LIKE A BOSS
Sixteen Years Earlier
Have you ever met somebody you hated instantly?
For me, that somebody was Lucas Thayer. Excuse me—I mean, Lucas Thayer the Third.
Luke and I met during our first semester at Harvard University. Yes, that’s a real university, not just a fake college featured in movies like Good Will Hunting and Legally Blonde. People really go there and get an actual education. Or at least, I was there to get an actual education.
Let me set the scene:
It was my very first class at Harvard. The course was expository writing, which consisted of a small discussion group of twelve students. The actual subject of the course was “The Interpretation of Short Stories,” and the course was all about dissecting and analyzing the classic short stories of English literature. I was incredibly excited to discuss the works of Raymond Carver and Edgar Allan Poe.
As a straight-A student in high school, I was nerdishly, embarrassingly overprepared. For the first class, I brought three different kinds of notebooks: one for sort of important notes, one for really important notes, and one to incorporate the two sets of notes into a single master set of notes. And don’t get me started on my set of pens. And highlighters! Every color meant something different. If you’re interested, I can give you a master key—I’m sure I still have it somewhere.
Luke, of course, strode in without so much as a pencil.
I noticed him right away. It was hard not to—he was one of the most handsome boys I had ever seen in real life. He was annoyingly handsome. His features were just a little too perfect, his blond hair just a little too sun-streaked. And he had a freaking chin cleft. And not just a chin cleft. A perfect chin cleft— not too deep, just enough to give his face some character.
If you looked in a catalog of Harvard students, someone who looked like him would be front and center. The poster child of the all-American boy. The kid who got in, not because he spent his weekends in high school studying rather than going to parties, but because his father went to Harvard and so did his father’s father and his father’s father and so forth. And they all donated a ton of money.
Five seconds after laying eyes on Luke Thayer, I knew everything there was to know about him.
We started the expository writing class with a game to get to know each other. We went around the room and introduced ourselves, and gave three facts about ourselves—two were true and one was false. Then everyone had to guess which was which.
“My name is Ellie Jensen,” I said, when it was my turn. I offered my three “facts”: “I was born with six fingers on each hand and had the extra two removed when I was a baby. I have never read any of the works of William Shakespeare. And I’ve never left the United States.”
Everybody was looking me over, trying to size me up. It wasn’t hard. From my frizzy hair to my hopelessly unfashionable T-shirt and shapeless jeans, it was clear that I wasn’t one of the kids who got into Harvard on the legacy of my father and my father’s father and my father’s father’s father going here.
One kid piped up, “Does that even include Shakespeare’s sonnets?”
“Yes,” I said, because that was one of the true ones. In a true testament to the public schools of New Jersey, I somehow made it through fifteen years of schooling without once being asked to read anything by the Great Bard. Harvard would change that.
“It must be the extra-finger thing,” another kid said, craning his neck to get a better look at my hands.
I glanced up at Luke, who was smiling smugly in my direction. About five seconds after laying eyes on me, he thought he knew everything there was to know about me.
“I bet she’s been out of the country at some point,” he said in that aggressively confident voice I grew to know well over the semester. “Everyone’s at least been to Canada.”
And that was the moment I started hating Luke Thayer. Because the jerk was absolutely right. I’d been out of the country just once and it was during a drive to Canada.
The class voted and mostly thought that I had been born with ten fingers. When I held up my hands to show off my tiny scars, my roommate Delia cried out, “Ew!”
And then it was Luke’s turn to speak. I noticed everyone’s eyes swiveled in his direction as he held their rapt attention. Even at eighteen, Luke had the power to command a room.
“My name is Lucas Thayer the Third but everyone calls me Luke,” he said. I had never met someone with a roman numeral before—I wasn’t impressed. “Here are my three facts. I have spent every summer in Greece since I was an infant. I have seven brothers and sisters. And I speak four languages fluently.”
The Greece thing was surely true, as evidenced by his glowing tan and the natural-looking blond streaks in his hair. I found it very hard to believe Luke could speak any language other than English fluently, and I even had my doubts about English. Then again, something about Luke screamed out “only child.” But maybe in the huge mansion that was surely his home, seven siblings wouldn’t be that noticeable.
We voted and it turned out Luke was, in fact, fluent in Greek, French, and German aside from English. His parents, while Anglo, loved Greece and had a summer home out there. (Actually, he called it “a villa.” He had a villa and I had a tiny bedroom at home that I shared with my sister, who snored.) He was an only child.
