His socks. Sara still didn’t understand what that meant, but Dane tended to notice little things that were important. He was very detail oriented. If Chuck’s socks were important, then Sara would keep an eye out for them.
She sat in her office, tapping her pen impatiently against the glass desk. Chuck had insisted that he talk directly to her even though that wasn’t normally what happened on pitches for smaller accounts, but he was being pushy. Sara didn’t care for that sort of entitled behavior, but she’d consented to keep the peace and in hopes that she could redirect the War on Dairy campaign to something less literal.
As the minutes ticked by, Sara started doodling again. This time it was Chuck’s face, the length of his nose, his broad shoulders, the stray lock of hair that flopped in his face in the front no matter how much product he used. Even in angry cartoon form he was attractive, which was why he could get away with treating women like used tissue and probably why he thought standing her–a professional colleague–up was appropriate.
The thought made her grit her teeth. Going over the lines she’d just drawn on his cocky face, she changed his expression to pained, then drew in a knife piercing through his chest, straight through to the heart. She switched to a red pen, gleefully drawing in patches on his suit and dripping off the penned knife.
“Wow, sorry I’m late.”
Her face had to be as red as the pen when she looked up to see Chuck standing there. She was about to babble out an excuse when she saw the smug look on his face. He wasn’t scared. Of course not. She was just some woman to toy with.
“You should be.”
Chuck grinned, a brow up. “Why, do you have a knife in your desk?”
Whatever expression she wore on her face caused him to back up a couple of steps. Though that gave her some pleasure, she looked over at her computer. “An X-Acto, actually. But blood is so hard to get out of the carpet.” She paused and looked at their shared wall as if considering his dark floor. “Can we move the meeting to your office?”
It took him a moment to get it, but he apparently took the comment as flirting. “Of course. I don’t mind a little blood play on my couch.”
That was the limit of her tolerance. She switched to her computer and moused over to her calendar and blocked the next couple of days as busy. “Another time. I have another meeting. Feel free to reschedule when you find time on my calendar.”
She smiled sweetly as she locked her computer and then stood.
“Oh. I’m sorry. A client meeting went over–” Chuck looked honestly shocked, though not sorry. He reeked of alcohol, which could have meant he’d been at a lunch client meeting. Schmoozing was part of his job. But then, he could just as easily been out getting drunk and carousing on lunch break. If he’d really been out with a client, he shouldn’t have buried the lede, no matter what she was drawing.
“It’s okay, Chuck. Look, if you can’t find time on my calendar, I’m sure Brett and Maria would be more than happy to meet with you and go over the creative brief. If they’re having trouble, I’ll consult with them.”
He shot her a suspicious look and then eyed her computer like he understood that she was forcibly shutting him down. Score one for him if he did, but what could he do about it? “How about I just hang out until after your next meeting? It’s almost the end of the day. Surely you can’t have that many more meetings today.”
Sara frowned and looked at the clock. “Just find time on my schedule, Chuck. I skipped lunch to meet with you, and I need to get to dinner after work.”
“A date?” His expression was inscrutable, but his shoulders were tense like he was competing with some unknown foe.
Which of course he’d think because all women were clearly his possessions and the fact that Sara had no interest in him other than to avoid him made no difference to his reptilian man brain. Or maybe he was just looking for a man to compete with because there would be no other reason for a woman to put him off.
“No. Just dinner. For me. Part of that whole three-meals-a-day thing.”
Chuck’s dark eyes glittered like a predator’s. “Oh. I could buy you dinner.”
There was something cocky in his tone, like he thought she was working up to this, fishing for a dinner date. “No, you really couldn’t.”
He laughed, somewhere between amusement and incredulity. “I can. I have money and everything.”
The laugh made her want to get away from him. “Okay, you can but you may not.”
Chuck leaned against the doorway, blocking her exit. “You know, Sara, it’s okay if you don’t like men. Dinner can just be dinner.”
“I like men just fine, Chuck. It’s you I don’t like.”
The words made him jump as if he’d been shocked. As if no one had ever told him that they didn’t enjoy his company before. She knew that wasn’t true; she’d heard many women yell how much they hated him. Still, the words seemed to befuddle him, and he straightened, looking around like he was disoriented.
“Um. Okay. Well. We still need to get this campaign done. I need to meet with you. Can I just have five or ten minutes after your last meeting?”
