Either I'm a glutton for punishment or I love me a challenge! Let's go with the latter shall we? I entered the NYCMidnight Short Story Competition again which took place over the course of eight days from 11:59pm on January 20th to 11:59 pm on January 28th. I stayed up that Friday awaiting my challenge and found that the genre I received, again, was romantic comedy. This time there was a character as well as a subject to work into your story. My character was a 'daredevil' and my subject was 'a rise to the top.'
[Oh, I should also note an update to my previous NYCMidnight post. I didn't make it to the next round of the Flash Fiction contest. But the horror story I wrote, "First Date," for the second challenge ranked very high, within the top three for that portion. However, the high ranking for the second challenge didn't help since I ranked so low in the first. Ah well.]
The short story first round took place over my birthday week and since I had festivities galore that planned (one word: pies!) I was hoping to be able to draft and write a story I could at least tolerate before the work week began. Luckily after receiving my assignment I thought up a premise I liked and scribed over 3000 words that first weekend. Over the course of the week I edited it down to slightly under the maximum word count of 2500 words. I can only hope that there's enough romance and comedy to earn it being categorized as rom-com. Last year I didn't like my piece but placed in the top 5 and after re-reading it a few times grew to enjoy what I created. This piece is 'meh.' But who knows. I'd like to make it to round two for once after being in the short story, flash fiction, and microfiction competitions last year, however if I placed well again I'd be happy. All-in-all I do enjoy the contests and will not rest until I have succeeded! <Insert maniacal laughter here.>
So, without further ado. I present my latest romantic comedy Walk of Shame:
“Are you out of your freaking mind?” Ricki says. She’s leaning against the door frame of my office, arms crossed in her blasé stance. But she’s giving me the Eyebrow. Raising it just enough that the person on the receiving end questions their motives. She used it often when we dated.
“It does sound…unwise,” Layla agrees. Her trademark scent of jasmine is pungent. She sits across from me while I remain behind my desk eyeing the latest sales figures for Sam & Sons Sports Equipment. We’re not in the red, but we’re getting there.
“I know it sounds extreme, but we’re a national sporting goods company. If we don’t believe in our product, who will?” I’m in charge since Dad decided to be a silent partner after the accident. I’m the one who has to think of the best ways for us to get back on top in a bad economy. So I should be the scapegoat for my idea.
Ricki sputters but doesn’t say anything else. She looks beyond me to the view of the city.
Layla rises from her chair. Her red suit hugs her body. Her skirt is short but it’s within regulation. She sits on my desk, crosses her legs giving me a peak of what she has on underneath, not much I can tell you.
“Nate,” she coos. “I know this seems like a good business plan but…”
I insist I’ll be fine. “I’ve climbed Mt. Everest, jumped from the Grand Canyon, skydived in Nepal.” I begin. Gaining momentum I push my chair back and point at the scene outside my window, at the adjoining sister building made of glass, steel, and plaster standing sixty feet from us and declare, “Eighty stories and sixty feet is a cake walk compared to what I’ve seen. I believe in our product and I need to do this.”
Layla gives me short applause while I mentally high-five myself for being a damn good salesman.
“Alright then. But this is it, okay? No more stunts.” Sneaking a peak at Ricki Layla makes a show of kissing me on the lips, pressing her whole body against me. I pull away quickly avoiding Ricki’s eyes.
Layla brushes past Ricki with a smirk on her face. Ricki stays back. She’s in one of many plaid skirts she owns. She wears her favorite pair of Converse sneakers. And her hair is sexy as hell in a messy bun, a pencil keeping it in place.
“You realize you’re not a Frenchman and this isn’t the seventies?” she asks.
“Good, just wanted to make sure,” she says before leaving.
# # #
An hour earlier my assistant Javon played with the projector and my laptop trying to get my presentation up.
I was pumped, everyone else looked bored. Layla and her publicity team sat on one side of the oval meeting table. Sales and distribution were on the other.
Ricki was in back as the HR representative. Before going mute Dad said it was mandatory to have HR at sales meetings since one of the directors had tried to off himself. It was cited that this may have been prevented had we listened to what he was saying via a PowerPoint he made entitled ‘Life is Bullshit.’ In our defense most of us thought he was bitter because his nubile wife had just left him for someone her own age, and that perhaps he’d have learned his lesson after his sixth marriage.
I asked Javon if he was almost ready. He had a crease in his brow signaling he was either going to throw a tantrum or an object.
