Unprofessional Behavior: Chapter Three

Williams knocked shave-and-a-haircut on the doorway to her office. Victoria stifled a yawn as he came in without waiting for permission. “Delivery,” he said cheerfully, a napkin full of pastry in his hand. His suit was pinstriped; his shirt and his pocket square were lavender.

“What is it?” She didn’t get up, didn’t greet him or even pretend to be pleased. She’d picked a dusky rose for the day’s color. They almost matched. She wished that they did, were glad that they didn’t, wished that she didn’t wish it.

“Chocolate cherry scones,” he said, and she perked up.

“Where the hell’d you get those?”

“Bakery between here and my house,” he said, his other hand in his pocket.

“Like a real bakery?” He nodded. “What the fuck. Go to Costco like a normal person.” He laughed. “Hand them over.”

“That doesn’t sound like ‘please’,” he said, as perky as before.

She opened her mouth, then shut it again before she said something she’d regret. Like suggesting he wanted her to beg. The last thing she needed was for him to know the thought had occurred to her. “Fuck off,” she said instead.

“If you say so.”

Victoria huffed. “Don’t just bring scones in here to taunt me, you dick.”

“Language,” he warned. “You’re still at work, remember?”

“Give me the scones or don’t, don’t show up with breakfast I didn’t ask for and expect me to—”

“Fine,” he said, interrupting her and deflating completely her righteous indignation. He set the napkin on the edge of her desk, and she had to stretch to reach it. “Enjoy your breakfast, Miss Garcia.”

She was still floundering in the aftermath of her foiled tirade. She considered a scone with caution. “Yes, sir, Mr. Williams sir,” she said under her breath with forced cheer.

He knocked two bits on the way back out.


(She knew exactly what she was doing.)

(She had to.)



Technically Victoria had bought the fried cheese curds to share, but she wasn’t complaining about the fact that Jeremy wasn’t having any.

Even if she was consequently eating about a pound of cheese on her own.

“At that point,” Jeremy said, perfectly content to continue his story without any input from her, “I’m about ready to strangle Bill to death.” She snorted. “I tell him we can’t do that, he’s just fucking flabbergasted. ‘On my son’s computer’ and I’m about ready to strangle his fucking son, too. He’s a little shithead, by the way, I don’t know if you ever saw him at any of the company picnics.” Victoria shook her head. “Greasy little ginger? I’m surprised he never tried to hit on you, you’re probably too intimidating.” Her snort turned into outright laughter that time. “What? You’re very intimidating. Especially to a teenager, you probably scared the shit out of him. You know Bill tried to get him a job? God, that was a whole fucking… ordeal. I feel like I was talking about something else, what was I talking about?”

“Johnson wanted to pirate Visio.”

“Right! Right, fucking… god. He doesn’t want to tell me I’m wrong, obviously,” because of course Jeremy fucking Williams couldn’t be wrong, no one would dare try to tell Jeremy fucking Williams he was wrong, “but he keeps talking about how his son gets this fucking software. Finally I tell him, you know, if we did that and Microsoft found out we’d get fined out the ass. The fact that it’s illegal, that’s not getting through to him, it’s not processing at all, but maybe he doesn’t want to get fined. Maybe that can be a thing that doesn’t happen. And he’s just… ‘how would they find out?'” His eyes boggled in annoyed horror, and Victoria snorted again.

“I bet he wanted it for some stupid shit, too,” she said as he paused to sip his beer.

“Don’t step on my punchline,” he scolded, and she laughed, grabbing another cheese curd. “Fuck, you ruined it. Are you happy now? You ruined the punchline to a perfectly good anecdote.”

“What did he want it for?”

“A flowchart,” he said, and she cackled. “A fucking—not even a complicated flowchart, or an interesting flowchart. This flowchart had maybe three steps. This was a sentence split between bubbles with arrows instead of commas. It didn’t even need to be a flowchart.”

“Why did he think he needed Visio?”

“I have no fucking idea,” Jeremy said, running his hands through his hair. “I told him to just use PowerPoint but he got all huffy about how it wasn’t as ‘full-featured’. What the fuck does that even mean. He’s still insisting it would look better if he could make it ‘right’, like his idiot baby flowchart has so much fucking room for improvement.”

“Do you think he saw a networking diagram, once, and thought it was a fancy flowchart?”

“Oh, god, he probably did. Fuck. I would not doubt that for even one second.”

“And just think,” Victoria said, “he’s my boss.”

“I don’t know how anyone in Finance survives, I really don’t.” Jeremy sighed. “I’m sorry, I’ve just been talking at you. This isn’t even a conversation.”

“It’s fine.”

“It’s totally not fine. I know this isn’t mansplaining because I’m not trying to explain anything, but I feel like this is man-something.” She snorted again. “Man-opolizing the conversation.”

“If puns are happening, I’m leaving.”

“Nooo, don’t go.” He took a cheese curd, which he was perfectly entitled to and which she resented anyway. “No more puns. How’s your week been?”


“You’re too full of hate for your week to have been fine. I thought you wanted to set Collins’ desk on fire.”

“I did,” she agreed, “but I already told you about that.”

“You texted me about it,” he corrected, because he seemed to consider these distinct.

“Yes. Exactly.”

“Should I talk at you more, then, or shall we sit in companionable silence?”

“Your choices are talking, or awkward silence.”

“Does it have to be awkward?” he asked with an exaggerated pout.


“Would you like to know the latest dumb thing that’s going to blow up in everyone’s faces?” Jeremy asked.

“God, yes,” she said, no hesitation whatsoever.

“Opening up access to the global mailing list.”


“Reply all,” he summarized.

“Oh, god. What?”

He had that wolfish grin again, the one she only seemed to see on him when it was just the two of them. “They’ve been bugging me for years, now, for access to the ‘everyone’ list. I explain to them why that’s fuckstupid and tell them to just come to me if they need to send out a global email. But half the time the emails they want to send only need to reach about three people, so I tell them to just email those three people instead. They’re just too fucking lazy to type out more than one email address. I even made—did you know there are departmental lists? No one fucking uses them, because they figured out they could go to Brooks and ask him to send shit out. He didn’t know they were going around me.”

“Now he’s fucking sick of sending out everyone’s stupid bullshit emails, so Wednesday he tells me he wants everyone to be able to use ‘everyone’. I try to explain—nicely, you know, he’s old so what the fuck does he know about email—why that’s fucking stupid. He says it’ll be fine, we’ll just open it up to management and supervisors and I can tell them how to not be fuckups. It’s not like I can say no, he’s my fucking boss. But we both know there’s at least one weak link in that chain.”

“Johnson,” Victoria groaned.

“I have no idea how he’s going to fuck it up, but he’s going to fuck it up big time.”

“How did he even get his job?” she asked, popping another cheese curd into her mouth.

“He’s not bad at running numbers, from what I’ve heard—he just got promoted and now that isn’t his job anymore.” Jeremy shrugged. “My theory is that he’s a quarantine.” She laughed. “Just have one enormous fuckup, and minimize the number of smaller fuckups. Keep it isolated.”

“I don’t think that’s how fucking up works,” she said.

“But you can’t prove it.” Right as she was about to take the last cheese curd from the plate, he snatched it away from her. She glared at him. “These are for everyone,” he reminded her, still chewing.

“I was just saying that to be nice,” she said, licking crumbs of breading from her fingertips.

“If you’re going to lie, I’m going to take advantage.”

She flagged down the waitress to order another beer, and tried not to overthink it.


Subject: Finance Meeting
Date: Tues, 13 May 2014 08:24:17 -0500 (EST)
From: bjohnson@aai-louvenia.com
To: everyone@aai-louvenia.com

There’s going to be a mandatory meeting for everyone in the finance department on Thursday at 2 to discuss recent reporting issues. Please make sure to be there. Other departments are also welcome.

Bill Johnson
District Manager of Finance

Subject: Re: Finance Meeting
Date: Tues, 13 May 2014 08:27:52 -0500 (EST)
From: kstevenson@aai-louvenia.com
To: everyone@aai-louvenia.com

I am out of the office today. If you need immediate assistance, please contact Jeremy Williams at jwilliams@aai-louvenia.com. Otherwise, I will respond to your email as soon as possible when I return to the office tomorrow.

Karen Stevenson
Sales Team Supervisor
AAI Louvenia Office

Subject: Re: Finance Meeting
Date: Tues, 13 May 2014 08:29:21 -0500 (EST)
From: lroberts@aai-louvenia.com
To: everyone@aai-louvenia.com

Thank you for your email! I will be out of the country from May 11th to May 17th. If the contents of your email require attention before my return, please get in touch with my assistant manager Kyle Gordon. I may be able to check my email while abroad, but even if not, I promise to get back to you as soon as I can.

