Lisa's photos were spread across the table in the way it should appear in the magazine. Her long blonde hair hung back in a ponytail. She wore black glasses. Her trim figure was snug in jeans and white tee-shirt. They were in Annie's office at the Post Sunday Magazine. It was a dreary room, all grey and dark beige, but it held a large, empty table in the corner. That was where they were standing.
"These are wonderful. I like the way the light hits... Mr. Braytrail... right?" Annie said, looking at the blonde beside her. Braytrail was older, nearly bald. He ruled his organization, Jay-Val, a company in the middle of London, with a tight fist. A yellow tab marked it page one. Her hair was auburn, worn in a messy bun. Her green-blue eyes peered closely at each picture. She wore a dark pink dress.
Someone outside her office was whistling. She loved music more than anything. Annie listened with one ear, trying to place the tune, but it was unclear. Sighing, she turned her attention back to her friend and colleague.
Auburn haired Annie looked at each one. "Who's this?" She pointed to a very good looking, young man, around thirty or so. He had short brown hair, worn spiked.
"Oh, that's my Brian."
Lisa giggled. "Yeah. We kinda hit it off. You should see the special one of him I took for my wall."
"Lisa, someday those special photos will get you arrested for indecent exposure."
"He's not indecent. He has a blanket over his nether regions."
"Hey, you know, he has a partner."
"I don't do double dates; I don't do blind dates."
"But, Annie..." Lisa got a devious expression on her lovely face. "You know, Camelot has asked me to move over to them."
"Don't do this to me. You know why I don't date."
"But, hon, that was six years ago."
Lisa placed her hands on her hips and stared coolly. "I am seriously considering moving over to Camelot."
Annie turned from her friend and colleague. "If I cursed, I'd curse you right now, you know that, don't you? You know how badly we need you. The Post Sunday Mag would fold without your photos and I'm not ashamed to admit it."
Lisa took hold of her friend's arm. "Please. I promise, just once. If you don't like him..."
"You mean, if he doesn't like me and you know he won't; they never do. I'm too cold, too stand-offish. I can't help it."
"You just need to unbend a little."
"I can't. If I let go... Lisa, please don't ask this of me."
"You come here, you go home, that's all you ever do."
"That's all I want to do."
"Don't tell me you don't get lonely."
Annie knew she would have to agree, that Lisa would not give up. "If I agree to go, will you drop it when nothing comes out of it?"
"What if it does?"
"You know it won't."
Lisa sighed. She shook her head, sending her blonde pony tail flying. "Yeah, I'll drop it. How about tonight? No, first we have to get you new clothes."
"What's wrong with my clothes? They're dependable, long lasting." She looked down at her dress.
"Clothes for dating should be fluff and wispy."
"I am not a fluff and wispy type of person."
Lisa became deadly serious. "Yes you are; you just don't know it."
"I suppose I can always donate it to charity after this is over, take a tax break."
"Annie!" Lisa's cell phone rang. She answered it. Her face lit up. "Brian!" She smiled. "I love you too, Babyducks."
Annie gagged. Lisa threw her a miffed look and turned away.
"Oh, Brian..." She sighed.
Annie left, going to the canteen down the hall.
At five, Lisa dragged her from one store to another, looking at each fancy, fluffy dress. She had to force Annie to try them on. They were: too low, too short, the wrong color, too tight.
"Annie, for goodness sakes..."
"I am not going out looking like a strumpet!"
"You're not going to look like a... Oh, for Pete's sakes!"
Lisa finally chose a peach colored dress with a gauzy underskirt.
"Did you see the price on this?" Annie asked, shocked.
"Do you want to go home and go to bed tonight?"
"Then buy the dress."
Annie bought the dress.
"Now, for your shoes... and as for your hair..."
"What's wrong with my hair?"
"You should let it flow free. For one night, don't twist it up like that."
"It will get in my eyes."
Two men, Brian Smithe and John Hanson were in the outer offices of Jay-Val, in the canteen, drinking tea. Brian still wore his hair in spikes but Hanson's was short, dark, curly, wayward. Brian was in the billing department, Hanson an internal salesman.
Brian spoke in a calm voice, "Lisa has a friend."
"Does she now? Is she, you know, all curvy," and Hanson made motions in the air to signify a female with large breasts.
"Yeah, well, Felicia just dumped me, so, yeah, I guess, but you can't come back to my place."
"So clean it."
"My cleaning lady will, but she doesn't come in until Friday."
"Well, you can't come to mine."
"Lisa and I have a... thing... going on."
"Oh, you mean a 'thing.'"
"Yeah, a 'thing.'"
"Oh! So I can't come?"
Lisa finished Annie's hair. "See how lovely you are?"
