Thud. Whoosh. Slap.
Thud. Whoosh. Slap.
The trio of irksome sounds repeated another half-dozen times.
My eyes darted upward, a silent prayer falling from my lips.
Dear God, please give me the strength not to shove that tennis
ball somewhere that would require surgery. Amen.
My coworker casually leaned back in his chair, his long legs outstretched
and crossed at the ankles on the shiny surface of the conference
room table. Beneath his brown leather loafers sat a report.
His unfinished-yet-due-tomorrow report.
I marveled at his ability to multitask. It would have been more
appropriate if he had been, say, working. Instead, he was tossing a
ball against the conference room wall with one hand while texting
with the other. Even though he didn’t take his eyes off his phone
screen, he caught the ball every single time. If I hadn’t been so
annoyed, I would have actually been impressed.
The clock ticked against the pale yellow wall above his head.
With each passing tick, the ball struck with a thwack to its right.
“Cooper, could you please stop?” I finally said, rubbing my
temples to ease the headache that was forming.
Thud. Whoosh. Slap.
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2 NINA BOCCI
“Cooper,” I repeated, glancing up from my laptop. “Hello?”
Thud, whoosh, slap was the only response I got.
Sliding back my chair, I stood up and walked around the long
maple conference table. It was only when I got close enough to
see the scantily clad woman in his text window that I noticed the
wireless earbuds that were blasting music into his ears. As the
ball left his hand, I touched his shoulder.
Startled, he lost his grip on the ball, sending it sailing behind
him. “What’s up?” he sputtered, quickly pulling his earbuds out. I
didn’t miss his hand sliding his phone into his pocket. He looked
every bit like a teenager caught red-handed by the principal.
“Are you kidding me?” I exclaimed. “You’ve had music on this
entire time? I read nearly two pages of the brewery expansion
proposal out loud to you twenty minutes ago!”
At least he had the decency to look remorseful. “I thought you
were talking to yourself, so I”—he motioned to the black Beats—“
figured I’d give you your privacy while I caught up on work.”
My eyebrows must have reached my hairline, because with a
mildly guilty expression he pulled his legs down from the table.
I snorted. “Yes, I start all sentences with, ‘Cooper, what do you
think about’ when I’m talking to myself. Were you just smiling
and nodding for my health?” Shifting in his seat, he straightened.
The small laugh lines around his mouth became more pronounced,
an indication that he was fighting back a smile. “Emmanuelle,”
he purred smoothly.
“Don’t Emmanuelle me,” I clapped back. “That tone may work
on your fan club, but not me.”
He held his arms up in a defensive position. “Okay, okay, I’m
sorry. What did I miss?” He grabbed for the papers in my hand.
Holding them back against my chest, I scowled. “Hope Lake
Brewing Company. Expansion. Asking for input before it goes to
the town council for approval.”
He whistled and rocked back in his chair. “Council is going
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to reject anything that comes across their desk from them. They
hate the ‘vibe’ the brew house brings, and the addition would
make the council’s heads explode.”
I nodded. “Yep, which is why the guys asked us for help. To
try and edit the proposal to appeal to them. It’s also why I booked
us the conference room for this meeting that you just Tindered
your way through.”
“That’s not a word, and I wasn’t—” he began, patting his pocket
absently. Probably making sure the evidence was tucked away
I held up my hand. “Save it. I don’t care what or who you’re
doing. Just that you’re not paying attention. Again.”
When the owners of HLBC, Drew and Luke Griffin, first
came to our department, Cooper and I had championed their
proposal to build a brewing company, tasting room, and outdoor
entertainment space just along the lakefront. It was one of the
first projects Cooper and I had worked on together, and it was just
what we’d needed in town back then—a fun, innovative business
that catered to every age. Now, six years later, HLBC was one of
Hope Lake’s most popular spots, and the brothers were looking to
expand their space to include rooms for private events and a small
restaurant. Cooper and I were supposed to be discussing how to
approach the town council about it.
