman offered.
Laura laughed. "Oh, I wish you could." Huckabees sold nearly everything, but they didn't have what she needed. Well, yes, she could get a new house-key, a sack of groceries, or even a haircut––and her dead ends were getting a bit long––but unfortunately a quick trip to the psychiatrist was out of the question.
-bamboo paper towels
-mango-flavored astronaut ice cream
-environmentally-friendly nail polish remover
-puce tube socks
"I don't think half of these even exist."
The older woman peered over her shoulder. "Puce? What's puce?"
It took Laura over two hours and half a tank of gas to find everything on the list. The socks were listed as "off-purple," like someone spilled grape juice on a pair that had started out off-white, but they would have to do. If McNealy complained she'd beat him into submission with the paper towels, stuff his mouth with the ice cream so he couldn't scream, and strangle him with the tube socks as she forced him into the dress. Which was the hardest item on the list to find, by the way. "A dress." Great, Boss, very descriptive.
Megan looked up as she walked in. "Hey, Laur, how'd the errands go?"
Laura raised an eyebrow.
Meg visibly changed her mind. "Forget it. Just remember Don't Cry Over Spilled Milk Day, okay?" That was her darling, annoying way of trying to tell Laura it would be all right. Of course it would. After she killed McNealy. But in the mean time...
Laura raised a second eyebrow.
"February 11th," Megan explained. She actually looked apologetic.
"That," Laura growled, "is not a holiday."
"It is, too!"
"Megan. If I don't get the day off, it's not a holiday. If I don't get paid on that day off, it's probably not a holiday. And if there is any mention of puce tube socks, it's not a freaking holiday."
Megan actually looked a little dismayed.
"But...that means my birthday isn't a holiday."
Laura sighed. "When is it?"
Laura looked slightly disgusted. "I actually have heard of that pseudo-holiday."
"Squirrel Appreciation Day."
Megan perked up considerably after that.
"Ahem. Miss Lundgren." A large ugly suit walked up next to Laura's desk. It was filled with a fat toad of a man who was currently one step away from finding himself placed on a Mafia hit list.
"Yes, Mr. McNealy?" Laura's smile was the equivalent of a donut laced with cyanide: Pretty to look at, but very, very dangerous.
"Did you remember to get those items I requested?"
"Indeed I did."
"And where are they?" Clearly, he actually meant 'And why don't I have them yet?' But he may have noticed the malice in her pleasant look.
"On your desk, sir."
"Why did you not deliver them to me directly?"
Laura nearly dropped her smile, but instead she held it and narrowed her eyes and enjoyed seeing him shiver. "Because, sir, you went to lunch on the other side of the state border. Of course I would gladly have given up my lunch hour to bring them to you, but as it took me two hours to find those items I had to forfeit my lunch. On your orders. Sir."
"Ah––oh––of course, right, very good then. By the way, did you find the socks?" As Laura's smile darkened into a malicious leer he changed his mind. "Never mind," he said hastily. "They weren't that important."
"Oh, no, sir," she corrected him. "They were positively crucial. They must have been, since you removed me from my secretarial duties in order to go find them." The way she said it made it clear that by 'secretarial duties' she meant 'boring, but legitimate and significantly-less-infuriating work of the sort that comes with an actual paycheck.' She continued, "In fact, finding those socks alone took me an hour."
"O–oh. Right. Of course. T–terribly important. Yes. Uh, thank you?"
"Nonsense, sir." A simple thank-you could not possibly be enough. If he didn't follow through with all the goodies Megan had promised, she'd call her cousin. He said he knew somebody in Chicago who could get the job done...
The boss walked off.
"That was scary."
Meg hesitated. "Laur, do I want to ask what was on that list?"
"Do you know what puce is?"
"Like puke, but maybe a color?"
Laura shrugged. "Close enough. I'm impressed. Do you figure tube socks come in puce? Because they do. And they are located in only one shop within fifteen miles of here. And for the record, that does not happen to be the same shop where you could find astronaut ice cream in mango, should you desire any. Oh, but the paper towels made out of bamboo and the eco-friendly nail polish remover are both located at some hippie shop in the middle of nowhere. Just so you know."
