Chapter Seven

Henry had ended up being really angry about something Sean had done. When I answered the door to him, I didn’t even get to say hello before he’d walked past me with the takeaway and angrily hung up his jacket beside the door.

I had been about to rant about Bree, but when I saw his face, that plan went out the window. He was way more upset than I was.

Illustrating this point perfectly, Henry turned towards me and held up his hands. “I am working for an infantile fuck,” he announced. “And I think I am going to kill him.”

Right. I just stared at him; I hadn’t seen him this angry in ages. He was normally calm and pleasant and it was kind of shock to see him so red in the face that his veins were standing out on his temples. I supposed it would be really inappropriate to make a comment about boss fights belonging in video games, so I just said, “Whoa. Want to tell me what happened?”

Before he did exactly that, he marched on to my kitchen, took out two plates and began to divide the food between them with the most violent movements he could possibly have made without breaking anything. It was very telling that he wasn’t shattering them; they were bone china and I’d broken a few myself just by using them. I actually found it kind of hilarious that even at his angriest he was still careful not to accidentally break any of my plates.

I watched him break the law today, Min,” he said, throwing the container away. “Right in front of my fucking face, and knowing I’m the one who has to deal with the consequences of it. And you know what he said?” I mutely shook my head, and he pretended to speak in what I presumed was Sean’s voice. “’Oh, you’re a very capable man, Henry, I’m sure you’ll be able to manage whatever happens’. It wasn’t a very flattering imitation.

He walked sharply over to the table with our dinner and laid it out, and then went back to get cutlery. “Fork or chopsticks?” he asked me, trying to not sound as angry and holding both out for me to choose. I took the fork. He kept the chopsticks for himself, sitting down at the table. Before he started dinner, though, he gave the evil flowers he was facing a bit of a strange look.

Don’t ask,” I recommended. That story could wait for later.

He gave me a strange look, too, but took my advice and just got stuck back into Sean and his dinner. “I can’t fucking believe that man. I can’t believe it.” He took a mouthful, chewed and swallowed and then said, “No, actually, I can believe he’d do it. Fucker. Jesus, that man is a fucking asshole. He has no redeeming qualities whatsoever.”

I sat down carefully opposite him. I didn’t really know what to do because I didn’t see him angry very often, so I tried to sound comforting. “Are you okay? What did he actually do?”

Henry shook his head stiffly. “Yeah, I will be okay, but I can’t actually tell you what he did.”

I made an ‘oh’ face, but I didn’t push for details. He’d very respectfully not asked me for them about my project. “Okay, then… Is there anything I can do to help?”

He shook his head and took another mouthful, swallowed again and then sat back, running his hand through his short hair and making it all stick up like he’d been electrocuted. “And now I’m so angry I can’t even enjoy my Pad Thai.” He looked up at me. “And I’m taking out all of my anger on my poor girlfriend who works at the same godforsaken hellhole as I do.”

I squinted at him. “You are?”

He nodded stiffly. “When you express uncontrollable anger in front of others, it is stressful and potentially traumatic for them.” He took a breath, making a ‘calm down’ motion with his hands to himself. “So I will try and find a healthier way to express it. Min, I am very angry at Sean Frost for making me so upset I come directly here and take it all out on you, and I am very angry at myself for transferring the blame to him when I should be perfectly able to control of my own emotions.”

Those were some excellent ‘I’ statements,” I told him. “But, seriously, it’s okay, I’m not traumatised. I’m just a bit worried about you.”

Thank you,” he said, still sounding frustrated. “And I’m glad I haven’t caused you vicarious trauma. Fuck,” he said, pushing plate away. “This is going to sound a bit weird, but do you have any tracksuit pants that might fit me? I think the solution to all of this adrenaline is to go for a quick run and all I have with me are my singlet and sneakers.”

I only had the one pair that was unisex, and that was the pair he’d left here a couple of years ago that I wore all the time when there was no one around. He’d probably forgotten they were his by now, though. I almost had. “Yeah, I might,” I said, and then went to get them. They did end up still fitting him, and so he put them and his sneakers on and just went for a jog in the singlet he wore under his work shirt.

I chuckled to myself as I shut the door. At times I’d really wanted to strangle Jason, so I was completely with Henry about having an infuriating boss. I did feel a bit bad about my reaction to his anger, though; even though he was really upset, I still found him hilarious and entertaining. Poor guy. He was great, I hoped the run made him feel better. He worked too hard to put up with this crap.

