I nearly got stuck in a lift today with a work colleague and it gave me silly story ideas. This is set after Under My Skin, before Flesh & Blood. It’s a speed prompt, I wrote it in 58 minutes.
Min wasn’t wrong when sh—he warned me about the rumour mill at Frost. Not that I wasn’t completely aware of its existence—come on, I run Human Resources, for crying out loud—but it’s one thing to try and manage it for the well-being of others, and quite another to be dead fucking centre of it myself.
You see, apparently I’m gay. At least, that’s what you’ll hear if you talk to anyone in Marketing, Sales or any of the direct client service departments. Henry Lee is gay, didn’t you know? He’s buried deep inside in the closet. He knew all along Min was a guy, and he was probably taking it the whole time.
It’s not that I’d have any particular problem with that rumour at another point in my life, it’s just that the whole situation surrounding Min and his gender was still very raw for me at that point and I really did not need to be getting any sort of attention over it. I certainly did not want to fan its flames.
I had successfully managed to avoid any sort of direct discussion about it until one morning when I was on my way down to Accounting with the budget projections. My head buried in one of the reports, I didn’t notice who stepped into the lift.
…not until he pressed every single button between 36 and 14, that is. “Good morning, Henry.”
I lowered my reports; I knew that voice. I also knew that fucking sinuous smile. I made a very special effort not to punch him in those perfect teeth and just smile pleasantly with mine. “Good morning, Sean.”
He saw straight through it, of course. Thoroughly enjoying himself, he gestured at the display panel as the lift doors closed. “Sorry, I couldn’t remember which floor IT’s on. I guess we’re taking the scenic route.”
He wasn’t going to win this one. “I should probably thank you. It gives me the opportunity to give these reports another once-over.” I very pointedly went back to reading them.
A single finger in the middle of the page pushed it back down to chest-level. He smiled over the top of it, and took a step in. “Okay, maybe that wasn’t the whole truth. Henry,” I didn’t like that faux-caring tone at all, “I want to speak to you, one-on-one.”
“I’m free at 11am next Friday.”
He chuckled like I’d said something funny, and then put a ‘warm’ hand on my arm. “I’m worried about you.”
“Oh?” I wondered if I was going to be sick.
He nodded. “It’s my job as your manager to make sure you’re well-supported, and to notice when you’re not at your best. I know with Min coming out as transgender and dumping you for a little girl half your age, it must already be difficult for you. I mean, you were going to marry her, weren’t you? I think I remember you talking about wanting kids with her once. It must be hard to look at yourself in the mirror, sometimes, after her.”
Him, I thought, feeling like I’d just been slapped in the face. “I’m a big boy, Sean. I’ll manage. But I really appreciate your attention and concern.” And get your fucking hand off me.
He didn’t. “But now that I hear what people are saying about you while you’re still trying to cope with it all, and well…” He shook his head in apparent disgust. “I just wanted to give my support, and let you know that my door is always open if you need someone to talk to.”
Instead of thanking him, I wondered how many years I’d get if I murdered him right now and if the pleasure of strangling him to death would be infinitely worth it. Spending several years in prison was unlikely to quell those gay rumours, though…
I had been intending to let the conversation end there while we toured all the floors in Frost HQ and I recovered from what he’d said about Min and I, but he had different ideas. “You know, you’d think people would come up with new rumours, wouldn’t you, with the top minds we hire? But it’s always same-old, same old…” he leant in a little and added, “You know they’ve been saying I’m gay for years.”
That’s probably because you’ve slept with half the men on payroll, I thought, looking ahead.
“So, anyway, Henry, I thought I’d—”
“—Look, 14. My floor.” I snapped my report closed and gave him a stiff smile while I waited for the door to open. “It’s been a pleasure taking the scenic route with you.”
“The pleasure’s all mine,” he said, and then looked down at the panel. “Apologies about that. I’m sure I heard my assistant saying there was a way to override all the floor call buttons somewhere, maybe I should have just—” He reached out and tried a few of the buttons, and as soon as he’d pressed one of them the lift jerked to a sudden stop so violently that we both stumbled. He stood up, and the expression on his face… “Oh, no, I think I accidentally pressed the emergency stop button.”
You had to be fucking… “Well, I hope you can cancel it, because I have a meeting with Accounting in three minutes.”
Sean was oh-so casually taking out his mobile phone from his pocket and putting it against his ear. “Don’t worry, I’m sure they’ll be happy to wait for you. Let me just call my assistant. Frances?” He paused. “Yes, that can wait. Look, I’m stuck in a lift with Henry Lee, one of us pressed the emergency stop button and now we’re trapped in here alone together. Can you ask around to find someone who either knows what to do or knows the number for the maintenance company? Oh, and please phone the conference room Henry’s booked in Accounting and tell them all he’ll be late because he’s stuck in a lift with me. Thanks, Frances, you’re a star.” He hung up. “Now we wait, I suppose.” He put his hands in his pockets and inclined comfortably against the wall. He was grinning.
I didn’t understand that smug grin at first. I thought he was just pleased with himself for forcing me to spend time in his company, and it wasn’t until I noticed a ‘In case of emergencies, call this number:’ on the plate about the emergency panel. It was right next to him. He couldn’t possibly have missed it.
He saw where I was looking. “Whoops, I guess we’d better call that instead,” he said, taking out his phone again. His eyes were twinkling. “For your sake, I’d hate for the rumour mill to find out you were stuck in a lift alone with me.”