On the way back to our dorm, Delia lectured me. Apparently, I needed to never tell anyone ever again about my little twelve-fingered secret because it was “gross” and I’d never get a date. I just rolled my eyes. I was at Harvard to learn—not to pick up guys.
“By the way,” Delia said, “you know we have a celebrity in our class, don’t you?”
“Really?” I asked eagerly. “Who?”
“Lucas Thayer the Third,” she said in the falsely haughty voice that such a name demanded. She giggled. “You know Thayer House?”
Delia raised her eyebrows.
“Oh no,” I groaned. “We have Thayer House in our expository writing class. Fantastic.”
“I know,” Delia said. “He does seem like an arrogant prick, doesn’t he?” She paused thoughtfully. “But you have to admit, he’s really hot.”
“No,” I said firmly. “I don’t think so at all.”
I always disliked people like Luke Thayer. He was an arrogant asshole who thought he was God’s gift to the world, and he was just going to get worse as he confirmed that everything in life could be his with just a snap of his fingers. I believed Luke was never going to know a moment of hardship—he was always going to be a spoiled brat.
I had no idea how wrong I was.
@LukeThayer is the evilest man on the planet, and Thayer Industries is the spawn of Satan. How do these people sleep at night??? #pureevil #worstbossever
I ride up in the elevator, balancing a tray of six coffees in my left hand while I adjust my purse with my right. I made a stop at Starbucks on the way here, and I recited the coffee preferences of all the members of my team from memory. I’ve always believed a good dose of caffeine every morning keeps your employees happy. And I want happy employees.
Now hopefully I can reach the office without spilling all their drinks.
I make it out of the elevator and down the hallway to the office space occupied by Mediapp, the company where I have worked for the last six years (a company I’ve had a large hand in building into what it is today). I kick open the door with one of my heels and carefully ease my way inside, expecting to be greeted by the usual chatter and liveliness of the company first thing in the morning.
Instead, everyone in the office looks like they’re about to start crying.
I get a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. What happened? I heard some rumors that Mediapp was struggling financially in the last year, but I hoped they were just that—rumors. But maybe not. Has the company gone belly up? Are we all out of a job?
Before I can wonder much longer, Jenna Marsh runs up to me. Jenna is a member of the team working on my latest project (the café latte is hers), and she’s usually very put together in the morning. So her runny mascara is a very bad sign. On any other day, I’d think she was going through another breakup. But something bigger is happening here.
“What happened?” I ask her as I set down my drinks in the reception area. The receptionist is nowhere to be seen.
“We’re all going to be fired!” Jenna blurts out.
My stomach sinks. “What?”
“Christ, don’t be so dramatic, Jenna.” Nathan Grunseich sidles up beside us, his eyes mid-roll. “Just because the company got bought out, it doesn’t mean we’re all going to lose our jobs.”
Nathan is not part of my team. He’s another project manager, like I am. Except he has a very different philosophy than I do about how to treat the employees. He doesn’t get Starbucks for his team or stop off at Dunkin’ Donuts for a box of mixed donuts when he thinks he can spare the calories. He tells the team what to do, and they better damn well do it. Nathan wins the award for the most truly awful comb-overs I’ve ever seen. You can’t comb over ten strands of hair. You just can’t.
He has also been hitting on me pretty blatantly since he started working here. I can’t say no any more clearly.
“Who bought us out?” I ask.
“Thayer Industries,” Jenna says. “There was a memo this morning. Have you ever heard of them?”
Something tugs at the back of my brain. A distant memory. But I can’t quite grasp it. “No…”
“Really?” Nathan snorts. “That’s surprising. They’re the biggest company in the Boston area. Don’t you read the papers, Ellie?”
I immediately feel myself getting defensive. I wish I had drunk my coffee on the way here. I need the caffeine. “It sounds familiar…”
Jenna eyes the coffee I abandoned on the reception desk. “Please say one of those is for me.”
“Yes, of course.” With a slightly shaking hand, I detach my own black coffee. I’m the only one who drinks it black. “Tell the others to help themselves.”
Before Nathan or Jenna can say anything else upsetting, I scurry off to my tiny office. Two years ago, I finally got upgraded to an office from a cubicle after I created a medical app that made our company a ton of money. Yes, my office is only slightly larger than my bathroom at home—half the size of the one Nathan nabbed. But it’s private and I cherish it for moments when I need to focus alone. It’s hard to get any sort of deep focus in a cubicle.
