Butt-dialing the Billionaire: Chapter 22

Jaxon

Jada snorts and leans in closer, the maddening coconut and lilac scent of her washing over me. “So full of yourself.”

She’s so excruciatingly proper and perfect, and god, all of her disdain for me. And her bossy ways and her taunts and her workaholic pencil bun. And all I want to do is kiss her. I came for the butt-dialer, but I can’t stop with Jada.

And I have so many questions about her. Like what drives her to work so hard? Does she have hobbies? Favorite shows? A life outside of work?

“The big, bad villain and all his wrongness,” she says.

I lower my voice to a deeper register. “What fun would it be without villains like me? There would be nobody to hate on, nobody to talk about. Nobody to imagine doing wrong and outrageous things within the supply closet. The pleasure of forbidden things.”

“Actually, I’m thinking about the pleasure of preventing you from ever knowing the identity of the butt-dialer. The sheer enjoyment of it.”

“You don’t have a prayer.”

She leans in. “Oh, I have more than a prayer. I have my intention to personally stop you. I’ll do what it takes to protect and lift this family. I’ll play dirty if needed. I’ll bring you to your entitled Don Juan delivery driver knees if I have to.”

“Oh, I’ll go on my knees for you any day of the week. And I’ll lick you so good and so hard, you’ll be screaming.”

“With laughter.”

I smile. It occurs to me that thinking of her in doll terms is all wrong. She comes off as this perky, doll-like creature with pretty eyes and rosebud lips and proper fashion workwear and it makes people underestimate her. They don’t see her scrappy edge. Her steely spine. Her fierceness. She’ll do what it takes.

It makes me want her all the more. I’ve never wanted a woman so much.

“You’ll laugh and you’ll cry,” I whisper, pulse racing. “That’s how hard I’ll rock your world.” I show her my finger and my thumb. “And this finger and this thumb—you know what I’ll do with them while I take that pretty little pussy of yours? Can you guess where they’re gonna go? Do you have any idea how hard I’m gonna own you down there?”

She leans in closer, infuriatingly sexy. “Pretty little pussy? Somebody watches way too much low-rent porn.”

Energy flows through me.

For no reason at all, I’m remembering the speech I read to the Wycliff corporation after my parents’ deaths. Those asinine words echo through my mind unbidden. We must soldier on. Look to the future.

The butt-dialer cut through that speech like a hot knife through butter. Did an imitation that had everybody guffawing—at great personal risk to herself. Probably was angry that work got interrupted.

My mind starts spinning. What am I not seeing? Was I wrong to rule her out as the butt-dialer?

“That’ll be all,” she says to me suddenly. “You’re dismissed.”

I blink, uncomprehending. “What was that?”

“That’ll be all. You’re dismissed.” She grins.

Nobody’s ever said that to me. Nobody ever would. I can barely process the cognitive dissonance of it.

Renata and Dave have wandered over. “Hey! Both of you! You’re dismissed!” Renata says.

“No!” Dave fake punches Renata in the arm. “You’re dismissed!” He turns to me. “Sorry, no disrespect—it was so savage when you said that to Bert. Truly savage, my friend.”

Jada snorts. “Actually, I meant disrespect!” She’s glowing, cheeks pink. “I meant so much disrespect, it’s not even funny.”

“You have to admit it was hilarious you said that to Bert—on your first day,” Dave says. “‘That’ll be all. You’re dismissed.’ Bert didn’t know what to think!” They’re all laughing. “It’s in my top three favorite SportyGoCo moments of all time,” Dave continues. “Everybody has been dismissing each other around the office—haven’t you heard? It’s our new way to say fuck off.”

Lacey’s there suddenly. “That’ll be all, Dave. Dismissed.”

They’re dismissing each other.

What the hell? It’s so strange to hear other people say it. Strange that such a thing would become part of the fabric of this office. Part of the family lore. It makes me feel…oddly choked up.

“Not so sure how I feel about you all using my phrase,” I say breezily.

Jada is just laughing. “In that case, you’re double dismissed.”

“You can’t double dismiss,” I say.

Lacey crosses her arms. “Is a double dismissal a ‘come hither’?”

“No way,” I say. “Doubling it emphasizes it.”

“Oh, sorry to say, but it’s the equivalent of ‘not no,’ which is yes. So dismissing that notion.” Jada pokes my chest.

“I’m sorry, whose phrase is it?” I grab her finger and the jolt of our contact rocks me. “Mine.” I force myself to let her go.

“You don’t own it!” Lacey protests. “It belongs to all of us now.”

Jada has fallen uncharacteristically silent. She’s looking over my shoulder. Everybody has fallen silent. Everybody is staring at the doorway. Bert must be back, I think.

Bert caught us screwing around—me and my two demerits.

I’m thinking I’ll be fired, and I find that I don’t want to be fired. I don’t want to leave.

And then I turn, and something inside me collapses as I make sense of who I’m looking at.

