Home > Right Where I Want You(15)

Right Where I Want You(15)
Jessica Hawkins

Libby flipped through the magazine until she found a pull-quote from Badvice to read aloud. “‘Date a coworker. In fact, date two or three. The office is an unfairly maligned breeding ground for men who don’t want to work too hard to get dates.’” She glanced at me over her glasses and continued reading. “‘An excerpt from BadVice, a monthly sex advice column aimed at men, curated and often written by Quinn, a notorious womanizer.’”

“That was a joke,” I said. I knew that. Everyone at work knew it. Our readers knew it. But my vilification was no picnic to hear aloud. Especially knowing these kids, and my own, might see it one day.

“What about the intern who showed us behind the curtain?” Libs asked, sliding her food across the island. “It says here she’d taken off her shoes after a long workday and gone to the breakroom. When she returned, she caught an editor fondling them.”

I chuckled to myself as I shifted Carmen to my hip and picked up my drink. “Classic.”

“Why are you laughing?” she asked as she chewed. “That’s disgusting!”

“That’s Justin,” I said. “He wasn’t fondling them. He was trying to hide them.”

“Dude,” Aaron said. “How is that better?”

“You have to understand the history there. They had a thing going, and he was over it. The last woman he’d ended things with had thrown a heel at him and nearly given him a concussion, so he never breaks up with a girl while she’s wearing shoes.”

“That is so utterly ridiculous and immature,” Libby said. “And sounds exactly like something Justin would do.”

“Look, we’re not perfect,” I admitted. “We’ve got some changes to make. But everyone’s acting like the sky is falling.”

Libby closed the magazine and picked up her fork. “This is bigger than Modern Man, Sebastian. You guys need to get with the times and have somebody hold you accountable.”

“Oh, believe me,” I said, “we’re being held accountable.”

“By your editor-in-chief?” Aaron asked.

“The board hired a consultant.” Talk of Georgina had a history of riling me up, so I lowered my niece into her playpen. “Also known as a glorified babysitter.”

Libby raised an eyebrow. “A publicist?”

“She calls herself a ‘publishing consultant,’” I said, “but I call her a pain in the a-s-s.”

Aaron laughed, but Libby didn’t even crack a smile. “I think you could use some pain in your ass, hermanito.”

I nearly rolled my eyes. She only called me “little brother” to irk me. I’d been born six minutes after Libby and four after midnight, which technically made her a day older. A fact she never let me forget. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“It means sometimes, I worry you’ve forgotten where you come from.” She turned to Aaron. “Did you know he once paid twenty dollars for a cocktail? And that he and Justin are considering renting a place in the Hamptons next summer? And that he’s been on three dates in a single night?”

She had a point about the cocktail. Twenty dollars was excessive, especially for a drink that’d been tossed in my face. Come to think of it, that’d been the night of the three dates, but that was well over a year ago. “That shit-for-brains ‘journalist’ called me a womanizer,” I said defensively, “but I’ve barely dated since . . .”

Libby and I had already done the anniversary thing over the phone, and I didn’t want to bring up Mom’s death again.

Neither did Libs, it seemed. “He used to be scrappy and pinch pennies,” she told Aaron.

“Wasn’t this countertop like a hundred dollars a square foot?” I asked.

“This is my forever home.” She stood and moved the skillet from the stove to the sink. “And we’re not talking about me.”

“Mommy,” José said, twisting on the barstool. “I want ice cream.”

“Not until after supper,” she said automatically, and then to me, “So you’re not a womanizer?”

Aaron moved his Bloody Mary as his son tried to dip a finger in it. “Don’t get on Seb’s case or he’ll never bring anybody over.”

Libby picked up her dishes along with Aaron’s. “The day my brother introduces me to a girlfriend who isn’t five-foot-ten and a hundred-percent full of herself is the day I’ll back off.”

I shrugged. “There’s a motive I can work with.”

