Part III of How to Fool Your Way into the Upper Echelon in Six Easy Steps completes our little story. Jane hopes you have enjoyed it. *Any resemblance to anyone living or dead, is purely coincidental. :-) Catch parts I and II here and here.
The next four months were heaven. Ken spent so much time at the apartment Marilyn had to make up a bed on the couch for him. He was a quiet guest, no snoring, no bumbling around in the dark, and no stealing food from the fridge. Eventually, of course, he moved from the sofa to Marilyn's room...where they spent many a late night working-- when they weren't giggling, or munching pizza, or doing other things.
Marilyn's days at the office got shorter and shorter; she was often seen-- well before the 5:00 rush-- running down the hall to catch the elevator...lugging a bulging briefcase, dangling her shoes in her right hand, sliding that last three feet of hallway...left palm flat out to cushion her slam into the wall -- and catching it just above that all-important down button.
Progress on the book was steady. Day after day, for weeks on end. Consulting with Elsa, searching for graphic artwork, changing the page layout over and over again, writing and rewriting, until, at last, it was done. The last page, with a comment from Elsa, summed it all up;
"Women don't really want to get ahead on false pretenses, do they? Of course not. It's just good sense to help mother nature along, that’s all!"
And, while Ken and Marilyn nipped at their cheeks to keep from laughing out loud, Elsa continued to treat the whole issue as seriously as her weekly trips to the nail salon for her French manicure. When their laughter burst forth, (how could they remain somber when Elsa's false pretenses lecture was given with a serious frown, a pointed finger, and an "I dare you to disagree" glare in her startling blue eyes?), Elsa lectured them, using her most motherly voice. Marilyn had to bite both lips and blink very fast to keep from telling Elsa she sounded just like-- her own mother!
"This book is going to save girls a lot of heartache," Elsa told them. "Starting with me."
"Because your heart’s been broken by some scoundrel who wouldn’t take you seriously?" Ken asked, squeezing Marilyn’s hand.
Marilyn choked on another giggle. She leaned back against the loveseat’s soft cushions, sending Ken a "we might be in trouble," kind of glance.
"Maybe it will make you rich," Ken said, meeting Elsa's eyes with a smile. He was all for keeping Elsa happy. So much so that he actually took the book to the top-- to Darrin McAffee himself.
And once more, to Marilyn’s shock, Elsa came out smelling like a well-tended garden of roses, and pansies, and numerous other sweet-smelling flowers. Because when Darrin McAffee read the book, he laughed himself out of his shoes and told Ken to offer Elsa six figures!
"He’s taking us to dinner," Ken shouted over the phone to Marilyn when he got the news. "Seven-- tonight. Full limousine service. Champagne and everything. Darrin wants to shake your hands. Both of you."
"I never doubted it for a moment," Elsa said, just a touch of smugness in the tilt of her head. "I always knew it would work."
"Oh sure," Marilyn murmured, "Of course. I never doubted it, either." She was lost in trying to decide what to wear, and a bit shell-shocked because meeting Darrin McAffee was NOT what she’d imagined -- ever! It made her think Ken was far more important at McAffee and McGuire than she was at Smith, Smith and Smythe.
"Darrin McAffee is THE most eligible bachelor in Philadelphia," Elsa said. "Did you know that, Marilyn? And now he wants to meet me--- because all the things I wrote in my book are true."
Marilyn stared in shock at Elsa. "You knew?" she said. "You knew Darrin McAffee was single?"
"This really is IT," Elsa turned and strolled down the hall to the bathroom, ignoring Marilyn's question. "I can feel it in my earlobes. Rings on our fingers and bells on our toes--ho,ho!"
Marilyn stood stock still, dress held to her bosom, mouth in an O. After a moment she realized she couldn't pursue this now. Now she had to get ready for the most important date of her life. Not only was she going to meet Darrin McAffee-- who trumped all the Smiths and might even be more important than Smythe-- but she was guaranteed a surprise. Before hanging up the phone, Ken had said, "Put on your prettiest dress, Miss M (she loved it when he called her Miss M). I have even better news for you. If you're willing, you may be starting a new career tomorrow."