Looked like I’d just been talking to myself instead. “I’m going
back to my office, where I can work in peace,” I said. Exasperated,
I started gathering up my stuff.
After a few seconds of awkward silence, he cleared his throat.
“You’re right. I’m sorry. Let’s go over it. Again.”
I stacked my files, feeling my blood starting to boil. Having
to repeat myself irked me, but I needed his input whether I liked
it or not.
Glancing up, I noticed Cooper readying to say something else
when our shared assistant, Nancy, hurried in with the main office
calendar and a fistful of Sharpies clutched in her hand.
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4 NINA BOCCI
“I’ve been searching for you two everywhere,” she said, looking
wide-eyed at each of us in turn. The conference table, at least on
my side, was covered in charts, graphs, and photos of the lakefront.
On Cooper’s side—well, there was a lot of polished maple
“Did you discuss the project?” she asked hopefully, her face
falling when I shook my head. “Okay, well, I guess you’ll handle
that, uh, later. I’m sure.” She gave me a look. “I hope,” she mouthed,
then cleared her throat and pulled out the head chair of the conference
table and sat down with the main office calendar in front of
her. “It’s time for the afternoon rundown—are you ready?”
Cooper groaned. Not at Nancy but at the calendar she had
opened. It had been on my desk this morning when I’d filled it with
upcoming appointments and meetings. By the looks of it, Nancy
had managed to fill almost every empty space that remained.
We kept it old school at our office. Instead of using Google
calendar or iCal, we used a large paper desk calendar with a
coded legend, labels, and tabs to keep our government office
running like clockwork. It’s not as though we hadn’t tried to
modernize, but some of the, ahem, older department staff were
frosty toward change.
Nancy, Cooper, and I worked at the Hope Lake Community
Development Office on the top floor of Borough Building. In a
small town like Hope Lake, my department was sort of the home
base for everything. From simple things such as parade permits to
more detailed ventures—for example, helping to secure funding
for business owners like HLBC—the CDO, as we tended to call
it, had its hand in pretty much everything. It wasn’t big, but what
we lacked in size and staff we made up for in energy and results.
“The upcoming week is brutal,” Nancy apologized, looking at
Cooper, who, not surprisingly, was on his phone again. “Emma,
I’m afraid you’re a bit overscheduled.” She tapped a Sharpie on
I waved a dismissive hand. “It can’t be any worse than that
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ON THE CORNER OF LOVE AND HATE 5
week the staff came down with the flu.” I had practically run the
office that week even though I was heavily medicated myself.
“It’s close.” She held up two fingers barely an inch apart.
“You’re back-to-back Monday. There is a pocket of time during
the event this weekend with the future Mr. Mayor here and his
Cooper perked up then. He knocked twice on the wooden
table. “Don’t jinx me.”
Oh, sure, you’re paying attention now.
“You’re a shoo-in. People love you, Cooper. And with the mayor
already behind you, how can you not be?” Nancy assured him.
Nancy wasn’t blowing smoke. Cooper had decided to run for
office this year, and his magnetic personality made him the perfect
political candidate. He was brilliant, liked by the majority
of the town, and had confidence to spare because he knew he
was the best choice for the job. Even I could admit that, and we
were often at odds.
“Emma, I know you wanted to have a sit-down with Drew and
Luke from the brewing company about the proposed expansion
before they go to the council, but I don’t see how it’s going to
Nancy jotted a note onto the calendar. Over the years, we’d
gotten our system down to a science: orange for me, blue for
Cooper, hot pink for our department administrative assistant,
green for Nancy, and red for the mayor, because red was my
dad’s favorite color. Blue, not surprisingly, was the color least visible
on the entire calendar. It was sporadically used, even from
my vantage point, which meant that Cooper had a light schedule
I chewed the pen cap, irritated. Nancy continued reading off
meeting after meeting throughout the week.
“These two on Thursday—I can probably sit in on them to
give you a break, Emma,” she offered.
