The Revealing Scent

by Cullen Traynor

The office, as it emptied, had grown dark and quiet. Dark, save for the single panel of light that glowed above Jon’s cubicle. Quiet, save for the sound of Jon’s heart, drumming with anticipation.

Jon sat in his cubicle, staring at the e-mail from Del that he’d printed out that morning. “Your 6-month review,” it read simply. “5p.m. today. I’ll call you.” Jon looked at his watch. It was 5:41p.m. “Typical Del,” he said to himself. “Always messing with me. Don’t worry, pal, yours is coming. Sooner than you think.”

Jon’s mind wandered back six months. He had arrived in Chicago from the sticks of Wisconsin, bearing only his newly-printed English degree and an eagerness to work. Sure, it was only a 4-color rag covering the in’s and out’s of the hard-hat business. But it was a foothold in publishing, and if the Human Resources lady who’d interviewed him was any indication, these were Good People.

“Welcome to Construction Scene Monthly, Jon!” she had grinned so sincerely. “You’re joining us during an exciting transitional period. Our new editor, Del Phipps, just started last month. He has a clear vision for our magazine and he’s just a couple years older than you. I’m sure you guys will become great pals!”

Jon quickly learned two things. First, the H.R. woman was a fluke. Second, Del Phipps had a clear vision for the magazine, all right. It was called “Make the New Guy the Resident Scapegoat”. For Del, Jon would serve as a “safe” outlet for scorn regarding error or undesirable behavior. The veteran staff, whose asses Del kissed religiously, were to take Jon’s example and fall into line.

Evidently, the formula worked, because Del stuck to it. At least two or three times a week, Jon was summoned to Del’s office for an open-door conference. Open-door, of course, so the charges---ticked off at top-volume in Del’s raspy growl---could waft through the air for the entire staff to hear:

“Damnit, Jon! Your minimum quota is five edited manuscripts per week! Either shake your ass or get out!”

“Jon, who at college was your mama banging? There’s no other way you could’ve passed. No English major who lets three---count ‘em, three---errors slip through to galleys could’ve graduated on his own!”

“Jon, that’s your lunch bag stinking up the fridge! Yes, the orange vinyl one reeking of garlic! It’s been in there for two weeks! You know our policy on the company fridge. I should fire you for that! Don’t shit me, Jon, it stinks just like you!”

And on and on. Why did Jon take this abuse? Why didn’t he quit or file a complaint? He spent hours asking himself these same questions. The only answer was an odd attraction he’d felt since his first day on the job. For some reason, Jon was intrigued with Del. It was disturbing, even more so because Jon didn’t know why. But he bided his time, and three months into the job, the answer came.

One day, Del stormed into the employees’ lounge. “Jon!” he shouted. “You’ve been fucking around in here for almost an hour! Get back to work!”

Jon, having just finished lunch, had by then learned not to argue. He exited the room, but turned back to retrieve a forgotten can of soda. Jon stopped at the lounge’s door and before entering, peeked through a small window at its center. Del was alone in the room, perusing the selections at the coffee machine with his back to the door. Abruptly, Del’s head tilted back. His hands dug into his jacket pockets in a mad search for something. His shoulders started to shudder. Then it happened.

“Heh. . .heh. . .hhhHHHEEEE-CHOO! HeeeEEEE-CHOO! HEE-CHOO!” Del sneezed, loudly and quickly. The three blasts bent him forward at the waist. Far too late, he found the handkerchief he was seeking and blew with a trumpetlike honk. Nothing unusual about that. But to Jon, a lifetime student of sneezes, there was something quite unique about these specimens. Del’s sneezes were utterly, unmistakably female.

Jon hurried back to his desk before Del spotted him. His grin was as wide as the H.R. lady’s had been. Suddenly, everything made sense.

Each morning, Jon whistled on his way into work. The days seemed to fly by. He started to look forward to being called to Del’s office. At all times, Jon kept an ear cocked for that distinctive “HEE-CHOO!” Soon, Jon’s wish was granted. Across from Del’s office was the desk of a secretary who often received flowers from her boyfriend. One Spring day, a fresh bunch of lilacs sent perfume floating into Del’s lair, where he sat---what else?---browbeating Jon.

“Sweet fucking Christ on the cross, Jon!” Del roared. “I don’t care how far behind your weekly quota you are! You never take manuscripts home! Company property stays---heh. . .heh. . .” His nostrils twitched and his eyes narrowed.

Jon could hardly hide his delight. “You okay, Del?”

Del rubbed his nose. “I’m fine. It’s time you start. . .heh. . .-ed using that head of yours for more than just growing hair! Company prop---heh, heh, heh---”

Jon’s toes curled in anxiousness.

