1 The Office Party

Part - 1

I guess I was one of those kids who psychologists might say suffers from low self-esteem. It was probably accurate since I don't really recall being good at anything except tinkering with computers. And I never thought that was much of a talent, either. Weren't most kids growing up in the years around the turn of the century good at that?

Not knowing what to do with my life after high school, I enrolled in a two-year program in computer technology at the local community college. During those two years, I led a life largely focused on my schooling and helping mom out with her cosmetics marketing company, which was based right in our home.

At age 20, I received my certificate in CT, but at first, put off searching for a job. The idea of holding down a job frightened me immensely since I had never worked outside of the house; I had grown terribly shy and had no real friends. Yet, I was content: mom and I were great friends and companions and I loved our time together. I spent lots of time designing all of the computer programs that she used for her cosmetics business that consisted of recruiting and supporting more than 80 women who sold the cosmetics through house parties throughout a five-state area.

"You're such a great help to me, Shelly," she'd say regularly. "I don't know what I'd do without you, dear."

As was our practice, I would kiss her and hug her in reply, and our hugs would last well over a minute. I felt so warm and comfortable in her arms. I had never kissed another woman in my life, except for grandma, Aunt Maryann, and my cousin Amy. Of course, I was a virgin and had yet to date a girl. What girl would want me, I wondered.

My name is Shelton McBride, but mom always called me Shelly, even when introducing me to the "associates," the term that the large cosmetics company used for the women who sold their products in the field. Often times, mom would prefer a woman who was having problems navigating the computer program to me, telling them, ��Let our technician Shelly assist you."

Now, here's where I have to confess something: I had a voice that was soft and in a high register, and since I spent most of my life around women, my inflections apparently were feminine. Invariably the women would call me "miss" and "ma'am," and I would not correct them. When I told mom about that, she replied.

"Don't correct them, dear. They feel more comfortable talking to another woman, so just let it be."

I didn't argue with mom on that, since it would have been embarrassing trying to explain that I was a guy. The fact was, too, that I sort of liked being a "woman" in my work. My life truly had revolved around the feminine life; working with mom I had gotten to know and understand cosmetics, including developing skills in applying makeup. Mom had sent me to a two-week crash course in makeup, which was required of all the associates. Of course, I was the only male among 25 women at the classes in suburban Chicago. I finished at the top of the class and was given a $500 gift certificate for (what else?) cosmetics.

To keep my skills, mom regularly sent me out with one of her most active "associates," a middle-aged woman who still did fashion modeling as a sideline, to assist at house parties. I would demonstrate the products at parties, which nearly always were in the most upscale neighborhoods in Chicagoland. I learned the women loved being addressed as "dear" or "darling," and they loved it when I worked on them.

"You have such lovely and gentle hands," one older woman said to me at a recent party. "You're better than any of the girls who've worked on me before, Shelly."

"Well, you have such a sweet face, too," I'd coo in reply.

"Ooh you make me blush, Shelly," Mildred said. "If you weren't. ah. ah so young, I think we could be lovers."

"Are you flirting with me, Mildred?" I smiled back.

I had many moments like this, it seemed. The women all loved me probably because they thought I was gay and harmless. Several times I was told I was a "pretty man," which caused me to blush.

The truth was I didn't understand myself; I had never had any sexual experience with a woman and frankly, I was afraid of how I'd do in bed. I know I'd be wary of undressing before a woman and displaying my rather puny body with its soft, pale hairless features. Didn't most women want a real man, a man with muscles, and broad shoulders? I had none such manly features; I only needed to shave my face every other day.

After I finished my community college course, mom suggested I try to get a job outside of the house.

"Why mom?" I asked. "Don't you need me here?"

"Yes, I do, Shelly, but I think it's important you get some experience working outside of the house.

"You need to get out into the world. You're so sheltered here, dear."

"But mom, I'm happy here. And who'll do my work for you?"

"You've got everything running smoothly now, and I was going to hire Maryann to be my associate anyway," she explained. "Maryann would like to get out of doing house parties, and she'd been such a loyal associate, I feel I'd like to have her join me here. I know you like her."

"I do, mom," I agreed. "Besides, I'll try to live here if you want me to and can iron out any computer issues in my off-time from work."

Mom and I were together in bed, as we often slept in the same bed at night. Don't get me wrong; we didn't do the sexual act. We just hugged and kissed a bit and usually fell asleep in each other's arms. I loved waking up next to her in the morning.

"Don't tell anyone we sleep together, Shelly, because they might get the wrong impression," she warned.

"Maybe we shouldn't sleep in the same bed, mom," I'd suggest. I realized boys didn't sleep with their moms once they get much beyond being infants.

