Fuck, my head. I wasn’t even properly awake yet and it was killing me. With my eyes still closed, I put a palm against one of my cheeks. My face felt hot, and that was in direct comparison to the fact the rest of me was shiver-cold.
Where was my doona?
I felt around the mattress for it, expecting that I’d probably kicked it off at some point. But when my hand landed on something solid, warm and breathing I had one of those panicked moments where I really worried about what I’d done while I was drunk. Had Henry come over last night after all? I didn’t think I’d–
Despite my splitting headache, I sat bolt upright in bed, twisting towards the something. It was her; her curls were spilt out all over the second pillow and she had both the doona and the extra blanket coiled around her. I could only see below the knee on one of her legs, but it looked bare. I gaped at her, feeling the panic set in.
Fuck, had we–? I stared open-mouthed at her as she stirred, yawning. Fuck. Fuck! Had I gotten so completely wasted that I’d ended up sleeping with a girl?
Even as I was asking myself that, though, I had a patchy memory of pretending to smother her with the doona as I’d tucked her in on the couch. Yeah, I was pretty sure she’d fallen asleep on the couch and I’d staggered in here and passed out by myself. God, that was a relief.
I lay carefully back down again, staring up at the ceiling and laughing at myself. As bits and pieces of the night started to slowly come back to me, it became very clear nothing like that had happened. Before we’d gone to bed separately, Bree had made me watch three or four episodes of oh my god the best TV show on earth – which, by the way, was far from actually being the best TV show on earth – and we’d been sitting across the couch from each other.
That didn’t answer the question about what she was doing in my bed, though.
Her eyes fluttered open. “Good morning,” she said sleepily.
I narrowed my eyes at her. “You’re not where I left you,” I observed.
She scrunched up her nose. “The couch was hurting my neck,” she said. “And then I came in here, and you had this whole ginormous bed and you were only using, like, the very edge of it.”
“So, naturally, that was a sign you needed to hop in.”
“I was very careful when I climbed over you,” she told me. “And then even though I was really cold I slept all the way over here so I didn’t wake you up.” She adjusted the doona while she was speaking, and I could see the blue of my hoodie above it, which further explained why I was so cold. I must have given it to her at some point, because I was just in a t-shirt and jeans.
I looked back across the pillow at her in my bed, wearing my clothes. I didn’t know why I was so surprised, though. Of course she was randomly in my bed: this was Bree we were talking about. Personal space was completely optional to her. I started to laugh but I just ended up in a long, pained groan with my hands over my face.
“Fuck, Bree…” I said, rubbing my sore eyes. At least she was happy again, though, and that was what counted. Remembering those red, puffy eyes and that tragic little voice… “Well, better in here than on the streets of Sydney, I guess.”
She snorted. “And way more fun. And don’t try and pretend you didn’t have fun last night, because, look…”
She half-sat up and felt around inside the doona, rescuing her phone. After a few seconds of waiting for something to open on it, she held the screen towards me. I could hear the tinny buzzing of bad speakers and someone laughing quietly. When I squinted at the screen, it was me. A video of me. I’d obviously tripped and fallen on the rug because I was on all fours, laughing forever about it instead of actually getting up. Bree was giggling so hysterically from behind the camera you could hear her struggling to breathe.
At least my face wasn’t really in the video. I would have deleted it anyway, but before I could touch the trash can icon on the screen, Bree snatched it out of my reach.
“You’d better delete that,” I told her.
She gave me a pixie grin. “No way,” she said, and then played it again to herself.
I gave up, rolling onto my back and yawning, half-watching her beside me.
There were obviously some missing parts of last night; I didn’t remember her taking that video at all. I strained to remember what we’d done before we’d watched that TV show; I think I’d spent about twenty minutes or so trying to do some work. Bree had come up behind me and had proceeded to tell me that it was stupid to call pink diamonds pink when they weren’t. I’d Google-imaged some 1P-category pink diamonds to prove they were pink, but then we’d ended up having a brief argument over whether her school tie was pink or coral. Obviously it was coral and the fact she vehemently declared it wasn’t drove me crazy to the point of wanting to strangle her, because who was the schoolgirl and who did professional design work for the marketing department of a Fortune 500 company here? Obviously I knew what I was doing which was probably partially why Jason and Diane had chosen me for… Wait, didn’t Jason say something about…
I sat upright again. Shit! I had that meeting before work this morning with Diane and Jason!
