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Butt-dialing the Billionaire: Chapter 47


I go up to my bedroom to check on the packing progress.

I’d wanted to get out of town last night, only to discover that there are more decisions to be made in advance of putting this property on the market, including some paperwork to handle.

Arnold calls me up to the third floor so that I can take a look at the clothes he’s recommending I take. They’re all laid out on the bed—a lightweight white suit, swimming trunks, polo shirts, jeans, belts, and so forth.

“Looks fine,” I say. What the hell do I care? “The crew’s filed a plan for a midnight take off. We’ll sleep on the plane and be in Manama in the morning. Our morning, anyway.”

“Very good, sir,” he says.

“Anything else?” I ask.

He looks at his watch.

“What is it?”

“Somebody who wants to see you.”

My heart lurches. It can’t be Jada.

“Jenny, sir. She’ll be here any minute.”

“She’s in the Catskills.”

“Not anymore.”

“Arnold, why? You didn’t call her, did you?”

“She wants to see you.”

I groan. “We’re leaving in a few hours.”

“She asked to say goodbye.”

I groan. “I did want to grab a meal with her. This will have to do.”

“She loves you, Jaxon.”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” I say.

“I strived to be carefully neutral in matters of family drama,” Arnold continues. “I told myself it was my place, and I regret that, now. Jenny never shrank from a fight. She was a woman to admire.”

“This isn’t necessary, Arnold.”

“I beg to differ, Jaxon. I should’ve stepped up.”

I clap a hand onto his shoulder and look at him—really look at him. It comes to me that he’s been there for me in his quiet way all along, a steady, comforting presence. Somebody who modeled what it is to be a calm, fair man who gets things done. A father figure in all the ways that counted. “You did step up. You’ve always been there for me. Always.”

He gives me a quick nod.

I meet Jenny in the parlor room. She’s in a powder-blue cardigan, the kind she always used to wear. Chef Ursula brings us small sandwiches and tea.

“I’m sorry we can’t grab that dinner,” I say. “How was the Catskills? You didn’t leave early just to see me off, I hope.”

“What the hell are you doing?”

“Um, what?”

“You heard me.”

“I’m, uh, heading to my favorite wintertime track?” Why did that sound like a question? Why do I feel like I’m being chastised?

“Arnold tells me that sweet girl was smitten with you, that you were smitten with each other,” she says.

“Wishful thinking—”

“Oh, stop. I saw it with my own eyes back there in that office. The way you looked at each other. And this group of yours. You were making your way, you were finding your people. You have no idea how I loved seeing it, after all this time!” She shakes her head, clearly angry. “You looked so…happy. Like the Jaxon I caught glimpses of as a child. Like the boy his father tried to…” She swallows and looks away, her jaw going tense, as if to hold the truth in. “Then I find out you got into a fist fight and ended up in jail? And now you’re leaving?”

“I was never going to stay.”

She blinks, dead-eying me in a way that hits me viscerally. Something from early childhood that I feel more than remember. “What about that girl?”

“It wasn’t going to work, Jenny. I don’t do relationships, and even if I wanted to, even if I was the type, I burned that bridge.”

“So fix the bridge,” she says, as if it’s that easy.

“Did you hear the part about me not being the type? Anyway, it’s too late,” I say. “That life there, it wasn’t for me. It can never be for me.”

Jenny folds her arms and gives me her famous look of disapproval.

“That stopped working three decades ago,” I say.

“Nothing to risk if you’re sure you don’t want it, if you’re sure it’s going to fail, is there?” Jenny says.

I snort. “Sounds like another vote for Bahrain.”

Jenny frowns. “I don’t remember you being a coward. Taking the coward’s way out.”

“But the coward’s way out features a few days at Jarada Island Beach, night racing at the track, and some serious foodie action versus selling handbags and acting like I give a shit about a whole lot of people who I didn’t know two months ago.”

