Butt-dialing the Billionaire: Chapter 32


Jada

“You’re home early,” Kelsey says. She’s lounging on the couch next to Willow and Antonio, and Lizzie is on the floor. The four of them are watching one of their beloved true crime shows. “We just started. Want me to catch you up?”

“What about yoga?” I ask Willow.

“Blowing it off. There’s stuff for cherry Cokes on the counter—I’ll make you one,” Willow says.

Willow’s a techie who is always saying she has no understanding of chemistry unlike her famous chemist brother, Theo—but she makes a brilliant cherry Coke where she uses bitters and actual cherries.

“That’s fine.” I toe off my shoes and hang up my coat, body still buzzing from the sweet, sweet experience of being in Jack Smith’s competence-porn hands.

Jack Smith.

My body is into him; my heart is getting on board, but my brain is all waaaaaaait a moment! You like hardworking men who believe in something, and he’s a lazy office gopher who is sometimes an impressive delivery driver.

“You okay?” Willow asks.

“Sure! We, uh, got a half-day. I had to do some deliveries with Jack and be his overseer, so then we grabbed a bite afterward.”

“Oh my god, the magnetic yet fashion-challenged wild boy who’s alarmed by vending machines?” Kelsey sits up. “Can he even drive in the city traffic?”

“He’s an amazing driver. And he’s not a wild boy.”

“When are we getting our picture?” Lizzie asks.

“Oh, right. Actually, my coworker got one.” As soon as it’s out of my mouth, I wish I hadn’t said it. The whole idea of showing them a picture of Jack was to shock and amaze them with the fact that his style is as outlandish as I’d described. I don’t want that now.

“A wild boy?” Antonio asks.

“Jada’s mysterious new coworker,” Kelsey says. “He’s a hot guy with the worst fashion ever, raised in a poor, rural village somewhere in Europe.”

“And he was all, ‘What is this strange thing that you have here called a vending machine that you have here?’” Willow puts in.

“What are you talking about?” Antonio asks. “Vending machines are all over Europe.” As an international male model from Italy, Antonio is an expert on all things European.

“Maybe they don’t have them in goat cart and mud hut villages,” Kelsey says.

“We don’t know his village was like that,” I say. “All we know is that it’s rural, and people live in crumbling medieval homes without proper heating systems.”

Antonio furrows his expertly coiffed, male-model brows. “Where exactly is this guy from?”

“He’s cagey about where his home is,” I explain. “He says he’s lived all over. It seems like he might not have a true home. I know he lived at one point in a village in Türenbourg in some sad crumbling structure at one point.”

Antonio nearly chokes on his drink. “Türenbourg is one of the wealthiest and most sophisticated nations in the EU. The only place you can find goat carts in Türenbourg is a petting zoo, cara.”

“I’m sure they have people without homes in Türenbourg,” Lizzie says.

“There are people without homes in New York,” Antonio says, “but you don’t see them hauling things around in goat carts.”

“For the record, he never specifically said goat carts,” I say. “That’s my coworker’s impression.”

“So? The picture?” Willow presses.

I clutch my phone. This thing that Jack and I have together, it’s new and tender and secret and wild and good. My friends will see a dork in an unfashionably loud shirt, but he’s so much more. He’s clever and fun and sexy…

“Well?” Kelsey’s standing now.

“You can’t laugh. There’s more to him than meets the eye. Once you get to know him, he’s clever and interesting, and—”

“We won’t laugh, okay?” Kelsey says. “Come on.”

“Please?” Lizzie begs.

I find the pictures that Renata sent me. I cue up the one where he’s standing next to his cubicle, one arm draped over the top of it, talking to somebody just out of the frame. It’s a good picture if you look past his weird hair, too-small glasses, and possibly cancerous mole. But my favorite thing about the image is his playful, swaggery expression, what I think of as his jousting expression, where he’s frowning, square jaw set just so, but his eyes are smiling. It’s the look he gets when I call him on his shit. I’m smiling, looking at the picture. Even with the silly glasses, you can see the sparkle in his eyes.

It really is a good picture of him, fashion fail and all.

“Hold the presses!” Kelsey’s standing in front of me. “You like the wild boy?”

“He’s not a wild boy!”

“I am looking at you mooning over an image of him!” Kelsey says.

“I’m not mooning! But, I mean, yes, I like him well enough. He’s fun and smart—”

“And magnetic and villainous, if I recall.”

