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Butt-dialing the Billionaire: Chapter 41


She gives me a chopping knife and shows me how to chop the parsely properly.

We work side by side while she regales me with past feats of creating tasty dinners out of nothing. She wants me to get how resourceful she is, but what I’m also getting is how little she had growing up, and not just on a material level. Her dad and brothers provided the bare minimum while she made a home.

She’s at the stove sautéing garlic in butter.

“Did they ever thank you for all that you did? For putting your life on hold?” I ask as I slide the bright green bits into a small bowl.

She stands there concentrating on the pan. “My dad sort of did. I was back there one Christmas and he told me he regrets not being more present for me. Not doing more. My brothers were there. They talked about how they didn’t realize how much I was doing until I was gone. They were laughing about how bad things got once I left. I was glad they realized it. I felt vindicated, I suppose. But at the same time, I wanted more.”

“That’s not much of an apology,” I say.

“Maybe it was the best they could do. People are at the level that they’re at.” She sets a hunk of cheese and a grater in front of me.

“You deserved better,” I say, starting to grate.

She shrugs and turns back to her cooking.

I love watching her. I can’t believe I ever thought she was a buzzkill. This is a woman who would burn it all down for her people.

We bring our little feast up to the third floor to eat. It’s delicious. Mind-blowingly so.

She turns sideways on the couch and settles her legs over mine, holding her bowl in her lap atop a colorful cloth, the fabric of which she naturally had lots to say about. “This is fun, Jack.”

“It is fun.”

After we’re done, I take our bowls to the kitchen and lock the place up; when I return, she’s curled up on the couch, asleep. I take the napkin from her lap and set it aside, then I scoop her up and carry her to my bed. I work off her shoes. She snuggles deeply into the covers.

I stretch out next to her and tuck her in just so, and there’s that feeling again, like we’re connected.

I let it live inside of me, a terrifying companion.

She makes me happy—happier than I’ve ever felt. And unlike possessions and races and social intrigues and whatever the hell else used to make me happy, this happiness is completely out of my control. I would fight for this woman. I would do anything for this woman and for this work family she’s so attached to. It’s my family, too, I guess—hat and all.

I’m not sure how to navigate around it yet. I’m not sure if it even works for me. All I know is that she’s all I want.

I wake up the next morning to find her sitting up, doing things on her phone, wearing my shirt again.

“Oh my goodness, look who’s up!” she says, beaming. “The man whose foot tracing is on file with the finest shoemakers in Milan!”

I drag her back under the blanket and cover her with my body. I thread my fingers into her hair and kiss her.

“Hmm,” she says into the kiss. Somewhere in the distance, her phone clatters to the floor. She winds her hands around my neck and hooks a leg over my side, arching into me.

“That’s right, baby,” I say. “You grind into me. Get yourself ready for me. My foot tracings are huge, you know.”

“Oh, I know,” she says, moving hard against me like a horny teen, and I couldn’t love it more. My body is flooded with warmth and lust. My fingers are a blur as I rip my shirt off of her. We’re a tangle of limbs, then she’s on top of me, sliding on a condom.

She lowers herself onto me slowly, watching my eyes. I grab her hips, shuddering with the relief of being inside her again. We move together, slow and sure. We come so hard, we nearly fall off the edge of the world.

Jada’s in the day room when I come out after my shower, all scrubbed and dressed. She’s holding a steaming mug of coffee and I kind of can’t believe it.

I love her in my home. I need her to stay the weekend. But what the hell do couples do on weekends together? Is that what we are?

More new territory.

“I made a pot,” she says, lifting her mug. “I hope that’s okay.”

“We’ll have to hide it before Chef Ursula returns.”

She shows me her phone. “Guess what bag got press already?”

I settle in next to her and take a look. The two Genevieves came through in a major way. Jada’s already compiled links and emailed the gang from the office. “And tonight is the gala. If even one of them carries the bag… You have no idea what a coup this is!”

“They’ll carry the bags,” I say.

“Because you’re such a demon who nobody wants to owe.”

I shrug.

“The only thing that can go wrong now is if Bert has an alert set up for SportyGoCo. But even if he does, he can’t stop people from ordering it. He signed off on the project as long as it had the Ravaldi zipper.”

We’ll need a lot of orders to get this accounting period profitable so I can break that contract, but this is a start.

We drink our coffee while she tells me the office plans. The salesperson, Mackenzie, is working up a new pitch with the help of Shondrella.

It’s here I notice her eyeing the distinctive red envelope that Jenny had brought me that day. Of course Jada would notice and remember. I’d set it on the side table when I’d gotten home, and it’s still there. It’s like a sign. Here’s what couples do—they tell each other things. They show real things.

