The Hating Game
Page 6

 Sally Thorne

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“She’s got a few lovely things about her, I suppose.”
I raise a finger and enunciate the words crisply: “Human resources.”
He sits up straighter but the corner of his mouth moves. I wish I could use my thumbs to pull his mouth into a huge deranged grin. As the police drag me out in handcuffs I’ll be screeching, Smile, goddamn you.
We need to get even, because it’s not fair. He’s gotten one of my smiles, and seen me smile at countless other people. I have never seen him smile, nor have I seen his face look anything but blank, bored, surly, suspicious, watchful, resentful. Occasionally he has another look on his face, after we’ve been arguing. His Serial Killer expression.
I walk down the center line of the tile again and feel his head swivel.
“Not that I care what you think, but I’m well liked here. Everyone’s excited about my book club, which you’ve made pretty clear you think is lame, but it will be team building, and pretty relevant, given where we work.”
“You’re a captain of industry.”
“I take the library donations out. I plan the Christmas party. I let the interns follow me around.” I’m ticking them off on my fingers.
“You’re not doing much to convince me you don’t care what I think.” He leans back farther into his chair, long fingers laced together loosely on his generic, flat abdomen. The button near his thumb is half-loose. Whatever my face does, it makes him glance down and rebutton it.
“I don’t care what you think, but I want normal people to like me.”
“You’re chronically addicted to making people adore you.” The way he says it makes me feel a little sick.
“Well, excuse me for doing my best to maintain a good reputation. For trying to be positive. You’re addicted to making people hate you, so what a pair we are.”
I sit down and tap my computer mouse about ten times as hard as I can. His words sting. Joshua is like a mirror that shows me the bad parts of myself. It’s school all over again. Tiny, runt-of-the-litter Lucy using her pathetic cuteness to avoid being destroyed by the big kids. I’ve always been the pet, the lucky charm, the one being pushed on the swings or pulled in a wagon. Carried and coddled and perhaps I am a little pathetic.
“You should try not giving a shit sometime. I tell you, it’s liberating.” His mouth tightens, and a strange shadow clouds his expression. One blink and it’s gone.
“I didn’t ask for your advice, Joshua. I get so mad at myself, letting you drag me down to your level all the time.”
“And what level are you imagining me dragging you down to?” His voice is a little velvety and he bites his lip. “Horizontal?”
Mentally I hit Enter in my HR log and begin a new line.
“You’re disgusting. Go to hell.” I think I’ll go treat myself to a basement scream.
“There you go. You’ve got no problem telling me to go to hell. It’s a good start. It kind of suits you. Now try it with other people. You don’t even realize how much people walk all over you. How do you expect to be taken seriously? Quit giving the same people deadline extensions, month after month.”
“I don’t know what you mean.”
“It’s not every month.” I hate him because he is right.
“It’s every single month, and you have to bust your ass working late to meet your own deadline. Do you see me doing that? No. Those assholes downstairs give it to me on time.”
I dredge up a phrase from the assertiveness self-help book I keep on my nightstand.
“I don’t want to continue this conversation.”
“I’m giving you some good advice here, you should take it. Stop picking up Helene’s dry cleaning—it’s not your job.”
“I am now ending this conversation.” I stand up. Maybe I’ll go and play in the afternoon traffic to let off steam.
“And the courier. Just leave him alone. The sad old guy thinks you’re flirting with him.”
“That’s what people say about you.” The unfortunate retort falls out of my mouth. I try to rewind time. It doesn’t work.
“Is that what you think you and I do? Flirt?”
He reclines back in his chair in a way I can never manage to do. The back of my chair doesn’t budge when I’ve tried to recline. I only succeed in rolling backward and bumping into the wall.
“Shortcake, if we were flirting, you’d know about it.” Our eyes catch and I feel a weird drop inside. This conversation is running off the rails.
“Because I’d be traumatized?”
“Because you’d be thinking about it later on, lying in bed.”
“Been imagining my bed, have you?” I manage to reply.
He blinks, a new rare expression spreading across his face. I want to slap it off. It looks like he knows something I don’t. It’s smug and male and I hate it.
“I bet it’s a very small bed.”
I’m nearly breathing fire. I want to round his desk, kick his feet wider, and stand between his spread legs. I’d put one knee on the little triangle of chair right below his groin, climb up a little, and make him grunt with pain.
I’d pull his tie loose and unbutton the neck of his shirt. I’d put my hands around his big tan throat and squeeze and squeeze, his skin hot underneath my fingertips, his body struggling against me, cedar and pine spicing the air between us, burning my nostrils like smoke.
“What are you imagining? Your expression is filthy.”
“Strangling you. Bare hands.” I can barely get the words out. I’m huskier than a phone-sex operator after a double shift.
“So that’s your kink.” His eyes are going dark.
“Only where you’re concerned.”
Both his eyebrows ratchet up, and he opens his mouth as his eyes go completely black, but he does not seem to be able to say a word.
It is wonderful.
IT’S A BABY-BLUE shirt day when I remember the photo I took of his planner. After I read the Publishing Quarterly Outlook Report and make an executive summary for Helene, I transfer the photo from my phone to my work computer. Then I glance around like a criminal.
Joshua has been in Fat Little Dick’s office all morning, and weirdly the morning has dragged. It’s so quiet in here without someone to hate.