Authors: Scarlett Black
Copyright © 2013
by Scarlett Black.
All rights reserved. No part of this
publication may be reproduced, distributed or transmitted in any form or by any
means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical
methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the
case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other
noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law.
Publisher’s Note: This is a work of
fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are a product of the author’s
imagination. Locales and public names are sometimes used for atmospheric
purposes. Any resemblance to actual people, living or dead, or to businesses,
companies, events, institutions, or locales is completely coincidental.
Ceasefire / Scarlett Black. -- 1st ed.
the layoff flu circulates around the office, the best you can do is keep your
head down, wash your hands, and don’t touch anything. Unfortunately, I caught
it, and losing the only job I could get was one of the most humiliating
it was also a blessing in disguise. For a while.
least until people got hurt.
sat at my desk that ill-fated morning, waiting on the first call of the day to
come in and not looking forward to whatever reaming would be on the other end
of the line. Mondays were always like that. When you work the phones for a
manufacturing company that’s too cheap to provide customer service on the
weekends, you get some seriously pissed off people once the support lines go
live at eight a.m.
for the first time in months, I’d gotten in early. Joey had downed his pureed peaches
and oatmeal, hadn’t fought me when I tried to get him in the car seat, and had practically
leapt into Dreama’s arms when I dropped him off, you know, instead of the usual
top-of-his-lungs screaming. The separation anxiety was in full swing, and we
couldn’t let mama out of our sight, no sir.
father, Marcus, was in his mid-thirties—this Peter Pan type who never took to
the idea of settling down with the pretty twenty-year-old he got pregnant after
a night out at the clubs. We lasted for about six months living in the same
apartment, but life with a pregnant girl was too “constricting” he’d said, and
out he went—so fast that I was sure I saw the curtains flutter in his wake.
I sat there in my cubicle, staring at the time on the phone’s digital display.
One minute to go. I took a few deep breaths, steeling myself for the
inevitable flurry of curse words from the first customer, and reached up with
my hand hovering over the answer button on my headset.
rang before the time reached eight o’clock, which I thought was strange, but I
answered it because that’s what I got paid to do.
Manufacturing, this is Kim, how can I service you today?” Do I have to tell
you how subservient that sounded? I had fought to have the managers change our
greeting, but I think the all-male leadership got off on it. They probably
imagined the rest of the ladies and me on our knees, pulling their zippers
down, begging for our jobs as we said, “How can I
you today, sir?”
can you come into my office for a sec?” I recognized the familiar voice.
the department head. Generally a jackass, but easy to manipulate.
I said, “be right there.” I hung up and wondered what he wanted—probably to
flirt with me like always, but at eight o’clock on a Monday, it was too early
for him to be his usual slimy self. After the last round of layoffs I’d taken
to flirting back, hoping to keep my job a little longer while I looked for
something else. Six months later, I was still on shaky ground and nowhere
close to finding a different job.
course it was demeaning, pretending to laugh at his bad jokes and giggling when
he drunkenly patted my ass at the Christmas party, but a girl’s gotta do, you
know? I would do whatever it took, short of servicing him, because I had bills
and a hungry child’s mouth to feed.
do what you can when it’s necessary.
kept telling myself that over and over, but I had no idea where it would
stood up from my desk chair and straightened my blue top (the one that showed
off my cleavage), and opened an extra button. By chance, mostly because I
didn’t have anything else clean, I’d worn my shortest skirt. Seriously, it
never came out of the closet.
thank God for good genes, right? Having a baby at twenty-one meant a lot of
things went back to where they were supposed to without too much effort. I
watched what I ate and found time to exercise a couple times a week. Mostly I
was lucky, and I had no problem admitting it.
mother, Dreama, she had four of us and managed to run marathons. Still does.
If it weren’t for the scar along her midriff—where they’d pulled me out, screaming
into the world—you’d never guess that she’d been pregnant a day in her life.
with the blue top, short skirt, and wedge heels that really gave some pop to my
calves, I headed down the hall toward Ronnie’s office.
me, I know how bad this sounds, but for a little extra insurance I ducked into
the bathroom and took off my panties, because why not? I don’t know whether I
was naïve, delusional, or desperate; but in my mind, I thought a quick peek
might keep me employed for another few months.
no pockets to stash them in, I wrapped them in a handful of paper towels,
wadded the whole thing up and then shoved it deep into the trashcan.
checked my teeth in the mirror and smoothed out an eyebrow, then took note of
how much more I looked like my mother with every passing day. Not a bad thing,
by any means. She was still turning heads at fifty-two. I got her
honey-blonde hair and blue eyes, but dad’s chin. It’s those imperfections that
make us who we are.
that I was ready to play the part of company tease, I readjusted my bra to give
my breasts some more lift, made a kissy-face at the mirror, and then headed for
Ronnie’s office to secure my livelihood.
