Butt-dialing the Billionaire: Chapter 18


Jada

Renata, Shondrella, and I arrive at work early in order to nab the fabric samples for Unicorn Wonderbag before Bert can see them and start asking questions.

And now it’s crunch time.

We’re at the back table putting pins and chalk lines on the new fabric. Shondrella’s got paper and pencil and her calculator app open, working out how the print will hit, which will help us determine the finishing sizes and zipper sizes. We have to get the zipper sample order in by noon.

I haven’t stopped thinking about the storage closet. Sometimes I look at Jack being all debonair with his villainy eyebrows and offensive nature, and I think about the wrong things in the closet.

Of course that’s what he wants.

I haven’t stopped thinking about our Monday cookie run, either. The way he pressed his thumb to my lip, slow and sexy, and the sizzle that shot through me. And then he slipped his thumb between his lips and sucked off the chocolate.

Was he trying to be madly sexy?

Because that’s how it felt—sexy and wild and even a bit naughty. So much so, it made my vision blur.

And there’s also how angry he seemed at the idea of jerks in my past taking advantage of me. I didn’t say who those jerks were, but I feel like he wanted to know, and that he would’ve maybe even liked to punch them.

The adult me abhors the idea of violence. Violence is never superior to dialogue, to working things out, but the young girl all alone, caring for her mama without help from the men around her—that scared young girl completely without a champion—that young girl was thrilled with the idea.

“Look,” Shondrella says, showing how well the print lines up with the pattern. “We can get three per yard.” She whips out her calculator. Renata’s already cutting.

Naturally, Bert chooses this moment to bumble in. Renata grabs a tracksuit reject from the box below and coolly drapes it over the Wonderbag stuff, and I’m praying to the big box fashion gods that he doesn’t recognize it’s so last season. If Bert gets involved with Unicorn Wonderbag, it’ll never get off the ground and we’ll never get enough orders to save the company.

Luckily, he keeps moving.

He stops at Jack’s cubicle, and I wince, hoping he didn’t catch Jack screwing around. But no, he seems to be telling him something. I strain to hear what they’re saying over the clatter of keyboards and murmurs. I catch something about OSHA something. Was there trouble in shipping? What does it have to do with Jack?

I flatten the fabric on the board while Renata lines it up to the ruler.

Bert’s done with Jack. He’s on the move.

Our way.

Keep walking, keep walking, keep walking, I whisper-pray.

No deal. Bert’s standing in front of the table, looking at the three of us pretending to do something nonsensical with a tracksuit from last year that we saved for fabric scraps.

“Jack’s been picking stuff up from out at the warehouse space, but he doesn’t have proper shoes,” Bert says, eyeing Jack’s Converse sneakers. “He’s gonna need steel-toed work boots.”

I nod with the minimum of eye contact, unsure what it has to do with us.

“I’m gonna have you take him out for regulation footwear, Jada.”

I give him a stunned look. “What? Me?”

“Yes, you.”

I look at Renata and Shondrella. Either of them would be more logical choices, being that I’m senior designer and all. Or Varsha, or Lacey, or literally anybody else. “We’re trying to turn this around today,” I say, hoping he doesn’t look too closely and see our tracksuit full of holes.

“What is it?” Bert asks, perhaps sensing something new to wreck.

“Just a random measurement tweak,” Renata says, bored.

“Well, this isn’t an option,” Bert says. “You’re with Jack. Now.”

“I can arrange to get my own shoes,” Jack says, strolling up.

“Apparently not,” Bert barks.

Renata says, “I could go. Or better yet, we could just give Jack the address!” she adds brightly. “Jack is amazing at finding addresses.”

“Is this a no?” Bert asks. “Are we countermanding orders now?” He looks from one of us to the next, and when he comes to me, he gives me the faintest little smile. My heart drops, and I know plain as day that he’s deliberately giving me offsite busywork. I want to cry.

