Hunger Games

When I woke up in the morning my mouth tasted like blue cheese and my brain felt too big for my head. Groaning, I found my phone and silenced the alarm. It was 9am—I’d deliberately set it later than usual, planning on going in late. It was close to 4:30 AM when I finally crawled into bed, whimpering like a big fat baby whose toy had been taken from her. I wasn’t taking the day off like William said I could, but I figured I could at least let myself sleep in a little. I sent Megan an email giving her the heads up I was running late that morning. I’m usually the first person in the office at 8:45 so hopefully she would cut me a break, especially since she knew I had a work related event the night before. Plus, what William had said about her—was she getting fired? Moving to a different department? I was dying to find out what the deal was.

I made coffee, chugged water, showered, chugged some more water, drank my coffee, got dressed and made my way to the subway with a pit in my stomach. I had no idea what to expect from Richard when I saw him, no idea how to handle the situation with Kate, and was angsting so hard I half-wished a cab would run over my foot so I would have a legitimate reason not to go to work. How sick is that?

Of course, who do I run into the second I step off the elevator? Richard, accompanied by his boss. We exchanged awkward hellos, Richard’s boss making some crack like, “Good morning, or should I say afternoon? Party was fun, I take it?” Richard looking like he was in just as much pain as I was. They stepped onto the elevator as I stepped off it, and I slunk to my desk. Sitting next to my keyboard was a large iced coffee and a sausage, egg, and cheese bagel from the good coffee place. I assumed it was a peace offering from Richard. It was sweet, but the more I thought about what he’d said to me the night before the angrier I got. Who calls a girl a cocktease in 2013 because she doesn’t want to go home with him? I don’t care that I kissed him back—I have every right to stop it when I want to and any guy who would give me shit for that is just gross and manipulative. That was just one of the bones I had to pick with him. The other had to do with what he said about Peter. This morning, with a clear(er) head, I no longer thought that there was even a shred of truth to what Richard had said about Peter using me. Richard’s only reasoning was that because he’s relationship-adverse, every other guy must be too. Which they aren’t or I wouldn’t have a dad. God.

Now I was all riled up again, and I seriously considered throwing that breakfast sammie in the trash just to make a point! But I was hungry. Also, I heard on The Today Show that this country wastes a third of all food produced, so I didn’t.

As I tore into my bagel, which I begrudgingly admit was delicious, I checked my email. I had an email from Peter, asking me how the party went. See? I imaginary-argued with Richard in my head, He doesn’t just want to screw me or he wouldn’t have asked. Then I instantly felt guilty because it was nice of Peter to ask and if he really knew what I did last night he would probably be sad. Or maybe not? Maybe he was off doing the same thing? He was single and had every right to, even though yeah, it would bum me out if I heard he was making out with another girl. I’m human. But I wouldn’t be mad at him because I have no right to be. I’d rather just not know, which is why I’m not telling him.

I wrote Peter back and asked him what he was doing later. Just as I clicked send, my phone rang. I recognized William’s cell on the caller ID.

“Hi, William,” I said.

“What the hell are you doing?” William rasped. He sounded like he had been up late, doing no good very bad things. “I told you to take the day off.”

“Then why are you calling me?”

“Because I knew you would come in any way,” he said. “You’re such a goody two shoes.” I wanted to tell William that if I was his version of a goody two shoes, I never wanted to meet his version of a bad girl. “What’s going on there today?” he asked.

“Nothing, it’s quiet.”

“Have you seen Megan yet?”

“We’ve just emailed,” I said. Megan had written me back just one line, “Okay.” I used to freak out when she’d send me terse replies like that, but then I realized it’s just her way.

“Hm,” William said. “Okay, well, I’ll call back later.”

“Wait!” I said. “What did you mean when you said that”—I lowered my voice—”she wasn’t long for this world?”

“Huh?” William said. “I can’t hear you.”

I repeated myself, slightly louder this time.

“I still can’t hear you!” William yelled. “Connection must be bad. I’ll call back later!” He hung up. My ass, bad connection. Something was going down today, and I was so not in a state to handle it. I was very weak and emotional. I eyed the other half of my sandwich in the trash. I’d only eaten half of it (portion control), but now I was thinking I might need more sustenance. I looked around to make sure no one was watching, then reached into the trash can and wolfed down the second half. Judge me all you want. I deserve it.

“Hi!” I nearly jumped out of my chair at the sound of Kate’s voice. She was standing behind me, looking well rested. I wish I’d just gone home when she had.

“You scared me,”I said, putting my hand over my chest.

“Sorry!” Kate stepped further into my area and leaned against the wall of my cube. “How late did you stay out last night?”

Ugh, too late,” I said. “I’m hurting.”

“Yeah, I think Richard is too,” Kate said. “Were you out with him?”

“Kevin was there too,” I added, quickly. Too quickly. Kate gave me a weird look. I tried to change the subject. “Want to have a carb fest for lunch?” I asked.

