Today's Reading

Natalie shook her head. "You couldn't. It's your job to stay mum." "I'll tell you everything from now on."

"Nina. It's all right." Ann had seen fit to choose Paul. Her decision had been made. It was too late.

"I'll refuse to sign off on the paperwork," Nina tried.

Natalie thanked her and waved her away. No sympathy—she'd cry for sure. She held it together until she was on the train home and then let loose, covering her wet face with her hands. Natalie had put in more hours and was more qualified than anyone. Ann had even 'told' her to lean in! Meanwhile, Paul had sailed in using Natalie as a foothold, with his supposed fresh vision and other nonsense. How on earth could he give a fresh vision to a company he'd been at for only three months?

She would quit. This was it. The last straw.

Well, she wouldn't quit. Rent was due in a week, and she needed that paycheck. But she would update her resume. Start looking for a new job. She didn't hear from that traitor until she was on the train, when he sent her a single text: Please, let's talk. Ha! So he could tell her he was sorry that she'd thought she was getting the promotion when it was him all along? No, thank you.

Five months she'd been seeing him, sleeping with him, talking with him, making plans. It had gone so well. Teensy had been trying to get Natalie and her brother to meet-cute for years. When no cute had been met, Teensy had turned to what she called "manufactured opportunities," such as tricking them into the garage and locking the door when they were all over at her parents' house for dinner, an alarming event that Natalie and Paul had ended up laughing about—and which had led to a date. And he'd been looking for a job at the time. Since Paul had a degree in architecture and Natalie worked in building preservation, it had seemed natural to hand Paul's resume to Ann and say good things about him so he'd get the job.

He'd certainly gotten one.

The worst part was, he'd been the best boyfriend she'd ever had. At first, she had been drawn to him because he was the sophisticated, enigmatic older brother. And then he'd been nothing but sweet and attentive during their months together. She'd been happy with him.

When she finally got home, Natalie was ready to collapse. She made some calming tea but sensed this would be inadequate. A chocolate assist was definitely in order. She dug into the very back of the freezer for the good chocolate ice cream. Desperate times.

Although she resisted it, her mind replayed the moment of Ann's announcement. Paul had been so smooth, running up to the front of the room and talking about taking Argo & Pock in all kinds of new directions (it was only the Boston office, for chrissake!) while introducing processcentric alignments or some other nonsense. He did have that professional sheen to him, and it was true that he was more experienced. He'd never mentioned wanting the position, though, not even when she'd shyly shared that she hoped to get it.

Her phone buzzed with yet another text from Paul. She couldn't face him right now. She shoved her phone down into the bottom of her bag, where her fingers scraped an envelope.

The letter. She had forgotten all about it.

She pulled it out and stared at it again. There was no way it was good news. It was probably something awful from a lawyer, telling her she was dead to her family—and she already knew that. Should she open it now, when things were already crap, or later when things were better, thereby turning them back to crap?

The sound of the key in the front door decided it for her. She shoved the letter back in her bag and sat up, preparing herself for the aural onslaught of Teensy. Natalie loved her dearly but sometimes appreciated the quiet moments before Teensy—an extrovert who loved to talk-arrived home. Her best friend's talkative nature wasn't a bad thing, and of course Natalie wasn't perfect either. Teensy loudly and frequently voiced disgust over Natalie's specimen jars and general messes. And she objected at all times to Penguin, who likewise did not carry much of an opinion of Teensy.

"Well? Are we celebrating?" Teensy yelled, throwing her keys on the table and shrugging off her enormous bag in one fluid movement. Penguin leaped off Natalie's legs and skittered down the hall, a streak of black fur with white patches. "You got the promotion, right? I was thinking we should get celebratory drinks at McKearney's!"

Natalie took a deep breath but couldn't muster enthusiasm.

"What?" Teensy said, her grin disappearing. "What's going on there, on your face? What happened?"

"I didn't get it."

Teensy visibly deflated, her tall frame dramatically sagging. "What do you mean, you didn't get it? You're the most qualified person there!"

"Apparently not."

...

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