Dear Grumpy Boss: Chapter 1

Elise

packed.

Shoulder to shoulder.

Perfume clouds, not enough deodorant, elbows knocking.

I found a seat near the back, not around the long table in the center of the room but in a corner, my coworkers Lani and Brandon on either side of me.

“They’re going to have to knock down some walls,” Brandon drawled in his Georgia-met-Chicago accent.

“They like us being squeezed in here,” Lani whispered, eyeing the people around us with suspicion. “It makes us remember how unimportant we are.”

Richthink Marketing was not a good place to work. There was no trust between colleagues. In fact, we were encouraged to compete against each other. If our boss could have convinced us to Jell-O wrestle to get ahead, he probably would have.

“Nothing but sardines.” I bit on my bottom lip, scanning the crowd. Half the faces were new. To a stranger off the street, it would have been obvious we were two distinct groups of people: the hardened, beady-eyed veterans of Richthink and the optimistic, grateful-to-still-have-a-job newcomers from the marketing firm that had just merged with ours.

Needless to say, I was deep in the throes of searching for a new job. It wasn’t easy. I was beyond entry level and wouldn’t settle like I had with Richthink. I needed my next job to be something I looked forward to instead of just passing the days like I was now.

“Drinks tonight?” Brandon asked.

I nodded. “Patrick’s out of town until Friday.”

Lani bumped my elbow, drawing my attention. On purpose or not, it didn’t matter.

“Didn’t you vow not to vent to him anymore?”

“Yes. That’s why I have you guys.”

Patrick was patient. Patrick was a nice guy. Patrick wouldn’t say it, but his nonverbal cues let me know in no uncertain terms he’d gotten tired of hearing how much I loathed my job. And since I had been making a valiant effort over the last year to help our relationship feel less like settling than my job, I kept my venting to a minimum at home.

Brandon bumped me from the other side. “I’m happy to play your therapist. You’ll receive your bill at the end of the night.”

I cocked a brow at him. “I’m not paying your bar tab.”

He pretended to flip his hair. “Can’t blame a girl for trying, right?”

The meeting got started and droned on and on. In my boredom, I let my gaze sweep over the new hires, stopping on a young brunette across the room. She was frowning at me. Not in an angry way. It almost looked like she was trying to figure something out. Figure me out?

I lifted a brow, and her eyes narrowed.

Did I know her?

I didn’t think so.

She looked down at her phone, so I moved on to the people around her.

A minute or two later, Lani nudged me. I glanced at her, and she jerked her chin in the direction of the brunette. I swiveled my head back, and sure enough, she was staring again.

Strange.

Lani scribbled on her notepad: Do you know her?

I typed out a message on my phone and tilted the screen toward her.

No, but she’s been staring at me like she knows me. What’s that about? Do you think she’s sussing out the competition?

Lani scribbled again.

Probably sussing out your boobs. Did I mention how hot they look today?

I tapped on my phone.

You did. Thank you for that. We’ll discuss my boobs and the brunette with the staring problem later.

The meeting ended after an interminable hour. We were instructed to mingle, which was laughable. We all had deadlines—mingling hadn’t been built into our time lines.

I headed back to my cubicle, my mind on all I needed to get done today. I didn’t notice the person following me until I sat down at my desk and she was there, in the opening of my cube.

Startled, a hand flew to my chest. Her cheeks flushed.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to sneak up on you.”

“That’s okay. I wasn’t paying attention.” Letting my hand fall to my desk, I waited for her to say something. She kept standing there, shifting back and forth between her feet. “Is there something I can help you with?”

“Actually”—she peered at her phone—“are you Patrick Lincoln’s girlfriend?”

The hairs on the back of my neck rose. “Yes. Why do you ask?”

“Well, we haven’t met yet, but my name is Kara. I’ve been dating Steve”—Patrick’s college roommate and best friend—“and they added me to the group text a while ago.”

“The…group text?”

She nodded, taking a step closer, her phone clutched in her hand. “The one with all the guys from college.”

“The Drunk Tank?” Patrick’s special name for that particular group text, which, as far as I had known, was strictly guys he went to college with—no significant others.

“Yes. That’s the one. I don’t know why they added me since I’ve only met them a couple times.”

My stomach lurched. “You’ve met Patrick?”

Her nod was slow, and in the space of seconds, she seemed to realize I hadn’t known that either.

“Yes, I have. Steve brought me along to the bar. It was a mixed thing. Some of the other guys had their girls with them. Patrick said you were busy with work.”

I couldn’t quite process what she was saying. It felt like someone had draped fabric between me and the rest of reality, an invisible hazy gauze between us. I couldn’t truly understand what was going on.

“How did you recognize me?” I heard myself ask.

