The Hating Game
Page 7

 Sally Thorne

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I hit Print, lock my computer, and clatter down the hall. I photocopy it twice, making the resolution darker and darker until the pencil marks are better visible. Needless to say, I shred all unneeded evidence. I wish I could double-shred it.
Joshua’s begun locking away his planner now.
I lean against the wall and tilt the page to the light. The photograph captures a Monday and Tuesday a couple of weeks back. I can see Mr. Bexley’s appointments easily. But next to the Monday is a letter. D. The Tuesday is an S. There is a tally of tiny lines adding up to eight. Dots next to times near lunchtime. A line of four X’s and six little slash marks.
I puzzle covertly over this all afternoon. I’m tempted to go to security and ask Scott for the security tapes for this time period, but Helene might find out. It’d definitely be a waste of company resources too, over and above my illicit photocopying and general slacking.
The answer doesn’t come for some time. It’s late afternoon and Joshua is back in his regular seat across from me. His blue shirt glows like an iceberg. When I finally work out how to decode the pencil marks, I slap my forehead. I can’t believe I’ve been so slow.
“Thanks. I’ve been dying to do that all afternoon,” Joshua says without taking his eyes from his monitor.
He doesn’t know I’ve seen his planner and the pencil codes. I’ll simply notice when he uses the pencil and work out the correlation.
Let the Spying Game begin.
Chapter 3
I don’t get quick results with the Spying Game and by the time Joshua is dressed in dove gray I’m at my wit’s end. He has sensed my heightened interest in his activities and has become even more furtive and suspicious. I’ll have to coax him out. I’m never going to see the pencil in motion if all he does is half frown at his computer.
I start a game I call You’re Just So. It goes like this. “You’re Just So . . . Ahh, never mind.” I sigh. He takes the bait.
“Handsome. Intelligent. No, wait. Superior to everyone. You’re coming to your senses, Lucinda.”
Joshua locks his computer and opens his planner, one hand hovering over the cup with the pens and pencils. I hold my breath. He frowns and slaps the planner shut. The gray shirt should make him look like a cyborg, but he ends up looking handsome and intelligent. He is the worst.
“You’re Just So predictable.” Somehow I know this will cut him deep. His eyes become slits of hatred.
“Oh, am I? How so?”
You’re Just So basically gives both players free rein to tell the opponent how much they hate each other.
“Shirts. Moods. Patterns. People like you can’t succeed. If you ever acted out of character and surprised me, I’d die of shock.”
“Am I to take this as a personal challenge?” He looks at his desk, apparently deep in thought.
“I’d like to see if you attempt it. You’re Just So inflexible.”
“And You’re Just So flexible?”
“Very.” I fell right into that one, and it’s true. I could get my foot up to my face right now. I recover by raising an eyebrow and looking up at the ceiling with a smirk. By the time I lock eyes with him again, my mouth is a neutral little rosebud, mirrored off a hundred glittering surfaces.
He drops his eyes slowly down to the floor, and I cross my ankles, belatedly remembering I kicked off my shoes earlier. It’s hard to be a good nemesis when your bright red toenails are showing.
“If I did something out of character, you’d die of shock?”
I can see my face mirrored on the paneling near his shoulder. I look like a black-eyed, wild-maned version of myself. My dark hair falls around my shoulders in jagged flames.
“Might be worth my while then.”
Monday to Friday, he turns me into a scary-looking woman. I look like a gypsy fortune-teller screaming about your imminent death. A crazed lunatic in an asylum, seconds from clawing her own eyes out.
“Well, well. Lucinda Hutton. One flexible little gal.” He is reclining in his chair again. Both feet are flat on the floor and they point at me like revolvers in a Wild West shootout.
“HR,” I clip at him. I’m losing this game and he knows it. Calling HR is virtually like tapping out. He picks up the pencil and presses the sharpened tip against the pad of his thumb. If a human could grin without moving their face, he just did it.
“I meant, You’re Just So flexible in your approach to things. It must have been your wholesome upbringing, Shortcake. What do your parents do again? Could you remind me?”
“You know exactly what they do.” I’m too busy for this nonsense. I grab a stack of old Post-its and begin to sort them.
“They farm . . .”
He looks at the ceiling, pretending to be wracking his brains.
“They farm . . .” He leaves it dangling in the air for an eternity. It’s agony. I try not to fill in the silence, but the word that amuses him so much comes out of my mouth like a curse.
“Strawberries.” Hence the nickname Strawberry Shortcake. I indulge myself in molar grinding. My dentist will never know.
“Sky Diamond Strawberries. Cute. Look, I’ve got the blog bookmarked.” He does two double-clicks with his mouse and swivels his computer screen to face me.
I cringe so hard I sprain something internally. How did he find this? My mom’s probably calling out to my dad right now. Nigel, honey! The blog’s had a hit!
The Sky Diamond Daily. Yes, you heard right. Daily. I haven’t checked it in a while because I can’t keep up. Mom was a journalist with the local newspaper when she met Dad, but she quit to have me, and then they opened the farm. When you know her backstory, the daily entries make a sad kind of sense. I squint at Joshua’s screen. Today’s feature story is about irrigation.
Our farm supplies three local farmers’ markets as well as a grocery chain. There’s a field for tourists to pick their own and Mom sells jars of preserves. In hot weather, she makes homemade ice cream. Sky Diamond was certified organic two years ago, which was a pretty big deal for them. Business ebbs and flows, dependent on the weather.
When I go home I still have to take my turn at the front gate, explaining to visitors the flavor differences between Earliglow and Diamonte strawberries. Camino Reals and Everbearers. They all sound like the names of cool old cars. Not many people look at my name badge and make the connection with the farm’s name. The Beatles’ fans who do are deeply, smugly pleased with themselves.