Holiday Help

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December 1998

Noel Winterhall scanned the employment application carefully, taking note of the neat and evenly spaced handwriting.

Audrey Piper, 19, sophomore in Business, Henthorn College, GPA 3.92. References, none.

He put the piece of paper on the desk and looked up at the applicant. She had the telltale look of a college coed. Her heart-shaped face was framed with straight, dirty blonde hair that came down to the middle of her chest. Her bright green eyes were followed by a cute button nose and lips that appeared to be firm yet soft.

Noel fretted to himself. He shouldn’t be checking her out. He’d finished college four years earlier, plus he had a good-looking girlfriend. Not to mention if he truly wanted to be a department manager he shouldn’t be thinking of potential employees that way.

She had a very limited work history and no department store experience. Yet she appeared to be a bright student, indicating she had good thinking skills. She wrote that she could work any day of the week and on any shift but was only available for the next four weeks. This was just what he needed for the holiday department.

“I’m not used to seeing college students looking for short-term, full-time work. Especially over the Christmas season. What makes you want this job?”

Audrey looked at him levelly and responded, “I’ve had three semesters of college and gone through three different roommates. I don’t want another. I need the extra cash to afford the no-roommate option. If I can work a lot of hours I can make enough to cover that expense.”

Noel nodded, she was a planner and a saver like him, and he could appreciate that. “That’s understandable. Are you willing to put in eight-hour shifts?”

“I’m good with eight, ten, or twelve-hour shifts. I will take as many hours as I can get.”

That was all Noel needed to hear, “Okay, so when can you start?”

“Before I answer that I have a few questions for you. I need to make sure I’m making the right decision,” Audrey said with a crisp tone. “First, is your name Noël like the season or Noel like Joel with an N?”

“It’s Joel with an N.”

“Okay. Next, why are you still looking for help on December 13th?”

Noel answered her question as benignly as he could, “The busier departments have been poaching a lot of my people.”

“Well that sucks for you,” Audrey went on. “But you seem to be handling it well, that’s a positive mark. You also have a pleasing professional appearance and you ask good questions. I like good-looking, smart people who can handle the pressure. Will I be working directly for you?”

Noel was confused and vaguely annoyed at her odd line of questions. Was she trying to reverse the power dynamic or was she just a quirky personality? If he wasn’t so short-staffed he’d end the interview and move on to someone else. But the truth was that he was desperate for help and she could put in the hours, so he answered her question, “Yes you’ll be working for me.”

“Good. Next question. What will I be expected to wear?”

“We’ll issue you a few green shirts, a red vest, and a Santa hat. You’ll need to wear those and something respectable in green or red for pants. If you don’t have anything, you can buy something here at an employee discount.”

“I’m happy to hear that it will not be anything that objectifies me as a woman or draws attention to my height by making me look like an elf.”

He laughed nervously. “You seem to have a lot of expectations. You’re sure this is the right job for you?”

“If my pay rate is as listed and I can get at least 100 hours in, then yes it’s the right job for me.”

Noel fretted. He was beginning to think hiring her would be a mistake. She was good-looking, smart, and willing to work a lot, but her bossy personality would probably henpeck him to insanity. He didn’t need that kind of added stress.”

“I’m sorry,” said Noel. “But on second thought…”

“Wait, please, don’t give it a second thought. I’ll be a good employee and I’m sure we’ll get along. Give me the shirts, vest, and hat and I’ll be here at eight thirty tomorrow morning ready to work.”

That little bit of assurance tipped Noel’s opinion back in her favor. Maybe she realized how she was acting. Maybe he was just reading the situation wrong. “Okay, you’re hired. Let’s go get your clothes.”

Audrey smiled, rose, and walked out of the office in front of him. With her back turned, he took notice of her exceptionally exquisite ass. He shook his head and groaned to himself. Good looking, great ass, and bossy. What was he getting himself into?

Later in the day, Noel ran into Art “Old Man” Randolph at the coffee maker.

“Hey there Noel,” said Randolph. “I’ve been wanting to talk with you. You know I like to throw people with potential in the deep end to see if they sink or swim. I’ve been looking at your department sales and I’m afraid you’re sinking.”

“I know Mr. Randolph,” Noel ignored the weakness in his knees. “I’ve been thinking about some new layout ideas.”