Kate wrinkled her nose. “I was thinking salad. But maybe.” She turned. “I have to get back to work.”

Ok. That hadn’t gone terribly. I didn’t know whether or not to tell Kate. I wouldn’t tell her without first telling Richard, because that would be unfair. And I knew a confrontation between us was inevitable. I was kind of looking forward to it, which is unusual for me, because I’m not a big fan of confrontation. I had things to say to that guy.

I decided to stop in Megan’s office to see if she needed me to do anything for her, but she wasn’t there. On my way back to my desk, I ran into Richard again. This time he was alone.

He put his hands up. “Don’t shoot.”

I didn’t smile. “This isn’t funny. Not to me.”

Richard sighed. “I was out of line for some of the things I said last night,” he said. “But I’m not going to apologize for kissing you.”

“Thank you,” I said. “I wasn’t looking for an apology for the kiss—we both did that. But you didn’t have to be such an asshole. I stopped it for all the reasons I already gave you and I wish you could just respect that instead of bringing Peter into it. They’re valid reasons on their own that have nothing to do with him. You point blank told me you lose interest in a girl the second you sleep with her and—”

“I wouldn’t,” Richard said, louder than he meant to. He looked around the hallway to make sure no one else was around. But we were alone. “I wouldn’t with you.”

“You would. I’m like a boyfriend pusher. I’d try and make you my boyfriend because I don’t know any other way and you’d hate me and then we wouldn’t be friends and that would kill me.”

Richard sighed and leaned against the wall. He tilted his head back. “You won’t even give me a chance and I haven’t even done anything to disappoint you yet. But you give him a second chance after he broke your heart.” He was talking about Peter.

“He didn’t break my heart. The timing was off. It just didn’t work and it wasn’t necessarily any one person’s fault.”

“I’m just asking for a chance,” Richard said. “Just give me a chance to prove to you that you’re wrong about me.” He took a step closer. “Tell me you didn’t feel anything for me last night. If you honestly didn’t, I’ll leave you alone.”

I couldn’t tell him that, because I did feel something when we kissed last night. Of course I did. Richard is hot, and even better than that, we get along like bandits. We have a similar sense of humor, and I like that he pushes my buttons, and that he calls me on my bullshit. But I didn’t want to be his little experiment, and I didn’t want him to make a fool out of me. I don’t know—maybe he wouldn’t? Every girl says this at one time or another—it will be different with me. And it never is. So why was I even entertaining this?

Richard opened his mouth to say something more but we heard footsteps behind us. As they grew closer I saw they belonged to Kate. She looked like she was about to cry, and I felt a flash of panic. She’d heard our whole conversation, hadn’t she? “You guys, something is happening,” she said.

“What?” I asked, my heart racing as my overactive imagination roared to life and landed on the only possible conclusion: Terrorist attack! Evacuate the city!

“I don’t know,” she said. “Kim from rights was just let go, and so was her assistant. And Richard, I think your boss is with HR now.”

“Oh my god,” I said. This had to be what William was talking about. This was why he didn’t come in today. We hurried back to our desks. On the way, I glanced into Megan’s office. It was still empty. She had to be with HR too.

It was like the goddamn Hunger Games. One by one, various editors and their assistants were called down to HR. When they returned to their desks, they were either crying and/or fuming, tossing their things into boxes that the mail guys had delivered to their desks while they were downstairs.

“Hey.” I turned. Richard was behind me. “I just got a call to head down to HR. It’s been nice knowing you.”

“What?” I gasped. I fumbled to say something to make him feel better. “Maybe they’re promoting you?”

Richard laughed. “You can be really sweet sometimes.” With that, he walked away. Kate and I locked eyes from across the office, and she shook her head sadly.

My phone rang. It was William again. “William,” I said when I picked up.

He sighed. “Okay, do you know now?”

“Yes. What is going on?”

“Downsizing,” he said. “Sales aren’t doing as well as they’d hoped. But you and I—we’re fine. They need me,” he laughed, cockily. “And I need you. Therefore you are safe.”

“Who’s getting fired?”

“They’re not being fired, Josie. They’re being laid off. This isn’t about performance. It’s about money. Money that the company doesn’t have.”

“Fine, fine. Who is it?”

William listed a bunch of names. Megan was one of them, but Kate wasn’t, and neither was Richard. I felt hopeful for a moment before he said, “Oh! And your friend. What’s his name? He was at the party last night?”

My heart sank. “Richard.”

“Yeah, Richard. Listen,” William said. “It’s nothing personal. It’s purely a business decision. They overshot their load when they built the team for this imprint. They just have to get rid of some of the fat. HR will help everyone land jobs elsewhere, and they’ll be fine. You’re young, so this is new and traumatic for you. But I’ve been through this a million times before. I’ve been your friend Richard, and look at me now. He’ll be fine.”

