I have a theory. Hating someone feels disturbingly similar to being in love with them. I’ve had a lot of time to compare love and hate, and these are my observations.
Love and hate are visceral. Your stomach twists at the thought of that person. The heart in your chest beats heavy and bright, nearly visible through your flesh and clothes. Your appetite and sleep are shredded. Every interaction spikes your blood with a dangerous kind of adrenaline, and you’re on the brink of fight or flight. Your body is barely under your control. You’re consumed, and it scares you.
Both love and hate are mirror versions of the same game—and you have to win. Why? Your heart and your ego. Trust me, I should know.
It’s early Friday afternoon. I’m imprisoned at my desk for another few hours. I wish I was in solitary confinement, but unfortunately I have a cellmate. Each tick of his watch feels like another tally mark, chipped onto the cell wall.
We’re engaged in one of our childish games, which requires no words. Like everything we do, it’s dreadfully immature.
The first thing to know about me: My name is Lucy Hutton. I’m the executive assistant to Helene Pascal, the co-CEO of Bexley & Gamin.
Once upon a time, our little Gamin Publishing was on the brink of collapse. The reality of the economy meant people had no money for their mortgage repayments and literature was a luxury. Bookstores were closing all over the city like candles being blown out. We braced ourselves for almost certain closure.
At the eleventh hour, a deal was struck with another struggling publishing house. Gamin Publishing was forced into an arranged marriage with the crumbling evil empire known as Bexley Books, ruled by the unbearable Mr. Bexley himself.
Each company stubbornly believing it was saving the other, they both packed up and moved into their new marital home. Neither party was remotely happy about it. The Bexleys remembered their old lunchroom foosball table with sepia-tinted nostalgia. They couldn’t believe the airy-fairy Gamins had survived even this long, with their lax adherence to key performance indicator targets and dreamy insistence on Literature as Art. The Bexleys believed numbers were more important than words. Books were units. Sell the units. High-five the team. Repeat.
The Gamins shuddered in horror watching their boisterous new stepbrothers practically tearing the pages out of their Brontës and Austens. How had Bexley managed to amass so many like-minded stuffed shirts, far more suited to accountancy or law? Gamins resented the notion of books as units. Books were, and always would be, something a little magic and something to respect.
One year on, you can still tell at a glance which company someone came from by his or her physical appearance. The Bexleys are hard geometrics, the Gamins are soft scribbles. Bexleys move in shark packs, talking figures and constantly hogging the conference rooms for their ominous Planning Sessions. Plotting sessions, more like. Gamins huddle in their cubicles, gentle doves in clock towers, poring over manuscripts, searching for the next literary sensation. The air surrounding them is perfumed with jasmine tea and paper. Shakespeare is their pinup boy.
The move to a new building was a little traumatizing, especially for the Gamins. Take a map of this city. Make a straight line between each of the old company buildings, mark a red dot exactly halfway between them and here we are. The new Bexley & Gamin is a cheap gray cement toad squatting on a major traffic route, impossible to merge onto in the afternoon. It’s arctic in the morning shadows and sweaty by the afternoon. The building has one redeeming feature: Some basement parking—usually snagged by the early risers, or should I say, the Bexleys.
Helene Pascal and Mr. Bexley had toured the building prior to the move and a rare thing happened: They both agreed on something. The top floor of the building was an insult. Only one executive office? A total refit was needed.
After an hour-long brainstorm that was filled with so much hostility the interior designer’s eyes sparkled with unshed tears, the only word Helene and Mr. Bexley would agree on to describe the new aesthetic was shiny. It was their last agreement, ever. The refit definitely fulfilled the design brief. The tenth floor is now a cube of glass, chrome, and black tile. You could pluck your eyebrows using any surface as a mirror—walls, floors, ceiling. Even our desks are made from huge sheets of glass.
I’m focused on the great big reflection opposite 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: [email protected] 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 copyrights 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 restructure echoing a few times around these halls, and I know where that leads. Every time I step out of the elevator and see Joshua I ask myself: Why I don’t get a new job?
I’ve been fascinated by publishing houses since a pivotal field trip when I was eleven. I was already a passionate devourer of books. My life revolved around the weekly trip to the town library. I’d borrow the maximum number of titles allowed and I could identify individual librarians by the sound their shoes made as they moved up each aisle. Until that field trip, I was hell-bent on being a librarian myself. I’d even implemented a cataloging system for my own personal collection. I was such a little book nerd.
Before our trip to the publishing house, I’d never thought much about how a book came to actually exist. It was a revelation. You could be paid to find authors, read books, and ultimately create them? Brand-new covers and perfect pages with no dog-ears or pencil annotations? My mind was blown. I loved new books. They were my favorite to borrow. I told my parents when I got home, I’m going to work at a publisher when I grow up.
It’s great that I’m fulfilling a childhood dream. But if I’m honest, at the moment the main reason I don’t get a new job is: I can’t let Joshua win this.
As I work, all I can hear are his machine-gun keystrokes and the faint whistle of air conditioning. He occasionally picks up his calculator and taps on it. I wouldn’t mind betting Mr. Bexley has also directed Joshua to run the forecasting figures. Then the two co-CEOs can march into battle, armed with numbers that may not match. The ideal fuel for their bonfire of hatred.
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