The Hating Game
Page 19

 Sally Thorne

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“You had a theory? More like, you were trying to mess me up before my date.” Cars behind us are beeping and I look over my shoulder. “Go.”
“Oh, that’s right, your date. Your imaginary fake date.”
“It’s not imaginary. I’m meeting Danny Fletcher from design.”
The look of shocked surprise on his face is magnificent. I want to commission a portrait artist to capture it in oils, so I can pass it down to future generations. It. Is. Priceless.
Cars begin to pull out from either side behind us, horns bleating and wailing. A string of road-rage obscenities manage to jerk him from his stupor.
“What?” He finally notices the green light and accelerates sharply, braking to avoid hitting a car swerving in front. He wipes one hand over his mouth. I’ve never seen Joshua so flustered.
“Danny Fletcher. I’m meeting him in ten minutes. That’s where you’re driving me. What is wrong with you?”
He says nothing for several blocks. I stare stubbornly at my hands and all I can think about is his tongue in my mouth. In my mouth. I estimate there’s probably been about ten billion elevator kisses in the history of mankind. I hate us for the cliché.
“Did you think I was lying?” Well, technically I was lying, but only at first.
“I always assume you’re lying.” He changes lanes in an angry swerve, an ominous black thundercloud of temper settling over him.
Here’s a fact. Hating someone is exhausting. Each pulse of blood in my veins takes me closer to death. I waste these ending minutes with someone who genuinely despises me.
I drop my lids so I can remember it again. I’m shimmering with nerves, heaving a box onto my desk at the newly minted B&G building, tenth floor. There is a man by the window, looking out at the early-morning traffic. He turns and we make eye contact for the first time.
I’m never getting another kiss like that again, not for the rest of my life.
“I wish we could be friends,” I accidentally say out loud. I’ve held those words in for so long it feels like I’ve dropped a bombshell. He’s so silent I think maybe he didn’t hear me. But then he casts me a look so contemptuous that I feel a painful twist inside.
“We’ll never, ever be friends.” He says friends like he’d say the word pathetic.
When he slows the car at the front of the bar I’m out and running before he’s even come to a complete stop. I hear him shout my name, annoyed. I register that he calls me Lucy.
I see Danny at the bar, bottle of beer dangling from his fingertips, and I pinwheel through the crowd and fall into his arms. Poor old Danny, who has turned up early like a gentleman, with no idea what kind of crazy woman he’s agreed to spend an evening with.
“Hi.” Danny is pleased. “You made it.”
“’Course!” I manage a shaky laugh. “I need a drink after the day I’ve had.”
I hoist myself like a jockey onto the barstool. Danny signals to the bartender. Identical baseball bats swing on huge screens positioned above the bar. I feel the memory of Joshua’s mouth on mine, and I press my shaking fingertips to my lips.
“A big gin and tonic. As big as you can, please.”
The bartender obliges and I empty half of the contents into my mouth and maybe a little down my chin. I lick the corners of my mouth and I still taste Joshua. Danny catches my eye as I lower the glass.
“Is everything okay? I think you need to tell me about your day.”
I take a good look at him. He’s changed into some dark jeans and a nice button-down check shirt. I like that he’s made an effort to go home and change for me.
“You look nice,” I tell him honestly, and his eyes spark.
“And you look beautiful.” His tone is confidential. He leans his elbow on the bar and his face is open and without malice. I feel a weird bubble of emotion inside my chest.
“What?” I wipe my chin. This man is looking at me like he does not hate me. It’s bizarre.
“I couldn’t exactly tell you at work. But I’ve always thought you were the most beautiful girl.”
“Oh. Well.” I probably turn bright red and I feel a tightness in my throat.
“You don’t take compliments well.”
“I don’t get many.” It’s the honest truth. He just laughs.
“Oh, sure.”
“It’s true. Unless it’s my mom and dad on Skype.”
“Well, I’ll have to change that. So. Tell me all about you.”
“I work for Helene, as you know,” I start uncertainly.
He nods, his mouth quirking.
“And that’s about it.”
Danny smiles, and I nearly reel backward off my barstool. I’m so badly socialized I can barely converse with normal human beings. I want to be at home on my couch with all of the pillows piled on my head.
“Yes, but I want to know about you. What do you do for fun? Where’s your family from?”
His face is so open and guileless. I think of children before the world ruins them.
“May I go and freshen up first? I came straight from the office.” I swallow the other half of my glass. The faint mint on my tongue deadens the flavor.
He nods and I make a beeline in the direction of the bathrooms. I lean against the wall outside them and take a tissue from the front of my bra and press it to the corners of my eyes. Beautiful.
A shadow darkens the hall, and I know it’s Joshua. Even in the furthest corners of my peripheral vision, his shape is more familiar than my own shadow. He’s holding the coat I left in his backseat.
I burst out laughing, and I keep laughing until the tears stripe down my face, almost certainly ruining my makeup.
“Fuck off,” I tell him, but he only comes closer. He takes my chin and studies my face.
The memory of the kiss floats up between us, and I can’t look him in the eye. I remember the groan I made into his mouth. Humiliation kicks in.
“Don’t.” I slap him away.
“You’re crying.”
I hug myself. “No I’m not. Why are you even here?”
“Parking is a nightmare around here. Your coat.”
“Oh, my coat. Sure. Whatever. I’m too tired to fight with you tonight. You win.”
He looks confused so I clarify. “You’ve seen me laugh, and cry. You made me kiss you when I should have slapped your smug face. You’ve had a good day. Go and watch the game and eat pretzels.”