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The Temp
by Joe Lee

    “Hi,” Jeremy said to the cute temp behind the reception desk. The grumpy switchboard operator, he understood, was on vacation. “I'm looking for my boss, a tall—”

    The switchboard beeped before she could reply. She turned to answer the phone just as Jeremy’s supervisor hurried up.

    “Got the Kirkwood account,” he said. “Script meeting soon as you can get there.”

    “Now? I have a three-thirty with—”

    “I’ll cover it. This is priority.”


    Michelle watched the handsome guy disappear. There was honesty and kindness in his face, which was mandatory in the men she dated. It was her second day of a weeklong assignment at the TV station, and she knew she couldn’t work here: too many frantic, self-important people rushed around, and there was a call a minute.

    But she wanted to meet that guy before she left.


    “New place we gotta hit for lunch,” Paul said after he and Jeremy finished their weekly racquetball match. “How’s your week?”

    “Slammed. Wish I could.”

    “Saturday, then?”


    “Check your schedule. Little bistro across town with great food and outside tables. Heard we gotta beat the lunch crowd, though.”

    “I’ll let you know.”


    “You’re busy,” Michelle said, her heart accelerating when the guy she wanted to meet walked through. He glanced at Jeopardy on the lobby TV before turning to her.

    “Hardly,” he said. “Your name…?”

    “Michelle Short.” She stuck out her hand and felt a tingle go through her when he gripped it. “And you are—”

    The switchboard beeped before he could reply. He was gone by the time she transferred the call.


    “You’re back early,” Jeremy said to the full-time receptionist.

    “The little temp was more trouble than she was worth, so I offered to take vacation another time,” the dour woman said. “In fact, I may just call the agency she came from and let them have it.”

    Jeremy frowned. Michelle—that was her name—struck him as a nice person and polite on the phone. “How much damage could she do at the switchboard?”

    “Wasn’t that. No computer skills.”

    He started to point out that the station had misrepresented its needs to the agency, but the switchboard operator would get defensive. He walked away and left the insecure old hag to her phone bank. So much for ever getting to know Michelle.


    Michelle sat at a small table outside a street corner café and frowned as the wind whipped gum wrappers and cigarette butts across the busy street. Paul, who was an old friend and knew everybody here—even people in the art community—wanted to beat the lunch crowd. But the approaching storm, it appeared, was about to beat him.

    She recognized the cute guy from the TV station whose name she never got. He was in shorts and didn’t see her as he walked past and entered the café. The waiter topped off her water glass, then asked if she wanted to wait inside. She looked at her watch.

    “Let’s give him one more minute,” she said.

    The waiter nodded and went back into the café as the cute guy came out. He was looking all around when he spotted her. Her heart sped up. Paul was an older-brother figure and wouldn’t be offended if she asked this guy to join them—once she finally learned his name.

    “Michelle, right?” He stuck out his hand. She shook it and felt that tingle again. “Thought you’d be with us all week.”

    “Me, too,” she said. “At least the agency paid me for a week.”

    “What do you do—or want to do?”

    “I’m an artist. Just moved here, looking for a day job until I can make some contacts.” She looked around for Paul. “You also meeting someone?”

    “Yeah, and we’d planned to eat out here.”

    “Us, too.” She smiled. “Every time I tried to ask your name, the stupid phone rang…”

    “Jeremy Kellner.” He looked past her down the street. “Paul’s always on time.”

    “Interesting. I’m meeting someone named Paul, too, and no one is more punctual.”

    “Got one booth left,” the waiter called out from the doorway as lightning flashed.

    Michelle started to reach for her cell phone. Then it hit her. She took a long look at Jeremy. “Paul Dodd?”

    Jeremy stared. Then he broke into a smile and told the waiter they would take the booth. He asked how she knew Paul as they started for the café.

    “My brother’s best friend,” Michelle said as the first raindrops fell. “And something tells me he’s not coming.”

    Jeremy smiled again. “I guess not.”

    Michelle glanced at the sky a final time. It was black as night, but she felt the warmth of a brilliant, beautiful sun all around her as she followed her date into the café.


    Joe Lee is originally from Jackson, Mississippi, and has a background in radio, television, and journalism. He owns and manages Dogwood Press, a small but traditional publishing company based in Brandon. Dogwood Press has six titles in print and will publish Brookhaven author Mike Windham's David Earl's ABCs in June and Joe's own The Magnolia Triangle in October, 2009. Six of Joe's short stories, including "Intersection" and "The Saint and the Sinner," are available for download via Amazon Shorts. His novels include On The Record, Dead Air, and Judgment Day.

    Joe is a Starkville High School graduate and received his bachelor's degree in Communication in 1987 from Mississippi State University. He and his family live in Brandon, where they swelter during the humid summers but enjoy the Mississippi Braves being just minutes away.


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    Read another of Joe Lee's stories: Take A Tip From Me.
    And here's another: Book Signings: Survival of the Fittest

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