“Noel, I’ve told you before,” interrupted Randolph. “It’s not about layout or the customer’s journey. It’s about overstuffed shelves and the holiday spirit. Customers want to feel like it’s Christmas morning every time they are in that department. It’s been that way for thirty years, I don’t see how the layout is the problem. I need you to try harder. I’ve put a lot of faith in you, don’t prove me wrong.”

“I understand,” Noel replied dejectedly. “I’ll try harder.”

“I know you will.”

After work, Noel headed out to meet up with his girlfriend. The place was a cozy little cocktail lounge decorated with garland and ribbon. There was a small band in the corner playing soft jazzy covers of Christmas songs. It was packed with couples who’d just finished an evening of shopping.

Margo Pines was an attractive woman with deep brown eyes and long, thick, chestnut hair. She wore stylish clothes that showed off her tall, thin physique and you could smell her expensive perfume across the room. They’d met when she worked in the women’s intimates department of the store. Now she works for a high-end lingerie boutique downtown.

Margo was a regular here and was at her usual spot at the bar. She was halfway through her Cosmopolitan martini and had a pint of lager ready for him.

“You’re late,” she greeted.

“Yeah I got out later than planned,” Noel apologized. “The evening shift came in late and the day shift had to go to her kid’s school, I had to cover the gap.”

“Noel, you’ve got to get that holiday department under control. If you don’t you’ll never be promoted to department manager and you won’t get that raise you and I both want. Plus you’ll never get into the store manager program or eventually get your own store.”

Noel had dated Margo long enough to know that this was her way of encouraging him. Yet her tone and word choice never seemed to have the intended effect.

“How are sales?” she asked.

“Not so good. I want to try my idea of changing things up, but Old Man Randolph won’t listen.”

Margo wrinkled her nose. “Noel, you know Art Randolph is just a grouchy old man who has stayed on as store manager way longer than he should because he doesn’t want to retire and have to spend all his time with his wife. I’ve told you you’re wasting your time even trying to talk to him.”

“Yeah,” Noel confessed.

“Babe, I have faith that you’ll pull through. You’ll get that promotion and maybe, just maybe I’ll give you that blowjob you keep asking for.”

Noel put on a false smile. That wasn’t the type of support he was looking for but knew it was the best he was going to get.

“I hired a new associate today,” he said, trying to change the subject. “A girl on break from college.”

“Is she cute?” Margo asked.

“She’s short. 5′ 3″ at most,” Noel retorted, feeling that was the safest description he could give his girlfriend.

“You know what they say about short girls,” Margo smiled smugly. “They have a good perspective on life because they’re always looking up.”

Noel’s head bounced side to side, “I’m not so sure about this one. She’s pretty bossy.”

“Ah, Napoleon complex. Is she chubby with a big ass?”

“Not chubby, she has one of those upside-down heart-shaped asses.”

“You checked out her ass?”

“Yes, I mean no. It wasn’t like that.”

Like a cat playing with a mouse Margo pushed, “So what was it like?”

“She was walking in front of me and I saw her ass. I didn’t ‘check out’ her ass,” Noel lied.

“Relax babe, you know I’m just messing with you. You’re not into short girls with butts anyway. You like tall, thin, leggy women like me. I’m not concerned about competition from some college student. But anyway, let me tell you about my day.”

As they ate their dinner Noel couldn’t help comparing Audrey and Margo. Sure Audrey seemed bossy but she was not mean-spirited about it. She wanted clearly defined expectations and wasn’t afraid to ask for them directly. Margo was never that formal but she had no qualms about poking fun at a girl she’s never met. He was in a relationship with the mean-spirited one and almost sent the direct one away. What did that say about himself?

The next morning at eight-thirty, Audrey appeared at the holiday department checkout counter, wearing her store-issued shirt, vest, and Santa hat. She had completed the look with a pair of green leggings and a red skirt.

Noel had never found Christmas attire attractive but there was something about her look that he found appealing. Knowing he couldn’t let himself see her as anything more than an employee. He swallowed hard and said, “OK let me show you the register.”

A few minutes into the training she quipped, “You know you can go faster. This seems pretty easy and I’m a quick learner.”

Like the day before he found her statement and tone annoying. She’d been here just minutes and she was telling him what to do. bursa eskort He did pick up the pace and dove into the complicated stuff quickly in hopes of tripping her up.

