Quinn pinched the bridge of her nose, exhaled a slow calming breath, and forced an even level-headed tone as she spoke into the phone, “I need those reports now, Jeffrey. Not in five minutes. Not in an hour. Now.” She hung up on him. She hadn’t even put the phone down when another member of her team barged into her office.
“I just need you to sign off on this really quick?” Eddie said, cautiously.
Her phone rang again, and she sighed. She nodded to Eddie as she answered the phone with her left hand, and scribbled out her signature with her right, then waved Eddie away.
“Yes, yes. I know. I’ll have it done by today.” She hung up.
She took another moment to breathe. It had been like this all morning. It had been like this for six years, three months, and eight weeks, but who was counting?
She’d held the position of Senior Project Manager longer than anyone at Avery’s Advertising Agency. To her coworkers, she seemed the Zen Buddhist of marketing leadership; calm, self-assured, and in command. However, what was that analogy about a calm duck afloat, yet paddling like hell under the water?
Just then, Estelle came up to the doorway of Quinn’s office. She didn’t enter. Always polite, she knocked on the doorjamb first. Probably the only person Quinn didn’t care whether she knocked, yet she always did.
Despite her crazy work environment, Quinn stopped and subtly appreciated Estelle’s sexiness. She couldn’t help but scan the length of Estelle’s curvaceous body. Estelle had soft honey-colored hair, always worn in a professional loose bun, a smooth tan complexion, and sharp green eyes - flecked with yellow, like a feline on the prowl. She always wore fitted suits - pencil skirts and jackets which hugged all the right curves.
“What’s up?” Quinn asked. Her phone went off again, and she hit ignore, sending it to voice mail.
“You breaking for lunch or you going to work through?” Estelle asked.
“We have to land the Speedy Spunk account. It’s way too important. I can’t take a break today.”
“I know, but sometimes productivity will increase if you just relax a bit. Just saying,” Estelle suggested lightly.
“Yeah, but I literally don’t have the time. I’ve got way too much to prep before the meetings at noon.”
“You want me to stay and help you?” Estelle asked.
Quinn sighed. “No, you go ahead. Bring me back a salad if you’re going to pass by Nick’s Deli.”
“You got it.” Estelle winked.
Quinn’s eyes wandered to Estelle’s voluptuous backside as she left her office. Estelle was a woman who exuded quiet confidence and sexual prowess. Quinn felt lucky to have Estelle on her team. She was her right hand “man,” in many ways, but with that wall of propriety always present, Quinn had to remind herself she needed Estelle in her professional life more than her bed.
It was a shame they worked together. Quinn would have jumped on wooing and seducing her long ago.
Quinn had never felt self-conscious about her physical looks. She knew Estelle was bi, and she didn’t give two fucks who knew if she was gay. Besides, it was kind of hard to hide. It surprised her when people didn’t figure it out for themselves.
Quinn wore her hair cropped short and spikey. She bleached it blond and wore no makeup. She was tall and muscular from working out often. God knows if she didn’t, she’d go crazy from all the work stress.
She realized she should probably look older than 39, but for some reason, she’d adverted the wrinkles without using many beauty products, which shaved off a few years.
When she was younger, people said she looked a little like a bulkier butch version of Annie Lennox, which suited Quinn just fine. She loved Annie’s work.
As for dating though, it had been a while. Quinn had to back-burner the idea, but she had a few candidates in mind for first pick when the time came up, and fingers crossed, they were still available.
Quinn blew out a sharp breath, attempting to cool off the heat of arousal that always flared when her mind wandered to indulgent sexual thoughts concerning Estelle. Maybe when she got promoted to CMO, she could make a go of it?
There wasn’t a company rule against it. It was more of an unspoken ‘don’t ask - don’t tell’ sort of rule. Quinn needed to keep her eye on the ball though. Then after she landed her promotion, it would be fine to explore those options. She simply didn’t have time right now.