Megan whistled. "Wowza. Heckuva shopping list there."
"Yeah," she said flatly.
"Was that it?"
"...Care to tell me what else was on there?"
"Too bad. We're only a month or two past International Working Woman Day, so I'm going to call in a belated favor-slash-demand and make you tell me."
"Laura," Megan said threateningly, "don't you make me pull out that promise you made me on Random Acts of Kindness day two years ago."
Laura rolled her eyes. "Fine. Pickled kumquats and a dress."
Megan burst out laughing. "Pickled kumquats?"
"And a dress."
"Wow. Just a dress? Any dress? That's...wow. Not very specific, is he?"
"Nope. So I just went with the most hideous and most expensive one I could find." She leaned over her desk and put her head down on the cool fake-wood veneer.
Megan chuckled. "Nice."
"So you found it at that boutique then, I'm guessing. The uber-fancy nameless one with a really bad paint job, right?"
"On Grand and Eleventh?"
"And you keep saying 'yep'."
"So you're suddenly laconic now?"
Laura sighed and looked at her. "Listen, Megs, I love you. I really do. You're my best friend, practically my sister, but that does not mean I'm going to inflict myself on you when I'm angry enough that I'm currently debating asking my cousin Marco for the number of that hit-man down in Center City."
"Marco knows a hit-man?"
"But...Laura, he's eleven."
"Indeed he is.
Megan snickered. "Nice. Very nice."
Laura's stomach grumbled.
Megan looked at her suspiciously. "Laura?"
"Did you eat?"
"You just heard my stomach, what do you think?"
"Right. Bad idea, Laur. You get insanely grouchy when you're hungry, you know that?"
"Yeah. Well, had to forfeit my lunch break to find those stupid socks."
"Hmm. You know, National Potato Chip Day wasn't all that long ago. Maybe I still have some hidden in my desk, so you could at least eat enough to prevent your stomach from trying to digest itself."
Laura had to laugh. "Can't turn down potato chips, although National Frappe Day in October has always been a little more important to me personally. Chips are good, though. I'm not that picky. Do you seriously have some?"
Megan pulled open a drawer. "Not here...no, not filed under 'Potatoes'...nope, I don't see them in the 'Snacks' folder, either. Huh. That's odd."
"Megan, forget it. When was Chip Day, anyway?"
"National Potato Chip Day, Laur, not just Chip Day. Chip Day could mean chocolate chips or poker chips or chipping a ball in a game of golf. Be specific."
"Right. And when was it again?"
"The seventeenth or so, I don't remember. Middle of March."
"You don't remember?"
"Nah. Didn't figure it'd be important. But National Clam on the Half Shell Day is March 31st."
"Right," Laura replied skeptically.
"No, really, it is!"
"I'm not doubting you," Laura assured her. "I just doubt I could've ever cut class because it was some insanely-specific seafood holiday."
Megan shrugged. "So not all holidays are useful," she said. "What else is new?" She dug under a few more papers. "Eureka!" she exclaimed.
"You found the chips?"
"You've discovered a perfect plan to get out of here, get back at McNealy, and get a better job all at once?"
"No. But I did find some zucchini bread. Want some?"
"Sure. But please tell me there's no official zucchini holiday."
Megan hesitated. "Um..."
"There is. There is! How could anyone ever condone a freaking National Zucchini Day, for crying out loud?"
"Actually, it's National Zucchini Bread Day. I think it's coming up on the 25th. There's also Sneak Some Zucchini Onto Your Neighbor's Porch Day on August 8th." Megan promptly received a death glare and didn't hesitate to backtrack. "But of course that's irrelevant. Not a real holiday. Right. Got it. Uh, I'll just pretend I'm giving it to you because it's Do A Grouch A Favor Day, which is actually February 16th. "
Laura shook her head. "Nice, Megan. Really lovely."
Megan shrugged. "Sorry. But I really don't know what's with you lately."
"I have an idiot boss, I'm not getting paid enough to cover my bills, I just went on a two-hour wild goose chase for puce socks, and if I could be put in an aerosol can I could be sold as Guy Repellant!"
