Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Like a Boss, Chapter 3


From Facebook:

Luke Thayer should be put in prison for his crimes against the small businesses he acquires and destroys. The man has no humanity. Like this post if you agree.

(This post was liked by 749 people.)


Just to prove a point, I’m not wearing a scrap of make-up to work the next day, even though Luke emails me to show up at his office at eleven. Our relationship is strictly business—that’s abundantly clear. Whatever happened in the past is in the past.

Jenna comes into my office just as I’m printing out my data for Luke. She’s got an issue with her code, which isn’t atypical, but I don’t have time. “I’ll help you in the afternoon,” I tell her. “I’ve got a meeting with Luke Thayer now.”

“Oh!” She looks me up and down, noting that I’m wearing my usual slacks and dress shirt. “You know, I saw him coming back from lunch yesterday.”

 I know where this is going, and I don’t have time for it. “Mmm.”

“I didn’t realize he’s… you know…” She lowers her voice. “Disabled.”

“Yeah,” I mumble.

“He’s in bad shape.” She shakes her head. “No wonder he’s so bitter and cold.”

I narrow my eyes at her. “Bitter and cold?”

“Well, I don’t know.” She shrugs. “That’s what people say about him. I mean, he’s definitely not a good guy. That’s why everyone here is so freaked out.”

“I don’t think he’s as bad as people think,” I say. “Anybody famous is going to get internet hate these days. I mean, you can’t even post a picture of your kids without somebody saying that you’re committing child abuse.”

Jenna snorts. “Well, people on the internet really hate Luke Thayer.”

I can’t disagree with her.

“I heard he was in an accident of some sort when he was in his twenties,” she says. “He’s, like, a quadriplegic or something. You know those guys can’t even feel their dicks?”

I suck in a breath. No, I didn’t know that. Luke can’t feel his dick? That seems like such a crime. For a moment, I allow myself to think back to that night so many years ago, the way he leaned forward and…

“So he has to exert his power in other ways, I guess,” she says, “since he can’t get it up anymore.”

I can’t listen to this anymore. “I’ve got to go, Jenna,” I choke out.

She nods. “Good luck.”

I show up at Luke’s office at exactly eleven. Well, it’s more like 10:59AM, as I’m unable to squash my anal-retentive desire to be early. As I pass his gorgeous secretary Michelle, she’s bending down to pick something up, and I get a glimpse of her smokin’ ass. For a moment, I am overcome with emotion I can’t identify.

Jealousy? No, definitely not. I don’t care if Luke’s secretary is gorgeous—the same sort of gorgeous blond sorority Barbie he used to date all through college. Anyway, it looks like his taste hasn’t changed much.

When I enter Luke’s office, he’s hard at work on his computer. I remember how deeply tanned he used to be in college (from all those summers in Greece), his already blond hair highlighted with gold from the sun… but now he’s bordering on pale.

“Hi, Ellie.” He glances at his watch. “Exactly on time. As usual. Tell me—do you wait outside the office to make sure you show up at the exact moment I told you to arrive?”

No.” He’s wrong—I wait outside the elevator. “So, um, Michelle seems really good.”

“Yeah. She’s a good assistant.”

I raise an eyebrow. “Just an assistant?”

“Well, she’s also a notary.”

“Okay.” I nod. “So… that’s all?”

“She also makes travel arrangements,” he says. “And she makes really good brownies too.”

“Oh. I see…”

He throws back his head and laughs. “Why don’t you just ask me straight out if I’m sleeping with her?”

Oh God. “I didn’t… I mean, I wasn’t implying…”

“I’m not sleeping with her.” His brown eyes meet mine. “She’s just my assistant. And a damn good one. Okay?”

“I don’t care,” I mumble.

“Uh-huh…”

Something he said a minute ago struck me. “Do you travel a lot?”

He winces. “More than I’d like. All business, no pleasure.”

“Do you ever go to Greece anymore?”

The way Luke looks at me blankly pretty much gives me my answer. “Oh God,” he groans. “I haven’t been there in years. How did you know about that?”