On the way back to my Pad Thai, I spotted the scary flowers again and looked up at the clock. If Courtney lived near Paramatta, Bree should definitely be there by now. I took my phone out and went to send her a note, and then remembered that she’d lied to me.

I spent the next quarter of an hour with my phone next to my dinner as I ate, trying to decide if I was angry enough not to check that she was okay. In the end my concern for her won out and I typed her a quick note to confirm she’d arrived at Courtney’s in one piece.

It didn’t take her long to reply. “are u worried about me?? 🙂 🙂 :)”

I frowned at the screen. “Yes, and I’m not very happy about it,” I told the phone, but I wasn’t in the mood to actually reply.

Henry wasn’t gone for much longer, but I’d nearly finished my food when he let himself back in. He looked calmer. “That’s better,” he said as he staggered into the living area. “I’m going to have a quick shower and then let’s kill everything together.”

Sounds romantic,” I called after him, and went to set up the console.

I didn’t tell him much about Bree until we’d called it a night and were lying in bed, because he was finally enjoying himself and I didn’t want to stress him out again. Furthermore, when I watched him put on the hoodie that was on my bed, I kept my mouth shut. It was difficult, though. I’d bonded with that stupid hoodie and I didn’t like him wearing it.

Before we went to sleep Henry startled me by making a sudden noise. “Jesus Christ, Min, I’m the worst boyfriend ever,” he said, remembering something. “You got promoted today and all I can do is talk about my problems. We should have been celebrating!”

I laughed shortly. “No, I’m way past that,” I said, and then finally told him about Bree. At the end of the story, when I got to the point where I’d found out that she’d lied to me, he actually laughed. It sounded affectionate, but it was still a laugh.

I must have looked quite indignant because he laughed again. “I’m sorry, Min,” he said, reaching over and rubbing my arm. “I am, really. I know honesty is a big thing for you after high school, but when you said she’d lied to you in that tone of voice I was expecting it to be about something serious and major.”

Does it really matter what it was about? She lied to me. That’s not okay.” He had a familiar expression look on his face as he was listening to me which meant he was analysing what I was saying. That sort of stuff may have worked to calm him down but that wasn’t how I dealt with my emotions. “And, Henry, if you pull that shrink act on me at this time of night I swear to god I’m going to murder you.”

He sounded like he was smiling. “Min,” he began, pulling it anyway. “Why do you think she lied to you?”

I’m not playing this game,” I told him, and he was very pointedly silent. “Henry, I know where you’re going with this and I’m not going to rationalise it.”

Of course not. Then you wouldn’t have an excuse to push her away and never talk to her again. Why do you think she lied to you?” he repeated, sounding gently insistent.

I looked at him. He raised his eyebrows at me and I rolled onto my back and groaned. “Fine,” I said, rubbing my eyes. “She was trying to get into my house.”

He didn’t stop there. “And why do you think she was trying to get into your house?”

I turned my head back towards him and just glared. “Henry, I get it, she wanted to be friends with me.”

He smirked, looking rather pleased with himself. “Wow, what a despicable human being, wanting to be friends with you. She clearly can’t be trusted.” The smirk faded a little and he did a facial shrug. “I don’t know, Min. She just sounds like a normal teenager to me,” he said, and then rethought it. “Well, maybe not normal, per se. But what is normal? You obviously enjoy her company, and that’s all that really matters. What’s the worst that could happen?”

She’s seventeen and she keeps doing things that remind me of that. I’m pretty sure that matters.”

He didn’t look convinced. “Seven years,” he said, reminding me of the age difference between him and me again. “Shall I go on?”

No.”

He chuckled. “Probably for the best. I’m a bit biased about this whole thing with–’Bree’, wasn’t it?”

Despite the fact I’d said I didn’t want to go on discussing it, I couldn’t help following up on that one. I looked across at him. “How can you possibly be biased about her? You haven’t even met her.”

His humour faded. “Well, you’ve been here for four years, Min. I’m just happy you’re finally throwing down some roots.” He snaked an arm across my middle, smiling. “Really happy, because I love your company, despite the colossal seven year difference and I want you to stay in Sydney.” He paused. “Although, obviously if I accidentally see you without make-up, I will dump you on the spot.”

I thought back to how boyish I’d looked that morning in the hoodie he was now wearing, and winced.

