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explain yourself
opening chapter of the novel nice girl like you
by dana harris
5.14.03
writing


Having shucked her partner’s jogging shorts, Dean’s fingers began to trace her favorite part on a man’s body: the beautiful, muscular V, which began just below the waistband. He remained standing as Dean slowly sank to her knees, bringing her fingertips to where the V made its invisible point. Dean took his cock in her right hand as she gently cradled his balls in her left. She looked up to see that he had a devilish smile that matched her own.

“You’re perfect, Dean,” said the director, a disembodied voice that was off set and out of sight. “Just beautiful. Now if you would -”

“- tell me where the hell Paco is and why his crew isn’t at the Outback Steakhouse site on 121?” At the sound of her boss’ West Texas twang moving toward her cubicle, Dean Duke snapped out of her daydream. Then, in a single practiced move, she slid the May 2003 issue of Adult Video News from her lap to the safety of the floor beneath her desk. By the time Mr. Monroe lumbered into view 30 seconds later, panting slightly from the effort, Dean’s headset was in place, her index finger poised to make the next call and her eyes stared contentedly at nothing.

It didn't matter. When he tapped Dean on the shoulder and said, "Come into my office," she knew the end was near. Not because he’d seen her fantasizing over the Sinful Films advertisement for Nevada Nyle’s latest movie - she was sure he hadn't - but because - well, she didn’t know why.

Dean's title was Associate Call Supervisor at CheapLabor, Fort Worth branch. Translated, that meant she called illegal immigrants to see why they weren't at their work sites, followed by calls to contractors to see why CheapLabor hadn't received their last check. In short, she spent her day talking to people who didn't want to speak to her. Sometimes she didn't make all the calls she was supposed to make, but she was pretty sure that hadn't been the case of late. But she'd been fired before and there was no mistaking the tone in Mr. Monroe's voice: grave and anxious, with the slightest hint of pity.

"Just a second," Dean said to his waddling, retreating figure. Dammit, she thought, taking off her headset and pulling her long chestnut hair out of a haphazard ponytail. She hated the feeling of hair on her face, but Mr. Monroe always told her how pretty it was.

She counted to 10, enough time for her boss to heave his body down the short hallway. Dean had become all too familiar with the perp walk. To reach his office, it took just 12 steps for her long legs to make the trip down a fluorescent corridor that was just as drab as CheapLabor's location on the Mansfield Highway.

Dean strode past the rogues' gallery of CheapLabor drones in their short-walled cubicles. Most CheapLabor employees were women and they were all old, at least 35. They never missed the opportunity to sneer at her as she passed. Still, Dean wished she'd worn a cute sundress instead of Levi's and an orange T-shirt with a small coffee stain. Things tended to go better with Mr. Monroe when she wore a skirt.

Dean gave Mr. Monroe a facial tic of a smile as she scooted into his office and closed the door behind her. Her boss didn’t say anything, but gestured for her to take one of the two seats in front of his desk. "I was really hoping we wouldn't have to have this conversation," he said.

The room was quiet except for the sound of Mr. Monroe shifting his ample girth in his cracked and worn brown leather chair. In fact, Dean noticed, almost everything in his office was brown: the fake walnut paneling, the industrial carpet, the unsuccessful hair dye on his mustache. She was wondering if his eyes matched the color scheme when Mr. Monroe said, "Dean? You with me here?"

"Yes," she said. "Sorry." Dean looked down at her black vinyl seat. That was how she thought of it now: her seat. Maybe her visits to Mr. Monroe's office would have gone better if it was brown.

The first time Dean was called on Mr. Monroe's brown carpet, she'd just been hired. Her tiny cubicle was one of dozens in the prefab building and it didn't have a nametag, so she'd decided to make one. The next day it was gone. Then Mr. Monroe asked if she wouldn’t mind coming into his office and he explained nametags were an honor that had to be earned at CheapLabor. His own was mounted in a metal bracket that contained his custom-engraved plastic rectangle: JOHN MONROE, BRANCH MANAGER.

"Took me eight years to get my executive stripes," Mr. Monroe had said. "Good news is, I think you could have that kind of potential. And when you do earn it," he'd added, unfolding the piece of paper on which Dean had written her own name and title, "you can bet that we'll spell 'associate' right for you." Then he'd winked.

