Scarlett knew if she didn’t bring out the big cannons and wow the top brass with acres of well-farmed information at the annual business review, she could be transferred out of the Atlanta office, or her Marketing Director job could be history or assigned to a thirty-something blue-suit in their Boston headquarters. The thought made her blood hotter than the devil’s kitchen. Her frustration marching higher, she grabbed pages from last year’s report, crumpled them in her hand, and raised a fistful of wadded paper over her head. “I will not give up my turf.” Scarlett had every intention of becoming Vice President of Marketing one day and nothing, no man, was going to stop her. 

It was almost eight, long after dinner, and she was still in her office. When her phone rang, a number she didn’t recognize appeared. “Fiddle-dee-dee, don’t bother me now.” She let it ring. Then, thinking something may have happened to her ailing father, she picked up. “Scarlett speaking.”

A breathy hello, followed by, “Oh, Honey, I’m so glad you’re still there.” Marilyn took a sip of her drink. “I thought you would be. I need a really, really big favor. Would you mind terribly?”

Scarlett rolled her eyes. “I need a big favor, too.”

“Anything, anything, of course,” squeak, squeal, giggle. “Just name it, Sweetie.”

“Show up at the office tomorrow morning and help finish this report. Our jobs are on the line.”

“I couldn’t do that. I took a vacation day.”

“Cancel it.”

“But I can’t. I’ve got a date with a very important man, and I just can’t say no. He’s picking me up in a helicopter! Isn’t that just dreamy?”

“Dreamy?” Scarlett threw her stapler at the wall. “We may both be kissin’ our jobs good bye if you don’t get in here and plow through this presentation with me.”

 “I’ll be there tomorrow afternoon, after my helicopter date. But first, please, Honey, one favor? One itsy-bitsy favor?”

Scarlett rested her forehead in her hand. “What is it?”

“Since you’re still there, could you look in my office and see if I left my nude pumps under my desk?”

Hearing glasses clinking and voices and music and laughter in the background, Scarlett asked, “Where are you?”

Giggle, squeal. “The Ritz-Carlton. There’s more champagne at this party than I’ve seen in my entire life. Hey, why don’t you grab my pumps and meet me here. There’s even more men than champagne.” Squeak.

“I do declare, are you insane?” 

Marilyn giggled. “Just a little tipsy maybe.”

“Meet in my office tomorrow afternoon and ready to work. I’ve been runnin’ all over hell’s half acre pullin’ our presentation together. We’ve got a long road to hoe if we don’t want to lose our jobs or, worse, get transferred to the Boston office. Boston! So far north they have to pipe in the sunshine. And surrounded by all those yankees!”

“I was married to a Yankee, once.”

“Are you listenin’? We’re fightin’ for our territory here. Just meet in my office tomorrow at two.”

 “What about my pumps?”

“Fiddle-dee-dee!” Scarlett squeezed her eyes tightly. “Frankly, I don’t give a damn!” She slammed the phone and went back to her computer. After another hour of tedious power point numbers, graphs, pie charts, and research, words blurred. She found it hard to stay awake. “That’s enough.” She turned off her computer. “After all, tomorrow is another day.”

At exactly two, Marilyn arrived at Scarlett’s office and looked around at all the paper covering the desk, chairs, and tables. “Let’s get this party started.”

Scarlett looked up from the reports she was collating and thought why that girl’s got the brains of a hoop skirt. “Look,” Scarlett put down the stacks she had already assembled for the meeting. “Lord knows we’re different as north and south, but you are not gonna shoot down our chances at advancin’. This is our territory. And I plan to fight for what’s ours. We have to work as a team.”

“What do you want me to do?”  

Scarlett told Marilyn to handle the advertising portion of the report, analyze trends and the dollars competitors spent over the last five years, and compile an ad plan of their own. “We have three days. The meetin’ is at 9am on Thursday. And it also happens to be the President’s birthday. So, they’ll probably have a cake or somethin’ before it starts. Don’t be late.”

“Yes, sir.” Marilyn offered a sloppy salute.

Scarlett said, “Please, focus. We got a limited opportunity here.”

“Honey, a wise girl knows her limits. A smart girl knows that she has none.” Marilyn winked.

Sometimes, I’m amazed at what’s beneath all that blond hair, Scarlett thought. “If we fail, they won’t keep us.”

Marilyn straightened her shoulders. “If there is only one thing in my life that I am proud of, it’s that I’ve never been a kept woman.”

Scarlett rolled her eyes. “That’s not what I meant.”

“Oh.” Marilyn shrugged.

“We’re gonna show them what we’re made of and that we can play just fine by their rules.” 

With a cavalier wave, Marilyn said, “If I’d observed all the rules, I’d never got anywhere.”

“What I’m sayin’ is that it’s plain as a pig on a sofa that they’re lookin’ for any reason to fire us. Even a blind man on a gallopin’ horse could see that. It’s a man’s world. Those men think the sun comes up just to hear them crow. This is war. We gotta form our own little army, stick together. Show ‘em we’re not just pretty faces. If we’re not buttoned up, everythin’ we’ve worked for will be gone with the wind. They’ll see right through us. We can’t fool them.”

“Honey, I let men like them fool themselves.” Giggle.

“Fiddle-dee-dee, Marilyn. We can’t go down in flames. This is not a time to go in there at your worst.”  