He saw my expression and his smile dropped straight off his face. “Oh, Min, I’m sorry, I was just joking because I thought it would make you feel better,” he said, sounding a bit panicked as he shuffled closer and wrapped his arms around me. “I didn’t mean to say anything that upsets you. Shit.” He shook his head. “Sorry, that was really insensitive of me. I’m doing a great job tonight, aren’t I? I’m so immersed in my own problems I’m not being very helpful about yours.”

It’s okay, I’m fine,” I said dismissively. “As in, I’m actually fine. Let’s just get some sleep.”

He did worry about it, but we eventually got to sleep anyway. Unfortunately, the following morning he had a couple of hours off because he’d been doing serious overtime even by Frost standards, so he left my apartment in the hoodie so he could go home and get dressed for work. I wasn’t prepared for how upset that made me, either. That was my big, comfy hoodie, and I felt very not-fine about him taking off with it. Especially since my trackies were now all gross and sweaty, too.

I stood in front of my ‘weird’ amount of make-up – thanks, Bree – and got irrationally annoyed about the whole thing before I remembered that I was an adult and I could actually purchase my own clothes. By the time I made it into work, I’d decided I’d duck down to one of the places on George Street while I was getting lunch. Maybe I could even get some comfy clothes that I wasn’t embarrassed to be seen in, too.

On my way into my new office I got accosted by the lead from the Canada project team.

Mini,” he said, in a voice I couldn’t really ignore. I stopped walking and turned to face him as he asked, “Have you finished with the draft layout concept for the website?”

No, I hadn’t, and I’d explained why to those guys yesterday. “I won’t be able to volunteer for your project because I’ve been assigned my own team, now.”

He put a hand on my shoulder which automatically got my back up. I looked at it, and then at him. “I know you’ve got other stuff to do, Mini, but we’re really counting on you for this. We even reallocated the budget for design to something else and it’s as good as spent. We can’t afford to outsource now.”

You had to be fucking kidding me. “Really, I’m not sure I’ll be able to do it.”

He squeezed my shoulder. “We’re really going to be in big trouble if you can’t finish what you started for us, Mini. It’s going to put a lot of pressure on the rest of the team. And, really,” he said, copying the way I’d said it to him, “it’s not like you can’t fit another design job in on top of whatever boring crap you’re doing for the political pitch. Those never need to be flashy.”

I’m a project lead, too, I wanted to say to him. I actually can’t fit your dregs on top of my workload, and it’s not a political pitch. Fuck confidentiality, seriously. Just fuck it, and fuck my complete lack of capacity to say ‘no’. “Fine,” I said, despite the fact it really wasn’t. “Give me a couple of days, though.”

He lifted his hand from my shoulder and patted my arm. “Good girl,” he said, and then strode off somewhere on another mission.

I watched him go, and I’m pretty sure I looked disgusted. ‘Good girl’, was he serious?

That put me in a bad mood, and even Sarah noticed it. “Wrong side of the bed?” she asked with a grin as I walked into Oslo and put away my handbag. One of the other team members looked up and smiled at me. I managed to return it, but it was very difficult.

Some of the people in this place…” I said to Sarah cryptically; I couldn’t really discuss why I was so upset while there were other people around.

She spun her chair around to face me. “What I’m hearing is a great reason to get out of this place and vent to me somewhere else,” she said. “Actually, Rob’s going back to Broome next weekend and I was thinking that you and Henry should come on a double-date with us. I think you guys would really get along.”

I shrugged. “I’m sure we would,” I said politely, “but I just accepted another design job because I’m a doormat. So I think I’ll be Red Bull’s best customer for the next couple of days.”

She raised her eyebrows. “Why would you do that to yourself?” she asked me, but then said, “But you’ve got to eat, right? What do you say to Friday night? That way if you need to catch up with some work because of it, you can do it on the weekend.”

I made a face. “Sarah, I’d love to, but I really can’t. I’m just too busy.”

Me too,” she said. “I’m on two teams as well, remember?” When I didn’t say anything, she sat back in her chair and considered me for a few seconds. “I’m not going to be able to get you out, am I?”

I sighed. “It’s nothing to do with you, I promise,” I said, sitting down in my own chair and switching on the computer. “Please don’t take it personally.”

She made a noise. “Okay,” she said, not sounding hurt or upset, which I was grateful for. She then swung her chair back towards her own computer and got back to work.

Not that I really should have expected that much in a single day, but I felt like the team wasn’t making as much progress as I hoped they would when I’d been doing timelines yesterday. They were all hard workers which was fantastic – not that they’d be employed by Frost if they weren’t – but I felt like especially the younger guy was really missing the mark when it came to the depth of research required. I’d just have done everything myself, but I couldn’t. Not even if I was working twenty-four hours a day.

