It was approaching the time for the annual office calendar shoot at Neufville and Co. This year, nearly everyone – well nearly all the gentlemen at Neufville and Co. – were looking forward to it, because of the arrival in June of the new girl in the public relations office. This new girl was called Saffron Sloane.
Saffron Sloane was delightful to look at: smooth cocoa-coloured skin, chiselled features, statuesque at 1.83 metres, big-boned and nicely-padded in all the right places. Certainly she wore a suit, and her casual-Friday jeans ensembles well, and some had even wondered aloud why she didn’t work in front of the camera instead of behind it; for surely she would take home a very big cheque at the end of the month if she were to model her clothes for a living if anyone could. But whatever her reason for hiding her charms, everyone else, well, most of the men at Neufville and Co anyway, wanted to see her in the company’s first ever nude calendar.
Tastefully done nude calendars were the norm in the advertising industry, and although Neufville and Co. had served as opinion leaders for years, they’d never actually done a nude calendar (for themselves) before. No one thought it seriously worthwhile until Saffron Sloane showed up. Indeed, one or two of the men has speculated that Saffron Slone was part of Laurent Neufville’s effort to freshen up the face of the company.
“Are you insane?” Saffron had asked when the suggestion was first made to her that she appear in the first (now annual) nude calendar for Neufville and Co. “Definitely not! I’m a married woman! I couldn’t disrespect myself or my husband like that! What made you think that I’d even consider such a thing?”
She shook her head as if not believing what Neufville and Co. had come to. This was a reasonable position since this year’s calendar had showcased some of the photographs that Laurent Neufville had taken while on a spiritual retreat in the French countryside, and the one last year had shown a dozen paintings from his private collection.
“Are we that bereft of ideas this year?” she asked, frowning. “Did Mr. Neufville approve this? I wasn’t invited to any meeting in which our annual calendar was discussed; and I work in marketing!”
“I can’t imagine this going forward without Laurent’s approval. I suppose it was above your pay grade to be at that meeting,” the hapless envoy said, trying to make a joke of it.
“I see. Well, you can just tell the boys upstairs that it is also above my pay grade to remove my clothing for this job.”
Saffron Sloane’s refusal to participate in the calendar went through the office like a wild fire. Several people lost heavily that day, betting that she would do it. It was even bigger news to the people at Neufville and Co. though that Saffron Sloane Slone was married and that gave rise to new speculations. Somehow, human resources had not picked that up about her – her birth certificate did say that her name was Saffron Slone – nor had anyone else, since she arrived early and left late every day, and though very affable when one caught her in the hallway or car park, she was generally too busy to spend time gossiping about her personal life, or for socialising extensively after hours.
That she was available to travel at short notice, and was a natural at entertaining old Laurent Neufville’s most distinguished clients, a job that he seemed increasingly willing to share with her (one of his most junior members of staff) did not escape notice. No one could see how any husband in his right mind would tolerate a thing like that. She had an odd blend of aloofness and charm in an office that was deceptively casual. Even the “Mr. Neufville” thing in an office where virtually everyone else called the boss “Laurent” was a problem for some.
Everyone worked hard, but she managed to work even harder still. She had just seemed to be a career woman on the move. Obviously, people were mistaken to think that she would be willing to do anything to climb up the corporate ladder. The whispered rumours that she might even be sleeping with old Laurent himself seemed to have nowhere to go now…until someone suggested that she must be married to one of their bigger clients…though no one could guess who that would be since there were no notable Jamaicans with the family name Sloane.
Not surprisingly, Saffron Sloane’s path wasn’t strewn only with the rose petals cast there by her adoring public. She’d managed to make an enemy or two in her short time at Neufville and Co. These well-connected tabbies didn’t like fresh-faced upstarts, and Saffron Sloane’s face was the freshest anyone had seen in a while. In particular, Saffron Sloan’s apparently meteoric rise didn’t sit well with Ruth Mollison, the head of the marketing and communications department of Neufville and Co. Ruth Mollison had worked for the company for nearly thirty years. She had comforted Laurent Neufville after the death of his first wife, staying by his side as he built the company from the ground up to its present place as the main rival of Saatchi & Saatchi on the global scale. She expected that as the principal turned 65 in the next three years, he would begin to think of semi-retirement and settling down again.