To her word, Audrey kept up with his instructions. By eleven-twenty, she was doing it on her own without help or supervision. Just as he was about to send her to lunch there was a rush of customers. With unrehearsed teamwork, they handled the crowd quickly and efficiently providing the best streak of sales in days.

At twelve-forty, he said, “Thanks for staying. Sorry, I kept you from your lunch. You did well.”

“No problem Boss. Clock-watchers never get ahead, and I kinda like the excitement. If I get back early can you show me how to process gift cards?”

Noel grinned at her enthusiasm, “Sure.”

The rest of the day Audrey did stellar work, it was hard to believe she hadn’t had retail experience, much less that this was her first day on the job. She handled the register with swift accuracy and could bag multiple items on the first try. She was pleasant and positive to the lady customers and fun and flirty with the guys. All of which Noel knew were creating positive shopping experiences and driving sales. This girl whom he had doubts about hiring looked to be the best employee he’d ever had.

Before he knew it a voice came over the announcements, “It is now eight-thirty and the store is closed. Thank you for shopping at Fishers. Have a good night.”

“So that’s it?” Audrey asked.

“Yup. Thanks for putting in the long shift.”

“No problem. I would stay and help you straighten up but my Dad is outside in the parking lot.”

Between the hustle of the day and Audrey’s good work Noel had forgotten that she was only a college student. “Sure. Don’t worry. I’ve got it. You did great today.”

She smiled, “Thanks Boss. Have a good night,”

“You too,” he smiled back, taking time to linger his gaze on her pert, pretty form and amazing ass.

The next morning Audrey came in bright and early with a smile on her face and a spring in her step. She was wearing tight-fitting green pants that made her butt look spectacular.

“Good morning Boss Man, how’s it going?”

“Good thanks and you?”

“Great. I was thinking last night that we’re doing a lot of things wrong.”

“What do you mean?” He answered.

“I think our setup is all wrong.”

“What’s wrong about it?” Noel replied defensively.

“Well, the entry zone is a mess, it’s overcrowded. No one buys the first thing they see so why are we putting products there? And there’s no pattern to how we have things organized. We should arrange things in a pattern that smoothly guides customers through the department.”

Noel was disgruntled by her assertiveness. “Thanks for bringing it up but no.”

“What do you mean no,” Audrey insisted.

“I mean we’re not changing anything,” Noel said, trying to wish the conversation away.

She didn’t let it go, “What’s wrong with my idea?”

“Nothing’s wrong with your idea,” he turned and started walking away.

She immediately followed, “Then are you mad that I thought of it and you didn’t?”

“No that’s not it,” he said, stepping briskly.

Closing the gap between them, “Then what is it?” she quipped.

He stopped, turned, and pressed his back to a door, “Can we just drop it?”

“No, we absolutely cannot just drop it,” she insisted.

He leaned back against the door and walked through. This kind of pushy behavior shouldn’t come from a second-day employee.

“Well tell me. Why don’t you like my ideas? She asked emphatically, entering the room right behind him.

“It’s not that I don’t like them, you’re correct. We need to change the entry and several other things,” he confessed.

“Then why aren’t we doing them?”

“Old man Randolph won’t let me. He says this is how they’ve always done it and he wants people to feel nostalgic when they see it again. That’s it. Okay?”

“No, not okay. I don’t think he’s seeing the whole picture.”

“I agree but we need to stop talking now.”

“Why?” she insisted.

“Because this is the men’s restroom.”

Audrey paused, looked around then giggled to herself, “Um yes I guess it is. Sorry about that. But wow this is nice. Way nicer than most men’s bathrooms.”

“Can you just go?” he urged.

“Sure, I’m going, I’m going.”

When he returned neither mentioned their exchange and got back to work. Like the day before they worked well together, making customers smile and handling things with efficiency. Noel had to admit he’d never had a co-worker with whom teamwork came so easily.

Things slowed down in the early afternoon and Noel sent Audrey to lunch. When she came back she said, “I got this Boss. You take a break, or lunch, or both together. Take as long as you want. Don’t worry I’ve got everything under control.”

Noel could immediately tell there was something different about her behavior. She had a smirk on her face and she wasn’t being orhangazi escort bossy. He was tempted to call her out but was afraid if he did he’d be subject to her bossiness. He was hungry and was not in the mood for that, so, accepting her offer he headed to the food court.