“I know you wanna ask about it,” I say.

“No. Well, a little. But it’s more that I was concerned because that woman who visited you at the office…you looked like you saw a ghost when she showed up.”

I go grab the thing and sink back down next to her. “That was Jenny who came to visit me that day. She was my nanny for a long time. She traveled with us between continents. She was one of the best things in my life, the closest thing I had to a real mother.”

“I’m glad you had somebody like that,” she says.

I slide my finger along the edge of the envelope, thinking I owe Jenny an apology for the way I was that day.

“She left our family abruptly, and it really messed me up. She didn’t leave of her own volition, but I didn’t know that until recently.”

I unwind the string from the little disk clasp thing and pull out the picture, still curled from when I rolled it up and shoved it in my pocket. There’s me, looking so morose with my smiling parents.

Jada grins. “Oh, Jack.”

“What, you like it?”

“Way better than the other. This one is you,” she says.

“It’s me to look morose?”

“No, but the famous one is fake. Were you morose that day?”

“It started out happy. They flew in special for the photo session. I hadn’t seen them in months, and they had presents for me, but I knew they’d leave after they got the nice picture, so I refused to smile. Frowning was all I had for leverage.”

“You wanted your parents to stay,” she says. “To be a family.”

I cringe inwardly, hating that I wanted anything from them. “And then they got the smile,” I say. “Not in the traditional way.”

She nods. She gets it. She gets me. A warmth blooms in my chest.

“And of course they took off again.”

“No wonder you hate that stupid fake smiling picture of yourself.”

“I do. It’s a picture of me capitulating. I should’ve held out.” I take the photo from her hands and slip it back into the envelope. Jada lies down with her head in my lap, this woman from across the ocean with her fierce powers of observation and her good-girl wicked streak. She knew it was fake.

“Jenny liked this one. It’s why she kept it. She told me I was headstrong and full of feeling. ‘Such a big heart,’ she’d said.” I chuckle.

“I think it’s true.” Jada runs a finger over my jaw. “I think you’re still like that.”

“Is that a little bit of pishful pinking?”

“No.” She pokes my chin.

I grab her finger. “I think my new PR agent is blowing smoke up my ass.”

“Not at all. You were like, ‘Fuck this, I want a real thing or just burn it all down.’ That’s how you are now. Honestly, you have no concept of yourself. Also, how come you let that smiling picture of you stay up in the dining room? I hate it now, too.”

“Yeah, Arnold’s got an art installer coming to deal with it soon.”

“We should rip it down. I don’t ever want to look at it again.”

I smooth back her hair, marveling at how hard she fights for people. And this is her fighting for me. The feeling is like nothing else.

Unless… Is this what it feels like to finally find a home?

“What?” she asks, because I’m sure I’m looking sappy.

“I love your warrior streak,” I say.

She snorts and sits up. “Seriously—here’s a plan for the day. Let’s bring the picture Jenny saved and get it blown up onto a large canvas at one of those instant photo places, and then we’ll switch the pictures ourselves. Screw the art installer. And then we can have a nice feast in the dining room to celebrate.”

“What kind of feast?” I ask, twirling her hair around my finger, something nervous and excited bubbling up in my stomach.

“Any feast you want, baby. Isn’t that how it works here?”

I smile.

In the end, it’s a feast of curry dishes. Chef Ursula is excited that I have a guest for dinner, and she does it up with several courses. We’re both starving by the time we finally eat, having walked all up and down the Upper West Side without a break, unless you count grabbing a quick falafel from a halal guy and eating it on the steps of a city building while we waited for the canvas to get printed and mounted.

After our curry extravaganza, we get Chef Ursula to take a picture of Jada and Arnold and me doing a jokey pose in front of the new version of the photo. I email it to Jenny, thanking her for bringing it. I ask her to let me know her travel plans, and tell her I’d love to get dinner when she’s back in town.

Arnold joins Jada and me for dessert. Jada tells him the story the office had worked out about him as my tormenter. She and Arnold think it’s a lot funnier than I do.

On Sunday morning we end up at Jada’s apartment, which is ridiculously small but big in color, with lots of wild pillows and friend photos. She gives me the tour of the place in a jokey way, because it’s only one room with a murphy bed, which we promptly put to use.

Later, we head up to the rooftop deck—it’s one of those bright, warm, late autumn afternoons you can only get in Manhattan. She wants me to see the sparkle of the river.

The rooftop deck is actually nice, with umbrellas and trellises and a few seating areas. There’s an elderly couple at a wind-protected table in the corner. Naturally, Jada knows them, and has to drag me over and introduce us. I learn that John and Maisey were featured heavily in the apartment building documentary that Jada made some time ago. A couple of her friends pop up—Kelsey and Tabitha. Tabitha is deeply offended by my bleached-tip hair.