Megan's jaw fell. "So that's the problem!"
Laura dropped the dramatics. "What?"
For the first time that day, possibly that year, Laura had nothing to say.
"Seriously! You are!"
"Sure," Laura said sarcastically. "And there's a holiday dedicated to shoes, too, so McNealy's going to give us all thousand-dollar shopping sprees at Neiman Marcus."
"There is!" Laura eyed her skeptically. "Well, okay, it's Wear Brown Shoes Day, but it really does exist."
"Uh-uh, I'm sure it does."
"It does, and it's on December 4th."
"Wait, you're not joking? Stop looking hurt. Some of those holidays are really stupid."
"No they're not!"
"Megan, what's that one you told me about yesterday? Name Your Car Day?"
"Oh, yeah, October 2!"
"Right. Stupid. Oh, and that one about rocks?"
"Collect Rocks Day on September 16?"
"Yeah, that one. It's stupid too."
Megan sighed. "Yeah, okay, can't argue with you there. But some of the other weird ones have a purpose!"
"Um...Insurance Awareness Day, June 28?"
"Right. Like the malevolent blood-suckers need any more attention."
"Fine. Bad example. But what about Fatigue Syndrome Day?"
"Fatigue Syndrome Day?"
"Hey, it brings notice to a little-known disorder!"
"Right. Next thing you know there'll be a Ford-Buyers Sympathy Day."
Megan shrugged. "Well, there's Ugly Truck Day on the 20th of July, that's close enough."
Laura burst out laughing. "You've got to be kidding me!"
She settled back into her chair with a wide grin. "Megan, my dear, that's the most cheering thing I've heard all day."
"Uh, excuse me?"
Laura ignored him. Couldn't he tell she had work to do? Megan was better at dealing with people anyway.
"Uh, miss? Hello?"
She looked up and glared. "Look, buddy, I'm kind of busy. Go ask her." She jerked a thumb at Megan's desk.
"You mean the invisible person sitting in that chair? Or do you mean the the hairy guy dressed in tweed in that office over there? 'Cause you're not wearing glasses, so it's possible you were referring to him as a woman."
Laura glanced over at Megan's desk: her chair was empty. Oh. Whoops. "Sorry," she muttered, eyeing him. Huh. Not a bad-looking guy.
"Yeah. No problem." He smiled at her, and her ears turned purple.
Smooth, Laura. Very smooth. It was just her luck to semi-accidentally insult the cutest guy she'd seen in a week.
"So, uh, you needed something?" she mumbled after a minute.
"Yeah. I'm applying for a job, and someone said you might have an application."
Laura sighed. "A job application?" She fished around in her file bureau and held up a sheet of paper, raising an eyebrow.
"That's the one." He pulled out a pen and began writing on the form.
"You sure you want to do this?"
He stopped writing in the middle of a letter. It was E, by the looks of it."What?"
"Well, yeah, why not?"
She stared at him. "You don't know? This is hell."
He grinned. "Come on, can't be that bad, can it?"
"Do you really want to know that National Bicarbonate of Soda Day is December 30th?"
"Uh, not really."
"Working here, you will never be able to think of it as just New Year's Eve's Eve again. Or what about November 6, any special significance?"
"No...wait, it's my sister's mother-in-law's birthday, if that matters."
"It's also Marooned Without a Compass Day. Do I want to have that memorized? No. I have no choice. After copy-editing several hundreds of holiday greetings it's ingrained in my head. I can't not know this, and it's horrible. There are stupid so-called holidays for nearly every day of the year, and I hate them with a passion. Have you ever spent months counting down to just a normal day?"
He looked slightly frightened. "My God, it is hell, isn't it?"
He looked down at the sheet in front of him. "And it doesn't pay very well, does it?"
"Somewhat above minimum."
"Uh-huh." He looked straight at her. "But you're not planning on quitting anytime soon, are you?"
She raised an eyebrow. "No, probably not."
"Good." He smiled and turned back to the application.
Laura felt her cheeks turn red. Good? He was glad? Wait, he cared that he'd be working with her?