Lars Roberts
District HR Manager
LinkedIn Twitter

Subject: Re: Finance Meeting

Date: Tues, 13 May 2014 08:32:12 -0500 (EST)

From: kstevenson@aai-louvenia.com
To: everyone@aai-louvenia.com

I am out of the office today. If you need immediate assistance, please contact Jeremy Williams at jwilliams@aai-louvenia.com. Otherwise, I will respond to your email as soon as possible when I return to the office tomorrow.

Karen Stevenson
Sales Team Supervisor
AAI Louvenia Office

Subject: Re: Finance Meeting

Date: Tues, 13 May 2014 08:33:43 -0500 (EST)

From: lroberts@aai-louvenia.com
To: everyone@aai-louvenia.com

Thank you for your email! I will be out of the country from May 11th to May 17th. If the contents of your email require attention before my return, please get in touch with my assistant manager Kyle Gordon. I may be able to check my email while abroad, but even if not, I promise to get back to you as soon as I can.

Lars Roberts
District HR Manager
LinkedIn Twitter

+234 messages [Expand]

Subject: Email System
Date: Tues, 13 May 2014 11:05:34 -0500 (EST)
From: jwilliams@aai-louvenia.com
To: jwilliams@aai-louvenia.com
BCC: everyone@aai-louvenia.com

I apologize for the brief interruption in email services. Everything has been restored to usual functionality, and the problem should not recur. If anyone is still having trouble with email, please contact me.

If you have an email that you would like sent to the office, please send me the contents of the email you would like sent, and I will take care of it for you. I would also like to remind everyone of the more limited mailing lists available. In many cases, these smaller lists may suffice for departmental announcements. I have attached a list of all currently active office mailing lists, as well as the permissions associated with each.

Thank you, everyone, for your patience and understanding regarding this issue.

Jeremy Williams
District Manager
Accounting and Information Technology


Victoria: Karen said to contact you for immediate assistance.
Will.he.is: Don’t you start
Victoria: I almost replied to your email but I was paranoid about reply-all.
Will.he.is: Good
Will.he.is: Those emails are all corporate property anyway
Will.he.is: No privacy at all
Victoria: Because our conversations are so scandalous.
Will.he.is: Goddamn right
Victoria: So I shouldn’t be using my work email to send nudes?
Will.he.is: I already know that’s hypothetical
Will.he.is: The only person to try that was Kyle
Victoria: Have you seen Kyle’s dick?
Will.he.is: I assume so
Will.he.is: Unless it was a stunt dick
Will.he.is: Either way I’m not happy about it
Victoria: Ahahaha.
Victoria: Poor baby.
Will.he.is: I’m so done with this week
Victoria: It’s only Tuesday.
Will.he.is: Don’t remind me.
Will.he.is: Good morning to you, too
Victoria: ?
Will.he.is: I waved in the hall
Victoria: I didn’t see you.
Will.he.is: I guessed that, yeah
Victoria: Don’t be snippy.
Will.he.is: I’m not snippy!
Will.he.is: You are the one who is snips
Victoria: Hahahaha what.
Will.he.is: Don’t ask me like I know, I checked out last night
Will.he.is: Guess who got salted caramel cream cheese danishes
Victoria: What the fuck.
Victoria: That’s not a real thing.
Will.he.is: The realest
Victoria: I demand five immediately.
Will.he.is: Aren’t you bossy all of a sudden
Victoria: There is nothing sudden about this.
Will.he.is: No free danish unless you come and get it this time
Victoria: What!
Will.he.is: You heard me
Will.he.is: Read me
Will.he.is: Whatever
Victoria: That’s bullshit.
Will.he.is: Either come and get it or don’t get it
Victoria: This feels like a trap.
Will.he.is: Yes
Will.he.is: The trap is that I get to stay at my desk
Victoria: I wouldn’t even know where to find your mythical danishes.
Will.he.is: I have a couple in my office
Victoria: Are you luring me into your office with sweets?
Will.he.is: Okay when you put it like that it sounds bad
Victoria: Ahahahaha.
Will.he.is: I figured you wouldn’t want to go taking donuts from the cart
Will.he.is: Where all the accountants could see
Victoria: True.
Victoria: But they’ll see me going into your office, and leaving with danishes.
Victoria: Which is even more awkward.
Will.he.is: You can help me with this report
Will.he.is: And eat danishes at the same time
Will.he.is: Totally legitimate work business
Will.he.is: Business work
Victoria: Hahaha, Johnson didn’t tell you why he wants to have a meeting?
Will.he.is: ? No?
Victoria: The ~reporting issue~ is “nonstandard layouts” which is not technically against the rules but he hates it.
Will.he.is: You’re shitting me
Victoria: I’m not 100% but I’m pretty sure that’s what the meeting is about.
Will.he.is: What the fuck
Will.he.is: The standard reports are confusing as hell and look like shit
Victoria: Agreed.
Victoria: Obviously.
Will.he.is: Well then you definitely need to help me with this
Will.he.is: Make it as nonstandard as possible
Will.he.is: That’ll shut him up
Victoria: Hahahaha.
Will.he.is: Also, danishes
Victoria: Fine, fine, I’ll be there in a minute.
Victoria: Assuming I remember where your fucking office is.


There was a Live, Laugh, Love sign in Victoria’s office.

She had not put it there.

It was on the wall across from her desk, and had been placed high enough up that it was nearly touching the ceiling. It was above a shelf, putting it even further out of her reach, since she could hardly risk climbing on the cheap plasterboard.

Furthermore, it was a very small sign. If she did not stare at that wall every single day, even she might not have noticed, except that she was practically allergic to Live, Laugh, Love signs. It was a tiny square of frosted glass with a different font for every single word. The words themselves were done in gold. Someone, somewhere, thought it was tasteful.

It was her lunch break, and instead of eating lunch, she was trying to figure out how to get it down without drawing attention to it. She’d closed her office door and shuttered the blinds, and had pulled one of the spare office chairs as close as she could manage. It was still further than she’d like, thanks to the shelf in her way. Her heels were unsteady on the cushion of the chair, and the chair was unsteady on its wheels. It was a series of bad decisions stacked on top of one another, and she was still about a foot too short.

She really hated that sign.

A familiar shave-and-a-haircut knock did not wait for a response before opening her door. She didn’t have time to get down and pretend that all was well.

It was all his fault, anyway. She was sure of it.

Garcia,” Williams said, horrified, instead of whatever gloating she had expected. He was immediately by her side and putting his hands on her hips to steady her, which had entirely the opposite effect. Fortunately, he seemed strong enough to compensate for her going weak in the knees. “Are you trying to break your neck?”

“No,” she snapped, “but whose fault would it be if I did?” She nearly put her hands over his to help hold herself up, stopped herself and pressed her fingertips to the wall. “Let me go and close the door,” she hissed at him.

“You get down first,” he ordered, and she bristled in indignation and inconvenient arousal.

“Fuck you, get the door before someone sees.”

Williams did not argue. What he did instead was worse. He pulled her down and pushed the chair out from under her with his foot, and Victoria’s survival instincts were garbage, because her immediate response to plummeting toward the ground was to clap both hands over her mouth so she couldn’t scream. He caught her like it was nothing, set her down just as quickly and was closing the door before she could even process what had happened. Just a split-second of his arms around her waist and her back against his chest, nothing but sense memory to indicate that it had even happened. He smelled like a mint mocha. He kept bottles of green mint syrup in his office, next to his French press.

She was going to set the building on fire.

“Sorry,” he said once the door was shut, as if that could even remotely begin to cover the indignities she had suffered.

Her hands finally left her mouth. “You bet your ass you’re sorry,” she said, and he winced.

“That was a definite workplace safety violation,” he said, but he was clearly grasping at straws.

“I wouldn’t have even been up there,” she said, “if you hadn’t done that.” She pointed to the hideous little dollar store sign on her wall.

“You can’t prove that was me,” he said, which was practically a confession.

“We both know it was you.”

“That doesn’t mean you have to hurt yourself trying to get it down,” he said.

“You clearly don’t know me very well,” she said, and something in his jaw stiffened. “Take it down.”

“Is that an order, Miss Garcia?” he asked, and the way he asked it made her knees feel weak again. A low warning of a question, and he was probably angry with her, she was certain that he was, it only seemed thrilling because she was her. Her survival instincts were garbage.

“Yes,” she said rather than backing down, tilting her chin higher and rolling her shoulders back. “Is that a problem, Mr. Williams?”

