Read an Excerpt
The Rule Book
Rule Breakers Series
By Jennifer Blackwood, Candace Havens
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2016 Jennifer Blackwood
All rights reserved.
Starr Media Handbook Rule #37
The following words are strictly prohibited when posting on social media:
I stopped reading halfway down the list as my "I made it to my second day in my first big girl job" latte turned uneasily in my stomach. Why anyone would create a post using those words in the first place, well, it was beyond me. Definitely got the gist, though, and my client, Craig Willington, the supposed next George Straight (in about five years, give or take), would not be using moist to refer to his grandmother's cornbread, or anything else for that matter. A shudder rippled under my skin just from seeing the words moist and genitals next to each other on the page.
I slumped back in my ergonomic swivel chair that had most likely cost more than one-month's rent in the city, and rocked back and forth, fanning the two-inch-thick Starr Media Employee Manual with my thumb. I'd only held a few jobs in college, mostly at minimum wage retail establishments to pay for my one-click and shoe addiction, but never had I encountered such a detailed list of rules. Brogan Starr ran this company on a tighter leash than the Pentagon during a national security threat.
"Newbie. What's your status on the manual?" Jackson, the first assistant to Mr. Starr and overall grinch of a person, rounded the corner of my desk and leaned a manicured hand on the stack of paperwork towering over my sad-looking outbox bin.
"Almost done, only" — I glanced down at the manual — "forty more pages." It had taken me all of yesterday afternoon and this morning to get this far. At this rate, I'd be done by the end of the work day. I was itching to get past all the logistical first-week training so that I could start what I was hired to do — work with social media accounts.
Okay, so that would be more of a side job while I fetched coffee orders, made copies, and did everything else that came along with the job of Second Assistant, but there was an upside to my newly attained postgrad-school title. With an MBA and a focus on social media relations, I'd been given the opportunity to prove myself with a one-client caseload and eventually work my way up to marketing director. In a few years. If the stars aligned, and Venus was in retrograde.
"Let's take a quick tour. Before I go to lunch." His voice held all the enthusiasm of someone waiting in line at the DMV.
"Great. I can't wait to meet everyone. I thought maybe we could do lunch at Luigi's ..." I trailed off as I took in Jackson's expression.
His eyebrows morphed into two cartoon-like squiggles that clearly said, oh honey, not happening. "First off, we will not 'do lunch' together. Ever. Second" — he tapped my Starr Media Employee Manual — "you must not have gotten to rule 738."
Someone check the thermostat, because it just got chilly in here. I decided the safe thing to do was to ignore his jab and instead asked, "You know all the rules by heart?"
"Just that one in particular. The Antichrist really outdid himself with that one." Jackson sneered. In the past day and a half, he'd referred to our boss as "the Antichrist" more often than his actual surname. Said something about how it was the office nickname.
Things I'd learned about Brogan Starr based off of my two-minute Wiki research (aka stalking) a few days before I started:
1. He was the youngest CEO to start a Fortune 500 company
2. He grew up in Bellevue, Washington
3. He finished top of his class at MIT at the age of 20
4. He had a very nice chin — pretty much the only feature visible in his profile picture with him wearing a Seahawks hat and Ray Bans.
I had yet to meet the Mr. Starr, who had been holed up in his office all of yesterday and today, so I'd form my own opinions on the aptness of the Antichrist moniker whenever he decided to make an appearance in broad daylight.
Confused at Jackson's mention of the rule, I flipped through the employee manual until I reached the number he'd rattled off.
Employees must not, under any circumstances, store fish or any food items with garlic in the company refrigerator. Employees will refrain from consuming garlic items during work hours.
I set the manual down and stared blankly at Jackson. Then back at the manual. Then back at Jackson, words unable to form in my state of duress.
Dear God. This man was a monster. Shudder-worthy words were one thing, but garlic? Images of delicious breadsticks and savory pasta danced in my mind, taunting me. Guess that meant no afternoon jaunts to Luigi's. Their garlic pizza was the best in the city, but definitely not worth losing my job over.
Meeting Mr. Starr was no longer necessary to determine my fully formed opinion. The office nickname was well deserved.
Jackson tapped his foot in a hurried staccato rhythm and let out an exaggerated sigh. "I don't have all day. Do you want the tour or not?"
I shot up from my desk and grabbed a pen and paper to take notes. With the avalanche of information cascading in my direction these past two days, I needed to write down the important "don't do these or you get canned" CliffsNotes in the spiral I borrowed (okay, I totally stole it) from Zoey's room yesterday morning. "Yes."
