“Second pot just brewed.”
She hovered impatiently while he filled the humongous three-dollar clearance mug he’d found at Target. It had a cute little rainbow design, but more importantly, it held enough coffee to caffeinate a small army. Or at least enough to fortify him through a discussion with Imani.
She wheeled her chair across the floor to his cubicle and waited with crossed arms as he got himself situated. “Well?” she demanded at last.
“It’s Romeo’s fault.” Okay, perhaps not the most mature response, but it was absolutely accurate. “He claims the electronics housing has to be big to fit everything, and it is capital-U ugly. I had to make some design changes to camouflage it.”
“We can’t afford those changes. Look what they did to the price per piece! You gobbled the profit margin right up.” She waved a paper at him, which was an especially bad sign. Like everyone else at Reddyflora, Imani did the majority of her work electronically, but when she thought something was crucial or terrifying, she printed it out. Quite possibly so she could brandish the bad news theatrically, as she was doing right now.
“We can’t afford not to make the changes,” Teddy replied glumly. “Nobody in their right mind would buy the vase otherwise.”
She heaved a heavy sigh. “I don’t want to be a narc, but I’m gonna have to tell Lauren.”
“Yeah. I figured.”
“You sure you and Romeo can’t work this out somehow?”
Teddy imagined himself trying to reason with Romeo, who’d only glower back at him and shake his head. Maybe Romeo would throw in some obscure technical jargon for good measure, or spout physics equations to support his arguments. “Not without a magic wand.”
“We haven’t budgeted for those.”
For the next hour or two, Teddy buried himself in writing ad copy and sending emails to press representatives in hopes of enticing them to write articles about Reddyflora. Usually he enjoyed these activities, but today he kept getting distracted by activity outside his cubicle. He was all too aware when Romeo arrived and attempted to make a beeline for his office before getting waylaid by Imani. And Teddy noticed too, when Imani emerged from Romeo’s office a short time later, grumbling at the papers clutched in her hand.
She skulked until Lauren click-clacked into their presence in her Jimmy Choos, at which point Imani insisted, “We need to talk, Lauren.”
Teddy was staring at his desktop, but he could practically hear Lauren wince.
It was nowhere near lunchtime, so Teddy tried to fabricate another reasonable excuse to escape. It was too early in the season to hope for a tornado warning, and Chicago was generally lacking in serious seismic activity. Could he manufacture a wardrobe malfunction, perhaps? But today he wore a pair of 1940s pleated trousers that he adored far too much to damage, even in the interest of avoiding conflict.
In his upper right-hand desk drawer, behind the extra packs of staples, paperclips, and pens, Teddy had a secret weapon. It didn’t look like much from the outside: just a small square box covered in a pale turquoise velvet. The kind of box you might use to present a ring, which had in fact been its original use. It had once contained a band of black titanium edged with rose gold. Not the Tiffany version, which Teddy couldn’t afford, but a nice, less-expensive rendition. The engagement ring had looked so good on Gregory’s finger that he’d said he might want to use it as a wedding band. Now it sat somewhere at the bottom of the Chicago River, where Gregory had thrown it when they broke up.
But Teddy still had the box. And inside was a tiny rectangle of some cheap metal—a zinc alloy, he suspected—stamped with four letters: LOVE. He’d found it on a curb a week after Gregory left, and he’d picked it up and saved it. He didn’t know why. He could probably buy a full gross of identical tags for twenty bucks on Amazon. Yet he’d tucked it into that stupid box and taken the box to work, and every time he peeked inside, he felt better about life. It was as if the little charm was a promise that difficult times would eventually pass. Happiness, the letters implied, waited just around the corner.
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