“Pasha…” Cat hissed the words as she slammed the door to the office bathroom.

He’s not the world. Not the only one with brains. I don’t need him.

“Who does he think he is? Putting me on another team because I’m not good enough for HIS project.”

The words raced through Cat’s head as she splashed cold water on her face.

“Liar!” Cat spat at the mirror.

Yes, that’s it. He’s a liar. They lied to me when they hired me, then he used my work, my skills, my ideas, my knowledge and now he transfers me? Pretends I’m not competent? I was good enough to catch new clients and now? Transferred! HA!

Cat wanted to throw something, but lacking hard, heavy, and hideous objects to do so, she only glared at her reflection.  

I am leaving the Harem. Exactly. That is what he is collecting. A Harem. Women to cheer and adore him. No wonder he has no male employees or friends.

I could count the one or two men who were introduced to the team as alibis. The junior designers, the trainees. As long as they bowed to the star. Puppets. Nothing more.

Coming to the conclusion that Henrik certainly didn’t require any adoration from her any longer, she also finally admitted to herself that he only hired female employees who would further his career, serve his interests, and stroke his ego. That his esteem was a means to an end: gain what he wanted without giving too much in return.

He charmed the women with warm promises of his invaluable and hard to attain friendship. The latter he carefully garnered into a platonic relationship. The women he lured into his net of deceit had one thing in common: loneliness. They were starving for attention and had to be content with being drained of their positive energy by a leech, until he grew tired of one victim and went on to the next. That was how Henrik operated, as Cat admitted to herself that she had been used.

Since recognizing this system of perfunctory friendship and constantly dwindling attention, she had toyed with the thought of leaving for months.

It was time to follow the mental distancing with concrete actions. Today she would walk out.

I am leaving. This…what-is-he? Narcissist? Probably. He can find another sounding board for his thoughts and another happy-nodder for his lies.

I’m done. I hate him. I loved him. No; I was a good friend as long as he could use me. Now I’m not delivering new ideas and the novelty of my regard has worn off, I’m dropped, forgotten, like…like…an old gadget or newspaper. I wonder if the others on the team realise what he is doing? Are they all blind? Or does it just hit home when one is ignored for so long the burnout sets in?

She turned the water off, dried her hands, and cooled her blotchy face with icy palms. Leaving the ladies’ restroom, she straightened to her full height and drew her shoulders back. Without looking at anybody in the huge open space office, not that anybody was paying attention, she headed for her desk.

Nobody noticed—or chose to notice—that her eyes were red and swollen and her face a puffy mess.

Who cares? Just leave a clean desk and go. That arrogant, spoiled brat doesn’t deserve anything from me.

She cleaned out her PC. Filed documents meticulously, deleted others, emptied her email, wrote her password on a post-it-note, and, after shutting down the computer, left one last time for the kitchen. She placed her cookie jar and her half-full tea box on the kitchen counter and headed for the main door.

Should I just leave my employee-card at the front desk? Damn, I was so proud when I got it. Finally, I was part of the in-crowd, not only working on commissions from home. The pride of the swipe-card-holder. What a farce.

Clinging to nostalgia for a bit longer, she decided against it and swiped the revered item one more time.

Out in the street, an eerie quiet greeted her with the midday heat. Even her mind had gone silent. She headed for the bus station. When the bus finally came, she knew she would use this line for the last time.

Cat stared at the deserted streets and shuddered. Another rejection. Blazing sunshine and the bright sky mocked her. The rest of the world was happy with success and acceptance, but for her, it had always been like this, on the outside, looking in to be included. On bus rides to an uncertain future, she gazed at lit homes in grey winters or through rain-splashed autumn windows. The sunshine could not warm away the loneliness.

The numb feeling lingered until she closed her door and dropped her bag. She headed for her coffee table, poured a cup of tea, and stared at her laptop. She clicked on her email account. Groping for thoughts or ideas and not finding anything but fog, she decided that hiding in bed would be best.

Dramas are best slept off until reality comes back online.


The numbness was kind enough to stay throughout Sunday and only when she slept in until 10AM on Monday morning did the change register.

Hmm, nobody is calling and looking for me? I guess nobody misses me.

She checked her bank account.

Reasonably filled.

The same was true for her wardrobe, fridge, and pantry, so the need to find alternative employment wasn’t urgent. She could hunt for a better position and not content herself with “good enough.”

No call. Ha! He doesn’t even notice. And…ahh! There I thought we were friends, or that I was special, that our friendship meant something to him. Platitudes. Lies. Falling for the boss; what a cliché. Well, time to write an email, lest they think I am sick. Oh yes, I’m sick!

Dear Mr.…

The words flew quickly into the keyboard and onto the screen. She pressed send without checking for mistakes.

Who cares? He’ll get the message.

She sipped her coffee and clicked on another website.

News. News is always an excellent distraction.

After the numbness of the weekend, determination set in.

Ice cream; I need ice cream and not from the freezer. No, I’ll go into the fancy ice cream parlour in the centre and have the biggest ice-cream-fruit-combo they have. HA!

Around lunchtime, she sat in her favourite café and enjoyed a good meal when the first emails arrived. “Don’t do this. You are over 40. Think about your future.”

