Subject: Can I sue?
My company was just bought by Thayer Industries, THE MOST EVIL COMPANY in all of Boston. I was seven months pregnant at the time, and they let me go. Two weeks of severance pay. I was supposed to have a paid maternity leave, but obviously that was off the table. I tried to see the CEO, Lucas Thayer, to plead my case, but he wouldn’t even give me an appointment. As a result of all the stress, I went into early labor. My son has had complications as a result.
Can I sue him? Because believe me, that asshole deserves it.
In addition to my Chanel suit, I wear a lot more makeup the next day. A lot more. Even as I was applying the eyeliner and blinking away the little black specks that got into my eye, I didn’t know why I was making such an effort. I guess there’s a part of me that will always sort of want to impress Luke.
Jenna immediately notices the difference when I walk into the office. “Why are you wearing so much makeup?” she asks.
“Um,” I say. “I’m sort of… I’m meeting Luke Thayer for lunch today.”
Her eyes widen. “Oh!”
“It’s not…” I feel my face turning red. “It’s a business lunch. I’m going to explain our project to him and why it’s worthwhile.”
“Oh,” Jenna says, although she doesn’t seem like she believes me. “Well, in that case, I don’t want you to take this the wrong way but…”
“I think you need to wipe off some of your eye makeup.”
My hand flies to my face. “Too much?”
She nods soberly. “You kind of look like a hooker.”
Jenna accompanies me to the bathroom to fix my makeup. She’s fantastic at doing makeup… If this computer programming thing doesn’t work out for her, she could easily be a cosmetologist. She gives my eyes a certain smokiness that ups my sexy factor by at least two or three.
“There!” she declares. “You look super sexy!”
I roll my eyes. “I’m not trying to look sexy. This is a business lunch. Purely business.”
“Sure it is.” Jenna grins at the look on my face. “Hey, I don’t blame you. I’m sure the rumors about him being a total asshole are exaggerated. And either way, he’s really hot in the pictures.”
“I hadn’t noticed,” I mumble.
“You would kind of have to if you’re not dead. You’re not dead, are you, Ellie?”
I avert my eyes. I wonder what Jenna would say if I told her Luke was in a wheelchair. I don’t want to be the one to tell her—it doesn’t feel like my place. I’m not sure why though. It’s not like it’s a secret.
Luke told me to come to his office at noon, so I arrive at 11:55, hoping he’ll appreciate how punctual I am. I can’t help but notice his assistant Michelle is freaking gorgeous. She’s got that tall and slim but curvy physique, like all the Barbie dolls I used to see Luke dating in college. She also can’t be any older than twenty-five.
I wonder if Luke is sleeping with her. I watch the way they interact together when she brings me into his office, trying to figure out if there’s anything flirtatious between them. But Luke has that stone-faced mask on at all times. No flirting, that’s for sure.
Yet another thing that’s changed about Luke. He used to flirt like breathing. No one was immune.
Not even me.
“Here I am!” I declare. My voice tremors slightly. “Right on time.”
“Yes.” Luke has his eyes on his computer screen and barely looks at me. Which I suppose is fair. Yes, I was on time. Do I want a medal? “All right. Let’s get going.”
When we head down in the elevator, I assume there will be some sort of limousine or car service picking us up at the entrance. So it’s a surprise when we go all the way down to the basement.
“Where are we going?” I ask.
Luke gives me a strange look. “My car. I parked in the garage.”
“Your car?” I say. “You drive?”
He narrows his eyes at me. “Don’t look so astonished.”
I wince. Luke is my new boss, and right now, I’m batting zero. I’ll be lucky if he hasn’t fired me by the end of this lunch. “I just… I thought you would have, you know, a driver or something.”
“Well,” he says, “I don’t.”
I watch Luke push himself out of the elevator, trying to figure how he’s going to be able to drive a car. I mean, obviously people with disabilities can drive. But how can he do it with limited hand function?
Luke’s car is a sleek black Tesla, parked in one of the handicap spots right near the entrance to the garage. It’s probably the most expensive car in the lot—not that I’m surprised. He hooks his fingers into the handle of the driver’s side door, fumbling to get it open, and I blurt out, “Do you need any help?”
Luke freezes and stares up at me. “Excuse me?”
