Pat isn’t as big of a douche-canoe as Elliot, but close.
I sit down in the unoccupied chair beside Pat while Mr. Haverstrom takes his place behind the desk. “Lady Sarah, I was just explaining to Pat the reason I’ve asked you both for this meeting.”
Don’t mistake the “Lady” before my name as a symbol of respect. It’s just tradition, the equivalent of “Miss” for the daughter of a countess. There’s no real power behind it.
Maybe I’m just being paranoid—that happens—but there’s that tight, heavy feeling in my stomach, as if at any moment the thread that’s holding it in place is going to snap, sending my vital organ to the floor.
I force myself to speak. “Yes?”
“We have been selected to host this year’s Northern District Library Symposium.”
This isn’t just not good—it’s bad. Very, very bad.
“As the host facility, each department is required to give a presentation, and given the size and scope of our Fiction and Literature department, I see no reason why you and Patrick can’t give separate but complementary presentations.”
And splat goes my stomach. And my spleen. I’m fairly certain the liver’s in there somewhere too.
“I’ll need your topic and outline by the end of the week to ensure there’s no overlap.”
My lips open and close, like the mouth of a fish, but there aren’t any words. Breathe! I need to breathe to talk. Idiot.
“Mr. Haverstrom, I’m not sure that I—”
“I’m aware you’re not comfortable with public speaking,” Mr. Haverstrom says, talking right over me.
That happens. A lot.
“But you’re going to have to overcome it. This is an honor and a requirement of your position. Barring an act of God, you will not be excused. If you’re unable to fulfill all of your duties, I will unfortunately be forced to replace you with someone who can.”
Shit. Damn, damn, shit, shit.
“Yes, sir. I understand.”
“Good.” He nods. “I’ll let you get to it, then.”
We all stand, and Pat and I head for the door.
“Lady Sarah,” Mr. Haverstrom says, “I’ll be happy to go over your presentation with you once it’s complete, if that will be helpful to you. I do want you to succeed.”
I smile tightly. “Thank you, sir.”
Then he shakes Patrick’s hand. “Pat, we’re still on for racquetball this Saturday?”
“Count on it, Douglas.”
Internally, I sigh. More disappointed with myself than anything else. Because I play racquetball—I’m actually quite good at it. And if I had a shred of Miranda Priestly in me, from The Devil Wears Prada, I’d tell them—invite myself along, throw in with the big boys.
But, I don’t.
Mr. Haverstrom closes the door, leaving Patrick and me alone in the hallway. Pat smiles slickly, leaning in toward me. I step back until I press against the wall. It’s uncomfortable—but not threatening. Mostly because in addition to racquetball I’ve practiced aikido for years. So if Patrick tries anything funny, he’s in for a very painful surprise.
“Let’s be honest, Sarah: you know and I know the last thing you want to do is give a presentation in front of hundreds of people—your colleagues.”
My heart tries to crawl into my throat.
“So, how about this? You do the research portion, slides and such that I don’t really have time for, and I’ll take care of the presentation, giving you half the credit of course.”
Of course. I’ve heard this song before—in school “group projects” where I, the quiet girl, did all the work, but the smoothest, loudest talker took all the glory.
“I’ll get Haverstrom to agree on Saturday—I’m like a son to him,” Pat explains before leaning close enough that I can smell the garlic on his breath. “Let Big Pat take care of it. What do you say?”
I say there’s a special place in hell for people who refer to themselves in the third person.
But before I can respond, Willard’s firm, sure voice travels down the hall.
“I think you should back off, Nolan. Sarah’s not just ‘up for it,’ she’ll be fantastic at it.”
Pat waves his hand. “Quiet, midge—the adults are talking.”
And the adrenaline comes rushing back, but this time it’s not anxiety-induced—it’s anger. Indignation.
I push off the wall. “Don’t call him that.”
“He doesn’t mind.”
He stares at me with something akin to surprise. Then scoffs and turns to Willard. “You always let a woman fight your battles?”
I take another step forward, forcing him to move back. “You think I can’t fight a battle because I’m a woman?”
“No, I think you can’t fight a battle because you’re a woman who can barely string three words together if more than two people are in the room.”
I’m not hurt by the observation. For the most part, it’s true.
But not this time.
I smile slowly, devilishly. Suddenly, I’m Cathy Linton come to life—headstrong and proud.
“There are more than two people standing here right now. And I’ve got more than three words for you: fuck off, you arrogant, self-righteous swamp donkey.”
His expression is almost funny. Like he can’t decide if he’s more shocked that I know the word fuck or that I said it out loud to him—and not in the good way.