“Not at all, Miss Garcia,” he said, though the tilt of his head made him out as a liar. “I just wanted to be clear.” He came closer, and she took a step backward before it occurred to her to stand her ground. He paused. It felt like they were having some kind of standoff. Then he turned, and lifted her entire bookshelf in order to move it out of the way. Her various books—chosen for professional-looking spines and for no other reason—shook, but did not tip over. He was then able to stand right next to the wall, and reach up to grab the hideous little sign.

He barely had to rise up on his toes, the absolute insufferable fuckass.

He offered her the little square of glass. He looked smug about it. She thought about knocking it out of his hand, but instead accepted it as gracefully as she could. “Thank you, Mr. Williams,” she said.

“No trouble at all, Miss Garcia.” He put her bookshelf back without apparent strain, didn’t even ruin the lines of his perfect Italian suit. “Let me know if you need anything else.” He made it sound like a threat.

“Will do,” she said, as perky as she could. He knocked twice on the doorframe on the way out.

Revenge. Revenge was necessary.


Williams didn’t knock when he came into her office. He might have if his arms weren’t full. She pretended to be engrossed typing random words into her browser’s address bar.

He dropped an enormous pile of frames, canvases, etched mirrors, and glass knick-knacks onto her desk. The pile was topped with vinyl lettering that he must have peeled painstakingly from his office walls.

They were all covered in variations of Live, Laugh, Love.

Where,” he asked, “did you even find all of these?”

“Around,” she said simply. She’d gone to five different stores. Three of them were dollar stores. One was a craft store.

“How did you get into my office?”

“I have my ways,” she said, checking her manicure.

She’d asked one of the IT guys if they knew how to get in. She’d said she was helping him with a project. They’d been happy to help.

“It took me three hours,” he said, and she smothered a giggle, “to find all of these fucking things and take them down.”

“Oh, that’s not all of them,” she said with a flutter of her eyelashes.

“You’re shitting me.” She continued to flutter. “Where are the rest?”

“You’ll find them,” she said, an unspoken ‘eventually’.

“You know, usually when someone initiates a prank war, there’s a slow escalation.”

Victoria looked to the stack of terrible typography, then at him. “Is this not?” she asked.


Subject: Desktop Wallpapers
Date: Wed, 28 May 2014 14:47:28 -0500 (EST)
From: jwilliams@aai-louvenia.com
To: jwilliams@aai-louvenia.com
BCC: everyone@aai-louvenia.com

Thank you, everyone, for your emails regarding the desktop wallpapers on company computers. Sometimes, during the normal course of operations, I.T. finds it necessary to push through updates to the operating system and software. Usually, we try to email everyone well in advance of these updates. I would also like to remind everyone that, as these computers are company property, it is a good idea to keep any personal files backed up on a regular basis.

Due to a glitch in our usual software updates, it seems everyone had their wallpaper set to one randomly chosen from a database of wallpapers. If your wallpaper changed, this glitch was why. I would like to assure everyone that there has been no hacking, and the rest of your files should be perfectly safe. If you did not have a backup of the wallpaper you were previously using, the I.T. department apologizes for the inconvenience. It should nonetheless be possible to change the wallpaper back to whatever you would like.

If you need help customizing your desktop, please contact Darren Nguyen at dnyugen@aai-louvenia.com

Jeremy Williams
Live, Laugh, Love – Mother Theresa


LiveLaffLuv: You’re a fucking monster ~ℓινє~ℓαυgн~ℓσνє~
LiveLaffLuv: Oh my god ~ℓινє~ℓαυgн~ℓσνє~
LiveLaffLuv: HOW DID YOU GET MY PHONE ~ℓινє~ℓαυgн~ℓσνє~
LiveLaffLuv: Oh my god how do I even disable text signatures on this fucking phone ~ℓινє~ℓαυgн~ℓσνє~
LiveLaffLuv: Why are text signatures even a thing ~ℓινє~ℓαυgн~ℓσνє~
LiveLaffLuv: You’re the fucking devil
Victoria: Mwahahaha.
LiveLaffLuv: I’m going to be getting emails for weeks about wallpapers
Victoria: Karen says she likes hers.
LiveLaffLuv: Yeah, I know
LiveLaffLuv: I’ve gotten like ten emails now from people asking about the wallpaper database
LiveLaffLuv: The stupid fake thing I made to cover your ass
LiveLaffLuv: I’m going to have to make a real wallpaper database
LiveLaffLuv: Full of shitty mom quotes over soft-focus photos of flowers and seashells
Victoria: That is the best thing I’ve ever heard.
LiveLaffLuv: I give up
LiveLaffLuv: You’ve beaten me
LiveLaffLuv: I have learned an important lesson about fucking with you
Victoria: I will accept my victory prize in the form of macarons.
LiveLaffLuv: Is the fact that I’m a broken man not enough for you??
Victoria: No.
Victoria: I also want macarons.
Macarons: Evil, evil woman

Unprofessional Behavior: Chapter Two

Subject: [SeriousPages] Torchy Brown Collection
Date: Fri, 28 Mar 2014 11:37:24 -0500 (EST)
From: EverettFalse@airmail.net [SeriousPages] seriouspages@airgroups.net

I put together a PDF collection of all the Torchy Brown comics that Mary has posted (with permission). I’ve made minor adjustments for readability, but didn’t alter any of the layouts or text.

Here’s a link for those interested.

Subject: Re: [SeriousPages] Torchy Brown Collection

Date: Fri, 28 Mar 2014 11:45:18 -0500 (EST)
From: MaryWorthless@airmail.net [SeriousPages] seriouspages@airgroups.net


This book is GORGEOUS I am SCREAMING right now, oh my GOODNESS!!! There’s a cover and everything! It looks so nice on my ipad, WOW

You are an angel


Meddling in forces beyond my ken.

Subject: Re: [SeriousPages] Torchy Brown Collection
Date: Fri, 28 Mar 2014 11:52:49 -0500 (EST)
From: dave6702@airmail.net [SeriousPages] seriouspages@airgroups.net

theres a typo on page 14

David Martin

“If you want security, go to prison. There you’re fed, clothed, given medical care, and so on. The only thing lacking is freedom.” – Dwight D. Eisenhower

Subject: Re: [SeriousPages] Torchy Brown Collection
Date: Fri, 28 Mar 2014 12:03:26 -0500 (EST)
From: EverettFalse@airmail.net [SeriousPages] seriouspages@airgroups.net

I’m not responsible for any of the text, but I’m unable to find anything on page 14 that wasn’t spelled exactly the way the author intended regardless.

+23 messages [Expand]

Re: [SeriousPages] Torchy Brown Collection
Date: Fri, 28 Mar 2014 20:52:06 -0500 (EST)
From: DeathByForklift@airmail.net [SeriousPages] seriouspages@airgroups.net

I was able to debunk every single point you made with five minutes of Google searching. Seriously, put a little more effort into it if you’re going to try to defend literal war crimes, you repugnant bootlicking fuckstick.


It stinks.

Subject: Re: [SeriousPages] Torchy Brown Collection
Date: Fri, 28 Mar 2014 21:16:23 -0500 (EST)
From: EverettFalse@airmail.net [SeriousPages] seriouspages@airgroups.net

Thank you, Forks, but I’ve reported Dave to the admin for flagrant dipshittery and I’ve blocked his email. I’m sorry for another public reply, I just wanted to be sure everyone knew that we were done with this. If anyone else wants to chat off-topic we can do it one-on-one, we don’t need to be cluttering up anyone’s inboxes.


“Are you going to be running?”

Williams had managed to catch Victoria in the break room. She really needed to put a coffee machine in her office. But drinking coffee in the break room while reading the paper was a nice way to refresh her brain. Move her location, let her see things with new eyes, all that good shit. Problem-solving.

And it helped her appreciate it better when she got to be alone. Even if it was in a shitty office.

“From what?” she asked before she could stop herself, eyes still on a comic about pandas. Williams laughed, all throaty and rich and gleeful, and the sound startled her so much she looked up at him.

She wished he wouldn’t stand there looming like that. It was creating a lot of problems for her, psychologically.

“Cute,” he said, and she kept her face neutral instead of giving him the death glare she so desperately wanted. He leaned against the table she was sitting at, not quite sitting on it because it could never support his weight. “The local children’s hospital hosts a 5K every year, runners collect donations for finishing the race. Sort of a race. It’s not really about the competition, some people just walk. Most of the office usually goes, it’s almost an unofficial work event.”

That was code. It meant Victoria should go. She dreaded it already.