I had actually planned to forgo my hoodie-buying expedition because of the extra work I’d taken on, but the oldest team member ended up chucking me out of the office at lunch time, saying I’d kill myself if I didn’t take a break. I didn’t argue with him because he was right, but I did spend the whole walk to the shopping centre worrying about being unfit for management. I was so busy stressing about not knowing my own limits that I nearly forgot to grab something to eat, too.

Well, apparently women the world over did cheer themselves up with shopping, so maybe I could give retail therapy a shot.

The store I’d been planning to get my own hoodie from was one of those surfie-type places that all of the beach-tanned blondes always bought all their bikinis and perfectly distressed denim from. I didn’t look like I belonged there at all, and two separate sales clerks tried to offer me assistance because of that.

The women’s hoodies were in all these pastel colours and some of them had strange embellishments like dead-end pockets or zips that lead nowhere. I wasn’t a big fan of anything that wasn’t very plain, but I took the last three ‘XL’s anyway and then went to go and try them on. On the way there, I spotted the men’s hoodies hanging in their loose, completely plain glory over on the far wall.

That’s more like it, I thought.

I looked furtively back toward the counter. Fortunately, the girl staffing it was busying doing something tedious and not looking in my direction. Feeling like I was about to commit some sort of felony, I crossed the floor and went to go have a look at what was on the men’s side.

The colours were much bolder over there and the majority of the tops there had normal pockets and quite plain print. I took a blue one from the rack. It was an ‘XL’ as well, and when I compared it to the women’s XLs, they were like baby clothes.

I liked it, it looked really comfy and it was exactly what I was looking for. I held it for a moment. What was the big deal, anyway? There was nothing wrong with me buying this for myself. Women wore their boyfriends’ clothes all the time, and men apparently found it cute. So I was buying it for myself instead of waiting for Henry to leave one at my apartment, so what? What was the difference?

I still felt really uncomfortable, though, and I couldn’t put my finger on why that was.

Hi, can I help you?” another one of the clerks asked, suddenly appearing beside me. I forced a smile but didn’t say anything straight away. Because of that, she asked, “Oh, you don’t speak English?”

I would have actually been tempted to go along with that if it would get rid of her, but I had a feeling she was one of those people who would try and help me anyway even if I pretended to not understand. “No, I do,” I said. “Can I just walk straight into the change rooms or do I need one of those number-tag things?”

She indicated where the rooms were like an air hostess showing me the overwing exits. “No, you can just go straight in. Also, we’re having a promotion today. If you purchase one of the men’s tops from this range or that wall over there, you get forty percent off men’s jeans from the same line.”

She proceeded to show me the jeans she was talking about and ask me about sizing, and while she was loading me up with them I just agreed they looked great and the deal was good value because I figured it would make her go away faster. It did, but by the time I went into the changeroom under the guise of trying on the women’s hoodies, I had my arms full of men’s jeans. I dumped them all in the corner of the cubicle.

The lighting the changerooms was actually pretty flattering, but I still had to face myself in a bra before I got the first of the hoodies on. It was one of the women’s, and the sleeves were too short. That probably wasn’t an enormous problem in itself because I always pushed them up my forearms anyway, but I felt like it was a sign. It also was a pastel purple and made me look as if I was trying too hard to be cutesy when I just wasn’t. Well, so much for trying to buy something that I could actually wear in public, I thought. I scrapped that idea.

That hoodie had gone so badly that I didn’t even bother with the other two pastel ones, I just went straight for the men’s. It slipped over my head so much more easily than the purple one, the sleeves covered my arms and it hung at a really comfortable length down my middle.

It looked weird with a suit skirt, though.

In the reflection of the mirror, I could see the jeans I’d just dumped in a pile in the corner. I frowned at the glass. Min, you came here for a big comfy hoodie to wear at home. You’ll leave with this one. What the hell are you going to do with those jeans? Hang around the house in them? You can save a hundred dollars and just do that in your trackies.

Then I remembered my trackies were currently soaked in Henry’s sweat. I could use something comfy to wear while they were at Laundry.

So, wait, I was going to buy really expensive, really ultra-fashionable men’s jeans because my hundred year old trackies were going to be gone for two days to be washed? And then what was I going to do with the jeans after that? Where was I going to wear them? I had never been a big fan of jeans.