Not a single word from him, though. She thought about her future, and in doing so, she sent polite and sometimes very honest replies to her friends on the team, reassuring them and herself that life wasn’t over, she wouldn’t end up destitute.

I’m worth something. I have an education. I’ve gone through worse.

Her brain brought up all the good things she had going for herself—higher education, languages, international experience, and for good measure, high work ethics. Finally, she gathered enough momentum to open the job ads and start browsing. She sent out a couple of short applications, and when that was done, turned her face to the sun and took the last sips of her coffee.

Several internal swearing bouts, pulverised cookies, and a lame “thank you for working with us” later, Cat found a freelancer website to hide behind and cover finances until her idea for a bright future could be put into action.

To turn that concept into a paying and gratifying reality, she enlisted the help of a friend. Glued to their computers, they spent cold nights sipping coffee or rubbing their eyes until the absurd idea morphed into startup and finally Cat searched for a passable, if tiny, office and contacted friends who shared her fate. His victims. They were easy enough to find. Two months later, a new company made its debut with three customers who were happy to work with Cat and her friends.

The trap was set. Like a siren of old, Cat lured more clients into her domain. She enticed and captivated, flirted and promised, but also sowed discord.

“Oh yes, I have worked for Henrik, but you know…one has to go with time. It’s not good to cling to the old for too long.”

“Ah, good old Henrik. Is he still in business?” In a whisper, she added, “For me, he was always a bit slow. Business is hard and fast.” With glittering eyes, she pushed a contract over the desk.

“That’s the way I like it.” Fixing the customer’s eyes until he signed. As soon as she retrieved the document, which promised work if not riches, she lost the temptress’ voice and her industrious—albeit unapproachable—office-bee demeanour returned.

After the first customers came more ex-colleagues.

“I’m so tired of it. He’s always taking credit for my work and I have to be grateful to be mentioned as ‘on the team.’ I’m done with it. You were so right to leave. He’s a leech.”

After tears and blowing noses came the inevitable question. “Would you mind if I work for you? I mean, I can do hours or something until I find something permanent. I know that you’re not a big company yet and can’t pay a lot, but just so that I get a foot in the door with some clients, you know?”

She listened, agreed, and offered her help. “I know exactly how you feel.” She handed a tissue over. “Of course you can work here. I think we can get enough clients for all of us. I know you can do this.”

They rearranged laptops and the usual layer of office mess on their oversized desk, added another plastic chair, and picked out the correct employment contract from eForms before dividing minor design projects amongst themselves.

When her company had gained seven employees in the same manner, they moved to a bigger office, put a portfolio online, celebrated with a sweet bagel breakfast, and brainstormed strategies.

“I bet I can get that King contract for us.”

“For yourself. You are a designer with a name. And it will go into your portfolio, not being hijacked by a company name.”

“You are a gem.” Her new employee quipped.

She grinned. Anything in war and love, right? Since destroying the competition counted as war, she allowed herself every devious trick in the book.

Instead of paying salaries, she only provided an office and an umbrella which would protect the women from exploitation. They split the costs of online courses, office space, and new equipment, but billed their projects separately. It was not a new idea, but it allowed them to work independently and thrive.

When clients asked about Henrik’s involvement or ownership of the company, they reverted to diplomacy. “He prefers to work alone,” or on a meaner-spirited day, “He’s lost his touch.”


A year after Cat had left Henrik’s office for the last time, her friend and now colleague Cally came with coffee and a printed email.

“Girls, can I have your attention for a moment?” They all looked up. “A certain mister, whom we all know and appreciate.” She stopped and then read from the page. “…would be thrilled to work with all my old teammates again.” After a second, screeching noises of metal on the linoleum floor, followed by an eruption of indignant exclamations, shouts and laughter, broke the silence.

“What should we answer?” They all looked at her.

“I think we could demand a sample of his own work.” More suggestions poured in. “Send him a nasty contract.”

“Demand his diploma.” More raucous laughter. In the end, they opted for the silent treatment.

“Ignoring him. Yeah, that serves him right,” was the consensus.

From that day on, they let all calls run through the voicemail filter.

They didn’t have to wait long. After a week, Henrik swaggered into the office, was met with an icy glare at the reception, and was informed that he didn’t have an appointment. He was politely invited to take a seat and wait until one of the senior employees was free to receive him. He stared at the women behind Plexiglas fronts, all busy talking on the phone or concentrating on their screen as he had seen them thousands of times and taken it for granted.

When they all filed out for their lunch break, he got up and flashed them his charming, gracious we-know-each-other-smile without it being reciprocated.

Cat observed the scene and enjoyed hatred burning inside her. She left last and passed him by as the others had done.

He followed her unbidden into a café and took the place opposite her with an air of entitlement. He chattered about the good old times, the grand projects they had done together. He leaned over to her, fixed her gaze with well-practised glittering eyes, speaking faster and lower, putting a note of dark timbre of vibrating urgency in his voice as he repeated himself again and again.

Cat didn’t smile, nor did she move as she observed the performance of his worn charm.

Abruptly, she picked up her purse, gave the barista a nod, and headed to the door.

“Cat.” Henrik turned to look at her before she answered him one last time.

“We’re done, Pasha.”