“He’s complex,” I say. “He’s so much more than he seems. He’s not the kind of guy that would wear these clothes. I don’t know what to say…being that yes, he is wearing these clothes…”

“Oh my god, show us already! We won’t laugh,” Willow says. “You have to show us now, though.”

I hand my phone to Kelsey, wincing inwardly.

She blinks at the screen. “Damn! You weren’t kidding about the nineties hair. Did he steal these glasses from NSYNC?”

“Hey!” I say.

“Sorry!”

I swipe so she can see the other two photos—one of him with his glasses off and one while he was standing at the watercooler with Shondrella. That one’s good because his profile is striking—Greek-statue striking—all fierce lines and pleasing symmetry.

She hands the phone to Willow.

“What the hell! Is he, like, being funny? With the glasses?” Willow asks.

“No,” I say sadly. “He’s been there for weeks. This is how he comes to work every day.”

“Not every man can be as fashionable as Antonio,” Willow says grinning over at the model himself.

“Many try, few succeed, stellina,” Antonio replies, scrolling through his own phone. “Can we get back to the show anytime soon?”

Lizzie goes over and grabs the phone. “Wow. Way to go against the tide. This really shows commitment. He just doesn’t give a shit!”

“That’s his thing,” I say. “He truly doesn’t give a shit. Outward appearances aren’t a value of his. Definitely not a shopper. I had to take him shopping for work boots and it was like he’d never been in a store before.”

“There was a wild boy found in France in the nineties,” Kelsey says.

“Dude, no!” I say.

“Bleached tips,” Kelsey says.

“Okay.” Antonio holds out his hand. “I need to see.”

“You have to look past the ensemble.” I pass it over.

“Maybe it’s so uncool that it actually is cool and we just don’t know it,” Willow says. “That does happen.”

Antonio furrows his brow at the photo. “What the hell?!”

I say, “He’s totally hot if you look past the getup, don’t you think? If anything, I think the fact that he can wear such a dorky outfit and still look good shows how hot he actually is. This girl at work wants to give him a makeover but—”

Ma che cazzo!” Antonio sounds outraged. “Are you fucking kidding me?”

A surge of protectiveness wells up in me. “He doesn’t look that bad!” I stomp over and hold out my hand. “Give it here.”

“You can kind of see his handsomeness, right, Antonio?” Willow nudges Antonio. I hadn’t realized they were so chummy.

Antonio swipes through the other two with a stunned expression. “This man works at your office? Since when?”

“A few weeks.”

Antonio has the strangest look on his face, like he’s offended or something.

I say, “You may not think much of his looks, but he’s witty and charming.”

“What is this guy’s name?” Antonio demands. “Could it be Jaxon, by any chance?”

I frown, surprised, because I hadn’t mentioned his name. “Jack,” I say. “Jack Smith.”

“Uh-huh,” Antonio says. He pulls out his own phone with a shit-eating grin. “Jack Smith? Dai!

“What?”

He hands me his phone, which has a picture of a dark-haired man standing next to a low-to-the-ground racing car. He’s clutching a helmet in his hand, and the stands behind him are full of people.

Antonio wiggles his thumb and forefinger together. “Enlarge it. Enlarge the man’s face. Tell me if he looks familiar.”

I enlarge the picture and my belly drops through my feet. It’s Jack, or at least somebody who looks an awful lot like Jack, minus the mole and the little glasses. And the bad hair. “I don’t understand.” I grab my phone and compare the two. “It’s him but…what the hell?”

Kelsey comes and stands next to me. “Twin brothers?”

It’s the obvious conclusion, but I know those eyes. I know that smile. I know that left-side dimple and that slyly humorous expression. And who names their twins Jack and Jaxon? I look up at Antonio. “What the hell?”

“You’ve got Jaxon Eadsburg von Henningsly, asshole extraordinaire, working at your office.”

“Why…” I can barely breathe. “Jaxon Eadsburg von Henningsly…I’ve heard that long name.”

“Jaxon von Henningsly is notorious,” Antonio says. “He’s the only son of one of the most admired and wealthy families on the continent. It’s a cliché to wonder how such a bad kid came from such fine parents. Some ten years ago he was a promising young Formula One driver, but then he attacked Tybalt Gundrun, everybody’s darling. He knocked Tybalt out and completely destroyed the man’s career—gave him a detached retina from the fight. Jaxon was barred from ever racing again, but he’s never far from the spotlight. Billionaire bad boy and all that. Tabloids love him.”

“A billionaire bad boy?” I say.

