The Hating Game
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“What location is your date?” He slowly makes a pencil mark. An X? A slash? I can’t tell.
“You’re very interested; why is that?”
“Studies have shown that if managers feign interest in their employees’ personal lives it increases their morale and makes them feel valued. I’m getting the practice in, before I’m your boss.” His professional spiel is contradicted by the weird intensity in his eyes. He’s truly captivated by all of this.
I give him my best withering look. “I’m meeting him for drinks at the sports bar on Federal Avenue. And: You’re never going to be my boss.”
“What a total coincidence. I’m going there to watch the game tonight. At seven.”
My clever fib was a tactical error. I study him but can’t tell where his face ends and the lie begins.
“Maybe I’ll see you there,” he continues. He is diabolical.
“Sure, maybe,” I make my voice bored so he can’t tell I’m simultaneously fuming and panicking.
“So this dream—a man was in it, right?”
“Oh, yes indeed.” My eyes travel across Joshua without my permission. I think I can see the shape of his collarbone. “It was highly erotic.”
“I should compose an email to Jeanette,” he says faintly after a pause and a throat-clearing rasp. He does a poor imitation of typing on his keyboard without even looking at the screen.
“Did I say erotic? I meant esoteric. I get those mixed up.”
He narrows one eye. “Your dream was . . . mysterious?”
Here goes nothing. It’s time to take my chances with the human lie detector.
“It was full of symbols and hidden meaning. I was lost in a garden, and there was a man there. Someone I spend a lot of time with, but this time he seemed like a stranger.”
“Continue,” Joshua says. It’s so strange to talk to him when his face isn’t a mask of boredom.
I cross my legs as elegantly as I can manage and his eyes flash under my desk, then back to my face.
“I was wearing nothing but bedsheets,” I say in a confiding tone, then pause.
“This is strictly between us, right?”
He nods, spellbound, and I mentally high-five myself for winning Word Tennis.
I need to prolong this moment; it’s not often I gain the upper hand. I put on lipstick using the wall as a mirror. The color is called Flamethrower and it’s my trademark. Vicious, violent, poisonous red. Slit-wrists red. The color of the devil’s underpants, according to Dad. I have so many tubes that I always have a tube within a three-foot radius. I am black and white, but thanks to Flamethrower, I can be Technicolor. I live in terror of it being discontinued by the manufacturer, hence my hoarding.
“So I’m walking through this garden and the man is right behind me.” Today I am a pathological liar. This is what Joshua Templeman does to me.
“He’s right behind me. Like, up against me. Pressed up against my ass.” I stand and slap my own butt loud enough to make my point. The words ring so true, because mostly it is true. Joshua nods slowly, his throat constricting in a swallow as his eyes trail down my dress.
“I seem to recognize his voice.” I pause for thirty seconds, blotting my lips, holding it up to admire the little red heart-shaped mark on the tissue before scrunching it and putting it in the wastebasket near my toes. I start reapplying.
“Do you always have to do that twice?” Joshua is growing irritated by this stilted storytelling. He taps his fingertips impatiently on the desk.
I wink. “Don’t want it kissing off, now do I?”
“Who is this date with, exactly? What’s his name?”
“A guy. You’re changing the subject, but that’s okay. Sorry for boring you.” I sit down and click the mouse until my computer whirs to life.
“No, no,” Joshua says faintly, like he is completely out of air. “I’m not bored.”
“Okay, so I’m in the garden, and it’s . . . all reflective. Like it’s covered in mirrors.”
He nods, elbow sliding forward on the desk, chin in hand. He is inching his chair back.
“And I . . .” I pause, and glance at him. “Never mind.”
“What?” He barks it so loud I bounce an inch out of my seat.
“I say, Who are you? Why do you want me so badly? And when he tells me his name, I was so shocked . . .”
Joshua dangles from the end of my fishing line, a glossy fish, flipping and irrevocably hooked. I can feel the expanse of air between us vibrating with tension.
“Come over here, I need to whisper it,” I murmur, glancing left and right although we both know there’s nobody for miles.
Joshua shakes his head reflexively and I look at his lap. He’s not the only one who can stare underneath the desk.
“Oh,” I say to be a smartass, but to my astonishment color begins to burn on Joshua’s cheekbones. Joshua Templeman is turned on in my presence. Why does it make me want to tease him even more?
“I’ll come over and tell you.” I lock my computer screen.
“I have to share it.” I walk over slowly and put my hands on the edge of his desk. He looks at my fishnet legs with such a tormented expression I almost feel sorry for him.
“This is unprofessional.” He glances at the ceiling for inspiration before finding it. “HR.”
“Is that our safe word? Okay.” In this fluorescent lighting he looks irritatingly healthy and gold, his skin even and unblemished. But there’s a faint sheen on his face.
“You’re a little sweaty.” I take the Post-its from his desk and plant a big, slow kiss on top. I peel it off and stick it in the middle of his computer screen.
“I hope you’re not coming down with something.” I walk away toward the kitchen. I hear the wheels on his chair make a faint wheeze.
LIVE A LITTLE.
Danny’s cubicle is stripped down and a little chaotic. Packing boxes and stacks of paper and files are everywhere.
He jolts and makes a jagged gray smudge on the author photograph he was Photoshopping. Real smooth, Lucy.
“Sorry. I should wear a bell.”
“No, it’s okay. Hi.” He hits Undo, Save, and then swivels, his eyes sliding up and down me as fast as lightning, before getting snagged on the hemline of my dress for an extra few seconds.