Roxanne looked down at the kitten heels she wore that day, wishing she’d donned her steel tipped work boots instead. Of course she’d wanted to look nice, sexy even, despite working in a dilapidated trailer on the fringe of a dusty construction site near the edge of an undeveloped stretch of Memphis.
Wearing a short black skirt and silky blue blouse with the top two buttons opened, she stood behind her messy desk, filled with blueprints and papers.
Baxter, the county permit official, probably couldn’t even see her feet anyway, she mused. She’d made sure to dress a little more provocative than usual that day, knowing Baxter was something of a flirt. She wanted to use that to her advantage to make sure he signed off on the new building permit her boss wanted without asking too many questions.
Roxanne’s boss, Danny, Chief Construction Officer, admitted the county might not grant the permit because the new plans expanded the building site past the original demarcation the county had previously permitted. Usually, Roxanne thought of herself as a woman who knew how to handle men, especially in such a male-dominated industry.
Looking at Baxter across the desk, ogling her, she knew she made a mistake. When she tried to unfurl the plans and have Baxter look at them flat on her desk, she noticed how his eyes glanced at the blueprint and then fixated on her chest. Her long honey colored hair grazed his hand before she smiled and tucked the thick tendrils behind her ear.
“So you see here, we’ve expanded this. No big deal. Just need your signature,” Roxanne said.
“Whatcha’ gonna do for it, Honey?” Baxter looked up, gazing at her like a man looking at the most recent copy of lewd magazine.
“What do you want from me, Baxter?” Roxanne said, turning her head to the side. “You’d be helping me out. I’d owe you.” She decided to play along – to a point. She didn’t think he’d actually go one step further.
“I’ll sign it. Don’t worry, Darlin’,” he said.
Darlin’. Yuck! She hated when men resorted to such sexist descriptions, but she needed this permit. She’d been out of work for way too long. When her boss, Danny, finally gave her a break and hired her as the construction manager on the job, Roxanne could finally pay her rent and help her dad pay his debt. The loan sharks weren’t going to wait forever, no matter how much Roxanne promised.
As Roxanne stood up, Baxter fumbled with the pen, and it fell on the floor next to the desk. Roxanne leaned over to pick it up, but before she completely lifted her head, she felt Baxter’s hand on her butt.
She’d gotten this treatment from guys before, particularly at bars her dad liked to frequent, trying to gamble money out of unsuspecting pool players. Normally, she’d just slap their hand away, sometimes throw a drink on them, but with Baxter, she wasn’t quite sure what to do.
Roxanne decided to shrug it off. After he signed the permit, she placed it in a red folder to the side of her desk. She offered Baxter her hand as a friendly gesture. He grabbed it and pulled her in for a hug. She tried to push him away, but he wrapped his arms around her waist, pressing himself into her. She closed her eyes, bracing herself. When she felt his hot breath like the steam from a coffee cup, approach her lips, she jerked her head away.
“Aw, come on now,” Baxter said. “I just wanted a little thank you is all.” Still holding her close, Roxanne tried to wriggle out of his grasp. She couldn’t stand his touch for one more second.
“It’s just, you know,” she half-smiled, “I don’t want to ruin our professional relationship.”
“Don’t worry, Honey. You ain’t ruin’ anything. Just give me one kiss.”
Roxanne leaned her head back as far as she could limbo and pushed Baxter away. “Please,” she said. “Don’t touch me.” Thanks to her workout routine, she had the strength to push him away.
“Oh now, come on. I’m just being friendly. Just a little kiss wouldn’t hurt.”
Roxanne stepped toward the door, trying to consider if a kiss was indeed all Baxter was after. She saw his face, stubble prickling his chin, staring at her chest, and she couldn’t just play along anymore. Even though it might cost her in the end, she couldn’t bring herself even to pretend to be interested in a middle-aged, huckster like Baxter who used his authority to prey on women.
Roxanne knew there weren’t many women in her line of work. As a construction site manager, she oversaw the plans and materials for various building projects. Most of the time, this job went to men. Roxanne, having learned about construction at a young age from her father, who worked on various building sites, eventually landing some gigs as a foreman, she knew more than just how to hammer in a nail.
As a teenager, she worked summers alongside her father, expertly leveling joists and assembling beams. When men on those construction sites hit on her, which they did all the time due to Roxanne’s ample bosom and hour glass figure, she’d usually smirk or whistle back, never letting the attention derail her from the job at hand. Once they saw her wield a nail gun or power through a demolition with a mallet in hand, they’d usually back off.
Baxter, however, looked intent on getting what he came for. He grabbed her wrist as she lurched toward the door, and pulled her close, almost smacking his lips into her face. Roxanne pulled out of his grasp at the last second and slapped his cheek. She had to do more than whistle back that time.
“So that’s how you want to play it?” He smiled and grabbed her shoulders, as if it were some type of game. She stared at the shiny red wallop on his face for a second before opening the door to escape. Baxter’s cheek almost matched the color of the folder Roxanne glanced at across her desk – the folder containing the signed permit. She hesitated before deciding she would leave it, get it later.
“Let go of me,” she stomped on Baxter’s foot with the sharp part of her heel, feeling vindicated that her shoe choice came in handy after all. “No means no.” She scampered out the door into the late afternoon sun to her car as fast as she could in her little heels, the dust kicking up behind her.
Baxter stared after her, walking to his truck. She looked back and felt satisfied he wasn’t going to follow her. As she scurried to her car, a beat up old sedan, her heel hit a stone and a piece of it broke off. She hobbled the last 3 steps to her car, Baxter chuckling after her, approaching his truck.
She’d gotten his signature, and hopefully, she wouldn’t need any more favors. She knew it was always good to have local support for a building project, but she just couldn’t stand someone pawing at her. Suggestive comments were one thing, playing grab hands was another. She’d definitely miscalculated Baxter’s determination.
Everything would be fine, she told herself. Glancing at her face in the visor mirror, she reflected on her overall good looks. Sometimes they got her into trouble, and sometimes they got her out. She’d never relied on her beauty, and she wasn’t about to start. Her strengths commonly included being able to relate to men, act tough but not uptight.
As her little car turned off the dirt road toward the city, she could hear the loud engine of Baxter’s truck. Guys with little self-esteem often seemed to gravitate toward hulking machinery, she thought.
She planned to drive around the block, down by the edge of the Mississippi River, before heading back, leaving enough time for Baxter to be long gone, and she could safely store the signed permit. She’d have to file it with the county building commission in the morning.
Driving down the road, she considered how if she ran into Baxter again, shivering at the idea, she’d need to smooth things over. She couldn’t risk getting a bad reputation with any county officials. She needed her job to stay intact. Her future as a building site manager depended on it, and so did her father’s life.