By: Wendy S. Marcus
Through the glass wall of Drew Colby’s office he had a direct view into Elaine Fox’s cubicle. It was a definite distraction. She tapped an index finger on her chin three times and wound a coffee colored curl behind her ear. As she reached up for something, her yellow blouse pulled from the waistband of her black pencil skirt. That’s when she caught him, again, her lips curving into that demure half smile that belied her cool, confident business persona.
After six months on the job she’d easily earned the respect of her colleagues, but he couldn’t name one who called her friend, or who knew anything about her private life. What was she hiding? Who was the real Elaine Fox? Until he knew for certain, he’d keep his distance. Because even though her brains, good looks and quick wit appealed to him, his daughter, Ariel, didn’t need another secretive, career-focused businesswoman in her life.
“Fox’s leaving early again,” Dan from purchasing whined as they both watched her slip a binder into her briefcase and toss a candy apple red wrap around her shoulders. “It’s not fair that chicks get to cut out early whenever they want, and dudes have to put in the full nine to five. She don’t even have kids as an excuse.”
“Elaine is in at six-thirty every morning. She works through lunch and from home for the privilege of leaving early three days a week. Are you willing to do that, Dan?”
The disgusted look on Dan’s face gave his answer, and he left without further comment.
On Saturday morning, his butt numb from the old wooden bleachers, his head pounding from the teeny bopper tunes blasting from huge speakers, Drew sat through countless costumed little girls performing endless baton twirling routines until his daughter finally took the floor for her solo. The new team coach transformed her to look older than her seven years, and it wasn’t just her tight bun that sparkled with glitter, or her blush tinted cheeks and red painted lips. It was her confident stature as she waited for her music to start, and the smile born of doing something she’d grown to love.
His heart swelled with pride as Ariel danced and leaped, and caught the baton each time she tossed it. He didn’t sit down or stop clapping until the MC calmed the excited crowd. “And now a special performance by our own Coach Lainey, a past Featured Twirler at Penn State.”
Ah, the elusive Coach Lainey, Drew thought, sitting down, as a pretty woman wearing a shiny red leotard with gold fringe, her dark hair up in a high ponytail, took the floor. Ariel loved her. And by the sound of the high-pitched screams echoing off the gym walls, the other sixty or so girls surrounding the show area did too.
He could see why Ariel idolized the woman. She kicked higher than a Rockette, was more limber than a gymnast, and could catch the baton behind her back, between her legs, and even mid-cartwheel. She twirled two batons, juggled three batons, and ultimately held the audience spellbound. When she finished, the girls swarmed the floor, cheering and clapping. Coach Lainey smiled and laughed and hugged them in bunches.
Drew waited for the throngs of people surrounding her to thin before he approached Coach Lainey to thank her for all she’d done for Ariel. The closer he got the more familiar she looked.
“Close your mouth, Drew,” Elaine Fox said when he reached her. “You look like a simpleton.”
“You’re Coach Lainey?” Revered and loved by the baton twirling masses? What happened to the reserved, starchy account executive he worked with?
“We all have lives outside of work." She spread her hands palm up. "This is mine.”
“My daughter’s twirling team is the reason you leave work early three days a week?”
“Yes. It’s the reason I moved to town. Your wife…”
She smiled. “Your ex-wife was one of the women who recruited me when the old coach stepped down. She recommended I apply at your company because they offer flexible schedules.”
Thank heaven for that, Drew thought, and for leotards.
“You’re staring,” Elaine said.
“Can’t help it,” Drew replied, studying her. “You’re so different.” Softer. Warmer. Even more appealing. And she loved little girls.
“At work I’m a professional. I act and dress accordingly. It’s not the real me.”
“I’d like to know the real you. Have dinner with me.”
She thought about it, smiled and waved to Ariel who was standing with her mother. “You have a terrific daughter.”
“She’d love it if you’d have dinner with me.”
“Only dinner,” she said, giving him a stern look.
“Only dinner.” At least for now, Drew thought, hoping soon it would be much, much more.
All rights reserved. Copyright Wendy S. Marcus 2009.