“Not working, Nathan,” he grumbled.
“Call, IT,” I said.
He glared at me but acquiesced. Employees would rather Google the hell out of something to figure out how to fix it themselves before going to IT. Holed up in a dank area of the office on a floor no one goes to except for supplies everyone considers IT hidden dwarfs, something out of Lord of the Rings. Whenever we call we suspect that they have a set recording and no one is actually there.
“Hello?” Javon said into the intercom.
“What’s the problem?” a voice crackled on the other end.
“Projector isn’t working with the laptop.”
“Is the device plugged in?”
“Is it on?”
“Of course it’s on.”
“Did you jiggle the handle?”
Javon slammed his hand on the table. “Sonuvabitch!”
Ricki cracked a smile. She asked if Trevor could come by and help. At that the line went dead. Within two minutes he appeared.
I shouldn’t notice another guy but Trevor’s nothing like we thought of IT. The guy was broad shouldered and all-around chiseled. I thought I was good looking but for fuck-sake this guy was a Calvin Klein model. All the women and Javon drooled over him, even Layla gawked. But Ricki, his actual girlfriend, barely acknowledged his presence or good looks even after he winked at her.
Ricki and I locked eyes. I cocked my head to the side in a way that said “Really? That guy?” She in turn gave me the Eyebrow, which said “You dumped me, remember?” I didn’t have a facial gesture for that.
Once everything was set up I stood up. I looked at no one in particular, but found my focus kept sliding to Ricki. She didn’t look up from sketching, something I knew she did in her spare time since she studied art and not human resources in college.
I announced my idea while the video that inspired me played. The film was from the seventies, black and white and wobbly. A video of a Frenchman with balls of steel doing a tightrope walk between the Twin Towers rolled. This man held a beam in heavy winds taking his sweet ass time walking between two buildings that used to be the largest in the nation. This guy was lithe and agile and everything I remembered myself being before I hunkered down to run the company. Before my mother died in a freak accident. Before the Towers were no more and people were too afraid to ride in airplanes let alone be daredevils in their everyday life.
In the film the man was a speck against the Manhattan skyline. But in reality he was a trendsetter. A guy who wanted to do it because he could. I missed that feeling of just doing it. The rush of succeeding and feeling dizzy and hard all over. I felt myself getting erect right then and had to reel it back.
By the time I finished faces stared at me with mouths agape and eyes wide. One of the distributors slowly raised his hand.
“You’re saying you want to use our latest rock climbing rope to scale between two high rises?”
“As a publicity tool?”
I pointed at him. “Exactly!”
At my declaration Ricki squinted at me as though she didn’t recognize me.
Javon ran out of the room screeching. But no one else spoke. Silence turned into murmurs turned into intrigue weaving throughout the room. People said it sounded terrifying but glad it wasn’t them putting their ass on the line. They were excited, more than I’d seen them in months and I’d done that, as their boss. As a man with all the balls in the world.
# # #
On my desk is a picture of my parents smiling in neon skydiving suits. They had a priest come up several thousand feet in the air with them as they renewed their vows. I could barely hear them pledge their love to each other as the pilot signaled it was time for them to make their exit.
A month later, Mom died. Hangliding accident.
A tap at the door disrupts my thoughts. Dad’s in the doorway. He grins but I can tell by the lines etching around his mouth it’s forced.
“Dad,” I reply.
“So…” he drags it out so that I fill in the gaps.
“You heard about what I’m doing next month?”
I lean back in my chair. “You don’t approve?”
“Didn’t say that.”
“Then…” it’s my turn to force his hand.
“I want to know why you think you need to do this.”
“Sales are down.”
“We need to put our face out there again. Well, my face as the new head.”
“Sales are down.”
“You said that.”
“It’s worth repeating.”
Dad clears his throat. “I miss the thrill of it all too, Nate. I do. But some things lose their luster.”
“And you shouldn’t do this because you feel you have to.”
I lean on my desk. Folding my fingers together into a steeple I assure my father that I want to do this.
“If that’s the case then fine. But be careful. I can’t…” he chokes up. He covers his mouth as if to sneeze but I know he’s sucking back a sob. As his son I ignore it, allow him to have this moment of weakness.
He knocks on my desk three times. His way of exiting a room.
That night Layla comes over dressed in nothing but an overcoat and heels. She parades around and tells me to tell her how sexy she looks. It’s odd being directed to do so but I say it.