seemed distracted when I walked in. No, not distracted. Nervous, maybe? I
couldn’t say for sure. Normally, Ronnie was such an open book that you could
tell whether the guy was thirsty for either soda or coffee simply by the
expression on his face.
stuttered a pathetic, “H-h-hi, Kim. Come on in. Have a seat,” and motioned
for me to sit down across from him. Ronnie, he was tall and very well could’ve
been handsome fifteen years ago, maybe as little as ten. I tried to imagine
how he’d been back in his early twenties. Thin, tanned, maybe with a set of
abs you could crush diamonds on, and round biceps that struggled against a
my imagination made the flirting easier, because now he had a receding
hairline, a belly that pushed against the lower buttons of his crisp shirt, and
dark bags under his eyes.
or maybe not so much, I pulled the chair away from the desk, back far enough
where I could sit and make a show of crossing my legs, giving him the
get me wrong—I didn’t like the guy, not in the slightest, yet I felt a tingling
between my legs wondering whether or not he’d gotten a good look.
part was fun. What came next wasn’t.
I’m sure you know that we really value you as an employee. You’re one of the
best we have.”
The tingling disappeared and in its place, I got butterflies in my stomach.
with compliments don’t typically go well.
That’s something that comes at the end, something to give you a boost after
you’ve been reprimanded. I said, “I really appreciate that,” because I didn’t
know what else to say, even though I knew what was coming.
have some budget issues this year and…” Ronnie rubbed his eyes and then put a
hand over his mouth. He looked up at the ceiling and shook his head.
truth was, I knew this was going to happen eventually, so I was prepared. I
just hadn’t expected it so soon. I had some savings, there would be
unemployment to rely on for a while, and I could always move back in with
Dreama if Joey and I needed a place to stay. But, I hated accepting charity
when I knew I was perfectly capable of taking care of things myself; yet sometimes
you just have to sprinkle a dash of sugar on the spoonful of pride and swallow
it with a humility chaser.
said, “Don’t take this personally, because really, you’re wonderful.”
didn’t soothe the stinging I felt. No matter how prepared you are, that
feeling of being rejected or not good enough to keep around still comes with a
had enough of that feeling sitting around the family dinner table.
have to let you go. I hope you understand. It’s not you. Really, it’s not
just you. If those bastards from Taiwan could get their act together…” His
words trailed off as he shook his head again.
wanted to be mad. Should have been mad, but I understood. It’s how things
worked in the corporate world. In somebody’s mind, some upper-level suit that
was looking at the bottom line and all those red numbers, it made more sense to
unload five employees who collectively made a hundred thousand a year and ruin five
lives, than it did to get rid of
job-redundant, mid-level manager earning
the same amount.
never explained that to me in my MBA classes.
was I working as a first-tier customer support rep when I’d gotten my undergrad
degree two years early and finished an MBA program (on top of being pregnant),
while most coeds my age were happy to get into a bar with a real ID? They also
never explained to me that everybody and their mother had an MBA. It’s the
equivalent of the undergrad degree from three decades ago.
sighed and nodded, told Ronnie that I was disappointed, but that I’d be okay.
I was relieved too, partly because the possibility of losing my job had been
hanging around my neck like a fifty-pound weight for the last six months.
Basically, I was glad that it was over. The bandage had been ripped away
without taking too much skin.
speaking of skin, I scooted up to the edge of my seat and spread my legs. The
skirt rode up and made a perfect,
frame around all the pretty parts.
“Well, then,” I said, “it’s been nice working with you, Ronnie.” I inched my
knees further apart. “Don’t forget me.” I smiled my best fake smile and stood
looked dazed, like someone had pushed the pause button on his brain. He
swallowed. Gulped, really.
did I do it?
though I was on my way out, it felt good to be the one in control. Too good,
honestly, because I think that’s where it all started. That tiny flicker in
the back of my mind, like a single lightning bug in a wide-open field, led to
so many bigger things. But, bigger is not necessarily better.
have told me I’m pretty—beautiful even—my whole life, but if you put me in a
pageant next to my three sisters, well, one of the four doesn’t belong on the
stage. And guess which one that is? I was the smart one,
one, and I hid behind glasses, braces, and ponytails up until about two years
first time I let my girlfriends talk me into going out, the first time I dared
to put on heels and a dress, to let my hair down (literally), it resulted in my
treasure, my Joey. Makes me think that if I’d put on makeup for the first time
when I was sixteen, instead of twenty, my world would’ve been a lot different.
it was because of the attention I got that night. I mean, I’d had sex before,
if you want to call it that, but I’d never had so many men
me. It felt good, damn good, and I went home with the first one (Marcus) that
bought me a drink. But I wasn’t in control. Nowhere near being in control.
He was handsome, and rough, and drunk. I shut my eyes tight and let him do
whatever he wanted.
, came in the single moment when Ronnie absolutely
couldn’t find the right words, any words, and it was the genesis of a
revelation that led to so many dangerous things.