“I’ll probably just donate,” she said, and she did her best to sound apologetic. Running was awful. Walking in the back of a marathon was worse. People who said they enjoyed running were either lying to make themselves feel better about their horrible cardio decisions, or monsters.

So of course Williams ran charity marathons every fucking year. Of fucking course he did.

“What a coincidence,” he said. “I’m collecting donations.” He held up a clipboard she hadn’t previously noticed, looking smug as all hell. “Fair warning—it’s tradition that the top donor gets a hug at the end of the race. Current number to beat is Stephanie over in Sales.”

Awful. Just fucking awful. He was pretty much history’s greatest monster. Her eyes scanned the list. Stephanie had crossed out her prior donations in order to raise it every time someone beat her. Stephanie. Redhead. Didn’t like being called Mrs. Schmitt. Married with a kid, but apparently possessed of an unquenchable thirst. Currently Mrs. Schmitt was donating $100. The average seemed to be closer to fifty. Victoria picked up the clipboard and slid the pen from the top, then paused.

“They don’t get the money if you don’t finish, right?” she asked, feigning concern. On behalf of charity. And children.

“I’ve never had trouble finishing,” he said, and it had to have been deliberate.

“Lucky you,” she murmured. “What if I want to base my donation on your time?” That was harder to justify. Sick children didn’t care how fast he could run.

Williams frowned. “You can,” he said, “but it seems a little uncharitable.”

“But it would encourage you, wouldn’t it?” She struggled to recall the stupid fucking motto they’d been putting on their motivational shit. “Dare to achieve?”

He fought a grin and lost. “Can’t argue with that.”

“So how about…” She put her name on the form, Victoria S.C. Garcia in round looping cursive, neat as could be. “Ninety-nine dollars just for finishing, so Stephanie can still have her… prize. And another two-hundred if you make it under thirty minutes, and another for… fifteen?”

She did not actually know what constituted a normal amount of time in which to run a marathon. Anything under an hour sounded hideous. Fifteen minutes sounded completely absurd. But he didn’t immediately protest, so she had to assume it was at the very least something that someone could do. Somewhere. Without hurting themselves.

“How’s that?” she asked, sweet as could be as she handed the clipboard back to him.

His eyebrows were arched in either surprise or incredulity; she couldn’t tell which. “Four-hundred and ninety-nine dollars,” he said, and it was almost a question, definitely disbelief.

If you make it under fifteen minutes.” She smiled, barely resisted the temptation to flutter her eyelashes. There still may have been some minor fluttering. “Which I’m sure you will.” She was almost certain he wouldn’t. Maybe he’d beat the half-hour mark, she was willing to accept that loss, she wouldn’t gamble money she couldn’t afford to. But she imagined the look on his face when she said she’d still donate the extra two-hundred, even though he’d totally super-failed like a failure, and it almost made going to a marathon worth it. Worth every penny.

“I’m honored you have so much faith in me, Miss Garcia,” he said, still looking at the clipboard. “Can I ask about the initials?”

“I’m sure it’s in the employee records, if you’re curious,” she said, still all sweetness, not quite telling him that it was none of his fucking business.

“That would be an unethical breach of privacy.”

“We wouldn’t want that,” she conceded, glancing at the clock. “Aw—and there goes my lunch break.” She stood, smoothing out her skirt as she did so. “Lovely talking to you, Mr. Williams.”

“Always a pleasure, Miss Garcia.”


The office printer, in the tradition of office printers everywhere, was a useless piece of fucking garbage.

Victoria needed that goddamn printer. She needed it to work. And she definitely could not wait two fucking weeks for an official fucking technician to come onsite to fix a fucking paper jam.

Fortunately, everyone else seemed to agree with her on the matter of it being bullshit, and so no one was trying to stop her from fixing it. Even though they were absolutely not supposed to fix it themselves.

It was not the kind of thing she should have been doing in a knit dress, but desperate times called for desperate measures. She’d closed the door to the copy room. Bad enough to be crawling underneath the printer without having a damn audience to boot. This also allowed everyone else to pretend they hadn’t noticed her voiding the warranty.

Except, of course—

“Want some help with that?”

Victoria froze.

She was on her knees, stretched out to reach into the guts of the printer, and Williams was being treated to a fantastic view of her ass.


“Doing fine, thanks,” she said, staying exactly where she was. Because to try and move so he couldn’t look at her ass would be to admit that she thought he was looking at her ass.

“You sure?” he said. “Wouldn’t want you messing up that pretty dress.” She tried to ignore him. “Or getting your hair caught in anything.”

“My hair is fine,” she assured him. She tugged the last few scraps of paper free, and felt a fleeting moment of victory.

Fleeting, because her hair had managed to get caught in something. How had it managed to get caught in anything when it was in a bun? It made no fucking sense.

“You sure?” he asked, right on time.

For fuck’s sake. She was going to kill him. She was going to fucking kill him. She was going to strangle him with his tie so he could never try to help her with anything ever again, and she would finally know some peace in this life.

“Yup,” she said, as she tried to extricate the knot of hair that had managed to get itself tied around some piece of plastic. “I’m almost done here.” She started to unravel her hair entirely, because she was beginning to panic and that seemed like the only way to get it out safely.

“If you’re—”

Her hair came loose all at once, and she fell backward, her previously perfect coiffure in shambles around her face. The printer whirred.

“See?” she said breathlessly, pulling herself up to stand with remarkable speed. “All under control.” She spun around and swept past him out the door, refusing to look at him.

As long as she didn’t make eye contact, he’d never know how full of shit she was.

… she was going to need to go back to get the forms she’d printed.


Victoria was doing her best to be a good sport about… sports. She’d dressed as if she had occasionally given thought to structured exercise, a tennis dress and shoes to match, the first time she’d worn flats around her coworkers. Height-wise, it left her feeling at a distinct disadvantage, and she did not care for it.

She’d planned to wear her hair in a ponytail. Sporty, and all. Instead she’d twisted it into a bun, held in place by a little silver hair stick that trailed pearls.

It was a dick move. It was a super dick move. She was almost impressed with herself.

Williams waved cheerfully from the starting line, surrounded by accountants and techs he’d managed to convince to join him. There was also one salesman. A few of her attending coworkers waved back from their spot in the crowd. She gave her fingers a small wiggle she didn’t think he could see.

He was wearing a long-sleeved shirt in an eye-searing shade of orange, made out of some thin material that was supposed to make him more aerodynamic or stop him from sweating like a normal human being. It had thumbholes. Thumbholes. And he was using them. His shoes were an equally fluorescent nightmare, and his shorts were the only thing even close to being acceptable. Which was saying something. Because those shorts were completely unacceptable. She could never have gotten away with showing that much leg.

He had shaved his legs.

Or else… he’d waxed. Maybe at the same place where he got his nails so goddamn shiny. Which meant he had a salon that he went to. He regularly paid a woman to do his nails and rip all the hair out of his legs.

What the fuck.

She had only barely finished contemplating this bizarre hypothetical reality when a cheer went up.

Because he’d crossed the fucking finish line.

In fourteen minutes and twenty-eight seconds.

Which was completely fucking impossible, and Victoria was frozen in place, staring as her whole clever plan went to shit. He didn’t even have the decency to look awful, the fucker, the absolute bastard. He dumped his entire water bottle over his head, shook his hair out like the world’s most infuriating dog, and turned to look straight at her. His delighted grin was terrifying.

“I did it!” he called, triumphant, and coworkers whistled and clapped. He spread his arms and gave a dramatic bow, water and sweat all dripping off his hair and his chest still heaving. Stephanie gasped, hit Victoria in the arm with the back of her hand.

“That makes you the biggest donor!” she said, sounding very excited on Victoria’s behalf, loud enough that the whole fucking park could probably hear her.

“Oh,” Victoria said, distracted. She was still staring at Williams and trying to figure out how he’d cheated. Her eyes widened when they met his, that cocky fucking grin. “Oh!” He moved towards her with his arms still wide, and she took a step back as everyone around her gave her a wide berth. “No, that’s okay, youreallydon’thaveto—”

He pounced, literally fucking pounced, ran up and wrapped his arms around her and lifted her off the fucking ground to spin her in a circle. She shrieked before it even occurred to her that it was something she was capable of doing, and just as quickly as he’d started he set her back down, laughing all the while. She almost stumbled, but managed to hold her ground as Williams moved on to high-fiving and shaking hands and doing other far more acceptable things.

Her arms were still pinned to her sides, exactly as he’d set her down, frozen in place.

“Totally worth it, right?” Stephanie said.

“Anything for charity,” she said weakly.