This woman was a stranger, yet knew things about my boyfriend I didn’t. She was in his group text—the one that was supposedly all “inside jokes” and “college references”—the one Patrick was always tapping away in when we were together—the one I’d never worried about because I trusted him.

“Well, that’s what I wanted to tell you. I assumed you didn’t know and couldn’t in good conscience work with you and not tell you about this.”

She held her phone out to me, and I took it, blinking a few times so I could focus.

There was a GIF. Not sent by Patrick, but his frat brother, Chance. That was normal, fine, no problem, except for the subject of the GIF.

It was me, bouncing on my knees, in a bikini.

Chance had sent it.

Not Patrick.

“What is this?” My throat had gone desert dry, my question coming out as a rasp.

“I don’t know how it started or who started it, but all the guys use that GIF. If you scroll back, you can see—”

I shook my head. “No thank you. Listen, I appreciate you telling me, but I can’t do this at work.” The tears that had begun to form in my eyes evaporated. “That was very solid of you to let me know.”

“Of course.” She took her phone back from me. “Please, let me know if there’s anything I can do.”

She started to turn, and I called her name. She stopped, raising a questioning brow.

“This is a terrible place to work,” I told her. “If you can get out, you should.”

Her eyes went round. “Really? Oh god, I was hoping—”

“No.” I stacked my hands on my desk to keep them from shaking. “Don’t hope. You’ll only be disappointed. It’s a bad, bad place.”

She slumped against the opening of my cube. “Damn. Well, thanks for telling me. Woman to woman and all that.”

I lowered my eyes to my keyboard. “We have to look out for each other. Can you do me a favor and not tell Steve about this? I want to have the opportunity to figure out what I’m going to do before I talk to Patrick.”

She reached out, like she meant to touch me, but stopped herself. “Of course. I hope you’re okay.”

Sucking in a breath, I flicked my gaze to the photo of Patrick and me at a wedding three years ago. He was holding me, nuzzling my neck while I laughed. Back then, I’d thought he was magic. Now, I wondered if he was nothing more than an illusionist.

“I will be.”

Once I found out just how deep this betrayal went.


Lani and Brandon huddled around me at my place. Patrick was on a work trip in Boston and had conveniently left his iPad behind. Brandon had been prepared to hack into it, but it wasn’t locked. He wasn’t even trying to hide this from me.

Brandon took the iPad and began to scroll through the messages. I was too dizzy from heartache and two shots of straight vodka to be in charge of scrolling.

“When I sent him that video, he told me I was his sexy little treasure.” I held my empty glass to my lips, rolling it back and forth. “And when I got home, he couldn’t keep his hands off me.”

Patrick Lincoln and I had been together for four years. We’d met at my first job post-college back in Denver. A whirlwind. Love at first sight. Something I’d never had.

When he was transferred to Chicago, where he’d grown up, there’d been no question I would follow, saying goodbye to my brother and college friends.

Two years in, the spark dimmed. He was busy. I was miserable at work. But I loved him and was determined to bring us back to the early days.

Sparks didn’t have to dim, did they?

I thought not.

Lingerie, positions, spontaneity, toys—I did it all. I’d been an awesome girlfriend.

A year ago, I went on a girls’ trip to Aruba with my college friends. One of them took a video of me in my bikini on the beach, down on my knees, sultry and sexy for Patrick. He made me feel that way. Always had. After growing up as the fat girl, having a man who appreciated each of my curves gave me confidence. It let me walk around on the beach in Aruba in a bikini, feeling like a damn goddess.

“I found it.” Brandon’s look was grim. “The first time he shared the video.”

I swallowed hard. “When?”

“A year.”

Oh god.

I took the iPad, reading the date first. He’d shared it while I was in Aruba.

Tyler: I see why you call her JT.

Chance: She truly lives up to her name.

Steve-o: Does she know you sent that?

Tricky: She was in public wearing this. Who’s going to tell her anyway? Not you.

My eyes flicked to Brandon. “What’s JT stand for?”

He grimaced.

Lani slapped his knee. “Just tell her. She’s going to find out anyway.”

Brandon wrapped his hand around mine. “It’s really stupid, Lise. Frat boy humor at its finest.”

Lani slapped him again. “Tell her!”

He huffed. “It stands for jiggle tits.”

I couldn’t even force myself to blink. My boyfriend, the one I trusted with my body, my sexuality, my everything, had turned me into a joke. He’d taken all my insecurities and GIF-ified them for his buddies’ amusement.

I took the iPad out of Brandon’s hands. I had to see this with my own eyes.

Chance was the one who took a clip from the video, slowed it down, and turned it into a GIF. Me bouncing, my tits, thighs, tummy jiggling in slow-mo. What I’d thought looked sexy now seemed utterly laughable.

The guys used the GIF for things like the stock market going down, news of a plane crash, Chance’s bad date, Tyler’s car getting sideswiped, to punctuate how hilarious a joke was.