“You mentioned on the first day of expos that your family had a villa there,” I remind him, emphasizing the word “villa.”

“Did I?” He grins. “Wow, I was such a pretentious prick. No wonder you wouldn’t hook up with me. Anyway, it’s more like a house than a villa. I don’t even know what the hell a villa is… I was probably just trying to impress everyone.”

“Why don’t you go there anymore?”

“No time,” he says with a shrug. “Anyway, I try not to fly any more than I absolutely have to… I end up getting shuffled around like a piece of luggage at the airport. My chair gets stored under the plane, and I’m always scared they’re going to break it. And the beaches and the old streets are a bitch to wheel around—Greece is especially challenging.”

I narrow my eyes at him. “Hey, I always wondered: Are you really fluent in French, Greek, and German?”

“What, you think I was a liar too?” He shakes his head. “Yeah, I’m fluent.”

“Say something in French.”

He thinks for a minute, then says in perfectly accented French: “Je suis en amour avec vous.”

“What does that mean?”

He smiles. “It means, ‘I value your friendship.’”

“Aw,” I say.

“So what languages do you speak?”

“Oh, lots,” I reply. “C, C++, Java, Python, Visual Basic…”

“I get it, those are computer languages.”

Muy bien.”

Luke grins. “Still a nerd.”

Our eyes meet and my tummy inexplicably does a little flip-flop. I’m immediately surprised at myself. Luke wasn’t my type sixteen years ago and he’s even less my type now. Yet… well, I don’t know. It’s weird. There’s just something about him.

Luke clears his throat. “We better get to work. Do you have the numbers I asked you for?”

I hold up the papers that have grown slightly damp in my fist. “I’m ready.”

We spend the next hour talking shop. I don’t even realize how hungry I am until Michelle interrupts us with a big brown bag of Chinese food. I guess in addition to being his assistant, his secretary, and making brownies, she also orders him lunch. I skipped breakfast this morning and the smell is so unbelievable, it’s physically painful.

“I can leave so you can eat,” I say. “I’ll come back after lunch if you want.”

He shakes his head. “No, we’re not done. I ordered enough for two.”

Thank God. I brought a dry turkey sandwich for lunch and I wasn’t looking forward to eating it. I do feel guilty chowing down on top of Luke’s ridiculously expensive mahogany desk, but he tells me not to worry about it. I dig into my chicken with broccoli and practically moan in ecstasy. We’re right near Chinatown so there’s a lot of good Chinese food in the financial district, but this is the best I’ve ever had by a mile.

We put in another hour talking through the project. Luke turns to his computer and brings up a page of notes that he made. I’m amazed by how carefully he was listening to everything I said yesterday. We talk and he types in my thoughts using just his index fingers. I wonder if he does that because of his injury or if he was always a two-finger typist.

“Thanks for your help, Ellie,” he says at just after one o’clock.

“My pleasure.” I yawn because I’ve eaten way too much. Jenna once commented that she wished this country would institute siestas. Although that probably wouldn’t help our company’s productivity.

“You’re just as sharp as you used to be,” he says. “And you work even harder—I wouldn’t have believed it was possible.”

“You’re not exactly a slacker yourself.” I shrug. “Anyway, a lot of people worked really hard in college. Insanely hard. Like, you remember Joe Singleton?”

He shakes his head.

“Roger Porter?”

“We didn’t exactly run in the same crowd,” he acknowledges. That’s true. There were about fifteen-hundred people in our graduating class, and we probably didn’t have one friend in common. “Hey, what happened to that roommate of yours? The one with the lips. Daphne?”

“Delia?” I don’t know what he’s talking about with “the lips.” Men notice the oddest things.

“That’s right.”

“She does family medicine in Idaho,” I tell him. “She’s married and has two kids.”

“Idaho?” Luke crinkles his nose, which I have to admit, is the same look I gave her when she told me she was moving there.

“I know,” I say.

