The Hating Game
Page 22

 Sally Thorne

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“And did Mr. Nice Guy drive you home?”
I know what he’s asking me. “No. I got a cab. By myself.”
He breathes out heavily. He rubs his face in exhaustion, then looks at me through his fingers. “What shall we play now?”
“What about Normal Colleagues? Or the Friendship Game? I’ve been dying to try either of those.” I look up and hold my breath.
He sits up straight and glowers at me. “Both would be a waste of time, don’t you think?”
“Well, ouch.” If I say it sarcastically, he won’t know I’m serious. He opens his planner, pencil in hand, and begins making so many annotations that I blink and turn to my computer. I can’t care about his stupid planner anymore. His pencil, my spying experiment. It all ends right now. It’s all been a waste of time.
I tell myself to be glad.
TODAY IS A magnificent black T-shirt day. Write today in your diaries. Tell your grandchildren stories about it. I tear my eyes away, but they slide back moments later. Underneath that T-shirt is a body that could fog an elderly librarian’s glasses. I think my underwear is curling off me like burning paper.
It’s a week after the kiss that I never think about. Bexley & Gamin’s Alphabet Branch is being herded onto a bus like cattle.
“Waivers,” Joshua is saying over and over as people slap them into his hand. “Waivers to me. Cash to Lucinda. Hey, this isn’t signed. Sign it. Waivers.”
“Who’s Lucinda?” someone farther back in the line asks.
“Cash to Lucy. This ridiculously small person right here. Hair. Lipstick. Lucy.”
I know someone who is going to be riddled with paint shortly. The line surges forward and I’m nearly flattened against the bus.
“Hey, I didn’t tell you to trample her.”
Joshua whips them all back and rebalances me beside him like a bowling pin, the warmth of his hand searing through my sleeve. Julie then touches my other elbow and I nearly jump out of my skin.
“Sorry for missing the deadline the other day. I can’t wait to have a proper night’s sleep. I’m like a zombie.”
She hands me her twenty and her nails have French tips. I curl my slightly chipped nails into my palms.
“I was hoping for a favor,” she says, and over her shoulder I can see Joshua tense, ear tilted to our conversation like a satellite. Eavesdropping is unbecoming. I draw Julie away a little, my hand outstretched as people continue to slap twenties into it.
“Okay, what is it?” Already my stomach is sinking.
“My niece is sixteen, and she needs to do an internship. Her school counselor thinks it would help her to gain some perspective. She can’t skip classes and sleep all day, you know? Teenagers have no idea of the concept of work.”
“You could talk to Jeanette, she could arrange something.” I take someone else’s cash. “They always want to work with the design team.”
“No, I want her to do an internship with you.”
“Me? Why?” I’m seized with the urge to run away.
“You’re the only person here who’d be patient enough with her. She’s a little bit opinionated.”
This is a world first, but I wish Joshua would interrupt. Something happen. Please. I am beaming messages his satellite ear is not receiving. Joshua, Mayday, Mayday, I will do anything for you if you interrupt.
“She’s got a lot of issues. Drugs, and a few other things. Please, would you do it? It’d mean a lot to her mother, and it might get her back on track.”
“Well. Can I think on it?” I avert my eyes from Joshua who has abandoned eavesdropping and has now turned to face us, hand on hip.
“I need to know now. She’s meeting with her school counselor in half an hour. She’s meant to have something lined up.” Julie looks at me, her mouth curled in an expectant smile.
“How long would it be for? Like, a day?”
Julie takes a step closer, squeezing my arm painfully in her beautiful hand.
“It’d be for two weeks during the next school break. You’re such a sweetheart. Thank you, I’ll text her now. She won’t be happy but you’ll bring her around.”
“Wait,” I begin, but she’s already climbing onto the bus.
“Well, that went well. You know what I would have told her?” Joshua says.
I stick a hand into my hair. My scalp feels hot and prickly. “Shut up.”
“I’d have said one little word. It’s simple, you should try it sometime. Say it with me. No.”
“Hey,” Danny says with a smile as he joins the queue.
“No. Hi.” I do my cutest grin. I hope he’s wearing sunscreen on his pretty silver-blond skin. “You made it. I guess paintballing is a good way to celebrate your last day.”
“Yeah, it’ll be fun. Mitchell said I didn’t have to come, but I wanted to. The team took me out for a farewell lunch too.”
I know most of this; we’ve been emailing all week, and I helped him carry some boxes to his car. The little envelope icon on my toolbar has been giving me little twinges of excitement. I’ve been hot and restless all morning. Light-headed. I definitely have a crush.
“Waiver,” Joshua interjects. Danny hands him the paper, not taking his eyes from me.
“I love your hair today,” Danny tells me and I duck my head, flattered. It’s the correct thing to say to me. I’m ridiculously vain about my hair. My conditioner is probably worth more per ounce than cocaine.
“Thanks, it’s gone a little crazy. I think it’s a bit humid.”
“Well, I like it a little crazy.” Danny touches the haywire curls resting on my upper arm. We make eye contact and start laughing.
“I’ll bet you do, sleazebag.” I shake my head.
“Give her the money, then get on the bus,” Joshua says slowly, like Danny is very simple indeed. They exchange an unfriendly look. I take his twenty and give him a Flamethrower smile in return.
“Wanna be teammates?”
“Yes,” I say at the same time as Joshua barks, No. He sure is good at saying that word.
“Teams are pre-allocated,” he snaps, and Danny shoots me a look that clearly says, What’s up his ass?
“I was hoping to—” Danny begins, but Joshua shoots him his own look: Whatever you’re trying? Don’t. The last person in the line gives me their cash, and we are left standing in a fog of weird tension.