My sputtering iPod gave up the ghost on a Monday afternoon. Normally I don’t mind the start of the work week--my name’s Monday, so I defend my day on principle--but I was still slightly hungover from Saturday night. The only way I was going to survive was with a little help from MGMT. The frigid silence of the old cube farm drove home several irritating facts:
1. I had a phone number of dubious provenance in my wallet.
2. A tequila headache lingered behind my eyes.
3. I was totally unprepared for the sales call from hell tomorrow morning.
4. Last night’s visit from the recurring nightmare was clinging to my brain.
And last, but oh God, not least:
5. My stomach was cannibalizing itself.
To add insult to injury, my phone chose the exact moment of iPod death to vibrate on the desk, screen flashing the most ominous word in the English language: MOM.
She picks today to bestow a phone call upon her grateful son
. I love my mother, but I really wasn’t in the mood.
Only one thing for it. The electricity was practically bouncing off the inside of my skin, so I let tiny white sparks crackle around my fingertips. I shouldn’t, I knew. Any sleeper--as in, non-superpowered-type--who saw me would freak and call for a wiring inspection. Well, that or know me for what I am, or at least some weird sleeper-friendly version of it. Call me a witch, maybe.
But really, screw it. I let the charge build up until the crackle became audible, then let it go. It leaped to the iPod, sending up a hiss and spark from its useless innards.
Not quite the storm I was craving, but the fizz of ozone in my nose and the tingle it left in my hand--goddamn, that was nice. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath.
My stomach dropped. I shoved the iPod under some papers and spun the chair around.
Clark leaned against the partition, eyebrows high. “The hell, you watching porn on that thing?”
“My mother once caught me with a copy of Swank
, and that’s exactly how I reacted.”
“You got a dirty mind, man.”
“Uh-huh, that’s great, coming from you.” He chuckled. “Get up, fool. I’m starving.”
“We’re supposed to bring her a chicken Caesar. You getting one for your best friend?”
“Yeah, it’s Monday.” My phone vibrated again. I shoved it into my pocket and followed Clark out, listening to him rant about his mother-in-law--who I happened to know was a really nice woman, by the way.
He paused near the door, nodding to the far corner of the cube farm. “You meet New Guy yet?”
“The code monkey? Nah.”
“Off your game.”
“I’ll introduce you.” He waved me along the narrow aisle between the drab gray partitions and the beige wall. “Weird dude, though.”
“There’s a first, a weird programmer.”
That got him a dirty look from Isabella, since we were passing her cube. I swung inside and kissed her cheek. “How you doing, gorgeous?”
“Don’t flirt with women older than your mother.” She patted my face. “Hot date this weekend?”
“It’s not a date if you meet a guy at a club, slam shots for an hour, go back to his place, and get a cab home at three a.m. So, no, not really.”
Really should’ve asked him to write his name next to his number. Ferris? Frederick?
My head gave an answering throb. Fuck.
Bell chuckled. “Tell me more.”
“If I remember, you’ll be the first to hear it. Got any new romance novels for me?” We had a barter system: I’d divulge tales of my sordid affairs, and she’d divulge other people’s tales of sordid affairs. Because, yes, there were days when we were that bored.
“No, but I just went to the library, so I’ll have some for you soon.” She went back to her keyboard, Clark’s verbal transgression forgotten. Mission accomplished.
I wandered around the corner after Clark and then almost forgot how crappy I felt for a second. New Guy’s desk chair was in pieces on the floor, which meant he had to bend over his desk. And you know how there’s always one guy on the football team that’s a little slimmer than the rest of the line when they get set, but you stare at his ass anyhow because it’s got that perfect shape?
Yep, that’s the guy.
Clark said under his breath, “If I looked at a female employee like that, I’d be fired.”
“You did look at a female employee like that, and she just popped out your second brat.”
“That brat is your goddaughter.”
“And she’s beautiful, just like her godfather.”
