The Hating Game - Sally Thorne Page 0,1

me. I raise my hand and look at my nails. My reflection follows. I stroke through my hair and straighten my collar. I’ve been in a trance. I’d almost forgotten I’m still playing this game with Joshua.

I’m sitting here with a cellmate because every power-crazed war general has a second in command to do the dirty work. Sharing an assistant was never an option, because it would have required a concession from one of the CEOs. We were each plugged in outside the two new office doors, and left to fend for ourselves.

It was like being pushed into the Colosseum’s arena, only to find I wasn’t alone.

I raise my right hand again now. My reflection follows smoothly. I rest my chin on my palm and sigh deeply, and it resonates and echoes. I raise my left eyebrow because I know he can’t, and as predicted his forehead pinches uselessly. I’ve won the game. The thrill does not translate into an expression on my face. I remain as placid and expressionless as a doll. We sit here with our chins on our hands and stare into each other’s eyes.

I’m never alone in here. Sitting opposite me is the executive assistant to Mr. Bexley. His henchman and manservant. The second thing, the most essential thing anyone needs to know about me, is this: I hate Joshua Templeman.

He’s currently copying every move I make. It’s the Mirror Game. To the casual observer it wouldn’t be immediately obvious; he’s as subtle as a shadow. But not to me. Each movement of mine is replicated on his side of the office on a slight time delay. I lift my chin from my palm and swivel to my desk, and smoothly he does the same. I’m twenty-eight years old and it seems I’ve fallen through the cracks of heaven and hell and into purgatory. A kindergarten classroom. An asylum.

I type my password: IHATEJOSHUA4EV. My previous passwords have all been variations on how much I hate Joshua. For Ever. His password is almost certainly IHateLucinda4Eva. My phone rings. Julie Atkins, from s and permissions, another thorn in my side. I feel like unplugging my phone and throwing it into an incinerator.

“Hello, how are you?” I always put an extra little bit of warmth into my voice on the phone. Across the room, Joshua’s eyes roll as he begins punishing his keyboard.

“I have a favor to ask, Lucy.” I can almost mouth the next words as she speaks them.

“I need an extension on the monthly report. I think I’m getting a migraine. I can’t look at this screen any longer.” She’s one of those horrific people who pronounces it me-graine.

“Of course, I understand. When can you get it done?”

“You’re the best. It’d be in by Monday afternoon. I need to come in late.”

If I say yes, I’ll have to stay late Monday night to have the report done for Tuesday’s nine A.M. executive meeting. Already, next week sucks.

“Okay.” My stomach feels tight. “As soon as you can, please.”

“Oh, and Brian can’t get his in today either. You’re so nice. I appreciate how kind you’re being. We were all saying you’re the best person to deal with up there in exec. Some people up there are total nightmares.” Her sugary words help ease the resentment a little.

“No problem. Talk to you Monday.” I hang up and don’t even need to look at Joshua. I know he’s shaking his head.

After a few minutes I glance at him, and he is staring at me. Imagine it’s two minutes before the biggest interview of your life, and you look down at your white shirt. Your peacock-blue fountain pen has leaked through your pocket. Your head explodes with an obscenity and your stomach is a spike of panic over the simmering nerves. You’re an idiot and everything’s ruined. That’s the exact color of Joshua’s eyes when he looks at me.

I wish I could say he’s ugly. He should be a short, fat troll, with a cleft palate and watery eyes. A limping hunchback. Warts and zits. Yellow-cheese teeth and onion sweat. But he’s not. He’s pretty much the opposite. More proof there’s no justice in this world.

My inbox pings. I flick my eyes abruptly away from Joshua’s non-ugliness and notice Helene has sent through a request for budget forecasting figures. I open up last month’s report for reference and begin.

I doubt this month’s outlook is going to be much of an improvement. The publishing industry is sliding further downhill. I’ve heard the word