“I can’t even be mad,” Stephanie sighed. “Appealing to his competitive side like that never even would have occurred to me. We’ve been doing this for five years and I’ve never seen him run that fast.”

“Wow,” she said. Her dress was wet. She was covered in sweat. His sweat. “I never would have guessed.”

“Oh, yeah,” Stephanie continued, either missing Victoria’s shellshocked manner or assuming that she was swooning. “Last year it took him forty minutes. That was my fault, though, my son decided he wanted to run for some kind of scout badge.” She rolled her eyes. “No idea why, kid’s got legs like toothpicks, you’d think he’d try for, I don’t know, a math badge. Poor Jay had to hang back the whole time to make sure Kyle didn’t kill himself.”

“Jay,” Victoria repeated. She’d shrieked. Like a ten year-old on a rollercoaster. In front of half the office.

“He says we can call him Jay when we’re not at work,” Stephanie clarified, her voice low, like she was confiding a scandalous secret. “He prefers it, I’m surprised he hasn’t mentioned it. You two should talk more, he’s a real blast.” Then Stephanie tilted her head, waved a hand toward Williams. “Jay, honey, are you coming to the cookout next weekend? You know Kyle would love to see you.”

Oh, god. He was coming back. All she could smell was sweat. And maybe cologne? It was something and it was absolutely his awful horrible smell and she was just fucking bathing in it.

“Of course!” he said, and his voice wasn’t even strained at all, not even hoarse from exertion, it hadn’t even been that long and already he was fine. “You know I’d never miss it.”

“He’s so good with kids,” Stephanie said, nudging Victoria in the side. She didn’t understand how Stephanie could bear to touch her when she was clearly drenched in disgusting man-sweat.

“Have you been talking about me?” he accused, putting his hands on his hips. Victoria was staring into the middle distance somewhere above his shoulder.

“Only the bad stuff,” Stephanie promised with a wave of her hand.

“Good. We need to keep standards low around here if I’m going to keep meeting them.”

This was the worst. This was the absolute worst. The longer he stood there the more time she spent remembering what it felt like being pinned against his hideous orange shirt and lifted off the ground. And he was just standing there, small-talking and playful-bantering and being so fucking suburban he was practically an apple pie.

“But Miss Garcia already poked a big hole in that plan, didn’t she?” he said, looking straight at her. She refused to let anything show on her face. Blank. Pleasantly blank. Definitely not itching to scrub her skin raw because she had just spent five-hundred dollars for a man to sweat all over her and leave her feeling unsatisfied, which she could have damn well gotten for free. “I have to know, did someone tell you that I used to run track?”

God. Fucking. Dammit.

“I didn’t know that about you!” Stephanie gasped.

“It’s not like it really comes up,” he said with a shrug. “Pretty good at it, though, got a trophy or two.”

“I could just tell,” Victoria said, and she thought by the crook of his mouth that he recognized how distant her voice sounded. Like she was having an out-of-body experience. Which she wished she could. Because her body smelled like some kind of weird musky man-spray that had tree bark in it, and sweat. She felt the way ads for cheap cologne looked.

“I’ll take that as a compliment,” he said, because of course he would. “This might be hard to top next year, though.”

“I’m sure you’ll manage,” she said, and she wished he would stop looking at her hair, letting his eyes linger for so long that she could not possibly miss that he was looking at her hair. Why had the hair stick seemed like a good idea? “Maybe we can lower the bar to fourteen.”

He was grinning, rolling his shoulders and stretching his elbows backward. “I do love a challenge.”


In the not-quite-a-year that Victoria had been working, she had developed a distant sense of the cliques that existed around the office. She identified them by where they went after work on Fridays. Johnson lead a group of older men and a few younger to the bar across the street from their building. They were the only thing keeping it in business. Morgan brought a flock of hens to a little brunch spot that served cheap wine. Stephanie and some of the others went to some bar full of scantily-clad men. The rest did not have designated spots, wandered freely through downtown based on who was having the best deals.

Victoria did not join them. They had, universally, stopped trying to invite her. She told them she didn’t drink. This was a lie.

When Victoria went to bars, she went to bars where no one would recognize her, and where no one would ever see her again. She kept her drinking to a minimum, because bars were not for getting drunk. Bars were for hunting. If pickings were slim, it was only because Victoria was picky.

And there was always the fear, in an unfamiliar bar, that someone would recognize her from another one. God help her if that happened with coworkers about.

She hadn’t gone out to any bars in a while, nor clubs, nor anywhere else. She’d hit a wall of sorts, a point where it stopped feeling like it was worth the trouble. It was a lot of trouble, after all. The rewards were all so disappointing. The ones that weren’t came with baggage. Eventually she would get desperate or delusional enough to try again, but she was still not at that point. Not since—

Nonetheless: sometimes she missed bar food. Which was weird, she knew, because most bars were not renowned for their food. It was a Pavlovian response, associated in her mind with the anticipation of pleasure if not pleasure itself.

It was hard to beat a good beer and a good burger. A great big served-rare monstrosity with blue cheese and horseradish, a side of fries still shaped like potatoes. She skimmed online reviews, searched for something distant enough to be safe, nice enough to avoid temptation.

Temptation only happened in shitty fucking dives and after unfortunate fucking incidents.

Crown’s Head Pub. Old Town Louvenia. She could work with that. She touched up her makeup into something more dramatic, switched shoes to a pair less professional and significantly taller.

On arrival she ordered at the bar, didn’t bother sitting down because that would invite conversation she didn’t want. She picked up her beer as she waited for her food, tapping her nails against the glass.

Someone touched her shoulder, and she jumped half out of her skin at the same time as he said, “Miss Garcia?” She very nearly poured beer all over herself.

“Jesus fucking Christ, you scared the shit out of me.” She set down her drink and put a hand over her heart, turning to scowl at the offending interloper.

Of course it was Williams. Of fucking course it was. Of course he was grinning, looking self-satisfied as all hell with his perfect teeth and his perfect hair and his fucking freckles. What an insufferable asshole.

“Sorry,” he said, but she didn’t believe him, even as he held up his hands to show he wasn’t a threat. “Apparently I’m sneakier than I thought.”

“Apparently.” She attempted to return her attention to her beer and ignore him.

“I’m going to guess you’re here because you were hoping to avoid running into coworkers,” he said, standing beside her at the bar instead of taking the hint.

“And yet here you are,” she observed.

“It’s why I’m here,” he said, “and yet here you are.”

“I call dibs,” she said flatly, and he snorted.

“I’ve been coming here every Friday for years,” he said. “I’ve definitely got dibs.”

She’d picked his favorite bar. That was where she had decided to go, the one time she thought she’d try going out just to drink.

When the bartender brought her plate she snatched it like a lifeline. “Sorry, gotta go.”

“Or you can come sit with me.”

She frowned, hesitated. “What?”

He pointed to a booth in a darkened corner, a half-full glass and a pitcher of beer already sitting on it. “I can guarantee the seats aren’t sticky and drunks won’t try to say hi.”

This felt like a trap. She looked him over, standing straighter as she did so. He still hadn’t changed after work, but he’d loosened his tie and unbuttoned the neck of his shirt. He looked very… rumpled.

How fucking dare he.

“Fine,” she said. She let him lead the way, and tried not to stare at his ass.

She failed.

She slid into the booth as best she could, sitting opposite to him. For someone who’d come here to get away from coworkers, he didn’t look unhappy to see her. “So you do eat,” he observed.

“Hm?” She was distracted trying to get the appropriate amount of horseradish on her bun. Which was all of the horseradish. Which still wasn’t enough horseradish.

“As far as I can tell, no one has ever actually seen you eat. My theory was that you were vegan. Guess I was wrong.”

“Will wonders never cease,” she said, before biting into her meal.

Jesus fucking Christ she hadn’t had a good burger in a long time. She was going to need to start coming here more often. Not on Fridays, though. Maybe Sundays.

“You really don’t like me, do you?” he asked.

“Hm?” She was only half feigning ignorance. The other half was more interested in her beer than the conversation.

“I’m pretty sure you fucking hate me.”

She arched an eyebrow. “Such language.”

“Should I put a quarter in the swear jar? I’m pretty sure you owe at least a dollar.”

“Tip jar,” Victoria corrected. She reached into the purse still hanging off her shoulder, and dug out a dollar to leave it on the table. “And your math is shit, I only owed fifty fucking cents.”

He was grinning, which was pretty fucking unsettling when she was trying to eat. “You never said I was wrong.”

“About what?”

“About whether or not you hate me.”

She mulled over the question. “I’ve never been anything but nice to you,” she pointed out, because she’d been very careful about that.

