So this Natalie woman was a lawyer? I didn’t doubt that for a second. I’d never seen anyone who fit ‘lawyer’ more in my life: she looked like she would eat the raw, beating heart of anyone who opposed her, and charge them dearly for the pleasure. There was a serious dominatrix vibe about her.
“Nice to finally meet you all,” Natalie told us without smiling, and then looked directly at Min. “So you’re Min.”
Min’s eyes widened. I felt for her.
Natalie considered her for a moment. “You don’t recognise the name, do you? ‘Heiser & Anderson?’” Since Min clearly didn’t, she pushed off from where she’d been leaning against the table to stride forward and handed Min a small business card from her purse.
Min accepted it cautiously, her eyes dipping to read it. There was no recognition in them.
It didn’t look like that was the reaction Natalie was used to. “No? We posted you an invitation to meet with us right after your unfair dismissal from Frost in April.”
Now Min seemed to remember something. “Oh.” She paused. “But it’s not unfair dismissal because I didn’t get dismissed. I resigned.”
“You were forced to resign, which is the same thing as unfair dismissal in industrial law,” Natalie told her, and then leant in towards her a little. “I could cut Frost up over what they did to you, Min. Discrimination is my speciality, and I’ve heard through the grapevine that you have an unresolved dispute with them. It would be an absolute pleasure to take Frost to open court over it; the media would love this case, too—transgender rights are a big deal right now—and I have some old friends at the Herald who would give us favourable coverage.”
Natalie may have thought she was offering Min reasons why she would want to pursue Frost, but I’d never seen more of an immediate reaction in Min than when Natalie said ‘media’. Her expression was the firmest ‘no’ possible.
Henry noticed. “Careful who you drag into the legal system, Natalie,” he cautioned her. “Not everyone shares your bloodlust.”
Min looked like she was one of those other people. “Thanks for the offer,” she said in a tone that held a note of the opposite.
Unfortunately, Natalie was apparently not the kind of person to take ‘no’ for an answer. “I’ll even sweeten the deal by running it as No Win, No Fee…”
Min had her eyes on the card in her hands, uncomfortable. Beside me, Sarah looked conflicted and I could see she wanted to jump to Min’s defence. However, after being caught eavesdropping, I don’t think anyone of us were game to interrupt them.
“So, what do you think?” Natalie pressed, ignoring Min’s reluctance.
Cornered, Min had clearly had enough. “What do I think? I think you should fire your graphic designer and let me redesign this card for you. I’ll make sure people won’t forget your firm.” She waved the business card in air. “Leave this with me for a week. Excuse me, and sorry about before.” Nodding politely at Natalie, she turned and made a quick exit back into the main restaurant.
Bree looked torn about staying or going—she’d been listening intently to the conversation between Min and Natalie and I thought she might’ve liked to have asked for more information—but in the end, she chose to follow Min. “Nice to meet you, Natalie,” she said as she left, “And sorry we were spying on you and Henry before. It’s only because Henry never tells us anything.”
“Good to know,” Natalie said dryly after she’d gone, looking sideways at Henry. “Oh, well, maybe while he’s redesigning my card he’ll have a change of heart…”
Henry had his arms crossed, and he raised his eyebrows at her momentarily as if to say ‘I told you so’. “What did I say about pressuring him?”
Natalie shrugged. “If I always took ‘no’ as a final answer, I wouldn’t be head legal counsel of the MEU,” she said in a very lawyer-like voice, and then looked directly at Sarah and I.
Shit. I felt like a deer in headlights; we were next on the menu apparently.
“And you two… Sarah?” She said, pointing at Sarah, “and Emma, was it?” She pointed at me.
Since I was useless in this type of situation and wouldn’t have corrected her, Sarah answered for me. “Gemma.”
Natalie did a silent ‘ah’. “Gemma, that’s it,” she said, while I tried to cope with all these women saying my name with their red, red lips. “Do you two work for Frost as well?”
