Turnabout

Turn-Cvr

 

What happens when a guy falls in love with the boss during the job interview?

 

Chapter 1

 

Nicholas Frayne knew something was up when the video he’d posted to MyScreen the previous week received 200 new views in one day. The next day his TeamedUp account showed a notification from Human Resources at a company he’d never heard of, Freedom Fashions.

“We’re interested in interviewing you for a new position,” the notification read. “Please call this number and ask for Ms. Jackson.”

Intrigued, Nick decided to accept the invitation to interview. At twenty-four he was two years into the job he’d begun right after college and growing restless. In his current position there was no chance of advancing to a higher position with better pay, a situation that would interfere seriously with his life plan.

When he arrived at the company site on the day of the interview he was surprised to find Freedom Fashions housed in a nondescript collection of flat-roofed buildings in a suburban industrial park. He checked the address he’d entered in his phone once more, parked his car in the allotted space in front of the building, and went up to the front door.

A notice in a bracket next the front door directed him to press the buzzer. He did.

“Good afternoon,” a voice said. “Your name and business?”

“Nicholas Frayne, and I’m here for an interview at two o’clock.”

“Come in,” said the woman who opened the door. “My name is Mo’Nisha Jackson.”

“Nice to meet you,” Nicholas said, following her into the office. It was a neatly arranged room but Ms. Jackson did not pause. She opened another door and held it, indicating Nicholas was to precede her. He walked into a small conference room, wood-paneled with the usual accouterments of a woodgrain table, eight chairs, a coffee station, and the bottom of a screen hanging from the ceiling.

“Mr. Frayne, there’s an application to fill out, then we’ll chat briefly before the CEO interviews you. We’re a small company, as I suppose you know.”

Nicholas nodded, accepted a cup of surprisingly good coffee, and settled in to fill out the application while Ms. Jackson left the room. The paperwork was routine but he’d brought along a copy of his resume and a paper clip to avoid the tedium of filling out the experience blocks on the back of the form.

A few minutes later Ms. Jackson returned. “We were interested in the video you posted on MyScreen,” she said. “What inspired you to post it?”

“Well, I’m still fairly new in the business world,” Nicholas said. “I’m on a very tight budget and I know others in my age group are too. I wanted to show how men could dress well on a limited amount of money if they just put a little thought into it—you know, what kinds of jobs they have, what their interests are, and that kind of thing. And I wanted to show that guys can save money by going to thrift stores and repurposing an item of clothing. Just as women do,” he added.

Ms. Jackson raised her eyebrows, but nodded. She was a tall woman of middle age who looked as if she’d seen everything and hadn’t approved of any of it.

“The CEO also wants to talk to you,” she said. A door he hadn’t noticed before at the back of the room opened and a woman walked in. “Oh, here she is now.”

Nicholas rose to his feet to greet the newcomer, realizing with terrible clarity that his life had just changed forever. He felt as if someone had punched him right in the gut. Funny, he’d thought that if and when Cupid’s arrow struck him, it would be in the heart. Stunned though he was, he tried to mask his feelings with an expression of polite interest

“Mr. Frayne, this is Brooke Parnell, founder and CEO of Freedom Fashions,” Ms. Jackson said.

She was poetry, she was fire, she was the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen in his life. Red hair—not chestnut, not strawberry blonde, but the flame-colored hair of Celtic warriors—tumbled to her shoulders. Eyes the dark blue of a summer night regarded him with interest.

“How do you do, Mr. Frayne,” the vision said. Her voice was pleasant. “Please sit down. I’d like to ask you some questions.”

“Certainly,” Nick said, and hoped he didn’t sound as breathless as he felt.

She was wearing a silky, ivory-colored shirt tucked into a dark brown leather belt and soft, supple trousers the shade of a warm gray morning in spring.

“First of all, what do you know about women’s fashions?”

“A lot,” he said. “For instance, I can tell by the cut and fit and sheen of the shirt you’re wearing that you didn’t pick it off a rack. My guess is that you sat in a curtained alcove with at least two full-length mirrors while someone brought the shirt to you and pinned it to fit—if any alterations were needed.”

“And the fabric?”

Nicholas squinted. “At a guess, I’d say charmeuse. It’s a beautiful shirt. The pants—”

Ms. Parnell held up a hand. “Sorry to interrupt, but in this company the word ‘pants’ refers to what you wear under your clothes. We call what I’m wearing ‘trousers,’ unless we’re talking about blue jeans, and those we call ‘jeans,’ like everyone else.”

