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Butt-dialing the Billionaire: Chapter 43


People might be getting suspicious about my buying so many treats for the office over the next week. They sometimes act surprised as they thank me effusively, and I know they’re wondering how I do it on my gopher’s salary.

That Thursday, I instruct Soto to have the legal team check to see if there’s a way that Wycliff can supply office treats. We can’t supply treats, but one enterprising lawyer noticed that one of the few things that the contract didn’t give Bloxburn sway over is celebrations.

I direct somebody in Wycliff PR to do a monthlong sportswear maker celebration that involves elaborate company lunches being sent into every department, and a generous happy hour celebration budget that includes unlimited food. When Bloxburn complains, they are referred to my spokespeople, who tell them I’m on extended leave but they can leave a voicemail, which they do, reminding me that these celebrations undermine the spirit of the contract my parents created with them.


We continue to pull as a team, going through the motions of being a company with no orders or decent products on the horizon while furiously producing Wonderbag prototypes and sales materials.

Jada and I get into a routine of taking long walks after work. We sleep mostly at my place, but occasionally we stay at hers. This involves one evening visit to her friend Kelsey’s apartment to watch The Bachelor and eat pizza.

Jada and I are on the couch drinking some kind of awful pink drink that Tabitha made when Dr. Tonio himself comes in.

I frown and turn to Jada. “What’s Dr. Tonio doing here?”

She puts her hand over her mouth.

“What’s going on?”

He comes up to me. “I see you got rid of it.”

I stand. “You’re not my doctor.”

Kelsey stands and links arms with him. “He’s nobody’s doctor! This is just our friend.” She introduces him as Antonio, an Italian fashion model here to break into acting.

And even though this was billed as galpal Bachelor night, Antonio is apparently an honorary galpal, as is a dog named Smuckers.

Antonio comes right up to where we’re sitting on the couch. “I’m cool with you for Jada’s sake, but the way you went after Tybalt Gundrun? Not forgiven.”

I stand. “Best decision I ever made.”

Antonio glowers.

Jada stands up and pokes me. “Tell him what happened!”

I narrow my eyes. “His face needed a fist.” Because I grovel to no man.

“Stop it!” She turns to Antonio. “Tybalt Gundrun sabotaged Jack’s pit crew and endangered his team. And he can prove it, but he’s too stubborn.”

“Why wouldn’t you prove it?” Antonio asks.

“Why would I bother? The jury was out, and I pander to nobody.”

Jada groans. “Come onnnnnn.”

I sigh. Annoying as it is, I do suddenly care what Jada’s friends think, so I explain the whole thing. How my pit crew guy had brought me the little chunk of plastic that was shaped like a bolt, designed to melt at high speeds. How the press was instantly against me, how it felt like begging, hat in hand, to try to prove my innocence when my career was done anyway.

“Was that so hard?” Jada teases. “He likes being the villain. He hates harmony, but I’m trying to break him of that.”

“I don’t trust harmony,” I say, thinking about it. “I don’t actually mind it.”

Antonio regards me strangely for a beat, and then he just laughs. “That is so you.”

“Grazie,” I say.

“You need to tell everybody,” Jada says. “You need to tell the press your story.”

“Screw that,” I say. “A man has his limits.”

“Such an uber-villain,” Jada teases.

“You’re dismissed,” I say to her.

“No, you are!”

I wrap my arms around her and pick her up. “You are,” I growl.

She’s laughing. I’ve never wanted to kiss her more, but suddenly the little dog is barking. I come to my senses and realize we’re in somebody’s living room, and that her friends are all beaming at us.

That night in her tiny little apartment among all of her sparkly things, we make love—I suppose that’s the phrase for sleeping with a woman you feel close to. It’s a new experience for me, that’s for sure.

Later on, we lie in her bed and look up at the tiny sliver of stars and sky you can see between buildings. It seems too good to be true.

But what if it isn’t?

More Wonderbag pictures appear on social media over the following days. The team gets three more out to influencers—a good sign, apparently. Shondrella says the influencers are influencing each other.

We’re in bed at my place Friday morning, drinking coffee and trying to figure out the day’s Wordle when Mackenzie texts Jada about an important sales call she just accepted that she wants me to go on.

Mackenzie: Have him wear something elegant.

But not trying too hard.

“So she just assumes we’re together this morning,” I say.

Jada puts on a fake confused face. “How did she know? Could it be that we show up together every freaking morning? Could it be that I wore your shirt as a cute shirtdress on Wednesday? Could it be the office PDA? Our mysterious disappearance into the supply closet?”