“We got this,” Renata says.

I give them a few last instructions. They assure me they have it. Yes, they’ll text with questions. Yes, they’ll make the noon drop or die trying.


“You see how he’s deliberately sabotaging us?” I say when we’re predictably stuck in gridlock. “He wants me out of the office as much as possible because I keep things on track. Do you really need somebody to take you shoe shopping? You’re incompetent, but not an imbecile.”

“Well, that’s hurtful,” he says. “I clearly need to work on my imbecile skills.”

“You’re not even funny,” I say. “Let’s just do this and get back to the office. If we can be quick, I can still get back and help.”

Traffic loosens up, and he does seem to be trying to make time, slipping into one lane and then the next, flowing through the Manhattan traffic with surprising skill. Especially considering his driving experience was upstate and before that—to hear Renata tell it—on rural European roads in a scenario that may or may not have involved goat carts.

His shifting movements are strong and precise, yet he’s got this loose touch, like he’s part of the machine. I’ve never seen a man concentrate so hard. It’s very competence porn, which is a thing I wouldn’t have imagined saying about Jack back when we first met. He seemed the opposite of competence porn with his blindingly bright print shirts and lazy, entitled attitude. Most guys I know try to act more capable than they are.

Not Jack. If anything, he acts less capable.

“What is the project?” he asks.

“You can’t tell Bert.”

He gives me a look. “Please,” he growls. Something about the way he growls the word “please” warms me from the inside out. Jack’s hot when he drives, and he’s also hot when his assholey offensiveness is aimed at Bert.

I tell him about Unicorn Wonderbag, how we think it’s the key to saving the business and keeping the orders up for this all-important accounting period. How desperately we’re trying to hide it from Bert so he can’t throw a monkey wrench into it. How we think we can get it into Target’s and Walmart’s spring lineups.

Jack seems interested. Is he actually taking an interest in the company now?

I find myself telling him personal stuff about Wonderbag, like how proud I am of it, and how I don’t want to jinx it, and how I sometimes feel as if it’s a magic design.

“Hence the name?” he says.

“Yeah,” I say. “So I guess it’s not that big a secret that I feel like that.”

He’s set his glasses on top of his head, like that’ll help him drive more efficiently. The effect is intense, what with his eyes and hands and crazypants driving competence. I’m trying not to think about the supply closet with exactly zero success, because what would it be like, to be with a man like this? To give in to that strange dark pull of him?

“We’re gonna get you back.”

I stare out the window at the somber grays and browns of the buildings. “There’s no use. It’s deadlining in an hour. There’s no way.”

“I still don’t understand it. Is he truly sabotaging the office?”

“Have we not been over this before?” I say.

“Seriously. Has he brought nothing in terms of skills? Zero?”

“Asked and answered,” I say. “Less than zero!”

Jack looks thoughtful. “Well, maybe he should be fired.” He looks over at me as if to gauge my reaction.

“Oh my god. Do we actually have your buy-in on Bert being a shit boss?”

“The man is making me get some sort of ridiculous boots to wear,” he says.

“Oh my god,” I snort. “The work boots? That’s what put it over the top for you? It’s all about you, isn’t it?”

“What else would it be about?” he asks.

I’m laughing, even though, seriously, can he be more obnoxious? But I feel happy around him. Weirdly lighter.

“So that would be your wish? For him to be fired?” he asks, interrupting my thoughts.

“My most fervent wish.”

He seems to contemplate this. “But what if he were instantly fired?” he asks. “Would there be a problem with having his position going unfilled?”

“No problem at all! He literally does more harm than good. Look what just happened. He could’ve sent anyone. Why not Dave? Dave’s not busy today. Why not Varsha? Why send the senior designer?”

He takes a corner, flowing into what I would’ve guessed would be the worst lane but turns out to be the best lane. He gets through the traffic quickly but without being a dick about it. He navigates like a fish, flowing through a stream, one with the car, all competence-porn overload.