“Oh my God!” I checked the clock on my phone and then clambered off the mattress, head pounding. “I have a meeting this morning I forgot about!”
I staggered into the bathroom to wash my face, wrestling some hardcore nausea. This was one serious hangover; I felt like I really needed the whole day to sleep it off. However, taking sick days at Frost was code for ‘never promote me’, and, on top of that, I really couldn’t waste a single day on this project. I didn’t have the time. Speaking of time, fuck, I was going to be late for this meeting!
Bree was only just getting out of bed when I rushed back in there. As soon as she stepped out of the doona, all I saw beneath the hoodie was skin. I stopped. Was she serious? “Bree, are you not wearing pants?” I asked her with the wardrobe open almost as far as my jaw was. “Were you in bed beside me and not wearing pants?”
She shrugged. “I’m wearing undies,” she said, like that made it perfectly fine. “And your jumper is kind of long anyway.”
I put my palm to my forehead and groaned as she shut the bathroom door behind her. Bree!
Despite the fact I was in a huge hurry, I still struggled to get my fucking dress on. I kept telling myself it was ridiculous of me to be this hung up on fabric, and it was the same fabric that people made men’s suits out of. No matter how much I deconstructed it, though, it didn’t make it any easier. And actually, the only thing that ended up getting me into it was hearing Bree turn off the water in the shower and worrying that she’d see my breasts in this godawful lacy bra if I didn’t put the damn thing on.
I rushed putting on my makeup and I rushed my hair and in the end I had us out of the door at a reasonable hour. I didn’t have time to take her to the train station, though, so I parted ways with her under the George Street overpass, pushing my Opal card and a few small notes into her hand.
She was laughing as she stuffed them into the front pocket of her bag. “Min, you look so hungover,” she said. “I bet you have a terrible headache.”
I wondered if the heavy sunglasses I was wearing gave it away. “Not at all,” I said flatly. “I feel fantastic.”
“Oh, yeah?” She grabbed my hand and pulled me downwards, trying to say really loudly next to my ear, “Then I guess you won’t mind if I do this!”
She was lucky I’d taken some serious painkillers, because even on them I felt like blood was going to start pouring out of my ear after she’d shouted in it. I shook her off. “I hate you.”
She looked delighted, still giggling. “No you don’t, you’re smiling.”
I tried to do something about my smile. “I do. I actually hate you. It’s why I watched that terrible TV show with you for hours last night and why I bought you that bracelet.” My smile had crept back by the time I’d finished that sentence, but Bree’s had dropped right off her face as soon as I’d said ‘bracelet’.
I glanced down at her wrist; it was bare. “You’re not wearing it,” I noted. Maybe she didn’t like it?
Bree made a face. “I can’t wear jewellery with my school uniform,” she said, glossing over the fact her uniform skirt was so short it could cameo in a B-grade porno. “So I left it at home.”
Well, that made sense: she wasn’t wearing any other jewellery, either. My old high school had been just as strict and randomly hypocritical. And, speaking of school, I checked my phone–shit. I had ten minutes to be in the office and she was going to miss her train.
“Okay.” I looked her up and down. “Well, as much as I’d love to have my ears shouted in all day, I have to run. Are you staying over tonight, too?” My weather app said it was going to be a really nice night, so I figured that maybe we could watch more of that terrible show of hers out on the balcony over some dinner.
She looked down at her feet and shook her head. “Nah, Mum doesn’t work nights on Wednesday, Thursday or Friday.”
“Oh,” I said. No dinner and TV on the balcony, then. “Well maybe Saturday?” She nodded, still looking at the ground. I didn’t want to make her sad again, but… I couldn’t help but ask. “Are you going to be okay until then?”
She shrugged. “Yeah, I guess.”