“So, is the consultant helping?” Aaron asked.

“Of course not. She’s not the one responsible for the bottom line. Georgina wants to implement these pie-in-the-sky ideas supported by her own research—obviously, it’s going to be biased.”

“Georgina?” Libby asked, perking up like a dog offered a bone.

“Yeah. Her proposed changes will send readers fleeing and leave me to clean up the mess with advertisers. We publish what sells. Modern Man never claimed to be hard-hitting news.”

“Can I please, please be excused, Mom?” José asked.

Aaron finished off his cocktail and stood. “How about another game? Uncle and nephew versus the dad?”

“Sebastian’s going to help me clear the table,” Libby informed her husband.

“I tried,” Aaron muttered to me before herding José out back.

Libby stooped to get plastic wrap from a drawer. “You’re sensitive today.”

“How? I’m just answering your questions.”

“Normally you shrug me off with a joke.” She recovered the bowl of guacamole. “Something’s bothering you. I can tell. It’s the whole twin telepathy thing.”

“We don’t have that.”

“Of course we do, Sebastian. You can be so cynical sometimes.”

I stacked Aaron and José’s empty plates by the sink to avoid Libby’s side-glances. It was no coincidence that she was piling on today, accusing me of forgetting my roots—it seemed as if I’d been called into question or questioning things myself ever since the exposé. Was I really such a bad manager that the magazine needed a handler to help me run things? Would everyone forget the work I’d done if Georgina’s plan succeeded? And after the way I’d spoken to her in the café and at the office, did Georgina doubt my character like everyone else seemed to?

“Do you think I’m a different person than I used to be?” I asked.

She moved fruit from a platter to Tupperware, pausing to bite into a strawberry. “Of course.”

I frowned. “You answered that really fast.”

“We’re both different. Especially after Mom’s death.” She leaned her elbows onto the island and had another strawberry. “You can be in touch with who you used to be and still be different. The idea is to keep getting better.”

“And you think I’m not?”

“Since when do you care what I think?” she asked, tossing the stems into the garbage disposal before capping the Tupperware. She knew full well I cared what she thought. More than anyone else in the world, now that it was just us. “Tell me about this Georgina person.”

Oh, for fuck’s sake. I’d mentioned her once, and now Libby was peering into my eyes, trying to read my thoughts. I wanted to look away, but then I wouldn’t be able to read hers. “I already did. Like I said, she’s a pain.”

“How so?”

“How long do you have? For one, she’s fucking messy. She’s always losing stuff, walking around my office barefoot while she eats gummy bears of all things, and she can’t even read her own handwriting. Last week, she handed me her notepad and asked if I could decipher her last entry.”

“And could you?”

“Yes, but that’s not the point.”

My sister smiled to herself. “Cute.”

“Cute?” I gaped at her. “What’s cute about trying to turn the whole office against me?”

“I highly doubt she’s doing that,” Libby said.

“Want to bet? During her first meeting, she read excerpts from the exposé to everyone, then at happy hour, she drops a bomb on my game in front of all the guys.” Fuck. As soon as the words left my mouth, I understood my sister had just tricked me into revealing too much information.

With an annoyingly smug smile, she finished moving perishables into the fridge. “So, a new girl shows up at your office, questions your work and your character, and now you’re asking me for the first time in years if I think you’ve changed? Is she pretty?”

“It’s not the first time in years.”

“Whenever I ask about your personal life in Manhattan, you go monosyllabic. So, most of what I know comes from Justin or what I see in the society pages.” She plugged the sink and turned on the faucet. “Then this exposé pops up . . .”

“Not true. We talked about my love life after what Mom said those last few days,” I said. “You agreed I need to settle down and meet a nice girl.”

She squirted dish soap into the rising water. “Is Georgina a nice girl?”

I snorted. “Not in the least. Exactly what Mom warned me against.”

Libby tilted her head. “Really? Your usual type?”