“Oh,” Nick said, abashed. “Sorry. Well, I’d say the trousers are crepe or something like that. Very fluid, and very much in harmony with the shirt.”

“And why is my belt dark brown instead of black?”

“Black would be too harsh with the ivory color of the shirt,” he said. “The dark brown is just right and ties the two colors together. I’d guess you’re wearing dark brown shoes too.”

For answer, Ms. Parnell pushed her chair back from the table and lifted first one foot, then the other, onto the table. She was in fact wearing low-heeled shoes of dark brown leather. 

Nick was slightly disconcerted. He wasn’t used to seeing women put their feet up like that. 

“You’re doing well so far. How is it you know so much about women’s clothes?”

“I have two younger sisters,” Nick said. He lifted his eyes to the ceiling. “My opinion has been solicited on every subject under the sun, but especially clothes.”

Ms. Parnell smiled. “All right. Now, analyze your own outfit for us. Why did you choose to dress as you have for this interview?”

“Oh…well, the position of social media marketing specialist implies a certain amount of creativity,” he said. “That’s why I didn’t dress like a lawyer or an accountant by wearing a dark suit.  At work I wear what’s called ‘business casual,’ which is a shirt with a collar and, er, trousers. And decent shoes, never joggers.”

“But today you’re wearing a jacket,” Ms. Jackson prompted.

“Yes, well, a job interview is serious, no matter how creative the position. Wearing a blazer implies a certain amount of respect, I think.”

Ms. Parnell and Ms. Jackson nodded.

“All right,” Ms. Parnell said. “One more question. What’s the difference between you and every other applicant for this position? In other words, why do you think we should hire you rather than someone else?”

Nick felt color coming into his cheeks. “Well, I could show you rather than tell you…”

Ms. Parnell inclined her head. “Please do,” she said.

Nick stood up, moved away from the conference table, and bent over to lift his trouser cuffs. Ms. Parnell and Ms. Jackson leaned forward, the better to see.

“Wonder Woman socks!” Ms. Jackson said. “Wow.”

“Glad to see you have a politically correct socks life,” Ms. Parnell said. She grinned. “Well, thank you very much for coming in. We have some other applicants to interview but we’ll be able to let you know by—oh, let’s say Thursday. The phone number on your application is where we can reach you, right?”

“Yes, Ms. Parnell. Thank you.” Nick rose to leave.

“I’ll show you out,” Ms. Jackson said, rising as well.

She led him back through the door to the outer office, then to the front door. “Have a good day, Mr. Frayne.”

“Thank you.”

It was only when walking to his car that Nick realized he’d forgotten his phone, that lifeline of the modern age. It must have fallen out of his shirt pocket when he’d lifted his trouser cuffs. “Damn!”

He felt curiously reluctant to see the two interviewers again. He wanted to drive away and process the interview in his mind.

Going back up the steps to the front door, he was about to knock when he realized the front door was slightly open. Good. He’d just go right in and speak to whoever was at the front desk. 

But there was no one sitting there. Nick took a deep breath, approached the door to the conference room, and was about to knock when he heard Ms. Parnell’s voice.

“Well, what do you think, Mo’Nisha?”

“I say hire him.”

“I like him, but he’s awfully young.” Ms. Parnell sounded doubtful.

“The younger the better! My God, kids know everything nowadays. Would you believe I had to get my twelve-year-old granddaughter to reboot my smart TV? I was clueless. This guy will know exactly how to appeal to our target market.” 

“Well,” Ms. Parnell said, “if we hire him no one will be able to accuse us of discriminating against men. Considering ours is an all-woman company, we do run that risk.”

“True. Although we’ll have to keep him away from the factory—a guy who looks like that is going to make all the women go gaga.”

“They’re all married, Mo’Nisha!”

“When has that ever stopped anyone, Brooke?”

Nick, feeling in turns shocked, bemused, and finally outraged, decided to make his presence known. He went back to slam the front door, then clomped back to the conference room door and knocked loudly. “Hello, is anyone there?”

“Yes, come in.”

Nick erupted through the door. “So sorry to disturb you but I forgot my phone!”

“Really?” Ms. Parnell said. “Did you drop it?”

It wasn’t on the conference table. Nick bent down to look at the floor beneath his chair. Yes, there it was. He retrieved it, stood up, feeling like an idiot, and apologized again. “So sorry. Good day.”