I’m blushing so hard, even my toes must be red. I need to stop talking completely. “I mean—”
He folds his arms across his chest. “What? You think I need help getting into my own car?”
“No,” I say quickly.
He arches an eyebrow. “You think I would drive myself to work without any way of getting myself back in the car to leave?”
“No. Of course not.”
“Well, you just said that.”
He’s got me there. He’s as good at beating me an argument as he was back in college. Thankfully, he shakes his head and doesn’t press the matter further.
He climbs into the car without too much trouble, as it turns out. I watch as he lifts himself from his wheelchair into the front seat—first his body, then he pulls his legs along with him. Then he pops the wheels off his chair and tosses them behind him into the back seat. I get in beside him and do my best not to stare.
As he starts up the car, I notice he’s slouching a bit. In college, Luke used to have a ramrod-straight spine, to the point where I felt like I could put a book on his head in the morning and it would still be there in the evening. But now it’s like he has no muscles at all in his trunk. I can tell he’s aware of it because he frequently pushes his hand against his thigh to straighten himself out. Although to be honest, he may still have better posture than me.
It must kill him to know he’s not perfect anymore. Maybe that’s why he’s so cold now. Heartless.
He places his right hand on what seems to be an accelerator of some sort. There’s no hesitation in his movements—he’s very comfortable driving using his arms. He looks more comfortable than I do when I get behind the wheel in this city.
It takes me a few minutes to realize we’re heading in the direction of the North End. He’s doing a good job maneuvering through the disarray of the streets of Boston. And by “good,” I mean he’s aggressive as hell. Let me tell you something about Boston drivers: They’re insane. I grew up in Jersey and I thought they were insane over there, but Boston is a million times worse. The streets of Boston make absolutely no sense: streets change names, zig-zag, and do all kinds of things, and it makes the people who drive here lose their freaking minds.
“Where are we going?” I ask.
“It’s an Italian restaurant,” he says. “Rosita’s.”
“Have you been there before?”
“Is… is it any good?”
He skids to a halt at a red light. “Do you think I’m taking you to a restaurant I think is bad?”
“No.” Oh God, I can’t believe how badly I’m screwing this up. “Sorry, I just… Sorry.”
We spend the rest of the drive in silence. Anytime I get the urge to say anything, I bite down on my tongue. Hard.
Luke pulls into the small parking lot of an expensive-looking Italian restaurant. I’m about to point out to him that the lot is full, which was always an issue when I went to the North End in the past, but then I realize that, of course, he can park in the handicapped spot.
“Okay,” he says as he kills the engine. “You can pry your fingers off the dashboard now.”
I laugh like he made a joke, but he’s not smiling. Admittedly, I’m a bit shaky as I climb out of the car. You have to be an aggressive driver if you live in Boston, but there were a few times when I saw my life flashing before my eyes.
Without thinking, I start up the steps to the front door. I hear Luke clear his throat loudly, and I turn around. He’s sitting in his chair, at the foot of the stairs. “Eleanor,” he says.
I grip the railing of the steps. “Oh. Uh… do you need…?”
“There’s a ramp around the side,” he says.
“Right.” I swallow hard. “Sorry.”
I can’t believe I was so thoughtless. Obviously, he can’t get up the stairs. Usually, I’m pretty sensitive to other people’s emotions—I can always tell when somebody’s having a bad day. But Luke is throwing me off my game big time. I hate the fact that I want so badly to impress him. And not just because he’s my boss.
He pushes himself up the ramp to the entrance, and we go inside together. This Italian restaurant doesn’t quite look like a place where you would have a business lunch. It’s a little too dark. A little too romantic. And definitely very expensive.
“Kind of dark, isn’t it?” I say with a forced smile.
Luke frowns. “Dark?”
“Like… it’s not…” I squeeze my hands together. “It’s hard to see. You know?”
He stares up at me, like I’ve said something too stupid to respond to. Which I suppose is fair.
He made reservations and the hostess leads us to our table, which has got to be the most secluded table in the whole damn restaurant. It occurs to me that this is the closest thing I’ve had to a date in about six months, and that is so sad, I almost want to cry.
We’ve been seated for less than a minute when a waiter dashes over to our table. “May I offer you a drink?”
“I’ll have a glass of pinot noir,” Luke says.