“Maybe it’s not him,” Kelsey says softly. “Everybody has a twin.”

“No, it’s him,” I say, mind spinning. “Oh my god! Why would he work at our office in disguise?”

“Nobody knows why Jaxon von Henningsly does anything. Gambling and dancing in nightclubs and attacking paparazzi…” Antonio waves a hand as though the list is too long and wearying to recite. “Jaxon’s always good for a stupid brawl or biting commentary on perfectly nice people. Tybalt Gundrun was my favorite driver. I’d like to show Von Henningsly exactly how I feel about that,” Antonio growls.

“But to come to New York and work at our company? Why would he do that?”

“Bored and in need of laughs, no doubt,” Antonio suggests. “Now that his parents are dead, he’s richer than god and the world is his playground.”

I gasp as I put it all together. Jack is the new owner. The billionaire racecar-driving son. It was him on that conference call.

Kelsey looks concerned—I’m sure I’ve gone white as a sheet. “What?”

“Remember back in September when the new SportyGoCo owner did that company-wide call? And I was goofing around and making fun of him afterwards, and it turned out that the phone had butt-dialed him back?”

“Right, and he heard the whole thing,” Willow says. “Hi-larious.”

“And Bert went on that witch hunt.” Kelsey’s jaw drops. “Your guy’s not actually him…”

“Oh yes. Yes indeed. That’s him.” I wrap my arms around myself. “This would explain his interest in the butt-dialer’s identity. What the hell. Is he here for vengeance? On me? Would he be so cruel?”

“He would,” Antonio growls.

“Honey.” Kelsey grabs my forearm with both hands. “We’ll protect you from that asshole.”

Too late. My mind races with images of kissing him. The way he touched me in the van. The sparkling intimacy and closeness I felt with him. It’s all fake?

“Let me get this straight,” Lizzie says. “This Jack guy is the owner of your company, pretending he’s one of his own employees to get back at you? Jesus, who does that?”

“The man is depraved,” Antonio says.

My pulse whooshes in my ears. I’m shocked. Enraged. Bewildered. Most of all, I’m mortified. I can’t stop replaying scenes of us double-parked outside in the truck. The whole thing with our game. Snippets of conversation from our time at the restaurant. The painful things I told him about my family. And what did he really tell me? Almost nothing.

Jack made me feel free and bold and a little bit like a princess. I felt new. Happy. Excited. Sexy.

And he was laughing the whole time.

“How could he?” I whisper hoarsely.

“So he’s pretending to be a fellow employee as part of a plan to unmask and punish the butt-dialer?” Willow asks.

“He already knows it’s me,” I say. “We’ve been hanging out and having all of this fun—”

“You kissed him,” Lizzie guesses.

I throw up my hands. It’s impossible to hide anything from my girls. “Yes, I kissed him.”

“I will kill him,” Antonio growls. “I will rip him apart.”

“You can’t,” I say. Antonio and I dated briefly, but now he’s more like a brother—an angry, protective brother. Exactly what I don’t need.

“If he knows you’re the butt-dialer, why not just fire you?” Kelsey says.

“Too easy. He prefers to toy with his prey,” Antonio says.

I’m not a good person. Jack had said that over and over. I should have listened.

Everything falls into place. Like the way he said, “That’ll be all, you’re dismissed!” to Bert. That’s probably how he talks to everyday people! And his ignorance of office operations. His driving chops. Does he know Bert? Is he in cahoots with Bert?

“And I know this is a minor detail, but excuse me, that outfit?” Lizzie says. “That’s what he thinks Americans wear? Is there anything not jerky about this guy?”

I put Jaxon Eadsburg von Henningsly in the search bar on my phone and spin through the images. There’s Jack in a tuxedo. Jack on a yacht—his own, no doubt. Jack with beautiful models. My belly churns. There are tons of pictures of him out there, and he looks good in all of them. There’s him at his parents’ funeral, all dressed in black. This picture is from some financial newspaper under the headline: “Wycliff Takes a Hit Over Investor Fears.”

“Well, his parents had just died. And I made fun of him.”

“So he comes after you?” Kelsey says. “That’s a bit much.”

My friends are watching, waiting.

“Yeah, it is a bit much. You can go back to your TV show,” I say morosely.

“As if.” Willow stomps to the kitchen to make me a cherry Coke while Kelsey describes an extended fantasy that involves Smuckers biting Jack in the face. Willow returns and sets down my souped-up Coke. “We are taking care of you.”

“Thanks,” I say.