“Good day,” they said in unison.

Nick lifted a hand in farewell and left quickly. Inwardly he was seething. They looked on him as a kid?  A kid who would protect them from charges of discrimination against men? A good-looking kid who would make the factory workers “go gaga”?

If Freedom Fashions decided to hire him at anything like a decent salary he’d accept the job and show them he damned well was no kid.

Chapter 2

“The first thing to know about this place is that we’re all on a first-name basis,” the head of Human Resources said. “What do you prefer to be called?”

“Just ‘Nick’ is fine,” Nick said. It was two weeks later, his first day on the new job. He had finished filling out the paperwork and was now sitting across from Ms. Jackson at the conference room table.

“And I’m Mo’Nisha. You’ve met Brooke, our founder and CEO. You haven’t met Renata Rienzi yet. She’s our designer, but she’s usually at our factory Monday through Thursday.”

“Where is the factory?”

“It’s in a small town where the rent is cheaper and we can afford the labor. We’ll take you there soon. It’s only a couple of hours’ drive from here.”

Nick nodded. He longed for two things: one, for this first day and first week to be over, and two, for a sight of Brooke. He hoped if she did appear he wouldn’t blush and stammer at the sight of her.

“Okay, I’m going to leave you here to read the employee handbook, such as it is. We’re not fond of rules and hierarchy here, as you’ll soon learn. Oh, and let me emphasize one thing: Brooke does not like overtime, voluntary or involuntary. She’ll occasionally approve paid overtime if we’re behind on orders, but as a rule she doesn’t like it. We believe people should have a life outside of work.”

Nick nodded again and applied himself to reading the employee handbook. It was mercifully short.

When he’d been offered the job he could hardly believe his luck. Not only would his new position be a step up in prestige and pay, it would give him a chance to show what he could do with social media. More money would move him closer to his dream of one day buying a house; if he achieved a good track record in this job he’d be able to move to an even higher-paid position. He hoped he wouldn’t have to leave Freedom Fashions for his next step; if he went anywhere else he wouldn’t be able to see Brooke every day.

The rest of the morning was spent learning the office software system.

“You’ll be meeting with Brooke after lunch,” Mo’Nisha said. “She’ll tell you about our new project.”

When Brooke walked into the conference room after lunch, Nick was proud of himself for managing to look business-like: eager for the meeting, interested in the new project, not emotionally involved at all. He hoped that neither his hands nor his voice would shake when she spoke to him.

“Sit down, Nick,” Brooke said.

He’d risen to his feet when she walked into the conference room where he worked. “We plan to move to new quarters if our plans go as well as we hope,” Mo’Nisha had told him that morning. “But until then I’m afraid you’ll have to work in here.”

“You’re a colleague now, Nick, no need to stand up when I come in. Although I appreciate your good manners.” Brooke nodded briskly as she took her seat.

Nick allowed himself a small smile as he nodded and waited for her to speak again.

“We make women’s jeans, as you know, with side zippers instead of front zippers. They’ve been selling well enough, but we want sales to soar through the roof. We’d like to see, first of all, a MyScreen commercial—not long, say 60 seconds—that shows the appeal of side zippers. After that, we want another commercial showing the stupidity of making jeans with front zippers for women. We’ll run the commercial on other social media as well, of course.”

Nick thought over the implications of that and could not repress a grin as he looked at her.

“All right. Let’s go over the budget now. Mo’Nisha will come in and consult with you about location, props, and actors. We use a small production company for filming and you’ll be expected to work with the people there. After your ideas and storyboards have been approved, you’ll be meeting with the head of the film company.” 

______________________

Nick’s first commercial was a resounding success. After Brooke and Mo’Nisha enthusiastically approved his storyboards, he met with the all-women production company and hammered out the scenes for the short video.

A month after he began work for Freedom Fashions, the video went up on MyScreen, then on Squawker, BragSpace, and FastLook. In three days it garnered ten thousand views.

The first scene showed an attractive young woman, light brown hair tied back in a ponytail, working out hard in a gym—lifting weights, running on a treadmill, doing crunches and situps on a mat. The next scene showed her looking at herself sideways, still in workout crop-top and leggings in the floor-to-ceiling mirror at the gym, and patting her flat stomach approvingly. The third scene showed her sliding into a pair of jeans, then zipping up the front zipper and looking at herself sideways in her bedroom mirror and blenching. Where was the flat, pleasing silhouette she’d worked so hard to achieve? The front zipper bulged, ruining the look of her flat stomach. Looking disturbed, she threw the jeans into a corner. 

