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Saturday, March 20, 2010

Calendar Girl by Shannon Schuren

John tugged at the zipper, his hands gliding across her back as he guided the dress from her shoulders to the floor. His lips blazed a trail from her earlobe to her neck as he whispered his words of love.

“Tell me who it is.”

Wait. That wasn’t right.

Piper blinked as the soft picture of John’s office faded, replaced by the cramped space of the copy room.

“Tell me who it is,” she heard again. She recognized Gloria’s nasal voice. She sounded gleeful, which was about what she’d expect from a woman who’d once brought snacks to a co-worker’s funeral. “Unless there’s more than one?”

“No. He’s just firing the one. I saw the name on his desk calendar.” The throaty voice was Ruth, a chronic smoker who has sworn she’d quit three weeks ago.

The acrid smell of tobacco told a different story.

Didn’t she know that was a fire hazard? The paper and toner would go up like kindling, and Piper would die here, alone, and all because she’d dropped her earring behind the copier.

“Diamonds, Mr. Klein? I can’t accept these.”

“You’ve earned them, Piper. It’s a small token for such loyal service.”

“There’s another service I’d love to perform.”

Of course she hadn’t said that. She’d never given voice to her fantasies, never given anyone even a hint that she might have feelings for their boss beyond an obsessive desire to organize his files.

“It’s Calendar Girl,” Ruth said, her voice thick with smoke.

Piper crouched in stunned silence, waiting out Ruth’s cigarette break and trying not to burst into tears as Gloria twittered on. Normally, she had no problem ignoring the other women in the office. She just drifted off into one of her daydreams. But not anymore. Now, her dreams were as dead as the butt Ruth ground into the carpet.

Because Piper was the Calendar Girl.

They’d given her the nickname years ago, because of the efficiency with which she handled Mr. Klein’s schedule, and it had stuck. She’d tried to pretend it was because she had the look of one of those old-time pin-up girls. Once, she’d even crammed her feet into a pair of size 6 platform heels, just to see if they made her feel as confident and sexy as those women.

They hadn’t.

And now it was the week before Christmas, and John was going to let her go.

Mr. Klein, she corrected herself. In her fantasies he was always John. He was also passionate and sensitive, which was not how her colleagues would describe him.

But Piper saw a different side. He had kind eyes and a gentle smile. There was another man under that cool business exterior, and she longed to see it. Touch it.

Make love to it.

“Snap out of it, Piper,” she muttered. “You’re not a pin-up girl, you’re just his calendar girl. And he’s not your prince charming. He’s the monster everyone thinks he is.”

She took a deep breath and squared her shoulders. She needed to see the proof herself.

His office was dark, the shades pulled against the noon sun. He’d be out for at least another hour. She knew because she’d made the lunch reservations.

“Here’s the file you asked for.”

He gripped her wrist, his touch sending shivers down her spine. He leaned closer, his breath warm on her cheek. “I won’t be needing that after all.”

Papers fluttered to the floor as he led her to the sofa and pulled her down on top of him.

In reality, the only time she’d ever sat on the sofa was the day he’d hired her. Otherwise, it was always the hard wooden chair in front of his desk, while he dictated and she took notes. Lately, most of his correspondence had to do with mounting bills and budget cuts.

She circled the desk, trailing her fingers across the glossy finish. A date book lay in the center. And penned in on the 24th was her name.

She was cold, immobile, like sculpted ice on a buffet table. The oxygen had gone from the room, along with the gravity, and she clutched at his ergonomic chair for support.

There had been talks of cutbacks, perhaps even a lay-off or two, but Piper had always assumed she’d be safe. After all, she was the one John confided in, the one he depended on. The one who kept his calendar.

Except for this one appointment he’d made on his own.

Which was his right. Because she wasn’t his lover, or even his friend. She was just his secretary, who’d built up their relationship in her head, so that her fantasies wouldn’t seem so over the top. She’d imagined the soft laughter of understanding between them, the feel of his hand upon hers.

“I see you’ve discovered my secret.”

“Oh!” She bumped against him, warm and solid. “I can explain,” she began, then stopped. She didn’t owe him anything more than the undying love and service she’d already given. “Maybe you should go first.”

He cleared his throat, then fiddled with his tie. “This isn’t how I imagined it,” he stammered.

“Just get it over with,” she demanded. “Fire me, and I’ll go.”

“Fire you?” He began to laugh. “Why would you think that?”

“Your schedule. . .” she trailed off.

“That isn’t my schedule.” He smiled, his sapphire eyes crinkling at the corners in the way that made her pulse race. “Have I ever had an appointment you didn’t arrange?” He touched the date. “This is a technique I picked up in business school. If you want something bad enough, envision it as if it’s already yours. Mark the date you’re going to act.”

She stared down at the book, at her name scrawled boldly across the paper, then back up to his outstretched hand.

Piper felt her heart flutter. “You mean . . .?”

“Piper. You’re all I want for Christmas this year.”

BIO: Shannon Schuren lives in Sheboygan Falls, Wisconsin with her husband and three children. She works at a child care center and finds writing in her spare time both emotionally rewarding and a great way to avoid cleaning her house. Her short stories have appeared in The Chick-Lit Review and Big Pulp, among others. Her first novel, How to Host a Ghost, is available through major online bookstores.

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