A new career? What new career? Marilyn couldn't stop wondering what Ken meant. A senior editor's job at McAffee and McGuire? In an office right next to his? Something even bigger? What? What could it be?
With shakey hands, she stood before her dresser mirror and drew on the one little black dress she owned (thank you, busy days and happy nights--it fit!). Twirling like a little girl, she gave her image a nod. Not bad. The unruly hair made her look like Little Orphan Annie, curls bursting out in various angles all over her head, a look she hated, but, Ken had expressed fondness for more than once, so...she was content to let it go. And, besides, what was she to do on such short notice, anyway?
As she began applying her make-up, the reality of what this dinner date meant hit her like a lightning bolt. If Darrin McAffee liked Elsa...then everything in the book would be true! And everyone in MinnowLake would credit Elsa with the brains behind the book. Certainly, Elsa would paint that picture--in all of her interviews-- as the brains behind the book. It would be a runaway best seller, and...Marilyn shook her head wildly and forced herself not to think about Elsa any further.
She turned her attention to her eyeliner, but couldn't keep her hands still enough to get it to slide evenly across her eyelid. Applying lipstick was even worse; that ended up smeared across her chin. Not thinking about the book made her think about Ken. And the 'new career.' It was too much. That's all, just too much. Finally, in frustration, she burst into the bathroom where Elsa was fluffing, curling, and painting herself beautiful, all the while humming, "Someday my Prince Will Come…."
"Marilyn, Marilyn," Elsa took Marilyn into her motherly embrace. "This won’t do, now will it? Did you learn nothing from my book? Ken Penny loves the Marilyn of the curly hair and pouty lips. YOU are lucky enough not to need window dressing."
"But, what new career?" Marilyn whined. "I don’t want a new career. I just want Ken."
"And you shall have him," Elsa assured her, with a little pat. "Now, can you zip me up? Do you think this lipstick is too mauvish…should I got with the Wild Berry?"
Marilyn zipped her up and muttered something about the lipstick color. This was Elsa, forever worried about her own problems, always so sure yours were nothing in comparison.
Ken arrived with the limousine, at seven on the dot, and they were off. He complimented them both, pulling Marilyn close. Marilyn looked across the seat at Elsa, still humming, and pinched herself. It couldn’t be true. This was exactly what they’d left MinnowLake for; it had to be a dream.
The restaurant was buzzing with activity when they arrived 20 minutes later. This was upscale in ways Marilyn had only read about. The lighting was so soft, all the women looked 25. Each table was set with linen napkins and candles. Everyone, from the couples mingling at the bar on the other end of the room, to the men and women moving about the enormous dining room, were dressed in sequins and satin, or elegant three-piece Italian suits and tuxedos. Marilyn felt lost and bland, until Ken leaned down and kissed her. "You're the most beautiful woman here," he whispered in her ear.
They checked their wraps and paused in the arch of the dining room doorway. Ken pointed across the marble floor of the foyer to a man sitting alone at the bar, completely at ease, sipping what appeared to be champagne, waving occasionally to people about the room. It was Darrin McAffee-- the most eligible bachelor in all of Philadelphia, according to Elsa. There, in the flesh. All of him-- squashed into a black tux that made him look like a well-fed penguin, his completely bald head shining like a full moon, and two caterpillar eyebrows crawling across his forehead. For one startling moment, Marilyn could think only of Curly Joe from the Three Stooges. She gulped once and peeked at Elsa.
"Ladies," Darrin was calling to them, waving at them to approach.
Ken hurried them across the floor.
"Life is too short to mince words," Darrin said when they reached the bar. "You have my admiration," he immediately grabbed Marilyn’s hand and pumped it up and down vigorously several times. Then, he turned to Elsa and pulled her into a gigantic bear hug.
"YOU!" he exclaimed, enthusiasm pouring from his smile. "I am in your debt. You must be the funniest woman since Mae West."
