“Good for morale,” Helene replies absently. She opens her mouth, then hesitates. I watch her try to choose her words.
“Bexley and I are making an announcement at this meeting. It’s very significant for you. We’ll talk about it straight after the meeting.”
My stomach twists. I’m fired for sure.
“No, it’s good news, darling.”
The all-staff meeting goes according to plan. I don’t sit next to Helene during these meetings, but instead prefer to sit with the others, mingling in. It’s my way of reminding them I’m part of the team, but I still feel their reserve with me. Do they honestly imagine me snitching to Helene about their shitty days?
Joshua sits beside Fat Little Dick at the head of the table. Both are disliked and seem to sit together inside a bubble of invisibility.
Alan is pink and pleased when I bring out the cake. He’s a crusty old Bexley from somewhere in the bowels of the finance section, which makes me feel even better about making the effort for him. I’ve passed a pretty frosting-covered peace offering over the fence between the two camps. It’s how we Gamins roll. In Bexleyville they probably mark birthdays with a new calculator battery.
The room is crowded with latecomers leaning against the walls and perched on the low windowsill. The buzzing chatter is overwhelming compared to the silence of the tenth floor.
Joshua hasn’t touched the wedges of cake that sit within arm’s reach. He’s not a snacker or even an eater. I fill our cavernous office with the rhythmic sounds of my carrot crunching and apple biting. Ziplocs of popcorn and little pots of yogurt disappear into my bottomless pit. I demolish tiny crunchy smorgasbords every day, and in contrast Joshua consumes peppermints. He’s twice my size for heaven’s sake. He’s not human.
When I checked the cake, I’d groaned out loud. Of ALL the possible cake decorations the bakery could have used. You guessed it.
A consummate mind reader, Joshua leans forward and takes a strawberry. He scrapes away the icing and looks at the little blob of ivory on his thumb. What will he do? Suck it? Wipe his thumb with a monogrammed handkerchief? He must sense my anticipation because his eyes cut to me. My face heats and I look away.
I quickly ask Margery about her son’s progress learning the trumpet (slow), and Dean’s knee surgery (soon). They’re flattered that I remember, and reply with smiles. I guess it’s true that I’m always observing, listening, and collecting trivia. But not for any nefarious purpose. It’s mainly because I’m a lonely loser.
I catch up with Keith regarding his granddaughter (growing) and Ellen’s kitchen renovation (nightmarish). All the while, the following plays in the back of my head in a loop. Eat your heart out, Joshua Templeman. I’m lovely. Everyone likes me. I’m part of this team. You’re all alone.
Danny Fletcher from the cover design team signals to get my attention from across the boardroom table. “I watched the documentary you recommended.”
I wrack my brains and come up blank. “Oh, um? Which?”
“It was a couple of all-staffs ago. We were talking about a documentary you’d watched about da Vinci on the History Channel. I downloaded it.”
I make a lot of small talk in my role. It never occurred to me anyone was listening. There’s an intricate sketch in the margin of his notepad and I sneakily try to look at it.
“Did you enjoy it?”
“Oh, yeah. He was pretty much the ultimate human being, wasn’t he?”
“No argument there. I’m such a failure—I haven’t invented anything.”
Danny laughs, bright and loud. I look from his notepad to his face. This is probably the first time I’ve looked at him properly. I get a little kick of surprise in my stomach when I flip off the autopilot switch. Oh. He’s cute.
“Anyway, did you know I’m finishing up here soon?”
“No, why?” The little flirt-bubble inside my stomach bursts. Game over.
“A buddy and I are developing a new self-publishing platform. My last day is in a couple of weeks. This is my last all-staff.”
“Well that’s a shame. Not for me. For B and G.” My clarification is as subtle as a love-struck schoolgirl.
Trust me to not notice a cute guy in my midst. He’s been sitting right opposite me, for heaven’s sake. Now he’s leaving. Le sigh. It’s time I took a proper look at Danny Fletcher. Attractive, lean, and in shape, with soft blond curls cropped close to his head. He’s not tall, which suits me fine. He’s a Bexley, but not of the typical variety. His shirt, while crisp like a birthday card, is rolled at the cuffs. His tie is subtly patterned with tiny scissors and clipboards.
He looks down and grins. “I do a LOT of cutting and pasting.”
I look sideways at the design team, mainly Bexleys, who all dress like funeral directors. I understand his decision to leave B&G, the most boring design team on this planet.