A field trip around the office was much better than being stuck in this two-person isle of seclusion.
We walked past the main entrance and into the other portion of the office where the rest of the employees at Starr Media were stationed. Pristine white tile gleamed in the lighting, and the walls were painted a trendy steel gray, occasionally dotted with pictures of our most esteemed clients. Jackson picked up his pace to a power walk and rattled off explanations the same way a guide would on a Hollywood sightseeing tour — bored, informative, and over-rehearsed. Somehow, that was less than comforting, and "please don't let this be a revolving door position," and "crap, I need this job more than air" rolled around in my head.
He pointed to a small room on the left and didn't bother to stop. "Here is the copy room. We each have our own codes. If you lose yours, you're subjected to the wrath of Glinda. Don't piss her off."
I nodded and scribbled a quick "don't cross Glinda" into my notebook, adding a double underline to the note.
After passing a few more doors where Jackson mumbled descriptions under his breath, we reached the back half of the office, which contained fifteen or so cubicles with posh chairs, exposed brick walls, and cement flooring that gave it an industrial chic feel. A hum of fingers hitting keyboards, ringing phones, and low murmuring voices filled the space, a completely different vibe than my post in the stuffy entranceway. Action happened here — the dynamic of people creating and orchestrating ideas practically zapped like static electricity in the air. This was where I wanted to end up. This was the place to be.
The energy shifted as a few people glanced up from their paperwork, studied me for a few seconds, and then went back to what they were doing.
Jackson pointed to each desk, starting from the back and working his way to the window. "This is Amy, Fred, Patricia ..." the list went on, much faster than I could scrawl on my paper. The verdict was out on whether or not Jackson was doing this on purpose or if he normally talked like he was on triple fast forward.
As far as introductions went, this was what I would classify as a drive-by — fast, chaotic, and one that guaranteed zero chance of remembering anyone.
"Hi." I waved. A few grunts sounded from a couple of the cubicles toward the window, but everyone else kept their head down and continued working.
All right. A lively bunch. I clutched my notepad to my chest and pushed back the burning desire to sprint from the room and hide under my desk, popping Skittles and hoping they put me into a sugar coma.
College had made for an easy environment to meet like-minded people. I'd assumed that since we were all working for the same company, I'd hit it off right away because, hey, couldn't we all just band together and say "stick it" to the garlic-hating man? But it was becoming increasingly apparent I had to earn my way up the social ladder as well.
"Hurry up, newbie." Jackson was already in the hallway that led to our desks, and I hustled out of the bullpen to catch up to him. The power walk had turned into a half sprint just to keep up with him as we weaved our way to the front entrance.
As soon as we got back to our desks, he plopped down in his chair and began typing something on his computer. "When you're done with the manual, I need you to make a coffee run. Two pump vanilla latte with soy milk. Extra hot."
My head shot up. This could be it; I could finally have a chance to meet the mysterious Brogan Starr. "Is that Mr. Starr's drink?" Sounded like a drink for someone with a stick up their ass. Scratch that, ass was one of the pre-determined no-no words. Behind, then. Mr. Starr had a stick up his behind.
I swallowed back a smart-behind response. Grunt work was part of the whole working my way up the totem pole in the social media business, that was expected. Play the game, move up one peg at a time, and one day, I'd be able to share my own ideas for improving networking. Until then, I was Jackson's ... female dog.
See? Fast learner.
"No problem." I even managed to plaster a smile on my face, just to show how delighted I was to be here. Which wasn't too far from the mark, because nothing made me happier than a steady income fresh out of grad school, especially when I could put more toward Mom's medical bills and, okay, the occasional use of my one-click finger for online shopping.
Twenty pages later, I decided to take a break and get Jackson's coffee. I glanced his way as I walked toward the elevator, and caught myself before I could shake my head at his slouched figure. His feet were propped on his desk as he fiddled with something on his phone. Cell phone use during work hours was prohibited — as stated in rule forty-seven. But I guess that rule didn't apply to first assistants.
The elevator opened and Jackson shouted, "Soy milk. Extra hot or you're fired!" before the doors closed.
My job now rested in the hands of a barista and their ability to heat blast the shit out of Jackson's latte. Excellent.
