The Billionaire's Seduction(2)

By: Kristi Avalon

Maribeth smirked. “They do now.”

“What, like Sound of Silence? Or Hunchback of Notre Cubicle?”

Mischief twinkled in the woman’s eyes. “Luke-warm the Tepid. Ben the Bagel Snatcher. Sanchez the Sinister. Damen the Dirty.”

Oh, God, the monikers all fit. Too well.

Sophia clapped a hand over her mouth to keep her laughter from erupting. She calmed herself enough to add, “Gary the Grumpy. Jude the Prude.”

Maribeth cheerfully chimed in, “Catherine the Not So Great—really, not even mediocre.”

Eyes watering, Sophia fought to suppress her giggles.

“Sarah the Suck Up. Mary Waaaay Beyond Contrary, the argumentative ho.”

That drew a sort from Sophia. She clutched her stomach, gasping for breath. She envisioned them all alongside each other, each frozen in stone, matching their dour personalities. Forever grouped together on some gothic cathedral. It might not have been hilarious to anyone else, but since they’d worked together with these people, day in and day out for the past nine or so years, it was beyond entertaining.

Sophia collected herself. “Why did you ever leave Stand-Up?”

Maribeth shrugged, though it was clear she’d reveled in Sophia’s amusement. “Same reason every starving artist goes into Corporate America. The gift doesn’t pay the bills.”

“I don’t believe that,” Sophia insisted. “But I’m so thankful having worked with you here. You bring a smile to my face daily, for…has it really been nine years?”

Maribeth nodded. “You were a fresh-faced intern, about to graduate college, girl. You’ve come a long way. I’m gonna miss the hell out of you.”

They exchanged a look of mutual appreciation.

The woman flicked the paltry leaves of the office plant on Sophia’s desk. “Who else in this department is going to laugh at my idiotic jokes?” She added, “Definitely not Stan the Staid.”

“I heard that,” Stan said from the closest cubicle, likely the only one who’d overheard their conversation, the rest self-involved in their headphones and computer screens.

Maribeth quipped, “At least I didn’t say Stan the Stupid.”

“Yeah, yeah. Keep amusing yourself over there,” Stan droned, with a rare glimpse of irony in his tone.

“Oh, I will,” Maribeth assured.

Stan poked his head up from his cubicle, alert like an African Prairie Dog, with slicked back hair and big ears to match. “Don’t forget Maribeth the Bonny Witch.”

“Stan, that’s not a thing,” she responded with a scoff.

“It is a thing,” Stan stated.

“If it’s not funny, who cares?”

“It’s a real statue,” he declared, as if his inner nerd was just getting warmed up. “With much history behind it. It’s rather mysterious,” he added shyly. “It has a B in it to go with your name, Maribeth. That counts.”

“No, Stan. No it doesn’t.”

“Give him a little leeway,” Sophia suggested gently. “He’s worked here for three years, and it’s obvious he adores you. He brings you bagels every morning, and he laughs at all your jokes, too.”

The woman leaned in close and spoke low. “If I gave in to him, do you think he’d still bring me bagels?”

That notion dimmed Sophia’s spirit a notch. Was that why Todd hadn’t called or texted this entire week he’d gone to California to see family? Had she given too much of herself to him, too soon?

To counteract her whisper, Maribeth sighed exaggeratedly. “See what I’m left with?” She shook her palms skyward. “No one gets me, but you, Sophia.”

Oh, she would sooo miss Maribeth. “Take care of Degas for me, will you? I won it at the company party’s silent auction, so I feel it should stay here.”

Maribeth made an agonized face, and retreated from the plant on her desk.

Really? Sophia thought. Stan is acceptable, but my plant doesn’t rate?

“It’s Medusa incarnate.”

“Stop. It’s just Dud.”

“Not well named! That thing is an overgrown monstrosity. A freak plant that somehow survives without sunlight in our windowless cave.”

“I’ve had him for two years.”

Maribeth’s lip curled. “What is it, even?”

Sophia patted the bizarre dreadlock-tentacles sprouting listless leaves, spilling out of its mason jar container. “I don’t know, but don’t hurt its feelings.”

“Blech. Fine, welcome to our own Corporate America Little Shop of Horrors—” The smirk died on Maribeth’s face. “Uh oh.”