The first thing I do when I get into my office is to check my email, and the memo is right at the top, marked with an exclamation point for high importance. Mediapp has been purchased by the billion-dollar Boston-based corporation, Thayer Industries. It says nothing about our jobs or any cutbacks, and raves like this is the greatest news there ever was.
Thayer Industries. Why does that sound so familiar?
Then I read the last line of the email: We would like to warmly welcome our new CEO, Lucas Thayer, who will be meeting with the staff this week.
No. No. It couldn’t be.
Instantly, I’m on Google. Google: my savior—what did I do without you to spy on people for me? I type in the words “Thayer industries” and pages of hits fill the screen.
The Internet is incredibly helpful. The first website reveals Thayer Industries is an old corporation founded by the well-respected Thayer family of Boston. The current CEO is Lucas Thayer. And then there’s a photo.
I sit at the edge of my seat waiting for the photo to load, my nose practically touching the screen. The connection isn’t fast enough for me. I watch as an image of the guy who made my first semester of college hell comes onto the screen.
Shit, it’s him. It’s definitely him.
The image is a little fuzzy, but he looks the same. No, he doesn’t look the same—he looks better. His blond hair is a little darker and shorter, more professionally clipped rather than the shaggy college student look he used to sport, and he’s wearing a nice suit and tie, which makes him look devastatingly handsome. His face has filled out a bit too, and it suits him. It’s unfair that men look better when they get a few lines on their faces, while women just look old.
It’s exactly what I predicted would happen: he’s never suffered a moment of hardship. He went from being the rich heir to the rich businessman without batting an eye.
And now he’s my boss.
Not a lot of work gets done in the morning since everyone is freaking out over the whole Thayer-takeover business. I try my best. We’re working on a crucial medical app that I think is going to change the face of medical diagnosis, and I call a meeting in the conference room to discuss our progress so far. But it’s clear right away that nobody’s head is in the game.
“Jenna,” I begin as I address my team of five. I’ve got a strong team—I appreciate every single person and I wouldn’t want to see any of them get laid off. “How is the interface going? Did you work out that bug?”
Jenna scrunches up her freckled nose. “Do you think the project will get scrapped?”
“No,” I say patiently. “They would be stupid to scrap this project. Why would they buy our company and get rid of something with the potential for so much profit?”
“Because they want to dismantle the company and sell the parts,” speaks up George, another member of our team, who always drinks a decaf cappuccino. Decaf seems insane to me. Seriously, if there’s no caffeine, what’s the point?
“They are not going to dismantle the company and sell the parts,” I say firmly. “That’s what they do with stolen cars.”
“Companies too,” George insists.
I resist the urge to roll my eyes.
“What do you think he’s like?” Jenna asks.
“Who?” I say.
“Luke Thayer,” Jenna says. “What do you think he’s like? I read he’s only thirty-four. That’s pretty young to be a CEO.”
I already knew he was thirty-four. Because that’s the same age I am. And we did, after all, go to college together.
“Well, it was a family business,” I point out. “I read his father had a heart attack.”
Jenna nods. “I read he’s more than doubled the company’s profits while he’s been in charge. You don’t do that by being nice.”
“Jenna, I’m sure he’s…” My tongue sticks on the word “nice.” Luke isn’t nice. He was never nice. He’s probably more of an asshole now than he ever was. I’m dreading any interaction with him. I’m hoping he’s just going to say a quick hello, then move onto more important businesses.
“I’ve been reading what people say about him online,” says John, another member of my team. “People really hate him. They say he’s this heartless businessman who will sell you out for a nickel. Doesn’t care about his employees. Only cares about profit.”
“Well,” I say in my most chipper voice, “let’s prove to him that we can turn a profit, and our jobs will be safe.”
I’m not sure if my motivational speech would have worked. But at that moment, our receptionist peeks into the room, her eyes wide. “Ellie,” she says, “Mr. Thayer would like to see you in his office upstairs ASAP.”
My mouth goes dry. “Did he say what about?”
She shakes her head, her eyes still big like saucers.
My mind is racing a mile a minute. This doesn’t sound good. As one of the project managers, I am among the highest-paid people here. If he’s going to get rid of anyone to turn a profit, it will be someone like me. And let’s face it, in the programming industry, women are less respected. They probably think I’m more expendable than somebody like Nathan.
I get the fleeting thought that perhaps Luke recognized my name. But no, I doubt it. If he remembers me at all, it’s as Ellie, not Eleanor Jensen. That name won’t look familiar to him at all, I’m sure.
