WHOEVER DIES WITH THE MOST TOYS WINS.
Mike Alvut stared at the T-shirt motto on the Internet shopping site, then whipped out his credit card to place an online order. There were thirteen colors to choose from—everything from white to black—including a light chartreuse that reminded him of stairwell vomit from a college dorm beer party. He clicked on royal purple, then typed “1” for the quantity. Before he could enter his name and shipping address, his young administrative assistant, Julie Hughes, walked into his office. It was 5:25 p.m. on a Friday, and nearly all of Save-A-Buck Software’s other employees had long since left the building.
“I’m done with those expense reports, Mike. Do you need me to help you with anything else? Anything at all?”
He looked up. Julie was giving him the smile, the one she always wore in his dreams, the one she never seemed to give anyone else, the one he wished he could simply decipher. He didn’t dream about her often, but when he did, it was nightmarish; it wrenched him from sleep with the blunt intensity of a torture room tooth extraction. Despite this rude and somewhat odd propensity of hers to invade his nighttime odysseys, he had always considered her a courteous, conscientious, professional worker. There’s just something about that smile, he thought.
“Uh … no, Julie,” he said. “I think we’re caught up with everything. You can go if you want.”
“Is that a new picture of your wife?” she asked, and walked behind his desk.
“Yeah, I brought it in this morning.”
Julie bent over the mahogany desk, cementing her gaze on the picture. Her black skirt rose to mid thigh. “She has pretty hair.”
Mike fixed his gaze on his assistant. Her legs were long and shapely, her voice inviting, her perfume intoxicating. He had ogled her before, as had many others at the office, yet today she looked especially delectable.
“Yes, she certainly does.”
“Her hair is a little shorter than mine,” Julie said, straightening up and moving toward him. It was then that her voice changed, turning throaty, breathy, as if she were auditioning for a role as a soap opera seductress. “I’ve been thinking about getting mine cut. How do you think that would look?” Her long fingernails brushed the front of her blouse as she caressed her waist-length auburn hair.
Mike gulped a swallow, stiffening as though he’d been nailed to his chair. He hoped he wasn’t licking his lips.
Julie peered into his eyes, her eyelids drooping sensuously, her lips parting in desire. Her every movement was asking a question that was far different from the one she’d just spoken.
Mike now understood that smile, and for a timeless moment he welcomed it. He thought the unthinkable, the forbidden, the reprehensible. Who will know? The place is almost deserted. I could close the office door and …
The atmosphere between them was pregnant with suspense, and a baby was about to burst forth.
He glanced at the picture of his wife. Instantly his conscience returned to him like a homing pigeon after an exploratory flight. Even so, he knew it would be difficult to extricate himself from such an awkward and dangerous entanglement. He needed an escape plan that was clever, and also foolproof.
A thought catapulted him from his seat. “I think it would look fine, Julie. Well, you’ll have to excuse me. I have to run to the men’s room. Too much Mexican food for lunch.” He gave a chuckle, then slipped by her as if she were a poisonous cactus.
Slapped by his words, Julie wilted. “Oh, uh … sure.”
Without looking back, Mike entered the hallway and hurried away.