Passersby grumbled as they detoured around Teddy Spenser and his scooter, but he remained on the sidewalk outside the cosmetics store window, silently critiquing the display.
This is all wrong. There were no winged cupids and, worse, not a single heart. Just a blue-haired mannequin in a silk bathrobe and above her, like a 3-D thought bubble, the word LOVE crafted with shiny silver ribbons arranged in an elaborate cursive font. The colors were wrong too: all winter whites and frosts. Even kindergartners knew that red and pink were the go-to hues for the holiday.
If the designer was trying to be avant-garde, they’d missed the mark and ended up with boring and pointless. Nothing about the display made Teddy want to buy cosmetics for himself or anyone else, and it certainly did nothing to put him in the holiday spirit. Not that he wanted to be in the mood. Valentine’s Day was stupid.
It wasn’t a real holiday. Nobody got the day off from work. The mail arrived just like always, full of bills and grocery-store circulars and reminders that eye appointments were overdue. And all that crap about True Love? Nothing but a marketing ploy. He knew Valentine’s Day was a big moneymaker in certain industries, so he couldn’t fault them for trying to make the most of it.
With a sniff of disdain, Teddy got back on his scooter and, narrowly missing a burly guy in a construction vest, continued on his way to the office. It wasn’t an especially cold day, as February in Chicago went, and bits of dirty snow were the only vestiges of the last storm. The sky was a washed-out gray that seemed to begrudge any thoughts of spring, and Teddy shivered despite his parka, ski cap, and gloves. His ancestors, who’d spent possibly thousands of years surviving winters in England and Scandinavia without Gore-Tex or central heating, would probably consider him a wimp.
Soup. He was definitely going to have soup for lunch today—something thick with butter and cream and potatoes and maybe even cheese. A meal that would act like a layer of insulation for his freezing inner self. He might even have chocolate for dessert. Not Valentine’s Day chocolate. He refused to eat any of that—at least until it went on clearance.
Reddyflora, where beauty and technology meet, occupied a suite in a nondescript building on LaSalle, just a couple of blocks from the Daley Center. Teddy dragged his scooter up the three flights of stairs since the ancient, creaking elevator always sounded as if it were ready to plummet into the pits of hell. The office was in the back of the building, where tiny windows looked down on an alley clogged with garbage bins, and dropped ceilings made everything feel claustrophobic. As far as Teddy was concerned, the building’s only advantages were on the ground floor: a Mexican fast-food joint and a sandwich place.
Shortly after he was hired, Teddy had asked the founder and CEO, Lauren Wu, why she hadn’t set up her HQ in the suburbs. For the same money, she could have leased a spacious suite in a modern office park, and employees would have benefited from cheaper nearby housing.
“The ’burbs?” Lauren had been incredulous, using the same tone she might use to describe something scraped off the sole of her designer shoes.
“Sure. Hinsdale, maybe, or Wilmette.”
“The Loop is cutting-edge, Teddy, and that’s where we want to be. Because Reddyflora is cutting-edge too, right?”
He squinted at the flickering lights in the hallway before stashing his scooter in a corner of the sizable warren of employee cubicles. Lauren had an office of her own, of course, which included a couch she sometimes slept on. The only other coworker with a private space was Romeo Blue, the company’s software engineer.
“Romeo Blue,” Teddy muttered as he hung his coat and scarf on a wall-mounted hook. No way that was his real name. It sounded like a porn star or indie musician, not a guy who got paid to tap away at a keyboard all day.
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