Proactive Marketing

What will Stan think of next for Ryan to do . . . to land the prestigious and profitable Gillcar Industries account?

Pro-Active Marketing
By Angela Rasch

Two things differentiate humans from the other apes. One is that we write the biology textbooks and elect to believe what we want. The other is homo sapiens have the ability to be completely dishonest, even to themselves. My thoughts had taken me out of the moment while I struggled desperately to concentrate on our Regional Sales Manager’s voice. Stan Gates would lie to his mother to gain a step on the competition.

“There are two kinds of marketing.” Stan’s voice barely modulated as he droned on about things I’d learned a few years back in Econ 101. “There’s reactive marketing, and then there’s the much preferred pro-active marketing.” His mouth slid seductively around the phrase “pro-active”, as if it was the most succulent peach in the basket.

My head snapped backward . . . an obvious “tell” to any of the other salesmen who cared to judge my inability to stay awake while totally bored. I shrugged my shoulders to un-fog my brain. It has to be close to eighty degrees in this hellhole of a meeting room. Looking out the window I envied the comparative freedom of several workers attacking the parking lot’s potholes with shovels heavily laden with steamy asphalt. The acrid odor of hot tar found its way in through a slightly open window. My aching posterior fought with a chair that had been designed for durability, rather than comfort. If only my butt had more padding. I’d do anything to avoid being tied down to meetings like this.

Bright movement sparkled just wide of the corner of my eye, and once again I tried to focus on Stan’s PowerPoint presentation.

“Men. . . .” His laser pointer was working overtime — darting across the projection screen to alert us to the next breathtaking announcement. “Summer’s Inc. is not a reactive corporation.”

Utter nonsense! I’d been employed by them two more years than Stan. Which didn’t say much, because Stan had just been brought on board to bolster our “sagging” sales.

Stan wagged a stern finger. “Our board of directors told us to do whatever we had to — to double last quarter’s sales. I repeat . . . anything goes! The “sagging” sales that have been hampering the performance of Summer’s Inc.’s stock have to be corrected. Gentlemen. . .we have no choice.”

How many times can one officious jerk use the word “sagging” in a half hour? His vocabulary is as limited as his knowledge of our business. Good Gawd! Has it only been thirty minutes since lunch? I laughed when I caught myself shaking my watch to make it move faster.

“Is there something funny about sagging sales?” Stan demanded, peering directly into my face with his deep-set eyes and massive square jaw.

I shook my head. “I was just thinking about the direct correlation between Reactive Marketing and Losers.”

Stan’s face split into a wide grin. “Right you are, Ryan.” His next slide amplified “our” point with a fat red arrow running from Losers to Reactive Marketing accompanied by clip art graph depicting declining sales. “Winners don’t let their competitors decide for them how to approach the market. Winners set their own course; they’re not afraid to try something innovative and exciting.”

The way Stan carried on for the next hour seemed to deny the fact that we had seen nearly the same exact presentation on the four previous Fridays.

I could produce a lot more business if I didn’t have to waste so much time in motivational meetings. The only thing that keeps me from walking out is the complete lack of any other job prospects. I agree it’s time to do something drastic. I’ll do anything to improve my sales, as long as it’s legal.

***

“You’re my top salesperson,” Stan said to me with a frown. “Do you have any idea how dismal a statement I’ve just made?”

Since Stan had told me on several occasions that he wanted to fire the entire department and start from scratch, I was fairly certain I understood his point. I simply nodded.

“I was brought in to shake things up, and that’s just what I’m going to do.” Stan punctuated his statement by slamming his meaty fist into the palm of his other hand. Someone had said that Stan coached football at a Division II college before entering the business world. Evidently his father had been a pro football player, who played for Vince Lombardi and the Green Bay Packers.

I only know enough about football to make polite conversation with my clients. I’ve never been big enough to be a sports star. Although I do work out enough to remain trim, I’ve never found a way to develop the kind of muscles that ripple under Stan’s white-on-white dress shirt. So much of his rah-rah schmaltz is lost on me, because I can’t relate to it.

“Have you made any headway with Gillcar?” He bobbed his head as if to coax me to say something positive.

