She had four different bottles of perfume in her purse. She used to do her makeup at her desk first thing in the morning even though she was pretty enough without it. First, she’d pull her long dark hair into a ponytail. She bubbled. She was recovering from a bout of lung disease and had given up smoking a few months earlier, but can’t you just see her sitting cross-legged at the end of the bar, a glass in front of her and a cigarette in her hand?
She was, what, maybe five years older than me? She hadn’t been to college but was thinking about starting. She was an excellent receptionist and everyone – lawyers, paralegals, clients – liked her, even me. She wasn’t my first girl crush, or my last. I never admitted anything to myself, just kept an admiring eye on her and took a lot of mental notes.
I worked hard that summer, the one after my sophomore year. I earned the money to buy my first car. I had just moved in with Geoff, into his crummy college apartment, and I was thrilled. I cleaned up that slovenly law office. I set to work in May determined to earn enough to buy myself a car by August.
I used to get to work before anyone else. I’d wait outside, reading, until the office opened at 7:30. Subtracting time for lunch, I worked ten-hour days, five days a week. I received time and a half for overtime. I milked every minute out of each day. I started out organizing and relocating all the files that lined halls, which made a good impression. I made a lot of progress in the first few weeks. I wanted everyone to know that I was doing a good job, and it worked.
By the third or fourth week, I slowed down. I bided my time, I chatted with my receptionist. She had a lot of first dates, and she did hang out at the bar. She was interesting. Sometimes she let me fill in at the phones for her while she went to lunch. I wish I could tell you that I did as good a job as her, but I didn’t. I was shy and uncomfortable. I didn’t bubble. I still wore the wrong clothes, had the wrong hair.
Nevertheless, I stuck it out. I worked my ten-hour days until August when the office manager told me that they couldn’t afford my overtime anymore. By then the office was immaculate. I was fine with it – I had $3,000 in the bank and a waiting boyfriend. I cut back to four days a week and bought an ‘83 Toyota Tercel with a manual transmission, which I learned to drive in one day.
The last few weeks, I put some money in the bank for gas and insurance payments. I bought some cute outfits and took some long lunches. A few of the lawyers asked me to stay, to not go back to school, but I refused. I liked my receptionist and as much as I wanted to be like her, I didn’t want to end up like her with a dead-end job and no degree. Do you know what I mean?