The Hating Game
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“Interesting,” she says slowly. “Have you thought about this very hard?”
I shrug. Only obsessively, to the point where I couldn’t sleep.
“I’m upset with myself for letting him push my buttons. You have no idea how hard it is, sitting opposite him, trying to resist his constant attacks.”
“I’ve got some idea. It’s called brinkmanship, darling.” She gestures at the wall with her thumb.
She’s the perfect person to confide in. Mr. Bexley is on the other side of her wall right now, plotting ways to assassinate her. She follows my eyeline. We hear a faint honking sneeze, a fart sound, and some grumbling.
“Why would he assume you were lying? And why did it upset you so much that he did?” Helene is drawing spirals on her notepad and I feel a little hypnotized. She’s turned into my therapist.
“He thinks I’m such a joke. He’s always laughing about what my parents do. I’m sure he laughs at where I went to school. My clothes. My height. My face.”
She nods patiently, watching me try to untangle these complicated thoughts.
“It bothers me to know he thinks that of me. That’s the bit that trips me up. All I want is his respect.”
“You prize your reputation of being likable and approachable,” she supplies. “Everyone likes you. He is the only one who resists.”
“He lives to destroy me.” Maybe I’m getting a little overdramatic.
“And you, him,” she points out.
“Yes. And this isn’t the person I want to be.”
“Don’t interact with him today. You could take the vacant office down on the third floor for a few days. We could divert the phones.”
I shake my head. “Tempting, but no, I can deal with it. I’ll draft the quarterly report and keep to myself. I’ll forget he exists.”
I can still remember the taste of his mouth. I breathed his hot exhalations until my lungs were filled with him. His air was inside my body. He taught me things in the space of two minutes that the span of my lifetime did not. Forgetting his existence is going to be a challenge, but this job is nothing but challenges.
I gently close Helene’s office door and gather myself. I turn and there he is, slouched at his desk.
“Hey.” I get a flatter version of How You Doing?
“Hello,” I respond stiffly and walk on tiny stilts to my desk.
What he says next astonishes me. “I’m sorry. I’m so, so sorry, Lucy.”
I believe him. The memory of his raw expression as he stumbled away from me at the bar has made it near impossible to sleep for two nights in a row. Now is the moment. I could take us back to our normal status quo. I could snap at him; he’d snap back. But that’s not the person I want to be.
“I know you are.” We both nearly smile and we look at each other’s mouth, the ghost of the kiss jangling between us.
He’s not his immaculate self today. He’s a little rough around the edges, probably from a few bad nights’ sleep. His mustard shirt is the ugliest color I have ever seen. His tie is badly knotted, his jaw is shadowed with stubble. His hair is a mess and has a devil’s horn on one side. He’s practically a Gamin today. He looks divine and he’s looking at me with a memory in his eyes.
I want to run until my legs give out. I want to sweep everything off his desk with my arm. I can feel my clothes touching my bare skin. That’s how Joshua’s eyes make me feel when he looks at me.
“Let’s put our weapons down, okay?” He raises his hands to show he’s unarmed. His hands are big enough to encircle my ankles. I swallow.
To hide my awkwardness, I mime taking a gun out of my pocket and toss it aside. He reaches into an imaginary shoulder holster and takes out a gun, putting it on his planner. I unsheathe an invisible knife from my thigh.
“All of them.” I indicate under the desk. He reaches down to his ankle and pretends to take a handgun out of an ankle holster.
“That’s better.” I sink into my chair and close my eyes.
“You’re deeply weird, Shortcake.” His voice is not unkind. I force my eyes open and the Staring Game almost kills me. His eyes are the blue of a peacock’s chest. Everything is changing.
“Are you going to report me to HR?”
Something in my chest folds painfully. So that’s why he looks like shit. He’s had a hellish day yesterday, anticipating being marched out of the building by security upon my return. My empty desk would have been terrifying. He sat there, visualizing the moment he is locked in jail for being a molester of tiny women. I understand now. Stupid me.
“No. But can we please never mention . . . it . . . again?” It comes out of me a little hoarse. I’m letting him off the hook, instead of taunting him with the prospect. Another step toward being the person I’d like to be. Regardless, he frowns like he’s been deeply insulted.
“That’s what you want?”
I nod, but I’m such a little liar. All I want to do is kiss you until I fall asleep. I want to slide in between your sheets, and find out what goes on inside your head, and underneath your clothes. I want to make a fool of myself over you.
Mr. Bexley’s door is ajar so I speak as quietly as I can. “It’s freaking me out.”
He can see that it’s the truth. I’ve got desperate, crazy eyes. He nods and just like that: Control, A; Delete. The kiss never happened.
I pray for a diversion. A fire drill. Julie calling me to say she would never meet a deadline ever again. I’m not the only one praying for the floor to cave in.
“How was your . . . date?” His voice is faint, his knuckles white. Being nice to me is a lot of effort.
“Fine. We’ve got a lot in common.” I try in vain to wake my computer.
“You’re both extremely small.” He’s frowning at his own computer as if this is the worst conversation he’s ever been party to. Being friends with me does not come naturally.
“He didn’t even tease me about the strawberries. Danny is . . . nice. He’s my type.” It’s all I can think of to say.
“Nice is what you want, then.”
“It’s all anybody wants. My parents have been begging me for ages to find myself a nice guy.” I keep my voice light, but inside, a little bubble of hope is rising. We’re talking like friends.