Home > Melt for You (Slow Burn #2)

Melt for You (Slow Burn #2)
Author: J.T. Geissinger

ONE

Top Ten Reasons Why the Holidays Suck

I’m fat. As much as I hate to admit it, the point was driven home with brutal clarity by Granny Gums when she saw me at Thanksgiving and said with a cackle, “Looks like somebody already ate the turkey!” I’d blame it on her dementia, but the photos Mom sent me this morning offer irrefutable proof that sometime over the past few years, I have acquired an alarming similarity to a barnyard animal.

Snow. Manhattan snow is never white. It’s a drab, listless brown, like my hair. (Note to self: call the hairdresser. Red???)

Christmas movies. Why is Home Alone considered a good holiday family movie? Kevin McCallister and his siblings should be adopted by concerned relatives. And It’s a Wonderful Life? I’m sorry, but someone has to say it: George Bailey is a dick. There are so many examples of his dickery during that movie, it’s another list altogether. One of my favorites quotes: “You call this a happy family? Why do we have to have all these kids?” I can feel the love, Superdad.

Christmas shopping. Also known as Standing in Line until You Die, Christmas shopping includes three of my all-time favorite things: screaming children, angry soccer moms, and me aimlessly wandering around a crowded public space until I’m drenched in sweat. December in a mall is like The Hunger Games meets Lord of the Flies, completed with a reenactment of Death Race in the parking lot when you finally try to leave after twelve hours of spending money you don’t have. Fun times.

Office Christmas parties. Oh, great! Awkward, forced conversations with coworkers I want to unfriend on Facebook!

Christmas music. It is awful and depressing. As a perfect example, I offer the lyrics to “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” by Band Aid: “There’s a world outside your window / And it’s a world of dread and fear / Where the only water flowing is the bitter sting of tears / And the Christmas bells that ring there / Are the clanging chimes of doom.” Please excuse me while I go jump off a ledge.

Santa is a lie.

Kiss at midnight on New Year’s Eve? The chances of being flattened by a stray asteroid are better.

Michael still doesn’t love me.

See number nine.

“Jocelyn!”

I jerk, startled from my list making by the sound of a voice. It’s Portia—blade-thin, elegant, blonde editorial director Portia—looming over my desk, smiling in that way she does that makes me self-conscious and uncomfortable, attacked by her physical perfection and how hideous I feel in comparison.

The woman looks airbrushed. I have back fat, pores a toddler could fall into, and cat hair on my sweater. Normally I wouldn’t let her get this close, but the witch snuck up on me.

“Hi, Portia.” I peer up at her and nervously adjust my glasses, too weirded out by how she can materialize from thin air like Dracula to be annoyed that’s she’s called me by the wrong name. Again.

“Would you mind taking a look at this manuscript? Maria called in sick, and we’re behind deadline.” Without waiting for a response, she drops a thick rubber-banded sheaf of papers on my desk, right on top of the Holidays Suck list I was making on a yellow legal pad. “We need it by Monday.”

“Monday?” I stare in horror at the enormous pile of papers.

“Thanks! You’re a doll!” Portia turns to leave.

I stand abruptly, knocking over my chair in the process. Because of course I would. It clatters to the floor and makes heads turn in my direction. I sit in the middle of a warren of cubicles on the thirty-third floor of Maddox Publishing, where I’ve worked for the past ten years. It’s four o’clock on a Friday afternoon, and I’m about to make a fool of myself.

So it’s situation normal in the world of Joellen Bixby.

I blurt, “Wait!”

Portia stops. She turns slowly, pivoting in a pair of red-soled heels that likely cost more than I make in a paycheck, then props a hand on one bony hip and stares at me with arched brows.

Conscious of the sudden quiet and the field of my coworkers’ staring eyeballs, I clear my throat. “Um. I, uh, don’t think I can finish it by Monday.”

The field of eyeballs eagerly shifts to Portia, who is gazing at me with all the warmth of an iceberg. “You don’t think?”

She makes it sound as if my cognitive ability is in question. Someone in a cubicle nearby coughs into his hand to hide a laugh.

“I . . . I mean, I’m already so busy with all my other projects, and this one looks like it’s fairly substantial . . . I’d have to work all weekend.”

Portia sends me a narrow-eyed look that could wither crops. “So you’re saying you’re incapable of handling your workload. Is that correct?”

Whispers begin to rise all around me. A trickle of cold sweat snakes down between my shoulder blades, and my cheeks flame with heat. “No, I . . . I’m sure I can work it in. Monday it is.”

“First thing in the morning,” says Portia, in the same tone someone pointing a gun at a cashier would say, “Give me the money.”

I swallow. Gulp, actually, like a goldfish. Then I nod, but Portia doesn’t see it because she’s already turned around and left.

I duck down, avoiding all the smirks and stares aimed in my direction, right my chair, then sit hunched over my desk in misery like Quasimodo. I stay that way for several minutes, silently ordering my hands to stop shaking and my stomach to settle while I gaze at the calendar pinned to the gray felt wall of my cubicle. It features twelve months of Grumpy Cat. December shows the cat in a Santa outfit, complete with a little red hat and black boots.

It’s a present from my mother. I must’ve done some truly awful things in a previous life.

“Why didn’t you just say no, Joellen?”

Sue Wong, recent college grad and youngest person to be promoted to the position of acquisitions editor in Maddox Publishing’s eighty-year history, stands at the entrance of my cubicle. Sue has shiny black hair that falls to her shoulders, a fringe of bangs so precise it looks like it was sliced with an X-ACTO blade, and an adorable pair of dimples that make her look years younger than her actual age of twenty-three.

I am insanely jealous of those dimples. And of how she can consume approximately five thousand calories per day and never gain an ounce. And of how she is not terrified one bit of Portia, Dragon Queen of the Upper East Side, or of anything else as far as I can tell.

“Because I’ll get fired if I say no! I have these little things called bills? Rent? You’ve heard of them?”

Sue finds my logic faulty and waves a hand dismissively in the air. “Pfft. They’ll never fire you. You’re a workhorse.”

For an unpleasant moment, I imagine myself as a Clydesdale with steam billowing from my nostrils, clumps of dirt flying behind my thick fetlocks as I pull a Budweiser hitch through Central Park.

“And you’ve been here forever,” Sue continues. “Besides, you’re in a protected class. Portia wouldn’t want to risk a lawsuit.”

Genuinely confused, I stare at her. “What protected class is that?”

“Age,” she says, as if it’s obvious.

“Age?”

“Yeah. You’re, like, totally old.”

“I’m thirty-six!”

“Oh. Really?” She looks me up and down. “Huh.”

I say drily, “Thanks. Are we done with the pep talk? Because I’ve got a ton of work to do.”

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