On the other hand, the only reason I avoided wearing jeans in the past was because the skinny jeans I had at home were tight and uncomfortable. If I had big bootcuts maybe I’d feel more like putting them on.

But, seriously, if I did really like them, where was I planning on actually wearing them other than at home? Those jeans screamed ‘man’. There was nothing feminine about them at all. They belonged on a sepia-tone billboard under rippling abs and visible Calvins, not on me.

I bent down and picked up a pair of them. Fuck, they were so cool, though. I really wanted to put them on, regardless of who they were meant for. But what would it mean if I liked them?

I made a frustrated noise at myself. Who cared what it means? Jesus, Min, get a fucking grip, the sky is not going to cave in if you put on a pair of men’s jeans and like them. What the hell is wrong with you? This isn’t high school anymore, no one’s going to draw moustaches on photos of you and post them online just because you’re wearing men’s jeans.

I ended up just kind of holding them up and scowling. Great work, Min, I thought. How balanced of you. You’re having a fucking personal crisis over a pair of jeans. A pair of goddamn jeans.

I was there for ages, so long that the clerk came to check on me. “Is everything okay in there?” her cheerful voice called through the door. “How are the sizes?”

I looked at them in my hands. They were enormous. “I’m good, thanks,” I called back, “I’ll be out in a sec.”

My final verdict was that I didn’t have time to make this decision now. And since I wasn’t sure when I’d be able to come back, I just decided to buy them and worry about everything later.

I wasn’t sure what I had expected, but the girl on the counter didn’t seem at all weirded out by the fact I was buying men’s clothes. I supposed women did it all the time – probably not for the same reasons I was, though. I felt like she could read them all over my face as she greeted me and I was almost bracing myself for that smile to disappear. “Are these for yourself?” she asked, still smiling for now.

I panicked. “Why?”

That made her look a little surprised. “Because I can put them in a non-transparent recycled paper bag if you want to hide them from someone in particular.”

I closed my eyes for a moment, feeling so, so stupid. “That sounds great.” Then, completely unnecessarily, I added, “They’re for my boyfriend.”

The girl smiled while she was running my card. “I’m sure he’ll love them.”

Fuck, I was no better than Bree: ‘they’re for my boyfriend’. Min, really? You’re going to lie to her? And Henry most certainly would not love them if he saw me in them, either. But whatever, I wouldn’t wear them around him. Or anyone. They were for me.

Even in that paper carry-bag, I was actually too afraid to take them back to work. It was ridiculous, because if anyone saw the bag and what was inside it, they would assume I had bought them for Henry. Just as a means of avoiding that conversation, though,I walked all the way home and left the bag inside my door before I returned to work.

I was late back from lunch, but given the amount of overtime I did, the only comments people made were more of the ‘long lunch date?’ variety.

Yeah, I’m cheating on Henry with clothes shops,” I said dryly when Sarah asked. She laughed at it, though, which made me feel a bit better.

I didn’t think clothes shops were your type,” she said afterwards, handing me a USB. “That’s pink diamond sales in North America and Mainland China,” she said. “Actually China’s hedging out the US at the moment.”

I accepted the USB from her. “Interesting,” I said, and then asked, “and you didn’t think clothes stores were my type?”

Sarah laughed again. “You don’t seem like the kind of person to go shopping, that’s all, I’m not having a go at your fashion sense. You dress way better than me, anyway. I’m lucky to brush my hair in the morning.”

And yet you look amazing, I thought, a little bit jealous. I bet she never got stuck stressing for half an hour in a changeroom. Envy aside, though, she was right, I wasn’t really a fan of shopping. Rather than think about why that was and spend too much time dwelling on what I’d just bought, I reviewed the figures that Sarah had dug up for me.

I didn’t need our data-crunching ex-intern to tell me that the US was out, but I wasn’t too sure sales in China were strong enough to justify positioning ourselves there, either. I gave the USB the team members and asked them to see what they could mine out of it while I sat back and tried to think of what the hell we should do.

Okay, so it was only day two and I didn’t think anyone other than me had really expected we’d be completing the marketing requirements document by now. Still, with only four weeks we really didn’t have time to spend ages figuring out who we were even trying to sell these things to. There was just so much to do, and I had a sudden panic that the four weeks would be up and we would have achieved nothing, that I would be demoted, end up in admin and need to tell Mum what a terrible failure her daughter was.

Shit, and with everything that had gone on I hadn’t even told Mum about the promotion in the first place. I was clearly losing the plot.