“You’ve been civil. Which has nothing to do with liking me.”

“Do I have to like you?”

“I’d like it if you did,” he said with a shrug. “I like you.”

This gave her pause. “Why?”

“Why do I like you?”

“Yeah.” She licked grease from the burger off her fingertips and the middle of her palm, making absolutely no effort to act civilized.

“You seem like kind of a bitch,” he said.

“You’re up to fifty cents now,” she warned him.

“You’re a secret bitch, but you’re still a bitch.”

“That’s a dollar. And a really shitty fucking reason.”

He pulled out his wallet, found a dollar and put it on top of hers. He left his wallet out. It looked like real leather. Because of course it did. “I don’t know,” he said. “I like it. You’re smart. You know you’re smart. You’ve got no fucking patience but you spend all day acting like an idiot hoping no one notices you’re full of shit.” He added another dollar to the pile.

“I don’t know if I can take all this flattery,” she said. She used a napkin to wipe her hands clean, wet it on the condensation of her glass to scrub more thoroughly. She checked under her nails with a small frown.

“I’ll try to hold back in the future,” he said. “Wouldn’t want to break you.”

“You couldn’t if you tried.” She wasn’t drunk at all, so even her empty glass did not justify that level of flirtation. Assuming he’d noticed that she was flirting. He probably wouldn’t, or else he’d politely ignore it, because that was just the kind of asshole he was.

Williams reached into his jacket pocket to find a pad of paper and a pen, scribbling something down before tearing it off. “If you ever get sick of pretending to be nice,” he said as he slid the scrap across the table, “that’s my personal cell. Or you can just swing by here on Fridays.”

She picked up his number, rolled it between her fingers. “I’ll think about it.”


Victoria: Hey.
Jerkface: Hey?
Victoria: It’s Garcia.
Jerkface: I should have known
Jerkface: Who else would use periods in a text message
Jerkface: Aren’t you in a meeting?
Victoria: My grammar is fucking immaculate.
Victoria: And I’m bored.
Victoria: I thought you might want to have my number.
Jerkface: I should be telling you to pay attention during your meeting
Victoria: Collins is trying to explain the concept of beta to HR for some fucking reason.
Victoria: He made his own presentation.
Victoria: There’s Papyrus.
Victoria: He used clipart from Garfield.
Victoria: I’m in hell.
Jerkface: Your version of hell is very mild
Jerkface: And font-specific
Victoria: How dare you.
Victoria: I’m fucking suffering.
Jerkface: I’m sorry
Jerkface: I didn’t mean to minimize your pain
Jerkface: Would a donut help?
Victoria: There are already donuts.
Victoria: They are the worst donuts.
Victoria: They are hell donuts.
Jerkface: There are cream cheese danishes in accounting
Victoria: What the fuck.
Victoria: Why do the accountants get the good shit.
Jerkface: Because I’m the head of accounting
Jerkface: Remember?
Victoria: How dare you taunt me this way.
Jerkface: You could always come get a danish
Jerkface: You’re allowed
Victoria: But then I would have to go to accounting.
Victoria: And be around accountants.
Jerkface: How awful for you
Victoria: I’m glad you understand.
Jerkface: What if a danish just
Jerkface: Appeared
Jerkface: Somehow
Jerkface: In your office?
Victoria: That sounds like a fucking miracle.
Victoria: I think that qualifies you for sainthood.
Saint Jerkface: You say it like I’m not already
Victoria: What I like most about you is your humility.
Saint Jerkface: That sounds suspiciously like you like me
Victoria: Let’s see about that danish first.
Victoria: Choppity chop motherfucker.

Unprofessional Behavior: Chapter One

The alarm went off, and Victoria Garcia rolled out of bed the way she did every morning, hitting the ground with a thump. She yawned, still half-asleep, and started doing push-ups. Kept doing them, until she didn’t think she could fall back asleep if she tried. Then she turned off her alarm and picked up her phone. A few quick swipes to start playing an audiobook over speakers—she didn’t care which one. Anything that would let her read at the same time as she went through her morning routine. Efficiency was important.

She stripped in her bedroom to put her clothes in the laundry, and walked naked through her apartment to her shower. Fingers wound through her braid to unwind it, until it fell long and straight and jet-black down her back, not even a slight wave from the twists they’d been in. She took her showers too hot, it was bad for her hair and her skin both; the crowded shelves of pricey plastic bottles were meant to compensate. She brushed her teeth while she rinsed, waiting for the buzz that let her know that it had been exactly two minutes. No more, no less.

Left to its own devices, her hair would dry completely in about three weeks. Hardly an option. She picked out the day’s color while she blasted her head with damaging heat.

She had a system. A little wooden set of drawers on her vanity, and on the front were painted gradients in polish to let her know which shelves had which colors. Redder shades to the right, darker tones toward the bottom. It was a very carefully organized palette. Deciding on peach, she opened a drawer and retrieved the bottle and the matching lipstick.

The polishes were all light-curing gels, and they all had matching lipsticks. Efficiency was important.

Nails stripped the night before were polished in quick, well-practiced strokes. While one hand cured under a light that could not have been good for her skin, the other worked to get her hair into the beginnings of an updo.

Today was a circle bun. Sometimes she went for a French twist. If she decided to wear the same color two days in a row, she might braid herself something interesting. Usually it was easier to fake variety with a comb or a pin. She didn’t have any peach combs, so she settled for something silver and sparkling. Colors with better matches were saved for particularly trying days.

Her face she had down to a science, all of her bottles and tools and brushes in the exact order that she needed them. It was like carving a new face out of her old face. At the very least, she looked less round. It was unfair that no amount of shapeliness could compensate for the impression given by a round face. The only thing she ever changed was the color of her eyelids, since matching those to red wasn’t a great look. Peach worked as well as anything else to bring out brown. She checked the time on her phone; it had taken her an hour. Fairly standard.

The audiobook she’d picked was something about American history; she didn’t remember when she’d bought it, or why. It had probably been on sale. She was a digital hoarder, snatching up anything that went on sale and didn’t take up physical space. It wasn’t too bad, so she kept it playing as she carried her phone back to her office. The man narrating had a nice voice, and for that, the content became secondary. She’d listen to a nice voice read her the phone book.

Victoria had turned the extra bedroom in her apartment into a combination office and closet. It was easier than trying to organize everything in the tiny wall shelves of her bedroom. Hidden behind a curtain, her clothes were more careful gradients, practically spelled out R-O-Y-G-B-I-V. Fall on the left, into Winter and Spring and finally Summer on the right; work on the bottom, special occasions on the top. She didn’t have enough special occasions to require the footstool often, but she held onto the clothes anyway. Better to have them and not need them.

She dragged her hand along the summer clothes in the range of R-O-Y until something matched her nails, pulled out the hanger to consider it. Knee-length skirt in a close shade of peach, a hint of a ruffle but nothing too frivolous. They were almost always skirts; finding pants that worked with her thighs and her hips wasn’t worth the trouble. She was dubious about the collar on the blouse. It might have looked a little young. Hopefully the hair would offset it.

Frivolity was reserved for undergarments, because that was the advantage of clothes that no one could see. Flimsy lace and carefully stitched fake pearls and little ribbons, it was as uncomfortable as it was pretty but it was still completely worth it. Not that she was likely to be taking her clothes off, but it was nice to know she could.

Well. She could always take her clothes off. But if she couldn’t blind anyone with her glory, what was even the point?

After picking out a necklace that matched the comb in her hair, she considered herself in the mirror.

Not bad. The white heels would do. Checking the time, she smiled. An hour until she needed to be at work. Fifteen minutes to drive, plus fifteen minutes to account for the unforeseen. That left her a half hour with nothing to do. She turned off the cute-voiced narrator mid-sentence, and picked out music as she walked to the kitchen.

Something loud. Something angry. She set it on the counter with the volume up, and opened up her fridge. She’d bought an orange cake the last time she went to the store, more because it looked pretty than out of any affection for oranges. She cut herself a slice, because if pancakes could be breakfast, regular cake could be breakfast.

Besides. She deserved it in advance for the bullshit fucking day she was about to have. Not that she had any reason to believe it would be any more bullshit than most days, but the baseline level of bullshit was bad enough. She eyeballed her calendar, the carefully arranged stickers letting her know which chores she needed to do how often. Mid-June. She’d had her Masters for two months. She’d had this job for two weeks. She’d fall into a rhythm, same as she had with school. It would get easier.