Sara sighed. She didn’t know if his being wounded was an act, or if he was just so much of a jerk that he believed himself irresistible. Either way, she wasn’t giving in. It was time for Chuck to suck it up. “You’re familiar with the calendar, right? Should I call someone in to train you on how to use it?”
He crossed his arms. “You really don’t like me, do you?”
She stepped up to him, looking up into his eyes. Even though she was wearing tall heels, he was taller, and she wasn’t a short woman. “I don’t have to like you, Chuck. I’m a professional, and as a professional, I was here for our meeting on time and ready to work. If you’d shown me the same courtesy, we wouldn’t be having this discussion. Now your unprofessional behavior is making me late for another meeting, and no, I don’t find it endearing.”
“I see.” He took a step back and turned to the side to allow Sara to pass. “I’m sorry. I’ll find time on your schedule.”
“Thank you.” She brushed past him, heading down the hallway. She could feel his eyes on her ass, but she wasn’t going to look back at him or tell him off for it because she had to look like she had another meeting to go to. Which she didn’t.
It occurred to her that making up a meeting and blocking off time on her calendar wasn’t the most professional way to handle things. In fact, it was rather immature to play this tit-for-tat game with Chuck.
But she wasn’t going to let him steamroller her. Her time was just as valuable as his. Everyone else made allowances for him, and all it did was cause him to behave badly. She didn’t think he’d thanked anyone for anything, ever. She didn’t require thanks, but if she was going to work with him, he was going to have to deal with some ground rules.
Reaching the end of the hall, all she’d done was fume, not figure out who she’d have a meeting with. She took a left and headed over to Dale’s office. She couldn’t imagine Chuck going over there to check on her, and even if he did, Dane would cover for her. She hoped. Provided he wasn’t in a sadistic mood.
Dane was the only production person who had an office with a door. He was a working manager, meaning that he picked up the slack when the department got overwhelmed. He let her sit in his office and watch him work with the door closed.
“You know he has the office next to yours, Sara. He’s probably just going to stake it out tonight and bother you when you get back.” Dane eyed her over his monitor. “I don’t see your purse with you.”
“You have my spare keys.” How pathetic. She was just going to hide from the guy rather than get her stuff?
Dane furrowed his brows. “I’ll give them to you if you really want me to, but rushing out like that after the lecture you gave him on being a professional…”
She sat back in the chair with her arms dangling off the sides, legs out and relaxed. Above Dane was a framed picture of he and Trey toasting on a yacht. They had each other, and she had to flee a maniac account executive. She kicked the edge of his desk with the pointy toe of her shoe.
“Hey.” Dane glared. “He’s not going to vanish just because you ignore him. You’re going to have to deal with him at some point. Ducking out makes you look as immature as he is.”
“Is that what people tell themselves when they let him have his way?” She knew Dane was right, but that only stung more.
“Did it occur to you that maybe he really was running late?”
“It occurred to me that he had a phone.”
Dane sighed. “Okay, so he fucked up. You’re right; he’s wrong. Does that make you feel better?”
Sara clutched her hands together on her stomach. “Why are you defending him?”
Dane held up his hands in surrender. “I’m not. I’m on your side. But you know if we don’t win this account, they’re not going to be impressed that you hid out in production to avoid the account executive, no matter how much of a dog he is.”
She dropped her head and stared at her lap. He was right, of course.
He stood and crossed to her. Laying a hand on her shoulder as he crouched so they’d be eye to eye, he said, “I know it’s hard. But he’s not Keith, okay? He’s a jerk, yes. But remember what I said about his socks? Or check out his panty line when you see him.”
Sara sat up and knocked their foreheads together. “Panty line? Dane, I’m not going to look at his ass.”
He laughed and kissed her forehead. “I know that’s not your thing, but trust me, you won’t regret it.”
After another few minutes of pep talk, Sara made her way back to her office. Since it was well after six, most of the office was dark. Everyone else was gone, but a lamp still shone from Chuck’s office.
She looked in to tell him they could meet, but as she scanned the room, she didn’t see him.
Of course he wasn’t there. Her whole notion that he’d hang around and stalk her was as presumptive as he’d been. Obviously he’d have a date or have made one if he knew he wasn’t going to be working. What was she thinking?
Due to the long lectures Trey had given her about energy conservation, she stepped into the office to turn Chuck’s lamp off when something on the couch glinted. Straining in the semidarkness, she still couldn’t make sense of the long, dark shape. It was a long piece of black fabric with four long strips coming from it and metal at the ends. It wasn’t until she was right up on the item that her brain registered that she was looking at a woman’s garter belt.