Thank heavens for Sarah. “Yes, I’m Marketing Lead and Gemma kind of doesn’t really have a department, she does her own thing. They’ve moved her around a few times.”
Natalie didn’t even acknowledge what Sarah had said about herself. “Doesn’t have a department?” she asked, eyebrows up. Gosh, she was looking straight at me; I was going to die right here on this spot. “What type of work do you do?”
“She’s this really incredible statistician, but they just have her fixing spreadsheets.”
Natalie narrowed her eyes at me for a moment, and then I could see something light up in them. “You’re Gemma Rowe,” she told me while my brain screamed WHY DOES SHE KNOW YOUR NAME?!
“That’s her,” Sarah answered for me, and then, because she was Sarah and had balls of rock-solid steel, she asked directly, “Do you know if she’s one of the people who are going to lose their jobs?”
Henry groaned. “Sarah…”
Everyone ignored him, especially Natalie. “No one’s going to lose their jobs if I have anything to do with it,” she said confidently, and then fixed me with a pointed look. “I trust I’ll see you at the union meeting this week?”
I was gulping like a fish—I wasn’t a member of the union and I didn’t really want to say that—but Sarah rescued me again. “She’ll definitely be there.”
Natalie looked pleased with that answer. “Good,” she said. “The more, the merrier. Anyway,” she turned back towards Henry. “I think our meeting has apparently ended? Always good to catch up with you, Henry, and nice to meet your friends.” She gave Sarah and me a professional smile and then said to me, “See you at the union meeting.” It sounded more like a firm instruction than an invitation.
Henry’s hand was hovering by her lower back without touching it. “I’ll walk you back to your car,” he told her as he escorted her out, glancing sidelong at Sarah and me as he walked past. “I’ll meet the rest of you back at the reserved table shortly.”
Then—thank heavens—they left and I was finally released from my vice and able to breathe freely again. Sarah, on the other hand, had been practically holding her own breath and on the point of explosion until they were out of earshot. “Oh my god!” she erupted, turning around and grabbing both my arms like she’d struck gossip jackpot. “Can you believe any of that?”
I still hadn’t recovered. “No?”
“No is right! Wow! Henry’s dating someone, she’s a lawyer of the MEU, and now we know that your job is going—okay, so I know I should feel terrible about springing Henry like that, but I’m totally glad I did!”
I wasn’t so glad. I’d just made an idiot of myself again. Natalie was exactly the type of person I would literally plan an entire day to avoid ever being in the same room with. And to top that off, making Henry angry… I was ready to go home, actually. I didn’t care how nice the food here was.
It looked like I wasn’t going to get that option, though, because Sarah linked arms with me and started to lead me back to the table, bubbling with excitement. “I seriously had no idea he was seeing someone. Did you? Nuts. At least I feel better about your job now, though.”
I gave her a look. “Because there’s nothing more reassuring than a union lawyer tacitly confirming your employer is trying to screw you out of a job?”
She was full of conviction. “Can you seriously think of a better person to handle the case, though? She’s a shark, Gem! Imagine facing her in the courtroom: on top of the fact she’s crazy intense, she’s a bombshell and no one could pick up their jaws off the floor to mount a defence.” Something occurred to her, and she snickered and leant in to my ear to whisper, “They’re probably all too busy thinking about mounting her!”
For some reason hearing Sarah say that about her really bothered me.
Back at the table, Min had lost her rosy aura of pride in Bree and was staring absently at the menu.
“At least you know who to go to if Frost doesn’t pay your entitlements,” Sarah pointed out as we sat down.
Min glanced up and then shrugged. “That stuff is in the past, and I’m really not interested in crossing swords with Frost again. Frost fights dirty, and I don’t think someone like Natalie would care much about anything except winning the case.”
Sarah shrugged. “Maybe there would be a lot of money in it?”