“And what about that boyfriend of yours?” Luke asks.

I didn’t know Luke was even paying attention to me at the point that I started dating Neil. I met him in my complex analysis class during junior year: Neil Weinstein, God of Mathematics. Above all, I respected intelligence back then. I ogled smart men like other women ogled movie stars. If it were socially acceptable to have a pin-up of Albert Einstein, then… well, I probably still wouldn’t have, but you get the idea. In retrospect, the way Neil spouted out answers in our math section was not entirely different from the way Luke mouthed off his opinions in our expos class, but somehow I found myself in awe of Neil’s brilliance. And unlike Luke, he seemed like a good fit for me.

It was good between Neil and me in the beginning. I was his first girlfriend and he was grateful just to have me and to be getting laid. But eventually, his arrogance seeped through—he thought he was destined for greater things than little old me.

“I don’t know,” I say. “He got some scholarship in England and that’s the last I heard of him.”

“What an idiot,” Luke comments.

“He wasn’t an idiot,” I say quietly. “He was brilliant.” I’m surprised the guy hasn’t won a Field’s medal by now.

“Well, he was definitely extremely ugly,” Luke says.

I stifle a laugh. With his sticklike frame and blazing red hair and freckles, Neil wasn’t anybody’s conception of handsome, especially compared with Luke. Maybe that’s the real reason I was willing to date him—because his looks didn’t intimidate me the way Luke’s did. “Okay, he wasn’t Chris Hemsworth or anything, but…”

“Oh, come on,” Luke says. “You probably never saw him again because they captured him and put him on display in the zoo.”

I’m laughing hard enough now that there are a few tears in my eyes. “Stop…”

“Seriously, I couldn’t believe you picked that guy over me.” Luke shakes his head. “Talk about blows to the old self-esteem…”

“And what about that blond cheerleader type from Wellesley you were sucking face with through all of senior year?” I remind him, wiping my eyes.

“Margo?” He shakes his head. “She decided to believe the doctors who said I wasn’t going to walk again, and she took off.”

I stare at him, the smile gone from my face. “Oh my God, Luke, I’m so sorry…”

“Don’t be.” He shrugs. “It wasn’t true love. If she got in some disfiguring accident, I would have dumped her just as fast.”

I’m not entirely sure that’s true. Luke is nowhere near as shallow as I thought he was. After all, he liked me.

I close my eyes, remembering that night all those years ago. When I turned down the hottest guy in our class. I don’t regret it. Definitely not.

But I have always wondered what would’ve happened if I had made a different choice.

 

*****


That night when I get up to my floor, Sadie is standing in the hallway talking to another of my elderly neighbors, a seventy-something woman named Ethel. They’re both wearing housecoats and fuzzy slippers. I swear, nobody in my building is under retirement age.

There are times when I long to be seventy-something and retired. That way, nobody will be obsessed with me finding the perfect guy. I won’t have to worry about finding love anymore. I just have to hang in there another thirty years or so. Then my love life will be officially done.

Except the thought of that makes me so depressed, I could cry.

“Hi, Ellie!” Sadie says cheerfully. “Are you going out with your suitor tonight?”

“Um,” I say. “I don’t have a suitor, Sadie.”

“Of course she doesn’t!” Ethel pipes up. “Don’t be dumb, Sadie.”

I stare at Ethel in surprise. I always thought Ethel was a nice-enough lady, so I didn’t expect her to insult me (or Sadie) that way.

“How could you say that?” Sadie cries in my defense. “Ellie is beautiful!” She bites her lip. “Well, except for her hips. But she’s working on that.”

Great.

“Oh, Sadie,” Ethel sighs. “Don’t you know anything?” She gives me a knowing look. “Ellie is a lesbian. She’s not interested in having any suitors.”

Seriously?

“No!” Sadie gasps. “Is that true, Ellie?”

I start to tell her that it absolutely is not true, but Ethel quickly cuts me off: “Ellie, you don’t have to stay in the closet. Just because we’re old, it doesn’t mean we’re not understanding about this stuff.” She smiles proudly. “My granddaughter is a lesbian, you know. I could set you up if you’d like. She’s really pretty.”

