by Kory Wells
Opposites attract, Jamie Allen told himself. Miss Broadway was large and he was slight. She had thick hair and his was thin. She was beautiful and he was average, so his sisters said. Miss Broadway was confident, and he was quaking, especially in her presence. But he knew that she must be interested in him. Why else would she come to the shoe department on her break time every Friday and buy a pair of shoes? Granted, the shoes were almost always on sale and so his commission was not as much, but she had come every Friday, no exceptions, since she began working at the posh department store back in the spring.
He could hear her coming. He might be assisting other customers with the utmost courtesy and attention, but at one twenty his ears would tune to the gray and white marble floor. He would listen for the sure rhythm of her heels clicking all the way from the makeup counter to his leather-scented corner in the back of the store.
"Mr. Allen!" she would smile and say, for the employees were to address each other only by their last names. "What kind of shoes do you have on special this week?"
He knew not to show her any flats, any athletics, not even any boots. Only high heels for Miss Broadway. She had bought high heels from him in every color and every style. Size 8B. Sometimes she could use a wider width, he thought to himself, but he would never have suggested it. He shared her obvious delight when she slipped her nyloned feet with fire red toenails into a pair of shoes, raised her legs and rotated her ankles to admire her feet, a stacked heel, a rounded toe, a two-tone upper.
Jamie Allen admired more than Miss Broadway's feet. He knew that even if she didn't work at the makeup counter, her face would always be sheer perfection. High tinted cheekbones. Dark brown eyes framed with thick waterproof lashes. Layers of colored shadow. And her mouth, like the rest of her, was large and beautiful. It wasn't only her full red lips that were inviting. So were her smooth white teeth and the dark inside part of her mouth that he could see just a bit of when she talked and smiled. Miss Broadway had long thick brown hair. Jamie thought she must set it on hot curlers the way his sisters did on Sunday mornings, but Miss Broadway did it every day of the week.
Once when he was helping her try on shoes, she leaned forward to adjust a buckle at the same time he leaned forward to try to help. Her hair caressed his naked forearm and he caught a whiff of her perfume. At that moment he wanted to lean back on his heels and close his eyes and wait for the rapture of her whole body to engulf him.
Miss Broadway's body, the very figure of temptation, was usually obscured by her
makeup lady smock, but on one occasion she removed it to see how the shoes she was trying on might look with her outfit. Jamie drew in his breath so audibly that he had to step away, fearful that she might hear his reaction to the full roundness of her breasts as they pressed against her striped sweater. Miss Broadway walked back and forth in front of the mirror in that multicolor sweater and red pants and red high heel shoes, tipping her toes up and inspecting her feet from first one view and then another. As Jamie watched, trying to keep his gaze on her shoes but really taking her all in, he thought she resembled a child's toy top, all big at the top and small at the bottom, and that if he could he would spin her on one heel, spin her around and around until she was a kaleidoscopic whirl of
femininity, whirling him into ecstasy.
Opposites attract, Jamie reminded himself. On the Friday before Thanksgiving, he wiped his palms on his pants legs when he heard her coming. It was time to act, before the busy shopping season.
"Miss Broadway," he stammered as he slipped a black faux snakeskin sling onto her foot, "would you," he had to stop to swallow, "would you have coffee with me one night after closing?"
Miss Broadway planted her foot on the slanted bench that Jamie straddled. She smiled at him and he was encouraged.
"Mr. Allen," she said with authority, "I don't fraternize with employees." She held his gaze as she stood up. "I'll take the shoes."
Jamie's insides were so jumpy that he thought he might throw up. After this rejection, he could never help Miss Broadway with her footwear again. He turned with the shoes to go the counter.
"Mr. Allen." She spoke his name as a statement, not a question. "Too many men overlook my best asset. We've been seeing each other here in the shoe department for some time now. How well do you think you know me?"
Jamie started to shake his head, but she didn't wait for him to answer.
"I want a man who appreciates my best asset. If you can tell me what it is, we'll go out for coffee." She smiled a closed mouth smile and raised one eyebrow.
Jamie could only nod.
Miss Broadway did not come for shoes in December, and the month passed in a long haze of customers and shoes, shoes and customers. Jamie could not straighten shoes or fetch shoes or ring up shoes without thinking of Miss Broadway. Thinking of her assets. Thinking which of her assets might be her best.
Since she wasn't coming to his department, Jamie started walking by the makeup counter on his breaks. She was always there, a big, busy, beautiful presence. She saw him, he was certain, but she never spoke. The trips to makeup made his head feel heavy and dizzy. He wasn't sure if that was due to the sight of Miss Broadway or to the overpowering smell of perfume that marked the area. He inevitably retreated to his corner of the store, took a Sinutab, and thought more about her assets. He finally decided on her best asset, but how could he tell her?
