Bet Me: Episode 3
Ten years later…
Tapping my fingers on the front desk of the post office, I wait anxiously for someone to serve me. After what seems like hours, a balding, middle-aged man walks out of the back room, wiping something from his face.
“What can I do for you, love?”
“I’m here to pick up my copy of the Melbourne Tribune.”
His eyebrows shoot up to his non-existent hairline as he studies the card I slide across the counter, the one that tells him I missed my delivery.
“You’re a rare one, you know that? Most kids want to read everything online these days. Isn’t that what your generation is all about? Instant gratification?”
It’s true that I can search for Knox Casey’s articles online, and I obsessively did years ago. This new habit of reading the paper came about because I wanted to kick that habit. Stupidly, I thought that ordering the paper and paying for it would eventually become so burdensome that I’d finally break my addiction to reading Knox’ articles. Instead, the act of reading his articles and underlining parts with my trusty red pen has become my new obsession.
“I enjoy the actual act of reading the paper.”
“So why not read a Sydney paper, then? Why order a Melbourne paper?”
“Bad habit,” I murmur, tapping my fingers on the counter once more and wishing he’d hurry up and go get my paper.
After shooting me a curious look, the man finally walks into the back room and returns with my order under his arm. The sight of it makes my entire body buzz and my insides spin cartwheels. Reading Knox’ article is undeniably the highlight of my week. I feel high as I head for my car, coffee in one hand and paper in the other.
Now, instant gratification would be sitting in my car and flicking through it for Knox’ article. Instead, I fuel my anticipation by driving to work first, shooting longing glances at the paper sitting on my front seat.
Once I park in my usual car space, I turn off the ignition, unbuckle my seatbelt, and take my red pen out of the glovebox, then I open the paper to find Knox’ article.
As usual, Knox’ writing is flawless and smooth. His vocabulary enviable. It’s no wonder he’s been shortlisted two years in a row for the most prestigious award in Australian journalism: The Golden Pen.
Does that stop me from marking the article up with my red pen, though? Absolutely not. The man took me to Prom as a joke, won Prom King, then followed that up by winning the internship I’d worked my arse off for. So if I want to critique his writing, I will.
Since it happened more than a decade ago, some might say I should have let go of the fact Knox rejected me and called me an uppity bitch.
For the most part I have.
Even if his rare screw ups bring me joy, I’m grateful for the humiliation he inflicted upon me that night. It helped me get over the elephant-sized crush I had on him at the time.
But I’m addicted to competing with Knox. Back in high school, our rivalry inspired me to greater heights, and it still does. Reading his work motivates me to write better. Try harder. And every Friday after marking up his article, I walk into work determined to be the best damn journalist the Sun has ever seen.
Yes, that’s right. I work at the Sun now. Knox might have won the internship that gave him a year of experience here while he studied, but he left after finishing it, relocating to Melbourne and finishing his degree down there. So, when I graduated with my degree in journalism and the Sun offered me a job, I jumped at it. The Sun is, after all, the best paper in Sydney.
I drop my pen back into the glovebox and I’m about to close the compartment when the unopened maroon and gold envelope I shoved in there a few days back catches my eye. Before I can talk myself out of it, I take the letter out, tear it open and find a maroon and gold card inside.
My pulse races as I stare at the words on the card.
Magpie Grove High School, Class of 2011 Ten Year Reunion
Just the thought of seeing my old classmates makes my stomach churn. And when I think about whether Knox might go…
Even if I’m mostly over the humiliation and rejection he dealt me a decade ago – and even if I still secretly and silently compete with him – I don’t need to see my former nemesis.
Nor do I need to spend time with most of the people I went to high school with. The last two years I spent in high school sucked, and even though I have a great job now and the respect of my peers, I don’t feel driven to go back to school and boast about my successes. My approval is what matters – not theirs.
So, I throw the invitation to the reunion along with this week’s Melbourne Tribune onto the back seat, which is currently serving as my trash bin. Then I head towards the office, typing a note into my phone to RSVP to the reunion with the ‘NO’ box ticked.
After making myself a cup of coffee – I need at least two coffees in the morning to function at my best – I greet my co-workers, grab my file on Lars Von Gruber, and head for my boss’s office.