I know having a glass of wine at lunch isn’t a big deal, but I feel like it’s important to have complete control of my senses now. Plus, I’m a lightweight and even one glass of wine is liable to alter my judgment.
“I’ll have a ginger ale,” I say.
Luke stares at me again. I desperately wish I could take back my order, but the waiter has already dashed off to bring our drinks.
“Ginger ale?” he repeats. “That’s what you want?”
“I’m not a big drinker,” I say defensively.
I pick up my menu and study it intently, avoiding his gaze. But when I lift my eyes, I see he’s watching me.
“You know,” he says, “they don’t have any Happy Meals on there, if that’s what you’re looking for.”
Oh God. This is not going well.
The prices in this restaurant are horrifying. I don’t think I’ve ever seen food this expensive before. I end up ordering a salad, because I just can’t bring myself to order a chicken breast that costs forty bucks. He orders a steak, which costs slightly less than my rent.
“Okay,” Luke says after the waiter takes our orders to the kitchen, “now down to business.”
I force my most charming smile. “Of course. What do you need to know?”
“This app you’re developing.” He gives me a sharp look. “The one that’s supposed to ‘revolutionize’ healthcare. I want to know more.”
My eyes light up like they always do when I’m talking about my project. “Well, the idea is that your phone can be used to monitor your heart at all times. If somebody is having chest pain, they can know instantly if it’s something concerning. And—”
He holds up his hand. “Stop. I know what the app is supposed to do. I want numbers. Our data. Where are you in development? How long before you get this into beta testing? What sort of costs are we looking at?”
We spend the next hour talking about my app. Even though he was asking me for the numbers, he’s already got a lot of the data committed to memory. Even though he inherited his father’s company, he’s not riding on anyone else’s coattails. This guy does not mess around. No wonder he’s been so successful.
And he listens to me. He listens to everything I have to say very intently. His attention is completely focused on me, and it’s flattering. It almost makes me glad he came on board.
“This app is going to turn Mediapp into a household name,” I say.
Luke takes a sip of his wine. “Maybe.”
“I believe it will.”
He’s quiet for a moment. “We know what we are,” he says, “but not what we may be.”
All these years later and that bastard is still quoting Shakespeare. But this time I’m ready for him. “Hamlet.”
“Yeah.” He puts down his wine glass. “I didn’t think you would know that one.”
He raises an eyebrow. “I don’t know. I thought you never read anything by Shakespeare before. Am I right?”
I suck in a breath. Oh my God. “You know…”
“Know what?” he asks innocently.
“That I’m…” I take a deep breath. “You know what I mean.”
His other eyebrow shoots up. “No. What do you mean?”
“That we…” I squeeze my napkin in my lap, feeling flustered. “That we know each other. Or knew each other.” My cheeks burn. “I mean, I didn’t know you remembered…”
“Ellie Jensen.” A smile plays on his lips. “Never read Shakespeare. Twelve fingers. Went to Canada once. How could I forget?”
“Oh God…” I shake my head. “So all along…?”
“Yes,” he confirms. “I knew the second I saw your name.”
I grit my teeth. “So how come you didn’t say anything?”
“Well, this was more fun, don’t you think?”
I feel a surge of anger in my chest. I had forgotten how much Luke used to infuriate me. I can’t believe he played me like that, just because he thought it was amusing.
“Uh oh.” He takes another sip of wine. He’s nearly drained the glass and it’s his second. “You’re mad at me.”
I quickly compose myself. This isn’t like back in college, when we were equals. I can’t afford to lose my temper around him. Too many people’s jobs are depending on me. “I’m not mad.”
“Yes, you are.” There’s a glint in his brown eyes—it kills me how sexy he still is. “I could always tell when I was getting you angry. I used to lie in bed awake the night before class every day, trying to think of what I could say to rile you up.”
I stare at him. “You… you did?”
“Of course I did,” he says. “Arguing with you was the best part of my week.” He sees the look on my face and smirks. “Don’t look so surprised, Ellie. I already told you how I felt about you.”
I don’t know what to say to that. He did tell me how he felt about me. It’s a night I haven’t thought about in a very long time, but somehow, I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately.
That night. The night I became the only girl at Harvard to say no to Luke Thayer.
