Copyright © 2006 by Rich Mussler. Not to be reproduced without permission.
They fell in love on the twenty-seventh floor, where you can feel the building sway on a windy day. Initially there were exchanges of shy and sly smiles in the break room. She found him sexy, dark with hollow cheeks, getting his own caffeine from the Bunn dispenser in his gray pin-stripe suit and starched Oxford, and a tie that cost more than she earned in two days. His cufflinks were golden four leaf clovers. He wouldnít send his assistant for coffee, she supposed. Her boss, Mr. Madagascar, sent her nearly every day to fetch his coffee, and she was offended by it.
Mr. Sullivan, with his sharp jaw and fine wrinkles that formed at his eyes when he was deep in thought, was her bossís boss. Frankly, the awe she felt for the manís power, authority and position settled below her belt as an overwhelming urge to have sex with him. His movements were smooth, she observed, as a catís. She loved cats. A fantasy enveloped her, which the neon office lights and panoramic view of the city from his corner office strangely enhanced. She glimpsed that view only when she had reason to pass near his door, reasons she manufactured several times daily.
For his part he fell in love with Stephanie because she pursued him. It was flattering. She was young and poor in the sense that all young people are poor. She was also cute and very witty. He imagined buying her things and taking her places. He knew she was pursuing him but he did not know he could fall in love again. He became infatuated with her because it is normal for older men to be infatuated with office assistants, especially those with good legs and a trim figure. He was married twenty-two years so it was natural, he supposed, to be infatuated with a younger woman. But he had forgotten what it is like to be in love. Itís intoxicating. He had no idea you could be in love at fifty. He knew she was pursuing him but was surprised to find heíd fallen in love with her.
When Mr. Sullivanís elderly assistant retired they had a party to honor her. Cake and cards signed by the staff. Stephanie applied for the open position immediately. She was granted a two-step pay raise when she got it. Everyone was surprised at her promotion Ė everyone except Stephanie.
Then, for months, they worked side by side, brushing up against one another, holding glances longer than politely acceptable, touching knees under the table in crowded meetings. Privately, they flirted shamelessly. Publicly, they were polite to one another. Hellos were exchanged at the start of every day and courteous goodbyes at night. They often pulsed with double meaning, a secret code, innocent and defensible if overheard. They flashed eyes at one another.
Riding the elevator up:
“Oh, good morning Mr. Sullivan. Youíre in early. Hard day today?”
“Certainly, Stephanie, thanks to you. You keep things interesting.”
“Well, I know you like to stay on top. Let me know if you have anything urgent you wish me to handle.”
And riding the elevator down:
“Clear your in-box today, Stephanie?”
“Certainly, Mr. Sullivan. Ready for you to fill it again.”
Mr. Sullivan went to bed early, dreamed of her and awoke stiff. His wife snored beside him. Stephanie stayed up late and fantasized about him as she bathed in a jetted tub. Her cat watched from its perch on the vanity. Neither boss nor assistant dared express openly how they felt. Without saying so, each desired the other, body and soul.
He never asked her to fetch his coffee.