“She better not be hoping for a repeat of that last meeting,” I say. “Because that is not happening, and I can’t imagine it’s good for business to bring along a guy who loses his mind.”

“It was good having you there, even before you said anything,” she says. “All you have to do is sit there. You add a certain gravity.”

“Gravity, huh.” I pull her onto my lap, loving the weight of her, the feel of her tight little curves in my arms.

“Only you would manage to make that sound weirdly sexy.” She climbs off the bed and pulls me with her into my closet. That’s how I end up walking into the office wearing a classic tweed blazer with a black polo shirt and gray pants, an ensemble Jada pronounced as killer.

Renata scowls playfully at Jada when we walk in. “You’re just trolling me now, aren’t you?”

“What?” Jada protests.

“It wasn’t enough to get him off the hair and ridiculous shirts,” she complains. “Now you’ve got him dressed up like a hot-English-professor-slash-country-squire. But please, let’s respect his right to look weird.”

“What?” Jada laughs. “He has a right to look hot if he wants.”

“She wanted me for herself,” I tease. “And once she had me, the makeovers began.”

“Clearly,” Renata says.

Dave comes by. “Bert alert.”

“Shit!” Renata says. “I put Keith in the sun!”

We all look over at spindly Keith, now basking in the sun right out in the open.

“Bert’s gonna freak out,” Jada says.

“I’m so sorry,” Renata says. “I’ll move him.”

“No! Not enough time,” Jada says. “You’ll just draw attention. We have to leave him.”

“Maybe Bert won’t notice,” I say.

Shondrella pops her head up above the cubicle walls. “You guys!” She points at Keith and makes a horror face.

But it’s too late. Bert is strolling in. Keyboard sounds start up. I’m at my desk with my spreadsheet program open, updating stuff from yesterday, but I can barely concentrate, because Bert could destroy everything we’ve done with the bag. He could fire these people at any minute. He could banish Keith to one of the shipping bays.

Not my circus, I think.

But that feels like a lie.

It is a lie.

This is my circus. My people, my family, my life.

How does anyone do this?

The tension ratchets up as Bert strolls along the perimeter toward the window. You never let your enemies know what’s important to you—that’s rule number one. If he sees Keith has been moved, if he sees he’s been cared for, he’ll know it’s a vulnerability.

And what if he’s gotten wind of our sales push for Wonderbag? He’d find a way to shut that down.

Bert’s footsteps turn back down the other way—away from the window. He stops by Dave’s cubicle, and they have a low discussion. He moves on to the resources group. Maybe he’ll keep going—that’s my hope.

Renata should never have moved Keith.

I tap a few more keys.

Bert’s on the move again. This time he slows near our area. He comes and stands next to my cubicle.

I look up. “Something I can help you with, sir?” I ask. That’s how Dave always addresses him.

“What’s the occasion?” Bert asks.

“What do you mean?”

“You’re awfully dressed up for doing office gopher stuff.”

I grin. “The ladies like it.”

“You think that’s funny?” he asks.

I cross my legs and lean back. It’s a casual pose, but inside, I’m wired as hell.

Letting a guy like Bert talk to me like this upends years of habit and everything I’ve ever thought about myself. Someday I’ll fire this guy, I tell myself. For now, I have to protect the office. I have to protect this family. I have to hold it together.

I rack my brains for something conciliatory and non-threatening to say. “I was told my bright shirts are unfashionable.”

Bert frowns. “Where are your work boots?”

“They’re here if I need them.”

Bert gives me a hard look. Does he want to get into it with me? I’m thinking that if I can get him to throw a punch at me, then I can kick his ass without making Jada disgusted at me. My mind races with scenarios, but then he moves on to confront somebody else.

Eventually, he leaves.

Jada pops her head over my cubicle wall. “Fact: You rock.”

“Fact: I rock,” I say back.

She makes a silly disgusted face and pops back down.

Varsha leans in the doorway, monitoring the hall, while Renata and Lacey carefully slide Keith back to the dark and sunless breakroom.

“Keith is a scrapper,” Dave says. “He’s looking stronger every day. He wants to live.”

“He really does have so much more green,” Shondrella says. Jada agrees.

A cry goes up from the break room. It’s Renata. “You guys! Come quick!”

We all rush in.

“Keith has a bud!”

Everybody crowds into the breakroom, ooh-ing and aah-ing over Keith’s supposed bud. The photo apps start firing. I heave myself up and go over to see.

Keith’s bud turns out to be a little nodule on one of the half-shriveled arms. Is it truly a bud? I’m skeptical. But I’m the only one. Lacey informs us that only a happy plant produces a flower.