I winced. I wanted more assurance than that, but I also really, really needed to not be any later for this meeting than I already was. “I hope that’s true, Bree,” I said, and then cupped her cheek for a second. “Okay, I really have to go.”
She nodded, and then smiled a half-hearted goodbye at me, turning and walking towards the pedestrian crossing. I waited until she waved at me from the other side of the road before I spun and rushed uphill towards Frost, trying as hard as possible not to think about how much my head hurt or how sick I felt.
It was eight-thirty when I got into the office, and Jason was waiting for me by the door of Oslo with his arms crossed. He did not look pleased.
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry!” I said, jogging past him into the office and dropping my bag into my bottom drawer. “I’m not feeling that great, but I’m ready.”
“The one day that you’re not here before six…” he said, shaking his head at me. “Well, at least you look sick. Maybe we won’t both get caned.”
I wasn’t sure what hurt more: my head or being told off by my boss, but the strong painkillers I’d taken weren’t touching either of those things. I was starting to worry that I was going to get in trouble again, but Diane’s assistant was only just handing her a jumbo latte as we went into her office, and her computer hadn’t even finished booting up.
“Thanks,” Diane told her assistant, and then sat down and gestured hospitably towards the chairs opposite her desk. “Good morning, take a seat.”
Jason sat down easily, and I slowly lowered myself into the chair beside him, my head throbbing so much from running that my vision was pulsing in sync with it. And my stomach… I had a horrible image of myself just throwing up all over Diane’s desk. Oh, god, there wasn’t anything worse I could do. Why did I drink so much last night when it was Bree who really needed the distraction? Why? Why did I do this to myself?
“Min.” I looked up at Diane as she spoke to me. It must have been apparent how bad I felt, because she frowned. “Are you not feeling too well?”
“I’m fine,” I lied, palms sweating. “Probably just a virus. I’ll get over it.”
She watched me for a moment. “Hmm,” she said, giving me the smallest possible smile. “Good thing you’re all the way over there, then. Anyway, if you could provide with me an update on the project, that would be fantastic. Jason’s given me some details, but he is in charge of fourteen other teams, so I’d rather hear it from you.”
Thinking straight enough to relay our progress was actually a bit of a challenge, but I thought I sounded coherent and professional enough just to pass as someone who was a bit sick. I went over the project so far, explaining the decisions we’d made at each point and what was still left to be done.
She nodded slowly as she listened to me, occasionally asking me questions. Eventually, she said, “Well, that all sounds on track. Russia is an excellent choice, and if you’re selling to Vladivostok, it’s quite likely we’ll get some demand out of Beijing, too.”
I hadn’t even thought about future expansions, but I obviously wasn’t going to tell Diane that. I pretended it had been part of the decision all along. “Strategically, it’s a good place to position ourselves.”
Diane looked satisfied by that. “A solid plan,” she said. “How’s information security?”
“Terrible,” Jason butted in, abandoning his professional vocabulary again. “Mini has that Arab kid in her team, and he doesn’t understand the meaning of ‘encryption’.”
I flinched as he said that, and I think Diane noticed. She didn’t say as much though, focusing on the rest of his complaint as she directed me with a frown. “Why aren’t you dealing with this?”
“I spoke to John yesterday and I haven’t received any unencrypted emails since,” I assured her, sounding far more confident than I felt. “But yes, he needed to be told several times.”
She didn’t look pleased. “Watch him,” she said. “There will be trouble if my brother finds out where we’re planning on setting up in Western Australia.”
“Understood,” I told her.
“And,” she said, remembering something and pointing at me. “I saw you two together last week. Why was that?”
My eyebrows went up. “I’ve bumped into him a few times,” I said. “We talked a bit, but it was purely small talk.”
Jason scoffed. “It’s never small talk with that man,” he said coarsely. “Excuse my language, Diane. But Mini, he’s a fucking asshole.”
Diane didn’t look shocked or angry, and she didn’t ask him to watch his language, either.