"Don't be silly, dear," she scoffed. "We're just being affectionate. There's nothing wrong with that. It's just our prudish society. You love me, don't you Shelly?"

"Oh mom, you know I do," with that I snuggled tightly against her, moving my face onto her firm, sweet breasts.

These were magical moments for me. Mom was a real beauty; she had also modeled as a younger woman, and maintained her figure, although she had gained a few pounds to grow more voluptuous and, to me, more desirable. You probably have figured out that I often ejaculated during these evenings, and mom would also grow hot and excited and orgasm.

"That's Ok, dear Shelly," she said after I sent semen flowing onto her thighs. "You're doing what comes naturally."

About six weeks after my May graduation from community college, I reluctantly began searching for a computer job somewhere in the Chicago area.

"Normally, we'd have no trouble placing a student as talented as you are in a job," said George Dimitropolous, the placement counselor at the community counselor. "But with this recession, Shelton, it seems to no one is hiring."

"I understand, but keep me posted if something shows up, Ok?"

"You'll be on the top of my list, young man," he assured me. "Your record was top-rate in school and you've also had experience in your mother's home business. That should help."

"I've also developed a website for mom and got her into social media," I said. It was not on Dimitropolous's records for me. I told him to look it up, giving him the URL.

"Wow, that's a terrific site, Shelton," he said, visibly impressed. "Did you use a template, or did you design it from scratch?"

"From scratch."

"Well, you must have a creative eye, too," he said. "That's rare combination has both technical and creative skills."

You can believe I blushed at his praise. I seem to blush so often in my life. I wonder why.

Within three days, the counselor called and said he had a lead. "It's with a nonprofit organization with a good reputation," he said. "The pay may not be the greatest, but it'll be a great experience and their benefits are top-rate."

Women's Equality Illinois (WEI) was located in a narrow 12-story building on N. Wabash adjacent to the noisy EL overhead in the Chicago Loop. I took an ancient elevator to the 10th Floor, its creaks and groans making me nervous. Added to the disappointment of the setting was the smell that permeated from the pizza parlor on the first floor and mixed with the mustiness of the old building. It opened onto hallways that looked like they belonged to the 1930s, with white and black tile floors, dirty grey marbled wainscoting, and dim globe lamps overhead. The entrance to WEI was right across from the elevator, and I opened the door, its cloudy glass window identifying it as my destination.

What I saw amazed me; the room was a hub of activity with women of all ages busy on phones, at computers, and talking earnestly. A young woman in a Chicago Bears sweatshirt and with unruly hair was apparently the receptionist and she looked up after a moment of heavy concentration on a computer screen and said, "Yes, may I help you, miss?"

"Ah," I stuttered, trying to make my voice sound masculine. "I'm . . . ah . . . here to see Carolyn Eubanks."

The girl, obviously near-sighted, took a closer look at me. "Oh, I'm sorry sir. It's just that we see so few men up here."

"That's Ok," I nodded, smiling at her to show her I took no offense. Actually, I do get mistaken for a girl sometimes, particularly when I don't tie my hair back in a ponytail.

Carolyn Eubanks had gained renown in the state as perhaps the key leader in the women's equality movement. I had seen her on the TV news occasionally, either speaking before a state legislative committee or at rallies. While she was often portrayed in the media as a strident, harsh talking woman, she proved to be warm, matronly, and pleasant in person.

I was led back to her office through a haphazard maze of desks, with their occupants giving me a fairly close examination. Perhaps, too, they were unused to seeing a man here. What struck me too was that all of the desks seemed to be old and unmatched, as if they were accumulated through many rummage sales. Ms. Eubanks's office also looked like it came out of a 1930s movie, and she had no privacy at all. Windows composed the top half of all her walls, including the view of a dirty brick building viewable across an alley through the outside windows.

"You must excuse the looks of this place, Mr. McBride," she said after directing me to an old-fashioned wooden office chair, which proved to be surprisingly comfortable even without padding.

"We're in the midst of the referendum campaign here, you know."

"Yes, mom and I have been following it," I said with a smile.

"Apparently you support us?"

"Oh yes, very much so, or else I wouldn't have come in. Besides, my mom is so excited when I told her I had an interview for a job here. She's been a supporter for a long time, and I think she's sent you donations in the past, too."

"Thank your mother for that, Mr. McBride, or may I call you Shelton?" she asked kindly".

"Shelton's fine," I nodded.

She explained that the agency's IT girl had quit suddenly, leaving it in a bind, since the agency had a highly integrated computer system that required much coordination among the 20 employees and tons of volunteers who worked there.

"You come highly recommended by the college, and I've looked over the website you have created for the cosmetics business. Very impressive," she said.

"Thank you."