Back in a second,” I told my team, and then grabbed my phone to head outside.

Several of the levels had their own alcove balconies, and ours was usually full of smoking marketing reps, especially around lunchtime. Today, though, there wasn’t anyone out there when I pushed the door open and dialled Mum’s number. As usual, she picked up almost instantly. “Min!”

Predictably, Mum was overjoyed for about five seconds and then started playing her usual game of running through a list of catastrophic what-ifs about if I blew the opportunity. I had been walking backwards and forwards and half-listening to her while I privately what-iffed about those goddamn jeans when the balcony door opened and Sean Frost came striding out.

I stopped walking. What was he doing here? He never came onto level thirty-six because it was Diane’s stronghold. I didn’t even think I’d been this close to him before.

He was supposedly an enormous heart-throb, but even from this distance I couldn’t see it. What I could see was how fit he kept himself and how well-dressed he was, but those things never really impressed me, anyway. He did seem much more easy-going than his sister; compared to her the only intimidating thing about him was his obvious self-confidence.

On that note, he smiled amicably at me when he saw me looking. The smile turned out a bit crooked because he had an unlit cigarette between his lips as he felt around in his pockets presumably for a lighter. He didn’t find one.

Because I was on the phone, when he walked up to me he just mouthed, “Lighter?” as he made a lighter motion with his hand. I shook my head. He nodded once, and then proceeded to search around the pot plants, seats and railings for an abandoned one.

I couldn’t help being amused; this man was a co-CEO of a billion dollar mining company on his hands and knees in an Italian suit, retrieving a fallen lighter from underneath a bench.

He stood up and showed it to me as he triumphantly lit his cigarette. I smiled back, and I didn’t even have to force it. Before I got too friendly, though, I caught myself: this was the guy that had broken the law and made Henry really upset last night. This was the fucking asshole fuck and all those other things Henry had called him.

I should have been really angry with Sean on Henry’s behalf, but I was finding it really difficult. I mean, Sean definitely wasn’t doing to me what he did to most of the female staff and maybe a few of the men, but he was very charismatic and very likeable one-on-one. Definitely a far cry from the cool professional I’d seen give speeches at annual general meetings, and an even farther cry from the things Henry had called him last night.

Min, Min? Are you listening to me?”

Shit, I’d completely forgotten about the phone against my ear. “Sorry, Mum, I’ll call you back later,” I said, and hung up.

Sean looked over towards me, and that’s when he saw my expression. He cringed, clearly thinking it was about the fact he’d been scrounging around for a cigarette lighter and not to do with Henry’s opinion of him. “I promise I don’t normally crawl around on the concrete,” he said. He had a pleasant voice. “It’s just been a really hard day and I really needed a cigarette.”

I hear you,” I said, surprising myself by actually speaking.

I meant that it had been a hard day, but Sean thought I was asking for a cigarette. He patted down his lapels and his pockets. “I’m sorry I can’t offer you one, they’re in my office,” he said, and then considered me for a moment. “Min Lee, isn’t it?” he asked.

I was too surprised he knew who I was to correct him. When I didn’t, he put the cigarette between his lips and dusted off his palms, walking over so he could shake my free hand. I was taller than him, but he didn’t make me feel awkward about it. In fact, apart from the fact I knew Henry hated him for some reason, everything about him put me at ease. “I work with your boyfriend. There’s a picture of you on his desk. Pleasure to finally meet you – I hear you’re the rising star of Marketing at the moment.”

I wasn’t sure he was supposed to know about my position, but it’s possible Henry mentioned something. “Henry does tend to exaggerate his praise of me.”

Sean laughed. “I’m the same with my beautiful wife. So, how’s your new team? Political project, is that correct?”

It seemed like a perfectly innocent question, but following Diane’s advice I was careful to be appropriately dismissive. “You know how they go.”

He was still smiling, and I could see where he got his reputation for public relations. “Fortunately, I’m pleased to say I don’t,” he said. “But according to my sister you get results, and since that’s what she cares about, I’m guessing we’ll have a politician or two in our pockets by June.” He nodded politely, finishing his cigarette and butting it out in the bin. He gestured towards it. “Sorry again you had to witness the awful lengths I’ll go to in order to feed my nicotine addiction. Now if you’ll excuse me, unfortunately I have to run.”

