Suspiciously Obedient

Page 7

“How could I what? Spit it out,” Mike said. He knew the question Jeremy was going to ask, and frankly, he reveled in the idea that he’d be forced to answer the question, because damned if he could figure it out. He’d spent hours trying to understand himself and finally had given up.

“How could you not tell her?”

“I know, Jeremy, I know.” Mike picked up the pace. This conversation was getting as uncomfortable as he had assumed it would, and now it was time to try to drive out all of the mess. The steady thump of his feet, of the soles of his shoes against asphalt as they ran through the path around the park, didn’t help. He thought it would, but instead he found that Jeremy had decided to pick up the pace, the topic of conversation too salacious to let a little thing like oxygen deprivation stop him. “I froze. I completely froze.”

“Michael Bournham never freezes,” Jeremy insisted.

“Right?” Mike said. “That’s the problem. That’s the fucking problem. I choked.”

Jeremy stopped cold, leaving Mike to run fifteen yards ahead of him before he realized that his friend had stopped. He saw the top of Jeremy’s head as he bent over, hands on his knees, great whoops of air coming into his lungs and rushing out. Was that laughter Mike heard as he ran back, jogging in place?

“What the fuck, Jeremy? What’s going on?”

“You,” he laughed. “You choked?”

“I choked.” Why was he making a big deal of this? Mike just wanted to run, exhaust his body until he fell apart, and then maybe this torment would go away.

“Michael Bournham, you finally did it.”

“Did what?”

“You finally fell in love.”

“Fuck you.”

“Only if you do it on camera.”

Mike laughed in spite of himself. “Now that would go viral, faster than this will.”

“Not even you would do something like that, even if it meant increasing the profits enough to win your bet.”

Mike paused and thought it through.

“You’re making me nervous, Mike. What’s up with the hesitation?”

“About what? Whether I’ve fallen in love with Lydia or whether I would fuck you on camera for the sake of becoming a billionaire?”

“It may surprise you to learn that both are deeply troubling.”

The woman on the motorized scooter passed them, honked twice and said, “Wusses!”

At that, Mike took off at a dead sprint, the sound of Jeremy’s voice fading in the distance. “I’m catching a cab, see you at home. Keep the beer cold for me.” Maybe this would be okay, Mike thought, as he ran the last couple miles home. Wishful thinking, though, would never get him anywhere.

Matt’s absence shouldn’t have bothered her as much as it did and she knew that. Somehow, through sheer force, water, caffeine, Advil, and determination, she’d managed to haul her sorry ass into work only to find he was out for the day.

“He was here,” Jerry the janitor explained. “But I only saw him for a short time. He was talking to”—his face took on a guarded look—“some guy. I don’t know. But, umm…I’m sure he’ll be back.”

When she’d logged into her computer, made her way through the Internet, and then checked her email she found a cryptic, two-sentence note from Matt to all the team members:

Hi all, I’m not feeling well today. See you tomorrow.

Out sick his second week of work? That was some balls. Not many people would pull that one off, but then again, he always did act like he was president of the company or something. Like he had the run of the place.

Her day—what she’d expected of it—faded suddenly. The prospect of sitting here for nine hours made her stomach roil and her head began to throb again. While she had plenty of work, including the new project, she had zero motivation to touch any of it.

Around ten o’clock Krysta peeked her head in. “Hey, Lyd. You okay?”

“Yeah, I’ll get up and walk with you. I need to stretch my legs,” she said, and it was true. Two charlie horses had disabled her earlier. “I need to go find a banana somewhere.”

“Let’s go down to the cafeteria and grab one.”

“No, let’s go down to Starbucks and get one.” She looked around. “The boss isn’t in today so I can do it.” They both laughed.

“How are you feeling?” Krysta asked as they waited for the elevator.

“I’m…here.” They shared a smile and the elevator doors opened. No Matt. Some part of her was looking for him everywhere. If he was really sick she hoped he was okay.

Her stomach lurched as the elevator did its pneumatic, pulleyed ride down to street level. And then the aroma of coffee hit her like a wall of love. A banana, a bottle of electrolyte-filled water, and an espresso shot later, Lydia felt about fifty percent back to normal.

“He didn’t…you know…?” Krysta asked again.

“You’ve asked me that already,” Lydia replied, her voice carrying a tone of exasperation.

“I know.”

“I would tell you if something had happened,” Lydia assured her.

“Yeah, I’m just…he’s an interesting guy, Lyd. I hope you let this unfold the way it should.”

“Let this unfold the way it should? You make this sound like a marriage contract and not something more passionate.”

“We saw what happened when you let passion take over with Dave.”

“That wasn’t passion,” she scoffed. “That was stupidity. That was a twenty-two-year-old coming in here, not knowing a damn thing, and being led astray by a guy who perfected the art of negging.”

