By Thomas H. Iak

Unbeknownst to me, the ghosts of childhood follow as I stepped through the revolving door of the downtown high-rise. The Italian marbled three-story entry screamed opulence, and I asked myself if I belonged here.

Yes.

Yes, I do.

I paused, took a gander at my reflection in the polished elevator door, and smiled. As suggested by the eager saleswoman at Macy’s last week, the black fitted skirt showcased my much-admired and tone legs.

The fact it was on clearance was a bonus.

A moment later, in the bright and crowded waiting room on the fifth floor, I scrutinized my rivals with mixed feelings. Obviously, this was not these ladies’ first rodeo.

How can people afford to dress like that?

With effort, I stifled a sigh and took a deep breath, then shook my head and chided myself. What the hell, Susan? What happened to the confident chick that walked in five minutes ago?

I extended the index finger on my right hand. Number one: You are Susan T. McCoy, and you got this girl. What’s more, you have a solid résumé. You have a Master’s from Berkley. From Berkley, no less!

So what if you were five years a senior to most of your classmates…

Whatever.

Number Two: Another finger, the middle one (a personal favorite) popped up. Once you knuckled down, got serious and made “friends” with the Dean, you finished 3rd in your class and graduated with distinction.

A third finger inched its way up… Number Three…

For a minute I was stymied, then added… you’re a damned good looking, tough, kick-ass take no prisoners chick from Brooklyn, dammit all!

I grinned.

Damn straight!

And… number four …

Another renegade sigh escaped my lips.

I shrugged and reminded myself I didn’t suffer through a semester of Drama 101 for nothing. Remember; Charm can be manufactured.

A dry cough, somewhere down the hall, stirred me from my thoughts, so I absentmindedly surveyed the room again, stunned once again at the effort these gals had taken to get a job. Expensive outfits. Fresh manicures. Most, without as much as a hair out of place.

Whatever. Not everyone can afford a Dolce or Armani.

The sleek and affordable clearance rack outfit I was rocking (if I do say so myself) would still be collecting dust at the Macy’s Layaway if I wasn’t desperate to nail this job. I am so done flipping burgers at Burger Basin. But, thanks, in part, to the complimentary lunch earned every day for the last eight months, I was ready.

Yes, I am.

Miss Susan T. McCoy has every right to be the self-confident son-of-a-bitch she’s always been! Confident, cocky and proud of it, sister!

At that, I nearly laughed out loud.

A moment later, a detailed survey of the room did wonders to bolster said confidence. The young woman. opposite, was working vigorously at something in her teeth, and both of her legs were shivering like a polar bear in heat. Next to her… um, how do you not realize that your dress is three sizes too small? I bet she bought it years ago and forty pounds lighter. Clearly not everyone can rock an outfit, even an Armani.

In contrast, the waif beside was wearing a blue corduroy pantsuit popular in, what? The Fifties? As skinny as you are, maybe you’d had a shot as an extra in Les Misérables but good luck here, Sunshine.

Catching the eye of the only other competitor, I thought to myself, “What are you looking at, Pretty in Pink? Look at you, you little pert princess in your momma’s pink pumps? What are you, sixteen? Ever heard of Clearasil?

And, most assuredly, that pretty Saks Fifth Avenue (or whatever) belongs in her mommy’s closet. This last thought did in fact elicit a chuckle. Ha! Ha!

These chicks didn’t stand a chance!

I straightened and grinned, confidence spiking. Just like always, this one’s in the bag.

***

Two-hours later, Mr. Allison Brown, in accounting, a forty-something with a reckless comb over and a chipped front tooth, had studied every inch of my body while unconsciously playing with the wedding band on his pudgy little finger. Sitting there with him was exhausting.

Through it all, he may have heard my evasive responses to his flirtatious questions, but I’ll never know. I just worked that painted smile and reminded myself repeatedly not to stare at that hairy mole at the corner of his left eye.

Anyway, as expected, I aced the interview, and couldn’t help but grin when Mister “Call me Al” instructed me to go straight upstairs.

Upstairs? To the penthouse?

He nodded and said the head honcho had called earlier. She wanted to meet me.

