The Hating Game Page 10

Fat Little Dick stands to go, and selects another slice of cake. Helene follows him, shaking her head. The room once again explodes into noise and the cake box is dragged across the table. Joshua stands by the door, and when I stubbornly remain seated, he slinks off.

“Looks like you’ve got some work to do,” Danny says to me. I nod and gulp and wave good-bye to the room in general, too overwhelmed to make a graceful exit. I break into a run when I leave the room, taking the stairs two at a time. I see Mr. Bexley’s door close as I hotfoot it into Helene’s and skid to a halt, swinging the door shut behind me and banging it closed with my backside.

“What’s the reporting line?”

“You’d be Josh’s boss, if that’s what you’re asking.”

A sensation of pure elation floods me. Joshua’s BOSS. He’d have to do everything I say, including treating me with some respect. I am at risk of wetting my pants right about now.

“It’s got disaster written all over it, but I want you to have the job.”

“Disaster?” I sink into a chair. “Why?”

“You and Josh do not work well together. Chalk and cheese. Adding in a power dynamic like that . . .” She clucks doubtfully.

“But I can do the job.”

“Of course, darling. I want you to have the job.”

My excitement grows as we talk about the role. Another restructure is looming, but I’d have a direct hand in it this time. I could save jobs instead of cutting them. The responsibility is greater and the raise is substantial. I could go home more often. I could get a new car.

“You should know, Bexley wants Josh for the job. We had a big fight over it.”

“If Joshua becomes my boss I will have to resign.” It comes out of my mouth instantly. It’s like what someone in a movie would say.

“All the more reason for us to get you the job, darling. If I had my way we would have just announced your promotion.”

I nibble my thumb. “But how is it going to be a fair process? Joshua and Mr. Bexley are going to sabotage me.”

“I thought of that. An independent panel of recruitment consultants are doing the interviews. You’ll be competing on an even playing field. There’ll be applicants from outside B and G too. Probably a pretty strong field. I want you to be prepared.”

“I will be.” I hope.

“And part of the interview is a presentation. You’ll need to get started on it. They want to hear your thoughts on the future direction of B and G.”

I’m itching to get back to my desk. I need to update my CV. “Do you mind if I work on my application during my lunch breaks?”

“Darling, I don’t care if you work on it all day until it’s due. Lucy Hutton, chief operating officer, Bexley and Gamin. It sounds good, doesn’t it.”

A grin spreads across my face.

“It’s yours. I feel it.” Helene makes a motion of zipping her lip. “Now go. Get it.”

I sit at my desk and unlock my computer to open my woefully outdated CV. I’m lit up inside by this new opportunity. Everything about today has changed. Well, almost everything.

I notice a shape standing over me after I’ve been editing for several minutes. I breathe in. Spicy cedar. His belt buckle winks at me. I do not break my keystrokes.

“The job is mine, Shortcake,” Joshua’s voice says.

To stop myself from standing up and punching him in the gut I’m counting one, two, three, four . . .

“Funny, that’s what Helene just told me.” I watch his backside walk away in the glossed surface of my desk, and vow that Joshua Templeman is going to lose the most important game we’ve ever played.

Chapter 4

Off-white stripes today, and I’ve got a big red cross in my planner for Friday. I would bet a hundred dollars there’s an identical red cross in Joshua’s. Our job applications are due.

I’m half-insane from rereading my application. I’ve become so obsessed with my presentation I’ve started dreaming about it. I need a break. I lock my screen and watch with interest as Joshua does the same. We are aligned like chess players. We fold our hands. I still haven’t seen his pencil in motion.

“How You Doing, Little Lucy?” His bright tone and mild expression indicates we’re playing a game we almost never play. It’s a game called How You Doing? and it basically starts off like we don’t hate each other. We act like normal colleagues who don’t want to swirl their hands in each other’s blood. It’s disturbing.

“Great, thanks, Big Josh. How You Doing?”

“Super. Gonna go get coffee. Can I get you some tea?” He has his heavy black mug in his hand. I hate his mug.

I look down; my hand is already holding my red polka-dot mug. He’d spit in anything he made me. Does he think I’m crazy? “I think I’ll join you.”

We march purposefully toward the kitchen with identical footfalls, left, right, left, right, like prosecutors walking toward the camera in the opening credits of Law & Order. It requires me to almost double my stride. Colleagues break off conversations and look at us with speculative expressions. Joshua and I look at each other and bare our teeth. Time to act civil. Like executives.

“Ah-ha-ha,” we say to each other genially at some pretend joke. “Ah-ha-ha.”

We sweep around a corner. Annabelle turns from the photocopier and almost drops her papers. “What’s happening?”

Joshua and I nod at her and continue striding, unified in our endless game of one-upmanship. My short striped dress flaps from the g-force.

“Mommy and Daddy love you very much, kids,” Joshua says quietly so only I can hear him. To the casual onlooker he is politely chatting. A few meerkat heads have popped up over cubicle walls. It seems we’re the stuff of legend. “Sometimes we get excited and argue. But don’t be scared. Even when we’re arguing, it’s not your fault.”

“It’s just grown-up stuff,” I softly explain to the apprehensive faces we pass. “Sometimes Daddy sleeps on the couch, but it’s okay. We still love you.”

In the kitchen I am hanging my tea bag into my mug when the urge to laugh almost knocks me over like an ocean wave. I hold on to the edge of the counter and soundlessly shake.

Joshua ignores me as he moves around preparing his coffee. I look up to see his hands opening the cupboard miles above my head, and I feel the heat of his body inches from my back. It’s like sunshine. I’d forgotten that other people are warm. I can smell his skin. The urge to laugh fades.

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