You Can Be The Boss by Kristin Kelley
The first time I heard Joe DiVolto’s name it was clouded in an air of dread and disgust. Their eyes said that they didn’t envy me at all.
Someone wrote his New York City extension down on a canary yellow post-it note and slapped it in front of me. They suggested that I use the conference room, because it was probably going to take awhile. I stared out of the 17th floor window for a long while, watching the San Diego Padres warm up their talentless team in Petco Park. I promised myself a drink and I picked up the phone.
My heart rate felt stressfully high. As the line rang, I felt a rush of blood to my head. I can’t really remember what I said as I tripped over my introductions and tied my tongue in two to explain my administrative predicament. I guess the call was long and convoluted, but I remember his voice… his voice was knots deep and godly calm. He sounded like black coffee tasted when it was the first thing I reached for in the mornings. He was steady like a midnight rain when I was warm in bed and not lonely at all. When I finally hung up the receiver with a small click, it almost looked like the Padres had hit a home run.
The next time someone doomed me to call Joe DiVolto in New York, I felt quaky like cottage cheese. As I made for the conference room, my coworkers all nodded their understanding and support, like townspeople watching me head to the gallows. The Padres weren’t on the field, but I could just make out the lines of a palm tree across the bay on Coronado Island. I dreamt of the taste of a shot of tequila and picked up the phone. The other end sounded of screeching brakes from lemonyellow taxicabs and muffled car horns bounding up the skyscrapers from the grimy asphalt and city drizzle, and still he came through like a statue of firm confidence raised high on a stone horse. As he talked, he quieted something in me I never knew was screaming. When the phone call ended, the sun was reflecting so brightly off the Pacific I squinted all the way back to my desk. I read the same email fourteen times and never comprehended a word of it.
I started to sneak into the conference room every chance I could, with any excuse of a question I could come up with, anything at all that could pass as a need for guidance, and I would call Joe DiVolto in New York City. Soon, work didn’t matter anymore. He would talk to me about his life on the East Coast, and we discussed music unendingly. We debated religion and politics, and talked of our fathers. I felt so uninhibited with him, I brought out fears and thoughts I didn’t dare think to myself, and found that nothing phased him, he shuddered at nothing. He saw me at the bottom and he built me back up. He picked me up and carried me steadily and never lost strength. He told me I was thinking the right thoughts and was on my way. He said that I was going to be okay and it all felt so true when he said it. I felt the hard lines that used to exist between us melting, and everything started to blur. I couldn’t tell who he was anymore, but I would have voted for him for public office, thrown myself at his crucified feet, followed him out of an apocalypse.
He was using sticks and flint to start a fire in my heart; I felt like packing up my life and turning it around for the better. I wanted to be a philanthropist, a human rights advocate, an ambassador to the UN. I felt his advice resonating in my cavernous being like the roar of a lioness protecting her young. As long as his attention was on me, I would have confessed to crimes I had never committed. I had the courage to shake the world. I didn’t have to try with him, somehow. The feelings he gave me were unprecedented in my life. For the first time, I felt reciprocated, I felt the way a woman should feel. There was certainly something beyond words and experience that came with him, with us. I wanted to find him.
When they told me with a groan that Joe DiVolto would be coming to San Diego, I excused myself politely and went out shopping. There was nothing. Nothing to adorn me the way he made me feel on the inside; nothing that painted me as regal as he deserved, but God did I try. I bought a dress in a deep ruby tone, and earrings of glittering onyx stones and black kitten heels. I wondered how tall he was in person. I wondered if his breath was as rich as his voice, if it would be so thick as to drip down the sides of my neck. I told the saleswoman that yes, she should giftwrap it.
The day he came was a mild Saturday and I tried to sneak out the sunny door before my roommates woke… but alas, they intercepted me.
What are you wearing?
You can’t do this!
You’re going to regret this!
Do you really think you’ll win him?
They spit their exclamations out at me with fast fire and put me on the defense.
I’m not doing anything! I don’t even have any clue what he looks like! And didn’t you ever think that maybe he would be the one seducing me?
Their mouths were gaping as I ran out and I drove to work trying to calm the storm inside my head.
The building didn’t run air conditioning in communal spaces on the weekends, so the elevators were hot and baking and I felt like throwing up. I had never noticed the carpet before. I thought it was blue but I was noticing some purple strands. Did they zigzag or was that my wobbly eyesight? Had I hit the button for Floor 17 yet or was it glowing because I was dreaming? The doors felt so harshly reflective, and I didn’t want to look at myself in any of them. I felt like I was trapped inside a shiny new toaster and I would be ejected onto the floor sizzling and smoking at the edges. There was a rail along the three walls, and against the mirrors it gave the illusion of a ballet barre. I laid a hand against it like I had learned to do before a grand plié, and I wished I was in a studio now with the piano tinkling away. I fanned my face and felt the rushing of the elevator stop fill my head. The doors slid open and I pawed one heel out and let the next follow.
He was the first thing I saw. There, at the front desk straight ahead, his profile hovering above the counter as he drummed away on his laptop, sat the only man I didn’t recognize, but knew in an instant. Without permission, my hips swung side-to-side as I approached him and he looked up and smiled. I came around and took the seat next to him. We shook hands like old friends and I felt content there where I found myself. I felt the hushes and fingers from my coworkers, felt their magnifying glasses raised above me. I tried to dive into my own work, tried to look like the screen in front of me had my attention, and not show the eyes on the side of my head that couldn’t take themselves away from Joe DiVolto.