Bob Kates pinches the bridge of his nose as I enter his office, giving only a quick tap on the door to alert him I’m there.
“Morning, Boss,” I say brightly.
“Do we have to do this today, Reese?”
Ignoring the weariness in his voice, I sit down opposite him. I’ve hit him up for this unscheduled meeting every Friday for the past two months, and I don’t plan to stop until I get what I want from him.
“I only need a minute,” I say. “Besides, it wouldn’t feel like a Friday morning if we didn’t have this conversation, would it?”
The dark circles underneath Bob’s eyes make me feel a tad guilty as he stares back at me blankly. With four step children and a baby, he often looks exhausted. Still, he’s always fair and kind, and he respects and rewards hard work and persistence. Which is why I’ll continue asking my boss to send me to Lars Von Gruber’s retreat.
“The answer will be the same this week at is was last week, Reese. And the week before that, and-”
“And the six weeks before that. I’ve got it,” I say, smiling at his defeated expression. “How are Janie and the kids?”
He shakes his head. “Kaylee is teething. River has wet the bed four days in a row. James and John won’t stop fighting and waking the baby up. Oh, and Corinne has just started dating someone five years older than her.”
“If there’s anything I can do to help…”
Bob’s expression lightens, and a small smile pulls at his lips. “Like you have the time to help me. How many hours have you spent looking into the story this week?”
“Just twelve,” I said innocently. Fifteen at most.
“Twelve?” He shakes his head.
“I do it all from home. It’s not interfering with the work you give me, I promise.”
He sighs. “I know that, which is why I worry about you. I know you’re concerned for your brother, but you’re bordering on obsessed. You don’t do anything but work. Are you still dating what’s his name?”
“What does he think of all the time you’re putting into this?”
“He deals with it.”
That’s not saying he’s happy about it.
“You need a hobby.”
Does obsessing over my rival’s stories count?
“This is my hobby,” I tell him.
“Listen, Reese. I’ve said it before, but since you’re so determined we keep doing this, I’ll say it again. While I admit that all the evidence you’ve presented me with so far seems fishy, there’s no proof Von Gruber has done anything dangerous or illegal.”
“It’s more than fishy,” I protest, holding my finger up to ward off his coming interruption. “He keeps the price of the retreat so high that only certain clientele can afford his weeklong workshops, and many of those clients are worse off financially after returning from the retreat, even if they are still married. Take Macy and Joseph Blakely, for example,” I continue. “Did you know they’ve just declared bankruptcy?”
Bob frowns, and I go on.
“They went to Von Gruber’s marriage retreat at the end of last year. Before they went, they’d just expanded their operations team by hiring twenty more employees and building a shop in Borrowed Meadows. Who does that, Bob? Who hires that many people and then builds a new shop if they’re going under? I asked a couple of employees who worked for the couple if they saw the closure coming. They said that last year the Blakelys cleared over ten million dollars and were talking about upping everyone’s salary. How are they now bankrupt?”
“Perhaps they did up everyone’s salary as intended,” my boss offers, looking puzzled.
“No, they didn’t.”
“Again, there’s no proof that Von Gruber was the cause.”
“I know, but my gut-”
“You have excellent instincts, and perhaps you’re right. Unfortunately, we may never find out. I just don’t have enough money in the budget to fork out twenty thousand dollars for you to go to a marriage retreat, not with the limited proof we have. The directors won’t sign off on it. The price is too high.”
I’d pay for the damn retreat myself if I could, but I bought a house a couple of years back, and while I love my little cottage, the renovations and things that constantly go wrong with it have eaten the remaining part of my savings. Plus, I’m starting to wonder whether I might have to support my brother and his family if things don’t start to change.
“I’m sorry, Reese. My answer is the still no.”
I smile and stand even though I felt defeated right now. “You know I’ll be back next week.”
Real evidence must become known at some point. Something big enough to convince Bob and the board that I’m onto the biggest scandal Sydney has ever seen.
“I don’t doubt it.”
“I’ll leave you to it.”
“Oh, and Reese,” Bob says as I walk towards the door.
I turn back to face him. “Yes, sir.”
“Don’t work too hard this weekend.”
The smile I forced a moment ago grows into something genuine. “Have a good weekend, Boss.”