Avery’s Advertising Agency was one of the largest, high production firms in the Bay Area. Day after day, year after year, the job had continued to throw her curveballs, and year after year, her “batting average” maintained a stellar record, knocking em’ outta the proverbial marketing ballpark more often than not.
Avery had dropped ‘not-so-subtle’ hints, about Quinn’s potential to fill the shoes of their retiring CMO: Chief Marketing Officer. When Durant had announced his plan to retire at the “young” age of 46, it shocked everyone. The entire company was on edge. If there was any semblance of smooth and seamless execution in the way things ran, he was a major cog in those wheels.
Durant was firm about leaving the corporate grind though. He was going to move forward with his “crazy” plan to dump all his savings into an Internet start-up business, teaching people to fly-fish in Colorado. Avery had begged and attempted to bargain with Durant, asking him to stay on a little longer, but it did no good. He was firm.
He’d given her a year’s notice. Maybe Avery didn’t actually think he was serious, but when his year was up, he left. Everyone, including Quinn, was surprised. The greater surprise was as the weeks ticked on, Avery did not promote Quinn. Avery seemed to be dragging her feet in filling the position, but no one could figure out why.
Quinn couldn’t identify any other serious contenders at the firm, but Avery was volatile. One minute she was your best friend, the next, the Dragon Lady out for blood. Quinn had considered, with rising anxiety, that perhaps Avery was headhunting for the CMO position in other firms.
This caused Quinn to pour on the steam even more. Maybe her conscious brain didn’t realize it, but she was acting on the premise, if she worked harder, proved herself far more worthy, she’d get the promotion. How could she not?
Being at the top would mean letting other gruntlings do most of the tedious work - work she’d been sloshing through for years. She’d finally get some goddamn rest by delegating instead of doing most of the legwork herself. She could kick her feet up and practically get paid to play. She just had to hang on a little longer.
Once Quinn secured the CMO position, she’d planned to promote Estelle to her current position of Senior Project Manager. Then maybe they could explore extending their relationship past the four walls of work. It felt like the chemistry was there.
Quinn knew Estelle wasn’t married, but did she even date? The thought of dating Estelle warmed her between the thighs.
Right now though, Quinn had to push thoughts of dating and sex aside. She was too damn close to getting everything she had ever worked for. Hang on a little longer, almost there, almost there. The mantra was something she chanted in her mind daily to keep herself leveled out and grounded.
Quinn wasn’t sure how it was possible, but the day simultaneously wore on and sped by too quickly. She looked at her computer’s “in-box” and felt it had more tasks to complete before she started her day. She groaned in frustration. She wouldn’t be leaving on time - yet again.
Quinn sighed, squared her shoulder, and kept on working. She thought everyone had left. She startled when Iona popped her head into her office. “Hey, Quinn, we’re going down to The Round Room. You want to join us for drinks?”
“Um, not tonight.”
“C’mon, woman. You’re gonna work yourself into an early grave. You’re not even forty.”
“Yeah, I feel like I’ve aged a decade in the past year. Let me see what I can get done in the next hour.”
Iona gave her a knowing look. She didn’t think her boss would simply work the hour out and then join them. “No, I don’t trust you. Get your ass up. We’re having a drink tonight.”
Quinn narrowed her eyes. “Excuse me. Just because it’s after hours, doesn’t mean I’m still not your boss.”
“Yeah, and you won’t be for long if you keep working yourself ragged.”
“No, I really can’t, but thanks, Iona,” Quinn said stiffly and went back to her computer.
Quinn had mastered the ‘no-nonsense demeanor.’ She was stalwart at keeping it in place, which intimidated most of her staff. Iona was an exception. She pretended Quinn didn’t have an ice-queen demeanor. She steam-rolled Quinn’s walls with her strong-willed temperament, which upon first meeting her, rubbed Quinn the wrong way. But Avery wanted her and what Avery wanted she got. Over time, Quinn realized Iona was an asset to her team. Slowly Quinn came to respect Iona’s strength of character, and they developed a strong working relationship.
