Home > Seduced(8)

Author: Lili Valente

“It’s already all dicks in charge,” Evie says. “You’re being a dick, too, Jessica. To yourself. And that counts, so don’t say it doesn’t.”

“I’m not being a dick,” Jess says, snatching another pea and shoving it into her mouth with a scowl.

“You are,” Evie insists, chopping the bok choy with a ferocity that makes me fear for her fingers. She’s an incredible art therapist and painter, but her coordination goes out the window when she’s in the kitchen. I’ve already had to patch her fingers up twice this year and we’re only two weeks in. “And it makes me so mad. Because I love you, and I’m sincerely worried about your physical and mental health. You are so, so talented, and you deserve to work for people who respect that talent and your body’s need for rest. And, oh, I don’t know, maybe give you an entire weekend off every once in a while.”

I glance back to Jess to see her face turning red, but Evie’s on a roll.

“Furthermore,” she adds, lifting her knife into the air beside her face in a way that makes me even more nervous, “your friends deserve to spend some time with you when you aren’t neck-deep in a laptop. I can’t remember the last time we talked when you weren’t coding at the same time. I miss seeing your face and your eyeballs and—”

“I’m sorry, okay?” Jess shouts loud enough to shock Evie into stunned silence. Jess always speaks her mind, but she usually does it in a low-key, low-volume sort of way. She drags a hand through her lanky, black hair that looks like it hasn’t been washed since sometime early last week and continues in a trembling voice that also isn’t like her, “I don’t have the energy to be a good friend right now. Or a good daughter or a good anything else. But if I quit, they win, Evie. I don’t get my bonus until I finish this project. And if I do that, all the sacrifice and hard work and refusing to let myself pee until I fix the latest patch of buggy code will have been for nothing. And they’ll give me a shitty reference that will haunt me for the rest of my career.”

“It won’t have been for nothing,” I say gently. “It’s an experience that’s taught you what you want—and don’t want—from a job moving forward. And surely, if you explain how brutal the working conditions were, your next employer will understand why you left when you did.”

Jess arches a challenging brow my way. “Oh yeah? What about you? What if you refused to stay until two in the morning on Friday and Saturday nights? Do you think you’d still have a job or solid prospects for another one?”

“It’s different,” I say. “The restaurant doesn’t close until midnight. And I don’t go to work until four in the afternoon. You log on at nine every morning and should be able to log off at six.”

She shakes her head. “On paper, but that’s not the work culture of game design. Just like it’s not the work culture of fancy restaurants to care if you only get five hours of sleep between Saturday dinner service and Sunday brunch.”

“But that’s just once a week,” Evie pipes up. “There’s a difference between a job that’s shitty and exhausting sometimes and one that’s shitty and exhausting all the time. And Cameron works with amazing people who have his back, not like those turd burglars who deliberately mess shit up to make you look bad.” Her eyes widen as she points the knife at me over the bubbling pot of bok choy. “Speaking of your work, how was your first day with the new boss? I’m so sorry I didn’t ask before. I was distracted by love-fighting with Jess.”

“I’m sorry, too,” Jess says, popping another pea into her mouth. “I know you’ve been nervous about it.”

I exhale a soft laugh. “Yeah, I was. And things got off to a bit of a rough start this morning, but we actually ended up making a lot of progress on the new menu and workflow for the kitchen. I think Natalie’s going to be good for Crave.”

Jess’s ears perk up. “Natalie? She has the same name as the woman you met last night?”

“More than that,” I say, snagging a snow pea and popping it between my lips as I add, “She has the same face and body and all the other parts, too.”

“No way,” Evie gasps. “You’re joking.”

I shake my head. “Nope. And she has a strict no-fraternization policy, too.”

“Fuck,” Jess says, tossing a snow pea at my chest.

I laugh as I fish it from my lap. “What was that for?”

“I feel so bad for you. You really liked her,” Jess says, tossing another pea. This time it collides with my shoulder before falling to the floor.

“Yeah, I did. So why are you throwing peas at me?”

“I don’t know.” She tosses another one, grinning as it smacks my chin. “My blood sugar is too low for me to have insight into my own actions. Maybe I’m trying to keep your mind off the pain?”

“Well, then you can stop,” I say, snagging the pea off the floor and chucking it back at her. She shifts quickly to one side, easily dodging my veggie missile. “Because I’m not in pain. I’m good. And I have a plan.”

Evie lets out a soft squeal. “You’re going to change her mind with romance! And more kisses! And making her something so amazing to eat she’ll have no choice but to lock you down as her boy toy and throw her silly fraternization policy out the window.”

“I’m not going to be her boy toy,” I say, grabbing the bag of peas before Jess can turn any more of them into weapons.

“She’s what? Ten years older than you?” she asks.

“Yeah, about that.”

She grunts. “You’d be a boy toy. Sorry, but that’s the way things work.”

“It is not. Your mom is ten years younger than your dad. Is she his girl toy?”

“She’s twelve years younger, and no, but that’s different.”

“How?” I challenge. “Just because our culture has typically encouraged men to date younger women but not the other way around?”

“No, because of biology,” Jess says. “Women have to get started on the baby-making thing a lot earlier than men do. So, if it gets serious between an older woman and a younger man and she wants kids…” She shrugs. “Well, then you’re going to be pressured to start a family sooner than later and most guys in their twenties want no part of that. Especially city boys. You guys want to run free until you’re at least forty.”

“Cam isn’t a city guy,” Evie says, coming to my defense as she sets a bowl of ramen in front of Jess and then another, smaller bowl in front of me. “Cam’s from small-town New Jersey, just like we are, and it’s way too early in the process to be thinking about babies.”

“And she already has a kid,” I say, pointing toward the bowl. “Thanks for this, Evie, but should we save it for Harlow? You know how much she loves ramen.”

“Harlow’s still in Albany fucking Derrick’s brains out,” Jess supplies as she slurps at her noodles, muttering, “Ouch. Hot. So hot,” between mouthfuls.

“Stop. That’s my brother you’re talking about,” Evie says, her gaze fixed on me as she settles into the chair beside Jess. “Give it a second to cool, you psycho. And you—” She points at my face. “Are you sure you’re ready to date a woman with a baby?”

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