I took a deep breath, trying to calm my nerves. Then I had to tug up the neckline of the costume to make sure my boobs didn't pop out, being careful I didn't pull so much my panties showed. I’d been doing that all day. Even though it was Halloween, I couldn't believe that on my very first day on this job I’d been sent out dressed like a sexy witch in this skimpy costume.
It was gold with a black spider web design and had a tight orange corset with little black paw prints, cut low in front, and the fluttery skirt was so short the hemline was practically up to my butt. I wore fishnet stockings and high heels with it (although I had a pair of comfortable shoes in my car for driving between jobs). A tall, pointed, cliché witch hat that matched the corset sat on my head. I guess I looked okay. My boss at the agency seemed to think so. I’ve never been one for wearing racy outfits.
I reached out and pressed the doorbell of the suburban house. It was late afternoon, almost evening. Kids would start trick-or-treating soon. Meanwhile, I had a treat – or was it a trick? – of my own to deliver to the guy who lived here.
The door swung open, and the man who answered my ring stood there with his eyes widening at the sight of the sexy witch on his doorstep. He was in his mid-thirties and looked like a high school athlete gone slightly to seed. He had come in from work and shed his coat, but he still wore his tie. It was loosened and his collar was unbuttoned, but he hadn’t gotten rid of it entirely yet. He had a drink in his left hand.
“Are you R-Ronnie Holt?” I asked.
“Yeahhhh,” he said, sounding like he didn’t know what to make of me.
I put what I hoped was a seductive smile on my face and said, “I’ve g-got something for you.”
Stop right there. I know what you’re thinking. I wasn’t a hooker, no matter how I was dressed. I wasn’t a process server, either, which is probably what the less dirty-minded of you were thinking.
No, as Ronnie Holt’s surprised stare started to turn into a hopeful leer, I began to sing. I was scared to death, but I forced the words out anyway.“The only sight I ever wouldst see
“Love of my life thou wouldst be
“All I need to fill my heart
“And you promised we ne’er would part . . .”
Ronnie’s grin got even bigger.
“But after I shared with you my bed
“You’d call me in the morning, you said
“But still I wait for your call
“I don’t think you meant it at all . . .”
The grin disappeared, replaced by the beginnings of a frown.
“Now I see what was really your goal
“I’m just another notch on your bed pole
“And since you deigned to break my heart
“Now I break your proudest part
“Shorn of that which you love most
“Soon you’ll be as pale as a ghost
“There’s always a price for what you do
“And now I make it all come true!”
I threw in a few mystical gestures, just for effect.
“What the hell is this?” Ronnie demanded, visibly angry now.
“C-Compliments of Miss Angela Vandermeer,” I said. I reached into the bosom of my outfit and pulled out a business card. That was the only place in the costume to carry one. CATHCART ENTERTAINMENT AGENCY was printed on it, and below that in smaller print were the words CHILDREN’S PARTIES – CLOWNS – BALLOONS – SINGING TELEGRAMS – ADULT STRIP-O-GRAMS, then the address, phone number, website, and email.
Hold a business card out to people, and nine times out of ten they’ll take it. Ronnie did, looked at it, and got even angrier.
“What the hell!” he yelled. “Angie paid you people to . . . to put a curse on me?”
I took a step back. I had worried that he might not take it well, but Sherry, my new boss, had said that people always laughed these things off, even the mean messages. Ronnie Holt sure wasn’t laughing, though.
“It . . . it’s just a singing telegram,” I said. “A j-joke. Miss Vandermeer is your . . . ex-girlfriend, right?”
“I had drinks with her one time! Yeah, we had a little fun together, but that doesn’t make her my girlfriend! Now she’s hiring people to stalk me? She’s crazy!”
I backed away some more, being careful not to step off the porch and fall.
“I’m not stalking you, Mr. Holt. I’m just d-doing my job. It’s just a j-joke,” I said again.
“It sounded like you were putting a curse on me.”
I shook my head and said hurriedly, “Oh, no, not at all. Just a joke.” I pointed at the business card he still had in his hand. “And if you’d like to send a reply to her, you can just c-call that number or visit the w-w-website – ”
“Get off my porch before I call the cops!” he roared at me.
I backed quickly down the steps, hoping I wouldn’t trip on those blasted high heels. “I’m sorry,” I said. “I was just doing my job – ”
He blew out his breath in exasperation, stepped back into the house, and slammed the door behind him.
Well, that was a lousy way to end my first day on this job, I thought. But at least it was over. I had survived. And for the most part, it had been okay. A lot better than I’d expected when I went into Sherry Cathcart’s office that morning with the referral from the temp agency I was signed up with.
“We need another sexy witch,” she’d said. “Halloween is our second-busiest day of the year for singing telegrams, after Valentine’s Day, and everybody wants a sexy witch.”
“I d-don’t think I can do that,” I’d told her as I shook my head. “I won’t do strip-o-grams.”
“Honey, you’re not listening. This isn’t strip-o-grams I’m talking about.” She looked me up and down. “Although you could handle that job, if you get my drift. I’m talking about singing telegrams.”
“I c-can’t do that, either.” I’d hated to come right out and say it, but I had to. “I stutter.”