I wonder if women say no to him now. After all, he doesn’t look the way he used to. But he’s still so freaking sexy. And he’s loaded.
“So now that everything is on the table…” His smile widens enough to nearly reach his eyes. “We can finally catch up. How are you doing, Ellie? What’s new with you these last sixteen years?”
“Um…” I tug at my dangly earring. “Well, I…” My mouth opens, but I’m at a loss. Usually, when I run into people from my past, I talk about my job. But Luke knows all about my job. And besides that, there’s not much else to say.
“Married?” he asks, even though he can see from my ring finger that I’m not.
I shake my head. “No, but… I have a boyfriend.”
I don’t have a boyfriend. Not even close. I don’t even have a boy that I’m friends with, much less an actual boyfriend. The closest I’ve come in the last year is this guy who accidentally brushed his elbow against my boob on the T. But I hate the fact that I have nothing new about my life to report.
So I made up a boyfriend. Big deal.
Surprise registers on Luke’s face. “Oh?” he says. “Is it serious?”
Why not go for broke? “Yes, it’s pretty serious.”
“Good for you,” Luke says. “What’s his name?”
His name? Um… “His name is Mike.”
“Mike,” Luke repeats. He looks up at my eyes. His are chocolate-colored and possibly his best feature, although it’s a tough call. “Well, I’d love to have you and Mike over for dinner.”
“That would be great,” I lie.
Please don’t let him ever take us up on this dinner invitation.
“How about you?” I ask, desperate to change the subject from my fake boyfriend. “What’s new with you?”
He shifts his weight in his chair. “Oh, not very much. Same old.”
Is he kidding me? The guy can’t walk anymore. He’s not going to tell me anything about why? He’s just going to pretend this huge thing hasn’t happened?
Well, fine. If he’s going to pretend, I’ll play along. “Well, sometimes it’s good when things are uneventful.”
Luke bursts out laughing, and he suddenly looks so much like the kid I knew during freshman year, I get a pang in my chest. “Look at you. You’re dying to know, but you’re too scared to ask. You’re so freaking polite.”
My lips set into a straight line. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
He grins and shrugs. “Fine. Then I won’t tell you.”
I’m starting to long for the cold, distant Luke from a few minutes ago. I had forgotten how frustrating he was. “You don’t have to tell me anything you don’t want to. You’re the boss, after all.”
The smile fades slowly from his lips. “I was in a rock-climbing accident when I was twenty-three. Broke my neck.”
Twenty-three. That means he’s been in that chair for eleven years. No wonder he looks so comfortable in it. His disability is new to me, but not to him.
“Twenty-three,” I repeat. “So that means you’ll never… I mean, it’s…”
He decides to put me out of my misery. “Let me help you out, by answering some of the most frequently asked questions. No, I will never walk again. No, there’s no stem cell research right now that I could get involved in. This is it—forever. Yes, I live alone without a nurse helping me. And no, I’m not so depressed I want to kill myself. I enjoy being alive, thank you very much.”
I inhale sharply. “People don’t really ask you that.”
“Oh, they definitely do.”
I watched as he lifts his wine glass to drain what’s left of it. I notice he holds it loosely supporting the weight of the glass with his fingers rather than pinching it between his thumb and forefinger.
“And no,” he adds, “I can’t move my fingers. My hands don’t work. That one was a real punch in the teeth when I was twenty-three.”
“But I saw you moving your fingers,” I protest.
“It’s a trick.” He winks at me as he releases his wine glass. “When I extend my wrist, my hand closes into a fist. But I can’t do it without moving my wrist.”
He demonstrates for me how when he bent his wrist back, his fingers close. It makes me think of that handshake he gave me yesterday. He can move his fingers, but not very well. It makes me wonder how he does anything. How does he dress himself? Bathe? He told me he was independent, but it’s hard to imagine. I wonder if he was lying, the same way I was lying about having a boyfriend. I wouldn’t blame him. Who wants to admit to needing a nurse?
“Any other questions?” he asks me. “This is your shot to ask.”
Of course, I’ve got about a million questions, but none of them are appropriate to ask my new boss. So I shake my head no.
“So,” he says, “aren’t you going to tell me why your project is the best one? And everyone else’s is shit?”