A garter belt. Right out in the open for anyone to walk in and see. “Oh, gross.”
Sara looked around as if someone might’ve witnessed this interaction or heard her assessment. Grabbing a few tissues from Chuck’s desk, she picked up the lingerie and wrapped it up. Once it was in her hand, she wondered what she was going to do with it.
He’d probably left it out there for her as some sort of sexist statement on what he thought of her: as a sex object. Some women like me enough to leave their underwear on my couch. What a pig.
Fine then. She had a brief fantasy of throwing it in his face and telling him what a jerk he was, which was enough to give her momentum to take it to her office. At first she shoved it in her desk, but then Chuck could always steal it back and deny it was ever there. So she shoved it in her purse and shut down her computer.
She was just turning out the lights when Chuck returned from down the hall where the bathroom was.
Chuck had a strange look on his face, but as he saw her locking her door, he rushed to her. “Hey.” He panted from the run. “I didn’t see time on your schedule. Can we meet for a couple of minutes?”
Sara squinted and then looked meaningfully at his office, then to the bathroom. Obviously if he was still here and there was a garter out, he must have someone with him. There was probably some poor woman cleaning herself up in the bathroom, maybe even someone who worked here. Maria? Jen? Sara didn’t want to know. “Now isn’t a good time for either of us, I don’t think.”
Chuck tilted his head. “What? What do you mean?”
She leaned in. “I mean, I know what’s going on and you’re disgusting.”
Clutching her purse to her chest, Sara said, “You should be ashamed of yourself. How dare you ask me to have a meeting with you in there after what you were doing.”
“I thought you’d left.” Even he seemed to realize that was an inadequate thing to say. He looked down at the floor, cheeks rosy.
“I bet you did.” She shook her head. “Look, I realize you’re used to women behaving a certain way around you, but I am not like that. You will treat me with respect, and if you don’t…”
She held up her purse and then pointed at Chuck’s office. “I have evidence as to what you’ve been doing here, and I’m not afraid to use it.”
“Oh my God.” Chuck clutched the wall like he was on the verge of fainting. He didn’t even try to grab for her purse, which she was glad for, because he was bigger than she was.
He staggered back to his office and peered in and then turned around looking like a gasping fish. “Please don’t, Sara.”
That seemed like an overreaction. As far as Sara could tell, everyone knew Chuck had sex in his office, but maybe without proof…or maybe Chuck had been warned not to get caught. She didn’t know, but having the leverage over him felt good.
“I won’t. You just have to be a good boy and we’ll get through this account and you can have the garters back.”
“You promise?” Chuck clutched the door frame.
He looked so scared and desperate that Sara almost felt sorry for him. But it wasn’t like she was holding him up for an unreasonable amount of cash or anything other than professional consideration.
“I promise. Propose a time tomorrow on my calendar, and I’ll make it work.”
She turned to go.
She turned around again, worried for what he wanted now.
“Do you really think it’s disgusting?” He searched her face, looking strangely vulnerable.
Sara looked up the hallway where she imagined some woman would be coming from any moment. She sighed. “It’s only disgusting that you’re doing it at work, Chuck. Whatever you do in your personal space is fine, but in the office, it’s not appropriate.”
Chuck nodded and looked down. “But otherwise you don’t object? You don’t think less of me as a man?”
That was such a loaded question. So many men seemed confused about the subject of virility meaning that they should have multiple partners. She didn’t want to humiliate him; she just didn’t want him to think she was interested. “I don’t think it has anything to do with you being a man. It doesn’t affect my opinion of your masculinity at all. A real man is responsible and lives up to his commitments, including meetings. What he does sexually has nothing to do with manliness.”
Chuck searched her face. Then he crossed the hall to wrap his arms around her. “Thank you.”
She struggled against the contact, though it did feel nice to be hugged. She just didn’t want to give him any ideas. “Don’t thank me; just behave like an adult, okay?”
He let her go and stared at her purse. “Okay. I will. Thank you.”
When he turned to head back to his office, she got a flash of a strange diagonal line across the back of his pants. A panty line. Like she might have if she wore her “date panties” under regular clothes.
Sara snorted, figuring that he must have some sort of men’s getting-lucky underpants. Like Speedos or something. She hoped whatever woman was with him thought they were cute.