April 4 -- 2:18pm
"I don't know, Peony. Kellor passed me up for promotion again, and my performance review didn't make it clear why."
"Nothing?" The diminutive secretary didn't know what to say to this. She was happy that her boss could confide in her this way, but she was just as clueless of the rationale for keeping Gladys a junior exec as Gladys herself was.
"No. It's frustrating."
"What are you going to do about it?"
A sigh. "Nothing, I guess. Try harder next year." She looked dejected. "I'm going to go home and drink a bottle of wine, P. You can take the rest of the afternoon off, too, if you like."
Peony shook her head as Gladys walked away, briefly considered going home to finish some of her chores, then changed her mind and opened up PowerPoint. Gladys might be going home, but there was definitely plenty to do in her absence. The house payment wasn't getting any lower.
April 5 -- 8:04am
The next morning Gladys returned, looking slightly the worse for wear. Hung over was the first thought to cross Peony's mind, though Gladys didn't mention it. "Hi, P. I'll be in my office doing some work. Can you take all the calls for me?" She poured herself the blackest cup of coffee imaginable. "It would be best if the phone didn't even ring, you know?"
Peony smiled sympathetically. "Sure, Gladys. I'll take care of it. Do you want me to send you the McClintock presentation? I tidied it up a bit for you. Added some formatting and corrected typos."
"Sure, P. I appreciate it. Just email it to me, all right?"
And with that, the blonde entered her office and-- gently-- closed the door.
After two hours or so, Gladys re-emerged, looking much more energetic. The coffee had evidently been a hit. "Thanks for the edits, P. I'm off to show the slides to Bill and Jasper right now."
"Isn't the meeting tomorrow?"
"Yeah, but it never hurts to give a preview so there will be no surprises when I give the formal presentation. Besides, if I'm gonna get promoted next year, I'd better start getting more ambitious, and the early bird catches the worm, right?"
Peony giggled. "I'm sure you're right, Gladys. Good luck!"
Gladys left the office with a swing in her step, headed upstairs.
May 7 -- 7:25am
"Morning, Gladys," replied Peony, surprised to see her boss in this early in the day. "Early meeting?"
Gladys was all teeth. "Not particularly. I just felt like coming in to get some work done, is all."
"I like your new suit. Where did you get it?"
"Oh, this old thing," she replied with laughter in her voice. "I picked it up on clearance at Ann Taylor. You like?"
Peony nodded. It was bolder than her boss's typical style, but still very professional. "It suits you."
"Oh, P, such bad puns! You should 'P' ashamed!" She winked and kicked the back pleat of her skirt high as she flounced into her office, closing the door.
Peony shook her head. Gladys was a bit on the happy side, and she hoped it came across as enthusiasm rather than as addiction to methamphetamine. She certainly enjoyed seeing Gladys like this, but in a conference room...
A call from her boss popped up on the phone, and she answered it. "P, when does the mall open today?"
"Um ... I don't know. Ten, I'd guess. Why? Do you need me to run out and get you something?"
The response held a light disappointment. "No. No, I'll get it. I don't have a meeting until one. Thanks, P."
"Don't mention it."
May 23 -- 12:43pm
Peony's cell phone was ringing, and she saw from the screen that it was her boss.
"Hello?" she inquired into the receiver.
"Peony! Thank goodness. I need you to head to the mall for me for some stuff ... um ... it's personal, not really professional. Is that okay with you?"
"Sure, Gladys, whatever you need. I'm here for you."
"Thanks, hon, you're a life saver. Here's what I need..." Peony memorized it; the unconventionality of it all made it rather simple. "And if you can't find it in a Medium, I'll take a Small."
"Wow. Hot date tonight?"
"Sorta kinda. We'll talk later, okay?"
"All right. I'll get it done for you, dear."
"Thanks, P. Don't know what I'd do without you." The line went dead.
"I don't know either," Peony mumbled to herself. "And I wonder what you're doing without me tonight..."
She headed to the mall, parking near the Sears entrance, as it was closest to Victoria's Secret.
June 29 -- 7:33pm
" ... and therefore it brings us great pleasure to announce the promotion of Gladys Bankington to the position of senior executive in charge of Product Development. She'll be joining Bart's staff, and..." Darrell Ponce laughed here. " ... and she's sure to enjoy her new digs on the fifteenth floor. The desks are genuine fake mahogany up here, Gladys!"
