The Hating Game Page 46

On the walk back I buy takeout coffee and knock gently on Helene’s door.

“Hi. Am I interrupting?”

“Yes, thank God,” she exclaims, throwing her glasses down so vigorously they bounce onto the floor. “Coffee. You’re a saint. Saint Lucy of Caffeine.”

“And that’s not all.” I take out a flat box of fancy macarons from under my arm, labeled Made in France. I’ve had them in my drawer for a while for an emergency. I’m such a kiss-ass.

“Did I say saint? I meant goddess.” She reaches into the cabinet behind her and finds a plate; it is delicate, painted with flowers and edged in gold. Of course.

“It’s so quiet out there today. I can hear a pin drop. It feels strange to not be glared at.”

“Get used to it. He does stare a lot at you, doesn’t he, darling? I’ve noticed in the last few all-staff meetings. Those dark blue eyes of his are actually rather lovely. How’s the interview preparation coming along?”

She opens the box of macarons with her silver letter-opener and I’m grateful she’s momentarily distracted. She shakes the box gently onto the plate and we each choose. I pick an off-white vanilla one, like today’s missing shirt, because I am tragic.

“I’m as ready as I’ll ever be.”

“I’m not on the interview panel so it wouldn’t be a conflict of interest if we did some practice together. How’s your presentation coming along?”

“I’d love to show you what I’ve got.”

“Bexley has been making all sorts of comments. I don’t know what I’ll do, Lucy, if for some reason you don’t get the job . . .” She looks out the window, expression darkening. She passes a hand through her hair and it settles back into a perfect shining cap. I wish my hair was so obedient.

“He could easily get the job over me. Josh has a money brain. I’m more of a book brain.”

“Hmm. I don’t necessarily agree. But if you want, we could breed you together and create the next-generation ultimate B and G employee. I’ve never heard you call him ‘Josh’ before.”

I pretend my mouth is incredibly full. I chew and point to my mouth and shake my head and buy myself twenty seconds of time. I hope the phone rings.

“Oh, well, you know. That’s . . . his name I guess. Joshua. Er, Josh Templeman. Joshua T.”

She munches, staring with avid interest at my face.

“You’ve got a rather eerie glow about you today, darling.”

“No I don’t.” She’s on to me. My messing around with Josh is catching up to me.

“You’re all confused and bunny-in-the-headlights. It’s these dates.”

“It’s all a bit confusing. Danny is nice. He really is.”

“All my favorite boyfriends when I was young weren’t particularly nice.”

There’s a bang on the door adjoining Mr. Bexley’s office to Helene’s. I’m deeply grateful to Fat Little Dick for this interruption.

“Enter,” she barks. He bursts in and stops dead when he sees me and the box of macarons on the desk.

“What do you want?”

“Never mind.” He lingers, eyes on the desk, until she heaves a sigh and holds the plate in his direction. He takes two, fingers hesitating on a third. I swear I see the faintest hint of amusement in her eyes when he walks back out and shuts the door without a word.

“Lord, could that man smell the sugar? I gave him some to encourage the diabetes, darling, no other reason.”

“What did he want?”

“He’s lonely without Josh. He’s going to have to get used to it.”

“When should we do a practice presentation?”

“No time like the present. Wow me, darling.”

After delivering my introduction, I can see I have her attention. “My presentation is to propose a new Backlist Digitalization project. I’ve taken a sample of the combined top one hundred books published by Gamin and also by Bexley in 1995, just as an example. Only about fifty-five percent are available in digital format.”

“iPads are a fad,” Mr. Bexley interjects from the open adjoining door, chewing. “Who would want to read off a sheet of glass?”

“The fact is, the largest growing market for e-readers are those over thirty,” I explain, trying to keep my cool. How long has he been standing there? How did he open the door so silently? I focus on Helene and try to ignore him.

“This is a huge opportunity, for all of us. It’s a chance to renew contracts with authors that have gone out of print. It’s growth within the company for people who have the skills to pull the content into ebook, the cover designers, and to get older B and G releases back onto best-seller lists. Publishing is constantly evolving, and we need to keep up.”

“Please leave,” Helene says over her shoulder to Mr. Bexley. The door closes, but I swear I can still see two shadows of his feet under the door.

The rising panic is now fully fledged. If he reveals my strategy to Josh, he could screw me. I click to my last slide.

“If I’m successful in winning this position, I would seek to create a formal project to get the deep backlist into ebook. I have created an initial budget, which I’ll get to in a few slides time. These ebooks will all need to be repackaged with new, updated covers. There will be costs involved with three new cover designers over the course of the two-year project.”

I click through my project proposal. Helene questions me on several points, and I can answer her questions and justify my requirements easily. Eventually, I’m at my last slide. Helene stares at the screen for so long I check to see if she’s blinking.

“Darling. Very, very good.”

I drop to kneel beside her chair. Tears are forming in her eyes and she takes the tissues from my hand, sighing like she feels silly.

“I’ve been selfish in keeping you out there,” she says quietly. “I just . . . I can’t do without you. But I see now how wrong I’ve been. I should have done more to get you into editorial after the merger. You were so upset too, about losing your friend.”

I can’t say anything. I don’t know what to say.

“But every time I started to think about recruiting for your job, I’d think about how good you are at it, how you basically keep this office running and keeping me sane. Then I’d say, maybe another month won’t hurt.”

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