I smiled at him as he went back inside, but I didn’t follow him straight away. Henry hated that guy? Really? I unlocked my phone with the intention of texting him, but then I saw I had a note on Deviant Art. I didn’t have to check who it was from.

sooooooo,” it said. “did u have a shower yet?? 🙂 :)”

I pictured the smiley face Bree had drawn on my shower screen and grinned for a fraction of a second before I remembered what else she’d done. You lied to me, Bree, I thought, but then I realised how many times I’d lied today and felt like a raging hypocrite. That didn’t change the fact I was grumpy with her about it, though, so I decided to leave that message for now. I did end up texting Henry, but he didn’t answer either so I figured he was already back at work and busy.

I’d better get to work, too, I thought, and then went back inside.

That evening I was the last one to leave as usual, but Sarah didn’t leave very long before me. She gave me a bit of a measured look as she held the door open, but she didn’t say anything other than, “Bye.”

Bye,” I said absently, trying to figure out why I hated the colours that Canada had chosen for their scheme so much.

I didn’t get home until maybe nine or ten. The recycled paper carry-bag was still inside my door, so I took it with me into the bedroom and only faced it again after I’d had a shower.

Since my trackies were off in Laundry, I was sort of forced to put on my new comfy clothes. I wasn’t too unhappy about that. Despite my inner conflict, part of me was looking forward to wearing them.

The jeans were seriously fucking cool, and when I pulled them on they were really comfortable. Not baggy, exactly, but nice and loose. I’d bought one size bigger than I probably needed so they sat low on my hips; if I was going out in them I’d need to wear a belt. I stopped for a moment: yeah, right, ‘going out in them’. Just, no. As if people didn’t stare at me enough already because of how tall I was, I didn’t need to add ‘wearing men’s clothes’ to that. I put a soft t-shirt on under the hoodie, and then shot myself a passing glance in the mirror while I was throwing away the bag.

It was just supposed to be a quick look, just to check nothing was on back-to-front and no tags were still attached. It didn’t end up being quick, though, because my reflection was just so different from what I had expected to see.

I wasn’t wearing any make-up and I had my hair tied back because I’d just been in the shower. Between my hair seeming short and the fact I was wearing men’s clothes… fuck, what was I doing? They were only supposed to be comfortable, that was why I’d bought them. It wasn’t even about how I looked at all.

But that didn’t change the fact that I looked good like this, really good. And better than that, I looked right.

My heart started racing again, and I forced myself to look away from the mirror. No, I thought. I’m not doing this, not now. I had way too fucking much going on in my life to want to add more stupid, whimsical complications to it. Work was already making me feel like I was on the brink of losing it, I didn’t need something else to worry about. I just needed to dag around my home and enjoy my new comfy clothes like anyone would. That’s enough, Min, please just leave it there and stop thinking about it.

I followed my own advice, poured myself an enormous mug of wine and went to quickly eat some dinner. In doing so, I was sitting opposite those evil flowers and they reminded me that it had been a while since I’d replied to anything Bree had sent me.

When I went to get my phone so I could, there was already a message waiting for me. It wasn’t from Bree, though, it was a text message from Henry. “Hey, Min, one of your co-workers—Sarah, she said her name was – invited us out for dinner on Friday night with her and her boyfriend. Obviously, I said yes.”

I stopped chewing mid-mouthful.

You’ve got to be kidding me, I thought. She didn’t, she went behind my back and just asked Henry?

God, she was as bad as Bree. I reconsidered that and made a face: okay, no she wasn’t, no one was as bad as Bree. She was sneaky, though. I still had no idea what to do about Bree, but I knew one employee who was about to find herself with a lot of very boring paperwork for the next four weeks as penance for ganging up on me with my boyfriend.

8 thoughts on “Chapter Seven

  1. Is that a thing that actually happens? Your doctored mustached photo turning up on the Interwebs? Or Min’s just overreacting?

    In other news, if the store girls didn’t stop her from trying men’s clothes on, they certainly wouldn’t judge her for buying them (and the paper bag could’ve equally been for the “well, so that people at the office wouldn’t ask unnecessary questions regardless of who they’re for). Min has some deeeeep gender issues, doesn’t she? [/Captain Obvious]
    (also, Twitter blocked at work, so forced to comment under my G+ account, gah)

    • “Min has some deeeeep gender issues, doesn’t she? [/Captain Obvious]”

      Why, yes, she does 😉

      Any cis girl will tell you men’s clothes are comfier and I bet all of us have at least one or two items of men’s clothes in our wardrobe. I try on men’s clothes all the time and no one bats an eyelid. Min obviously has other stuff going on 😉

      “Is that a thing that actually happens? Your doctored mustached photo turning up on the Interwebs? Or Min’s just overreacting?”

