Loathe at First Sight - Suzanne Park

Chapter One

The group of developers gaped as I barged into the almost-empty conference room. The wrong conference room. With beads of sweat on my forehead and upper lip, I panted, “Is. This. Tolkien. Room?”

“Wrong place. This is the George R. R. Martin room.” A thin guy with mouselike, pointy facial features shrugged as he bit into his sandwich.

“We booked this! It’s ours!” His lunchmate, a thirtyish-year-old man with an eastern European accent, glared at me as he stabbed his pasta and forked it into his mouth.

The other two Asian guys in the room looked at me, then whispered to each other in Cantonese and laughed. Whatever they said, I knew it wasn’t She seems very smart and cool—we should cut her some slack and be really nice to her.

I couldn’t figure out where I needed to be, and the meeting started over five minutes ago. I slammed the door shut and kept hustling down the hallway. Sorry! No time to apologize. Could I get fired for extreme lateness?

After a couple of left turns, I found myself on a dark and cavernous part of the floor. I tried to read the name on a door of a nearby meeting room, but squinting and leaning in didn’t help me make out the letters. Instinct led me to flip a light switch, which turned out to be the emergency lighting panel override for the entire area. All our quality assurance team, who happily played and tested games in the dark even on the sunniest of days, screamed as the artificial lights blinded them, like vampires being stricken by sunlight burns.

So many pasty-white, hairy forearms shot in the air, temporarily protecting these men’s eyes from death by fluorescence. So much cursing! So much yelling! As the QA guys adjusted to the light situation, over a hundred pairs of dilated eyes scanned the room for someone to fixate on and persecute. With my feet frozen to the floor like a tree rooted near the light switch, I stood in shock by all the pandemonium I’d caused.

Finally, one of them walked up to me, shot me a look condemning me to a death by a million paper cuts, and turned the light back off with a swift palm strike. I had no doubt that these QA vampire guys would be—no pun intended—out for my blood after that incident.

With nothing left to lose, I asked, “Can someone please point me to the Tolkien room?”

“It’s the corner one,” a cubicle dweller grumbled, pulling his noise-canceling headphones from around his neck and placing them on his ears.

My cheeks burned as I headed back to the reasonably lit section of the floor. I double-checked the name etched on the conference room glass before entering. TOLKIEN. Thank god. After my whirlwind of panic, I took in a deep breath. Chin up, Melody, you’re just as smart and capable as everyone in there. The door, slightly ajar, creaked as I pushed it open. I grabbed the nearest seat, and after hunkering down into the chair with a relieved exhale, my left armrest clanked to the floor.

Ian MacKenzie, the game studio’s CEO, looked at the armrest, and then glared at me. The other ten guys in the room gave me icy stares too. Ian’s inset, cold blue eyes locked with mine.

“Who are you?” he barked.

“I . . . I’m Melody Joo, the new production assistant.” I couldn’t hold his stare, so I looked down at his shoes. Brand-new pair of white Toms. To match his gleaming white, gritted teeth.

Someone’s chair squeaked while we waited for Ian, the company’s messiah, to say something. He turned his cold eyes away from me and gazed at the whiteboard scribble. Holy hell. What an intense stare.

I had only been at this game company a little over two weeks, but I could tell that most people had a visceral reaction to Ian. A handful of people loved him, but most of the staff didn’t. The company’s board of directors had hand selected him for his role because of his gaming industry pedigree. I spent most of my first day at work researching him online: he had been an executive creative director at Shazam! Game Studios and had one hit triple-A title under his belt. He was the creative mind behind Undead vs. Undead vs. Undead, the fastest-growing console game in the last decade, unexpectedly popular in Canada. Yes, Canada. Somehow his third-generation Irish brain figured out what would make Canadians become addicted to this type of shooter game.

Ian had