“Nice driving,” I say. “You’re actually helping for once.”

“Better than listening to you moan any longer than necessary,” he says, looking over at me.

I smile at him, and the strangest expression crosses his face before he looks away. I don’t know if it’s the competence porn of him driving, but god, the pull of him.

“Where did you learn to drive like this?” I ask.

“Roads.”

“Roads where? They don’t have this kind of traffic upstate, that much I know. Renata said you drove overseas. Where would that be?”

He looks back at me, seeming to assess me. “Türenbourg, for starters.”

“The European country? That’s one of the places you’ve lived, right?”

He nods.

“You drove in Türenbourg.”

“Yup.”

“Just…Türenbourg. That seems like a code word,” I say. “Am I going to find out you’re a driver for a notorious jewel heist gang or something?”

Jack looks over at me slyly and I can’t help but smile. Maybe it’s stupid, but right then, it’s like we’re the only two people on the planet somehow, and I think he feels it too.

“You just can’t stop thinking about the supply closet, can you?” he asks.

“Yeah, but it has nothing to do with you. It’s the yellow legal pads. Yellow legal pads drive me crazy!” I force my gaze forward, trying not to think about kissing him. Whatever the worst thing is, Jack figures it out and says it. It’s quite the talent.

“There’s a nice table in there,” he continues. “The perfect height, if you know what I mean.”

“Oh, please.” My pulse speeds. “Are you in the habit of measuring tables?”

“A maestro knows his instruments.”

I roll my eyes. “Oh, lord, who says that?” He’s not the type of man I’d ever be with—ever.

If I saw Jack’s profile on a dating app, I’d swipe left so fast. A delivery driver who hates the idea of family and teamwork and togetherness and holidays, whose hobby is to drive and annoy people, and his greatest ambition is to quit work at five on the dot. Oh my god, I’d crash the app with how fast I’d swipe left!

And I seriously doubt he’s actually interested in me. It’s probably more about the challenge of corrupting me, like he tries to corrupt Nate and Varsha and the rest of the gang. It’s the one and only place he seems to expend effort. That and his butt-dialing investigation.

He pulls in front of Sadler’s, a massive old-school shoe store in Brooklyn that caters exclusively to the trades and women who came of age in the 1970s. This is where they have the regulation stuff.

We get out of the truck and head down the walk. My phone pings right when we’re coming up to the door. A text. It’s a screenshot of the zipper sample order, submitted twenty minutes early.

I’m stunned. They finished it? Already? I text with Renata some more, to make sure they got all the elements right. They did.

“Wow,” I say. I pocket my phone, gazing into the dusty display window, which contains work boots, loafers, ladies’ heels, and several cobwebs—and not the fun Halloween décor kind.

“What’s up?” Jack asks.

“They finished it.”

He regards me for a second, then puts on a face of shock. “Without you controlling the outcome? Is that even possible? Can Workaholic Barbie actually take a break now?”

“Screw off,” I say as we head in. “It’s just…kind of shocking.”

“Sometimes fewer cooks in the kitchen…”

“I know but it’s my recipe.” I text more questions and instructions. I can feel Jack’s gaze on me. “I’m not a control freak.” I look up and he’s just laughing.

My phone pings. It’s another piece of screenshot proof. I text back a smiley face and a thumbs-up and the word “nice” with many exclamation points.

“Don’t you have boots to buy?”

“Yeah, but…” He gestures around him like he’s waiting for something to happen.

“Let’s find the boot section.”

“Oh,” he says.

I look around and locate a sign. “Occupational footwear, second floor.”

“Right.” He follows me up a set of creaky stairs onto a floor with rows upon rows of shelving, like a crusty old library, but instead of books, it’s work shoes—white medical shoes, slip-resistant restaurant clogs, anti-fatigue slip-ons, waterproof utility boots, and more.

Jack stands there, seemingly mesmerized by the sheer volume of shoes and boots for sale.

