The Hating Game
Page 16

 Sally Thorne

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“Hi. I was wondering if you’d come up with any inventions for us to get started on?”
I can’t believe how forward I’m being, but I’m in a desperate situation. My pride is at stake here. I need someone sitting next to me tonight on a barstool or Joshua will laugh his ass off.
A smile spreads across his face. “I’ve got a half-finished time machine I could get you to take a look at.”
“They’re pretty straightforward. I can help you out.”
“Name the time and place.”
“The sports bar on Federal? Tonight, seven o’clock?”
“Sounds great. Here, I’ll give you my number.” Our fingers graze when he gives it to me. My, my. What a nice boy. Where on earth has he been all this time?
“See you tonight. Bring, um, blueprints.” I weave back through the cubicles and climb the stairs back to the top floor, mentally dusting my hands.
Time to work. I drop back into my seat and begin work on the proposal outlining our desire to run a team-building activity. I put two signature spaces at the bottom, sign my name, and dump it into his in-tray. He takes a full two hours to even pick it up. When he does, he reads it in about four seconds. He slashes his signature onto it and flicks it into his out-tray without a glance. He has been in a weird mood this afternoon.
I steeple my fingers and commence the Staring Game. It takes about three minutes but he eventually heaves a sigh and locks his screen. We stare so deep into each other’s eyes we join each other in a dark 3-D computer realm; nothing but green gridlines and silence.
“So. Nervous?”
“Why would I be?”
“Your big date, Shortcake. You haven’t had one in a while. As long as I’ve known you, I think.” He indicates quotation marks with his fingers at big date. He’s positive it’s all a lie.
“I’m way too picky.”
He steeples his fingers so hard it looks painful. “Really.”
“Such a complete drought of eligible men here.”
“That’s not true.”
“You’re searching for your own eligible bachelor?”
“I—no—shut up.”
“You’re right.” I drop my eyes to his mouth for a split second. “I’ve finally found someone in this godforsaken place. The man of my dreams.” I raise my eyebrow meaningfully.
He makes the connection to our early-morning conversation seamlessly. “So your dream was definitely about someone you work with.”
“Yes. He’s leaving B&G very soon, so maybe I need to make a move.”
“You’re sure about it.”
“Yes.” I can’t remember the last time he has blinked his eyes. They are black and scary.
“You’ve got your serial killer eyes on again.” I stand and take my proposal from him. “I’ll get you a copy for Fat Little Dick. Don’t screw this up for me, Joshua. You’ve got no concept of how to build a team. Leave this to the expert.”
When I return he’s a little less dark looking, but his hair is messed up. He takes the document, which I have stamped COPY.
He looks at the document, and I can see the exact moment he has his idea. It’s the sharp pause that a fox makes as it mooches past the unlatched gate of a henhouse. He looks up at me, his eyes glittering. He bites his bottom lip and hesitates.
“Whatever you’re thinking, don’t.”
He takes a pen and writes something across the bottom. I try to see, but he stands and holds it so high a corner touches the ceiling. I can’t risk standing on tiptoes in this dress.
“How could I possibly resist?” He rounds his desk and touches his thumb under my chin as he brushes past.
“What have you done?” I say to his back as he walks into Mr. Bexley’s office. I scuttle into Helene’s, rubbing my chin.
“I agree,” she says, laying the document aside. “This is a good idea. Did you see how the Gamins and Bexleys sat apart in the team meeting? I’m tired of it. We haven’t done anything as a team since the merger-planning day. I’m impressed that you and Joshua came together.”
I hope my weird brain doesn’t file away her last filthy-sounding sentence.
“We are working out our differences.” I have no trace of lie in my voice.
“I’ll talk to Bexley at our four o’clock battle royale. What are your ideas?”
“I’ve found a corporate retreat that’s only fifteen minutes off the highway. It’s one of those places with whiteboards all over the walls.”
“Sounds expensive.” Helene makes a face, which I had already anticipated.
“I’ve run the numbers. We were under the training budget for this financial year.”
“So what will we do at this corporate love-in?”
“I’ve already come up with several team-building activities. We’ll do them in a round-robin style, rotating each group so teams get regularly mixed up. I’d like to be the facilitator for the day. I want to end this war between the Bexleys and Gamins.”
“People absolutely hate team activities,” Helene points out.
I can’t argue. It’s a corporate truth universally acknowledged that workers would rather eat rat skeletons than participate in group activities. I know I would. But until business team-building models make a significant advance, it’s all I’ve got.
“There’s a prize at the end for the participant who’s made the biggest effort and contributes the most.” I pause for effect. “A paid day off.”
“I like it,” she cackles.
“Joshua is planning something though,” I warn. She nods.
She enters the Colosseum at precisely four. As usual, I can hear them shouting at each other.
At five, Helene comes out of Mr. Bexley’s office and arrives at my desk in an irritated state. “Josh,” she tosses over her shoulder, her voice colored with dislike.
“Ms. Pascal, how are you?” A halo floats above his head.
She ignores him. “Darling, I’m sorry. I lost the coin toss. We’ve gone with Josh’s idea for team building. What is the thing called? Paintballs?”
Sweet baby Jesus, no. “That wasn’t the recommendation. I should know; I wrote it.”
Joshua nearly smiles. It shimmers like a holograph over his face. It vibrates out of him in waves. “I took the liberty of providing an alternative to Mr. Bexley. Paintballing. It’s been shown to be an effective team-building activity. Fresh air, physical activity . . .”