It was the strangest fucking conversation, I swear. I was listening to the guy who was joking around with Sean at every possible opportunity – and maybe doing more than that with him – calling him a ‘fucking asshole’. Suspect choice of wording aside, it didn’t really seem like the way you’d expect someone to describe a person they got along that well with. And, Diane? Diane was Sean’s sister, the very essence of decorumand still she was happy for her employees to call him derogatory names. I was beginning to think that maybe Henry and Alice were the only balanced siblings on the planet. What the hell was going on in people’s families? I just couldn’t imagine how siblings could end up so much at odds. Like, Mum and I didn’t get along at all and sometimes it felt like ten thousand kilometres wasn’t enough, but she was still my mother.
It was all incredibly screwed up, and I wondered if Sean knew the way they were talking about him. Hell, I wondered if Diane knew how close Sean and Jason appeared to be and that they might even be involved with each other.
“I’ll be careful with what I say to Sean,” I promised them, and apparently that marked the end of the meeting.
Family feud aside I thought it went quite well, and while I was congratulating myself for not throwing up on Diane’s table as we left, Diane stopped me as soon as Jason was gone. “Min,” she said, briefly closing the door beside us. “Mind if we have a word?”
That wasn’t actually a question, so of course I nodded.
She was watching me with a very measured gaze. It unsettled me even though she was so much shorter. “How do you like working in marketing, Min?”
“I love my job,” I said with practised ease.
She nodded, and then appeared to very carefully choose her words. “Marketing is a bit of an anomaly in most large companies,” she began, somewhat cryptically. “The skillset required to excel in it generally differs from that of other departments. Take Aaron, for example,” she said, referring to the one of the older ‘fatherly’ leads I’d previously had. I’d hated him; he’d spoken down to me and treated me like a secretary. “He’s a fantastic networker. We’d lose a huge web of contacts if he were to leave us. And Gerard, he’s another fantastic member of our team.” I didn’t like working with that man, either. He had the tendency to freely laugh at other people’s expense.
She reeled off a whole list of names, and I began to see a pattern; all the people she was naming and complimenting were fucks. Actual fucks, there wasn’t a name on the list that I’d want to be put in a team with. “And, of course, Jason is the best closer this department’s ever had. He’s a real asset to Frost International.”
She paused, letting that sink in. “When I’m hiring for this department, I’m often presented with the difficult choice of hiring the type of employee I might choose for another area of the business, and someone who’s going to shake hands and seal the deal, so to speak. This can make marketing teams operate a little less smoothly at times. However, what matters is that we get signatures on those dotted lines. If we can’t sell our products, we don’t have a business.”
I nodded, not following her one hundred percent.
“So,” she said. “Occasionally I’m required to overlook certain behaviours I see in order to ensure that I still get those signatures and we still have a very healthy, very profitable business. Working closely with very strong marketers like Jason, I imagine you’ve discovered you have to do the same. I trust this hasn’t been a problem for you?”
…I finally understood what she meant, and it left a really bad taste in my mouth. It must have been triggered by that ‘Arab’ comment she’d seen me react to earlier.
She was asking me a trick question, though. Of course Jason’s complete lack of regard for people was a problem – he was a manager for chrissake – but I knew actually saying as much would give my career the kiss of death. So I looked right back at her and forced a calm smile. “I have no trouble working with Jason,” I said through my teeth. “I’ve been working in marketing for five years, after all.”
She smiled faintly and nodded. “That is a very good point,” she said, visibly relaxing. “And good to hear, too: you’re doing some great work on this project. It would be a shame if you decided to transfer out for something minor. Anyway,” she opened the door again and stood aside politely so I had room to step through it, “thanks for your work. I look forward to attenting functions in Russia and seeing women wearing our merchandise.”
She showed me out and I stood by the door for a second.
Under all the compliments and explanations of how marketing departments functioned, there was something sinister in there. I didn’t think she was threatening me exactly, but I didn’t like it. It was one thing to just kind of know I needed to put up with Jason, and quite another to be told my career in marketing was over if I didn’t.