"Um––" she began, and mentally kicked herself. Nice start there, Laura. "So, uh, did you just get out of school?"
"No, I've been working for about five years now. You?"
"Graduated three years ago with a master's in philosophy."
He tipped his head to the side. "Philosophy?"
"Yeah. Useful, isn't it?"
"Oh, I don't know. You can always start talking about the true meaning of National Grammar Day as connected to life as a whole."
She laughed dryly. "Yeah. Right. Finding the meaning of life in the screwed-up holiday industry. 'Let us assume that National Mustard Day on August 5 is representative of such and such a useless principle, in which case blah, blah, blah.' I don't think so."
He chuckled. "Nice. What's the worst holiday you've heard of so far?"
"Mmph. There are a few."
"Well, Hug Your Cat Day is a good example."
"Hug Your Cat Day? Wouldn't that be a bit painful?"
"Yep. It's sometime in the summer. I don't remember when exactly. Megan would, but apparently she's on her break." She gestured to the empty desk.
"Does she know them all?"
"Probably. Drives me up the wall. Not only does she have them all memorized, but she insists on celebrating them all, too."
"Nice. What's her favorite?"
Laura rolled her eyes. "She likes If Pets Had Thumbs Day. March 3, and Heaven help me if I forget."
"If Pets Had Thumbs Day? How exactly do you celebrate that?"
"I don't. I refuse to. She starts discussions with everyone she meets and gives a donation to the Humane Society."
He smiled. "That's cute."
"That's Megan for you."
"What's your favorite?"
Laura hesitated. "I hate to admit that I like any of them except Christmas and Easter, but I Forgot Day always makes me laugh."
His jaw dropped. "That's brilliant!"
"It is, isn't it? Where's your project? I forgot. What's the date? I forgot." She smiled. "I love it. It might just be my favorite, but there are a couple other brilliant ones. I always tease Megan about Peculiar People Day on January 10, that one's fun. Oh, and Bad Poetry Day on August 18 ranks high on the list."
"Bad Poetry Day?"
"Wow. That was created for my last girlfriend."
"She a wannabe poet or something like that?"
"Yeah, or something. It was her hobby. Mine was finding nice ways to convince her not to quit her day job."
This time it was a real laugh. "How kind of you," Laura said.
He grinned. "So tell me, how'd you end up working here? If you studied philosophy, wouldn't you be happier working someplace a little less...soul-sucking?"
Laura smiled. "Well, I work with my best friend, I can almost afford rent without working over sixty hours a week, and the boss doesn't pester us most days. That's more than I can say for most of my classmates."
He laughed. "True, true. And you don't want a promotion?"
She shrugged. "Well, sure, it'd be nice to afford cable. But even the department head––that'd be Mr. McNealy, the hairy guy in tweed you noticed earlier––doesn't get paid that much. I suppose his job isn't too bad, mostly just delegating work and making sure it gets done. But honestly, the higher-up in this company I get the less I can tell myself that it's just temporary." She shook her head. "When I took a job in the mailroom after college I didn't intend to be here two years later."
He smiled. "What would you really want to do?"
She frowned. "No."
"No. I am not going to spill my guts to a random semi-stranger just so I can break my own heart remembering how much I wanted to own a beatnik bookstore in the middle of uptown and collect all the strange intellectuals and quirky artists and sell Kerouac and black coffee and––" She stopped. "Dang it. I just spilled my guts to a random semi-stranger." She looked down and twirled her pen in her fingers, sighing.
He shrugged kindly. "Well, yeah, but that's okay. If it helps, I've always liked beatnik bookstores." He glanced down at the sheet. "Well, I'm done." He looked up again and smiled. "Mind giving this to the appropriate person?"
Laura nodded, suddenly feeling...sad? He was leaving. But she'd only known him a minute. But still, he was done. He was leaving. "Sure, I'll make sure Cheryl gets it. Best of luck to you," she offered.
"Thanks. Hope I get to work with you." He grinned at her, and then he leaned forward to do something entirely unexpected: He kissed her.