But all Annie saw was the homely woman her husband had left six years ago. "Yeah." Why argue with Lisa? She meant well.
"His name is John Hanson. He's the dark haired one in the photos."
"Okay. I don't feel well." Her voice did sound quivery.
Her voice raised two decibels. "I don't want to do this."
"Don't make go through with this!" By then, the panic in her voice was real.
Lisa hugged. "Listen, you don't have to be afraid. You'll have fun; I promise."
The doorbell rang. "It's them."
"I'm going to be sick."
"No, you're not. You look very pretty tonight."
Lisa opened the door and the men came in. Hanson's eyes gleamed with interest as they swept up and down Annie's slim form. She stiffened, mentally withdrew. She took a step towards him and fell. He caught her and held her just for a moment before she stepped away.
"New shoes," she told him, her cheeks red. Grinning, he helped her. She accepted his arm when he offered it to her. All the way down, he tried to talk with her. She answered in one syllable words, mostly. He stared at her, perplexed and grew quiet. Lisa and Brian were giggling, hugging, kissing, and didn't notice. At the bar, a singer, dressed in old clothing was up, dancing, singing.
"Do not weep for me, oh, Mother.
Yes, do not look for me.
I know I'm on a different path,
Than the one you chose for me..."
They chose a table near the front and ordered beer.
"I don't drink," Annie said quietly.
Hanson looked at her as though she had two heads. "Why?"
"I just don't."
They got her a coke.
Hanson tried talking to her but she was a little distant. He turned and listened to the song the girl was singing. "That sounds like one Nat Wirth wrote."
"Actually, Jonathon Brete wrote it in 1902."
Hanson looked at her in surprise. "How do you know?"
"We did an article last year on the resurgence of post war songs."
"Of post war songs," and she watched him nod, a knowing nod.
"Annie never forgets anything," Lisa bragged. She stood and tugged Brian up. "Let's dance." They went out on the dance floor.
"You want to dance?" Hanson asked, already knowing the answer.
"I have a bad ankle."
"Oh." He turned and spied a cute blonde at the bar. "I'll be right back."
But she could tell by the way he was talking to her, that he would not be coming back. Sighing, she rose and left the bar. She grabbed a passing taxi and got in.
Wait... She pulled off her shoes and threw them in the gutter, in a rain puddle.
Lisa and Brian returned. They saw Hanson at the bar, chatting up the blonde. They assumed Annie was in the loo. Ten minutes passed. "I'm going to check on her." She went in but her boss wasn't in there. She came back out, alarmed. "Brian! She's not there."
"Where is she?" He yelled out, "Hanson?" Hanson looked around and saw Smith. "Where's Annie?"
Hanson looked around but didn't see her. He shrugged and went back to talking to the blonde who loved his smile.
"Brian!" He and Lisa went outside. They saw her shoes in the gutter. "She's been kidnapped!"
"I'm sure she's fine. Does she have a cell phone?"
"What? Oh, yeah." She dialed and Annie answered. "Where are you?"
"I'm on my way home."
"I told you it wouldn't work, didn't I?"
"Oh, Annie!" Annie hung up. Lisa turned to Brian. "See what your friend did?"
"Well, she was kinda distant, aloof."
"Brian, she's shy. She acts that way as bravado. She was terrified tonight. She almost threw up."
When Brian got Hanson aside, in private, he gave him what for.
"Shy?" Hanson asked. "She didn't act shy. She acted like she didn't want me around."
"Lisa said it was bravado. Look, Lisa is very upset. At least go see Annie."
"You won't let up until I do, will you?"
Hanson, sighing, agreed to go.
"Today?" Hanson asked in shock.
"I'll cover for you."
So Hanson went and stood in the midst of the main floor, listening to people yelling things about blackouts and fading colors, whatever that was, watched them scurrying back and forth. He just stood there, watching, listening, in total fascination. The light gleamed on his dark hair. He sniffed, smelling coffee, perfume. So, this was where Lisa worked ... and Annie, since this was her magazine.
A man stopped. "Can I help you?"
"I'm looking for Annie Graham."
"Ah, the boss lady. You gonna work here, then?"
"No. I simply wish to see her."
"She's in room fourteen, down the hall."
"Thanks." Hanson went down the hall. No one tried to stop him as he went to her door and quietly opened it. The room was full of busy people. He stood staring at her in captivation. The woman before him was decidedly not the woman from the night before. She had glasses perched on the end of her nose. Her auburn hair was twisted up in a very messy ball. She wore a dark grey suit, a dark red blouse.
She looked up, stood glaring at him, his white shirt, his dark pants. It took a moment for her to recognize him for he had been dressed more casually last night... or maybe her panic attack had removed some of her observations. "Lisa's out on assignment. I'll tell her you came in."