Gillcar Industries enjoyed annual sales that dwarfed the GNP of all but a few countries. I had been working on making them our client for as long as I had been with Summer’s Inc. I firmly believed that we achieved results for our clients that were at a par with the other leading Search Engine Optimization firms providing complete website services.

I tapped my notepad several times with my pen to add gravitas to my words. “I had a meeting with their top echelon last week and it appears that we’re one of the service providers they’re giving full consideration.”

“Top echelon?” His eyebrows questioned my veracity.

Uh huh! I might not be able to bench press even half as much as the other guys, but I can sell rings around them all -- under the right circumstances. “I’ve had several meetings with the selection committee, which is sometimes attended by their CEO . . . Max Walsh. He’s as “top echelon” as it gets. I’ve met with him twice, and I have fifteen minutes with them again tomorrow afternoon.”

Stan’s face betrayed his golly-gee-whiz excitement. “If we land Gillcar it would open the freaking door for us to make a run at damn near every other Fortune 500 company.”

“That’s true,” I agreed, downplaying how amped I really felt. “And, that’s why I’ve spent so much time wooing them.”

“I can’t expect you to understand the big picture,” he said condescendingly, “but creating the kind of positive buzz we’d get from landing Gillcar would put a rocket under our stock price. We could blog and tweet about it forever.”

Duh!!! How stupid does he think I am? I smiled vacantly to put him at ease.

“You’ve spent plenty of Summer’s Inc.’s resources chasing Gillcar,” Stan said, shaking a stack of my weekly call reports in my face. “At least seven percent of your allotted solicitation time per week for two years has been devoted to working on this one account. Not that I’m complaining . . . but you’ve bet your career on getting Gillcar.”

“I. . .uhhhh. . . .” What does he mean by “bet my career”?

“Ryan . . . I don’t want to put you under any pressure because that won’t make anything happen . . . BUT . . . I’m paid the big bucks to make some decisions around here to achieve results. If I’m compelled to do so, I’m going to use you to send a message. It’s time for you to step to the plate and swing for the upper deck. Either you ink a contract with Gillcar before next quarter, or you can plan on looking for a new job.”

“That’s not fair. . . .”

“Hey . . . .” he snapped back. “Have you ever heard me say I wasn’t going to help you? For gosh sakes Ryan; my ass is on the line right next to yours. I’m going to pull out all the stops to make sure you’re successful. We’ll do whatever it takes. Don’t you worry that pretty little head of yours.” He patted my shoulder to show just how much we had bonded in our mutual pursuit of success.

Somehow I doubt that he has as much “on the line” as I do. . .and I hate it when he makes me feel effeminate. It strikes a little too close to home.

***

The next day Stan called me in for a strategic planning session. “Tell me as honestly as you can, Ryan; where do we stand with Gillcar Industries?”

“Their annual SEO fees are in the area of $7 million for the over one hundred corporate websites that need monitoring. They have an average of two to three websites for each of their various subsidiaries.” I opened a large file I had assembled since my first contact with Gillcar. “Where do you want me to start?”

“Who are our competitors?” He had been harping about knowing the opposing team since the first time he met with us. “Isn’t that the basic question?”

My shoulders relaxed a bit, because I felt 100% prepared to answer. “I think of the other companies in terms of their marketing rep.”

“You should. Industry surveys show that more sales are made on the basis of personal relationships than any other factor.”

He’s also has mentioned that in every one of his sales pep rallies. “There are four companies with a good shot at Gillcar Industries’ account. Tanya Wiest is the salesperson for Ranking Engineers. She started her career with Google and seems to make people believe she still has insider information on how to get ranked in the first five results for Google searches.” I slid a photo of Tanya across the table to Stan.

Tanya smiled up at us from under her dirty blonde hair. She looked to be the kind of high maintenance woman who spent at least three to four hours a week in her salon.

“Does she know more than us?”

“I doubt it. Google changes their ranking algorithms on almost a daily basis. What she knew for sure when she left Google three years ago is ancient history. But she’s been working with Gillcar for thirty months with fair results, and as the incumbent has to be considered the favorite to retain their business, at this time.”