They used it all the time.

They never called me by my name. It was JT or nothing.

I squeezed my eyes shut. It was like I was back in high school again. All the self-esteem I’d built, the love for my body, the confidence I’d gained over the years, deflated like a sad little balloon.

Love at first sight?

I huffed to myself.

The sight of me was a joke to him.

“Are you going to call him?” Lani asked carefully.

“No.” I opened my eyes. “I don’t want to look at him.”

Lani gently slid the iPad out of my hands and placed it on the coffee table. “I don’t blame you. If I saw him right now, I’d carve out his balls with a rusty spoon.”

“Nice,” Brandon scoffed. “That’s helpful.”

“I’m expressing my anger,” Lani said primly. “It isn’t good to hold it in.”

Brandon patted my knee. “What do you want to do?”

“I think…” I sucked in a breath, “I want to get really, really drunk tonight. Tomorrow, I’ll deal.”

Lani, my dear sweet friend, held up the vodka. “That can absolutely be arranged.”


Twelve hours later, I was dealing.

I’d never been one to sit around feeling sorry for myself. At least, not for long.

I called my brother.

“Elliot.”

“What’s wrong?” It was seven a.m. in Denver, but Elliot was immediately alert. From the sounds in the background—voices, low music, metal on metal—knowing my brother, he was at the gym.

“I need to leave Chicago by tomorrow.”

A pause. Something banging. “What did he do?” His jaw was clenched.

“He humiliated me. I don’t want to see him. I need to be gone before he’s back from Boston.”

Another pause. Clanking that sounded like weights. “I’m coming. I’ll be there tonight. In the meantime, I’ll arrange movers and my assistant will book us a flight for tomorrow evening. Have you resigned?”

This was why I’d called Elliot. Not for his warm caretaking. Elliot was no-nonsense, all-action. That was what I needed. Action. Movement. Removing myself from this pitiful situation as quickly as possible.

I licked my dry lips. “No. That’s my next plan. And so you’re not alarmed, I’m going invisible.”

He cleared his throat. All business. “Changing phone numbers?”

“Yes. I have to.” Blocking Patrick wouldn’t be enough. Not for me. I had to extract myself from his life completely.

“All right. That isn’t a problem. I’ll have a new phone couriered to you this afternoon. Is that soon enough?”

“Yes, I can’t imagine you could have one to me any sooner anyway.”

He scoffed. “There are ways.” That, I believed. Elliot rose to challenges.

A man’s voice was in the background. Someone familiar. I tried to block it out. I had enough to think about. He was demanding to know what was going on. My brother told him.

“It’s Elise,” Elliott murmured. “She’s coming home.”

I couldn’t hear the other man’s response, but then, I was actively trying not to.

We talked for another few minutes, which was rare. Elliot was more of a brief texter. Checked in a few times a week, made sure I was alive and well. We cared about each other but weren’t siblings who chatted about the weather. Well…I could have. It wasn’t Elliot’s style.

Today, though, he didn’t rush off the phone. He used his compassion, which he normally kept tucked away, and let me talk. He assured me I would be taken care of. I would stay with him until he found an acceptable apartment for me. Then he told me there was nothing for me to worry about anymore. He could shoulder my burdens until I was ready to take them on again.

My brother.

God.

Sometimes, I forgot who he was, but he always reminded me.

“Elise.”

“Yeah?”

“Tell me the truth. I’ll be angry if you don’t. Did he hurt you physically?”

A loud grunt in the background. Another clang. That same man’s voice, whispering viciously. I couldn’t close my ears, so I shut my eyes instead.

“No. Not physically. I don’t want to relive it. I’ll send you the screenshots.”

His intake of breath was sharp. “Will I need to hire someone to take him out?”

“Is that—you know how to do that?”

“Elise.” An admonishment. Like I was stupid for asking. Of course Elliot knew how to do that. He knew how to do everything. If he didn’t, he’d find out.

“Elliot, you’re not hiring a hit man.”

“It would look like an accident.”

In the background, there was mention of taking out his kneecaps. I told myself the sound came from the television—not him.

“You don’t even know what he did,” I argued.

“I know it was bad. I know he hurt you. That’s all that matters.”

With that, a tear tracked down my cheek. The first one I’d allowed since Kara had walked into my cubicle. This wasn’t for Patrick. He didn’t deserve my tears and wouldn’t be getting them.

Another tear fell.

For the way my brother loved me.

Elliot might have been cold. He might have seen the world in black and white. But when push came to shove, he excelled at being a big brother.

“I’ll be there soon, Elise.”

“Thank you, Elliot.”

I put my phone down and stood up. There was a lot I had to do today—and sitting around feeling sorry for myself wasn’t on the list.

It was time to become a ghost.

Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Options

not work with dark mode
Reset