“Bullshit.” I blink at the curse word. “That boy in the photo I gave you, he’d risk anything for love.”

It’s the dead certainty in her voice that sends a cold chill up my back.

But I ignore it, the way my parents would have, the way they taught me. I cross my legs and sip my tea, beyond ready for this tête-à-tête to be over.

It’s nine at night and I’m alone in the limo, heading back from a flurry of signing legal documents in Midtown—an annoying way to spend an hour that ensures I won’t have to come back anytime soon.

I’m looking out at the dark, rainy streets, gearing myself up for the trip, when I realize we’re near the SportyGoCo offices, or at least near the turn that would get us there. I’d left a few things in my desk drawer, most notably my favorite watch; years of experience have taught me to always remove my watch before hitting a man. I decide I should have Stanley swing by so I can run up and pick up my things while nobody’s there. Otherwise, somebody’s sure to turn up at my door one of these days with a plastic shopping bag of my last belongings and a doleful expression. And that person’s name will rhyme with Made-a.

I’ll need to stop doing that.

Marv is at the security desk. The place is empty and quiet, and he’s not so sure about letting me in, but I make him an offer that he can’t refuse in terms of a tidy stack of Benjamins, and he relents.

He accompanies me up to the design department. “Five minutes. And I never saw you.”

The office is a sea of cubicles, dimly lit by scores of colorful balls bouncing on computer screens.

I go over to my cubicle. My fucking cubicle. It was an experience, I suppose. I sit down, thinking about my unfinished spreadsheets. The program wasn’t that hard once I got the hang of it. Even those stupid formulas.

I run my hands lightly over the keyboard, touching every key, but not hard enough to wake up the machine. I open the drawer and take out my watch and a few other things. I spin around in my chair and that’s when my eyes fall on the knit hat. I’d hung it up on the rigid plastic thumb that goes with the cubicle, a coat hanger that’s constructed so poorly you can’t even put a jacket on it, but it works for a hat.

I pull the hat and hold it, squeezing it. I shouldn’t have come back here.

I put the hat back on the hook and head back, pausing briefly to slide my hand over the smooth strip of plastic at the top of the wall of Jada’s cubicle. The brown plastic strip where I put my hands so often, and sometimes even my chin when I’d talk to her. Jada utilizes her shoddy coat hook for a hedgehog calendar that her friend Noelle gave her. Next to that is a picture of her gang of girlfriends and Antonio, all standing outside of the shabby apartment building where they live. Next to that is a group photo of the office gang, limbs draped over each other, everybody making goofy faces.

A flash of red on her desk catches my eye just as I’m about to continue on out. A spot of red, very small and bright, in a tiny bowl of dirt and gravel.

I go in close.

The red bit seems to be attached to a shriveled husk-type thing.

I blink. With a lurch in my chest, I recognize what I’m looking at, though it doesn’t seem possible.

It’s part of Keith’s shriveled little arm. And the red bit is Keith’s bud—opening. Blooming. Becoming a flower.

I lean in closer. Yes, it really is happening. This stupid bloom growing off a shriveled little arm of a garbage bin cactus. This stupid doomed cactus, making a ridiculous flower for no reason at all.

It’s so Keith. Because honestly, why bother? And of course Jada is cheering it on. Nurturing it.


I stand up, trying to pull myself back together, to remember what I was doing, why I’d even come.

Fucking dead Keith with his fucking flower.

Suddenly I can’t breathe.

I’m choked up like an idiot because a garbage cactus made a cactus flower. I sink to the floor next to her desk, face hot. The wheels of her chair blur. My breath comes in shudders.

I tell myself to get up. Eventually, I do.

I go back over to my cubicle and grab my hat and leave. Somehow I get out of the building. I get into the back of my car. I shove earbuds into my ears to signal that I’m not in the mood to talk.

But I’m not listening to anything. I’m not even thinking.

I’m riding in the back of a car, speeding down the rainy street, and my dead, shriveled heart is bleeding red.


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