“Good luck, Ellie,” Jenna squeaks. And the rest of my team looks at me like I’m going off to the electric chair.
I hit the ladies room before I go upstairs. Partially because I always have to pee when I’m nervous, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want to check out my appearance before seeing the best looking guy I ever met. At least, I need to make sure I don’t have any spinach in my teeth. Although I don’t know why I would have spinach in my teeth, considering I haven’t eaten any spinach today. But it would be just my luck.
I spend a good five minutes checking myself out in the ladies’ room mirror. I look… fine. Probably better than I did in college. My natural hair is a huge mound of frizz that would need its own seat on the bus. My roommate Delia used to jokingly refer to me as Rosanna Rosannadanna, after Gilda Radnor’s character on Saturday Night Live with giant hair. After college, I started getting keratin treatments, which have done wonders. My dark hair is straight and silky now.
Most of my lipstick has worn off, and my eye makeup is fairly subtle, as per usual. I’ve never been a big believer in lots of makeup. I prefer the natural look. But I find myself rifling inside my purse for my darker shade of lipstick and applying a fresh layer.
Hey, it never hurts to look your best when you’re meeting your new boss.
After I’ve prettied myself up, I take the stairs to the floor above us. Luke is temporarily using one of the offices up there. Presumably, he won’t need an office anymore after he finishes stripping and dismantling our company, then selling the pieces for profit.
My stomach is all butterflies as I exit the stairwell and traverse the brightly lit hallway to Luke’s office. My heels echo on the floor with each step. I have no idea if Luke will recognize me when he sees me—I’m not sure whether I want him to or not. Anyway, I’ll have no trouble recognizing him. From what I saw online, he hasn’t changed at all since college.
I turn one final corner on my journey to his office. There’s a man in the hallway dressed in a suit that I can tell from here is crazy-expensive. I see the blond hair clipped professionally short. The classically handsome features. But that’s not him. It can’t be...
Except it is.
A few minutes ago, I looked at myself in the mirror and thought about how different I looked from my former self. But it turns out Luke Thayer’s got me beat by a million miles.
Luke is in a wheelchair.
There’s something you need to understand about me and Luke Thayer.
I didn’t just hate him because he was rich and handsome and got everything he wanted. I hated him because he tortured me all through that expository writing class. Every single day. It was like he made it his personal mission to always prove me wrong.
Flannery O’Connor’s short story, “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” is about a family that has an unfortunate run-in with a bandit named the Misfit. I don’t want to give away the ending in case you haven’t read it, but just so you know, the bandit was neither a good man nor hard to find. He was clearly the villain in the story.
Except Luke Thayer (the Third) seemed to think the Misfit was in the right. Or at least, that was what he was pretending to think strictly to irritate me.
“The Misfit has a consistent moral code,” Luke kept insisting. “He may be violent, but his moral code never wavers. The grandmother, on the hand… she’s superficial! She only cares about appearances and what people think of her.”
“So being superficial is worse than being a murderer?” I challenged him. “Maybe the grandmother is misguided, but at least she lives her life under the confines of the law.”
Luke got this glint in his eyes and I knew exactly what that bastard was about to say. “See,” he began. “If you had read Hamlet, you’d know that—”
I had made a horrible mistake when I admitted to the class on the first day that I’d never read Shakespeare. From that day forth, any time Luke was struggling in an argument with me, he’d bring up some play from Shakespeare. It was infuriating.
“Oh, please!” I interrupted him. “There are no similarities between this story and Hamlet!”
“Actually,” our professor, Dr. Cole, said. “There are some similarities between Hamlet and this story. Luke, would you like to elaborate?”
Have I mentioned that the female professor always took Luke’s side?
Luke then launched into a spontaneous speech that I was certain was pure bullshit about how O’Connor’s story mirrored Hamlet. It was amazing how he managed to come up with all that on the spot, considering I was ninety-nine percent sure there were no actual similarities between the two stories. But of course, I couldn’t say for certain, considering I never read Hamlet and everyone in the class knew it. Anyway, he managed to shut me up.
When we got out of class that day, I was fuming. My hands were balled into fists and I was grinding my teeth. I couldn’t wait to start ranting about Luke to Delia.
“My God, Ellie.” Delia shook her head at me. “Why don’t you and Luke just skip the foreplay and have sex already?”