The next scene showed her reaching for a pair of jeans from Freedom Fashions. The penultimate scene showed her looking at herself sideways in the new jeans, with her stomach in profile perfectly flat, and the final scene showing her attracting admiring glances as she strolled by a sidewalk café.

In two weeks orders increased by 100 percent. “We’ve had to ask people to work overtime at the factory,” Mo’Nisha reported at the weekly breakfast meeting. “We’re also looking to hire a couple more people there.”

Brooke smiled. “Good work, Nick. When will the second commercial be ready?”

“It’s going to be shorter,” Nick said, “but I hope very much to the point.”

It was. The second commercial showed a young woman with front-zipping jeans shouldering her way through a swing door marked “Women.” The camera followed her into a stall, at which point she unzipped her jeans, looked down, then shrugged and raised her eyes heavenward, as if to say, “What the hell? I don’t have anything to whip out and point!”

The scene closed with a sound track of derisive laughter. The next scene showed the same young woman entering the same women’s room, same stall, and giving an approving nod as she proceeded to unzip the side zipper of her jeans. A close-up shot zoomed in on the discreet logo “FF,” at the point where the zipper began.

Sales continued to climb upward for the next two months. Then, mysteriously, they flatlined.

“What the hell’s happening?” Brooke asked furiously at the first weekly meeting in June.

Mo’Nisha sighed. “TopDenim has stolen your idea and they’re advertising on television, MyScreen, and all the other social media.”

“Damn,” Brooke said. “We can’t afford to advertise on television.” Silence reigned for a few minutes. “All right,” she said at last. “We’ll develop a new product. Come on, Nick, you and I are going shopping. Mo’Nisha, just so you know, I’m going to be using the company credit card this morning.”

“Okay.” Mo’Nisha sounded gloomy, but then she usually did.

Surprised, Nick followed Brooke out the front door of the building to her car, an up-to-date but not overly expensive hybrid model. “What are we shopping for?” he ventured to ask as he climbed into the passenger seat beside Brooke.

“You’ll see.”

Twenty minutes later she parked the car at one of the sprawling shopping malls that uglified the landscape. Nick followed Brooke into one of the high-end department stores.

“We’re going to the Men’s Department,” Brooke said. “You’re going to have a new suit.”

For an hour Nick tried on suits, going back and forth to the dressing room as Brooke studied his appearance, analyzing the color, fabric, and cut. “All right,” she said as Nick came out in suit number five. “We’ll take that one, the grey. It’s the same color as your eyes. It’s also a nice summer weight, the style is trendy, and there’s not much bulk. Okay, why don’t you change back into your clothes and join me at the payment desk.”

“You do like the suit, don’t you?” Brooke asked as they left the shopping mall parking lot to drive back to the office.

“Yes, it’s fine, thank you. But what’s the reason for buying it for me?”

“I want you to wear it to work every day for a week, starting on Monday. Okay? On Friday I’ll tell you why.”

“Okay,” Nick said. He was dying of curiosity. Try as he might, he simply couldn’t think why she wanted him to wear a suit to work every day or why, even if she’d suddenly decided that a suit was proper attire for the office, she hadn’t asked him to wear one of his own suits.

The next five days at work were definitely a trial: used to the comfort of his own clothes, he found the suit too confining. It wasn’t too bad as long as he could take off the jacket while he worked at his laptop, but Brooke asked that he wear the suit to meetings. She even asked him to accompany her and Mo’Nisha to a business luncheon with a client on Thursday.

After lunch on Friday Brooke and Mo’Nisha joined him in the conference room. “All right,” Brooke said, “it’s time for the great reveal. Could you do me a favor, Nick—just for the moment, put the jacket on, stand up, and walk slowly up and down the room in front of Mo’Nisha and me a couple of times.”

Still mystified, Nick complied with her request. “Observe the slim fit of the suit, Mo’Nisha,” Brooke said. “Nowhere does it bag or sag. It’s slim and snappy, just the style nowadays, do you agree?”

“Yes,” Mo’Nisha said. “What are you driving at, Brooke?”