The first thing he noticed upon his return was Audrey grinning ear to ear. The second thing he noticed was that the entry zone was nothing like he had left it.

She took a few steps forward with her hands up in a calming gesture, “Look I know Randolph said ‘you’ couldn’t change anything. But he didn’t say ‘I’ couldn’t change anything.”

“Well I thought you would know that was implied,” he snapped.

“Ok don’t get mad, hear me out.”

He was tempted to fire her right then and there. She did something she wasn’t supposed to and now she was telling him how to feel and what to do. Was there no limit to this girl’s bossiness?

“Look, I just made some small changes. I moved the nutcracker mannequin to the entrance and replaced the small kitschy products with decorative snowmen and gift boxes. Now it’s a cozy place for customers to get their bearings. I call it a ‘get you in the spirit zone’.”

Noel looked at Audrey’s handiwork. He had to admit it was well done. Everything came together nicely to create a cheerful wintery feel. It was the sort of thing he’d been wanting to do but felt he couldn’t.

“Let’s give it the afternoon,” She said, interrupting his thoughts. “If sales don’t go up, or if we get complaints. I’ll stay late and change it back on my own time. But if it works and we get compliments, then we keep it.”

He just stared at her, his emotions churning. He was mad that she did something she shouldn’t have done. Yet he was also impressed that she had the guts to do something she believed was the right thing to do.

“Come on, give it a chance. You’ll see I’m right, no you’ll see that you’re right because you want to do this too. If the Old Man comes around I’ll take the blame and be the one getting fired. You’ve got nothing to lose.”

Like so many of her bossy comments before she was right, on all points. He inhaled deeply then said, “Okaaaaaay,” as he exhaled slowly.

“Yes! There’s a good boss. It’ll do great,” she exclaimed as a few customers headed over.

It ended up that she was correct. They’d received several compliments on the display and sales were the strongest they’d been all season.

Audrey did not interact with Noel at the end of her shift. She quietly gathered her bag and jacket and made for the door. Noel was expecting a barrage of ‘I told you so’s’ and was astounded when he didn’t. Audrey continued to perplex him. She was bossy, there was no doubt about that but it was always to drive action or understanding. That night Noel couldn’t stop thinking about her.

The next morning she arrived looking even more attractive than the day before. She had her dirty blonde hair braided into a ponytail and wore an eyeliner that made her green eyes pop. Her lips were full and glossy and there was a bit of blush to her cheeks. Noel was so distracted by the subtle sexuality that he missed the fact that she had started talking to him.

“… well Boss Man what is it?”

He shook his head, “I’m sorry could you say that again.”

“I asked if I was getting fired.”

“Oh no, about that, you were right. Sales are up, we’re going to keep it.”

“Good, glad to know I’m not getting fired from the Christmas department right before Christmas. You know what else I’m probably right about.”


“Changing the whole thing.”

“No, absolutely not,” Noel insisted. “A few changes were fine but not the whole thing. Management feels this is traditional and people expect it this way.”

“But what people? The people who aren’t buying anything? The department needs sales. That means it needs people to spend money, not people who just come to remember the old times. Don’t you want a department manager job? How will you get it if you don’t get sales? Wouldn’t you rather get the promotion on your terms? Earn it for who you are, not for just following instructions.”

Her words hit directly to his core. She was right. That’s why he couldn’t stop thinking about her the night before, he couldn’t bring himself to admit that this bossy little coed was right. What did that say about him and what he was doing with his life?

He took deep breaths, “You’re right. I’m going to do it. Tonight after closing I’ll stay and make the changes.”

“Yeah, that’s it! Way to go Boss Man! But you’re not doing it alone. I’m staying and doing it with you.”

As soon as the store closed they got right to work. They created a more open vista giving the shoppers a full view of the available merchandise. This would also help them identify what shoppers might need assistance. They also added end caps to promote more interaction with the less expensive items.

While they worked, Audrey started a conversation, “I hear your girlfriend is really hot.”

“What?” he exclaimed.

“Yeah, some of the girls that used to work with her say she’s hot.”

“I’ll take that as a compliment.”

“Well is she?” Audrey questioned.

“Yes I think so, “Noel replied

“How can you just think so? She either is or isn’t.”

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