“So I see the ghastly shit on your lip is going down,” Justin said as he reached around to grab a cup for coffee. “Still looks like shit, though. I would’ve stayed home if I were you.”
I rolled my eyes. “Well I guess that’s the difference between me and you.”
Justin lifted an eyebrow. “Oh yeah?”
I nodded. “Yeah. I’m not a pussy.” I titled my head, grinned like an overly drawn female cartoon, and jumped away.
“Why do you have to be such a bitch for?” Justin came running to ask me.
“Hey. Cool it. You ain’t no Casanova motherf—David!” I squealed as I bumped into him coming out of his office.
“Anna,” his eyes flickered over to Justin. Justin waved and smiled. “Justin.”
Justin nodded. “Sir.”
Gag! Sir? What a brown nose.
“Can I speak to you for a minute?” David asked me. “In my office.”
I nodded. “Sure.”
“Nice chatting with you, Anna,” Justin said.
I smiled and then dropped it and gave him a grease when David wasn’t looking.
“Happy New Year, David,” I smiled.
“Happy New Year to you, too.” He didn’t return the smile. Uh-oh.
“So what’s up?” I said a little too bubbly.
“Are we going to have a problem?”
I furrowed my brows. “I’m sorry?”
David sighed. “Look, Anna, you’re a valued asset within this company and to myself I assure you. But if you have a problem with every person that comes walking in here, then maybe you should reflect on the common denominator.”
“I don’t have a problem with everyone,” I said confusedly.
“No, but Richard, Justin, and now Stella is saying—” he stopped short and breathed in. I don’t think he meant to tell me Stella had a problem with me.
“Stella’s saying what?”
David sighed. “That you seem to borrow—” he made bunny marks with his fingers— “some of her ideas. To put it lightly.”
I burst into a little laugh. “I’m not.”
“I don’t think this is a laughing matter, Anna.”
“I’m not laughing because it’s funny, David.” Don’t get angry with him. Don’t get angry with him. “I’m laughing because it’s ridiculous.” I added. “And as a matter of fact, Stella has never expressed anything of that sort to me before so I don’t know what her deal is.”
“I can only be unbiased here. And I’m going to tell you what I told Stella. Be a team player. We all want the same thing here, there’s no competition. Try and work like a team.”
I was so infuriated I wanted to burst out and say I’ve only ever been a team player. But I decided to hold all my anger, all my humiliation, all my feels of insult, and nod. “Okay.”
When I returned to my desk I was too distracted by what just happened to get back to working efficiently. I twirled the ballpoint pen in my hand and dissected every interaction I had with Stella. She and I have been working with Brad and his book, except she came a little later on the project, adding notes here and there. I’ve seen her step into David’s office quite frequently lately, but she’s always been cordial with me. I thought we got along so much, and we always had fun coming up with ideas of how to best sell this guy’s book. Not that it needed much help selling but still, we had fun coming together and talking about the book, and girl stuff, among other things. Why does she all of a sudden have a massive grudge against me?
Then it hit me. All at once. David said there’s no competition, but in her eyes there is. We’re all vying for the same position at the end of the day. To move forward. To move up. I’ve been here at least a year, I’ve been working so hard to become an associate. Is she trying to smear my name to get ahead?
Stella, in the distance, walked to her desk and caught my eye. She smiled politely. So sweetly. Her blonde hair in a ponytail. And I smiled back.
Ugh, I can’t deal with this bitch!
“You look like you need a drink,” Leo laughed.
“Fuck yes,” I said. “Lunch break?”
I’m guessing he wasn’t being serious.
We went to a rundown bar a couple blocks away, reserved only for those alcoholics drinking during the day. I hardly drink during the day, not that it’s such a bad thing, but I’m working. I never drink when I’m working. I need a clear head at work at all time. Today is an exception. Today is a Monday. Monday so far sucks.
“That sucks,” Leo said after I told him the whole shebang with Stella. “She clearly has it in for you.”
I took a sip of my martini. Leo watched with judgement. “I know right. Why is she doing this to me?”
Leo shrugged. “Don’t know. You do anything to her?”
“I swear I haven’t. I thought we were good together. Like an unstoppable team.”
“Well I guess she wants to stop.”
“The—nothing,” he chuckled.
“Ugh, this day is turning out to be so shit. I mean, it’s not enough I now have to deal with Stella, but in the kitchen earlier on Jus—”
“Hey guys!” someone slapped the both of us on our backs. I nearly lunged forward, but ended up spilling half my drink.