I find the section with steel-toed boots and call him over. “What’s your size?”

“How am I supposed to know? Maybe at some point the staff could rouse themselves to come out and trace my feet.”

“Trace your feet?”

“That is the first part of the process,” he says.

What is he talking about? What is this, the Middle Ages? “Just because the shipment got put to bed, it doesn’t mean I just want to mess around now. What size?”

“I’m sure it’s on file somewhere,” he says.

“What do you mean, on file?” I say.

He looks caught out.

“Do you seriously not know your own shoe size?”

“Not offhand,” he says almost indignantly.

I point at his sneakers. “What size are those?”

He looks down at them. I make him take them off. The size is worn away, of course.

“You suck at shopping more than the average man, even though that’s not saying much.” I grab a size twelve. “Sit down and hold this to the bottom of your shoe. See if it’s close.”

He complies.

He thinks people should trot out and trace his foot? Is it possible Renata’s right, and he’s just from the most backwards place possible? I thought Türenbourg was a sophisticated place, but tracing the foot? It’s a pre-industrial mode of measurement.

“Too small,” I say. “I’m thinking thirteen.” I take the shoes back and grab a thirteen.

“Are you really supposed to be rooting around up there?” he asks.

“No, you are. But apparently your incompetence and entitled white maleness literally knows no bounds.”

I throw the shoes at him, one after another. He catches them, laughing. He tries on a few pairs. We settle on a thirteen wide and bring them to the front. I check back into the office to make sure the package got picked up.

“Will that be all, sir?” the clerk asks him.

“Yes,” he says. “I’ll have these wrapped and sent around to the SportyGoCo offices. Jada, can you give him the address?”

I look up. “No, what? We’re taking them.”

“One hundred fifty-nine ninety-nine,” the man says.

Jack stares at him like a deer in headlights. “I’ll sign for them.”

“You’ll sign for them? This isn’t a hotel, Jack! This is the step where you pay.”

“Right. I didn’t bring money, though.”

“I’m sure they take credit cards or a payment app. You know, on your phone?”

“I didn’t think to bring anything like that,” he says.

“You have no money or credit cards and no payment app on your phone?”

“I didn’t expect to go shopping,” he says.

I pull my wallet out of my purse. I hand over a card. “Put it on here.”

“No! You can’t pay for it.” He takes the card from my hand, horrified. “I won’t have it—I won’t.”

“I don’t know how they shop where you’re from, but you actually have to pay for things here.”

“I’ll send for cash.”

“You’ll send for cash? What does that even mean? We have to get back,” I say. “Pay me tomorrow.”

“I can’t have you buying me shoes. I’m sending for the money.” He turns to the clerk. “We’ll be back with the cash in under thirty minutes. Does that work?”

The clerk is fine with it. Jack heads out, texting.

“You’re being silly,” I say, following him out to the sunny sidewalk. “Have the money sent to the office if you want it that way.”

“You aren’t buying me shoes. I draw the line at that. Thirty minutes.” He points to a small park. “We can sit there and wait.”

He seems strangely troubled by the prospect of my loaning him money to buy shoes. Is this a European thing?

We sit on a bench. There are kids on a nearby swing set. Some older men play chess. A guy’s doing a shell game near the fence for some unwitting tourists. Somebody’s selling artisan ice cream sandwiches. “Yum,” I say.

Jack follows the direction of my gaze and groans.

“So is that how they shop in the village where you’re from? You pick things and they get sent to you?”

“It depends,” he says vaguely.

“If you don’t have any form of money on you, how did you even get to work?”

“I took a car.”

“Like a Lyft?”

“A car.”

“That’s clarifying. And cash is being sent to you,” I say.

“My…uh…friend Arnold’s bringing it.”

“Oh, god! Arnold? I get to meet Arnold? What a treat that will be,” I say.

“Arnold’s a good guy,” Jack says.