Stan grunted, seemingly conceding that issue.

I pushed a second picture to Stan. “Susanne Marshfield has recently been hot in the market. She’s beaten me out for two smaller accounts in the last six months. She’s with SEO4U.” Susie looked less girly than Tanya, but her copper blonde hair had been perfectly styled. I don’t spend half the time I should on my personal appearance. . .like those women do.

“There are a lot of babes in our business,” Stan observed, with disdain. “You’re as close as we’ve got to a female — given your long hair and the fact that you’re about half the size of most the guys. Have you figured out what it is about Susanne that you can copy so that she doesn’t continue to kick sand in your face? I hope I don’t have to change how my company does business and bring on some air-headed female just to meet our sales goals.”

Women do have obvious advantages with some clients, but Stan doesn’t have to be such a sexist. I stared at him in disbelief before giving him the last picture. “Greta Kaufman is with Net Group.” I had hooked up with Greta a few years back when we both were just out of college. I had broken it off when we reached that point in our relationship where it either became serious . . . or ended. Looking at her sweet face surrounded by all that ash-blonde hair I questioned my sanity. Whoever said “love is all about timing” knows their stuff.

“Greta’s a fox,” Stan stated a bit too salaciously.

He’s aware of my past with her and is teasing me about throwing away the best shot at happiness I’ll ever get. “She’s also smart and tremendously nice,” I added ruefully. If I can’t land Gillcar, I hope she gets their business.

“Give me an honest appraisal of how things stand right now.”

I bit my lip before starting, but decided to be candid. “I’d say it’s pretty much in the order of the way I gave them to you. Tanya is leading the pack; and if things don’t change she’ll probably retain Gillcar.”

“The numbers, please.” Stan pushed us to express our estimates of probable outcomes as a percentage.

“There’s about a 70% chance Tanya will renew the account.”

His head moved silently up and down.

At least he didn’t go off on a rant because we’re not number one. “Susanne stands about a 65% chance of taking the account away from Tanya,” I quickly added. “Greta’s odds are about 55%.” I dropped my voice a bit -- betraying my lack of confidence. “We have about a 50% shot.”

Stan smiled. “A 50% shot at the biggest account our company’s ever landed is pretty good odds.”

For a complete tool he sometimes understands things. I drew in a deep breath nervously. “That’s how I see it, too. I’m close and just need to do something to tip the scale a bit in Summer’s direction.”

Stan studied the pictures for a full minute without saying a word. He unscrewed the top from his bottle of Evian, took a long pull, and then wiped his lips with the back of his hand. He opened his laptop, typed in a few words, and then swung the monitor to face me.

I was staring at a Volvo ad that showed the interior of what I assumed was one of their cars. The picture had been taken from the angle you would see if you knelt outside an open passenger-side door and peered across at the driver’s seat. The parking brake had been pulled half up . . . phallicly depicting it as an erection. Below the ad was the caption, “We’re just as excited as you.”

“Sex sells,” Stan said plainly.

“That ad’s sort of gay,” I noted dismissively.

“And it should be. This ad was first seen in the 2003 Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras program book. Of course, it’s been republished hundreds of times and has been considered a huge success for Volvo.”

I knitted my brows. “What does a Volvo with a stiffy have to do with Gillcar?”

Stan grinned. “Four cute blondes vying for the same huge account . . . me thinks Max Walsh has tipped his horny hand.”

“I’m not a blond.” I argued. Did he just call me “cute”?

He shrugged. “Light brown . . . dark blond? What’s the difference? I think it’s time you do something to go on the offensive. We’ve got our backsides too close to the wrong end zone and need to move the pigskin downfield. How much do we know about Max?”

I’m not a blond! “Max Walsh is third generation at Gillcar. His grandfather created the company. Max graduated from Wharton and has worked in a variety of positions within the company. He’s widely respected for paying his dues before taking over the reins. . . .”

“Yada, yada, yada. What’s the good stuff? What side of the plate does Max bat from?”

I shook my head in wonder. “I don’t see how. . . .?”

“It’s no damned wonder this company’s sucking air. Haven’t you ‘doofi’ ever ordered a PM on your potential clients?”