I frown. “No. Why would I do that?”
“That’s what your buddy Nathan did.”
“He didn’t!” I gasp.
“Oh, he did.” Luke glances down at his wine glass like he wishes there were more. I don’t remember if he drank much in college. He had quite a bit of alcohol in him when he confessed his feelings for me—I always attributed it to that. “But don’t worry, he said nice things about you.”
Well, that’s a small consolation. “Oh.”
“In fact, I’d say he’s got quite the infatuation with you.”
I cringe. “I don’t think so.”
“Oh, I would say he definitely does,” Luke says in that confident tone of his. “Tell me, Ellie, does he know about your fake boyfriend?”
My mouth falls open. “My…”
“Yeah.” He grins crookedly. “What did you say his name was? Matt? Mark? It doesn’t matter, does it?
I drop my eyes, looking down at my decimated salad. “Um…”
Strangely, he doesn’t seem upset. “You’re not a very good liar, Ellie.”
“Sorry,” I mumble.
“The question is,” he says, “why did you feel like you had to lie?”
I don’t have a good answer to that one. His brown eyes meet mine, and I wonder what he’s thinking. I can’t help but think that I’m glad he knows I don’t have a boyfriend.
Even though nothing could ever happen between us. I mean, he’s my boss’s boss’s boss.
Thankfully, he doesn’t push me for an answer.
On the drive back to the office, Luke pushes me for more details about my project. He wants to know everything there is to know, and even though I thought I knew everything there was to know, he comes up with questions I can’t answer on the spot.
“I can get you a report tomorrow,” I say. “I can have all the details you want.” I add, “I promise, this project is feasible, and the timeline will make you happy.”
Luke cocks his head to the side. “I know.”
I frown at him. “You know?”
He lays his fist into the horn as somebody cuts him off. “I’ll let you in on a little secret, Ellie.”
A secret? “What?”
“Your project is the whole reason I bought Mediapp.”
My head is spinning. Of course, I’ve been excited about our project, but it never occurred to me that it had created any sort of buzz outside the company. It makes me feel happy, but it’s a lot of pressure.
Also, did he buy the company because of the project? Or the fact that I was the one working on it?
“You’re one of the smartest people I ever met,” Luke says. “If anyone can make this happen, it’s you.”
My cheeks flush at the compliment. “Well, if I’m so smart, how come you’re the one with the billion-dollar company?”
He winks at me. “Because I’m smarter.”
I would protest, but he might be right. As irritating as he was in our expository writing class, there was a time when I came to realize he wasn’t quite the dumb legacy kid I believed him to be.
It was the day we got our grades back on our first paper. Dr. Cole handed them out in the last five minutes of class, and I was horrified to find a big red B on the top.
I was sick over it. I never got Bs in high school. Never. Maybe an A-, if I’d been battling the flu or something. But a B? How could I get a B? My paper was brilliant! I could argue any point expertly—didn’t Dr. Cole know I was captain of the debate team in high school?
As I skimmed through her comments, I felt something kick me in the ankle. Hard. I looked up and saw Luke’s brown eyes staring into mine. “Hey, Twelve Fingers,” he said. “What did you get?”
“None of your business,” I snapped at him. I eyed the paper in his hands. “What did you get?”
He turned his paper over to show me the red A at the top. Even though I tried to check my reaction, my jaw dropped. This was patently unfair. There was no way his paper was better than mine. Dr. Cole just favored him because he was rich and handsome.
“You could read it if you’d like.” He grinned as he slid the paper towards me. “Maybe you could learn something for your next assignment.”
I wanted to punch him in his smug face. Instead, I yanked the paper out of his hand and skimmed the first few paragraphs. And just as I thought—it was awful.
Well, not completely awful. He wasn’t entirely illiterate. And he did make some good points about Raymond Carver. But it wasn’t better than mine.
“Too bad they didn’t teach you to write back in Jersey,” Luke said, still grinning at me.
I didn’t punch him, but I threw his essay back in his face. He blinked at me, surprised but still clearly very amused. “Too bad you didn’t keep those extra fingers. I bet you could pack more of a punch.”
I was so distracted by my rage that Luke took this opportunity to yank my own essay paper out from below my left hand. He raised his eyebrows at me when he saw the B. Even though I should have grabbed it back from him, I didn’t. I wanted him to read it and realize how much better it was than his own essay. That I was the one who deserved the A, not him.
