I sighed, considering my words carefully.
Your vagina will not ‘shrivel up like a raisin’ if you don’t use it. In fact, you may owe the California Raisin Board an apology for that insulting analogy. There is absolutely nothing wrong with—”
I blinked at my computer screen, my vision blurring at the interruption. “What?”
“Like a raisin.” Dara’s head popped up over the top like a gopher. “That’s a simile. An analogy would be if you said that her va-jay-jay actually was a dessicated grape.”
Reflexively, I hit auto-save while I leaned back in my cheap office chair. I should have known better than to indulge in reading out loud. Clearly, I wouldn’t be able to continue the editing process until this was cleared up. In the office of the online magazine we worked for, the only thing more contentious than the use of literary devices was the Oxford comma.
It was pretty easy for battles like these to break out, when the cubicle walls were only five feet high. It was the kind of half-assed design decision that could cripple a workplace. Either have it all open or all closed—was my opinion.
He gasped, his hand going to his throat. “How dare you? I went to—”
“Columbia,” Dara and I finished for him. I rolled my eyes at her. We’d heard this before.
Then again, maybe I should have given Intern Pete the benefit of the doubt. He was still actively in school, while I was a dried-up… raisin.
Dara turned away from me to focus her scorn directly on him. “Pete I am not arguing semantics, here. I am suggesting that you wouldn’t know a vagina if you walked into one, whether it was a raisin or a big, juicy grape in a freaking Waldorf salad.”
Was that a metaphor, too?
Intern Pete was going to lose some of the superior smugness of his Columbia J-school label when he went looking for a real job in the journalism business. But what did I know? I’d busted my ass on scholarship at a well-respected state school, and I was writing an advice column for Hot Mess—a slightly less-respected online magazine.
And I was one of the lucky ones.
Ever heard the joke about how many journalism school graduates it took to screw in a light bulb? Probably not, since the lights were already out at most news organizations around the country.
Slowly, I highlighted the reference still under debate. I’d only spent a month with Intern Pete and a year working next to Dara, but it had been two years since I became “Miss Behave”—the wholesome girl-next-door who was supposed to be a counter to the no-holds-barred sexuality of the digital age. I was a throwback to Dear Abby, Ann Landers, and all the classic columnists of my parents’—hell, my grandparents’—generation.
The only problem was that my professional goal had always been hard-hitting, investigative news journalism. I didn’t have the first freaking clue what Ann or Abby would have said about nipple clamps when breastfeeding, or how many dates to wait before rimming someone (if anyone had to ask, the answer was never).
Now the distinction between me, Elizabeth Bell, and my prissy online persona was blurring as much as my eyesight. I was twenty-five and hadn’t had a date in seventeen months and ten days—give or take.
On one hand, it was pretty ironic that I wrote my column from the perspective of a pragmatic virgin who believed that hipsters were a style of women’s underwear. On the other hand, nobody had seen my underwear since hipsters fell out of fashion—either kind.
Recently, it seemed as though the people who wrote in fell into one of two categories—either they had legitimate problems and were looking for a reasonable, sympathetic ear, or they were assholes trying to push my buttons.
Unfortunately for me, the Powers That Be had discovered that the numbers skewed to the assholes.
I kept hoping that seniority and sucking up would get me to the news desk, but so far…
To keep myself sane, I kept a blog called Miss Givings. Well, I couldn’t use Miss Behave, since that belonged to the magazine, but I was trying to do similar stuff on the blog. Instead of doling out advice, though, I used it more as a platform for babbling about relationships in modern times. Kind of like Sex and the City for millennials, though arguably missing in the “sex” part.
Recently I had branched out to look at relationship questions from the perspective of different generations. I was still tinkering with it, which I guess was the point of a blog.
“Look, you guys, it’s not my fault that she referred to her coochie as a raisin.” The visual flashed through my head, making me grimace. Raisins belonged in cookies, not underwear.