It’s been twenty-some years. Her dark hair has gray streaks and her face is thinner, more defined, more regal somehow, but she still has the same warm eyes.

Nanny Jenny.

I swallow.

“Jaxon?” she says with a faltering smile.

Like a ghost, I’m moving toward her—if nothing else, to get her out of the office. “What are you doing here?”

“I had to come see you. I needed to see you. I wanted to explain things.”

“There’s no need,” I say in a calm voice, even as my belly twists around like a pretzel mobius.

“Of course there is,” she says.

I look behind me. People are resuming their positions in their cubicles, trying to act like they’re not paying attention, but we’re right there in the office doorway, so of course they’re paying attention. Varsha is typing away, also paying attention.

“Come on.” I lead Jenny out of the office and down the hall toward the open-air space that’s actually the rooftop of the neighboring building. I’m thankful nobody is out here at the picnic table or in the smoking corner. “Did Arnold call you? There really was no need.”

“Of course there was a need! You never even got the cards.” She’s staring at the mole. I can tell she wants to ask about it. She blinks, thinking the better of it, I suppose. “You probably thought I abandoned you without a second thought, Jaxon, but that’s not how it was. I never wanted to leave. I hated to!”

“Then why did you? Without so much as a goodbye,” I say before I can stop myself, because supposedly I don’t give a shit. I straighten up. “I understand that I was just a job to you, but it was bad form, that’s all. It’s customary to say goodbye.” I manage all of this quite unemotionally.

“Arnold told me the whole story. How everybody said I’d run off to join a boyfriend in a band on a world tour or something like that.”

I gaze out over the dirty facades of the buildings that line the street. It looks like a tunnel with no top from here.

“He told me how you’d refused to believe it. And then they agreed to put their private investigator on it to track me down to get you to stop worrying and that the PI confirmed the story of the boyfriend. But it was never true, Jaxon. They made you think I’d left without a second thought. But there was no boyfriend in a band.”

My blood races. “I see.”

“Jaxon,” she says, and she waits until I look up to her, all the better to fix me with the gaze that I remember so well—frank, open, and loving. I’m flooded with the memories of how it was with her. She was always so honest with me, always interested in what I thought about things, though I’m sure I was insufferable. We’d have long conversations, Jenny and me. We were curious about the world together. She was sad when I felt sad, and it made me feel less alone in that empty Manhattan townhouse. Or the times when we got dumped off in Monaco. Or worse, the summers in Türenbourg, the small principality in Central Europe where they bought the drafty old castle.

“You probably don’t remember Donnie, my twin brother,” she says. “He came by a few times when we were in town. He met us out at the zoo one time.”

I nod. Of course I remember Donnie. I was fascinated by Jenny’s family. I wanted to be in Jenny’s family. I would’ve traded it for anything.

“When you were around nine, Donnie became extremely ill with a neurological condition that the doctors could never diagnose, but one thing that we did know is that he benefited from some very expensive medicine and the kind of twenty-four-seven care that I couldn’t give him. One day your father came to me with an offer to pay for his treatment and round-the-clock nurses.”

“That doesn’t sound like Dad.”

“It was severance pay for my resignation, effective immediately. On the condition that I had no more contact with you.”

I turn to her. “Why?”

“Your father and I had a few confrontations,” she says. “I never knew exactly what was happening between you and your parents, but it wasn’t right, the way they treated you.”

She’d confronted him? She’d stood up for me? My blood races. “They never could stand it when somebody saw through their philanthropist bullcrap,” I say.

Jenny saw through it. Jenny knew. I thought I was the only one.

No wonder they dismissed her.

“You deserved better. You had such a big heart,” she whispers.

I’m feeling unmoored, suddenly. She knew. She was with me. I’m a puddle of emotions. I need to reorganize myself, somehow. I open my mouth, thinking to back her off with something pithy and scathing, maybe even a simple “that was then; this is now,” but the words don’t come.

“Your heart was too big,” she says. “That’s why you had to cover it.”

I finally get ahold of myself. “I was a child, Jenny. That isn’t me anymore, and really, this is all pointless.”

“You haven’t changed either,” she continues. “So headstrong and full of feeling. You were the most sensitive, passionate boy I had ever met, much as you tried to hide it.”

“People grow up,” I grumble.

She fixes me with that frank gaze. “I had to take the offer. Donnie would have ended up homeless or worse. He was my twin, and I couldn’t turn my back on him. He was my heart. But you were my heart, too.”

I nod, mouth dry.

“I wrote those cards because I wanted you to know that somebody was thinking about you out there. Somebody loved you. I loved being your nanny. I followed your career. Your parents kept me away, but I was always there. I was at one of your races—the one they held in Austin, Texas. They threatened to have me charged when they found out.”

My pulse whooshes in my ears. She’d attended a race?

“I’m so sorry, Jaxon. And I’m so sorry that they died,” she says.

“Well, you of all people should know what a non-tragedy that was,” I manage.