“No,” I said before I realized that answer was contradictory—and would only incite Libby’s curiosity.

“Was she like your last girlfriend—what was her name? Wenchy?”

I rolled my eyes. “Sure, Georgina is like Wendy—minus several inches, plus a real job. And if Wendy dyed her hair red, had freckles, wore suits, and was fucking rude.”

“Wendy was rude.”

“So is Georgina.”

“To you or to others?”

“Both.”

“Then if she’s a bitch, forget her.” She pulled on yellow rubber gloves. “What’s bringing all this up?”

“Take your pick.” Scratching under my chin, I listed, “The one-year anniversary of Mom’s death. For the first time in my career I’ve stumbled, and now I have a handler. I’m entering my mid-thirties. Given all that, I’m allowed some introspection.”

“Okay, so what have you been introspecting?”

“I work hard, Libs. Mom taught us the importance of that, but she never reaped the benefits. I tried to get her to retire, but she wouldn’t. So why are people on my case for enjoying what I’ve earned?”

She began scrubbing the dishes. “Your values will change once you meet someone. Everything I do is for Aaron and the kids.”

“I don’t have that yet. When I do, I’ll settle down.”

“It’s the other way around—start settling now, and you’ll find someone, but she’s not going to fall into your lap.”

“You never know,” I said. “I’ve had a few girls land in my lap.”

“Isn’t there anyone at work who isn’t there to model? I’ve heard the office is an unfairly maligned place to meet women. Maybe a woman like . . . Georgina?”

I shook my head with a sigh. “She’s not a bitch, by the way. Just . . . frustrating.”

“How so?”

I rounded the island to take a dishtowel hanging from the stove handle. “She’s called me entitled, arrogant, a jerk, and an asshole—some of that before I even knew her name.”

“Back up.” She handed me a plate. “How is that possible?”

“We met in a café before work,” I said as I dried. “I had no idea she was the new consultant. She ran into me while I was in a hurry, then called me an asshole when my drink spilled on her.”

“Well, that’s understandable. Girl hadn’t had her coffee yet.”

“That’s an excuse to call a stranger names?”

“I know it’s rare for you to ever spend a morning with a woman, but just ask Aaron. Anything that happens pre-coffee doesn’t count. And wasn’t it her first day on the job? Maybe she was nervous.”

“Why are you making excuses for her? You don’t even know her.”

“Because I can’t think of a time in recent history you’ve volunteered the name of the girl you’re dating, or even talked about one this much.”

“We’re not dating.”

“Just pointing out that you’ve brought her up several times.”

“Because I vehemently disagree with everything she stands for. She’s silent when she should speak up—like when her friend, the barista, was getting shit on by a customer—and she’s a know-it-all when she should sit back and listen, like at our meetings.”

“Aha.” Libby’s eyebrows met in the middle of her forehead as she moved the remaining dishes into the soapy water. “I think I understand. You’ve always had a weird thing about how people treat the help.”

“But Wendy was as stuck-up as they come.”

“And for that reason, you knew things could never be serious with her. You could run when things got messy. That’s why you date women like that. When you care about someone, you don’t tolerate rudeness, and you’re as loyal as a dog.”

“Are you seeing that therapist again?” I asked.

“Yes, and he agrees you’re subconsciously sabotaging your love life.”

“Was,” I said. “I was sabotaging it until Mom made me promise—” I shook my head. What the fuck? My sister had witchy ways of getting me to admit things that’d never even crossed my mind. I doubted my subconscious was even evolved enough to recognize self-sabotage. Her psychoanalytic subterfuge was distressing enough that getting back to venting about Georgina somehow felt safer. “I only used that example to demonstrate Georgina’s character. Her position at the magazine is a waste of time and resources—and Vance won’t stop singing her praises. She rolled into the office as if she had all the answers. Did I mention she was hired on a Wednesday and started Monday? I’ve been working there for years.”

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