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Looking a Gift Horse in the Mouth

Listen to this piece on episode 14.

“You’re welcome,” Johnny said, arching his right eyebrow, voice lilting down like I missed something. He’d given me my next assignment and I’d nodded my understanding. I’m briefed on my next steps, so I match his eyebrow with my own quizzical look.

“You’re welcome for what?” I ask. “For the feedback? I thought I’d already thanked you via email, but yes, thanks.”

I’ve been working at the local newspaper as a staff writer for just over 90 days. Johnny has been on my case since day one. Thus, when he invited me to dinner a few weeks ago, I thought it to be a work-related affair. It wasn’t, and I soft a softer side of the workplace Johnny, and I fell fast. Two weeks, his massive ego, and a few therapy sessions later, and I realize that my little dalliance with him was a huge mistake.

“The book I sent you—you got it, right?” he asks this like he’s breaking down rocket science for a two-year-old. I laugh awkwardly.

“Oh, your gag gift,” I say, waving him off. Johnny squints, confused.

“No,” he says evenly. “It was an actual gift, a practical gift, and you never thanked me for it.” I blink slowly, pulling together pieces in my mind that start to make sense but don’t make sense. I shift in my seat, squaring up opposite his standing, confident figure.

“The book on housekeeping?” The book on how to keep my house?” I say with emphasis on my because his obtrusiveness in this moment necessitated a dressing down. “That’s your gift to me?”

He shrugs as if the answer is obvious. “Yes Lily, the book is a bestseller you know. Really good stuff—I thought you’d find it helpful.” He emphasizes the word helpful and now I know what this is about. My studio apartment. My little studio with not enough storage and not enough sunlight and too many freaking articles and books and magazines tucked here and strewn there and piled everywhere. Still, I invited him in anyway, into my intimate space, and this is the idea he’s gotten stuck in his head since he’s had the privilege to make my intimate acquaintance.

He straightens out his tie as if he doesn’t have a clip the keep it in perfect order full-time. I’m flustered by his nonchalance, but regroup myself nevertheless.

“I let you in my house one time and now you think you have the right to judge me? You’re a piece of work.” First confused, then surprised, I’ve now moved to mad, and the reason I know that I’m mad is because I’m spitting as I talk. I always spit when I’m mad.

“Fine Lily, but you should at least thank me for the gift—most people do that you know—say thank you even if they don’t like the gift they got.”

He takes a sip of his coffee as he steps away from my cubicle, no doubt on the way back to his office to schedule conference calls.

“The next time you think about giving me a gift, don’t,” I hiss.

At this, Johnny pivots on his heel casually, now walking backwards, a sly grin on his face.

“Guess that no fraternizing clause is for my own benefit,” he says before turning.

“Jerk!” I curse under my breath. Instead of the news story, I open a browser and start the search for a new job.


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