Entry-Level Mistress - By Sabrina Darby
For the seventeenth time in the last five minutes, I looked at the clock on the upper right corner of the computer screen. 10:15 a.m. I was doing exactly what I’d always said I’d never do, working a desk job. A 9-to-5 sort of job, with a real water cooler and posted hand-written warning signs on the fridge in the small kitchen. Oh yeah, and as the lowest employee on the totem pole it was my job to clean that kitchen and refill the coffee machine every few hours. Drip coffee. I couldn’t even call myself anything as fancy as a barista. In between kitchen duties, I was supposed to answer phones, track packages and greet the stray person who wandered onto the third floor office of Hartmann enterprises. The marketing department. Which was the only department a new college graduate with a BFA in Studio Arts and no corporate résumé to speak of could get someone to look twice.
I’d seen the job listing on the board at my college just as I was about to hand in the paperwork for a fellowship at the prestigious Barrows Farm artist’s colony. With the flush of shock heating my body, I had walked by, put the envelope for the fellowship in my counselor’s hand and then, trembling, walked past the job board again. The listing had stuck in my head: Hartmann Enterprises, shining success of Daniel Hartmann, the man who had destroyed my father.
It was as if no matter where I went or what I did or how much I distanced myself from the mess of my parents’ lives, Hartmann was a shadowy presence in my life.
I remembered him vaguely from his mother’s funeral. I was nine and shy, awed by the tall, handsome college freshman, who looked even more breathtaking and unapproachable in his dark suit and grief. I’d been twelve when I’d heard my father, nearly under his breath, curse Hartmann’s name, even as we packed up our house and moved to an apartment out of the city. Retrenching, my dad had called it. Then, when my dad went to jail, I was sent to live with my mother and stepfather in Arizona.
Daniel’s father had made costly mistakes that endangered the competitive future of Rocklyn Corporation, a failure my father blamed on the amount of medication Mr. Hartmann took toward the end of his life. I never fully understood what had happened but I knew Daniel’s mother, Lucille, had somehow been involved in a weird Hamlet sort of way. Or maybe even in a Howard Hughes sort of a way, out on a yacht in the ocean, with possible foul play. After all, my father and Daniel’s mother had had an affair. In her grief, Lucille had turned to my father, and my father took the opportunity to be with the woman he had secretly loved, regardless of how damaged she was. He tried to help Daniel, to be a surrogate father, to support his attempt to fill the elder Hartmann’s shoes. And this was where the history grew vague to me, even as the local press proliferated articles on the matter. Because none of that was the truth. No matter what the papers said, my father had been framed. Set up by Daniel in a complicated scheme that seemed like the stuff of fiction. We had ended up being the victims of whatever had gone on between the Hartmanns and the evil that permeated everything they touched. Except, of course, Hartmann Enterprises, which was wildly more successful than the business our parents had shared.
It would be easy to hate him.
Sometimes, during the early years, when my world was upended, I resented him. But mostly, for the last seven years, I created my own life, with Daniel almost a mythic presence.
I shouldn’t think of him as Daniel, as if I actually knew him. Yet between his handsome exterior and the impact he’d had on my life, Daniel Hartmann had always been a sick fascination for me, one that landed me a job in a field I had never imagined myself. For some amorphous desire to wreak havoc on his charmed life the way he had on my family, here I was, in a sweater set and knee-length skirt that I’d found in the bargain bin of Filene’s Basement.
And my hair! That was the worst of all. I’d had to dye it nearly black to cover up the purple highlights I’d worn all year. Now, I was typing in the names