Okay, I have to put an end to this right now. “I’m not a lesbian,” I say. Ethel looks very skeptical, so I add, “Really.”

“I told you,” Sadie says smugly.

“Oh,” Ethel says. She seems really disappointed. “So why are you still single then?”

“It’s her hips,” Sadie says.

I don’t want to discuss why I’m single with these women, considering I haven’t entirely figured it out myself. I suspect this is going to get very insulting and possibly end up with my having to take home another tub of pot roast. So I excuse myself and slip into my apartment.

When I get inside, my cleaning woman, Angela, is finishing up with her bimonthly session. It feels decadent to hire a cleaning woman, but I work long hours, and I hate cleaning and can afford it, so why not? Also, Angela does a much better job than I could ever do. Also, when she comes, she brings me a delicious homemade casserole that she stores in the fridge.

“All set!” Angela announces as she pulls off the blue latex gloves that she uses when she cleans. “Everything is spic and span.”

I look around my apartment, which is indeed sparkling clean. “Thank you so much! It looks great.”

Angela gathers her cleaning supplies to leave and I inhale the smells of Pine-Sol. I love a clean apartment. I’ve been hiring people to clean for me ever since college, even when I actually couldn’t afford it. After I worked as a bathroom cleaner in college, I swore I would never do it again.

One big thing that separated the poor/smart kids from the rich/dumb kids at Harvard was how we paid for our education. I’m sure Luke Thayer’s dad (also named Luke, I guess) just withdrew his petty change from one of his Swiss bank accounts to pay Luke’s tuition, but my grade school teacher parents didn’t have enough money to afford their third child’s private college tuition. So I ended up with loans and work scholarships. The work scholarships meant I got to pay off some of my tuition by scrubbing the toilets of my classmates.

It was the ultimate humiliation. I had to go into the dorms and clean the toilets of the students I had just been sharing a lecture hall with hours earlier. I preferred it when I was assigned the upperclassmen dorms because it meant I at least wouldn’t recognize them. But because all the freshman dorms were in Harvard Yard and that was where I lived as well, my assignments were almost invariably to the freshman rooms.

Whenever I got assigned to clean bathrooms in Thayer House, I’d think about Luke. Every day, Dr. Cole let him dominate the class discussions, and no matter how valiantly I fought against him, I always left the class feeling like he’d gotten the better of me. Worst of all, he always argued on the side of the most despicable character in the story, as if they were a personal friend of his.

It was so blatantly obnoxious, there were times when I wanted to get up and punch him in the face. But then I’d go off to my Computation Theory class and he’d go off to his Macroeconomics class and we’d never be forced to talk again, thank God.

It was good to think about Luke as I scrubbed toilets. I’d think about our most recent class discussion, the things I said, and the things I wished I could have said if the professor wasn’t there. Then I’d take out my anger on the Thayer toilets.

One day in October, I was scrubbing a particularly filthy bathroom in Thayer. Most bathrooms were just grimy, but this one had dirty towels tossed all over the floor and boxer shorts hanging off the sink. I picked them off and threw them into the living room, trying my best not to inhale. What a bunch of slobs. You just knew this bathroom belonged to a bunch of rich brats who had no experience cleaning up after themselves.

“Hey!” a voice interrupted my thoughts. “It’s the twelve-fingered girl who never read Shakespeare!”

I looked up and there he was: Luke Thayer. I guess it made sense he’d live in Thayer House. He was watching me with an amused expression on his face. I really, really wished I hadn’t admitted I’d never read Shakespeare.

“Aren’t you going to say hello?” Luke pressed me.

I gave him a dirty look.

“I guess they didn’t teach you manners in school either,” he said with a shrug.

My blood boiled. I grabbed a dirty, moldy towel from the floor and hurled it in his direction. I had wicked good aim and it nailed him right in the head. He pulled it from his face, looking pissed off. “What the hell is wrong with you?” he snapped. “You know, I could get you in a lot of trouble for that, Twelve Fingers.”

