The Hating Game Page 5

Like Clark Kent, Joshua’s height and strength are all tucked away under clothes designed to conceal and help him blend into a crowd. Nobody at the Daily Planet knows anything about Clark. Underneath these button-up shirts, Joshua could be relatively featureless or ripped like Superman. It’s a mystery.

He doesn’t have the forehead curl or the nerdy black glasses, but he’s got the strong masculine jawline and sulky, pretty mouth. I’ve been thinking all this time his hair is black but now that I’m closer, I can see it is dark brown. He doesn’t comb it as neatly as Clark does. He’s definitely got the ink-blue eyes and the laser stare, and probably some of the other superpowers, too.

But Clark Kent is such a darling; all bumbling and soft. Joshua is hardly the mild-mannered reporter. He’s a sarcastic, cynical, Bizarro Clark Kent, terrorizing everyone in the newsroom and pissing off poor little Lois Lane until she screams into her pillow at night.

I don’t like big guys. They’re too much like horses. They could trample you if you got underfoot. He is auditing my appearance with the same narrowed eyes that I am. I wonder what the top of my head looks like. I’m sure he only fornicates with Amazons. Our stares clash and maybe comparing them to an ink stain was a tad too harsh. Those eyes are wasted on him.

To avoid dying, I reluctantly breathe in a steady lungful of cedar-pine spice. He smells like a freshly sharpened pencil. A Christmas tree in a cold, dark room. Despite the tendons in my neck beginning to cramp, I don’t permit myself to lower my eyes. I might look at his mouth then, and I get a good enough view of his mouth when he’s tossing insults at me across the office. Why would I want to see it up close? I wouldn’t.

The elevator bings like the answer to all my prayers. Enter Andy the courier.

Andy looks like a movie extra who appears in the credits as “Courier.” Leathery, midforties, clad in fluorescent yellow. His sunglasses sit like a tiara on top of his head. Like most couriers, he enriches his workday by flirting with every female under the age of sixty he encounters.

“Lovely Luce!” He booms it so loud I hear Fat Little Dick make a wet snort as he jolts awake in his office.

“Andy!” I return, skittering backward. I could honestly hug him for interrupting what was feeling like a whole new kind of strange game. He has a small parcel in his hand, no bigger than a Rubik’s cube. It’s got to be my 1984 baseball-player Smurfette. Super rare, very minty. I’ve wanted her forever and I’ve been stalking her journey via her tracking number.

“I know you want me to call from the foyer with your Smurfs, but no answer.”

My desk phone is diverted to my personal cell, which is currently located near my hip bone in the waistband of my underwear. So that’s what the buzzing feeling was. Phew. I was thinking I needed my head checked.

“What does he mean, Smurfs?” Joshua narrows his eyes like we’re nuts.

“I’m sure you’re busy, Andy, I’ll let you get out of here.” I grab at the parcel, but it’s too late.

“It’s her passion in life. She lives and breathes Smurfs. Those little blue people, yea big. They wear white hats.” Andy holds two of his fingers an inch apart.

“I know what Smurfs are.” Joshua is irritated.

“I don’t live or breathe them.” My voice betrays the lie. Joshua’s sudden cough sounds suspiciously like a laugh.

“Smurfs, huh? So that’s what those little boxes are. I thought maybe you were buying your tiny clothes online. Do you think it’s appropriate to get personal items delivered to your workplace, Lucinda?”

“She’s got a whole cabinet of them. She’s got a . . . What is it, Luce? A Thomas Edison Smurf? He’s a rare one, Josh. Her parents gave it to her for high school graduation.” Andy blithely continues humiliating me.

“Quiet now, Andy! How are you? How’s your day going?” I sign for the package on his handheld device with a sweaty hand. Him and his big mouth.

“Your parents bought you a Smurf for graduation?” Joshua lounges in his chair and watches me with cynical interest. I hope my body didn’t warm the leather.

“Yeah, yeah, I’m sure you got a car or something.” I’m mortified.

“I’m fine, sweetheart,” Andy tells me, taking the little gizmo back from me and hitting several buttons and putting it in his pocket. Now that the business component of our interaction is completed, he pulls his mouth into a beguiling grin.

“All the better for seeing you. I tell you, Josh my friend, if I sat opposite this gorgeous little creature I wouldn’t get any work done.”

Andy hooks his thumbs into his pockets and smiles at me. I don’t want to hurt his feelings so I roll my eyes good-humoredly.

“It’s a struggle,” Joshua says sarcastically. “Be glad you get to leave.”

“He must have a heart of stone.”

“He sure does. If I can knock him out and get him into a crate, can you have him delivered somewhere remote?” I lean on my desk and look at my tiny parcel.

“International shipping rates have increased,” Andy warns. Joshua shakes his head, bored with the conversation, and begins to log on.

“I’ve got some savings. I think Joshua would love an adventure vacation in Zimbabwe.”

“You’ve got an evil streak, haven’t you!” Andy’s pocket makes a beep and he begins to rummage and walk to the elevator.

“Well, Lovely Luce, it’s been a pleasure as always. I will see you soon, no doubt, after your next online auction.”

“Bye.” When he disappears into the elevator, I turn back to my desk, my face automatically faded to neutral.

“Absolutely pathetic.”

I make a Jeopardy! buzzer sound. “Who is Joshua Templeman?”

“Lucinda flirting with couriers. Pathetic.”

Joshua is hammering away on his keyboard. He certainly is an impressive touch typist. I stroll past his desk and am gratified by his frustrated backspacing.

“I’m nice to him.”

“You? Nice?”

I’m surprised by how hurt I feel. “I’m lovely. Ask anyone.”

“Okay. Josh, is she lovely?” he asks himself aloud. “Hmm, let me think.”

He picks up his tin of mints, opens the lid, checks them, closes it, and looks at me. I open my mouth and lift my tongue like a mental patient at the medication window.

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