What the hell is he talking about? “PM?”

“PM . . . a Private Matters report. Private Matters is a company who uses the internet to harvest information. They use special internet harvesting ‘techniques’ to gather sensitive data from online activities to create a personality profile.” He turned his laptop around toward himself, and then feverishly entered data for over a minute. “I’ve had a PM account for years. It should be part of your preparation for every major sales call. It’s money well spent. For just over $2,000 I’ve just downloaded a profile for Max Walsh.”

“Is it legal to. . . ?”

“Summer’s Inc. is being flushed into oblivion and you want to waste time holding an ethical debate. It’s the fourth quarter and we’re down by three touchdowns. It’s time to put your balls on the line, if you’ve got any”

I could feel a blush passing over my face.

Stan clapped his hands while he poured through the information he’d just bought. “I knew it. Max is married . . . to a honey-blonde sweetheart. He has several lovers. The rich play by a different set of rules. Apparently his wife is aware of his indiscretions and looks the other way for economic reasons. He’s been known to be quite liberal in his selection of sexual partners . . . seemingly he cares much less about gender than he does about the color of their hair.” Stan looked at me for several moments before continuing. “You’ve got to play to your strengths. What do you think about becoming a platinum-blond?”

***

Not since prom night my junior year could I remember being so nervous. I was wearing the standard issue grey slacks and blue blazer with an understated tie. . .my work uniform since joining Summer’s Inc. The major change in my appearance and the reason for my anxiety was the halo around my head.

Stan had rushed me to a salon before I could think things through. In less than three hours I went from being your average peddler with unassuming, shoulder-length, brown hair. . .to a platinum blond, with what Stan called “a slight embellishment” added to my natural curl. A glance in the mirror left me wondering if Christine Aguilera and I shared common ancestry.

Stan had insisted that I have a manicure. He had been nice enough to go with me to the beauty parlor for moral support. The coating they put on my fingernails after they shaped them seemed to have a bit of a pinkish hue, which I took to be a new trend in male hand care. I think I look good, but it’s only Max’s opinion that counts.

“The selection committee will see you now.” The Gillcar executive suite receptionist winked broadly at me. “Good luck,” she added sweetly. “Love what you’ve done with your hair, honey.”

Max asked a few questions after I presented our final pricing and contract provisions regarding keeping Google’s spiders happy. Otherwise he seemed no more interested in me than he had been in any previous meetings.

I left that meeting dejected. It had seemed painfully apparent that I had wasted two years’ effort . . . and a perfectly good bottle of bleach.

When I got back to the office I called up my resume from a personal file in my laptop and started to bring it up-to-date. “My prospects are lousy,” I said quietly to myself and fought back a tear. An out-of-work male has two strikes against him in today’s job market. I’m going to be one of those BWMs . . . Beached White Males. Sure . . . women get paid less, but they get all the good job offers.

As I silently did the math on how long it would be before my mortgage company tossed me out of my home, Stan approached my workstation looking like his wife had just given birth.

“Congratulations, Ryan,” Stan enthused. “Bill Kay from over at SEO4U just called. They’ve been eliminated from the competition. It’s down to three companies now and Summer’s is one of them.”

“Really? Who’s Bill Kay?”

“I knew him at Yale. What a self-righteous prick! That a-hole said he could have landed Gillcar, if he’d wanted to prostitute himself by sending in a fairy.”

My back stiffened. “Fairy? Did he really say that? Screw him. I’m no fairy. Besides, Max Walsh didn’t even notice my hair. It was our product and the way I presented it that counted. I’m going to go to my barber and get back to my natural color.”

At that moment a bicycle messenger walked up. “Ryan Grant?”

I nodded.

“Sign here.”

I inked the form he shoved in front of me. His eyes seemed to linger on me for a few seconds before he smiled slowly, and then gave me a small package with an attached envelope.

Stan peered over my shoulder at the inscription on the card.

It said, “Your preparation for today’s meeting was outstanding. Let’s meet again on Friday for lunch in my suite at the Hilton on Grand Avenue to discuss things in greater detail. Everything you said made great sense. I love great “scents”. — Max”

I opened the package and found a white box with black trim and was immediately surrounded by the aroma of soft, floral . . . SEX. The box contained a large bottle of Chanel No. 5. He wants me to smell like that?!!!