Peony joined all the other banquet guests in applauding as Gladys ascended to the podium and shook Darrell's hand. He whispered something in her ear, and she looked mock-insulted and smacked him playfully on the shoulder, pulling him close to whisper something back and kiss him on the cheek. He smiled awkwardly and glanced audienceward. Wondering if his wife saw, Peony realized. Unlikely, anyway-- the woman had doused herself in cocktails all night and was barely conscious.
As the presentation moved onto the year's sales awards, Gladys came back down to sit at Peony's table.
"Well, that was embarrassing."
"What happened, dear?"
"Darrell made a joke to me up there that if I dressed like this every day, I'd soon be up for a position as general manager!"
"That was entirely uncalled for. And unprofessional. You could sue him!"
"I know. But I got back at him."
"I told him that the lace teddy underneath was at least worthy of a V.P. slot, and that I gave head like a CEO."
"Oh, my!" Peony blushed and started to giggle.
"Did you see the look on his face?"
'I did. It must have had a real effect-- he scanned the audience for his wife's reaction right afterward."
"Hilarious! Wonder what his reaction would have been if he'd known I wasn't kidding."
Gladys was silent, and her smile froze.
"Well, I'm bored, now that the coronation is over. What say you and me get out of here?"
"You go ahead, Gladys, I'm going to finish this creme brulee and then head home."
"Okay, P. I'll see you later."
"Bye, dear." Knowing that Gladys owned this stuff-- she herself had bought it, after all-- was not the same as knowing exactly when it was being worn. She downed her champagne-- which was not all that bad, in corporate dinner party terms-- and wondered, idly, how often Gladys wore the frilly things she'd purchased. Or how hard to laugh at Gladys's "kidding" comment.
September 7 -- 10:25am
Peony was in the midst of compiling the new list of customer contact numbers when Gladys entered, stunned.
"I need a drink," she pronounced, staggering to Peony's desk.
"Gladys, what in the world is wrong?" Peony replied, getting an Arrowhead from the mini-fridge next to her desk. "Did he not like your presentation?"
"Presentation was fine. They all loved it." She gulped the water down, wiping her mouth with the back of her hand, and leaned up against the office wall. "He-- Bart-- he said he's retiring next month."
"Well, that's not a shock. He's been threatening to do that ever since he turned sixty."
"No, that's ... He's putting me in charge when he leaves. As General Manager, acting. He said it was until they find a replacement, but-- P--" She took another swig. "He told me privately that I had been 'his special project', and that the job is mine on a permanent basis unless I screw it up!"
"Gladys, that's wonderful!"
"No, it's not, it's horrible! It's too much responsibility. I'm not ready, I'm too green to play in this league, I'm--" Peony watched as her boss slowly sank to a seated position, shaking her head and cradling her knees to her bosom.
"You'll do fine. You always have and you always will. Trust yourself. Or trust the people around you when we tell you: you're a remarkable person and destined for great things."
"I don't believe in destiny."
"I do. And I know you're headed to the top. This is just one more step."
Gladys gulped the rest of the water. "I'm ... not sure. That meeting ... really left a bad taste in my mouth."
"It's all in your head."
"If you only knew." She looked thoughtful, then licked her lips and shook her head free of whatever she was pondering. "I think I need to get out of here and have an early lunch. Will you join me?"
"Gladys, I don't know. I have a lot of work to do for you on the Gardner presentat--" She looked at the other woman, who looked so vulnerable, so exposed ... and that made her decision for her. "All right, let's go."
"Thanks, P. I'll just get my purse. Help me up?"
Peony extended a hand to the tall blonde and, as delicately manicured fingers tightened around her own, tried not to glance down at the pantiless crotch and taut stockings her superior exposed in that awkward position. She shuddered and retrieved her own bag, and the two women left together.
November 28 -- 4:36pm
"I've told him in no uncertain terms that I don't care about company policy. I take my people with me, and you're going to continue to be my administrative assistant-- that's what they're calling them upstairs-- for as long as I work here."
"But, Gladys ... I don't have the training."