I turned and lo and behold. The man of my nightmares. “Justin? The fuck?”
Leo turned to me surprised. “Something wrong?”
“Umm yeah, I fucking hate him.” I looked at Justin and narrowed my eyes. “I fucking hate you.”
“Shit, Anna,” Leo mumbled. “Maybe you had enough.”
“Oh don’t act like I’m a drunk, Leo.”
“Well you are drinking on your lunch hour,” Justin said. “And it’s not even for celebration.”
“I had a sip jackass. What, you been following us or something?”
“I told him we were here,” Leo said.
“I asked,” Justin added. I rolled my eyes. “You know Leo likes you, right?”
“What?” I hissed at Justin.
“Shut up, dude,” Leo said.
“Yeah,” Justin continued, “the man has been talking about you to me all the time. Oh my God she’s this, oh my God she’s that, oh my God she has a boyfriend but do you really think she’d go out with me?”
“Shut the fuck up, Justin!” Leo howled. “What is the matter with you!?”
Justin laughed. “I’m just bringing two love birds together.”
Leo sighed and ran his hand down his face. “I can’t believe you.”
I pointed at Justin and told Leo, “You brought that shit in here, just sayin’.”
“Shit is right,” Leo said.
“Is that true? Do you like me?”
Leo stared at me with eyes soft and pink cheeks. “I—I…”
“Can’t I talk to anyone without their own agenda?”
I hopped out of my stool and walked away. Leaving those two love birds together as Leo called out, “Anna, come on, it’s not like that. Anna!”
“How was work?” Daniel asked.
I rolled my eyes and groaned. “Don’t even get me started.”
“That bad huh?” he smiled to comfort me, walking behind me to massage my shoulders.
I closed my eyes. “You have no idea.”
“Sure you don’t want to talk about it?”
I turned around and crashed him onto the bed, climbing on top of him. “I’d rather just stay here.”
Daniel grinned. “Sounds good to me.”
He turned me over and ran pecks along my neck. My mind kept buzzing about marriage. Me and him. Together. A wedding. A future. Us together. Love forever and ever and—
“Hey, I got some good news,” Daniel peered up, interrupting my strangely wonderful reverie.
“Yeah, I got us a new agent. And I think we found our perfect home.”
I craned upwards onto my elbows. “Really?” My eyes were so bright.
Daniel chuckled. “Yeah. I saw the apartment. I love it and I think you will too.”
I lay flat on the bed again and looked up at the ceiling. “That quick?” I breathed.
“Are we still good to go?” Daniel came into my view.
I smiled and slid my hand down to grab him through his jeans. “We’re so good.”
He moved back down to my neck and began undressing me. My bra was exposed to him and he squeezed me while I plotted out my words carefully. I barely even noticed. And I always notice when Daniel touches me, so this definitely means I’m nervous as fuck.
“Are we still good with not wanting kids?” I asked shakily.
Daniel moaned on my chest. “Mmmm yeah. Like I told you before, I think I was just into having kids because of my mother. I wanted something for her. But I don’t know. I don’t think I want kids. You?”
“I think I for sure don’t want kids.”
“We’ll be two old childless couples. Society will shun us,” Daniel joked.
I laughed. “Will you ever get sick of me?”
Daniel lifted his lips from my chest and furrowed his brows. “Now why would you even ask such a thing?”
I shrugged. “Just want to make sure you’re in this as much as I am.”
Daniel laughed. “I’ve proposed to you forty billion times, I think that kind of shows I’m in it for the long haul.”
Daniel continued laughing, but I didn’t. I just looked up at him, through those big, brown eyes and suddenly I couldn’t breathe. I only let out light flutters of air when I could, but when Daniel’s laugh teetered off and he raised his brows, I knew he got it.
“Oh…” he said. “Oh…”
I turned away. There’s no commitment like marriage. I don’t know if I’ve said this but my mother drummed marriage into my fucking mind all throughout my younger years. And so I’ve always been so-and-so about it. The divorce hit hard, not to mention Daniel’s parents and their problems, and it all came crashing down. But whilst in the cave-in, wondering if I’d ever be ready for marriage—ever even want it—I saw a crack of light between the rocks. And on the other side was Daniel. It always has and always will be.
And he was all I needed to be free.