“He did find some of the strangest ways to put you down, didn’t he Lyd?”

“Yeah, he did. God, by the end of six weeks of dating him I thought I weighed four hundred pounds and had a mustache.”

Krysta laughed. “What a douchebag he was.”


“I’m glad somebody figured him out. Isn’t it funny how so much has changed since Matt Jones came along?”

Lydia thought about that one. “A lot.”

They made their way back to the lobby and Lydia gave Krysta a quick hug. “Thank you for saving me.”

“Saving you? I didn’t save you.”

“You know what I mean.”

“It’s hard out here.”

“Yeah, for a pimp.”

Argh! Lydia groaned. “For a fresh-faced Maine girl.”

“All right, that too,” Krysta agreed.

They separated out, taking different elevators, Krysta’s floor on a totally different channel. And as the doors closed, Lydia found herself searching the crowd, hoping to have to hold it. Hold it open for Matt. But no dice.

By the time she got back to her desk and settled in, more and more people had flocked to the cubicle farm. Her division could now use flex time, according to Matt, and people had taken advantage of it, even in the handful of days since Dave had left. She was still considered essential support staff and, therefore, had to be there her regular hours.

She logged in. Checked her email yet again and found a new message. Something from human resources.

And then she noticed the package. A FedEx overnight—no, a special delivery. What was a special delivery, confidential from the office of human resources package doing on her desk, addressed to her? It was late July, so it wasn’t open enrollment time. She knew she hadn’t made any changes to her 401k. It wasn’t time for performance reviews.

What on earth was this?

The envelope was large, thicker than anything she was accustomed to receiving, and as she slid the papers out there was one letter on company stationary and then a thick pamphlet called What You Need to Know About Living Outside the United States. Something about taxes.

What? And so she read:

Dear Ms. Lydia Charles, Bournham Industries is pleased to inform you that you have been selected for a promotion to Director of Communications for European Operations.

Her eyebrows shot up and her teeth clenched. What? Reading on, she couldn’t believe the words. Her salary would be six figures, they would provide her with an $8000 relocation allowance, the acceptance of the promotion needed to take place within twenty-four hours and the job start date was…what? Based on the dates that gave her less than a week.

Reykjavik? She wasn’t even sure how to pronounce it. Reykjavik, Iceland. She knew that sometime in the past year Bournham Industries had opened its first European office. It had been a big, fanfare-filled week with Bournham all over the television with a new babe on his arm, some underfed, tight woman who looked just enough like Lydia to be troubling. But, of course, thinner. That negative voice had to pop in there, didn’t it? And give Lydia a little nudge about her weight.

Weight schmate. If she could make six figures as director of communications…

But, why? What was this about? The only person she could ask was Matt, because right now in the food chain it went: Matt, and then no one, and then some senior vice-president she had only seen once a year the annual Christmas party and who wouldn’t know her from…well, from Krysta.

Iceland. What was there in Iceland? A bunch of Vikings and rocks. But…oh my God. Her headache vanished, her body flushed, and she nearly shook with joy. Grabbing the paperwork, she started to rush off to Krysta’s office and stopped herself, popping open the email that said Confidential: Human Resources. It was just a copy of what she was holding in her hands—so this was real. Real. She had done it. She really had done it. She'd impressed someone enough to be valued, to be recognized, to be rewarded for the merits of her work.

As she rushed to the elevators and pressed the button five times to go down to Krysta’s floor, her heart rate tripled. Just like my salary, she thought. Oh my God! She could pay off her student loans in like…two years. She could! She would! The buttons started to swim in front of her, the little red ring around the down arrow turning into eight. And now the questions poured into her mind.

How long had this been in the works? Dave had been gone for about a week, she had just given her presentation and it was only a half-assed one, with no opportunity to really delve into the depth of what she was planning. And besides, Iceland wasn’t exactly romance central. If they were going to transfer her anywhere, why not New York City where the publishing world was? She needed specifics here. The letter—twenty-four hours to decide and she had to be there in less than a week?


The elevator doors couldn’t open fast enough and when they did, there stood Krysta.

“Lydia, what are you doing here?” Krysta was holding a thick packet of folders, almost bigger than she was.

“What are you doing here?”

“I’m on my way down to archive management to take a bunch of these papers down there for scanning.” She grabbed Krysta’s arm, nearly dumping the folders, and then quickly adjusted to help out.

“You have to talk to me,” she said through gritted teeth, her voice in a loud whisper.

“Why are you talking to me like this?” Krysta said in an imitation. Knowing the grid of the hallway and assuming it was an exact duplicate of hers a few floors up, Lydia dragged Krysta into what she presumed was a supply closet. Bingo. She was right. She pulled Krysta in, grabbed the folders out of her hands, dumped them on an empty spot on a shelf, and closed the door. And then she handed Krysta the letter.

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