Del cupped his hand over his nose and mouth. “HA-UMF! HA-UMF! HA-UMF! Damnit, Irma, those flowers are killing me! Jon, shut the door!”

Jon followed orders. But he was so disappointed, he didn’t notice when Del finished yelling at him. So Del yelled at him for daydreaming.

Back at his desk, Jon was confused. All his life, he’d been confidently heterosexual. True, Del had strained mightily to stifle them, but that second set of sneezes had been undeniably masculine. Jon wondered if he’d fooled himself with the first set of sneezes. Why, thought Jon, had his instincts misled him?

The thought of being gay did not offend Jon. But he knew that preference was a matter of biology and not choice. The source of Jon’s confusion was Del’s appearance. On the surface, it did nothing for Jon. Del was long and lanky, partial to 2-piece suits, either charcoal or navy blue. His brown hair was trimmed in the medium-length, layered look of a million businessmen. His eyes were hidden behind round, amber-tinted lenses. His mouth and chin were lost beneath a heavy goatee. Del was a Typical Corporate Guy and nothing more.

But after that first set of sneezes, Jon started to look---or was it “see”?---below the surface. Del’s nose was far too small and gently curved for a guy’s. Normally, he kept his lips pinched together in an angry red line primarily hidden by his mustache. When reading, however, Del forgot himself and relaxed his jaw, revealing a full, wide and decidedly feminine mouth. Del’s hands, which he usually hid under his desk, were downright petite, and featured slim and tapered fingers. The signs had been so clear.

Or perhaps, Jon thought, he was hallucinating and needed some serious therapy. But before he called Dr. Phil, Jon decided to satisfy his curiosity, even if it cost him his job. He just had to wait for the right opportunity to do so.

And so, Jon sat in his cubicle, clutching the print-out in the dark and quiet office. In his mind, he ran through his plan again. He knew it back to front. He had everything he needed. He glanced at his watch again. It was nearly six o’ clock. Now, if the phone would only ring.

At 6:05p.m., the phone finally rang. Jon’s eyes nearly popped out of his skull.

“Editorial, this is Jon,” he said, his voice cracking with stress.

“Your review’s done,” Del barked over the line. “Haul your ass down here quick. I’ve got other places to be.”

“Right away, Del!” Jon replied. The response went unheard. Del hung up before Jon had made a sound.

Jumping to his feet, Jon reached into a desk drawer and removed a small white bottle. Uncorking it, he poured liquid into one hand and rubbed his palms together. He slapped himself lightly on the cheeks and ran his hands through his hair.

“Here goes nothing, and everything,” Jon said. He returned the bottle to the drawer and left his cubicle.

Through the darkness, Jon treaded the path to the place in which he’d spent so much of his career at Construction Scene Monthly. In minutes, he stood before the door bearing a brass name plate. “Del Phipps, Editor,” it read. Jon knocked.

“Enter!” called Del from inside.

Jon opened the door. Del, clad in a dark gray suit and yellow polka-dotted tie, sat reading a manuscript at his desk. After a moment or two, he looked up at Jon.

“For Christ’s sake,” Del snapped, “sit down. I haven’t got all night.”

Jon hesitated. “Del, one favor? Could I close the door? A job performance review is confidential. I’m afraid someone might hear.”

Del tapped a pen impatiently on his desk blotter. “By all means, go ahead. We wouldn’t want the janitors to hear. They might spontaneously learn to understand English.”

Jon closed the door and took his seat. Del opened a file folder and removed the papers inside.

“This is going to be short and sweet,” said Del, scanning the pages. “You’re a hard worker and an asset to our team, blah-blah-blah, However, you have---heh. . .hehhhh. . .” Del’s nostrils flared. He squinted.

Jon leaned forward.

Del rubbed his nose and cleared his throat. “Excuse me. As I was saying, you have a tendency to be unfocused at times. While you’re maker fewer errors---hehh, ahh-a. . .” Del’s eyes narrowed again. His mouth hung open and that full lower lips quivered.

“Is there something wrong, Del?” Jon asked.

Del tugged at his nose. “Do you smell that? Are you wearing. . .hehh. . .Old Spice?”

Jon folded his arms and sniffed. “I don’t smell anything. And I never wear after- shave.”

“Hehh. . .heh. . .hehhhh. . .” Del’s nose twitched and his lips quivered madly.

Jon inched his chair closer to Del’s desk. “If you’re not up to this, we can do it tomorrow.”

Del shuffled some papers. “Don’t be ridiculous. I’m fine. Now, features. You’ve handled the letters column well. But. . .hehh. . .hee. . .humhehh. . .” Tears ran out from under Del’s glasses.

Jon just sat and watched.

