Celia shot a covert look around as she entered and made her way to the coffee corner. Several pairs of eyes quickly turned away from her. Only Ed, planted in front of the coffee machines in a pointless power stance – feet apart and arms crossed, the defensive alpha male through and through – met her eye. He nodded as she drew up beside him.
"Hey," she said.
"Hey," he said.
"Still here," he said. "Not fired?"
"Not fired," she said. She grabbed a mug and selected her poison. "What’re you having?"
"It’s complicated," he said.
All but two of the buttons on his machine were lit.
"You sure caffeine is what you need right now?"
"It’s decaf." He took his finished drink and brought it up to his nose. Funny how ingrained little habits like that worked, Celia thought; she could smell the sickening sweetness from here.
"You sure so much artificial sugar is what you need right now?"
He gave her a look that contained the distilled essence of ten eyerolls without requiring an actual eyeroll. It was impressive.
They lapsed into silence as Celia’s coffee prattled.
"What I need," Ed said after a while, enunciating slowly and clearly. "is a bottle of vodka to wash away the taste of this company going straight down the drain."
"It’s not going straight down the drain," Celia said.
"It’s going hippie. Same difference."
She studied him from the corner of her eye. "You’d rather have been fired then? Go work for your dad?"
"Even if I had been fired, I wouldn’t work for Dillinger Systems in a million years," he assured her. "The secondhand embarassment of watching Flynn and Bradley bring Baines and Kleinberg and that loopy Verne girl, what’s her name –"
"Cora," Celia said.
"– whatever – all their little friends, and they’re still pretending it’s not nepotism? No way am I humiliating myself like that."
"An admirable stance," she allowed. "Though considering you got into this company because the top brass thought your name was the epitome of the anti-Flynn kick they were on..."
She smirked. "You know me too well."
He smirked back half-heartedly and sipped his drink. She blew on hers.
"What did they tell you?" Ed asked after a while. "When they told you you could stay, I mean."
"Let’s discuss that when there’s vodka," Celia said.
Ed poured two glasses and set the bottle down on the table. They clinked.
"To not getting fired," he said.
They drank. Celia shivered from the top of her head to the tips of her toes, and coughed once. She poured. They clinked.
"To the return of the hippies," she said. "And your inherited blood feud with the new boss."
Ed made a face, but they drank. He choked. She pretended not to notice.
They drank again, this time without a toast.
Then Ed sighed. "What the hell are we going to do?"
"Show up to work same as always."
"You know what I mean."
"So do you. We kept our jobs. We show up to work same as always. We adapt and flourish."
He glared at her.
She rolled her eyes.
He set his shot glass down, plucked hers from her hand, and covered her mouth and her body with his. Laughing at him, she nipped his lip and grabbed fistsful of his silk waistcoat.
He started saying, "Don’t tear the –"
She yanked, and buttons popped in all directions.
"– buttons. Fuck you."
"That’s your job."
And he did it admirably.
"You know what Bradley said to me?" Ed finally said two and a half hours later.
They’d ended up in bed halfway through, and he was sprawled out in a tangle of sheets, squinting at the ceiling. She’d rid him of his glasses early on, and unlike most of the hipsters who wore frames like that, he actually needed them. Too bad. His eyes and cheekbones were his greatest assets, and she’d be damned if she let him keep hiding them while they were having sex.
Celia rolled to her feet and stretched. Arms up, back arched. Ouch. She rubbed her neck. That’d teach her to get it on on Ed’s monstrosity of a couch.
"He said, ‘I know you must think I hate you because of who your father is and what he did, but I don’t. I hate you because you’re an insufferable little jackass, and we both know it.’"
Celia snorted. If that wasn’t a typical Bradley understatement.
"‘But I also respect you for your dedication to programming. I know your name has been a blessing and a curse in equal measure, because a company that only cares for profit is fickle about its moral stance. And that’s just Encom – goodness knows what your private life is like. Unlike Nate Hardington and so many others, you’re in your current position because you’ve earned it through skill and sheer hard work. And I’m not about to take that away from you. So if you want to stay, you stay. I trust you.’"
Celia quirked an eyebrow. "Ouch."
Straight in the daddy issues. And more importantly, straight in the pride. But she wasn’t about to get kicked out of his apartment before she’d had a shower, so she didn’t say that out loud.
He grunted. "How do you hate a man as pathetic and ridiculous as Bradley when he keeps turning around and saying things like that when you least expect it?"
Shaking her head fondly, she set course for the bathroom. "You don’t."
"That’s a perversion of nature and you know it."
"Suit yourself." She turned on the shower and leaned against the door jamb while the water heated. "Remember the SP Online press conference back in April? How I spent weeks prepping Bradley to make sure he’d stick to the program of our Encom and not turn it into an impromptu Flynn memorial? He was all smiles and charm when we met, yes and amen all the way there, nothing but ‘of course Miss Melardin, I understand completely Miss Melardin, you’re absolutely right Miss Melardin’. Remember how, when the day finally came, he turned around and talked about nothing but Flynn and the good old days? It was the most humiliating experience in all my years with Encom. Hardington came this close to firing me."
Ed sat up in his little nest of sheets. One of them had combed his hair out of his face somewhere along the way. All open and naked like that, he looked like a completely different person.
"You know what happened afterwards?" she said.
"He came up to me to apologize. We talked for hours. Turns out? Despite what Hardington and I tried to make him do, he was willing to trust me too. So I forgave him. He’s a good guy and if you treat him well, he treats you well. Most of the time he even treats you well when you treat him like shit. The difference is that you’ll feel like shit for treating him like shit because of it." She shrugged and turned back to her shower. "Getting along with him is the path of least resistance. You can join me if you want."
"You know I don’t do least resistance."
"I meant the shower."
His sigh was loud and theatrical. "I guess that’s something I can do."