The Hating Game Page 2

“I have a favor to ask, Lucy.” I can almost mouth the next words as she speaks them.

“I need an extension on the monthly report. I think I’m getting a migraine. I can’t look at this screen any longer.” She’s one of those horrific people who pronounces it me-graine.

“Of course, I understand. When can you get it done?”

“You’re the best. It’d be in by Monday afternoon. I need to come in late.”

If I say yes, I’ll have to stay late Monday night to have the report done for Tuesday’s nine A.M. executive meeting. Already, next week sucks.

“Okay.” My stomach feels tight. “As soon as you can, please.”

“Oh, and Brian can’t get his in today either. You’re so nice. I appreciate how kind you’re being. We were all saying you’re the best person to deal with up there in exec. Some people up there are total nightmares.” Her sugary words help ease the resentment a little.

“No problem. Talk to you Monday.” I hang up and don’t even need to look at Joshua. I know he’s shaking his head.

After a few minutes I glance at him, and he is staring at me. Imagine it’s two minutes before the biggest interview of your life, and you look down at your white shirt. Your peacock-blue fountain pen has leaked through your pocket. Your head explodes with an obscenity and your stomach is a spike of panic over the simmering nerves. You’re an idiot and everything’s ruined. That’s the exact color of Joshua’s eyes when he looks at me.

I wish I could say he’s ugly. He should be a short, fat troll, with a cleft palate and watery eyes. A limping hunchback. Warts and zits. Yellow-cheese teeth and onion sweat. But he’s not. He’s pretty much the opposite. More proof there’s no justice in this world.

My inbox pings. I flick my eyes abruptly away from Joshua’s non-ugliness and notice Helene has sent through a request for budget forecasting figures. I open up last month’s report for reference and begin.

I doubt this month’s outlook is going to be much of an improvement. The publishing industry is sliding further downhill. I’ve heard the word restructure echoing a few times around these halls, and I know where that leads. Every time I step out of the elevator and see Joshua I ask myself: Why I don’t get a new job?

I’ve been fascinated by publishing houses since a pivotal field trip when I was eleven. I was already a passionate devourer of books. My life revolved around the weekly trip to the town library. I’d borrow the maximum number of titles allowed and I could identify individual librarians by the sound their shoes made as they moved up each aisle. Until that field trip, I was hell-bent on being a librarian myself. I’d even implemented a cataloging system for my own personal collection. I was such a little book nerd.

Before our trip to the publishing house, I’d never thought much about how a book came to actually exist. It was a revelation. You could be paid to find authors, read books, and ultimately create them? Brand-new covers and perfect pages with no dog-ears or pencil annotations? My mind was blown. I loved new books. They were my favorite to borrow. I told my parents when I got home, I’m going to work at a publisher when I grow up.

It’s great that I’m fulfilling a childhood dream. But if I’m honest, at the moment the main reason I don’t get a new job is: I can’t let Joshua win this.

As I work, all I can hear are his machine-gun keystrokes and the faint whistle of air conditioning. He occasionally picks up his calculator and taps on it. I wouldn’t mind betting Mr. Bexley has also directed Joshua to run the forecasting figures. Then the two co-CEOs can march into battle, armed with numbers that may not match. The ideal fuel for their bonfire of hatred.

“Excuse me, Joshua.”

He doesn’t acknowledge me for a full minute. His keystrokes intensify. Beethoven on a piano has nothing on him right now.

“What is it, Lucinda?”

Not even my parents call me Lucinda. I clench my jaw but then guiltily release the muscles. My dentist has begged me to make a conscious effort.

“Are you working on the forecasting figures for next quarter?”

He lifts both hands from his keyboard and stares at me. “No.”

I let out half a lungful of air and turn back to my desk.

“I finished those two hours ago.” He resumes typing. I look at my open spreadsheet and count to ten.

We both work fast and have reputations for being Finishers—you know, the type of worker who completes the nasty, too-hard tasks everyone else avoids.

I prefer to sit down with people and discuss things face-to-face. Joshua is strictly email. At the foot of his emails is always: Rgds, J. Would it kill him to type Regards, Joshua? It’s too many keystrokes, apparently. He probably knows offhand how many minutes a year he’s saving B&G.

We’re evenly matched, but we are completely at odds. I try my hardest to look corporate but everything I own is slightly wrong for B&G. I’m a Gamin to the bone. My lipstick is too red, my hair too unruly. My shoes click too loudly on the tile floors. I can’t seem to hand over my credit card to purchase a black suit. I never had to wear one at Gamin, and I’m stubbornly refusing to assimilate with the Bexleys. My wardrobe is knits and retro. A sort of cool librarian chic, I hope.

It takes me forty-five minutes to complete the task. I race the clock, even though numbers are not my forte, because I imagine it would have taken Joshua an hour. Even in my head I compete with him.

“Thanks, Lucy!” I hear Helene call faintly from behind her shiny office door when I send the document through.

I recheck my inbox. Everything’s up to date. I check the clock. Three fifteen P.M. I check my lipstick in the reflection of the shiny wall tile near my computer monitor. I check Joshua, who is glowering at me with contempt. I stare back. Now we are playing the Staring Game.

I should mention that the ultimate aim of all our games is to make the other smile, or cry. It’s something like that. I’ll know when I win.

I made a mistake when I first met Joshua: I smiled at him. My best sunny smile with all my teeth, my eyes sparkling with stupid optimism that the business merger wasn’t the worst thing to ever happen to me. His eyes scanned me from the top of my head to the soles of my shoes. I’m only five feet tall so it didn’t take long. Then he looked away out the window. He did not smile back, and somehow I feel like he’s been carrying my smile around in his breast pocket ever since. He’s one up. After our initial poor start, it only took a few weeks for us to succumb to our mutual hostility. Like water dripping into a bathtub, eventually it began to overflow.

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