“My name is Ellie,” I said through my teeth. “And it’s your goddamn towel, douchebag.”

“Actually, it’s Steve’s towel,” Luke said. “He’s the slob around here.”

“Sure, whatever you say.”

Luke watched me for a second. The towel had mussed his yellow hair and as much as I hated to admit it, he looked very sexy like that. It was frustrating that someone I hated so much could be so physically attractive.

“So tell me, Ellie,” he said. “What’s the trick to getting a toilet so spotless and clean?”

“Go to hell,” I replied.

“If you’re not going to tell me,” he said, “maybe I should watch.”

The thought of Luke watching me clean his bathroom was almost too humiliating for words.

“You can’t watch me,” I said.

“Then how will I know you didn’t dunk my toothbrush in the toilet?” he said.

“I would never do that!” I was totally planning to do that.

“I bet you wish you had kept those other fingers,” he mused. “You’d probably be much faster at scrubbing toilets.”

That did it. I struggled to my feet, using the toilet brush for support. I poked him in the chest with the brush. Hard.

“Hey!” He looked down at the splotch the brush left on his chest. “You got toilet water on my shirt!”

“Listen, Thayer House,” I said. “You can’t talk to me that way, just because your great-great-great-grandfather was some rich asshole who gave the college a bunch of money.”

“Geez, you’re touchy, Twelve Fingers,” he said. “Are you on your period or something?”

I swear to God, I nearly decked him. “That’s it!” I snapped. “You can clean your own goddamn toilets!” And I stormed out in a huff. Unfortunately, I left all my cleaning supplies behind and had to sneak back later and get them.

That day in the dorm feels like a million years ago now. We’re both so much different now. Part of the reason I hated Luke so much is because of his privilege, and I believed that would never change. I believed he would always get exactly what he wanted out of life.


*****

 

From Twitter:

I hope @LukeThayer dies slowly and painfully. You hear that, Thayer??????? You better watch your back, man. #comingforyou

My Chinese lunch session with Luke turns out to be the first of many. All business, of course. He’s helped me a lot with strategizing on how to move forward with my project. It’s surprising how much he understands about coding considering he’s a business guy.

As we’re finishing up the last of our Subway sandwiches on Friday, Luke says to me, “What’s the deal with your shitty interface, Ellie?”

I lower my eyes and take a bite of my meatball sub. “What do you mean?”

He raises his light brown eyebrows. “I mean that you could have the best app in the world, and it’s useless if nobody can figure out how to use it. You didn’t code it, did you?”

“No…”

“Who did?”

“Jenna did.”

“Well,” he says, “she sucks.”

“She does not suck!” I throw my sub down and fold my arms across my chest. “Look, it has a few issues. I’ll fix it.”

“Uh-huh.” He rolls his eyes. “Or… we could hire somebody who actually knows what they’re doing…”

“Jenna knows what she’s doing,” I say firmly. “Trust me.”

Luke looks like there’s something more he wants to say, but he keeps his mouth shut. I think about all those awful things written about him online. If I didn’t stop him, would he go fire Jenna right now?

The truth is, a tiny part of me knows he’s right. Jenna is not doing a good job. But I can hold her hand through the process and get it done. You have to treat people right.

 Luke hooks his thumb into his tie and loosens it slightly, suddenly looking nervous. Also, he keeps shifting in his wheelchair, which is something he does a lot, but he’s doing it even more right now. Somehow I think again of his ramrod-straight posture in college.

“Um,” he finally says. “I was wondering if you could do me a favor, Ellie.”

I never agree to a favor without knowing what it is, especially from a guy like Luke. If he asks me to fire a member of my team, the answer is going to be no. “What is it?”

“There’s this thing tomorrow…” He gives me a pained look. “It’s at an art gallery in Boston, a new exhibit opening, whatever. Really boring. Anyway, I said I’d be there. And… I was just thinking… maybe you’d go with me?”