“You’re gonna be okay, Keith,” Jada says.

All this for a dead plant with a small dingleberry. They may as well pin their hopes and dreams to a can of baked beans and throw it off the Empire State Building.

Somebody starts up the Keith song. Dave is doing his Keith dance.

I groan. I’m trying to sound humorous, but my pulse is racing. This is just all a bit much. “I hate to break it to you all about Keith…”

“Don’t you dare say it!” Jada says.

“Shut it!” Shondrella squeaks.

“Garbage bin cactus!” I whisper.

“Dude,” Dave says.

I give them a comical sigh and go back to my desk, feeling anything but comical.

Our sales call—at a store called Bonobo—goes great. There’s this feeling of boldness on our side of the table that wasn’t there before. Bonobo’s buyer is up on the buzz, and she’s heard about the large order that Sadie Woo made. She wants to hear the Miracle Unicorn origin story, and for us to talk a little about the brand.

They’re all sneaking looks at me, wondering if I’m going to do that thing again.

I’m not.

In the end, there’s no need; the team does great. The buyer makes the order right then and there, and it’s all the three of them can do not to run out onto the sidewalk screaming.

I’m not the screaming type, but I get it. This feeling of working with a team and pulling together on a project is addictive.

“Not going up there,” I say to Jada as Lacey belts out a karaoke version of Lizzo’s “About Damn Time” on a little stage in Chelsea.

Jada makes a big pouty frown. “Pleeeeeease?”

“I draw the line at being on stage.”

“Because you’re so famous…in Europe.”

“That’s the least of the reasons.”

She sighs and stirs her drink. She and I are sitting at the end of a big, long table at the karaoke bar that’s a few blocks down from SportyGoCo. Every department got to pick the location for their Wycliff paid-for happy hour, and the design department went for the drama. We all have our knit hats on. Like we’re a club.

Dave and some of the other guys from design accounts have been playing a dice game at the other end.

Earlier, Dave informed us all that this Friday’s appointment with Nobella could put us in the black for this accounting period. “We’re selling them for such a ridic amount of money, we don’t need that many orders,” he says. “This luxury shit is sick.”

Dave’s still holding all Wonderbag orders back from central accounting until the day before the period ends. Bert still thinks it’s all dead in the water, and we’re planning on ambushing him with our mad success when it’s too late for him to ruin it.

Shondrella comes by and raises an obnoxiously expensive cocktail. “Here’s to Wycliff! They don’t know how to run a company, but at least they’re supplying booze!”

I raise my cocktail and so does Jada.

Shondrella sits across from us and takes out her phone to film Lacey’s song. We were all really happy to see her come out.

Jada puts her lips to my ear. “Do you think we can sneak away yet?”

“Maybe,” I say.

Mackenzie comes by. “We’re gonna kill it on Friday.”

Renata flops down on the seat on the other side of me.

“Are you sure you can’t handle it without me?” I say. “Shipping needs me this week.”

“You’re our secret weapon!” Shondrella squeaks.

“The bag is selling itself,” I say.

“We need to keep our lucky formula going,” Mackenzie says. “You have to be there. Wear another suit.”

Jada snuggles nearer, laying her head on my shoulder.

Dave goes up to the stage and starts belting out Metallica.

Lacey comes back to the table and sits next to Shondrella. “Done!”

Renata leans so that her back is against my shoulder and she’s yelling at Dave. And Jada’s sleepy at my side, ready to go home—with me, because that’s how we’ve been rolling these past two weeks.

She’s all I think about when we’re apart, and she wants to be with me. It’s like a miracle.

And these people think I’m their secret weapon. They think we’re this family, and to look at us from the outside, we are a family.

I feel this sudden wave of happiness and wonder. I’d never thought this was for me. Even now, it doesn’t seem like something that’s for me. As though it’s too good. As though it’s too much. I’m a man who burns bridges, not someone who builds them.

Jada kisses me on the cheek and then pulls back. “What’s wrong?”

What am I supposed to say to that? I’m falling in love with you so hard, I’m losing my mind?

I’ve never had a family before and now I can see that it’s the best thing in the world?

I’m loving all of this too much, and you most of all?

I smile at her and tell her that nothing’s wrong. She snuggles back against me.

Nothing’s wrong. But that’s the problem.

Nobody ever warned me that happiness is a kind of hell, because it could vanish in an instant.

How do normal people endure this? How does a normal person let their heart be out there, unprotected? How does a person bear loving when it could all be lost?


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