July, probably, By July, she would stop wanting to fucking murder everyone. By July, they would turn into white noise instead of reminders that she should have done better. That she wasn’t in New York or San Francisco or Los Angeles or even New Jersey, just Louvenia, just Indiana, just nowhere at all. They would shut the fuck up and they would leave her alone and she would get her fucking job done, she would collect her paychecks and pay her rent and everything would stay exactly the way she liked it. She wasn’t fucking settling. She was exactly where she wanted to be, because everywhere else came with it’s own stupid fucking problems.

She would not curse. She wouldn’t fucking curse. She’d be the Stepford fucking Wife of the AAI Finance Department. Exactly the way she’d gotten so good at being in college, big dumb eyes and a blank fucking face to make everyone else feel better about themselves. She licked her fork a little too aggressively, checked her makeup in the kitchen mirror.



EverettFalse’s status has been changed to Available

oinkman: did you see that picture mutton posted?
EverettFalse: God, I was so jealous.
oinkman: right?
oinkman: imagine spending that much on a book
EverettFalse: I could probably afford it.
EverettFalse: I just hate paper books.
oinkman: haha you’re so backward
EverettFalse: They take up space, I don’t need that shit.
EverettFalse: I’ve got limited square footage and infinite GB.
EverettFalse: Do you think she’ll post scans?
oinkman: she’d better
oinkman: her scans always look like shit though
EverettFalse: Fuck.
oinkman: maybe you can fix them?
oinkman: that pdf you did of rarebit fiend looked great
EverettFalse: Yeah, it’s just a huge pain in the ass.
EverettFalse: And I’m busy with work now.
oinkman: i’ll take your job if you don’t want it
EverettFalse: Only if I get to keep the paychecks.
oinkman: that’s the opposite of what i want
oinkman: how’s everything working out with that?
EverettFalse: Mostly unobjectionable.
oinkman: haha from you that’s like a five star review

EverettFalse’s status has been changed to Offline


A knock at her open door drew Victoria’s attention away from her keyboard. “Miss Garcia, right?”

She froze. She hoped that it wasn’t obvious that she froze. That—that was simply unfair. That was a fucking crime, was what it was. The suit, for one thing, the impeccable fucking suit. Everyone in this office wore suits, but she hadn’t yet seen anyone in an impeccable fucking suit. Until this asshole. A mop of black hair, neatly arranged but she could tell it was a fucking mop, the kind of hair that stayed exactly where he put it even without anything in it. Dark skin, undertones she’d fucking kill for except that they’d be hell to color match, but he was exactly as angular as she wasn’t and she didn’t think she’d ever hated anyone faster in her entire fucking life.

She sat straighter in her chair, kept her face blank. She was definitely not going to give him the satisfaction of admiring him, even if he clearly deserved it. “That’s me, yes.” The dulcet tones of convincing men that she was a harmless fucking sweetheart so they’d ignore her.

He looked over her office with a low whistle as he entered. “They really spoil you in Finance,” he said. “Your own office and everything.” If he’d narrated an audiobook, she’d turn the volume up and put him on repeat. Instead he was in her office, and that made him fucking awful. Much like her office. It was tiny, the ventilation was poor, and the only windows were into the rest of the building. If this was spoiled, the other offices must have been travesties.

“Absolutely rotten,” she agreed. He turned his attention back to her, hazel eyes flitting over her in an appraisal she was certain was not deliberate on his part. He held up a sheaf of papers.

“So you’re the new girl who got Mrs. Morgan’s presentation actually looking good, for once?” His tone was expectant.

“… ah.” She hesitated.

He grinned, suddenly wolfish. Which just irritated her more, because it suited him so fucking well, because his tie clip gleamed and the longer she looked at him the more she thought her outfit was fucking garbage. Peach had been a bad move. “Let me guess,” he said, leaning down to rest his hands on her desk uninvited. “Sweet old lady Anna Morgan came to talk to you when you first got here, to let you in on all the important gossip and tell you who to avoid. Then she asked if you could take a look at her presentation, as a favor between girls. And now everyone’s expecting you to help them with theirs, even though it isn’t even remotely one of your responsibilities.”

When he was leaning closer, she could see that he had freckles. How absurdly boyish. How obnoxiously charming. Were they only on his face? She did her best not to give anything away, but her gaze left him to check the time on her monitor. That seemed to be enough for him to decide he’d been right.

“Never do anything outside your job description, Garcia,” he told her, as if she hadn’t damn well figured that out on her own by now. “As far as everyone in this office is concerned, that’s part of your job now.”

Her eyes flicked downward to the stack of papers he still held. “It really isn’t, though,” she said, as diplomatically as she could manage.

His smile was not nice. He made a show of setting the papers down and sliding them across the desk towards her. “It is,” he corrected, and in theory he was gentle about it. In practice, she wanted to grab his tie and yank it so he slammed his perfect freckled nose against the desk. “But now you know for next time.”

She considered the stack of papers, but still did not accept them. She looked back up at him, still leaning casually against her desk. “I didn’t catch your name.”

“Did I not say?” He offered her his hand across the table. Either he got manicures, or his nails were naturally that shiny. She refused to accept that possibility. “Jeremy Williams,” he said, “head of Accounting and IT.” She hated that she noticed he wasn’t wearing a ring.

She accepted his hand, but he only gave hers a gentle squeeze. She thought about trying to crush his fingers. Would he admit that it hurt if she did? “Accounting and IT,” she repeated, endeavoring to sound impressed as she took her hand back. She liked to think she was pretty good at letting men feel impressive.

“I’m a man of many talents,” he said as he stood straight again, which at least meant his hands were no longer on her desk.

Not directly above her on the corporate ladder, but definitely higher. No way she could get away with telling him to fuck off. Not unless she tried snitching to her boss. She thought she knew who he’d side with.

Taking the stack of papers and flipping it around so she could look at it, she tried to maintain her perfect blankness. And not look irritated. Not look really, really irritated. A man of many talents, her fat ass. “At least two,” she murmured as she flipped through what he had.

“What was that?”

She looked up from his presentation, all blank wide-eyed innocence. “Hm?”

“Did you say something?”

“Oh, no,” she said, airheaded. “Do you have the actual files for this, or…?”

“I can email them to you,” he said, “if you think you’ll need them.”

Jesus fucking Christ. Did he expect her to type all this back up? What the fuck. How could he possibly be the head of IT?

“I would really appreciate it,” she said instead, trying to sound grateful.

“All right. I should have that to you in about an hour. Try to get it back to me by the end of the week.”

What a bullshit excuse for a fucking deadline. God, what an asshole.

“I’ll get right on that, Mr. Williams.” At the end of the week. If she wasn’t busy. Otherwise she was slapping a template on that piece of shit and he could fucking deal.

“Pleasure to finally meet you, Miss Garcia,” he said as he headed for the door.

“Oh, the pleasure is all mine,” she lied.

He stopped in the doorway and grinned. “You shouldn’t sell yourself short.” He paused. “Morgan’s telling everyone you’re a bitch.”

She blinked. “What?”

“Morgan. She’s been saying you think you’re too good for this company.”

She did. Because she was. “Huh.”

“Just figured I’d let you know.” He tapped on the doorframe, an incongruous knock on wood. “Later.”

The most irritating thing was that she couldn’t tell if she found him attractive despite the fact that he was awful, or because of it.

She really did have the worst taste.


Victoria walked to the railroad tracks.

Not for any particular reason. She just liked to, sometimes. There was something nostalgic and oddly therapeutic about walking until her legs were sore, taking her time with it. She wore ballet flats because tennis shoes wouldn’t match her outfit. Which was a stupid fucking reason to get blisters all over her fucking feet, but whatever.

She kind of liked those, too. Not really, but kind of. They hurt, and that sucked, but there was satisfaction in not letting on that they hurt. Acting like they didn’t hurt at all. Knowing that she’d done something that someone might find impressive if they’d known. She liked having secrets. Even stupid secrets.

She hadn’t smoked since she was a teenager, but sometimes she missed it. Mostly for things like this. No one ever asked why someone was walking by the railroad tracks smoking a cigarette. They just assumed they were brooding and moved on. But a well-dressed woman doing nothing but putting one foot in front of the other invited intervention. Irritating.

She liked to see how far she could get. She was good at gauging when she’d need to start heading back if she wanted to make it back at all, though sometimes she pushed it. If she wanted to be tired, if she wanted to pass out right when she got home. She wondered if she could make it all the way to the next stop. It was a fun thought, showing up in some bumfuck outskirts town and calling herself a cab. She liked to think she had the option.

Maybe that was what she liked about it, these stupid walks. Telling herself that it was an option.

Her job was getting worse before it got better. She could handle it. She could handle all sorts of shit.

Even attractive fucking assholes.