“He sent you to work with a joke sandwich. After that ostentatious lunch. Who does that? Are you sure he’ll even come through with the money? Because he seems like he lives to mess with you.”

“Oh, he’ll come through,” Jack says.

My phone buzzes. More office business.

“I could win that game,” he says when I click off.

“What game? The shell game? No, you can’t. It’s a trick.”

“I’ve been watching.”

“They always have a guy there pretending to lose easy ones to make onlookers feel confident.”

“I’m telling you.” Before I can stop him, he gets up and goes over. “What’s the buy-in?”

“Five bucks,” the guy says.

He plunks his phone down on the table. “One game, please.”

“Jack, no!” I say. “You can’t gamble your phone!”

“Can and am.” He tips his glasses over his head and sits. The man grins and shows him the stone and then claps the cup back over it and shuffles them all around, hands lightning fast. He stops and looks up. Jack taps the end cup. The man frowns and lifts it. Relief floods through me as the man hands him a five.

“One more,” Jack says. He wins that one, too, and heads over to the ice cream stand. “They have your favorite,” he says, pointing to the cookie dough ice cream sandwich. “Right?”

“Yeah,” I say.

“Two, please.”

“Wow, thanks,” I say as he hands mine over, impressed by the sweet gesture. It’s weird, but welcome.

“Well, you can’t bitch about being away from the office for too long if you’ve got one of these stuffed in your mouth.”

I unwrap it. “You know what I think?” I ask.

“What?”

I take a bite and pause, enjoying the huge wad of cookie dough I got. “Mmmm,” I say, closing my eyes and luxuriating in the unexpected bounty. I open my eyes and find him watching me closely.

“What?” he asks again.

“You act like this growly villain, but I think your bark is a lot worse than your bite.”

“There’s only one way to find out about my bite.”

I sigh wearily. “Give it a rest.”

We watch some kids swing from afar and wander back to the bench.

“How’d you know you’d win?” I ask. “You know that guy brought his A game when you put down your phone.”

“It’s part of being a good driver,” he says. “You learn to soften your view and see everything at once. People who lose this game only focus on one thing. I see everything.”

“Except in the office.”

“I see plenty in that office,” he says. “People can’t keep things from me for long. As you’ll soon discover.”

“Dream on,” I say, because of course he’s talking about the butt-dialer here.

“I’ll get it out of somebody,” he says.

“That’s rich coming from a man who doesn’t know his own shoe size.”

Just then, a sleek black town car pulls up. An older man with a thick pelt of white hair gets out. Jack waves and the man heads over.

“Is that Arnold?” I ask.

“Yeah.”

I follow him, surprised. I suppose I expected more of a downtown financial-bro type.

“How much do you require, sir?”

“Two hundred,” Jack says.

“Very good, sir.” The man counts out a few twenties.

“Sir?” I say, coming up behind Jack. “Do you think that’s funny? Mocking him like that?” I demand.

Arnold looks bewildered. “I’m sorry—”

“It’s okay, Jada,” Jack says. “Arnold, this is Jada. We work together.”

“It’s not okay,” I say. “Listen, Arnold, Jack may not be as sophisticated and worldly as you are, and he may not understand how things work in contemporary society, but that doesn’t give you the right to make jokes at his expense.”

Arnold puts on a surprised face, as though he doesn’t understand.

“I mean, sir? You think that’s funny? Rolling up here in your limo and calling him sir? Jack can’t help where he’s from. My god, the man has never even been to a shoe store.”

“It’s okay,” Jack says, like it’s all so amusing.

“You shouldn’t let him patronize you, Jack.”

“Thank you, Arnold,” Jack says. Arnold nods and returns to his limo.

“Calling you sir,” I say. “He drives up in his posh car, like, who does he think he is? ‘Very good, sir.’ How obnoxious.”

“He’s not patronizing me or being obnoxious, I promise,” he says, like it’s so funny.