Jamie got to the store so early on the Saturday morning before Christmas that he had to wait on Mrs. Arms, the assistant manager, to open up.
"You're bright and early for the big day!" Mrs. Arms said as she bent to unlock the glass doors, a multitude of keys dangling from her wrist like so many oversized charms. Jamie blushed, then realized she meant it would be a big shopping day.
"Yes, ma'am," he said. He hoped she would think he was chattering from the morning chill. It was really his nerves. The bag at his side held his sack lunch and, under that, a gift. His offering to Miss Broadway's best asset.
Jamie held the door and let Mrs. Arms jangle ahead to the store offices. He stopped at the makeup counter and pulled the gift from his bag. He had wrapped it himself, in shiny silver paper with a big red bow. Anyone could tell it was a shoebox, but he thought he had achieved a glamorous effect, nonetheless. The ladies at the shop in the mall had offered to do the wrapping, but he had wanted to do it himself. To select the paper and bow at Walgreen's, to fold the white tissue first one way and then another until it fit perfectly in the box. He had put himself into this gift. He placed the box on the glass counter and hurried on to shoes as if he had planted a bomb and wanted to evacuate the area.
A decaf latte and several deep breaths later, Jamie situated himself in accessories to await Miss Broadway's arrival. She clicked in on red stilettos, wearing that multicolor striped sweater, this time with navy pants. No smock hiding her voluptuous figure. Jamie's pulse quickened and his nostrils flared. Miss Broadway stopped at the box as she walked down the aisle, fingering the gift tag. Jamie agonized that he couldn't see her face. But then she walked on around the counter, stored her purse in the cabinet, slipped on her smock and
returned to the gift. Peering through inverted mannequin legs of taupe, suntan, mist gray and jet black, Jamie watched as she tested the box for weight, then pouted in perplexity.
He smiled and held his breath. He had wrapped the lid separate from the box, so Miss Broadway had only to untie the bow and lift off the lid. Jamie watched as she peeled back the white tissue. Everything about her got bigger. Her eyes rounded, her chin dropped, her cheekbones flushed. She drew herself up so straight that her womanhood pushed from the smock like a freight train coming his way. Jamie was tied to the tracks, paralyzed by the thought of impact.
Miss Broadway picked up the box, the top and the bow and marched to the shoe
department. He watched her peer between the clearance racks, behind the sales counter, even go behind the curtain to the stockroom. Jamie inched towards her through the purses, belts, hats, scarves and luggage, unsure if he wanted to face her in his own territory. She spotted him and steamed through athletics to meet him at the Florshiem display.
Miss Broadway lifted a red lacy bra from the box and dangled it by her index finger in Jamie's face.
"This is for my best asset?" she demanded. "Is that what you've been looking at all this time?" She jabbed the shoebox at him, then shoved in the box top, the bow and finally the bra.
"I haven't been buying brassieres from you all these months, now have I?" she said. "No, Mr. Allen, I have been buying shoes. Size 8B shoes for my feet. The feet that you have fitted and admired. The feet that I thought you, of all people, might appreciate. But this tells me all I need to know, Mr. Allen. I hope you get transferred to intimates."
Miss Broadway pivoted like a runway model and headed back to makeup, leaving the shoebox and bra in Jamie's trembling hands. Her heels had never clicked so loudly. The sound reverberated in his throbbing pulse. For a terrible moment, Jamie hoped Miss Broadway might lose her balance on one of those spiked heels. If she did, he could redeem himself. Come to her rescue. Hold her hand. Support her as she limped to his car. Take her home to recuperate. But he caught himself. He could not wish ill on Miss Broadway, not for any reason. He adored her. She might be upset, but he knew she still liked him. Opposites attract. She was angry, he would be calm.
Jamie sat the package on the counter and refolded the tissue paper around the red lacy tribute to Miss Broadway, put the top back on, and slid the box onto the highest shelf of the stockroom. He would be calm. He would be calm and listen for her step on the marble floor. She would be back. He would be calm and patient and wait for her to slip and spin. Until then, he would straighten the size 8B shoes and daydream of her spinning, like an exquisite toy top, spinning and spinning out of control.
Kory Wells writes both software and fiction. Her novel-in-progress, Divining Rose, was a finalist in the 2003 William Faulkner Creative Writing Competition. She is a board member and webmaster for the Tennessee Writers Alliance and will be offering web promotion and design workshops for writers through the TWA and the Appalachian Writers Association later this year. Unlike Miss Broadway, she doesn't care for high heels, but she has had a weakness for red shoes since she was a little girl. She invites you to visit her site at www.korywells.com. Contact Kory.