She called in a youngish, heavyset woman named Penny Hartshorn who was the agency's business manager and human relations director. I felt a pang of fear when she first addressed me with curt, sharp phrases. Oh my, I thought, I'm doomed. This woman won't like me.

As much as Ms. Eubanks put me at ease, Penny made me tense and nervous, and I realized how my voice raised in pitch and grew hurried. Penny quizzed me on several points involving computer knowledge, and I had no trouble answering them. Then, she explained the computer system, the rattling off the names of the programs the agency used. Fortunately, I knew them all and felt I could handle them.

"I'm sure I won't have any problems with those programs," I said when she finished. "I worked with them all."

Penny could hide her skepticism. "Are you sure you can handle these, young man? Or, are you just overconfident? We can't hire someone who's just boasting and then falls flat on their face in the first week. We need help now."

I was nonplussed at the meanness in her voice, but Carolyn Eubanks was quick to intervene. "I'm sure Shelton will do just fine, Penny. He comes highly recommended."

"Well, I'll be watching him closely if we hire him," Penny said. "You know he'll be the first man ever on the payroll here. I'm not sure that'll be popular with the women here, Carolyn. We have to think about morale. Having a man here isn't good."

"Penny, I know your feelings on this, but you know we are governed by the same anti-discrimination laws everyone else is and if Mr. McBride is best suited for the job, we should hire him," the director said.

"Of course, Carolyn, but it's something we should think about," Penny said, getting up to leave.

"Thank you for coming to Penny. I'll talk with you later," Ms. Eubanks said, not unkindly.

Ms. Eubanks asked me a few more questions, particularly hitting upon the fact that I had no work history outside of the home. I explained how closely mom and I worked and how successful her business had become. Ms. Eubanks was aware of the products we sold and agreed that among all of the cosmetics companies that hired women to sell for them our company was one of the most reputable.

"I love your company's face lotion in particular," she said.

Finally, she asked me how I would feel being the only man in the office.

"I should be all right," I told her honestly. "I seem to have been around women most of my life, and I have to admit that working with mom I've learned lots."

"I'm sure you have, but some of the girls may give you a hard time and you seem quiet and reserved. Are you sure you can handle it?"

"Ma'am," I said. "I'm used to being treated as someone different and as long as I am busy with the computer stuff I'm sure I won't let it bother me."

She nodded and I left with the promise that she'd call me first thing the next morning with an answer. "If we agree to hire you, and you accept, we'll keep you plenty busy, I'm sure. I'd like you to start the next day, if possible," she said. "We're so far behind here."

"I'm sure I could start now if I had to," I said, smiling. "But about the pay and benefits?"

"We advertised the potential starting rates in our advertisement, and you saw those," she began. "Your rate might be in the higher level between those rates if we agree to hire you. That's not as high as you might get in a corporate office, but it's the best we can afford, as I'm sure you understand."

I nodded, fully aware that wages in such agencies were bound to be lower than many in the private sector.

"But we try to make up for it in benefits, Shelton, and have one of the better health insurance plans, we think, plus we still maintain a traditional pension plan, though it's modest," she smiled. "None of this 401 (k) stuff, which has proven to be so unreliable."

It was at 8:30 the next morning, while I was still on my first cup of coffee that Penny called me and said I was hired. She quoted me the pay I would be getting if I accepted. It was nearly at the top of the published scale. There was no congratulatory sense to her call, no phrase like "we'll be glad to have you join us." She was all business. I was uneasy: she didn't sound like she wanted me in the office at all but was doing so just because Ms. Eubanks said she should.

Yet, I loved the idea of working for an agency with such a great mission, and for pretty good wages and benefits to boot. And so, by mid-July, I began working at Women's Equality Illinois — the only man on the scene.

So eager was I to start that I agreed to come into the office at 1 p.m. that same afternoon to complete all the details and paperwork required to start a new job, as well as to get acquainted and to set up my desk area so I could begin with a running start the next day.

Ms. Eubanks was enthusiastic when she welcomed me that afternoon, but I could see she was busy, and within 60 seconds I was handed over to the dour Penny for a tour of the office. Ms. Eubanks did take time to say: "By the way, this is that last time I want you to call me Ms. Eubanks. From now on, I'm Carolyn. We call everyone by their first name around here and you'll be Shelton. Ok?"

"Thank you, Ms., sorry, Carolyn." We both laughed. Penny scowled. I wondered why she had a name like "Penny." Shouldn't that belong to a girl with a cheerful face?

At first, glance, seeing the haphazard layout of the huge room, with its random collection of desks and makeshift dividers, I wondered how these women got any work done. It was a maze of telephone cables with rubber strips covering wires that ran from desk-to-desk. The room itself covered the entire 10th floor of the long narrow building, with private offices located in both the front and back of the building.