That was nine months ago. Now Mr. Monroe interrupted her thoughts with a noisy sigh. She looked up to see him shaking his head. "Dean, you are so pretty and such a bright gal. I really do hate to do this."

This was the moment she hated the most, the extension of the inevitable, but she never had the guts to call a boss on his bluff.

She could have said, You're right. I don't appreciate my opportunities at CheapLabor. I hate calling people who can't speak English and thinking about what it's like feed a whole family on their husbands' piddly pay. I hate my cubicle, which makes me feel like a cow waiting for slaughter. And every time I wear shorts because it's 110 goddamn degrees outside, I hate the way you look at me. Just give me my last paycheck and we'll call it a day.

Instead, Dean hated herself for playing a familiar part. "Do what?" she said, her voice betraying her with an embarrassing crackle.

Mr. Monroe folded his hands on his desk and fixed Dean with a hard stare. Anger? Shame? Maybe he did see the magazine. She cursed herself for bringing the AVN into the office.

Finally, he spoke. "Dean, I want you to take a look at something," he said, rolling back from his desk just enough to allow his arms to make the journey over his stomach to the computer keyboard. Dean leaned forward in her chair.

"Come over here," Mr. Monroe said, leaving no question that he meant her to stand in back of him. Dean got up and walked behind his desk.

He tapped a button on the keyboard. "Can you explain this?" he said, his tone assuring Dean that she couldn't. Then her employer pushed himself back from the computer, an angry and unexpected gesture that forced her to jump out of the way. Dean looked at the screen.

Oh, shit.

No company was ever named more accurately than CheapLabor, but nothing was too good for its employees when it came to spying on internet traffic. Mr. Monroe's screen had become a color grid and at the top it said CONTENT ANALYSIS: DEANE DUKE.

The misspelled first name was a nice touch, no doubt contributed by his secretary. Dean had long ago explained to her that there was no “e,” that her dad named her after James Dean. The secretary had looked at her with a sour face suggesting she'd swallowed a spoonful of yogurt four months past its sell-by date.

Today, that didn’t matter. One look at the website addresses and Dean knew they were hers.

Most Popular Site: http://sinfulfilms.com
Most Popular Page: http://www.pornblography.com
Most Popular Starting Page: http://www.avn.com
Most Popular Ending Page: http://nicisgirls.com.

By the category Most Frequent Keywords there was a link that simply said “Chart.” Mr. Monroe didn’t seem inclined to click on it and Dean offered a silent prayer of thanks.

Mr. Monroe said, “These are sites you’ve visited repeatedly, and on company time.” He paused. “I need an explanation, Dean.”

Research. She could enlighten him with one word, but she couldn’t bring herself to say it.

I’m going to be a porn star and I’m going to do it right. She would have loved to watch his reaction, but her best friend Caroline was the only other person who knew Dean's plan. Even in her panic, Dean figured it wasn’t a good idea to include Mr. Monroe in that inner circle.

But it sure was tempting.

You’ve employed a future porn star, she thought. One who knew what she was doing, who had it figured out before she made her first movie, or even moved to Los Angeles. And one of these days Inside Edition, Access Hollywood, maybe even Entertainment Tonight will take the time to figure out my real name and they’ll track you down and say, “Did you know? What was she like?” It’ll be the most excitement CheapLabor has ever seen and I know that you’ll be here for it because you’ll never go anywhere else.

“Dean, I just don’t understand it,” he said, shaking his head. “I know your folks, fine people. You were smart to start here right after graduation. Another six months and you’d be up for promotion. A real opportunity for a nice girl like you.” He looked up at her, cocking his head in a way that reminded Dean of her mom. Intended to suggest heartfelt compassion, it was a dramatic pause that allowed the speaker to take a breath and start in again.

“Is it a boyfriend who got you into this?” Mr. Monroe said. He looked up at her with squinty eyes that, she now noticed, were pale blue and watery behind his photosensitive aviator glasses. “Or is it because of your... disability? I know you understand pictures better than words.”

Now he was calling her dumb, but he was the one who believed that dyslexia led to pornography. Unconsciously, Dean put up a hand as if to say, “Stop.”