“It would have to be a lot of money,” Min said firmly. “Or there would have to be some other reason. Otherwise, no thank you.”
“I’m with Min,” I said. “Natalie wants to make her do interviews.”
Sarah laughed. “Oh no!” she said, mimicking me as she opened her menu again. “Not interviews! The horror!” She dropped the act. “Huh. I wonder if she’ll want you guys to do interviews for the offshoring stuff?”
I hadn’t thought of that. Oh, gosh. If there had been any sort of chance I’d go the union meeting before, it was completely gone now.
Sarah observed my expression, and pointedly said, “I guess you can tell us after you’ve been to the union meeting.”
“I guess,” I said, with absolutely zero intention of going. With any luck, I’d just end up in Marketing, anyway and none of this offshoring stuff would matter to me.
Unfortunately, Sarah read me like a book. “I knew it, you’re not planning on going, are you?”
Crap. “Well, I don’t know what difference it would make?” I said, instead of, ‘I don’t want to ever give Natalie the chance to talk to me again, especially when you aren’t around’.
She gave me a look. “But don’t you want to find out more info about what’s going on with your job? I know if I just got confirmation my employer was trying to offshore my job I’d want to know everything about it that I could!”
“Not everyone enjoys working for Frost, Sarah,” Min reminded her.
Sarah scoffed. “Yeah, but everyone needs money, and generally keeping your job is a key part of that.”
“Maybe I’ll get a new job…?” I suggested, wondering what it was going to be like working in Marketing.
Sarah stopped, turning her whole head towards me and directing me a deep frown. “Wow, you’ve really changed your tune,” she noted. “Last week you were desperate not to lose it… did something happen?”
Oh, no, was I being too obvious? Henry would kill me if she somehow guessed, and I had a feeling I was skating on thin ice with him after tonight. Crap, what could I say…? “N-No, I was just thinking about what you said?” I tried her own line on her. “Maybe I am being wasted where I am now…”
She gave me a very long, very calculated look, and then looked back at her menu. “I still think you should go to the union meeting,” she decided. “At least then you’ll have some idea of how long you’ve got.”
“Yeah, and you can give us more intel on Natalie!” Bree chimed in. “I want to know what she’s like since Henry won’t say anything.”
“I think it’s pretty clear what she’s like,” Min said dryly.
“Yeah, I don’t think there’s a secret compassionate side of her that Gem’s going to discover at the union meeting,” Sarah added, obviously assuming that she’d convinced me to go. “She’s a lawyer. She fights for a living.”
Bree made a face. “But she’s a lawyer for the unions, right? And she does discrimination law, so obviously she’s fighting for the right reasons. Maybe that’s why Henry likes her.”
Sarah didn’t look convinced. “I think that, looking at her, we saw what Henry likes in her.”
Min gave her a sharp glance. “Henry’s not like that, Sarah.”
Sarah shrugged. “Apparently he is? I mean, come on: what else would they really have in common apart from both being rich and hot? He’s Mr Caring of the Year and she clearly has no caring side at all. I mean, did you notice? I’m huge. Women always comment on how pregnant I am, always. She didn’t say anything like, ‘how far along are you’? Or, ‘congratulations’. It’s weird.”
“Maybe she doesn’t care about children?” I suggested.
Min’s mouth was in a thin line. “Henry cares about children,” she said shortly.
Sarah reached across the table and gave Min a comforting pat. “Well, I wouldn’t worry about it. They’re probably just sleeping together because it’s convenient.” Min didn’t look very comforted by that.
We were politely waiting for ‘Moneybags’ to get back so we could order—it seemed a bit rude to order without him, since he was paying—but he took a lot longer than expected. He also seemed to be concealing a smile. “I’m unhappy you all did that,” he told us in a ‘let bygones be bygones’ voice as he took his seat at the table. “That was quite embarrassing for me.”
We all apologised, and then Sarah added smugly, “You’re such a dark horse, Henry. None of us had any idea at all!”