Del pressed a forefinger under his nostrils. When this failed to ease the tickle, he began to fan his face in a way Jon had only seen his hayfever-stricken Aunt Melba do back in Wisconsin. Del struggled heroically, but soon, his nose overcame him.

“HHHEEE-CHOO! HHHEEE-CHOO! HEE-CHOO! HEE-CHOO! ” Del slumped over his desk in a convulsion of sneezing. “HEEEEE-CHOOOO! HEE-CHOOOO!”

Jon, grinning widely, locked his hands behind his head and leaned back in his chair. He hadn’t imagined them! These were the exact same sneezes---utterly, distinctly female!

Five minutes later, Del stopped sneezing. Mouth agape and panting, he raised his head and looked at Jon. Jon stood up.

“I know,” Jon said. “I’m fired.”

“N-no,” Del sputtered. He removed his glasses, revealing a pair of wide and soft blue eyes. He reached up, grabbed a forelock and pulled off what turned out to be a wig. Long, auburn hair flowed down to Del’s shoulders. “He” got up and removed “his” jacket.

“Del?” Jon asked, gulping air. “You going to hit me?”

“It’s Delia, and no,” she said, moving around the desk to stand before Jon. Her voice, an octave higher, was warm and smoky. She pulled off her tie and unbuttoned her shirt.

Jon did likewise. “You know, I suspected. . .” Fumbling with the buttons, he simply ripped them open.

Delia, free of her shirt, shed her undershirt as well. A snug Ace bandage encircled her chest. “I know. I saw you staring at me. Help me with this.”

Jon’s anxious fingers pulled the pin holding the bandage in place and unwrapped the fabric. Out popped two grapefruit-sized breasts, featuring round, quarter-sized nipples that were the color of Delia’s lips. Her skin was rosy-pink from rubbing against the bandage. When Jon realized he was cradling the woman’s breasts in his hands, he recoiled.

Delia put her hands on her hips. “Disappointed?”

“No, not at all,” said Jon, inching up to her again. “This is just so---”

Delia grabbed Jon’s face and kissed him deeply. Jon leaned against her, wrapping her in his arms. He was just beginning to enjoy the kiss when Delia tensed and pulled away.

“Oh my God!” she exclaimed, running her fingers over her lips. “The beard! I am so sorry!” She tugged futilely at the goatee. “This glue is strong stuff. The remover is in my makeup kit, and of course, that’s down in my car.”

Jon pulled Delia close again. He kissed her. “It’s okay. Weird, but okay.”

“I suppose I owe you an apology,” she whispered into his ear. “I haven’t been very nice to you.”

Jon laughed. “That’s like saying the Grand Canyon is a really big hole in the ground.”

“I didn’t want to be so mean,” said Delia, kissing him. “I’ve always liked you, but of course I couldn’t show it. I used hostility to mask my attraction.”

“You did a hell of a job, girlfriend. And now, the obvious question. Why the masquerade?”

“The obvious answer: to get this job. Delia applied three times, with no luck. Del applies once and boom! He’s on the payroll. Hurray for Equal Opportunity Employers.”

Jon felt Delia’s hands unhook his belt and unzip his fly. He returned the favor. Pausing only to giggle, the pair pulled off their shoes and socks and stepped out of their slacks and underwear. Jon stretched out on the carpet. Delia laid on top of him and rubbed her face in his hair.

“Jon, may I ask you an obvious question?”

“Sure,” was his muffled reply. His face was between her breasts.

“Is. . .heh. . .is---hehh, heehh. . .it O-Old Spice?”

Jon could feel Delia’s breasts heaving. He looked up at her and smiled. “Damn straight!”

“HEE-CHOO! HEE-CHOO, -CHOO! HEE-CHOO! HEE-CHOO!” Delia launched into an epic sneezing fit, coating Jon’s face and chest with a light, warm spray. The fit carried on for over ten minutes.

Between the spray, the gyrations and the sound at such close range, Jon was soon rock-hard. When Delia finally stopped, she was gasping for breath.

“You,” she panted, “sneaky bastard.”

Jon gently brushed away the tears streaming down her face. “Sorry. I just had to know.”

Delia mounted him. “Never mind. Believe it or not, I kind of like it. It clears my head.”

“Well boss, this has been a surprisingly pleasant review,” Jon said, taking hold of Delia’s hips and settling into a rhythm. “I have just two more questions. One, how long do you plan to keep up this charade? And two, do I get a raise?”

Delia, working on top of him, wrapped her arms around Jon’s neck. “Two answers. One, for as long as you can keep your mouth shut. And two, no, the budget won’t allow it. But it will allow you certain fringe benefits---as long as you keep your mouth shut.”

Jon moaned appreciatively, for various reasons.