"Actually, I came to see you."
Puzzled, she asked, "Why?"
"To tell you I'm sorry for the way I acted last night."
"No, you're not. Knowing Lisa, she twisted Brian's arm and he's twisting yours. But you've delivered your apology and you can go now. I'll make sure Lisa knows you stepped by." She bent her head to the paper work again.
A man shoved past Hanson. "They're at it again."
Annie hurried from behind her desk. She stopped long enough to stare at Hanson. "You can go now," she said coldly, and then rushed away.
But Hanson chose to follow her, down the hall, into a huge room set up as a kitchen.
Two men were arguing. They turned when they saw Annie and both began yelling and gesturing. One spoke in french every so often. The final verdict was:
"I cannot work with this man!"
"He is an idiot!"
Annie put two fingers between her lips and whistled... loudly. Hanson looked at her in admiration. The two men grew quiet. "It looks like you can't work together, even for this one shoot. Francois, I'll send a photographer and a stenographer with you. You can do your work in your own kitchen. Harry, you stay here. I'll splice the work together, somehow. Okay?" They nodded. She turned and bumped into Hanson. "Why are you still here?" He grinned at her. Though she got a funny feeling in the bottom of her stomach and her heart reacted, she allowed none of that to show on her face. She glared at him and moved around him. She could feel him following her. She stopped and he bumped into her. Just for a second, his hands rested on her shoulders. She turned and stared upwards into the eyes of a very close John Hanson. "Go away."
He took out his ID. "You're under surveillance."
"For what?" she demanded.
"Just because," and he grinned at her again, and she was totally lost.
"Stay out of my way." Her voice quivered and he noticed... and grinned again. She turned and walked towards her office, feeling him following her every move. Her cheeks grew red knowing his eyes were touching her derriere.
A woman called out, "Boss? I'm afraid it's Andy again. He's called ten times already. I told him you didn't want to speak to him."
Hanson watched her tense up. "All right, I'll take it." While he waited by the door, unseen but in hearing distance, she went into her office and picked up the phone. "What do you want? ... No, I am not going to give you any more money. I told you that the last time ... Listen, when you left me for that... woman... you cut all ties, remember? ... No, you left me for her! What's the matter, she got tired of you? ... Listen ... no, listen ... Don't call here any more. I'll have a restraining order issued against you. I swear to God I will. ... Yeah, I've gotten mean. I learned it from you." She hung up. Hanson watched her put her head in her hands.
Someone screamed, "Annie!"
"Is it always like this?" Hanson asked from the doorway, jolting her for she had forgotten him.
Quietly, she replied, "Yeah."
"How do you do it?"
"It's my company. I have to." She hurried past him, squeezing past a very intrigued Hanson. She stopped, "Please, go away. I have enough to handle right now; I don't need you lurking about."
"I am not lurking about."
"Oh, yes you are! Please go away."
An Italian film star from the late seventies came flouncing up. "I will not work like this!"
"Miss Rodini?" Annie asked. "What's wrong?"
"It is this dress. It is hideous."
"She doesn't like the color," the photographer said tiredly. "She hasn't liked any of the last six dresses."
"I am a great film star. I do not dress in department store dresses. I agreed to come here because I am kind but this is not being kind to me!"
Hanson spoke quietly, "But on you, dear Della, it does not look like a department store dress. You give it that special flare. Put it on backwards and add a scarf and you will look fabulous, just like you did in BACKSPACE."
"You saw this film?"
"I've seen every one of your films. A movie lists your name and I watch it."
"Ah, such a handsome man." She stroked his cheek. "So big, so very tall, so strong. Why did you not give him to me from the start?" She demanded from Annie.
"He was busy elsewhere," Annie said quietly, resisting the urge to grin.
"I must have him!"
"I..." Annie started.
"I would be glad to be with you, to hold your beautiful hand. The photographer can..."
"I want Lisa," the film star announced regally.
Annie said quietly, "She's due back in this afternoon. I will be glad to reassign her to do your shoot. Roger, can you take Lisa's Zoo?"
"I would be happy to," and indeed, he did sound relieved.
Annie looked at Hanson as if to say, "You got yourself into this mess." He grinned at her and her heart did a flip flop. He noticed.
"Lisa's Zoo? I thought she only took humans?" Hanson asked quietly.
"Peter Piper from Martian Zoo. He's making a Zoo number two. He's gave us an exclusive. We already have the interview; now all we need are the photos."
"Oh. Annie..." But Rodini claimed him then and took him off... to help her... dress.
Almost laughing, Annie returned to her office and the budgets.