      Min’s experiences at high school become clear over time. I won’t answer this now.

  2. Oooooh, sneaky Sarah! It will be fun to see how the double date goes. Min is so…uncomfortable in most social situations. I can’t imagine this will be much different.

    And I love the deepening mystery of the Frosts! Wonder what Sean is up to that got sanguine Henry all riled up. It was interesting how Min felt at ease around him…such a stark contrast w/Diane. I guess it just goes to show evil comes in many forms 😉

    And poor Min in the clothing store. I really feel for her (which is a testament to your wonderful writing!). As a woman who shops in the men’s department about 90% of the time, I identified with her anxiety, which I occasionally still experience, even though I’ve been buying “men’s” clothes for…more years than I care to admit. 🙂 It’s hard to completely escape the shackles of socialized gender norms, even when you’ve been doing it for a long time and definitely know better. It’s no surprise that Min’s (legitimate) fears has pushed her into a deep well of denial. Poor Min. I just want to give her a hug (which she would no doubt hate 😉 and let her know it will get better!

    • Yeah, I don’t recommend hugging Min at this point! She’s like an overfilled balloon XD

      A lot of people have messaged me about identifying with the clothing store scene, which is fantastic. I didn’t know it would hit a note for people, but I’m glad it did!

  3. Uh, hi, so, first time commenting here, just wanted to say I’m a big fan and really appreciate your work. you do an incredible work with your stories,
    Also, I like how you made Henry a ”nice guy”, it would be much easier to just paint him as na A-Hole to justify Min leaving him, also, I kind of identified myself with his “nice guy” behavior, be nice to him ok?
    Well, you’re an amazing writter with amazing stories, keep up the awesome work.
    (sorry if I mispelled anything, english not my native language)

    • Poor Henry! Yes, he’s a nice guy, and I’ll be as nice to him as I possibly can given the circumstances. I’m glad you enjoy my writing – and thank you for surfacing to comment! 🙂

  4. An interesting story, so far. Min’s identity issues are compelling, and she has a good voice.

    I’m not quite sure yet what it means that Min’s struggling so hard to fit in a male-dominated, testosterone-laden corporate world while at the same time suffering apoplectic fits at the merest thought of being seen (seeing herself) as anything less than completely feminine, but I like the contrast. Hmm… now that I write this, it strikes me that in both cases she’s very concerned with appearing and acting how she thinks she ought to, rather than in a way that’s comfortable to her. But while it’s obvious why she thinks she ought to look like a ‘normal’ woman, (thank you, society) we don’t yet know -why- she feels she has to focus on a career this much. Well, the mother probably has something to do with it.

    I’m not so sure about Bree yet. She’s cute, yes, but she also smacks of the manic pixie-dreamgirl of TVtropes fame. I assume she’ll get more depth as the story goes on, though it’s tricky to develop secondary characters in a first-person point of view, particularly when said first-person has a lot of thick filters she views people through.

    Henry, meanwhile, is suffering a case of swallowed-a-psych-textbook. There’s a time for I-statements, but the people you’re comfortable with ought to be able to take a good old-fashioned rant in stride. Relationships (romantic or otherwise) shouldn’t need to be completely by-the-book.

    The corporate intrigue stuff so far just functions as a backdrop for Min’s identity issues, but I can see it going off in more thriller-like directions, going by the hush-hush law-breaking C.E.O. rivalry stuff. Or not. Not sure this story should, considering what it’s actually about.

    But of course, the point is moot considering there are another 13 chapters I haven’t read yet. Just thought I’d leave some thoughts on the story so far. 🙂

    Final thought before I call it a night: Min can’t be as stuck-up as she appears if she put up with -years- of Bree’s smiley-stuffed typo-ridden word-flood in online communication. Sheesh.

  5. The Frost siblings are not something to be reckoned with I see. I wonder what Hendry had to fix up for Sean.
    I hope to understand why Min has such a massive problem with lying and how it’ll further complicate and build her relationship with Bree.
    Having Sean with her and asking about the Pink project must have made Min a little nervous; of course the man wants to know what it’s all about. I hope he doesn’t find out or Min will be on thin ice.
    Hahahahaha Sarah pulled the rug good and proper from underneath Min hahaha. Love the way she used Henry to get Min to finally hang out with her outside the office.

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