“It would take so little to fix that,” she says. “Not to insult you, but it would take so little—just the simplest trim—and it would look so much better.”

“Not to insult me,” I joke.

Everybody here seems to know who I am—from Jada, not the tabloids or anything. We talk about the possibility of my going into work looking like my regular self—without my mole, even.

“Nobody’s gonna recognize you,” Jada assures me. “Nobody knows Formula One here.”

“Is that a shampoo?” Tabitha teases.

The consensus is that people won’t recognize me, but they might think it’s weird that my mole is completely gone, though Tabitha insists that mole removal techniques are that good these days.

John, the neighbor with gray hair, informs us that Formula One is growing in popularity due to the show, but it’s not big in Manhattan, and few of the fans obsess over the history of it. He does, however, seem to know about Mario Andretti.

Over the next hour, the group of them put up holiday lights while Tabitha gives me a trim—right out there on the roof, with a towel pinned around my shoulders.

We chat easily as she snips away.

I used to consider myself to be somebody who had a giant world. But ever since I’ve crossed paths with Jada, it’s as if my world has grown much wider—not in terms of geography, but in terms of people.

I look across the place and catch Jada’s eye. She smiles, and I smile back like a fool, but I don’t care, because it feels great.

And right then, this strange thought crosses my mind: I’m not alone anymore.

But then this little voice wonders if it can last. The little voice wonders if having people is maybe only for other people. And what happens when this inevitably goes away?

I close my eyes and push the questions out of my mind.

Stanley drops us at the bagel place near the office. We phoned in an order for ten dozen mixed bagels and tons of toppings.

“So now suddenly I’m buying all the food,” I joke as we head down Eighth Avenue, both carrying boxes.

“That’s right,” Jada says. “Until you can change things to give raises to your employees, you’ll need to feed them.”

I roll my eyes, but I’m happy to do it. It’s also nice not wearing my itchy fake mole and that bright shirt.

We stop at the security station so that Marv can pick bagels for his team. We drop two boxes off in shipping, and then it’s up to the design department.

“Jack bought the office bagels,” Jada tells Varsha as we breeze in. “We should put them in the break room. There’s a shit ton if you want to alert people.”

“Thanks…uh…” Varsha’s blinking at me, looking stunned.

“What’s up?” I tease, stacking the boxes up on the ledge.

“Nothing!” she says.

“Nothing?” I take off my hat and coat.

“Stop teasing her,” Jada scolds, beaming at me. “Jack got his hair cut and his mole removed. I think he looks great.”

“Right!” Varsha says, eyes wide. “Wow. Not that you didn’t look okay before.”

“And no more printed nineties shirts,” I say to Varsha with a sigh. “Even the glasses. Gone.”

“Hell yeah, the glasses are gone,” Jada says.

Renata comes up, looking shocked. “Hold on. What. The. Hell.” Renata’s pointing at me, and then at Jada, and then back at me. “What is happening? Who…”

I wince—I was afraid of somebody recognizing me.

Renata turns her accusatory gaze to Jada, hands planted on her hips. “Did you give Jack a makeover? Jack, did she give you a makeover?”

“Sort of,” I say.

“So much for respecting his right to be weird looking,” she says to Jada.

Everybody’s gathering around. Shondrella is loving the change. Lacey is blown away by the perfection of the mole removal—she can’t believe there’s no scar.

Luckily, Dave comes up before everybody gets too obsessed with the no-scar thing. He does a full pantomime of his surprise, complete with a staggering walk and a cartoonish rubbing of the eyes. “Dude! This is some caterpillar-to-butterfly-level shit right here! Caterpillar to butterfly!”

“Does nobody care that warm bagels are growing cold?” Jada asks.

People adjourn to the break room. There’s a lot of feasting and scrolling for more links to pictures of Unicorn Wonderbag—they’re all over certain corners of the internet.

At around ten, Mackenzie from sales comes up to let us know Sadie Woo wants a meeting.

Jada claps. “Paydirt!”

Sadie Woo is apparently a small group of high-end stores.

This rush of pleasure warms me clear through. I never knew I could feel so good about another person’s happiness. It’s as uncomplicated as a mountain stream, this pleasure I feel, seeing her excited. She loves this company. These people. And she really fucking loves that bag.

“They called me,” Mackenzie adds. “Not the other way around. They called me! We’re set up for three. They want to see the bag and meet the team.”

“Wait, what?” This throws Jada for a loop. “The team?”

Mackenzie shrugs. “The designer and, I don’t know. They said the team.”

Everybody turns to Shondrella, who always seems to know about these things. “Let’s give them a team.”


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