He touched my slim, tanned forearm across the tabletop with his calloused fingertips and asked me if we had coffee around this joint. As I turned, I let my glossy hair fall over my shoulders and I reached into my soul for all my servitude and desperation, and folded them gently at his feet.
I looked him in his gray eyes and said that I could get coffee for him, and how much cream and sugar would he like?
He asked me what other domestic habits I had hidden.
I tried my best at a sexy lopsided smile as I touched his shirt, but my heart skipped a beat and I was scared to press down to the bone.
Was this feeling inside, this shaking and this heat and this nervousness… what was this? I felt as though I had entered a haven, found an oasis, crossed the finish line. All this time I had never even known that I was fighting a storm, traversing the desert, or lagging in the race. I only felt stillness in my warming heart.
For the rest of the day, despite the comings and goings and breaks of everyone around, Joe DiVolto and I worked fervently side by side, occasionally rubbing arms, or asking the other to pass the stapler, and I put forth a tremendous effort to concentrate on anything at all. I snuck glances at the shallow lines in his face, his rough skin and his dark hair, and knew now that no one my age would ever compare with him. I imagined Joe DiVolto in college and with women, and everything about this imaginary life turned me on. The desire was overwhelming; I wanted him to show me off, I wanted to reward him with a trophy of myself. There was no kind of woman I couldn’t be for him. It would take a lifetime to wait for any other man to grow into what he was for me already.
As our work ended and early dusklight descended, our team took to the warm sunset falling on the downtown streets, sashaying leisurely to dinner. I soured inside to think of the day ending, to think of the distractions of everyone else, to know his attention would be taken from me. I already felt cold in his shade.
I was not immune to my coworkers. They were grabbing me by the arm, fussing harshly in my ear. They were pulling at my dress, wiping the makeup from my face, telling me to be ashamed and did I know him at all? And Good God couldn’t I see how old he was? Their words made me ashamed, and I felt worse for knowing how I was about to turn my face the other way because of their words.
As we all crowded around the table, I sat immediately and put my hot face in my hands, reaching for the water. I had nothing to say to my peers as they gossiped and chattered into one loud headache. I stared at Joe DiVolto across the table, speaking with his contemporaries and I envied them all. I felt like a sunflower twisting and fighting to turn her face to the sun. I had to have him.
I offered to walk Joe DiVolto back to his hotel. I followed him like a little golden lapdog, trailing his heels whichever direction he led me to.
I scuffed my shoes as we approached the door. He tried to say goodnight and I tried to stop him.
Don’t you want to get another drink? I asked. I touched his arm and this time I pressed down to the muscle, the bone.
You know somewhere? He asked.
ONE-TWO-THREE-SA-KE-BOMB! Our shouts were lost in the bright light and loud crowd as we pounded our fists on the table and laughed as the shots splashed and spilled.
Let me ask you a question, I demanded. He promised he’d answer.
You ever been married?
Not once, he said.
I had to ask why and he didn’t really answer in a line.
He told me that the woman behind me had nice legs and I scoffed.
They’d look better around my neck of course he said, and I spit out my beer on him and he laughed.
I asked how long it had been. I knew it was an awful thing to bring up, but somehow I wanted it all on the table. I couldn’t wait and I couldn’t resist. His dark eyes, the gray strands in his hair, it all made me feel a little wild.
It hasn’t been long since I fucked a woman, but I tend to respond more to the companionship.
I said I knew what he meant and he had no idea how honest I was being.
It’s getting late and you’ve gotta drive, he said. My insides were sinking but I forced them afloat.
We stood in front of his hotel, the bright glass lobby doors shone on us standing by the ashtrays, smoking his cigarettes and delaying the night. Joe DiVolto, from New York City. Joe DiVolto, my boss’s boss. Joe DiVolto, right in front of me.
You know, everyone said I should be scared of you, I told him.
I’m not surprised, most people are around here, don’t know why.
I’m not scared of you, Joe. I took a step toward him and blew the smoke the other way.
I’m your boss. He said it out loud; reminding himself I guess. I put an arm around his warm neck.
You can still be the boss. I used my other hand to smooth my dress, deftly pulling the v-neck lower with a practiced sleight of hand. I saw his eyes dart downward.
God if only you were ten years older, he breathed.
I moved my face in toward his stubbly throat. How old are you? I asked him. I hadn’t had a mind to find out sooner. There was no number that could send me on my way.
I’m forty-nine, he conceded. He didn’t sound like he believed it himself, but he was gasping for air and looking skyward.
I don’t care, I told him. I moved my fingers up somewhere near his ear, his neck, his jaw.
I felt him turn his face away to look across the road at the empty shops and Irish pubs along B Street. I hovered my mouth around his neck, breathing hot breath. So deep and calm, he spoke.
Sometimes, he said, a man likes to fight.
© Kristin Kelley 2013
Kristin holds an honors degree in Linguistics from UC Santa Barbara and has studied with the creative writing program at Columbia University. While shopping her first full-length novel, she began writing children's books, illustrated by her sister Shannon. Kristin has performed improv at The Pit in NYC, and her penchant for humor fuels most of her writing into the form of sarcastic vignettes and essays. Her recently-launched website for literary endeavors is found at kristinokelley.com.
You Can Be The Boss was read by Kristen Calgaro for the Age & Beauty Show on 3rd April 2013