“Eh, not bad, from what I’m hearing.”
I thought she was wrong about that. It always sounded terrible to me when I tried to talk, especially to strangers.
“Anyway, try this,” she went on. “Sing do, ra, mi.”
I had almost walked out then and there, but I needed the job. I took a deep breath and sang the notes. They came out surprisingly clear and strong.
“See?” Sherry had said. “People with a stammer can sometimes sing just fine. Remember Mel Tillis?”
I shook my head.
“Never mind, he was before your time. He was a country singer. Had a bad stammer, but he sang beautifully. You can, too.”
“I don’t know . . .”
“It’s all confidence, dear. You got that, you can do anything.”
But that was the problem, although Sherry didn’t know my history to be aware of it. I had no confidence. Zero. Zip. Nada. Never had, never would. As far back as I could remember, every time I struggled to force words out of my mouth, the more I just wanted to crawl under a rock somewhere and never say anything to anybody. I had tried to fight that over the years by forcing myself into situations where I had to talk, but it had never worked.
“With your looks you’ll make decent tips. And you’ll look great in the costume,” Sherry went on. “You’ll be delivering telegrams mostly to guys, so trust me, when they see those curves and all that gorgeous black hair, they won’t be paying that much attention to what you’re saying anyway.”
I suppose she was just trying to make me feel better about myself, but it didn’t work that well. I’d always thought my curves were rather modest, and my hair was okay but nothing spectacular. Also, I wasn’t that fond of guys leering at me all day.
“Most of the time our clients are wives or girlfriends who want to send a surprise to their husbands or boyfriends,” Sherry continued. “I won’t lie to you, there’ll probably be some hooting and hollering when you go into these offices to deliver telegrams, but it’s not too bad. You’ll get used to it real quick, and then you’ll be disappointed if you don’t get a reaction.”
I had a hard time believing that. I’d spent most of my life doing my best not to get noticed.
I could tell she was getting a little tired of trying to convince me. She confirmed that by saying, “Anyway, do you want the job or not? If I have to get somebody else, I need to see about it right away.”
It wasn’t really a matter of whether I wanted the job. I needed the job. My roommates had been carrying me for a couple of months now, and even though they were friends – especially because they were friends – I couldn’t keep depending on them like that.
“I want it,” I said.
“Good. You’ll do great, trust me.” Sherry got up from her desk and went to a rack of assorted costumes that stood against the wall. She took one of them down and held the hanger out to me. “Here’s what you’ll be wearing.”
“Where’s the rest of it?” I had asked with a frown.
“Ha, ha, funny. You can change in the bathroom. I’ll get the paperwork together. What was your name again, dearie?”
“Aren,” I told her as I eyed the tiny outfit she had given me. “Aren McAllister.” I spelled the first name for her, since it wasn’t very common.
“Pretty name. Get changed, and I’ll have some tax documents for you to sign. Also a stack of names and addresses and telegrams for you to deliver.”
So I had taken the job. I’d struggled into the costume, signed the paperwork, and been handed my assignments. Sherry told me to memorize each telegram and practice them in the car between jobs until I had them down. It wasn’t good to have to read the telegrams off a piece of paper while I was singing. Didn’t look professional.
I had a dozen telegrams to deliver, of which Ronnie Holt’s was the last one. I had stumbled a little on some of them, but Sherry was right: nobody seemed to care. The tips were good, and everybody was just having a good time. It was fun for them. Not for me, necessarily, but not as bad as I had feared, either. I didn’t have to talk much, and Sherry was right about the singing, too. I didn’t stammer at all. I remembered hearing about such things in the past, but I’d never really tried it. I figured it wouldn’t work, like all the other things I had tried that were supposed to help.
Once I was back in my car in front of Ronnie Holt’s house, I took off the high heels, tossed them in the floorboard on the passenger side, and slipped on the comfortable shoes. I looked at the house one more time, sorry that the day had ended on a sour note, and started the car. I planned to stop by the office, drop off the papers Sherry had given me, and see if she would need me again the next day. I doubted that she would. Like she’d said, Halloween was the second busiest day of the year for singing telegrams.
Maybe she would need a clown, I thought. Some clowns were silent and never talked at all. It was part of their character.
I headed along Ocean Drive to get back to the office. It was a little out of the way and took longer, but it was easier than fighting the traffic on Corpus Christi’s freeways, and I got to see the big waves of the Gulf rolling in along the seawall, too, always an inspiring sight. Sherry’s office was in a fairly nice strip of businesses not far from the waterfront.
She had told me to call in a couple of times during the day and let her know how things were going. I had spoken to her while I was taking a break for lunch. Drive-through, of course. No way was I getting out of the car and walking into McDonald’s in this risqué outfit. It was bad enough that the kid working the window got an eyeful from his angle.
Sherry beamed at me as I came in and set the witch hat on her desk.
“See, I told you it would be just fine, and it was, wasn’t it?”
“I guess,” I admitted with a smile. “I had a little b-bit of trouble on the last telegram, but – ”
I stopped as somebody jerked open the office door, and when I looked over my shoulder, I was shocked to see that that “little bit of trouble” was here.
Ronnie Holt stomped into the office, and he looked really mad now.
* * * * * * *
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