“Don’t say I didn’t try,” Iona said. “Especially when I’m visiting you at the hospital, bringing your ass flowers in ICU, because of the heart attack you’ve had.”
“Thanks. I’ve noted it here in my planner,” Quinn replied with withering sarcasm, but Iona had already left.
Quinn had always thought it strange that Avery didn’t mind her employees hanging out with their managers after hours. Most companies had policies on that sort of thing. Avery, in her own subtle ways, encouraged it. Said it made for a stronger team. Quinn wondered if Avery’s reasons were more self-motivated. She was not above fraternizing with her cohorts now and again.
Quinn didn’t mind being friends with her team members outside the office. It was more of an issue of not having the time, than anything else.
The building was quiet. Quinn pecked away at her reports, presentations, and proposals for the account meetings coming up. She rubbed at her temples, trying to push back the tension headache, and continued to work until she heard her phone’s alarm go off - a reminder to take her evening vitamins. She couldn’t believe she’d been at it for two and a half hours.
She was exhausted. She didn’t know if she could force herself to keep going. As she made her way to her car, the idea of a night-cap seemed nice. Estelle might be gone from the bar already. She debated her options; go home or stop in at The Round Room. Iona might still be there, and she knew Estelle hung out after hours with the team as well. The thought of being near people felt better than a night-cap. There was something about Ion’s personality that was easy to be around, and Estelle’s persona made her relax. She couldn’t date them, but there was no reason she couldn’t hang out for a while.
On a whim, Quinn decided to head over to The Round Room. She’d never actually been there.
What the hell, why not?
The bar was an upscale swanky place. Music was thumping. It seemed more of a nightclub than a bar. It wasn’t Quinn’s scene. She had hoped to unwind with a drink, maybe have a little light conversation.
Quinn took a cursory glance around. The place was literally a large round room with soft pastel lights changing colors, plush chairs, and industrial fixtures. She panned the area looking for her coworkers, among the throng of shoulder-to-shoulder bodies. She saw Iona and some of the others.
It wasn’t her idea of fun at all. She was about to turn around and head out when Eddie, one of their younger, more boisterous interns, spotted her. He yelled her name, and the others in the group turned their heads in unison. They had spotted her. She groaned inwardly even as they were beckoning her over.
She’d envisioned a place she could settle into a booth, maybe watch a baseball or basketball game, and nurse a beer.
She made her way over to the group sitting at a large round high top with tall stools.
“Oh-my-god! Is it really you?” Iona teased.
“Yeah, honestly, it’s crazy loud. How do you even hang out here?” Quinn complained.
“It’s fun. We drink a little. Dance a little. Gear up for the next workday,” Eddie said.
“Uh-huh. Well, I had no idea it was like this. No offense - but no thanks. I’m gonna head out.” Quinn forced a half-smile and turned to leave.
Quinn felt a tug. She turned and saw Iona had a light grip on her upper arm. “No, stay for one drink, at least. You’re here already, so why not?”
Iona’s caramel-colored eyes bore into Quinn’s, and she felt herself flush with heat under the intensity of Iona’s gaze. It wasn’t often she was knocked off balance. She sighed with resignation. Iona’s face broke into a satisfactory grin.
Quinn didn’t stay long. Iona tried to chat with her, but the music was too loud. When Iona hopped off the stool and tried to get Quinn to dance with the group, that was Quinn’s cue to exit. She vigorously shook her head ‘no’ and mouthed the words - ‘going to head out, see you tomorrow.’
Iona shrugged and joined the group. Iona was probably five years Quinn’s junior. Despite herself, Quinn couldn’t help but smile. She indulged, allowing herself a cursory glance over her shoulder, one last look at Iona. Iona was swaying and gyrating with wild abandon. The thought briefly passed through her mind, “I wonder if Iona is into women?”
The second she got into her car, she slammed a guillotine down on the idea. She needed to stop getting so hot and bothered over the women she worked with. It was causing her to lose focus, and focus was everything right now.
Hang on a little bit longer, Quinn, almost there.