Marilyn shrugged again. “If they can’t handle me at my worst, they don’t deserve me at my best.” 

“Please, do your best, Sugar. I do not intend losin’ my job. I’ve been unemployed before, and God as my witness, I’ll never go hungry again.”

Marilyn poked at her cell phone until she found her playlist. 

“Are you listenin’? We got work to do.”

“Music makes me move better, and when I move better, I think better.” Marilyn shimmied. “Now, I’m ready.” Giggle, squeak. She popped her earbuds in, gathered up her assignment, and swayed out the door to her own office.     

Marilyn got in early the morning of the big meeting. She grabbed her mirror and emergency cosmetic bag from her desk drawer, fixed her hair, and touched up her makeup. “Now, where are those pumps? Give a girl the right shoes, and she can conquer the world.”

Charging in at 8:30, Scarlett was in a fighting mood. “Subway was slow as a herd of lame turtles on a molasses road. I have all the copies and–” She walked around the desk to get a better look at Marilyn’s dress. “Floor-length sequins and beads?”

“Had to. Remember that important man I’ve been dating? There was a big party at his hotel last night, and well, I came straight here.” She looked down at her dress then smiled at Scarlett. “You wouldn’t want me to come in the hotel bathrobe, now, would you?” Marilyn stood, and the dress made its full impact.

Scarlett folded her arms. “I do declare, that dress could cause the sun to rise.”

Marilyn extended her arm and moved it around so her bracelet could catch the light filtering through the blinds on the office window. She rotated her hand so her new bauble twinkled in the morning sun. “And meet my new best friend.”

“Diamonds? Are they real?”

“Uh huh. All three carats. A gift.” Giggle. Squeak. “Isn’t it just perfect?”

 “Well, I’ll be.” Scarlet took a closer look. “Why that’s more than I can say grace over. Ain’t it a bit much for an office meeting though?”

Marilyn shook her head. “Honey, I say it’s just right.” Marilyn pushed the bracelet around her wrist with one finger. “Diamonds are hard-working coal–you know, that no one pays much attention to–but they shine under lots of pressure. Just like us. It’s good luck.” Marilyn put her mirror and makeup away. “Ready.” She locked arms with Scarlett and winked. “Shall we?”

Scarlett winked back. “Tail up and stinger out.” 

Together they marched toward the conference room. When they arrived, six or seven top executives, all wearing similar suits, were seated around the table, coffee in hand, heads nuzzled in conversation. Scarlett whispered to Marilyn, “Look at them sittin’ there in their pressed blue suits and fine ties, thick as flies on a dog’s back. Didn’t say so much as a good morning. And you in that dress.” 

When Marilyn and Scarlett pulled out their chairs to sit and dropped their binders on the table, the men finally looked up–looked them up and down, actually. 

“Good morning, y’all,” Scarlett said. Marilyn smiled. The men nodded. After a good, long stare, they went back to their huddle, whispering again, but glanced at the ladies every few seconds. Scarlett whispered to Marilyn, “Maybe they think they can scare the horns off a billy goat, but they’re sure wrong thinkin’ they can scare us.”  

Marilyn leaned toward Scarlett. “Fear is stupid. So are regrets. And, Honey, they are going to have plenty of them.” Marilyn looked at the men across the table forming a big, navy blue boulder. “Boys think girls are like books. If the cover doesn’t catch their eye, they won’t bother to read. Well, I got news for them. Beneath the makeup and behind the smile, I am just a girl who wishes for the world. I don’t stop when I’m tired. I stop when I’m done.” Marilyn and Scarlett locked in a determined gaze. A slow-growing smile appeared on each of their faces. 

Someone from cafeteria services entered pushing a cart with a large birthday cake. The men began to mumble, and the VP of Acquisitions and Mergers got up to sign the invoice. “Where are we charging the cake?” The VP of Finance gave him an account number. 

Scarlett whispered to Marilyn. “He’ll be here any minute. Maybe we should have brought him a card or a plant or somethin’.”

“I got this,” Marilyn said.

The company’s top executive walked in, and everyone stood to shake his hand and mumble insincere greetings. As the muffled grumbling died down, Marilyn stood up. She ran her hands along her torso and over her hips. Marilyn curved her shoulders forward and began to sing. “Happy birthday….to you. Happy birthday….to you.” She let out a breathy sigh. “Happy birthday, Mr. President. Happy birthday…to you.” Giggle, squeak.

Scarlett scanned the room. Quieter than a mouse peeing on cotton. 

Marilyn sat, and the suits lifted their jaws off the table. Scarlett laughed to herself then whispered to Marilyn, “They’re grinnin’ like possums eatin’ a sweet potato.” 

Marilyn winked and a adjusted her bracelet, watching the facets blink in glistening sparks.

Scarlett waved her hands and suggested they get the meeting started, but no one responded. I do declare, we may have just won the first battle. She distributed the binders she and Marilyn had prepared, set up her power point, and readied herself for their presentation. Now, we win the war. 

New Yorker, Maureen Mancini Amaturo–2020 Bram Stoker Award nominee and Creative Writing MFA–teaches writing, leads a writing group she founded in 2007, and produces literary events. Her fiction, non-fiction, essays, poetry, and comedy are widely published. A handwriting analyst diagnosed her with an overdeveloped imagination. She’s working to live up to that.