The Hating Game
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“Have you made up with that friend you used to work with? Valerie, wasn’t it?”
“Don’t ask her, it upsets her,” Mom scolds. Dad raises his hands in surrender and looks at the ceiling.
It’s true; it does upset me, but I keep my tone even. “After the merger, I managed to meet her for a coffee, to explain myself, but she lost her job and I didn’t. She couldn’t forgive me. She said a true friend would have given her warning.”
“But you didn’t know,” Dad begins. I nod. It’s true. But what I’ve been grappling with ever since is, should I have somehow tried to find out for her?
“Her circle of friends were starting to become my friends . . . and now here I am. Square one again.” A sad, lonely loser.
“There are other people at work to be friends with, surely,” Mom says.
“No one wants to be friends with me. They think I’ll tell their secrets to the boss. Can we change the subject? I talked to a guy this week.” I regret it immediately.
“Oooh,” they intone together. “Oooh.” There is an exchanged glance.
“Is he nice?”
It’s always their first question. “Oh, yes. Very nice.”
“What’s his name?”
“Danny. He’s in the design section at work. We haven’t gone out or anything, but . . .”
“How wonderful!” Mom says at the same time that Dad exclaims, “About time!”
He puts his thumb over the microphone and they begin to buzz to each other, a hornet swarm of speculation.
“Like I said, we haven’t gone on a date. I don’t know exactly if he wants to.” I think of Danny, the sideways look he gave me, mouth curling. He does.
Dad speaks so loudly the microphone gets fuzzy sometimes. “You should ask him. It’s got to beat sitting in the office for ten hours a day slinging mud at James. Get out and live a little. Get your red party dress on. I want to hear you have by the time we Skype next.”
“Are you allowed to date colleagues?” Mom asks, and Dad frowns at her. Negative concepts and worst-case scenarios do not interest him. However, she does raise a good point.
“It isn’t allowed, but he’s leaving. He’s going to freelance.”
“A nice boy,” Mom says to Dad. “I’ve got a good feeling.”
“I really should go to bed,” I remind them. I yawn and my clay face mask cracks.
“Night, night, sweetie,” they chime. I can hear Mom say sadly “Why won’t she come home—” as Dad clicks the End button.
The truth? They both treat me so much like a visiting celebrity, a complete and utter success. Their bragging to their friends is frankly ridiculous. When I go home, I feel like a fraud.
As I rinse my face, I try to ignore my Bad Daughter Guilt by deciding on the items I would take if I have to live under a bridge. Sleeping bag, knife, umbrella, a yoga mat. I can sleep on it AND do yoga to keep myself nimble. I could get all of my rare Smurfs into a fishing tackle box.
I have the copy of Joshua’s desk planner on the end of my bed. Time to do a little Nancy Drewing. It’s disturbing that a piece of Joshua Templeman has invaded my bedroom. My brain stage-whispers Imagine! I guillotine the thought.
I study the copy. A tally—I think those are the arguments. I make a note of this on the margin. Six arguments on this particular day. Sounds about right. The little slashes I have no idea about. But the X’s? I think of Valentine’s cards and kisses. None of those are going on in our office. This has got to be his HR record.
I fold up my laptop and put it away, then brush my teeth and get into bed.
Joshua’s jibe about my work clothes—my “weird little retro costumes”—has prompted me to find the short black dress from the back of my wardrobe to wear tomorrow. It’s the opposite of a gray ankle-length shift dress. It makes my waist look little and my ass look amazing. Thumbelina meets Jessica Rabbit. He thinks he’s seen small clothes? He ain’t seen nothing.
Little runts like me usually come across as cute rather than powerful, so I’m pulling out all the stops. The fishnet tights are so fine they feel like soft grit. My red heels that boost me up to a towering five-feet-five inches.
There’s not going to be a single mention of strawberries tomorrow. Joshua Templeman is going to spray his coffee out his nose when I walk in. I don’t know why I want him to—but I do.
What a confusing thought to fall asleep with.
Falling asleep with his name in my head is probably the reason for my dream. It’s the middle of the night, I’m lying on my stomach and I press my cheek into my pillow. He’s braced over me, pressed against my back, warm as sunlight. His voice is a hot whisper, right in my ear as he twists his hips to grind himself against my butt.
I’m going to work you so fucking hard. So. Fucking. Hard.
I get a full impression of his heaviness and size. I try to push back against him again to feel it again, but he mutters my name like a reprimand and crawls up higher, his knees straddling my hips. His fingertips smooth along the sides of my breasts. His exhale steams against my neck. I can’t get a decent lungful of air. He’s too heavy and I’m too turned on. Sensitive, forgotten parts of me blaze to life. I scratch my fingertips against the sheets until they burn with friction.
The realization that I’m having a dirty dream about Joshua Templeman suddenly jars me and I teeter on the edge of waking, but I keep my eyes shut. I need to see where my mind takes this. After a few minutes, I sink back in.
I’ll do anything you want, Lucinda. But you’ll have to ask.
His tone is that lazy one he sometimes uses when he looks at me with that certain expression. It’s like he’s seen me through a hole in a wall and knows what I look like, down to my skin.
I twist my head, and see his wrist braced by my head, the sleeve of a business shirt loose with no cuff link. I can see an inch of wrist; hair, veins, and tendons. The hand bunches into a fist and the mere thought of him being overcome makes me clench inside.
I can’t see his face. Even though this may destroy everything, I roll over onto my back, the blankets and sheets beginning to twist me up. I’m tangled up in his arms and legs. I realize I’m turned on, and the realization that I am probably wet hits me as I look into his brilliant navy eyes. I let out a theatrical gasp of horror. A husky laugh is his reply.