Mr. Monroe looked almost hopeful as he said, “Yes, Dean?” He sounded so gentle Dean almost felt sorry for him.

Dean said, “Is it OK if I sit down?” Even before she saw the stricken look on Mr. Monroe's face, Dean knew she'd overdone the sarcasm. She always forgot how intimidating her own low voice could be. Dean began to walk back to the front of his desk.

Now Mr. Monroe held up his hand, the gesture stopping Dean before she could reach the safety of her chair. “Tell the truth, I think it might be best if you just went back and got your things,” he said. He reached into the ink-stained pocket of his short-sleeved oxford shirt and began to fidget with a pen. “I’ll walk you there, but I just need you to sign a few papers first.”

Dean had expected to hear this, but the thought popped in anyway: Fuck you.

Mr. Monroe opened his mouth and closed it. Then he opened it again. “You know, I’ve given you several chances here, tried to make allowances, but porn -” Here he paused, staring at the black Bic, as if just saying the word "porn" caused him unspeakable pain. “Well, we just can’t have that in the workplace. You’ve left us vulnerable to lawsuits, lost valuable productivity.” He sighed again, so heavily that he seemed to be imitating the sputter of a horse.

“Dean, I’m just -” Oh no, she thought, here it comes - “really disappointed in you.” Mr. Monroe put down the pen, folded his chubby hands in his lap and looked at her. To Dean's dismay, she felt her chest get tight. One more minute and the tears would show up.

Disappointed in you. Whether it came from teachers, bosses or her parents, those three words hurt like no others. She hadn’t heard it in a while; the last time was senior year, when Chris Cheatham’s mom came looking for them to say dinner was ready. They’d been in the backseat of the family AstroVan, with Chris’ pants unzipped and Dean’s head in his lap. Dean would have been able to laugh about that one - Disappointed in me? - if it weren’t for the fact that Mrs. Cheatham then called Dean’s parents and explained why their daughter would be coming home without supper. That night was the first time Dean heard her stepfather use the word “slut.”

This time, however, Dean wouldn’t allow Mr. Monroe to add insult to injury. It was a stupid job, she’d been planning to quit anyway and just this morning Caroline had called her aunt and uncle in L.A. to see if they could stay with them for a few days.

Dean stared at her former boss for several long seconds, willing her voice to remain steady as she thought of the worst thing she could say to him.

“You smell funny and everyone knows it,” she blurted. Then she turned around and walked out of Mr. Monroe’s office for the last time.

It took Dean months to figure out why, of all the parting shots, she’d gone with something so random. Mr. Monroe was fat, but not stinky; the only odor she’d ever noticed on him was the occasional whiff of Old Spice. Much later, however, Dean realized that she’d chosen the zinger with deadly accuracy: She wanted him to know what it felt like to be told there was something wrong with you, and have no idea what to do about it.





ABOUT DANA HARRIS



more about dana harris

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COMMENTS

dana harris
5.16.03 @ 7:16p

Just got a critique (thank you!) that asked if this novel exists. Well, sort of: as I write my first draft, Intrepid gets it. So far, I've written two chapters (I wrote chapter 2 first) and I'll add more as I go. However, figured I'd throw this to the masses: How does this work as an opening chapter? As it's a story about Dean Duke choosing to become a porn star, she's not going to be on a set from the get-go. But should there be more porn content (or sex) at the outset? (I should add that the second chapter, which is in the gallery as Nice Girl Like You, does take place on a set and introduces a secondary but still major character: Nevada Nyle.)

juli mccarthy
5.16.03 @ 8:30p

But should there be more porn content (or sex) at the outset?

Dana, I think it depends on your overall tone fot the novel. Is it a pornographic book, or a book about the porn industry? If it's the former, yeah, you need more sex. If the latter, I don't think so, because you definitely touch on enough without getting too graphic. Incidentally, I have trouble thinking of Dean as a woman's name... that's been distracting me since I first read this.

dana harris
5.16.03 @ 8:54p

It's definitely not a porn book - but I don't want to whitewash that world, either. Thanks for the Dean comment - may reconsider. There's a backstory to the name, but I'm not sure the payoff is worth potential distraction.

dave trawets
6.24.03 @ 11:55p

I'm rooting for Dean and all of her ilk. You did this to me. Nice job.



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