He looked up slowly from his menu for a moment, an expression of concern on his face. “Sarah, the reason Natalie and I chose to meet so far away from Frost HQ was specifically so people wouldn’t jump to that conclusion about us having dinner together,” he said. “There are enough rumours about me as it is, I don’t need anyone to make it worse by inadvertently starting more of them.”
Oh… okay, I admit it, I felt a little bad about the discussion we’d been having before.
While I was feeling really guilty about that, Sarah was obviously having much more trouble believing him. “Wait, you’re saying you’re not dating her?”
He didn’t look up from the menu. “I’m not dating her, Sarah.”
I didn’t know what to make of that, but Sarah gave me a sideways look that said oh, he’s definitely dating her, and on reflection, I tended to agree. Everything about that ‘dinner meeting’ was a date, and he just spent 25 minutes walking her back to her car and came back with a smile on his face. He was definitely dating her.
I suppose he couldn’t say it, though, for work-related reasons. We couldn’t talk about it, either, because he sat with us all of dinner and clearly wasn’t interested in debating the matter further. Afterwards, when we parted ways with him so Min could drive us home, it was all we could talk about. Well, it was all Sarah could talk about.
“But he could tell us, couldn’t he?” Sarah was asking Min, leaning forward and resting her chin on the driver’s seat. “We’re his friends.”
Min’s lips were still in a tight line. She’d been on edge ever since that ‘negotiation’ with Natalie. “If it has something to do with work?” she asked, and then shook her head. “He takes his ethics pretty seriously.”
“Apparently not that seriously,” Sarah pointed out. “Since he dated you while you were his employee and now he’s sleeping with the opposition’s legal counsel.”
Min prickled a bit at that, and gave her a hard look in the rear vision mirror. “Why are you so interested in his love life, anyway, Sarah? Haven’t you got a boyfriend of your own to spy on?”
“Yes, but I already know who Rob’s sleeping with,” Sarah said with a grin. “And, look, she’s totally hot, too, but there’s no mystery there.”
Everyone rolled their eyes and then Min turned the radio to a very obnoxious pop music station and turned the volume way up so we couldn’t continue to gossip about Henry. That was fine by me, because the more we talked about Henry scoring, the more I felt like a total loser for being the only one of us who wasn’t practically married off to someone. Not only that, but I was getting a serious impression that I might have been barking up the wrong tree for half my life.
That was a scary thought, though: because according to that paper I’d read last week, if only 1.8% of women in Sydney were lesbians, then that seriously cut down on the number of women who were likely to be available to me. It was probably hardly any.
I had intended to leave that thought there, but then I kept wondering how many there were likely to be, and in the end I couldn’t resist: I had to figure it out.
I got out my phone and searched for the demographic spread of Sydney (8.8% were females in my approximate age bracket) and if I factored in things like probability of already being in a marriage-like relationship (63%), likelihood of working a STEM-related field so we’d have something in common (9%), and then ran that all against 1.8%, I ended up with a figure in the low hundreds. And what was the likelihood of running into those women in a situation where I wasn’t going to go bright red and not be able to speak?
Crap, I thought, letting my phone flop into my lap. That was not a great number. Maybe I should just give up and date boys? I hadn’t been unhappy with them, after all…
My phone buzzed in my hands, startling me. Frowning, I checked the message. I couldn’t really think of who’d be messaging me this late except the people I was already with.
It was Sarah. “Big frown you’ve got there… stressing about finding a new job after all?”
I looked across at her on the other side of the back seat, and she gave me a silent smile. There was something so touching about that: the idea of her quietly sitting back while I was plugging away at my calculator app and worrying about me. I wondered how long she’d been watching for, and what she’d been thinking about while she’d been—
Shit, I was staring. I tore my eyes away from her and took a breath, trying to get my thoughts together. What had she—? Oh, she’d asked what I was doing. Well, I couldn’t tell her exactly what I was doing of course, but I supposed the gist of it was okay?
