Home > Right Where I Want You

Right Where I Want You
Author: Jessica Hawkins

1

Georgina

A dragon disguised as a businesswoman breathed down my neck.

I’d been in that position more times than I could count—a desperate grab at coffee before work, applying mascara in line, praying sidewalk congestion wouldn’t make me late. But on this particular day, it was the woman behind me breathing fire as she muttered, “It’s not like I have the most important meeting of my life in five minutes.”

I was actually early in hopes of making a good impression on my first day at a new assignment. Behind the café’s register, my best friend, Luciano, scribbled on a paper cup while arching a manicured eyebrow at me. He shook his head—a warning to stay put—and tapped on the name he’d written.

GEORGE.

Message received, loud and clear. But Luciano hadn’t been the one standing there for three minutes, withering under the wrath behind me.

Although it was a big day for me, I really wasn’t in a hurry, because I’d planned ahead. The night before, I’d lain out a respectable white blouse and navy skirt suit to lead a meeting dominated by men before mapping out all possible routes from Brooklyn Heights to Midtown. I didn’t typically choose my outfits the night before like a grade schooler. The norm for me was hitting snooze too many times and leaving my fate in the hands of the public transportation gods.

But this assignment was different. I’d be working with men, and not just men, but so-called “bad boys.” And I’d been given less than a week to prepare—not only my notes, but my mindset too. Modern Man, a men’s interest monthly magazine, had already been losing market share before its creative director had been called out in a scathing exposé about sexism in the workplace. That was the environment I was walking into.

The woman exhaled another furious sigh against my hair. I turned and smiled at the brunette in a patterned blouse who tapped out something on her phone.

“You can go ahead of me,” I said.

She took a moment to finish what she was typing before looking up. “What?”

“It sounds like you have somewhere to be. I’m early, so go ahead.”

“Great.” She stepped in front of me.

The man behind her moved up in line, passing me. “I’m late for work too,” he said, turning away and effectively moving me to the back of the line.

My cheeks warmed. So he’d just assumed I’d let him go ahead too? That I wouldn’t speak up? Giving up my spot in line was a good deed—I didn’t have to do that. Well, maybe karma would handle this.

“Karma? That bitch was squashed by the M-fourteen bus while trying to catch up with my ex,” Luciano had told me once.

I didn’t agree. Karma may not have been swift, but it always got you.

I raised my hand to tap the man’s shoulder, then hesitated. Hadn’t he said he was also late to work? And I was early for once. The commute to my new job was thirty minutes, so I’d factored in possible A-train delays, traffic if I had to take a cab, or even the possibility of jumping on the ferry. I’d left myself enough time that, should disaster strike, I’d still be able to get my daily mocha latte—because not having one was on par with said disaster.

Of course, the subway had been smooth sailing and the commute a breeze.

So, I wasn’t just early to work. I had another forty minutes before I needed to walk off the elevator and into Modern Man magazine’s offices on the thirty-fifth floor of Dixon Media Tower.

I lowered my hand but stared daggers at the man’s bald spot. Do your worst, Karma.

I could practically hear Luciano’s thoughts as he stared at me and pumped dark roast into a cup. This was the sort of thing—getting pushed to the back of the line—that I was supposed to be working on. I wasn’t doing such a great job of morphing from Georgina into George, the side of me that could stride into a new workplace and take over without batting an eyelash. As Georgina, though? I did things like pay full price at the Brooklyn Flea so I wouldn’t have to haggle and apologize for slipping in an unidentified puddle and knocking over a candy display at Duane Reade.

I now had a half hour to get it together so I could confidently walk into the lion’s den. And I would—just after I’d gotten my latte.

Luciano and I air-kissed when I reached the counter, but he said, “It’s not even nine in the morning, and you’ve already let at least two people wipe their feet on you.”

“I’m early for work,” I said, handing him exact change. “It was the nice thing to do.”

“Too nice.” He tapped the screen of an iPad to enter my order. “You’re too nice.”

“So, what’s wrong with that?”

Luciano responded the way he always did. “Nothing, if you want to remain a spinster. Men love bitches, and bitches get what they want—like swift coffee or dates.”

“Dates?”

“Yeah, you know, when two people decide they want to get to know each other better over dinner or drinks . . .”

I rolled my eyes as I zipped up my wallet. “Men might think they love bitches, but eventually that wears off. It did for Neal.”

“You’re wrong, and I would know—I am one, and I date them exclusively.”

“A man or a bitch?”

“Both,” he said. “And Neal might’ve left you for one, but seeing as he came crawling back to you soon after, he obviously couldn’t keep up with her.”

That was all I needed right now, to be reminded of my final conversation with my ex. I kept the memory at bay as I said, “I think you just proved my point.”

He sighed. “I’m just saying, before Neal, you made your presence known. Now, it’s like you feel guilty taking up space. I don’t get how you can be so fierce at work and the opposite in your personal life.”

Was it that bad? I was a gainfully employed dog mom, a Celtophile easily regaled with tales of Ireland over card games with my grandad, and a thirty-year-old spinster in training who’d been on exactly zero dates in six months . . .

I could almost get away with telling Luciano I was happy to grow old with just my work and my dog, but he knew me inside out. We’d bonded over juice boxes and a mutual hate for our given names—school was that much more laborious writing Georgina or Luciano in cursive on every single paper or correcting the pronunciation of classmates and teachers alike.

“Now get out of the way,” Luciano said, brushing a lock of black hair from his forehead. “I have customers to serve.”

“Oh, sorry,” I said, hurrying over to the pick-up counter.

I took out some index cards and reviewed my upcoming presentation, quizzing myself on statistics as people filtered in and out of the café. My boss had taught me to practice public speaking surrounded by distractions. That way, nothing could take me out of the zone come game time. I’d pulled together this morning’s presentation in only five days, yet I had the numbers down to an art. In a way, it was an art, compiling data in a digestible way that wouldn’t make enemies out of the team I was about to join—or invade, depending on how they looked at it.

“Mocha latte,” Luciano’s coworker called out and set my drink on the bar.

I tucked the notecards under my arm and went to take the drink just as the woman next to me picked it up.

“Oh, I think that’s mine,” I said as she started to turn away.

“Mocha latte?” She looked over her shoulder at the barista, who nodded. “That’s what I ordered.”

“Me too,” I said.

She checked the cup. “This says George.”

“Yes, that’s me,” I said.

“George is a man’s name. There are no men on this side of the counter.”

“I know, but . . .” I sighed with frustration. “You were actually behind me in line.”

“Impossible,” she said, finally turning to me. “I didn’t even wait in line. I walked right up to the counter.”

I looked to Luciano, five feet away, for help. With one word, he could fix this for me, but instead he hummed Britney Spears’ “Stronger” to himself and pretended not to hear us. “I mean that you came in after me,” I clarified. “I saw you.”

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