That, on top of the Sean-Diane stuff, the Sean-Jason stuff and the fact happy families seemed to be a fictional construct in Australia was just making my terrible headache even worse. Ugh. I sighed, starting to walk around the corner to Oslo. I’d need to ask Henry what he thought about all of that.
I walked back in the office to find Sarah already seated at her desk. “You are here,” she said, and had started to stay something else, but she cut it short and laughed. “Whoa, someone didn’t get any sleep last night. Did Henry stay over?”
“Nope,” I told her. “I was out fighting evil.”
I did not want to tell her that it was Bree who had stayed and because of Bree I looked like this, because knowing her, she’d take it the wrong way. It was difficult to take it the right way, actually, especially given that we’d ended up in bed together. I didn’t want to have to explain to her that Bree needed to be held to different behavioural standards than normal people.
She laughed. “Looks like evil won,” she said, and handed me a Red Bull. “I have Panadol if you want some, too.”
I shook my head, and then winced as the movement made it throb. “Diane says our project is going well and she congratulates us,” I told her instead, changing the subject.
Recognition passed across her face. “Oh, that’s right, that’s where you were,” she said. “And hey, go us! You should buy us lunch to celebrate.”
She was probably right. “I should, shouldn’t I? Maybe I’ll go down at lunch and buy Chinese from the place around the corner for us all or something.” Just talking about food made me feel ill, I didn’t relish the idea of having to deal with the smell of it.
“Looking forward to it,” she said, and then she watched me intently for a few seconds. “So,” she began in a playful voice. “I noticed you didn’t delete your Facebook last night as promised, so I sent you and your friend an invite for Friday.”
She did what? I leant back in my chair and sighed at her. “You’re lucky I’m way too sick to bother doing all the paperwork required to fire you.”
“There’s more…” she said, and then turned her laptop toward me. She had Facebook chat up, so I leaned towards the screen.
Sarah had hit up Bree on Facebook last night about the invite, and when she’d told Bree where the venue was, Bree had replied, “wow thats really close to here”.
Sarah looked smug. “Close to ‘here’, Min,” she said. “Not ‘close to Min’s’.” She closed Facebook while I was glaring at her. Why had she asked about Henry if she knew who was with me last night? “Anyway, I was actually thinking that stunt I pulled with Henry in getting you out of the office might also work with Bree. But she was pretty hesitant and wouldn’t accept the invite on your behalf.”
That made me smile a little. If Bree was angling herself towards more quasi-expensive jewellery, it was working. “Good,” I said. “At least I know who’s on my side and who isn’t.” I gave her a sideways look. “Anyway, I think I actually agreed to come drinking with you when the project is done. You don’t even need to pull any stunts. And you don’t need to go using Facebook to check up on the location of my friends or invite me to stuff, either.”
She shrugged as we both reluctantly got ready to start working. “Maybe not, but it’s more fun this way.” She grinned at me and then turned back to her screen.
I swung my chair back towards my own. I had trouble focusing on work because of how crap I felt, though. I might have ducked into the bathrooms to put a wet towel on the back of my neck for a bit, but there were giant mirrors facing the basins in there. I was pretty sure seeing myself in a dress and plastered in makeup had zero chance of making me feel any better, so I ended up deciding just to push through how sick I felt.
Moscow had gotten back to me to set up a video conference at 4pm which meant that I needed to hurriedly book meeting rooms and equipment and find an interpreter. Jason insisted that the stream shouldn’t run on the main network, and it turned out to be a nightmare trying to get wireless coverage from Oslo reaching down to the meeting rooms.
Because of all that hassle, I didn’t get to see Henry. About half an hour before the video conference started and while I was sitting in the meeting room with Jason and worrying myself half-to-death that I wasn’t ready to set up a pitch, Henry texted me.
“The suspense is killing me,” it read. “Is Bree okay? Are you okay?”
I looked up; Jason was busy on his tablet and wasn’t paying any attention to me, so I texted back, “Yeah, it’s something with her brother, she didn’t say what but at least it’s not physical.” I wasn’t sure what else to tell him and whether or not I should say she’d run out, but I knew what else I wouldn’t be telling him: ‘Bree and I got drunk together, she slept over and we ended up in the same bed. Also she wasn’t wearing pants when I woke up.’ Oh, and the part where I was dressed up as a guy the whole time, too. I shouldn’t forget to mention that.