Stan stepped to my laptop and entered a search. “My Gawd. That bottle of perfume cost Max $1,850!”

***

“The perfume is obviously meant for me to re-gift to the woman of my choice,” I argued. I don’t even believe that myself. Max must also think I’m a fairy.

Stan chortled. “Unless I’m missing my guess our chances to land Gillcar just jumped to about 80%. He liked what we did to your hair. That’s what he means by ‘your preparation’.”

It feels nice to be appreciated. “We’ve got to pull out of the race,” I said, shaking my head from side-to-side. I’m going to take a spot in those long lines at the employment agencies. “It won’t do us any good to win Gillcar under false pretenses.”

Stan gawked at me. “What false pretenses. You didn’t promise Max any sexual favors . . . did you?” he teased.

“Of course not. I gave my standard presentation, but my hair . . . and this manicure. Stan, have you ever had a manicure? Do they always use a colored tint when they coat your fingernails?”

He studied my extended hands. “They did a great job.” For some reason he blushed. “Your hands look exactly as they should for the job you’re doing. Maybe you should wear a ring or something to draw attention to them.”

I held my hands out. Other than a fuzzy coating of thin hair they looked feminine.

Stan went into cheerleader mode. “We’ve got to move our game up a notch and become highly pro-active. I was reading in the material in the salon’s waiting room that they offer a three-day treatment at a private retreat. I’ll call them -- offer them extra compensation to get you in -- starting this afternoon. I’ll pay whatever we have to — to have you ready for Friday.”

“This is crazy,” I whispered. $1,850. No one’s ever given me a gift worth $1,850. My legs felt weak while I thought about Max’s kind smile. “I think we should call Gillcar and tell them we’ve lost interest in their account.”

“Why would we ever do that? The game’s just getting exciting. You need to develop a more positive attitude. Did I tell you that I’ve been considering promoting you to be my assistant? You’ll get a company Audi and membership in Hillanddale Golf Club.”

“I guess I should find out more about what happens during three days at a spa,” I relented. Of course, sex with Max is out of the question, even if his cool blue eyes are fantastic and he looks like Pierce Brosnan. He’s so nice sending me a gift; no other client’s ever done that.

***

The next three days went by in a pinkish haze. The salon’s boot camp treated me like royalty, but fed me like a pauper. Other than slight stomach cramps brought on by starvation, the only real pain I experienced was the body waxing -- because “No self-respecting metro-sexual has a hairy body.” Or, so said Maria, who seemed to be my personal trainer.

Stan spent the three days assembling a new set of clothing for me to wear to my meeting with Max Walsh. Giorgio Armani had designed my new, lightweight suit. To me it seemed all wrong. Although it featured the normal business pinstripes, the fabric it was made from felt much too light and soft. It situated my waist several inches higher than it should have been. The jacket seemed too short and the pants too full. Its one button had been sewed on the wrong side, as were the buttons on the silk shirt I had to wear with it. The shirt also had funny-looking pleats across the front that Stan said were “ruched”. Whatever that means.

The shoes that went with my new suit were tasseled loafers with a one-inch heel that Stan said would make me appear taller and more in charge. They were so tight I had to wear gossamer-thin, nylon stockings that came up to my knees. Likewise the cut of the trousers was such that Stan felt forced to purchase special silky underwear for me.

The spa had spent most of the time putting me through various mud baths to rejuvenate my skin. They also packed my hair in mud and added more curl. The morning before my luncheon Stan took me back to the salon where they redid my manicure . . . adding a bit more color and did things to my face to make my skin glow. They gave me a special lip balm and made me promise to refresh it at least every fifteen minutes.

I argued with Stan on everything he suggested, but he became an irresistible force . . . and I was movable.

Much of my time at the spa had been spent listening on my iPad to a book that Stan had found for me. It argued for the sanctity of same-sex relationships. I have to admit their arguments seem to be quite sane.

