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When the boss called me into her office, I thought she was going to tell me off for staring at Calvin Blake’s ass again. Frankly, I wanted to tell her, it would have been rude of me not to. Calvin might have been everything I disliked in a man – loud, brash, and self-serving, all personality traits that made him ideal for his job in ad sales but would have had me bailing on him in minutes if we’d been out on a date – but his behind was a force of nature. Sculpted into taut, round perfection by his regular lunchtime workouts, it was caressed by his slate-grey slacks as he bent over the desk next to mine, drawing my eye away from my computer monitor. I stared for a good couple of minutes; I may even have drooled a little. Only Mary Lou’s nasal voice in my ear dragged me back to awareness that I was sitting in the middle of a busy sales floor, rather than some intimate boudoir where I could strip Calvin of his lower garments and admire those buns of steel in the raw, before landing a hard, satisfying slap against his bare, white flesh …
‘Hey, Summer, are you even listening to me? I said Rebecca needs to see you right away.’
Rebecca Haynes’s PA, Mary Lou, always breezed into the sales department with the confidence of somebody who knew she didn’t have much in the way of power, but could use the little she possessed to make your life considerably more miserable. The thin smile on her over-glossed lips didn’t reach her eyes. It never did.
‘Yeah, sure, Mary Lou. Be right with you.’ I clicked my mouse, closing down the spreadsheet whose figures I’d been updating before Calvin’s ass had provided such a welcome distraction. Then I followed her across the floor to Rebecca’s corner office. No one looked up as I passed, all too busy chasing the sale that would help fill the remaining couple of pages in tomorrow’s Reporter.
Rebecca was on the phone as I entered, gesturing to me to take a seat. I did so, admiring as always the panorama of Lower Manhattan, revealed through the floor-to-ceiling window. Tall fingers of steel and glass pointed up toward the sky, glittering in the afternoon sun, each one higher and more imposing than the next. The more important you were in any company, the better the view you had, though I sometimes wondered quite how much time Rebecca spent appreciating this magnificent skyline.
At last, she put the phone down and turned her attention to me. If Mary Lou’s smile had been cold, the one greeting me now was positively glacial. Rebecca Haynes and I had never had any time for each other. She thought I was a slacker who could find a thousand ways of filling her day before even thinking about attempting to sell any ad space, and I thought she was a flint-hearted bitch, only interested in the bottom line. In the past, she’d expressed her displeasure at everything from the blood-red streaks in my dark hair to my occasionally erratic timekeeping. I always promised that things would change, and for a while they did, though I never went so far as to get rid of the streaks. I loved them too much.
Another boss might have attempted some small talk, maybe even offered me a coffee, but not Rebecca. She cut straight to the chase.
‘As you know, Summer, these are tough times for the New York Reporter.’ Of course I did. Rebecca sent out a memo to this effect at least one a week, exhorting us all to work harder and help claw back some market share. ‘We’ve seen our print sales fall by nearly 20 per cent over the last six months. Of course, our online version has tripled its number of hits in the same period, but that isn’t really making up for the shortfall in revenue. So, we’ve had to make some tough decisions, particularly regarding staffing levels … And I’m afraid we’re going to have to let you go.’
How had I not seen this coming? I knew I’d missed my sales targets the last couple of months, but I’d never dreamt this was putting me at risk of losing my job. Would I have worked harder, kissed more corporate ass if I had? I honestly didn’t know.
‘I’m sure you’ll find the severance package you’ve been awarded very generous,’ Rebecca continued as I sat in silent shock, trying to take in what she’d just told me. ‘And you’ll have a few minutes to clear your desk …’
Somehow, I found my voice. ‘You mean you want me to leave now?’
‘Of course, Summer. What else did you think? That we’d let you stick around long enough to poach our client list, maybe sneak some virus into the computer system? Please …’ Behind me, the office door opened. When I looked round, Mary Lou stood in the doorway, that same unfriendly smile on her face, a sturdy brown cardboard box in her hand. Alongside her was Tim, one of the company’s security guards. It always seemed to me he’d been hired for his charming manner on the front desk rather than as serious muscle, seeing as how he stood barely any taller than my own five foot five, and looked swamped by his navy blue serge uniform.