I squeezed my eyes shut and groaned. I’d better just change the subject. “Actually I have some other stuff I need to discuss with you. I’ll probably need to sleep tonight but do you want to come over tomorrow?”
“No can do,” he sent back, “tomorrow I have to fly down to Melbourne and help interview graduates again. Frost had so many applications this year that they almost need to hire more HR staff to chew through them all. Sunday is looking good. Want to catch up then? Maybe we could do something a bit more romantic than usual and go and see a movie. I’m thinking Horror. Nothing more romantic than Horror.”
I chuckled, and then smothered it when I remembered who was in the room with me. “Sounds great. Come over after lunch.” After I’d sent that, I put my phone away and got straight back to stressing I would fuck up this meeting.
I had expected Jason to run the teleconference, but when I’d asked him what he’d planned to say, he said he hadn’t planned to say anything because it was my meeting. “It’s just a first contact meeting,” he’d said, checking NRL scores on his tablet. “Aside from actually insulting them, there’s probably not that much you can stuff up.”
“But you’re here,” I’d observed.
He grinned. “In case you stuff up anyway.”
I didn’t stuff it up, though, the interpreter arrived on time and Moscow called in a few minutes later. The three people I ended up talking to on screen were a guy who was obviously the boss – he introduced himself to me as the contact I’d emailed – a female personal assistant who looked about Bree’s age and another guy who didn’t say much.
I explained in as little detail as possible about the products we were planning on selling and timeframes around the construction and operation of the mine. All three of them listened carefully until I was finished. Then, my contact and the other guy with him had a brief quiet discussion, too quiet for the interpreter to get much of it. When they were done, I asked, “So, can you think of any companies or people I should approach who might be interested? And if so, are you able to introduce us?”
The quiet guy finally spoke. “You know of Sasha Burov?” he asked me in English.
“Of course I know about him,” I said immediately. His name had come up repeatedly during scoping, it would be remiss of me to not know who he was. “He’s one of the top diamond brokers in Eastern Russia. He buys for those intricate Korzhakov collections and that Russian-Italian designer,” I thought for a second. “’Poletti-Pisani’, I think it is? There are a whole host of even Western celebrities that commission jewellery from those collections.”
The quiet man looked very impressed. He nodded once. “I am him,” he said simply. “You can speak with my assistant here. Make me the appointment, book tickets. Frost International will put me in a nice hotel, I think, give me a good view of Sydney while I am there.” He smiled, showing two rows of perfect teeth. “I look forward to meeting you. Perhaps we can do some business.” He shook hands with my contact and then stood up out of frame and walked off.
Jason had looked up with surprise in the middle of that whole exchange, and then across at me. I must have had much the same expression. Had I just accidentally booked a sales pitch on my first contact?
I hurriedly checked dates with the young assistant, penned in Mr. Burov for after Easter and then ended the call and dismissed the interpreter.
For a minute or two Jason and I just sat back in our chairs. Had that just happened? Had I really just booked a sales pitch on my first contact?
“How the fuck did you do that,” Jason said, lapsing back into his habit of swearing. I shook my head. He blew a stream of air through his lips. “I need a cigarette.” He stood up. “Fuck. Good work, Mini. Very nicely done,” he said, but his congratulations seemed more of an afterthought to his surprise.
I followed him upstairs, and went back with him to his office to lock up the tablet. His office wasn’t empty, though: Sean Frost was seated in his chair, playing with a set of perpetual motion balls Jason had on his desk. Sean had obviously been waiting for Jason.
“Don’t you do any actual work?” Jason asked him as he took my tablet from me and locked it with his in the filing cabinet.
“Jason, Min,” Sean greeted us cordially, standing up. “If I’m not mistaken, supporting and socialising with my employees is part of my role?” He grinned. “Cigarette?”
“You fucking bet,” Jason said, grabbing a packet of them out of his jacket. “Ms. Genius right here just scored us a pitch.”