Laura flushed purple and hot and dropped the pen. "Uh––"
He smiled one last time. "I'll see you around."
As he turned and walked away, Megan came half-skipping from the direction of the employee break room.
"Wow," Laura whispered. "Wow."
Megan slipped into her chair and looked at her. "What's with you?"
Laura didn't answer. She stared after him and sighed.
"Megan, can it wait just one moment?"
Megan stood up and moved over to sit on Laura's desk. After a moment Laura shook herself and looked up. "What was that all about?"
"Him." She smiled. "Did you see him? He...Megan, I realize it's your job to be the crazy romantic of the department, but I think...I think I believe in love at first sight."
Megan smiled. "What's his name?"
"I don't know."
"What did he want?"
Laura waved the application. "Not sure why," she said. "I tried to talk him out of it."
Megan took it. "What else happened?"
"We talked about holidays."
"Real ones or the sort you don't like?"
"The sort I don't like. And a few of my favorites. I told him about you."
Laura nodded. "He asked why I knew so many holidays, and I told him you knew more."
"Kind of you. What else happened?"
"I told him about my imaginary beatnik bookstore, and he kissed me."
Megan sighed. "And then what?"
"And then he left."
"And you don't know his name?"
Megan rolled her eyes and looked down at the paper. "Laura, it's right here."
"Joseph Darrington-Brown. Hm, fancy."
"Joseph," Laura said slowly. "Joseph Darrington-Brown." She looked up at Megan. "What's he applying for?"
"Megan, what's he applying for?"
"I'm sorry, Laur."
Life was perpetually unfair. Not only did her boss give her impossible errands instead of the expected bonus, but she finally met a guy she liked who didn't hate her on sight, and if she ever saw him again it would be as her new boss.
Megan looked over at her. "Cheer up, Laur."
"Because it's better than the alternative."
Laura considered it. "You know, Meg, you're probably right."
They laughed and worked in silence for a while.
A large, tweed-covered man came to stand at the edge of Laura's desk, hands behind his back and back military-straight. "Ahem," he said. He waited a moment. "Ahem."
Laura looked up. "Mr. McNealy, if you say 'ahem' one more time without saying my name or specifically asking for my help, I am going to leave you standing there saying 'ahem' until what hair you have left turns white and falls out. And, yes, I am referring to your eyebrows and the toupees on your arm."
He opened his mouth, but nothing came out.
"And if you keep me staring at you waiting for you to speak I'm going to charge you overtime."
He cleared his throat. "Ah. I––uh––apologize."
Laura relaxed her Death Glare. "Okay," she said simply, and that surprised him more than the outburst did to begin with.
He recovered. "You may not have heard, but I will be retiring this year."
"That explains it," Megan muttered. Laura shot her a glare.
McNealy looked confused, but he continued. "Anyway, since it is my last Secretaries' Day in this company, I thought I ought to give you both a gift."
Megan grinned excitedly.
He took his hands from behind his back and handed them both a small unwrapped package.
"Oh," Laura said. "Thank you." She opened it.
Megan looked slightly ill. "An electric stapler. Uh, thank you, sir."
"Is that all?" Laura covered her mouth. Did she seriously just say that?
"Yes, thank you for your time ladies. You may get back to work." He nodded kindly and walked away.
"Thank you," Laura called.
"I don't understand," Megan said. She seemed crushed. "This doesn't make sense at all."
"Megan," Laura said slowly, "have you ever considered that the grandparents and the Norwegians were leading you on?"
Megan looked horrified. "But..."
Laura patted her on the back. "It's okay, Megan. It's okay."
Megan shook her head. "This day has been a total waste of makeup."
"Yep," Laura said. "But look on the bright side."
She sighed. "Well, that's one day we won't have to live over again."
Megan nodded. Then she stood up and walked over to Laura, embracing her in a tight bear hug. "This has been a hell of a day for you, hasn't it?"
Laura nodded. "Not quite what I expected for Secretaries' Day."
Megan sighed. "Working at Hallmark really gives you a skewed perspective on life."
Laura popped her Juicy Fruit, looking glum. "No kidding."