“Wow…” Luke’s eyes darted quickly between paragraphs. After a moment, he lifted the first page and glanced at the second. “You’re certainly heavy-handed in your metaphors.”
I stared at him. That was exactly the same criticism Dr. Cole had made in her critique of my initial draft of the paper.
I snapped out of my trance and ripped my papers out of his hands. Luke still looked deeply amused, and I wanted to say something to wipe the smirk off his lips. I stuck my finger in his face, which surprised him, if nothing else.
“At least I got in here fair and square,” I said. “And not just because my father went here and gave the college a bunch of money.”
Luke looked like he had an answer to that, but before he could give it, I jumped out of my seat and marched right out of the classroom. I had the last word that day, but the truth is, I wasn’t sure if I believed what I said. I was beginning to realize Luke deserved to be there just as much as I did.
Due to my long lunch, I end up staying late at work to get that report done for work. I’ve always been an overachiever, and now is not the time to be slacking—not just for me, but for the sake of my entire division. Luke probably wouldn’t fire me but I don’t want any of my team to get fired either. They’re counting on me.
I finally turn off my computer and gather my belongings to head out for the day, when I realize I’m not alone. Nathan is standing outside my office. He has sprouted small pit stains over the course of the day, and his comb-over looks damp as well. Nathan is one of those people who sweats excessively during the day.
“Hey, Ellie,” he says.
“Hello, Nathan,” I say, but I avoid his eyes. He’s never been my favorite person, but that remark Luke made about him saying his project was the best and should be saved, to hell with the rest of us… Well, it doesn’t entirely surprise me.
“Heading out?” he asks.
I don’t know why he’s asking me that. I’ve got my purse on my shoulder and I’m leaving my office. I’m obviously heading out. “Yes.”
I look at him—he’s rubbing at the back of his sweaty neck. “Yes?”
“I was just thinking,” he says, “maybe we should get a few drinks together and talk about, like, our plan for the company. We need to work together if we don’t want to get fired.”
My stomach turns. I’ve got a bad feeling that his idea to get drinks is less about strategizing to keep our jobs, and more about him jamming his tongue down my throat when we’ve both got a few beers in us. I’m way too old to fall for that trick. “I’ve got plans,” I lie.
“Really?” Nathan raises his eyebrows at me.
Am I just the worst liar on the face of the planet? Or is it obvious I can’t possibly have a life outside of work? “Really.”
“Oh.” Nathan looks disappointed, and for a moment, I feel guilty. Then I remember what a jerk he is, and how he’s the last person in the world I’d want to go out with.
During my T ride home, I entertain myself by coming up with fake plans for the evening. In case anyone asks me about it, I went to a bachelorette party in a bar. My gift to the bride was a red thong.
I stop off for a takeout order of pad thai from the restaurant down the block from my building. I try to slip by my neighbor Sadie’s apartment unnoticed with my piping hot bag of noodles, but as usual, she catches me in the act. She’s just a little too interested in my personal life, unfortunately.
“Ellie!” she exclaims when she sees me.
I halt guiltily. “Hi, Sadie.”
She stares at the brown paper bag. “Is that Chinese takeout?”
“No…” I say. “It’s Thai.”
Sadie sighs. “Oh, Ellie, how do you expect to find a beau if you don’t cook?”
“I cook,” I say defensively. I do! Mostly stuff in the microwave. That counts though. I mean, I have to press a button that says “cook” so that means it’s cooking.
Sadie squints up at my face. “Are you wearing makeup, dear?”
I touch my face self-consciously. “No… well, just a little.”
A slow smile spreads across Sadie’s wrinkled face. “There’s a man you like, isn’t there?”
“No,” I say quickly. Maybe too quickly.
“Don’t worry,” Sadie says. “I’ll give you a cooking lesson this weekend and you’ll have him wrapped around your little finger in no time.”
Before I can tell her not to bother, Sadie rushes off into her apartment, probably to look up sexy recipes.
She is absolutely wrong about this one. I don’t like Luke. Yes, I did put on make-up, which I don’t usually do, but that was just to look respectable for my boss. It was an innocent gesture.
To be continued....