But by then New Guy was standing up, one of those “Welcome to Humphries” folders in his hand. We weren’t near enough that he’d catch what we were saying, but it would’ve been hard to ignore our presence.
Clark said, “Hey, New Guy.”
I gave him the once-over when he turned. First thing: he wore glasses, black wire-rimmed. (Bona fide librarian sexy.) Second: basic white button-down, flat-front pinstripes, plain belt, no watch, stylishly shaggy, no obvious hair product. (Didn’t ping the gaydar but didn’t shut it down either.) Third: he was pale, super pale, but his hair and eyes were a deep chocolate color. (Goth kid by night?) Fourth, and most importantly: swimmer build. Tall, wide shoulders and slim hips, and did I detect a telling bulge at the--
“Kellan, actually.” Luckily he was too busy eyeing Clark with extreme suspicion to notice me checking him out like a hungry dog with a juicy bone.
No pun intended.
“Yeah, I know, but for about a month, you’re New Guy.” Clark accompanied this announcement with his biggest grin. “That’s just how it works.”
Clark clapped him on the shoulder, and Kellan’s mouth pressed into a pale, thin line. Oblivious, Clark went on. “This is Jamie Monday, our social director.”
I held out my hand. “Not really. Sales.”
He took it, and his gaze dropped, but nervously. His voice was warm, middle-toned and gentle, which somehow took the edge off the words: “So you’re the guys who sell things we don’t have and then expect me to produce them?”
Pricing consulting: selling software that doesn’t exist (yet) to companies that could probably do without it, then bleeding them dry by charging for every planning meeting, conference call, training session, and product update for years to come.
But hey, you want to know what a fifty-cent price cut will do to your holiday sales? Have I got the product for you.
One corner of Kellan’s lips twitched upward, and his gaze dropped again. Those eyes were something, now I was a little closer.
I got the feeling he’d been a little bit serious. Better keep it simple, then. “Nice to meet you, Kellan.”
“New Guy,” Clark corrected.
Kellan pulled a face like a five-year-old staring down a plate of Brussels sprouts. It drove home that he was a lot younger than I’d expected, but I recalled something about him being a wunderkind. I mean young in a cute-college-guy way, not a creepy way.
Considerate of them to hire someone worth looking at, at least. Brightens the place up.
I said, “We’re going to lunch. You hungry?”
He poked at a cardboard box with his toe and chewed on his nails. “Ah, no, thanks. Just arranging my stuff.”
I laughed. “Don’t let us tear you away from anything exciting.”
He looked up sharply, mouth pressing into that line again. It was like someone pouring cold water over my head. I’m not saying I’m Prince Charming, but I’m not an ironic dickhead either. Damn.
“Right.” He turned around and went back to digging through the lone pile of papers on his desk.
“Okay.” I allowed myself one last look at his fine backside. Hey, I could be a jerk too. Yeah. “Later, New Guy.”
We couldn’t talk about it in the elevator, since it was jammed full, but in line at the sandwich shop, Clark said, “Told you. The code monkey has a stick up his ass.”
“Yeah, well he can stick his--”
“Don’t finish that sentence.”
“Don’t knock it till you’ve tried it.”
“James, I would do anything for your love. But I won’t do that.”
I sighed. “First Swank
, now Meatloaf. Jesus, man. You have the worst taste in everything--except women.”
“And you’re the expert there.”
“You’re such a cock.”
“And you’re the--”
But I was at the front of the line by then, so we stifled our adolescent banter long enough to order sandwiches. We took the long way back to drop my extra off with Will-Sing-for-Food Guy on the corner. Clark always called him my best friend, but I considered myself a patron of the arts. You dropped a buck in his ancient coffee cup, this guy made up the best couplets you’ve ever heard, usually based on you or something going on down the block at the moment. Drop enough dollars, and he’d eventually start talking--and you’d find out what kind of sandwich he liked.
If that’s not worth a three-cheese panini on a Monday, nothing ever will be, man.