The Hating Game(4)

By: Sally Thorne

I yawn behind my hand and look at Joshua’s breast pocket, resting against his left pectoral. He wears an identical business shirt every day, in a different color. White, off-white stripe, cream, pale yellow, mustard, baby blue, robin’s-egg blue, dove-gray, navy, and black. They are worn in their unchanging sequence.

Incidentally, my favorite of his shirts is robin’s-egg blue, and my least favorite is mustard, which he is wearing now. All the shirts look fine on him. All colors suit him. If I wore mustard, I’d look like a cadaver. But there he sits, looking as golden-skinned and healthy as ever.

“Mustard today,” I observe aloud. Why do I poke the hornet’s nest? “Just can’t wait for baby blue on Monday.”

The look he gives me is both smug and irritated. “You notice so much about me, Shortcake. But can I remind you that comments about appearance are against the B&G human resources policy.”

Ah, the HR Game. We haven’t played this one in ages. “Stop calling me Shortcake or I’ll report you to HR.”

We each keep a log on the other. I can only assume he does; he seems to remember all of my transgressions. Mine is a password-protected document hidden on my personal drive and it journals all the shit that has ever gone down between Joshua Templeman and me. We have each complained to HR four times over this past year.

He’s received a verbal and written warning about the nickname he has for me. I’ve received two warnings; one for verbal abuse and for a juvenile prank that got out of hand. I’m not proud.

He cannot seem to formulate a reply and we resume staring at each other.

I LOOK FORWARD to Joshua’s shirts getting darker. It’s navy today, which leads to black. Gorgeous Payday Black.

My finances are something like this. I’m about to walk twenty-five minutes from B&G to pick up my car from Jerry (“the Mechanic”) and melt my credit card to within one inch of its maximum limit. Payday comes tomorrow and I will pay the credit card balance. My car will ooze more oily dark stuff all weekend, which I will notice by the time Joshua’s shirts are the white of a unicorn’s flank. I call Jerry. I return the car and subsist on a shoestring budget. The shirts get darker. I’ve got to do something about that car.

Joshua is currently leaning on Mr. Bexley’s doorframe. His body fills most of the doorway. I can see this because I’m spying via the reflection on the wall near my monitor. I hear a husky, soft laugh, nothing like Mr. Bexley’s donkey bray. I rub my palms down my forearms to flatten the tiny hairs. I will not turn my head to try to see properly. He’ll catch me. He always does. Then I’ll get a frown.

The clock is grinding slowly toward five P.M. and I can see thunderclouds through the dusty windows. Helene left an hour ago—one of the perks of being co-CEO is working the hours of a schoolchild and delegating everything to me. Mr. Bexley spends longer hours here because his chair is way too comfortable and when the afternoon sun slants in, he tends to doze.

I don’t mean to sound like Joshua and I are running the top floor, but frankly it feels like it sometimes. The finance and sales teams report directly to Joshua and he filters the huge amounts of data into a bite-size report that he spoon-feeds to a struggling, red-faced Mr. Bexley.

I have the editorial, corporate, and marketing teams reporting to me, and each month I condense their monthly reports into one for Helene . . . and I suppose I spoon-feed it to her too. I spiral-bind it so she can read it when she’s on the stepper. I use her favorite font. Every day here is a challenge, a privilege, a sacrifice, and a frustration. But when I think about every little step I’ve taken to be here in this place, starting from when I was eleven years old, I refocus. I remember. And I endure Joshua for a little longer.

I bring homemade cakes to my meetings with the division heads and they all adore me. I’m described as “worth my weight in gold.” Joshua brings bad news to his divisional meetings and his weight is measured in other substances.

Mr. Bexley stumps past my desk now, briefcase in hand. He must shop at Humpty Dumpty’s Big & Small Menswear. How else could he find such short, broad suits? He’s balding, liver-spotted, and rich as sin. His grandfather started Bexley Books. He loves to remind Helene that she was merely hired. He is an old degenerate, according to both Helene and my own private observations. I make myself smile up at him. His first name is Richard. Fat Little Dick.