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6 NINA BOCCI
Looking over Nancy’s shoulder, I marveled at the Technicolor
scheduling system. It might have been old-fashioned, but at least
it looked good.
Shaking my head, I pointed at the partially torn yellow Post-it
stuck on the edge of the frame. That was how my father added
mayoral meetings to the calendar. Stickies. He was nothing if not
professional. “No can do, my friend. You’re going to be at a ribbon
cutting with Mayor Dad.”
She looked up, her lips a thin, flat line. “I am? He didn’t tell me.”
Sighing, she jotted the information down. “I wish he’d told me
I was supposed to go, too!”
She took her calendar duties very seriously. I for one appreciated
it, and I knew my father did, too, even if he did use his own
odd system to add to it. It kept all of us in line.
Together, Nancy and I figured out the rest of the week, Cooper
staying silent and, surprise surprise, on his phone. We looked
over the days, pointing and crossing out, trying in vain to find
somewhere to squeeze in a last sit-down. “It’s not going to work,”
I lamented, sinking into the chair beside her.
“Well, someone from the department needs to at least show
their face at the city events meeting,” she urged, looking pointedly
at Cooper. A notebook was now on his lap, his hand moving
swiftly over the page. He didn’t look up when she said his name
or when she repeated it a few seconds later. He was too deeply
invested in whatever he was doing.
At least he’s off the phone.
Tearing the Post-it off the calendar and balling it up in her
fist, Nancy lobbed it at him. “Cooper!” she shouted, snapping her
fingers as if she were telling a dog to sit.
He smiled at her. “I’m listening.”
“Uh-huh, we need you to take a meeting or two on Thursday
so Emma can head down to the lake to meet Drew and Luke.
Unless you’d rather take the HLBC meeting.”
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ON THE CORNER OF LOVE AND HATE 7
“Thursday?” he repeated, sliding his phone out from behind
When did he take that out? He was stealthy like a teen texting
With a shrug, he shook his head. “Sorry, I’m booked all day
and I’ve got a campaign publicity debrief at noon. That’s taking
up most of the afternoon.”
“Doesn’t that just mean you and Henry are meeting at the
diner to play on Facebook and Twitter together?” I scoffed, feeling
the blood rushing to my face.
Henry was one of my and Cooper’s oldest friends. As a teacher,
he had limited time to meet up with Cooper, so I understood
Cooper’s reticence to reschedule, but—
Then it hit me. “Wait . . . why are you having mayoral meetings
during work and school? How’s Henry getting out of class to
Setting his phone down, he stood and straightened his tie. “I’ll
have you know, I’m meeting him at the high school. I wish I could
help, but alas—”
“You can’t,” I finished, sliding out of my chair to stand myself.
With Cooper running for mayor of Hope Lake, the brunt of
his work at the CDO was taking a backseat. I noticed, the staff
noticed, and the mayor noticed. If it had been anyone else, they
probably would have been fired, but Cooper was Hope Lake’s
golden boy. Once he was elected, we could hire someone new
to replace him. But until that happened, it fell to us to pick up
Cooper walked toward the door, leaving his phone—aka
his most prized possession—on the conference table. Surely he
would be back in for it the second he realized it wasn’t attached
to his hand.
“Wait, you can’t leave!” Nancy called after him. “I need the
theater proposal paperwork. You guys have that meeting with the
council on Monday and the mayor wants the weekend to review
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8 NINA BOCCI
the specs. Cooper, it has to be before end of day since you have the
debate tomorrow! Everything is done, right? Please tell me it’s done.”
“It’s handled,” Cooper said smoothly over his shoulder, tapping
his temple. “And it’s not a debate. It’s a photo op, remember?
Pose, smile, shake hands. You know, the usual.”
“Thank God. I don’t have time today to do it if you didn’t,” she
said, pretend wiping her brow.
Smiling broadly, he clapped his hands together. “Oh, come on,
Nance. Have I ever left you hanging?”
Her silence spoke volumes. If she’d had the time, and the
inclination, she could have created a depressing list of how often
that had happened.