That infuriated me even more. Delia seemed to think Luke and I were only arguing with each other because we were into each other. Nothing could have been further from the truth. I wasn’t interested in a boyfriend at all, and I definitely wasn’t interested in Luke. He was too… perfect.
And now it’s sixteen years later. And, well, he sure as hell isn’t perfect anymore.
He isn’t looking at me, and I take the opportunity to blatantly stare at him, trying to figure it out. Is he using a wheelchair because he broke his leg skiing in Vail? But no, I don’t see a cast. And there’s something about the chair and the way he’s sitting in it that makes me think this isn’t a broken leg. This is a forever kind of thing. The chair is too sleek, the wheels are too worn, and he looks too comfortable in it.
I brace myself, sensing an uncomfortable situation coming on. If he recognizes me, what should I say? Do I ask the question that’s running through my head?
Luke, what the hell happened to you?
No, I can’t ask that. And I can’t tell him how good he looks. He probably hates that patronizing shit.
Luke lifts his eyes, and they lock with mine. There isn’t even a glimmer of recognition. He has no clue who I am. And I prefer to keep it that way.
“Eleanor Jensen?” he asks. His voice has changed too. It’s harder, colder. The voice of a ruthless businessman. Someone who’s going to fire us all.
“Hi!” I say in an overly chipper voice.
And then for reasons I don’t entirely understand, I stick out my hand for him to shake.
In general, I don’t enjoy handshakes. About half the men I shake hands with think a handshake is some sort of pissing contest where the goal is for one person to crush the other’s hand in theirs. Luke seems like the sort of man who might get involved in a handshake pissing contest, but when I hold out my hand to him, his eyes darken. After a pause, he takes my hand.
Immediately, I understand why he hesitated. Luke can barely grip my hand at all. It’s not even a weak handshake. It’s a non-handshake. It lasts about one second, and that entire second is incredibly awkward.
“I’m Lucas Thayer,” he says, as if there was any chance I didn’t know who he was. “Please come into my office, Ms. Jensen.”
I watch as he pushes his palms against the wheels of his chair and enters his office. He turns his chair and slides seamlessly behind the desk. There’s no doubt he’s been using a wheelchair for a while. He’s comfortable in it. This is who he is now.
“Please have a seat, Ms. Jensen,” he says, since I’m still standing in the doorway, gawking at him.
“I’m sorry, sir,” I say in a soft voice as I practically faint into the leather chair in front of his desk.
Our eyes meet again across the desk. Despite everything, he is still incredibly handsome. Now that I’m looking closer, I notice a small pale scar under his right eye and one down along his jawline. The scars mar the perfection of his features, but also give him this sexy rugged look.
“You don’t have to call me ‘sir,’” he says. He folds his hands together and that’s when I notice they don’t look quite right. There are deep grooves between the tendons on the back of his hands that did not exist in college. No wonder he couldn’t grip my hand. “You can call me Luke.”
“I’m sorry… Luke,” I mumble.
His eyes study my face, and for a moment, I’m certain I see a shadow of recognition. Like he’s trying to place me. He shifts in his wheelchair.
“Thank you for coming down here, Eleanor,” he says. “I’ve been wanting a chance to sit down with all the project leaders. I’d like to talk about the future of this company.”
I nod, my shoulders relaxing. I’d love to talk about my work—that’s solid ground for me. I could convince him of the importance of what we’re doing, and then he could leave us alone, convinced his company is in good hands. He’ll certainly be impressed when I tell him what we’ve been doing. “I’d be happy to.”
“Good.” He looks down at his Cartier watch. “Unfortunately, I’m running late to a meeting downtown.” He sighs. “Why don’t we discuss it over lunch tomorrow?”
“Um…” I looked down at my own watch, but then remember I don’t wear a watch. “Sure, of course. Should I bring my lunch here, to your office?”
He shakes his head. “Come here at noon tomorrow. We’ll go eat out somewhere.”
“So we’ll get a good meal on the company dime,” I joke.
Luke raises an eyebrow. “I own the company.”
My face burns. “No, I just meant—”
“Ms. Jensen, do you make a habit of charging your meals to the company credit card?”
Oh God. “No! I mean, it was just a… you know, a joke.”
He narrows his eyes at me. “I see…”
The old Luke, for all his flaws, would have laughed. The new Luke doesn’t seem to have much of a sense of humor. But I guess I can’t blame him. Whatever happened to him must have been pretty bad. It’s turned him into an entirely different person. And not one that I think I like very much.
To be continued....