Marilyn sighed. It was going to be all right. Darrin McAffee might look like a character from a cartoon show, but he was surely the warmest, friendliest man she had ever met. She waited for Elsa’s retort to his comment, but—Elsa, as usual, had the situation well in hand.
"You have yet to find out how funny I really am," she smiled offering her gloved hand for a kiss.
Dinner went swimmingly. Swimmingly being one of Darrin’s favorite expressions, it would seem. He declared the appetizers swimmingly delicious, the dinner swimmingly spicy and the dessert swimmingly rich. While he and Elsa exchanged small talk, Marilyn moved her chair closer to Ken and tried to pry information from him on his mysterious comment about her ‘new career.’ Darrin was so entranced by Elsa, any offer of a job was not going to be part of tonight's conversation, that much seemed certain.
"Tell me," she prodded him in the side for the tenth time, ignoring the chocolate truffle dessert in front of her.
Ken leaned over and kissed her ear, then her cheek, then her mouth. It was a soft, sweet kiss that left Marilyn weak kneed, as usual.
"Come with me," he winked at her.
They excused themselves, although Darrin and Elsa took very little notice of their leaving, and strolled onto a wide deck at the back of the restaurant. A summer sky sparkled like fireworks above them.
Ken faced Marilyn and took her hands in his. "Marilyn Bunker," he said, "will you start a new career with me? Will you forsake Smith, Smith and Smythe, and become my wife?" While he spoke, he reached into his right pocket and took out a small jeweler’s box.
Marilyn screamed. What else could she do? The excited sound was lost in the music of the band inside the restaurant, but Ken heard it. He laughed out loud and opened the jeweler’s box. A full carat, pear-shaped diamond ring shone out like a slice of the heaven's above.
"Yes!" Marilyn breathed softer, forcing herself not to swoon, remembering her first glimpse of this wonderful man and how she'd forced herself not to swoon then, too. "Yes, Ken Penny, I will marry you."
"I promise you a lifetime of bestsellers," Ken said, placing the ring on Marilyn’s finger. "From Dr. Seuss to Masters and Johnson."
The references were not lost on Marilyn; she saw babies and...candlelit dinners..and nights that lasted forever. Somehow, the sound of the band disappeared; all she could hear were bells and whistles. Then, like a dark cloud, an ugly, nagging thought intruded. She pulled away from Ken and gazed seriously into his face.
"I need to know one thing," she said.
"Can you cook?" she asked.
Ken’s licked his lips. He blinked once, then gulped. "Nooo," he said. "Can’t you?"
Marilyn wilted in his arms. "No, not a lick. I make omelets in several different varieties, but…Elsa’s always done the cooking for us."
"Well," Ken held her tighter. "I hear Smith, Smith and Smythe have an extensive list of cookbooks. Maybe...we could get some at cost."
Marilyn would have hit him with her gloves, if she’d brought gloves. Somewhere far off she heard Elsa’s voice calling her, but Ken was kissing her again-- an action that blocked out all else--even Elsa's shrill tones.
"Marilyn," the shrilling sound came closer, "I just thought of another book. ‘From Popcorn and Peanuts to Champagne and Caviar’…what do you think? Marilyn are you out there?"
"It’s a fabulous idea. Tell me all about it, dear," Marilyn heard Darrin’s voice coming up behind Elsa. "I love your ideas."
Ken and Marilyn burst into laughter. "Love," they said together, "has nothing to do with it!"
But, really, love had everything to do with it.
And Darrin and Elsa lived happily ever after, in love with all of Elsa’s quirky ideas, while Marilyn and Ken lived happily ever after in New Jersey, where they moved to get away from Elsa’s crazy ideas. And everyone in MinnowLake learned how to read and loved Elsa so much for making their little town famous, they named the local beauty shop after her, calling it "Satin Ribbons for Silken Tresses," prompting Elsa to write a new book in her continuing series of self-improvement titles, called: "Satin and Silk: That's What Little Girls are Made of." To which you may, dear reader, infer whatever you like. The End