She’d take it one day at a time. She’d bite her tongue, she’d wait until she stopped being the new girl and everyone stopped paying attention to her. One foot in front of another, and eventually she’d get there.


Fuck everything.

“What happened to my little cube chart?”

This was like a perfect fucking storm of bullshit. She was doing Williams’ job for him, he was micromanaging her, and he was doing it wrong.

“Your 3-D column chart?” she said, slowly, as if she wasn’t aware he was a goddamn moron.

“Yeah,” he said, “the little cube thing.”

“That’s called a 3-D column chart,” she said again, helpful as could be. “The data you were using is better visualized with a line graph.”

He frowned as he flipped through her modified pages, resting his ass on the edge of her desk like she didn’t have a perfectly good chair he could use. “No one actually cares about visualizing the data,” he said. “The cube thing looks cooler. It’s all… future-y.”

“3-D column chart. If no one really looks at it, you might as well keep the line graph.”

He turned so he could actually see her. He used the pages to point to himself. “Head of Accounting and IT.” Then he pointed them at her. “New girl in Finance.” He pointed at the line graph. “What should be here?”

Victoria cocked her head to the side, fluttered her eyelashes in wide-eyed confusion. “A line graph?” she suggested.



She didn’t know why he bothered knocking after he’d walked into her office.

“Yes, Mr. Williams?” Professional. So fucking professional.

“I need a landing page for a client done by tomorrow, how’d you like to do layout?”

She plastered on the fakest little pout of a frown that ever was fake. “Oh, I wish I could help, but I’ve got a big project deadline coming up.” It was a month away. “I couldn’t possibly make time for anything else.” She’d automated the whole thing weeks ago. “I barely have time for lunch.” She was playing Solitaire.

Her brought a hand down on her desk with a sudden bang, then pointed at her. She recoiled, blinking in surprise. Then he grinned. “You’re learning.”

He didn’t have to sound so fucking smug about it. He had nothing to do with it, really.

She feigned ignorance with slow, cow-eyed blinks as he headed back out of her office. He tapped on the doorframe on the way out. “Good girl,” he said, and then he was gone.


What the fuck was that?


(Good work.)

(He’d meant to say ‘good work’.)

(Of all the goddamn Freudian slips.)


“I just think the mountain charts better visualize the data.”

“Line graphs,” Victoria corrected automatically, not looking up from where she was writing notes on the handout. She wasn’t even going to address the part where Williams was completely full of shit, and had spent twenty fucking minutes trying to get her to put the ugliest goddamn chart in the world on his report. He’d wanted it to be yellow and fucking orange. He’d wanted her to add fucking shiny effects for ‘extra 3-D’. Better visualize the data, her ass.

“I’m fairly certain that Mr. Williams knows what they’re called, Miss Garcia.”

She looked up in mild surprise, having forgotten that Johnson was in the room. As he was her boss, this was less than ideal.

She could feel herself turn red. Her boss had just fucking scolded her, in front of Jeremy fucking Williams, because Jeremy fucking Williams was wrong.

“Don’t worry about it,” Williams said to Johnson, and she wanted to fucking die. “I’m sure she’s right, I can never remember the technical names for things.”

Everyone knew the fucking name for fucking line graphs.

“This is why you’re the most popular guy in management,” Johnson said, shaking his head. “You’re too nice, you know that?” Williams flashed her a grin that Johnson couldn’t see, perfect white teeth.

She was going to gouge his fucking eyes out with a spoon.


“Leaving so soon?”

Victoria bit down on her tongue as she jumped, startled. The biting was deliberate; the alternative was a stream of expletives that even the informal setting of the Christmas party would not make acceptable. “Mmph.” She shielded her mouth with her hand so she wouldn’t be walking around with her tongue hanging out.

“Wait—did I scare you? Did you hurt yourself?” She turned her head to glower at Williams in accusatory silence. He hadn’t scared her, he’d surprised her. There was a difference. What did he think was going to happen, sneaking up behind her in the coat room?

She was pretty sure it was usually a meeting room. Right now it was a coat room.

He was wearing a monstrously hideous sweater. Most people in the office were. She was wearing a white dress. It was, she thought, adequately understated to be unremarkable. She didn’t own any ugly Christmas sweaters, nor was she planning to.

The fact that he was still wearing a suit, and had just taken off his jacket in order to replace it with an eye-searing piece of knitwear, did nothing to reduce the absurdity.

“Wait here,” he ordered, as if he was in any position to be ordering her around. “I’ll be right back.”

Her tongue was starting to swell. It was extraordinarily unpleasant. The last thing she needed was to try and be polite when she could barely even talk. She continued to look for her coat in the pile.

This time, he knocked before he announced himself. “Back. Here, I brought ice.” His legs really were entirely too long if he made it to her side so quickly. He offered her a red plastic cup filled with half-melted ice cubes. She hesitated. “I can put ice on your tongue for you,” he suggested, “but somehow I feel like you wouldn’t care for that too much.”

She took the cup, and fished for a piece big enough to rest on her tongue.


She nodded and resumed her search for her coat. He set his hand on top of the pile, impeding her progress.

“You can’t leave yet.” She raised an eyebrow at him, because under the circumstances, it was the best she could do. “You didn’t get your Secret Santa.” She made a brief series of gestures before giving up, because she wasn’t convinced that she was conveying anything at all. “I am well aware that you already gave Janine her present,” he said despite this, and she was suddenly hit with the terrible knowledge of what it felt like to be a Wookiee. “I mean the present you’re supposed to get.”

Victoria huffed through her nose, because circumstances were making it very difficult for her to maintain her usual veneer of civility.

“I’ve never seen anyone so eager not to get a present,” he said, shaking his head. Then he reached into his pocket, and handed her a small gift box, longer than it was wide. She stared at it. “It’s not going to open itself,” he said. “Unless you drop it, because I just bought a pretty box, I didn’t actually wrap it or anything.” She looked from the box back to him. “Ta-da,” he said, wiggling his fingers. “Santa.”

Of all the fucking luck.

Setting the cup of ice down, she lifted the top of the box gingerly, trying to prepare herself for whatever would be inside. How would he even know what she liked? No one knew what she liked, because it was none of their goddamn business. The most anyone knew was that she liked coffee, but this box wasn’t big enough for any kind of a mug. A novelty flash drive, maybe? That seemed like a horrible IT gift. Maybe it would be pink, so that she, a girl, could use it.

The top of the box came free from the bottom. She stared at the contents.

“It’s a hair stick,” he explained, though he didn’t usually bother explaining when she looked confused. “Because you always have your hair up?” She nested the bottom of the box inside the top so that she could lift the stick out of it and see it better, the pearls that trailed from the top of it. They must have been fake, since there was a twenty dollar limit on gifts. She swallowed some of the melted ice that had filled her mouth. “Also, you can use it to stab people with.”

Victoria nearly smiled. She suppressed it immediately.

“Aha! Almost got you.” She did her best to convey confusion. “No, you can’t fool me,” he said. “That was a real smile that almost happened there. It was like glimpsing Bigfoot.”

She swallowed again, and covered her mouth with her hand. “Thank you,” she managed, with some effort.

She couldn’t read his expression. “Merry Christmas, Miss Garcia.” Wishing him a merry Christmas would be entirely too many syllables for her, so she simply nodded. Then she looked back to the pile of coats on the table. “Here,” he said, “give me a second.” He left the room again, and she watched him go. When he came back, it was with… her coat.

Which she had definitely left in the coat room.

She narrowed her eyes at him, and he shrugged. “I may have suspected that someone was going to try to fulfill her obligations as quickly as possible and then leave,” he said. “Which would kind of screw me over when it came to my obligations.”

Victoria huffed again as she shut the gift box once more. He held out her coat, but then pulled it out of her reach when she tried to take it. “What’s the magic word?” he asked.

She lifted her chin and tried to walk past him to leave.

“Kidding! Kidding kidding kidding, don’t leave without your coat.” He caught her sideways, his arm wrapping around her as he put her coat over her shoulders. He moved in front of her and plucked the gift box from her hand so she could put her arms properly through the sleeves. When she’d sorted herself out, he gave the box back to her, but his hands lingered against hers.

“Sorry I scared you,” he said, and she felt herself start to blush. He was very close, and they were very alone, and he smelled like apple cider and peppermints. He had a freckle beneath his left eye that looked like a crescent. She jerked away from him, nodded stiffly, clutched the little box to her chest as a natural consequence of trying to keep her hands to herself.

“See you next week,” he called after her as she left.

Office Christmas parties were the worst.


(He’d rigged the Secret Santa.)

(He went way over budget.)

(Worth it.)