I closed my eyes and leaned my forehead up against my fist. Of all days to be so hungover I could barely function it had to be this day. “Okay,” I said, quietly.

“This is why I told you not to come in,” William said. “Just shut your computer down and go home and have a glass of wine and relax. When you wake up in the morning it will be like it never happened.” Have a glass of wine? It wasn’t even noon.

We said goodbye and I placed the phone in the receiver. I was near tears for Richard.

I refreshed my email. Peter had written me back that he didn’t have any plans, and did I want to do something? I was just about to respond when I spotted Richard, back from HR. Kate and I ambushed him at the same time.

“What happened?” Kate asked. She’d gotten to him first.

“Take a wild guess,” he said.

Kate covered her mouth and her eyes filled with tears. “Come on,” Richard said, pulling Kate in for a hug. “I’m fine. They give you a surprisingly good severance too.”

“I’m really sorry, Richard,” I said. He held my gaze over the top of Kate’s head, which was buried in his chest. He reached out and squeezed my hand. “Thanks,” he said.

Kate and I helped him pack up his desk. It was 4 in the afternoon by the time he was done, and Kate’s boss told her to take off as well. Everyone who had been let go had gathered at a bar around the corner, so we decided to go there.

I texted Peter to tell him about the bloodbath, and that I was lending my support by having a drink with  the victims.

“Want me to come meet you?” he wrote back. I wanted to see him, but that would be like rubbing salt into Richard’s wound, so I told him no.

Everyone but Megan was at the bar. I found out that she had just gotten up and walked out when the HR rep told her they were letting her go. She didn’t even pack up her office! Megan had been icy, but she’d been good at her job and I learned a lot from her. I was going to have to send her an email or something—surely we’d cross paths again.

The last thing I wanted to do was drink after the night I’d had, but when I tried to order a club soda, Richard got all pouty. “I just got fired, and you can’t have a drink with me?” I ordered a beer, and nursed it for an hour, gagging on every sip. Meanwhile, I think Richard had at least three Jack and Cokes, and one whiskey shot. I had to turn away when he slugged it, afraid I would vomit vicariously through him.

The drunker he got, the handsier he got. But not with me—with Kate. And she was eating it up. At one point they were in the corner, him with his hand looped around her waist, inches from her ass, whispering into her ear. I watched him kiss her neck—the same way he’d kissed my neck the night before. When Kate turned around to order another drink at the bar, Richard looked pointedly at me. He took a sip of his drink, raising his eyebrows, as if to say, What are you going to do about it?

Nothing. There was nothing I could do about it without coming off like a real asshole. It really was an evil genius move on Richard’s part—if I told Kate not to hook up with him tonight, and I told her I thought he was just trying to make me jealous, I would look like a raging egomaniac. Plus, I’d have to come clean about what had happened the night before, but it wouldn’t look like I was telling her for pure reasons. It would look like I was telling her so that she wouldn’t hook up with Richard, because I was jealous or something. And maybe I was a little. But I was also outraged—a few hours ago you were telling me things would be different with me, and now you’re nuzzling my friend’s neck right in front of me. People who have just been fired deserve a lot of slack, but the scene in front of me was literally reason numero uno why I shouldn’t listen to a single word that comes out of Richard’s mouth. He’s so full of bullshit. He will say anything to get in a girl’s pants. God knows how many others he’s used that line with—”Just give me a chance to prove to you that you’re wrong about me.” What a crock.

I waited for Richard to go to the bathroom and I approached Kate. “Hey,” I said.

“Hi!” she said. She was glowing.

“Are you sure you want to do this?” I asked, gently. “Remember how he was the last time?”

Kate rolled her eyes. “He just got fired. The guy deserves to get laid.”

“I just,” I stopped. Richard was coming out of the bathroom, and making his way over to us. He saw me close talking Kate and picked up the pace. Quickly, I said, “I just don’t want to see you upset like that again.”

Kate laughed. “Don’t worry, mom.”

“What’s going on?” Richard asked. He was practically out of breath from having rushed over to us.

“I’m taking off,” I said, giving him a look. “I’ll see you guys.”

Richard hooked his arm around Kate’s waist and pulled her into him. “Cool,” he said, narrowing his eyes at me. “See you.”

I turned on my heel. You have no right to be annoyed, you have no right to be annoyed, I chanted to myself as I made my way out of the bar. But I was annoyed! Why is Richard messing with me like this? And why was it bothering me when it shouldn’t? I needed to re-focus on Peter. Peter, who has been straightforward with me and isn’t playing games like Richard is.

I decided to chalk the last twenty-four hours up to the fact that it was the eve of Friday the 13th, and everyone was acting like damn fools. Myself included. I was also exhausted and needed to go to bed and get a good night’s sleep. In the morning, with a head that wasn’t throbbing like a discotheque,  everything would be clear. I wouldn’t have these conflicting feelings for Richard. I was sure of it.

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