Sean looked over at me and smiled. It was really warm and genuine. “I’m not surprised,” he said. “I hear good things about her. Congratulations, Min.”
I was still completely spun out about what had just happened, but wow,that felt good. The other co-CEO congratulating me, too? I could hardly believe it. I could actually hardly believe the whole last hour. I beamed at him.
Jason didn’t look quite as sold on me. “Yeah, you hear good things from her boyfriend, right?” He laughed. “If he wants to get any ever again he’s kind of obliged to say she’s fantastic.” Instead of inviting him to shove it, I laughed appropriately like Diane would have wanted me to as they walked out together.
They kept joking all the way to the balcony, and I watched them for just a second, wondering if Sean knew the things Jason said about him behind his back. Jason lit Sean’s cigarette again, and Sean leaned into the lighter. I watched as Jason grinned broadly at him; there was something predatory about it. If they weren’t sleeping together, Jason was certainly acting like he wanted them to be. Why, though? Was he just trying to cover all his bases by cosying up to both CEOs? He worked pretty closely with Diane, and I remembered Diane saying he was the only other person she’d trusted with regard to the project.
I made a face. Whatever, I wasn’t going to learn much by standing here and staring at them. I also really couldn’t be bothered with the sort of teasing I’d get if anyone else in the department caught me staring at two attractive men.
I had better things to be thinking about, anyway. Like the fact I’d booked a sales pitch on my first contact. I might actually have skipped back into Oslo, if not for these goddamn heels.
Since my team were all probably going to work through the evening and I was fucking ecstatic that I’d somehow managed to fluke a sales pitch, I shouted them to dinner, too, in order to congratulate them. Hell, I’d shout them to as many meals as they wanted as long as we kept pushing along at the pace we were tracking at. I hadn’t even spoken to Vladivostok yet.
While we were preparing for that meeting the following day I bought food for everyone again, and later I found Sarah with her head in her hands over a half-finished rice and black bean stirfry. “This project is going to really put me off Chinese takeaway,” she said, and then tried to soldier through the rest of it as she copy-pasted me some stats.
Unfortunately, when I did have my meeting with Vladivostok on Thursday, it didn’t go quite as spectacularly. I did get a few names and a few numbers to follow up on, however, and my team spent all the rest of that day doing research on those people. Meanwhile, I went and read up as much as I could on this Sasha Burov to try and decide what sort of material we should develop for him. I thought over what he’d said, ‘Give me a good view of Sydney’. Maybe he didn’t get down to Australia very often? That might be something I could use in the marketing materials.
I went home on Thursday night and watched about four hours of Tourism Australia commercials and some related documentaries. Bree even sent me a few links on Deviant Art to the ones her extended family in Europe really liked when I told her what I was doing. And, as soon as I was sure Moscow was open on Friday, I called in to speak to Sasha Burov’s assistant in order to ask about the last time he’d been down here. She had to double-check, but she actually thought it might have been more than a decade.
That settled it, I thought, lacing my fingers behind my head and spinning around in my office chair. I was going to exploit my country’s natural beauty to get his name on that dotted line.
I spent most of Friday evening tabbing through thousands and thousands of images of Australian landscapes; I wasn’t sure exactly what I wanted to use or how I wanted to use it, but usually in this sort of circumstance I would just come across something and get an idea. There didn’t seem to be any reason to work late in the office if I was just looking at photo collections, though, so I went home and spent hours using up my bandwidth on high res landscapes, dressed comfortably in clothes that didn’t make me feel like everything sucked.
Around midnight, my stomach started to grumble. It was annoying, because I only had a few hundred photos left on this particular site and I didn’t want to leave it half-finished before bed. I tried to keep working anyway, but I kept being distracted by how hungry I was so I decided I’d just duck down to the late night pizza place on Cumberland. It would take me ten minutes and then I could probably keep going for another hour or two.
I went into my bedroom and opened my wardrobe, automatically going to get the same dress I’d worn all day so I could change into it before I left.