She snarls at me as she undresses, gets on all fours climbing on my bed and smacks me in the face.
She looks stricken for a second but stiffens up. “You want excitement? I’ll give you excitement!” she yells. We tussle around, moan each other’s names. In reality her name isn’t the one on the tip of my tongue.
# # #
Time moved faster than I would have liked. I sit at my desk dressed in a goddamn leotard. What I won’t do for this company.
All day people have been coming in, rapping on my door already halfway in the office asking if I’m ready, mentally stable. Noting that the press is here. That there are orders up the wazoo. That people are going to post videos on the Internet and if all goes as planned the company will be a success again.
Thirty minutes before I’m to go to the roof someone knocks. Ricki appears behind the door and slowly shuts it behind her. She’s in her usual garb, same sneakers on. Never heels.
“Ricki,” I say admiring her from afar.
“Nice outfit. Do they have it in your size?”
For the first time in awhile I smile because I want to and not because it’s called for.
“The fact that I got into it at all is a feat in itself.”
“I believe you.”
“Are you here to try and talk me out of it?”
“At this stage of the game? Nah,” she waves the idea away. “I just wanted to see how you’re doing. Really doing.”
“A little nervous.”
She nods. “Sounds normal.”
I miss how relaxed things were with Ricki. Not getting beaten up as foreplay was a plus. I could be with Ricki then head off to bungee jump or for a business meeting and return to see her with a new item occupying her time.
“Hey! Bought a banjo!” she’d say holding her prize up.
Ricki embraced my wild side. Sometimes she’d join me, sometimes she wouldn’t. She’d put her head on my shoulder and inquire about events making me relive the whole experience right down to sweaty palms and fuzzy headaches from the intensity of it. But after awhile the jumps and the feeling of my heart in my chest didn’t matter as much as being with her. When I found myself snuggling with her instead of going out jet skiing with friends one Sunday morning, I knew I had settled down and it scared me.
On top of that I overheard her tell someone she was falling in love with me.
“I dunno how he feels about me though,” she added.
Of all the things I’d done, from convincing zookeepers to let me climb into tiger cages or jumping from a moving helicopter into the Baltic Sea hearing her say she loved me took my ability to breathe. My knees wobbled so hard I had to lean against the wall as I slid away.
That night I ordered in and broke up with Ricki. I told her we were too close, more friends than lovers. It almost felt true.
I was amazed she wanted to stay friends let alone be cordial. Especially once I started dating Layla and she paraded it around the office.
Speaking of, another knock reveals Layla. She gapes at Ricki before letting me know we have to go.
“Times up,” she says with some finality.
“Be right there. I need a minute.”
“Alright. Ricki…” she begins but I stop her.
“Ricki and I have something to discuss.”
Layla’s manicured nails scratch at the enamel but she grins and closes the door.
I get up from my seat and take a deep breath as I move towards Rickie. She smells faintly of roses.
Squeezing my hand she says, “Do this for you, Nate. Okay? Not for the business, or your mom God rest her soul.”
I nod. Lowering my head to hers our foreheads meet.
“I’m sorry,” I say because I am.
“You know what.”
“I’d rather have you as a friend than not have you at all. You know that.”
I open my mouth to speak but Layla barges in. Ricki and I are still close when Layla wedges herself between us telling me its time.
Every step is longer than the next until we finally get to the roof. It’s windy as hell up here.
From across the way I see cameras on the adjoining building. Media swarms our highrise as well. My dad is huddled among the mass as are Javon, other executives, even Trevor. I chuck a chin at Trevor and gesture towards my genitals, noting he may be good looking but I have the balls.
Ricki trails behind as Layla leads the way through the crowd. I feel exposed in this skintight outfit like I should be in Cirque du Soleil.
The questions are generic and so I have generic answers. “Feeling good! Can’t wait to get to the other side and prove how great our products are!” I say as jubilantly as I can.
I’m shoved to the edge. I’m given a beam. I’m asked how confident I feel and if I want to turn back. I shake my head at everything not wanting to give specific answers as bile hits the back of my tongue.
I take another deep breath. Once I’m on the ledge the wind knocks me back a few inches encouraging gasps from the crowd.
I turn and lock eyes with Ricki. No Eyebrow, instead she offers a smile.
“I love you,” she mouths.
Of all the things that frighten me in this moment it’s the fact that I love her too.
[© copyright 2012 Jennifer Baker-Henry]