Before taking me to the Hilton to meet Max, Stan drove me by the office so that I could dab Chanel No. 5 from my bottle on my wrists.

***

“You look marvelous, my dear,” Max said, as he opened the door to his suite. His eyes told me that I was his equivalent of a box of chocolates.

“Thank you so much for the Chanel,” I gushed, and was surprised to feel how much I really did appreciate his gift and the exquisite aroma that surrounded me.

“I’m glad you found it useful,” he said. “Chanel reacts so uniquely with different ladies . . . and men. It seems to have wonderful chemistry with you.” He leaned in and inhaled. “Pardon me, but I find your scent intoxicating.”

“Thank you.” I gratefully accepted his welcoming embrace and enjoyed his warmth. I could feel myself blush and hoped the skin-enhancer the beautician had spread on my face covered me enough so that he wouldn’t notice. He’s much younger than I originally thought him to be. That part of me that had been tucked away twitched.

“I hope you don’t mine,” Max said, suddenly becoming quite business-like. “I have a board meeting this afternoon; so to conserve time I ordered lunch.” He led me to a small table with two chairs arranged so that we we’re sitting with the table with the food to our side . . . and our knees almost touching. Our faces were no more than three feet apart.

I wonder what it would feel like to kiss him.

His fingertips brushed my knees -- creating more twitching.

The lunch Max had ordered had been impeccably prepared, but I barely had a chance to taste it, because he had so many questions about our company, my ongoing role in what we would provide for Gillcar, and the results we had achieved for other companies. Max appeared to be acutely aware of Google’s efforts to reduce the rankings of those sites using content farms.

Several times my answers so excited him that he patted my hand in appreciation. Other than our extremely intimate proximity, my Chanel, and the sensual way my clothing caressed my hairless body, our lunch was much like dozens of other sales calls I had made with other client prospects.

Except . . . Max is so darned charismatic.

And, I’m so aroused I can hardly concentrate.

Several times I was so utterly taken by his charm and masterful personality that I felt more like a puppy dog wanting his approval than a salesperson. “And so,” I said, recapping my thoughts, “we’ll emphasize authentic content that matches your metatags.” I’ll bet my nipples are as hard as rocks. I’d love it if Max. . . .

“Oh — my goodness,” Max said with a start. “I’m already late for my board meeting. I’ve enjoyed our lunch so much that I completely lost track of the time. Can you forgive me if I run?” he asked, half-way out the door. “My office will call your office.” And, then he was gone.

It’s obvious he merely put up with me as long as he could . . . just to be nice . . . and then gave up and ran away in disgust. I mainly felt. . .unattractive. . .and wished fervently that I would get another chance to make Max like me.

***

Stan immediately drove to the hotel to get me after I called. He seemed to be doing his best not to treat me like a discarded piece of trash, which was exactly how I felt. “I wonder if the information about Max is accurate?” was all Stan said when I told him how the luncheon had gone.

Later in the office I sat at my desk and silently debated whatever had possessed Stan and me to think we had a chance to land Gillcar. The other salesmen came by to commiserate . . . and strangely . . . to tell me how nice I looked.

The computer screen I stared into offered little help as I tried to visualize my future. Stan had been right. I put my entire career on the line with Gillcar. . .and now it’s over.

Another bicycle messenger brought a package and card. I called for Stan and waited until he was at my side before opening the small envelope.

I’m so sorry I had to abruptly leave our luncheon. My board of thirty impatient gentlemen includes several close relatives who love to criticize. Please accept this humble gift as an apology. I’ve reserved the suite for a week from Monday for dinner at 8:00. We will have as much time as it takes for me to make a final decision. — Max

P.S. Wear something slinky that goes with my simple gift.”

Slinky?

“Final decision? What does he mean by ‘final decision’?” Stan asked frantically. He pulled his iPhone out of his pocket and checked his messages. “You did it! We just received official notice from Gillcar. It’s down to us and Net Group. Either Summer’s Inc. or your old friend Greta is going to land Gillcar.”

I barely heard Stan as I ripped open my package and found . . . a small box from Cartier containing heart-shaped, diamond earrings.

“They’re gorgeous!” I breathed.