Yet, I was amazed to see that each desk was equipped with an up-to-date computer station, in which laptops were linked to large flat-screen monitors.

"Wow, this is amazing, you have some of the best equipment I've seen," I said to Penny, as she showed me around the office, introducing me to the staff, usually with a curt "this is Shelton McBride. He's your new IT contact, and this is …" giving me the person's first name and a brief description of her job. She hardly gave me a chance to shake the woman's hand before hustling me off to the next person.

"We had a benefactor from one of the city's big IT outfits who made a donation specifically for upgrading our system," she explained.

Later I learned that virtually all of the rest of the office equipment in the place was second-hand, often hand-me-downs from other companies or government agencies that have either gone out of existence or upgraded their own furniture. This fact impressed me greatly since it appeared the agency believed in spending money to become more effective, rather than to put on a show. From what mom told me, WEI had become a powerful, respected force for women's rights in the State of Illinois, and I was proud to be on the staff of Women's Equality Illinois, even if I was the only man.

You'd be surprised at how quickly I got to know all the women staffers and volunteers, and how quickly I seemed to be accepted by them. My job began that first afternoon by sending an email to all staffers introducing myself. I wrote them all, stating that beginning the next day they were to contact me whenever they had problems with their computers, cell phones, or system network. I listed my email address and cell phone number, inviting them to text message requests.

When I checked in at my computer at my desk in the office the next morning, there already were nine messages by personnel seeking help. Shortly thereafter, I got text messages from three workers.

I decided to begin with the requests based on the order the requests were made. To put everyone's mind at ease, I emailed them to say I'd attempt to be at each station by the end of the workday, and that if their problem required priority attention they should get their immediate supervisor to email me to that effect. "Thank you for your patience, Shelton," I signed off.

The word day was to start at 9 a.m. and continue at 6 p.m., with an hour free for lunch. Hoping to make a good impression — and to avoid any delays so typical of the Chicago transit system — I left our North Side bungalow at 7:30 a.m. Though there was no dress code — except to dress appropriately when representing WEI in public — I wore pressed khaki pants, a blue blazer, a blue button-down collared shirt with a satiny sheen, women's black knee-high stockings, and my moccasin-toed brown slip-one with tassels. I thought I look pretty snazzy, to tell the truth.

Oh, those women's stockings! I had grown to love wearing them after I realized one day I didn't have any clean black socks to wear one day. I was scheduled to do a presentation to a group of potential associates that mom was recruiting to sell her products. "Here, Shelton, wear these," mom suggested, handing me a pair from her own dresser. "They'll just look like men's black socks."

"Your feet look so pretty in them," mom said, as I put them on my feet.

As I completed smoothing the socks up to my slender calf, I held my leg up, seductively waving my stocking foot. There was something erotic in the silky feeling of the material on my leg. I realized my legs and feet were as sexy and feminine as any I'd seen in advertisements for female stockings. I couldn't help thinking my legs were those of a pretty girl's.

Mom knows me like a book, you know, and she sensed my discomfort. "Oh honey, don't worry. Once you have your pants and shoes on, no one will know what you're wearing," she said.

"I know mom," I said, blushing.

The truth was I loved how my feet and legs looked and began wondering how they'd look in a pair of women's sandals. It got my mind racing now: Might I not look pretty hot in a skirt, maybe even a mini-skirt, or one of those short denim skirts I'd seen some of the girls wear?

At work that morning, I was deep in concentration at my computer when I heard a cheery good morning from Theresa Cortez who arrived at her work station, across from mine in the maze of desks.

"Hi Theresa," I mumbled, still staring into my screen.

"Welcome to WEI," Theresa said, her voice welcoming and friendly.

"Thank you, I'm glad to be here."

I looked up from the computer to see Theresa, a short, compact girl with a gentle smile on a face with sparkling black eyes, framed by dark bangs and hair flowing down to her shoulders. My only word for her was "cute."

What shocked me was that she was wearing a denim mini-skirt and a scooped neck purplish blouse and short sleeves that displayed her bosom, complete with a hint of cleavage. Strangely I was not sexually aroused by the sight of this lovely young woman; what bothered me was that I suddenly envisioned myself in such an outfit.

There were a few awkward moments as I tried to get my mind to override my sudden fantasies, but somehow I was able to exchange pleasantries with Theresa without sounding, I hoped, too weird. She must not have noticed anything, since she soon became my closest friend at WEI. I never dated her, if that's what you're thinking. She had a fiancée with whom she was deeply committed. She must have thought I was gay, which was ok by me since I was sure I wasn't gay. We just became confidants, gossiping about workmates, about our families, and even about our own futures.

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