However, when I picked it up, I had that familiar wave of resentment. I didn’t want to put it on again. I’d have to put on stockings and a bra, and makeup… It was almost enough to drive me back to the fridge to just eat the crusty old birthday cake that was still there. I really felt like pizza, and why the hell should I have to forgo it just because I couldn’t face putting on any of my girly clothes again? I’d done my time in them this week.
Stop being ridiculous and put the damn thing on, I told myself as I looked down at the innocent fabric in my hands. It’s not rocket science, Min, just take off your comfy clothes, put one leg into it, followed by the other and zip it up. That’s all you have to do.
I couldn’t, though. I couldn’t do it. I just couldn’t spend one more second today dressed like something I wasn’t.
I left the dress in the wardrobe and closed the door to the reflection of me in my jeans and hoodie. It was a relief, especially since I’d decided to try the bandages on again this evening. I probably didn’t really need to wear them with anything except those tight button-up shirts, but I’d put them on earlier anyway, just to see what they looked like. They were actually quite uncomfortable; maybe I was wearing them wrong. Still, they weren’t as uncomfortable as heels had been when I’d first started to wear those, and they did make my chest look completely flat. I turned sideways for a moment and held my hoodie against my stomach, admiring the smooth plane between my collarbones and my hips.
Fuck it, I thought, I’ll just wear this down to the shop. It had been a complete non-event yesterday when I had been running around after Bree in this, and it was the middle of the night now. No one was going to see.
I did put my hood up as I went through the lobby, though, because I was still a bit worried the staff would recognise me. And while I was sure they saw some pretty dodgy stuff come in and out of the hotel, I didn’t want to be anyone’s ‘Hey, you’ll never guess what I saw at work today’ story.
It was beginning to get a bit chilly outside; the breeze was pleasant, though, even this late at night. If it was nice weather again tomorrow, maybe Bree and I could sit out on the balcony after all. I’d made a pact with Bree over text message that for every episode of her TV show we watched, she’d have to watch one of my cartoons. She’d pinkie-sworn, so it was settled. We could relax with the balcony door open, eat junk food and watch stuff. Sounded like a great Saturday, to be honest. Just like the last one I’d had with her.
Walking around in the dark like this reminded me of when she’d run out, though. I hoped again that nothing had happened to her while she’d been home last couple of days. Maybe I should buy her something to cheer her up just in case? Not jewellery, though, something she didn’t have to take off or put away.
I was so busy trying to decide what an appropriate Cheer Up Bree present was, that I didn’t notice someone staring at me from the other side of the street. When I did notice, I didn’t want to stop and turn my head around towards them because I was worried I’d get drawn into a conversation. I still wasn’t convinced I sounded like a guy, and I really didn’t want to find out how people would react to the discrepancy. I had enough fucking trouble dealing with it myself.
I’d hoped she’d give up if I just kept walking, but she didn’t. She followed me all the way up the street, jogging as I walked faster. I could see her silhouette out of the very corner of my eye, and I could hear her heels clopping on the pavement.
It was completely irrational because I was much bigger than she was, but I was actually scared what would happen if she caught up to me.
Ahead of us, there was a pub on the corner and people were sitting along the walls of it, drinking and laughing. I exhaled. Maybe I was wrong; maybe she was just rushing to meet someone in there.
My relief didn’t last very long though, because she crossed the street to get to me and reached up to pull my hood back, laughing. But as I faced her, for some reason absolutely certain I was about to cop a torrent of abuse like in high school, a familiar voice caught me really off-guard by saying,“Min! I knew it! It is you!”
I recognised that voice well before there was enough light for me to see who it was. You’d hope I would; I spent enough time at work. My stomach bottomed out as the silhouette stepped into the light. I saw her big grin before the rest of her features, and that her long hair was braided for once instead of loose around her shoulders. She was wearing significantly less than she did at work; no wonder I hadn’t recognised her.
Now, I did. While I was frozen solid to the pavement, she grabbed my forearms – as touchy-feely as she always was – and looked delighted. “Fuck, you actually came, I can’t believe it! This is insane!”
“Sarah?” I rasped, because it was all I could manage.