“They had to set Max back about ten grand,” Stan admitted with considerable envy. His eyes met mine. “Do you have any idea how great you smell?”

He’s standing much too close.

His fists shot into the air. “Yes! I’ll book you back into the beauty farm for another week. This time we have to pull out all the stops. First thing . . . you need to get your ears pierced.”

“Pierced ears?” I asked in a daze. Max spent $10,000 dollars to apologize for having to leave suddenly. He’s so sweet.

“Those earrings are made for pierced ears,” Stan bellowed. “But getting your ears pierced is just the tip of the iceberg. Don’t you get it? The research was right. Max is into you. He’s invited you to a romantic dinner with him and wants you dressed to thrill.”

“Thrill!!!?” I asked in a frightened-little-bunny voice,

Stan pointed to the note from Max. “He said he wants you to wear something ‘slinky’ that matches diamond earrings. That means high heels and something little and black that’s form-fitting. So you’ll need a form to fit. It can be done. We’ve got just over a week. Nothing’s impossible. I’ll stretch my department’s budget. Pro-active marketing. . .that’s the ticket.”

Max Walsh actually likes me. I can hardly believe it.

***

At five minutes to 8:00 I found myself clicking across the reception area of Max’s hotel in my Alexander McQueen, satin, tulip-heeled pumps. I had dabbed Chanel on my wrists and behind my ears to complete “my preparation”.

My simple black sheath betrayed its nearly $4,000 price tag. Stan had arranged for me to have my chest altered so that the dress’ built-in bra supported my new impressive breasts. In the past my primary concern had been showing the client how we would make sure their websites weren’t blacklisted. My biggest worry had become how to “show” the maximum skin without coming across like a tramp.

Stan said I had been “augmented”. To me it seemed like I had been revamped. I had agreed to the surgery, which required only tiny incisions, after being assured it was all reversible. An out-patient procedure had changed the outline of my hips and given me breasts.

“What Max wants. . .Max gets,” Stan kept saying during the entire week of training to keep me focused on my duty.

Mincing daintily . . . I easily negotiated the glossy surface of the hotel’s marble floors in my dress’ pencil skirt and four-inch heels. My week of intense training has paid off.

I had been kept so busy I hadn’t had time for reflective thinking. Occasionally it passed through my brain that Max was happily married and would never truly be mine, but I was content with whatever portion he could spare me.

This time Stan had made no effort to gloss over what “we” were doing.

I was fully aware of my alluring make-up and the bright-red polish on my artificially extended fingernails.

“You’re stepping up to the plate,” Stan had coached. “Make sure you’ve got the right bat.”

I had mentally steeled myself for what I had to do. Man-on-man sex didn’t really interest me, but I did enjoy being around Max and could make allowances. Besides, I don’t look or feel at all manly; and those tapes Stan has me listening to have made me crave sex.

I had been remarkably surprised all week at how easily I had changed my gender presentation. I enjoy being a girl. Stan’s been great helping me. . .just like he said he would.

My daintily painted fingertip eagerly caressed the button for the elevator to the penthouse suite . . . and then I heard a familiar voice behind me.

“Ryan?” she asked quietly so that only I could hear. “I wouldn’t have recognized you, but I was just thinking about how strange it seems to be competing against you for Gillcar. It is you!”

The elevator door opened and my legs unfroze long enough for me to step into it. I hadn’t quite found the courage to look into Greta’s eyes.

“Let me see you,” Greta said. She reached around me and stopped the elevator’s ascent between floors.

She looks wonderful. I wonder if she went through some of the same beauty process this week that I did? I could feel her eyes assessing every inch of my body, resting on my cleavage a bit longer than any other part.

“You look like a complete dream. . . .” Greta’s voice trailed off.

A tear seeped from the corner of my left eye. Disappointing Greta like I am seems like the biggest mistake I’ve ever made . . . other than not marrying her when I had the chance. “I don’t know what to say,” I said quietly. My hair, six inches longer due to extensions and much thicker because of a weave, tickled my back.

“Are you in love with Max?” she asked, without any trace of distain. “If you are, I can totally understand. He’s so nice and so generous. Omigosh . . . your earrings . . . they’re just like the ones he gave to me. My research was right. Everyone gets the same gifts.” She laughed.