I slapped the top of the cubicle wall. “I don’t care if she meant a seedless sultana, a currant, or one of those weird golden ones. I’m a professional, dammit! I need to know if it’s a metaphor or an analogy or a simile, or if she’s just a whole fricking fruitcake!”
When I spun around to put a face to the voice, my hip caught the armrest of my chair and my upper body flew forward.
“Ow!” I was about to fall over the chair in a very inelegant fashion, when two strong arms appeared underneath me.
Well, to be more accurate, his hands were pretty damn close to palming my boobs in an effort to keep me from face-planting.
“Whoops! Sorry about that,” he said as he righted me. He’d ducked into my cubicle quickly to rescue me, and now stood back just outside my invisible door—waiting for an invitation or some gratitude.
“Thanks,” I muttered.
My face burning, I didn’t know whether to smile or glare at the stranger. From the looks of him, he was probably used to getting smiles from women.
He wore a faded denim button-up shirt, and if I leaned forward again without the chair in the way, I could put my nose right up against the tattoo peeking out of the top. His black pants were slim, making his sneakers look like clown shoes in comparison.
There was that saying about men with big feet…
It was the smile that was so dangerous. That smile—I was guessing—had launched a thousand pairs of panties. That smile was what women like myself had to guard ourselves against.
“Can I help you?”
“Are you Miss Behave?”
“You,” he said, pointing a long finger at me, “owe me a date.”
As pick-up lines went, it was pretty effective. If he flashed that smirk at me one more time… oh, no. I was a journalist, a professional. I could resist the panty-melting smile.
His gaze went down my body. I didn’t mind as much as I ought to. My traitorous nipples hardened under my crossed arms.
“You should be. Your advice cost me a sure thing last weekend.”
My mind flashed back to last week’s column—something about not putting out on the first date—or even the third.
“How else are you supposed to know if you can get along with someone, if you don’t spend non-naked time with them?”
Judging from this guy’s reaction, his date took her non-naked time very seriously.
“Hey, I’m not responsible for what people do with what I write,” I tried to say. “Have you ever heard of free will?”
His dark eyes flashed before his full lips twisted in a scowl. “Are you kidding me? That’s part of your job. People ask questions, and you give them answers. They’re begging you to be responsible for them. That’s part of the power and privilege that you have as a columnist.”
Who the hell was this guy? I sniffed. “You seem to have an awfully big opinion—”
“What qualifies you to give that kind of advice, anyhow?”
The casual sweep of his gaze up and down my body left me breathless and tingling—in anger. Yeah, it was anger.
“I beg your par—”
“What are you insinuating?”
“I’m just guessing here, but well… You. Don’t. Put. Out.”
I stared at him. Was he serious?
“But, Miss Behave,” he continued, stepping forward, “do you ever let yourself change your mind? What happens if you’re with a man who smells good, tastes good, and wants to touch you in ways you’ve never been touched before?”
He leaned closer to me, the heat of his body closing in on mine. “What would you do if, deep down, you really wanted someone more than your good manners and ‘holier than thou’ attitude allowed?”
Was he offering? My heart pounded in my chest at his candor, at his words, at his… at him.
“Are you calling me a prude?”
“No, I’m calling your advice prudish. And kind of a cock tease.”
Dara, who was shamelessly eavesdropping, gasped. So did I.
“Yeah!” yelled Intern Pete.
“And I suppose you speak for the general male population?”
“Somebody has to,” he said. I could smell whatever spicy, citrusy shampoo he used, and the scent of coffee clung to him, as though he’d just spent half the day in a Starbucks.
He shook his head. “No, but the first month isn’t too much to expect. Especially if there’s a mutual attraction.”
My mouth fell open. “Define ‘mutual attraction’.”
“I just did. The whole can’t-wait-to-get-his-hands-under-your-skirt thing.”
Now I’d had enough. “Who the hell are you?” I demanded, just as my editor rounded the corner by Dara’s cubicle. Thank god. “Rob, can you help me out here? This guy—”
“Oh, good!” My boss beamed as much as a middle-aged man could. “You’ve met the competition.”