“Stop scrolling. Put down the phone and walk away,” Lizzie says.

“I can’t.” I keep spinning through the images. I land on one of him at some kind of fancy restaurant. So this is the real him—wavy dark hair, sexy white suit, arm draped over a booth backrest the way he likes to do.

“We were on this wavelength…it felt real. But he’s a billionaire and I’m a nobody to him.” I look up at the sweet, concerned faces of my friends. “It couldn’t be real, could it?”

“Piece of shit,” Kelsey says, holding her hand out for my phone.

I can’t give it up just yet. There’s another picture where he’s a young kid. He’s sitting with a man and woman who must be the parents. A smiling family on a brilliant green lawn in front of a majestic castle.

Willow sits on the armrest next to me. “I’ve seen that before. I think that’s a famous picture, like from TIME Magazine or something.”

“He told my officemate that their family lived for a while in a crumbling and drafty medieval place that leaks. We assumed it was a sad little village ruin. But it’s a castle. He was talking about a castle.”

“Home sweet castle,” Lizzie says from behind me. “A happy little family.”

“Not really. That’s his fake smile,” I say.

“He looks pretty happy to me,” Willow says.

“He isn’t—his eyes give it away,” I say. “Also, his real smile has this one dimple.”

“What are you going to do?” Kelsey asks. “Are you going to confront him?”

“You must give him hell!” Antonio says.

I stand and toss the phone onto the couch, reeling. I go to the window and gaze down at the gloomy courtyard. “I don’t know if I can face him. He was laughing at me the whole time…I feel sick. Maybe I should just quit.”

“Screw that!” Kelsey says. “That company needs you! Those people are your second family, and this jackass can’t ruin that for you.”

“Of course he can ruin it for me. He owns it!” I say. “I’m sure he approves of everything that’s going on there. He acted so mad at Bert, but they’re probably laughing behind our backs! Good friends, yucking it up while they destroy SportyGoCo. All of our hard work. All our dreams with Wonderbag.”

Kelsey says, “I’m so sorry.”

“Thank you,” I say. “Wait—you know what? Screw it. I’m going into work just like normal. I’m gonna keep going forward, keep trying my best. Be with the people who mean everything to me. He can take away my dignity, and he can close the place down and fire us all after he gets bored of taking vengeance, but he will never take my loyalty to those people there. Maybe our ship is going down, but I’m gonna goddamn go down with it, fighting the whole way!”

Lizzie claps. “You take the high road, girl. Act as if.”

“Doing the right thing is always the right thing,” Kelsey says.

“I’m kind of surprised anybody bought that mole of his. It looks so totally fake,” Willow says.

“Fake as a three-dollar bill,” Antonio says.

Willow’s been teaching Antonio American idioms, and this one makes her grin.

“No wonder Jack didn’t want to see a dermatologist.” I sigh. “We talked about getting an office screening going, and he was not enthusiastic. It would’ve been funny to see him squirm for once.”

“That would be funny. Why not pull one together?” Kelsey says.

“He’d just opt out,” I say.

Willow gets a mischievous look on her face. “Well…is it possible that we know somebody who might play a dermatologist? Somebody who might be willing to show up and do an office screening? And maybe have a few things to say about the mole?”

All eyes turn to Antonio.

“No. You guys!” I say. “No!”

Antonio sits up. “I am passionate about skin care, my friends,” he says. “I have many feelings about a mole such as this. On such a smug face as his.”

Willow snorts.

“You can’t,” I say.

“Your boss is out Thursday afternoons, right?” Kelsey says. “That would be perfect! We need a lab coat and some kind of privacy screen.”

“We’re not having a fake skin screening tomorrow,” I warn.

“Jaxon von Henningsly is plaguing one of my friends?” Antonio growls. “I will play the most passionate dermatologist you can imagine. I will inspect that mole—that, I promise you. I will inspect the stuffing out of his mole.”

“You are not coming to my office as a fake dermatologist,” I say.

“Why not? What’s he gonna do, fire you?” Kelsey says.

I point at Antonio. “Also, do we really want this face to get in a brawl with a notorious brawler?”

“Don’t you worry, I know how to handle men like that.” There’s a gleam in his eye. “I am feeling very animated by my passion for skin care.”

“Marni on the first floor has a white coat from when she worked at Saks skincare counter!” Lizzie’s fingers are flying over her phone—texting Marni, presumably.

“Seriously. It’s a funny idea, but no. This is me officially forbidding it.”

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