To be honest, this was a bit of surprise. Okay. I was shocked. As confident as I was, this one blindsided me. I mean, who gets to meet the CEO after only one interview?

Well, I do.

This is it.

I’m in!

Goodbye Burger Basin!

With a self-assured nod, I sauntered past the other applicants (losers!) and offered an obligatory smile toward the elevator operator. “The penthouse, please.”

Tempted to whistle, or do my trademark victory dance, I stepped out of the elevator and sauntered up to the CEO’s reception’s desk.

She spoke first.

Go right in? You bet!

And… that’s when my enthusiasm waned. The CEO’s brass nameplate had captured my full attention: Constance B. Laughty.

No way.

My breath refused to leave my lungs.

The mahogany double doors, cocked open, revealed an expansive and finely decorated corner office, but I found myself frozen at the door. Before me, reclined in a rich leather chair behind the most beautiful desk I’d ever seen, was Connie Laughty.

Little Connie Laughty. Scrawny Connie. Gaudy Laughty. Con-stance the Prawn-stance.

The little pest from the neighborhood that no one really liked. She was always buzzing around. Wanting to play…

Great. Just great. Scrawny Connie was now the head honcho?

Her back was to me, but the wall to wall windows offered a spectacular view of the cityscape and her stone-cold reflection. Each breathtaking. Needless to say, the view and her expression evoked conflicting emotions. And, as if foretelling doom, thunder rattled the glass as strips of light slashed the darkening sky.

At last she spoke. “I love storms, don’t you, Suzie?”

Suzie. I felt my shoulders sag. No one had called me Suzie since 5th grade.

Damn. She remembers.

“So brutal, yet beautiful,” she added. “Such brazen, unbridled power. Relentless and unmerciful.”

I waited, hand still on the brass knob, and starred at her reflection. As I considered closing the door, I froze. She hadn’t asked me to, nor had I asked if I should. I swallowed hard, and with reason: Mother May I.

Yes, the children’s game.

You see, me, Tammy Perrillo and Angela Hertz were the cutest girls in school, and best friends since Kindergarten. We were inseparable, and by the third grade, we ruled the neighborhood. When Scrawny Connie moved next door to Angela, something had to be done.

So I cooked up a plan. Whenever she came around asking what we were playing, I always said Mother May I, which, usually, we were not. You see, with most childhood games, victory can be earned with wit, speed, or skill. Like tag. I always kicked butt playing Tag. Anyway, with Mother May I. the mother decides the winner.

Always.

No skill needed.

You want to take three steps? Yes you may. Or, if Connie’s asking; No. No you may not.

You may take one tiny baby step. Or, if you feel like being mean, you may take three steps back. Or, my favorite; you may crawl in a circle.

You get the idea.

So, little Connie Laughty never won. And I mean never. I thought she’d tire of the game and go home. But she never did…

“Al speaks well of you,” she said without emotion. “Anderson, down in recruiting, too.”

Suddenly her nose wrinkled as thin lips revealed a frosty grin. She was amusing herself. At my expense.

Now what?

Had she asked me in? Not actually. Her secretary had instructed me to enter, didn’t she?

I wasn’t sure.

Had I knocked?

No.

Should I have?

From where I stood, there were twenty — maybe twenty one — steps to her desk.

My heart began to race. Twenty steps separated me from my future.

At last, she swiveled and face me, her beady eyes seemed to ask Are you going to ask permission to enter or just stand there? Instead, she said, “Anderson said you’re the most promising candidate he’s interviewed all week. Said you’d be an asset to the company.”

“Oh,” I mumbled. “He said that?”

“He did.” Papers rustled in her little hands. “And I can see why. Master’s degree, Berkley. Finished 3rd in your class, graduated with distinction. Dean’s list…”

I leaned against the door. “Thanks.”

“Over 50 hours of volunteer community service work. Very impressive.”

I nodded, tried a smile. It just wasn’t there.

“So,” she said, “Do you have a question for me?”

Five hours later, I was back flipping burgers at the Burger Basin. Should I have responded with a polite Mother, may I take twenty sheepish steps? Probably, but I’ll never know. I mean, no way was I about to let that little shrimp play the Mother.

Some habits are hard to break.

THE END

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