Of course, there was nothing in his behaviour that suggested that Laurent Neufville was thinking about retirement or settling down or returning to his family’s vineyards in France after his distinguished corporate life in exotic Jamaica. Quite the contrary, the man had seemed to have taken on a new lease on life in the past year after returning home from some mysterious spiritual sabbatical that he had insisted on taking.
He had begun to travel more, a thing that had not happened in ten years since he had been leaving a lot of that kind of work to his band of young-and-upcoming brand managers, reserving only the very highest challenges for himself. All of a sudden, however, the man was taking the corporate jet the way lesser men took taxis! He had taken up photography, yoga and karate and was even rumoured to have started visiting the company’s gym! Although a workaholic, he had never been a man to take his work home with him, so to speak, especially after his wife had died, but a few people had been overheard talking about what a lovely home he had, and a few others had made reference to the good time that they had had on a fishing trip on his boat!
Laurent Neufville wasn’t exactly a ruthless, cold-blooded, sulky psychopath in the office. He couldn’t have succeeded in his industry if he were, but suddenly, the man seemed more grandfatherly; more gently patient with his less experienced colleagues, as if he were genuinely concerned with leaving a legacy beyond his impressive collection of clients and accolades for the next generation of young professionals who worked for him. He laughed more! He had become comfortable patting people on the shoulder and giving them personal gifts if they did good work. He’d become more hip, younger in his outlook, more interested in what people with the yuppie demographic profile and the millennial generation thought about life.
Well, Ruth Mollison didn’t like it one bit! She was from the old school, that felt that the millenials should have been seen but not heard; and she didn’t like it that Laurent Neufville had given up the black Armani suits that went so well with his pale skin, his silver mane of hair and his startling blue eyes, for clothing made by a place called Topman Design, polo shirts and trainers! She had nearly fainted when she found herself at some sort of career Expo where he rolled up his pink shirt sleeves, removed his tie and held what could only have been described as a master class for a group of advertising students from the media school at the University of the West Indies. True, the man’s smile was beautiful, and even girls who were more than forty years younger than he were flirting with him, but one had to draw a line somewhere.
Ruth Mollison blamed Saffron Sloane for the alarming change in Laurent Neufville. There was nothing wrong with the old Laurent Neufville and this re-invention of self was most unbecoming! She wasn’t sure how the little trollop of a woman had done it, but she felt that her appearance in the company and Laurent’s renaissance were too proximal to have been coincidental. She had watched in sulky silence how Saffron had stood to the side of the room and looked upon the proceedings with a gentle mother-hen smile on her face. She had heard how Saffron had introduced Laurent! True, all the glowing accolades were true, but it was her come-hither tone of voice; her possessive pride in a man whom she had known for only the past year and that Ruth herself had known for thirty! She had noticed how Laurent Neufville kept glancing at Saffron, apparently to gauge from her reaction how things were really going with these youngsters. She noticed when he winked at Saffron after making a little double entendre joke that had gone down well with the students!
The truth be told, he had looked at, and smiled at Ruth as well, but by then she was so angry with the situation that she had not cared what he was thinking when she had seen him frown slightly, apparently puzzled, and wrap up the event quickly. Enough was enough! Saffron Sloan was going to be seconded to their offices in Botswana.
“Is something wrong, Ruth?” Laurent Neufville seemed genuinely concerned, when he finally managed to shake off the last of the students.
“Not at all!” Ruth grimaced, since she saw Saffron Sloane making her way around to join them.
“I saw you talking on your phone. You looked as if you heard that there was a major crisis in the company just now! I had to wrap that up so that I could see what it was!”
“Nothing that I can’t handle, Laurent. You can count on me,” she said, calmly.
“I’ve given this a lot of thought, Laurent and I think that a more personal face to the company would go down well this year for the calendar,” Ruth Mollison said to Laurent Neufville the next morning when she saw him in the office. She had taken along her ally, Orlando Wong, the company’s biggest gossip, promising him a scoop for his troubles.
“A more personal face? What do you mean?” Laurent asked.
“I think that we should choose twelve people and their families, their spouses, you know the sort of thing; we get them from all over the company and highlight them. Attractive people, attractive families, attractive place to work, attractive business opportunities with us… That sort of message.”
“Wow! I think it’s divine!” Orlando chirped.
“It is a great idea, Ruth!” Laurent echoed.