Looking uncomfortable at Nancy’s lack of response, Cooper
disappeared through the door, only to reappear two seconds later.
“That would have been bad!” he said with a tight smile, jogging
in to grab the iPhone.
“Cooper, are you sure you can’t reschedule your Thursday
plans with Henry until after work so Emma isn’t pulled in nineteen
directions?” Nancy said quickly. “It’s just about the local
sports participation in the Thanksgiving parade. They’re looking
for guidance with the floats and theming—it won’t exactly take
up all your brain space. The other is an initial meeting to see if
the CDO can finally purchase the old bank.” Nancy already had
a blue Sharpie at the ready, clutched between her fingers. “Or if
you wanted to switch with Emma, you could meet with Drew and
Luke and Emma could handle the parade instead. You’d probably
get some free beer out of it.”
For a moment, he looked like he was going to agree. His
jawline ticked anxiously, a habit he’d had since we were kids. It
appeared whenever he struggled with a decision. Reluctantly, I
admitted to myself that it was happening more often than not.
“I’m really sorry, I can’t,” he finally said. “You know how important
these meetings are for the core of my campaign. I’ve got
to run. I’m late.”
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ON THE CORNER OF LOVE AND HATE 9
I glanced at the clock. “It’s barely four.”
“I have a thing.”
“You came in at ten because of a ‘thing.’ ” I air-quoted it because
although he said those things were for the mayoral campaign,
I didn’t believe him. Call it years of experience or just a
gut feeling. “Cooper, I need you to focus. You’re all over the place,
and things are going to start falling through the cracks here. We
can’t afford any missteps. Not when we’re under a microscope.
The council is looking for any reason to put the screws in this
Cooper’s opponent, Kirby Rogers, had been on the town council
for the past few years. He had made it his mission to strip the
CDO—funding, staff, all of it gone.
With nothing but a grimace, Cooper left, leaving no opening
for discussion. I shook my head at his retreating form.
“Forget him, I’ll figure it out,” I said, glancing between the calendar
with the work appointments and my nearly empty personal
calendar. “I can pop over to the brewery and see Drew and Luke
on my way home Tuesday or Friday night. They owe me dinner,
anyway,” I said with a weak laugh, an attempt at loosening the
anxiety-ridden ball in my stomach. How am I going to accomplish
all of this? “Just see when they’re free.” I tapped away on my
phone. Making a note, I double-checked my iPhone’s calendar as
Nancy read off the rest of the upcoming schedule.
“Emma,” she said with a heavy sigh, “I don’t want you to overwork
“I’m fine. It’s an adjustment we’re going to have to get used to
since we’re going to be picking up all the Cooper slack,” I insisted,
knowing that she was always worried about me in a big-sisterly
sort of way. “Promise,” I said after seeing her frown.
Months ago, before he had decided to run for mayor and before
he had become so distracted by the election, Cooper had been an
asset. I longed for those days. He had a gift, an ability to coax the
very best of ideas out of you, and he transformed them into solid
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10 NINA BOCCI
plans that we then presented to Mayor Dad and the town council.
His undivided input would have been valuable here.
That part of Cooper I respected and enjoyed working with.
Pre-candidate Cooper. Except lately, so much had changed. I
missed the focused Cooper. The guy who would pull together a
presentation in just a few hours. The guy I could count on to bring
the best ideas out of me when I thought I had hit a wall. Or even
the guy who got his work done on time. I hated myself a little bit
because I was missing that coworking partnership. We did make
a good team when we weren’t arguing.
“Not for anything, but you’d think he’d want to head over to
Hope Lake Brewing Company to see the guys.”
“His head was so buried in his phone, he probably didn’t hear
you mention them.”
Nancy nodded. “What do you think? Is this going to get better
or worse as the campaign progresses?” She packed up her Sharpies
and hoisted the large calendar off the table, mindful not to
drop any of the Post-its and papers tacked to it.
I slung my arm over her shoulder. “Worse. So much worse.”
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