“You’ll see. Now, Nick, before you sit down again, could you be very kind and empty every single thing out of your suit jacket pockets and your trouser pockets and lay the things on the table. Don’t leave even a penny or a safety pin in the suit.”

Feeling like a performing dog, Nick pulled everything out of his pockets, laid them on the table, and then stood awaiting further commands. He supposed if he had a tail, he’d be expected to wag it. 

“Ah,” Brooke said in a tone of deep satisfaction. “You see that, people? A driver’s license. A very thin wallet holding a credit card—oh, two credit cards, I see—and some folding money. A handkerchief. A pair of sunglasses. A comb. Some change. A phone. A set of car keys.”

“Okay…” Mo’Nisha sounded dubious.

“Now. My idea is this,” Brooke said, leaning forward. “We make slim-fitting, snappy suits like this for women. But not just any suits—we make them in flower colors. For example, “Cyclamen” will have the basic suit in the green of that flower, with the blouse or tank top in brilliant deep pink. The suits will have pockets, so women can put keys, money, sunglasses, and whatnot in them.”

“But most women carry a lot more than that,” Mo’Nisha said. “For example, I simply don’t go out with family unless I have tissues, a package of moist wipe cloths, a hairbrush, and all kinds of stuff.”

“We’re going to revolutionize women’s fashions so they don’t have to be the family packhorse when they set foot out of the house,” Brooke said. She turned to Nick. “That’s where you come in. The first set of commercials will show the utterly ridiculous notion that women have to be walking general stores for the family. We’ll discuss that in detail later. The second set will show women’s suits in dazzling colors: I’ve already thought of Daffodil, Cyclamen, Hydrangea, and Marigold, just to name a few. We want to show women they don’t have to wear boring black, tan, navy blue, and so on.”

Mo’Nisha thought for a moment. “I like it.” She chuckled. “You’re going to have to work to overcome cultural norms, though.”

Nick, already fascinated with the project, was running over possible storyboards in his head. “This is going to be huge,” he said.

“Yes,” Brooke said. “So let’s get to it!”

Chapter 3

It was the morning after Brooke’s decision to launch a new product line. She and Nick were in the conference room, hammering out the approach to the new commercials as soon as the new product came on line. “It’ll be about eight weeks,” Brooke predicted. “Renata has to buy the materials, have them shipped to the factory, then design the suits. After that we have to produce them in the various sizes. Our market is up-and-coming young professional women.”

“Brooke, please don’t take offense, but I’d like to ask—I have a question—”

“Go ahead,” Brooke said. “Don’t be shy.”

“Well,” Nick said, “The thing is, why are you emphasizing women’s suits with trousers? Why not jackets and skirts? In fact,” he went on, “I’ve never seen you in a skirt. Why do you wear trousers all the time?”

Brooke leaned back in her chair and surveyed him with an air of detachment. “Why do I wear trousers? Let’s turn that around. Why do you wear trousers? I’ve never seen you in a skirt either.”

Himself? In a skirt? “I’m a guy!” Nick said, outraged.

For answer, Brooke activated her laptop, flashing a picture on the screen that hung from the ceiling to her left. It was a picture of a Scot in full kilt. She tapped the laptop keyboard again. Another picture appeared, of a Greek tsolias dressed in a skirt and leggings. On her third tap of the keyboard, a picture of Julius Caesar, dressed in a knee-length tunic, cuirass, and pteruges, the overskirt made of leather strips, appeared. “They’re all guys,” Brooke said. “And they’re wearing skirts. Why don’t you wear skirts?”

“That would be ridiculous! We’re not in Scotland, nor am I a Greek soldier.”

“Agreed. So you choose to wear trousers. Why do men wear them?”

“They’re convenient to get around in. You could run in them if you had to. They keep your legs warm.”

Brooke leaned forward and stared at him. “Exactly. They’re convenient, practical, and keep the legs warm. That’s exactly why women wear them. Get it?”

“Yes. Only…it’s not very…well, I like to see ladies wearing skirts.”

“It really doesn’t matter what you like,” Brooke said kindly. “What matters is what women want. What this company is trying to do is liberate women from fusty male expectations as to women’s appearance and behavior. We’re going to produce unconventional suits in beautiful colors and they’re all going to have plenty of pockets, just like men’s suits. Now let’s talk about the commercials I want you to create.” 

[Turnabout by D. M. Read is now available on Amazon Kindle, Nook, Apple Books, Kobo, and other e-platforms. Get your copy today!]

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