“Thanks! And I’ve drawn up a list of people who we might ask. Saffron Sloane will bring her husband in for us. She’s a very attractive girl. She and her hubby should look great together! She’ll be Ms. March since I was thinking that the staff members should pose for the month on which they were born. What do you think?”
“Her husband? She said that she’d pose with her husband in our annual calendar? Are you sure?” Laurent Neufville seemed startled.
“I didn’t even know she had a husband!” Orlando gushed on cue.
“Yes, she’s married; didn’t you two know?” Ruth tried to sound matter-of-fact. “I was even thinking that it could be a little bit risqué, our calendar,” she continued. “Have them wear swim suits, or go nude, but not show anything really; you understand. I want them to touch each other, his hand on her butt to hide most of her crack, her body hiding his dick only just. Have them look lovingly into each other’s eyes, show us how much they mean to each other; you know what I mean.”
Laurent Neufville’s eyebrows went up toward his hair. He seemed to be at a rare loss for words.
“Well,” he stammered finally, “that is a- ahhh, a radical departure from what we have done in the past! I’m just not sure…Isn’t it disrespectful? We’re not a bar, you know…”
“Oh come on Laurent! The men will be nude too! We have to move with the times! Even I can see that! Our calendar will continue the artistic themes that we’ve had over the past few years, it’s just that this year we will celebrate the human form! Don’t argue, Laurent, we’re doing this.”
“Wow! You really have changed, Ruthie! I’ll have to keep my eye on you from now on!” he chuckled at last, causing Ruth and Orlando to release huge sighs of relief.
“So, you said that Saffron Sloane and her husband were going to appear in this calendar? She actually told you that she was married?” he asked, quietly, after an awkward pause.
“Yes, them and everyone else,” Ruth wanted to sound sympathetic, but she also wanted to punish Laurent Neufville for liking Saffron Sloane a bit too much in her estimation. “I hear that her old man is quite a catch,” she said winking broadly at Laurent Neufville. “A beautiful couple,” she managed to smile fondly, as if at a memory. “One day, I hope to be so lucky,” she said gently, reaching out to run her fingers through Laurent’s thick white hair.
She patted him on the back, and glanced at Orlando who pawed the air, catlike, in grudging admiration for her sneakiness.
“Don’t you want Saffron on the calendar, Laurent?” Ruth asked, innocently, after a few moments.
“No, I have no objection to her being in it whatsoever. She’s a beautiful woman and I trust her judgment. You just surprised me with the news that she agreed to participate in this couples calendar, that’s all,” he seemed strangely reflective.
“You know, Laurent, I have to say that I think that Saffron has been a little naughty,” Ruth confided.
“What do you mean?”
“She wasn’t at all forthcoming about her marriage, but I think that if I have a little word with her that I’ll straighten her out. We don’t tolerate deception here, after all. You said that yourself! We’re one big happy family and we must trust each other completely. So, if she can’t get that straight then she will have to leave.”
“I agree,” Orlando said on cue.
“What are you talking about?” Laurent seemed confused, glancing between Ruth and Orlando. “She wanted to keep our marriage a secret so that she could make it here on her own steam in this business. She even insisted on keeping her maiden name because she didn’t want anyone to give her any special favours because…well, she actually threatened to divorce me if she suspected that I was trying to give her a hand up.”
“Wait a minute! Our marriage? What do you mean by our marriage? You’re married? To whom?” Ruth almost shouted.
“You’re married to Saffron Sloane?” Orlando screamed as he danced around on his toes. “And not even your nearest and dearest knew!” he glanced at Ruth who looked a bit unwell.
“Yes! Didn’t she tell you?” Laurent asked, alarmed. “I thought you knew. I must have misunderstood, but I thought that you just said that you’d spoken with her and that she’d agreed that she and I would appear together in your nude couples’ calendar. Forgive me if I’ve said something untoward! I don’t want her to know that I told you first!” Laurent seemed very worried; then he smiled ruefully.
“That girl really knows how to make an old man feel good! I never thought I’d be doing something like this at my age! I didn’t know that I’d be doing a lot of things that I’ve been doing with her at my age!”
“She is an adventure to be sure! You ought to get yourself someone, Ruthie! A younger spouse really brings a little kick back into life!” the man grinned, happily. “But shhhh, let’s not say anything more about this.” He glanced meaningfully at Orlando.
“I suppose she wanted to keep it a secret until the big day of the photo shoot, so don’t tell anyone that she’s going to show up with me!”