I stare at him.

“If you want,” he quickly adds. “No big deal either way. I just thought maybe you’d enjoy it.”

I look at him, astonished. “You did? What was it about me that led you to believe I might enjoy something like that?”

He grins. “Well, I was thinking maybe it would be a little less boring for me if you were there.”

“Oh.” I bite my lip. Is he asking me out on a date? It doesn’t feel like a date. Which is a good thing, because I’m not sure how I would respond if it was. “What about Michelle? Can’t you go with her?”

Luke shakes his head. “Nuh-uh. If I go with Michelle, everyone will be thinking I’m some dirty old man boinking my hot young secretary.”

My cheeks color. “So if I go, nobody will think you’re boinking me?”

“Nah, never.”

I’ve never been to a fancy artsy event before. It doesn’t sound like my cup of tea, but then again, Luke is giving me this look. Like he really, really wants me to go. And why not? It would be fun to see how the other side lives. And I bet they’ll have great food there.

“All right,” I agree.

His eyes light up. “Yeah?”

“Don’t make me change my mind.”

His grin widens. “I’ll pick you up tomorrow at seven.”

We spend another hour working, then I head back downstairs to my office. For some reason, whenever I’m upstairs talking to Luke, I feel a little giddy afterward. I don’t know why. But I do know it’s always hard to concentrate for a while after I see him.

When I see Nathan standing in front of my office door, I stop short. What is he doing here? Moreover, why does he look so irritated?

“Ellie,” he says. “Where have you been?”

I stick up my chin. “Lunch.”

“It’s two-thirty. You’re just getting back from lunch now?”

Is he planning to report me to Luke for taking a long lunch break? Well, good luck with that. “It was a working lunch.”

“With Luke Thayer?”

My breath catches in my throat. I don’t like the sneer on his face. Apparently, I haven’t been as subtle about my lunches with Luke as I tried to be. “We were talking about my app.”

“Oh, is that what you were doing.”

I stare at him. “What are you implying?”

Nathan shrugs. “I think it’s interesting, that’s all. You disappear into the big boss’s office and then come out three hours later with your face flushed and your hair all disheveled…”

My hand quickly goes to my hair. I pat the strands to reassure myself that I haven’t metamorphosed back into Rosanna Rosannadanna. Thankfully, my hair still feels silky and straight. As for my flushed face…

“That’s really insulting,” I say.

“Oh please,” Nathan snorts. “You want to get ahead. I get it. And Thayer probably can’t get anyone to fuck him the old-fashioned way. I mean, look at the guy.”

My right hand balls into a fist. I want so badly to hit him. “You have no idea what you’re talking about.”

I really think I might have hit the guy, but unexpectedly, his face softens. “I’m sorry,” he says. “I shouldn’t have said that. It was uncalled for. I’m just under a lot of stress and worried about my job.”

“Okay,” I mumble. I still hate him, but at least he apologized.

“Anyway,” he says, “I know you wouldn’t fuck a cripple just to get ahead. That would be really low.

I flinch at his words, but before I can say anything, he’s already walking away. My head is spinning. Everybody thinks I’m hooking up with Luke—there are probably rumors about it all over the company.

And the worst part is, I wish the rumors were true.

To be continued....

10 comments:

  1. I can't wait to get the full book out. All this interaction between Luke and Ellie is magnificent. Annabelle, you're amazing, I can't stop talking about you to my friends. The way you write makes us really enter history. Thanks for sharing.

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    1. I'm so flattered you talk about me to your friends :)

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  2. So good (again). I can’t wait to read more!

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  3. Another great chapter. Can't wait to read the book.

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  4. Great chapter!! I read Harvard Hottie sooo long ago, and it was my gateway into devworld. Feels so refreshing to read it again! You rock, Annabelle. Thanks for posting and feeding our dev minds, hahaha

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    1. I totally revised the ending, so I hope you like it!

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  5. Hey Annabelle amazing chapter as usual!!

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