I noticed that she was also wearing Chanel No. 5. I tore my eyes off the elevator car’s floor and looked at her heart-shaped diamond earrings.

“He’s nice,” I admitted in a voice half an octave higher than it had been two weeks ago. Stan had found a special liquid for me to gargle that caused a temporary change. “He’ll never be as special to me as you are.”

She smiled broadly.

“How about you?” I asked. “Are you falling for him?”

She laughed. “He’s really not my type. I like my men to be a lot less full of themselves.

For some reason I felt relieved. “I’m such an idiot.”

“You’re no idiot,” she said softly, “and now you’re as beautiful on the outside as you are on the inside.” Her hand shot out to gently explore my smoothed crotch. “You. . .you didn’t change your plumbing, did you?”

I blushed furiously. “No . . . my boss found this thing for me to wear that tucks everything back and up.”

“That’s good . . . very good. It would’ve been a crime for you to have damaged your wonderful. . . .”

I grinned. “You have some body parts that I would designate as national treasures, if I was a Congressman.”

“Don’t you mean ‘Congresswoman’?” She giggled. “My goodness, do you remember that time I dressed you in my panties and bra and we . . . made passionate love?”

I bit my lip and blushed. “Of course.”

“I’ve often fantasized about dressing you from head-to-toe in my things; but not in my wildest dreams did you look as incredibly sexy as you do tonight.”

I touched her hand. “You’re still the most beautiful girl in the world. I could never look anything as great as you do.”

Her hand closed over mine. “I like what you’ve done to your bosom, but wouldn’t want you to do any more . . . remodeling.” She pushed the button to the penthouse and the elevator lurched into motion.

All of the training I’d received over the last week had been challenged by the look on Greta’s face that spoke of her desire for me. Who am I trying to kid? She’s the one for me. . .not Max. But, just look at me. . . . What have I done? Everything I’ve been taught about how to sit, walk, talk, smile . . . even how to hold my hands . . . is meant for Max’s approval. Greta must think I’m a total wimp.

***

Max swung open the door and beamed when he saw the two of us. “For every beauty there is an eye somewhere. I hope you two forgive me for my inadequacy to properly appreciate your radiance.”

“Ryan was cute in college,” Greta said to Max, “but now he’s absolutely stunning.”

I suddenly realized I was still holding her hand, but could find no good reason to relinquish it.

Max shepherded the two of us to a couch where Greta and I sat side-by-side pressed against one another. He scurried about bringing us wine, crackers, and cheese.

At first I felt like I was on display for Max’s idle judging, but he quickly put me at ease. His smile told me that Max was having fun waiting on us and watching two ultra-feminine people enjoying each other.

Greta told joke after joke that hit just the proper tone and kept the evening light and merry.

Max asked endless questions, making me feel as if our opinions were the most important thing in the world to him.

Somehow we managed to complete our meal and several bottles of wine without so much as a minute actually passing.

Max filled our glasses again, and then raised his in a toast. “There is nothing in this world quite like two exquisite people who have rekindled their love. I’m immensely pleased to have brought you two back together.”

“Thank you, Max,” Greta and I said at precisely the same moment.

“I was having a devil of a time choosing between your two companies,” Max added. “Since you two are such good friends, we should work out a way for your companies to share our SEO work.”

Greta and I hugged Max to seal the deal.

“The only thing I regret is this,” Max said ruefully, coming out of a three way lingering clinch. “I have a personal rule that I never mix business with sex. Even though I’m greatly attracted to both of you, we’ll just have to leave that line uncrossed.”

Greta and I also readily agreed to those terms.

We left together -- leaving Max in his suite where his wife would soon join him. No doubt she would be wearing Chanel No. 5 and heart-shaped earrings.

Greta and I stopped at the hotel’s front desk long enough to book a room for the night . . . together.

I’m sure Stan will okay the cost of the room for the night on my expense account as his new assistant sales manager.

If I work it right, Summer’s Inc. will pay for my complete new wardrobe. After all, I have to be pro-active.

The End



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