He goes over to the shell game table and gives the man a bill and then heads across the street to get the shoes while I text with Renata.


When I get back, I get a full report on the print-to-pattern sizing and zipper sample order. Apparently, they did everything just right. The project survived without me, which I only feel a little bit weird about.

Renata gives me a look that tells me there was a hitch. “What?” I demand.

“Bert came back around and seemed curious about what we were ordering zippers for,” she says.

“No!” I gasp.

“It’s fine,” Renata says. “Shondrella gave him a big freaking zipper smokescreen.”

“Good.” I lean on the cubicle. “You were right about so much—Jack’s friend Arnold? He really is a rich jackhole!”

“I knew it!” she says.

“I think that job experience was for sure made up.” I tell her about the shopping trip. “He doesn’t know his own shoe size.”

Renata does a dramatic double take. “What?”

“He didn’t know. He thinks they trace your foot. As if that’s how shoe shopping is done.”

Renata looks distressed. “Poor Jack.”

“He was also totally bewildered by the number of shoes, as if he’d never been in a shoe store in his life!”

Renata frowns. “Maybe he’s only ever had access to used shoes. Like a cartload of shoes gets pulled around and the people of the village try them on or something? A goat cart. And they all run out into the street when the goat cart comes.”

“Renata, your image of Europe is just bizarre!” I say.

“You weren’t there to hear him describe it. And Jack is out there trying so hard to find fashionable shoes, because he really does care—you can tell he’s trying to be fashionable,” Renata continues. “Putting together that outfit took some real work—that’s how hard he tries to escape his goat cart roots.”

“I think you just want him to have a goat cart in his life,” I say. “Or maybe you want a goat cart.”

“What about goat carts?” Shondrella says, coming up.

“It’s the poor rural village Jack is from.” Renata turns to me. “Is he from Türenbourg or did he just work there?”

“He worked and lived there, it sounds like,” I say.

“Türenbourg is one of the wealthiest and most sophisticated places in Europe,” Shondrella says.

“The US is one of the wealthiest nations on this continent and we still have pockets of truly desperate poverty.”

“I suppose.” Shondrella sounds unconvinced.

“I mean, tracing his foot? Like the town cobbler toddles out and traces people’s feet? And they use the tracing to sew a bit of leather into crude footwear? Maybe that’s why he’s so arrogant and disagreeable—he’s just trying to put a good face on things,” Renata says.

“Hell no,” I snort. “Jack is definitely not trying to put a good face on things. If anything, he enjoys putting a bad face on things. Jack hates being agreeable. He hates harmony.”

But then I’m thinking about the shell game guy. The way he returned the money that he won.

“You know who else traces the foot?” Shondrella points out. “Bespoke shoemakers. Bezos, that’s how he’d get shoes.”

“Maybe that’s it!” Renata laughs. “Jack has a bespoke shoemaker!”

We all laugh.

Renata looks over at Jack. “He has so much fashion potential, all completely squandered.”

“Not all of it,” I say, watching him move across the office like a panther. “He has very nice eyes when he takes off his glasses. Which, come to think of it, he did a couple of times.” I frown. He took them off for driving, he took them off for the shell game. He seems to remove them when he reads. “I wonder if his prescription might be wrong, because he takes them off when he wants to do something important.”

Renata watches him. “Maybe the glasses are secondhand, too. We so need to give him a makeover. I’d encourage him to get contacts, that’s for sure.”

Shondrella’s watching him, too. “He’d look good in the right clothes. He really would.”

“He’d look good in no clothes,” Renata says.

“Let’s cut this,” I say. “If it’s not okay for men to say this sort of thing about women in an office setting, it’s not okay for women to say it about men.”

“You’re right,” Shondrella says.

“Jada’s just against the makeover,” Renata says.

“I am against the makeover—very against it. You need to leave him be,” I say with more emotion than I intend.

Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Options

not work with dark mode
Reset