“You’ve got some hidden talents, Martin,” he said.
I knew he was trying to get a rise out of me and I should resist. Instead, I smacked his feet off the corner of my desk.
“You’re mistaking my work space for the frat house you wallow in, Knightley,” I said. “Feet stay on the floor.”
“You’re no fun,” he complained.
It was exactly the sort of thing he could have said to me on any other day and I wouldn’t have thought anything of it. Not today. Today I felt as if he was speaking my truth, and it hurt.
“Was there something you needed?” I snapped. “Because I really am busy.”
He studied my face. Clearly, he’d been expecting a bit more of our usual back-and-forth.
“Busy doing what exactly?” he asked.
“Packing,” I said. I gestured to the box and my stuff going inside the box. I really thought I should get points for not adding duh to my answer.
He heaved an exasperated sigh. “No kidding, but why are you packing?”
“Because I’m leaving,” I said. “Not that it’s any of your business.”
“Wait . . . what?” He rose to his feet, and I found myself staring up at him. “You’re serious? You’re leaving? For real?”
“Yes,” I said. “In two weeks I’m gone.”
Jason stared at me, slack jawed. He looked stunned, as if I’d just told him I was pregnant and the baby was his.
“But . . . that’s . . . How . . . Why . . .”
I took no small satisfaction in making the usually smooth-talking Jason stutter. I watched as he shook his head as if trying to realign his brain. When he finished, he crossed his arms over his chest and glared at me.
“Martin, you can’t leave. You can’t leave me.”
I stared at him. He seemed genuinely upset. Had I misjudged our heated rivalry as corporate fundraisers for the American Cancer Coalition all these years? I’d thought he couldn’t stand me. Had I been wrong? Maybe beneath his flagrant disregard for my organizational skills and his sarcastic asides at meetings when I was speaking, he actually liked me. Was our relationship the professional equivalent of the boy on the playground who showed a girl he liked her by pulling her pigtails or punching her in the arm?
“I mean, who is going to make me look good at the weekly staff meetings if you’re not there to bore us all to death with your Power- Points, charts, graphs, and other assorted mind-numbing minutiae?” he asked. He uncrossed his arms and spread his hands wide. “I count on you, Martin, to make me shine.”
So that was a negative on him actually liking me. I should have known. Jason Knightley was an arrogant asshat. If I could pick one thing I was not going to miss about working here, it would be him.
“I’ll be sure to tell my replacement to load up on the statistical data,” I said. “I wouldn’t want your lazy little star to go dim.”
“Lazy?” His eyebrows rose. “Are you calling me lazy?”
He put his hands on his hips and looked incredulous. Clearly, I’d struck a nerve. Goody.
“Truth hurts?” I asked.
“Truth?” he asked. “What truth? I work just as hard as you do.”
I snorted and held up a hand as if he were telling a joke that was too funny. “Please.”
“I do,” he insisted. “Just because I don’t bog it all down with number projections in Excel spreadsheets—”
“Bog it all down?” I gaped at him. “Those projections are what convince the corporations to pony up the major gifts, Knightley. They want to see how their money will be used, how it will impact their business and spread their mission.”
“It’s all smoke and mirrors,” he said. He shook his head. “You make it more task driven than it needs to be. You like busywork because it makes you feel like you’re accomplishing something. News flash—you’re not. It’s the big picture that matters.”
That did it! I really was going to brain him with one of my awards.
“Busywork?” I hissed through clenched teeth. My right eyelid started to twitch. I could feel it throb in time to my heartbeat. I wanted to hold it still with my index finger, but I didn’t want to betray that he was getting to me.
“Yup,” he said. He pantomimed typing on a keyboard with his hands. “Busy, busy, busy. No one wants to read those long-winded reports of yours. They want big ideas; they want something to get excited about; they want to have a campaign that goes viral and makes their company a global presence.”
If he kept talking, I suspected my resting bitch face was going to become permanent, like a stone mask that nothing could crack. This. This was precisely why I couldn’t stand Jason Knightley.
“Please don’t take this the wrong way,” I said. “But you’re an idiot. No corporation is going to sign off on a major gift for a ‘big idea.’”
“No?” Jason asked. He gave me a superior look. “Then why did the sneaker company Soles jump in and match the millions in donations for my hot wing challenge for the Children’s Leukemia Society?”
I closed my eyes. I drew in a long breath, held it, and then carefully let it out. So typical of him to bring up his one significant claim to fundraising fame. I stared at him across my barren desk.
He grinned at me without humor. “It drives you crazy, doesn’t it?”
I rolled my eyes. “It was lightning in a bottle.”
“Bullshit. It was a well-thought-out campaign that people loved to participate in,” he said.
“Well thought out?” I leaned back on my heels and crossed my arms over my chest, trying to look down on him, which was not easy, because he was several inches taller than I was. “Who are you kidding? You cooked it up while killing time at some bar for happy hour where the wings and beer were half price.”
He didn’t even look embarrassed. He shrugged and winked at me and said, “Inspiration strikes where it strikes, plus it made millions. How much have you ever managed to wrestle as a major gift? One million? Five million?”
“I’m sorry, are we comparing dick size here?” I asked. “Because I can assure you while my anatomy is different, if it’s a pissing contest you want, I’ll win.”
“Admit it, Martin.” He leaned down so our faces were just inches apart. “You don’t have my reach.”
“Ugh.” I curled my lip. That was it. I was leaving my job. Why was I even speaking to this Neanderthal? I turned on my heel and crossed to the open door of my office. I raised my hands and gestured for him to leave. “I think we’re done here.”
“Is that how you deal with losing a debate?” he asked. He turned to face me. “You just throw the person out?”
“First, this wasn’t a debate. It was a waste of fifteen minutes of my life that I’ll never get back,” I said.
I reached forward and grabbed his arm, pulling him toward the door. Normally, I would never touch another employee, as I was hyper- aware of the rules put forth by our human resources person, Michelle Fernando, who was downright scary, about encroaching on my colleagues’ personal space, but at the moment, I had no Fs left to give. If Jason Knightley didn’t leave my office right now, I was going to put my foot in his backside and kick him out the door.
“Second, I’m not throwing you out but merely assisting your overly swollen head through the doorway so that it doesn’t get stuck,” I said.
“Aw, sweet.” Jason chuckled as I propelled him forward. In an innuendo-laden voice, he wagged his eyebrows and asked, “So, you like my big frontal lobe?”
“Get. Out.” I gave him a firm but what I hoped would be construed as friendly—it wasn’t—shove through the opening. I stepped back and grabbed the door, slamming it in his face. Then I huffed out an exasperated breath, trying to find my Zen.
“I take it that’s a no on the sexy frontal lobe?” he called through the door.
In spite of myself, my lips twitched.