“You never got a chance to come to terms with them. You never got a chance to make things right together. Don’t pretend you didn’t want that—all children do. When I heard the news, I wanted to reach out to you. It was the first time I could reach out to you without worrying what would happen to Donnie, but I’d never heard from you, not even as an adult. I assumed you didn’t want contact with me. But then yesterday when Arnold called and told me the story, and that you’d never even gotten the cards I sent, I had to reach out to you.”

I can’t process any more of this Jenny tenderness. I’m a trapped animal, desperate for an exit from this conversation. “I need to get back,” I say.

She looks toward the door. “It’s nice to see you with your people. They obviously like and admire you—I could see from their faces, this found family of yours—”

“These people are not my family in any way, shape, or form. They barely know me.”

“I know what I saw,” she says. “The laughter. The affection they have for you is written all over their faces.”

“Probably just gas.”

“Oh, Jaxon.” She furrows her brow, and she swallows down whatever bullshit she was going to say next. Instead, she reaches into her bag and pulls out a red envelope, just a bit larger than the kind you mail, tattered on the edges. “I wanted to give you this.”

Warily I take the thing and peek inside. I only have to glimpse a corner to know that it’s the famous Türenbourg lawn photo featuring my parents and me, all fake smiles. I hand it back. “No, thanks.”

“Look closer.”

“I know what it is.”

“Look, Jaxon.”

I slip it out of the envelope, surprised to discover it isn’t the famous photo after all. It’s one of the discarded shots. In this version, I’m staring somberly into the camera. For much of the session that day, I’d refused to fake smile. It was leverage, of sorts—a misguided attempt to keep my parents there, to keep us together. I didn’t realize at that point that I was just a tool, a stepping stone. Eventually, my dad took me away for a talking-to that wasn’t a talking-to, and when we returned, I had a fake smile on my face and a good deal of blood under my clothes. They flew out that night.

I’m staring at it for an inordinately long time, this artifact from a lost history. The print is lower quality, or maybe my eyes are blurring. To think Jenny was there all that time, in my corner.

“This is the authentic shot. You longing for something real. With a heart so big…don’t let anybody tell you different.”

If she thinks she’s gonna get a hug, she needs to get her head examined, because I’m not the emotional chump she thinks I am. I’m Jaxon Eadsburg von Henningsly. Has she not been following the tabloids?

“I’m not that kid anymore.” I slide it back into the envelope and hold it out to her with a shockingly steady hand.

She refuses to take it. “Keep it.”

“I gotta get back to work. I’ll walk you to the elevators.”

She says, “I’m heading to the Catskills with my son, but when I return—”

So she has a son. Lucky for the son. I’m leading her down the hall, the route out of this madness. I’m focusing on the elevators.

“I know this is a lot—”

“I appreciate the visit.” I stab the down arrow. The thing opens almost instantly.

She gets in and turns, looking loving and concerned. The doors can’t close fast enough, but eventually they do.

I stand there in the empty hallway, face to face with my blurry reflection in brushed steel, holding that fucking red envelope. Why did she have to come?

It’s too much, too late.

I attempt to steady myself. Who is she, really? Just a woman who got paid to boss me around when I was a kid. She doesn’t know anything.

She kept the reject picture.

I turn to go back to the department and there’s Jada coming out the door, heading down the hallway toward me, concern all over her face.

More concern. It’s the last thing I need.

“Are you okay?” she asks.

“Why wouldn’t I be?”

“You looked stricken when that woman showed up. You still look—”

“Stricken?” I give her a fake smile. It’s one of my best, designed to cover how hard I’m reeling from Jenny’s pointless yet disturbing visit.

Jada comes to me. She reaches out and takes hold of my arm. Her hand is a hot brand on my arm and the ground seems to tilt.

I’m a kaleidoscope of desire for her, the most infuriating woman on the planet. She’s everything I hate, everything I want, all perfect lips and that perky warrior spirit.

I’ll do what it takes to protect, to lift this family. I’ll play dirty if needed.

God, she would’ve hated that pompous conference call speech more than anybody—maybe even more than I hated reading it into that microphone. The high-handedness of it, the hypocrisy, the work interruption.

“Seriously,” she says. “If you want to talk.”

“Why would I want to talk? Why would I want that?” I breathe in that coconut flower doll scent of hers. I’m drowning in that scent, unmoored.

It’s here that it comes to me—this wild notion that flies into my brain from somewhere across the universe and takes hold of me.

I draw in closer to her, lost in her clear hazel gaze. “And by the way, I know who you are.”

She lets my arm go. Wariness suffuses her expression—eyes a tad wider than usual, lips parted. I’m onto something. My mind spins. Could it be?

“What do you mean?” she asks.

“You’re the butt-dialer,” I say.

She covers her shock with a smile. Too late. “Me?”

I’m sure of it, now. Jada’s the butt-dialer. I’m reeling with every kind of emotion. Ocean waves churn and roil where my brain once was.

Jada, the woman who torments me, fascinates me, and energizes me—she’s the person I came to find and destroy.

“You,” I say.

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