I typed, “283,” and she sent me a series of question marks and gave me a weird look. I chuckled at it. “I realise how this sounds, but that’s the number of people I think would probably be compatible with me in Sydney if I consider all the obvious variables.”
She burst out laughing when she read it, and ended up awkwardly leaning across the seat and giving me a big hug until I was rosy-cheeked. “I thought you were trying to calculate your redundancy payout or how much money you had left or something!” she told me loudly over the terrible music, squeezing me around the shoulders. “Why is the number so low, though? I’m sure it’s more than that.”
Oh, no. “I’m, um, looking for the people with the same interests as me?” Well, that wasn’t exactly a lie…
She scoffed. “That’s a fallacy,” she told me, her arms still around my shoulders. Her breath was warm on the nape of my neck. “That whole ‘you must have everything in common with your partner or you’re doomed’ thing. I mean, look at me and Rob: we couldn’t be more different and I used to assume we’d eventually break up because of that.” She patted her big, round belly. “I was wrong.”
Bree must have been eavesdropping, because she twisted in her seat to peer over the shoulder of it. “Min and I do all different things, too,” she told me. “And look at Henry and Natalie: can you imagine two people who are more different? I think the ‘opposites attract’ saying is true. Your partner doesn’t need to share all your interests.”
Yeah, but they have to be interested in someone who’s your gender, I thought, feeling a bit tortured about the fact that I couldn’t explain exactly why the number was so low. Besides, I didn’t want someone who liked all different things; for example, Sarah and I had always loved travelling together, loved the same music and movies and books, even the same food—except I was still working on converting her to being a vegetarian, though—and we’d always been so, so close. That was the kind of relationship I wanted, not anything else.
“We need to get you a boyfriend,” Sarah declared for about the thousandth time in my life, and echoing what had been on my mind. Well, kind of.
Maybe I should just get a boyfriend, I wondered, ignoring the fact Min was looking right at me in the rear vision mirror. Perhaps it would be okay? It would certainly be easier to find one who had anything in common with me…
…Except the problem was that once I’d found them, I had to actually talk to them, didn’t I? That was generally what happened before the relationship and the sex. It seemed pretty unavoidable.
“But I’m no good at picking up,” I said, haunted by memories of last Friday. “The second anyone walks up to me I’m already bright-bloody-red and wishing I was somewhere else.”
“Min and I met on the internet,” Bree reminded me. “Maybe you should just go online on forums about things you’re interested in and see if you can meet someone nice that way?”
That was certainly a possibility, and I’d browsed the hobby maths subreddits before in my free time, but I’d never seen any posts that weren’t actually attempts to solve the formulas or critiques of other people’s attempted answers. Any social chatter got down-voted into oblivion. And, I mean, it definitely wouldn’t be torture to hang around on them a bit more, but how did I find out where people were from so I didn’t end up falling for someone from Alaska or something?
While I was considering that, Sarah’s hand appeared in front of me. “Pfft,” she said flatly. “You guys are all amateurs. What century are we in? Give me your phone.”
I looked across at her; she had what I could only describe as an evil, evil smile. Despite that and against my better judgment, I handed my phone over.
It was only once I’d given it to her that I remembered that I’d been researching about lesbians before, and had a horrible internal panic that she’d see it and know and our friendship would be over and I wanted to grab the phone back quickly and throw it out the window. Trying to snatch back my phone was useless, though, because if I tipped her off there might be something to find on it she wouldn’t stop until she’d found it.
So, I sat there gritting my teeth while she installed an app on my phone and then—thank goodness!—handed it back to me without uncovering any of my dark secrets. “There.”
I looked down at it; it was my own Facebook profile pic on a white background. I didn’t know what it was, so I frowned across at Sarah.
She was giving me a very broad grin. “Welcome to Tinder.”