The Hating Game Page 77

“There’s a perfect son, and then there’s me. I may as well be the best at something, even if it is being an asshole. I’ll never be nice. You need to imagine what it was like growing up with a parent like him. I’ve had to make myself this way.”

I think of him stomping around at B&G, trying to hide his shyness and insecurity behind that mask.

“I hate to break it to you Josh, but underneath it all, you’re nice too.”

“I’ve got no interest in being the second best at anything. I’m never being second again.”

His voice is iron-clad with determination. I think of the promotion, and some deep part of my brain sighs, Oh fuck it.

“Is this why you’ve always hated me? I’m so nice. I’m way too nice and you’ve always hated it.” I tug the sleeve of my dress a little straighter.

“It killed me to watch you try your heart out for people who were using your kindness. It made me want to stand up for you, and protect you from it. I couldn’t though, because you hated me, so I had to get you to stand up for yourself.”

“And my niceness made it impossible to hate me?” Hopefulness has rendered me pathetic.

He puts a thumb under my chin and tilts my face. “Yeah.”

“Well, this is a sad story.” When he kisses me on the cheek, I know it is an apology, and I suspect that I’ll probably accept it.

“Don’t get me wrong. I didn’t have some traumatic childhood or anything, I always had a roof over my head and so forth. And my mother is the best,” he says, affection in his tone now. “I can’t complain.”

“Yes you can.”

He looks at me, surprised.

“No one should ever be ignored, or made to feel unimportant. You’ve achieved a lot of things in your career, and you should be proud of yourself.” I emphasize the last word. “You can complain all you want. I’m Team Josh, remember?”

“Are you?” I hear some of the tension melt out of him a little. “I never thought I’d hear those words fall from your Flamethrower lips. Not after tonight.”

“You and me both. So what happened after you completed premed?”

“Surely your dad must have taken notice of you then.”

“Mom made the biggest fuss ever. She threw a party. It seemed like everyone who’d ever known me was invited. It was at our house here. It’s on the beach. I suppose it was a great party, in retrospect. But Dad wasn’t there.”

“He skipped it?” I hug him, resting my cheek on his chest. I feel his hands slide up my back, like he’s soothing me.

“Yeah, he didn’t bother to swap shifts at the hospital like Mom had asked him to. He skipped it entirely. When Patrick completed premed Dad gave him our grandfather’s Rolex. For me, he couldn’t even bother turning up. He’s always known I wasn’t cut out for it. Watching me try so hard made me pathetic.”

“So him not turning up to the party means you haven’t spoken to your father properly for five years? You’ve got to see it’s hurting your mom. She’s got permanently sparkly eyes from trying not to cry.”

“That night I got incredibly drunk. I was sitting down there by myself on the sand by the water, emptying this bottle of whiskey into my mouth. Alone. Melodramatic. Behind me is the house, filled with people, but no one had noticed the guest of honor was gone.”

He looks a little amused, but I know underneath it is a deep hurt. I remember looking at him once in the team meeting, a thousand years ago, and wondering if he ever felt isolated. I know the answer now.

“So you sat out there? Drunk? What did you do? Go in and make a scene?”

“No, but I realized something I’d worked so hard for—his approval—had resulted in absolutely no outcome. I’m like him, maybe. Why try? Why bother? I decided then and there to quit trying. I’d go and get the first job I could.”

He turns me a little in his arms, and when he holds me close again, he’s rubbing my shoulder like I’m the one who needs comfort.

“I stopped making any kind of effort to engage with him, and it was like the biggest source of stress in my life was removed. I stopped. I thought, when he wants to be a father to me, he’ll make the move.”

“And he hasn’t?”

Josh keeps talking like he hasn’t even heard me.

“The thing that gets me is, when I switched to doing an MBA at night while working at Bexley, he was unimpressed. Like he’d had any kind of opinion. Like I wasn’t even noticed or acknowledged enough to disappoint. But I have. Over and over, my entire life. My career is a joke to him.”

I’m surprised by how angry I’m getting. I think of Anthony, his face permanently twisted into a sarcastic expression.

“He’s lost something special in you. Why is he like this?”

“I don’t know. If I knew, maybe I could change it. He’s just been that way with me, and most people.”

“But Josh, this is what I don’t get. You’re so overqualified for what you do at B and G.”

“We both are,” he tells me.

“Why do you stay?”

“Prior to the merger, I nearly quit every day. But I already had the family reputation as a quitter.”

“And post merger?”

He looks away, and I see the edge of his mouth beginning to curl in a smile.

“The job had a few good things about it.”

“You enjoyed fighting with me too much.”

“Yeah,” he admits.

“How did you end up working at Bexley, anyway?”

“I applied for twenty jobs in a fit of rage. It was the first offer I got. Richard Bexley’s lowly servant.”

“You didn’t even care? I wanted to work for a publisher so badly I cried when I heard I’d got the job.”

He has the grace to look guilty. “I suppose you’d think it was unfair if I got the promotion now.”

“No. The process is based on merit. But Josh, you’ve got to know. It’s my dream. B and G is my dream.”

He doesn’t say anything. What could he say?

“So you really didn’t bring me along to show Mindy you’d moved on with some hot little dweeb?”

I know his face better than my own, and I can’t see a trace of a lie. When he speaks, there is none.

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