Next, I look at Danny’s left hand. Every finger is bare, and he drums them lightly against the table.
“Well, if you ever want to collaborate on an invention, I’m available.” His smile is mischievous.
“You’re freelancing as an inventor as well as reinventing self-publishing?”
“Exactly.” He clearly appreciates my clever wordplay.
I’ve never had anyone flirt with me at work. I sneak a look at Joshua. He’s talking to Mr. Bexley.
“It’ll be hard to invent something the Japanese haven’t thought of.”
He considers for a moment. “Like those little mops babies can wear on their hands and feet?”
“Yes. Have you seen those pillows shaped like a husband’s shoulder for lonely women to sleep on?”
His jaw is angular and shadowed with silvery stubble, and he has one of those slightly cruel mouths, until he smiles. Which he does now, looking right into my eyes.
“Surely you don’t need one of those, do you?” He drops his tone, below the chatter of everyone else. His eyes are sparkling, daring me.
“Maybe.” I make a rueful face.
“I’m sure you could find a human volunteer.”
I try to get us back on track. Unfortunately, it comes out sounding like I’m propositioning him. “Maybe it would be fun to invent something.”
Helene is tapping her papers into order and reluctantly I turn in my chair. Joshua is glaring at me with angry eyebrows. I use my brainwaves to transmit an insult to him, which he receives and pulls himself up straight.
“One more thing before we depart,” Mr. Bexley says. Helene tries to not scowl. She hates when he acts like he’s solely chairing meetings.
“We have an announcement about a restructure in the executive team,” Helene continues seamlessly, and Mr. Bexley’s lips tighten in annoyance before he cuts over her.
“A third executive position is being established—chief operating officer.”
Joshua and I both do electric-shock jolts in our seats.
“It will be a position below Helene and myself. We want to formalize the position that oversees operations, leaving the CEOs free to focus on more strategic things.”
He casts a thin-lipped smile at Joshua, who nods intently back at him. Helene catches my eye and raises her eyebrows meaningfully. Someone nudges me.
“It will be advertised tomorrow—details on the recruitment portal and the Internet.” He says it like the Internet is a newfangled contraption.
“It’s open to both internal and external applicants.” Helene stacks her papers and rises.
Fat Little Dick stands to go, and selects another slice of cake. Helene follows him, shaking her head. The room once again explodes into noise and the cake box is dragged across the table. Joshua stands by the door, and when I stubbornly remain seated, he slinks off.
“Looks like you’ve got some work to do,” Danny says to me. I nod and gulp and wave good-bye to the room in general, too overwhelmed to make a graceful exit. I break into a run when I leave the room, taking the stairs two at a time. I see Mr. Bexley’s door close as I hotfoot it into Helene’s and skid to a halt, swinging the door shut behind me and banging it closed with my backside.
“What’s the reporting line?”
“You’d be Josh’s boss, if that’s what you’re asking.”
A sensation of pure elation floods me. Joshua’s BOSS. He’d have to do everything I say, including treating me with some respect. I am at risk of wetting my pants right about now.
“It’s got disaster written all over it, but I want you to have the job.”
“Disaster?” I sink into a chair. “Why?”
“You and Josh do not work well together. Chalk and cheese. Adding in a power dynamic like that . . .” She clucks doubtfully.
“But I can do the job.”
“Of course, darling. I want you to have the job.”
My excitement grows as we talk about the role. Another restructure is looming, but I’d have a direct hand in it this time. I could save jobs instead of cutting them. The responsibility is greater and the raise is substantial. I could go home more often. I could get a new car.
“You should know, Bexley wants Josh for the job. We had a big fight over it.”
“If Joshua becomes my boss I will have to resign.” It comes out of my mouth instantly. It’s like what someone in a movie would say.
“All the more reason for us to get you the job, darling. If I had my way we would have just announced your promotion.”
I nibble my thumb. “But how is it going to be a fair process? Joshua and Mr. Bexley are going to sabotage me.”
“I thought of that. An independent panel of recruitment consultants are doing the interviews. You’ll be competing on an even playing field. There’ll be applicants from outside B and G too. Probably a pretty strong field. I want you to be prepared.”
“I will be.” I hope.
“And part of the interview is a presentation. You’ll need to get started on it. They want to hear your thoughts on the future direction of B and G.”