I slumped against the metal bar at the rear of the elevator and rested my head against the wall. An upbeat eighties song droned over the intercom, and it reminded me of something Mom would lip sync to in the car. A sad smile wobbled at the corners of my mouth. It was pathetic how much I missed her — I mean, a twenty-four-year-old should be okay living a couple hundred miles from her mom. As it was, a whole month apart proved I was a total mama's girl, especially given her current condition. Before I could pull out my phone to give her a quick call, the elevator doors sprang open, and I hustled out the door to get Jackson's latte before I gave him any reason to fire me on my second day.
By nine thirty, I'd made it back to the building and learned that downtown really did have a Starbucks on every block. Being technologically savvy (or as my mom liked to say, "addicted"), my fingers itched to take a snapshot of downtown Seattle and post about my first week at Starr Media. I frowned, remembering the strict policy prohibiting posts about the company on personal social media. Pretty much, working at Starr Media was the equivalent of being part of Fight Club. Heavy emphasis on the first rule.
As I entered the elevator, I chanced a glance at the mirrored wall and cringed. The misty Seattle air upped the frizz factor of my curls, and my thick mass of hair was quickly transitioning from a "before" to an "after" shot in a Chia Pet commercial.
I blew a stray piece out of my face as I balanced the to-go container with Jackson's and my coffee and tapped my foot impatiently, waiting for my floor. For such a large building in the heart of downtown, the elevator moved at a banana slug pace, the digits of each floor flashing overhead as it ascended. When it finally got to the fortieth, I took a second to adjust my grip on the coffee container and my purse and made my way out. Both feet had just made it past the opening when the door zipped shut behind me, almost taking my purse in the process. I let out a yelp and stumbled forward, spilling a bit of coffee in the process. Holy mother of Moses, it was like I was in a giant arcade crane game. I straightened my jacket and adjusted the coffee cups, shaking off the incident. For an archaic elevator, it definitely made sure the door hit you on the way out.
Jackson looked up from his computer and smiled when he saw the coffee in my hands. "Looks like you just learned a lesson from old Betsey."
"Who's Betsey?" I handed him his drink.
"Our beloved elevator." There was a silent duh added on to the end of that. "And here's a hint: she only bites people who deserve it." He pursed his lips then took a pull from his soy-hope-he-choked-on-it latte.
I looked at the elevator again, my heart still beating frantically against my chest. "Good to know."
Why wasn't that in the manual? Rule #768: Do not stand in elevator more than two seconds after the doors open. You will get chomped.
Someone with so many rules should include something on the carnivorous elevator.
I cupped my own coffee in my hands and took a deep pull of my triple shot espresso.
"When do I get to meet Mr. Starr?" I stared at my desk, which only had a manila folder with Craig Willington's information, my large stack of liability papers to be signed, and the employee handbook. I'd imagined my first few days on the job to be chaotic, buried in paperwork (the exciting kind, not the signing-my-life-away kind), like I'd seen in all my favorite TV shows, but it was much more anticlimactic in real life. If my life were a hashtag right now, it'd be #whompwhomp.
If I were able to post about my job, that is.
"He's already in his office and doesn't want to be disturbed."
"Oh." I frowned. Meeting Mr. Starr was at the top of my to-do list. The faster we met, the sooner he'd see I was capable and give me a larger workload. Judging by the constant annoyed expression affixed to Jackson's face, he didn't seem too keen on the idea of me making it past this week, so I needed to get someone else on my side.
"Don't worry, Lacey, you'll meet him soon enough."
He waved his hand dismissively, and the fluorescent lights glinted off his manicured nails. "Whatever." And then he muttered something that sounded a lot like "not that I'll need to get to know your name, anyway."
Um, that was not comforting. Whatsoever. Even though asking about previous employees was decidedly a bad idea, I just couldn't sign another confidentiality waiver until I knew what exactly I was up against. "How long was the last person in my position employed here?"
I swallowed hard. Okay, no big deal. Maybe they were a total dud and lacked the skills to be a second assistant. "And the person before that?"
Well, crap. "Oh." I kept a smile plastered on my face all the way back to my desk, not wanting him to see me sweat. Seriously, was this how other companies in Seattle worked? Revolving door positions, everyone as disposable as a to-go cup?
This position was not dispensable to me. I had to make this work, so I had to show Mr. Starr just how invaluable I could be.
I plopped down in my swivel chair, and after signing my life away with the paperwork, I pulled up Craig Willington's media account. Jackson had shown me how to gain access to the Cloud drive with all pre-approved photos from each celebrity. As part of my job description, I was in charge of posting on their social media sites and building their fan base.
Excerpted from The Rule Book by Jennifer Blackwood, Candace Havens. Copyright © 2016 Jennifer Blackwood. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
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