Butt-dialing the Billionaire: Chapter 48


Jaxon

Charley is dressed in tennis whites, the picture of leisure life with a tennis racket in his lap. He reclines in the plush seating on the veranda of his Amalfi Coast villa, surrounded by potted palms and hanging plants that explode with flowers.

Everything feels too bright.

There’s a pitcher on a side table with something fizzy inside, and edible flowers floating in it. Charley’s staffers love putting edible flowers in things.

I take a seat and he pours us each a glass. He wants to know why I’ve come. He’s still wary after our last interaction, and I hardly blame him.

It takes me a minute to untwist my insides and open up, but once I have, I let it all out. First, I tell him about my job and then Jada. Everything about Jada. Not just the part where I fell madly in love with her, but the other bits—the way she feels things with her cheek, the way she cares about every single being, the way even a measly cactus is good enough to merit her attention.

I love her. I do. Oh, god.

It only took me this long to see it. Because I’m the world’s biggest bonehead. I tell him how amazing she is. I attempt to describe how fiercely she believes in things, and how small and mighty she is with her puffed up stance and diamond bright eyes and secret sense of humor. And she thinks no cause is lost, walking around with pencils stuck into her messy blonde bun.

No cause. Not even mine.

Charley pushes his thumbs against the strings of his tennis racket as if to test the tension, but I know that he’s listening.

I tell him how much I care about the whole family at SportyGoCo. They had no idea who I was, and they let me be one of them. We worked together on goals at the company. I learned all kinds of new skills. “It turns out that you were right about my being unfit to hold a job. The people there thought I was—”

“What?”

“Nothing.”

“Seriously. What did they—”

“They thought I was from some backwards, impoverished village.”

“You? An impoverished…” He’s laughing full-out, though when he catches the look on my face, it’s quickly suppressed. “I wish I’d seen you in the costume, though. Would you just put it on?”

“No.”

“Just once?”

“No!” Like a fool, I lift up the hat they made for me; of course I had to grab it that night. I grabbed the hat, canceled Bahrain, and then I called Soto to brainstorm about his plan. Now I’m here.

“We all have hats like this,” I say to Charley. “It’s cold in Manhattan, and we wear these matching hats they made.”

“They knit it? For you?” His brow’s beetled.

“Yeah. And then, of course, I screwed it up.” I turn it over in my hands. “I don’t have any kind of excuse for myself. I loved being there, and I loved her, but I trashed it all like an idiot. I couldn’t bear the idea that it could all be lost. Or the knowledge that it could all be taken from me, or that it was doomed. I don’t know how to explain it…”

Charley looks up. “You couldn’t stand the fact that you were vulnerable? Could that be it?”

I start to shake my head in denial and then stop, Jada’s face bright in my mind. Jada who has hope and faith, who thinks I’m more than my parents’ child.

“I suppose…that could be it,” I say, my voice a little shaky under the weight of the truth. “I’ve been a real jackass for a long time, Charley. I’ve been a particular jackass to you.” I meet his gaze, head-on, owning my faults instead of hiding behind them. “You stood by me when I didn’t deserve it. You were always there with a kind word and a generous interpretation of things, but I rejected you again and again. It must’ve been awful for you. I want you to know that I’m sorry.”

He looks out over the sparkling sea, probably to hide the surprise on his face. After a moment, he says, “She affected you.”

“She believed in me.” Sudden pain slices me deep. “I shredded the life that I was starting to build there. That belief that Jada had in me—I ruined it.” I stare out for long minutes, waiting for that hurt to ease. It doesn’t. “I may not be capable of what she needs in terms of a life partner, but I can give her something she desperately wants: the company she loves. That work family being able to stay together. It’s all that I have for her.”

“Oh, please. You’re capable of immense love,” he says, turning to me now. “I saw it. You loved your parents too much, and they never deserved it.”

I’m stunned. “Since when do you think that?”

“I’ve always known it. I know you. I saw the way they trampled your feelings. You were a good friend to me, though, always. Don’t you remember the way you held off the Bramster-Stoke twins? The way you hid me when it was time to leave for school? The way you lied to your parents when you were questioned, despite the punishment you knew you’d receive?”

I barely remember those things, and I don’t know what to say. I didn’t know I had people in my corner. I didn’t know.

He asks me about what it means that I want to rescue the company. I tell him about my parents’ vendetta against SportyGoCo that continues from the grave, and how Bloxburn has a contract to run it into the ground, and they won’t let me buy that contract out.

“What are you going to do?”

“I’ve got this plan.”

Charley squints up at me. “What kind of a plan?”

“Well,” I begin, “Bloxburn is the company with the SportyGoCo contract, and they won’t let me buy out that contract, and they won’t sell the firm itself to me. Bloxburn is owned by Major & Bow. I’m sure you’ve heard of them.”

“Of course.” Charley sips his water.

“I want to buy it.”

Charley chokes on his drink. “Major & Bow? How do you expect to do that?”

“A consortium.”

Charley is laughing.

“What?” I say. “It’s a strong company with a lot of upside potential.”

“No doubt about that. But you know you’re going to have to hit up half the people you have vendettas with.”

“How is that funny?” I say. “I’d rather get a root canal.”

“That’s what’s so funny! It’s just so fucking ironic. To undo your parents’ vendetta, you have to end a bunch of yours.”

“I don’t think it’s funny,” I say.

“I find it hilarious. And I accept your apology, Jaxon. It really wasn’t necessary—I’ve always been here waiting for you, you know. You’ve always been one of my favorite people in spite of it all. Now, who else do you have in mind? Let’s put together a consortium.”

“You’re in?”

“Of course. I’d love to do this with you. We could move on them in a day. At least enough to get them to cancel contracts that could compromise the deal. That’s what you want, right? Cancel this business with SportyGoCo?”

“That is what I’d want.”

“You should look into Hugh Jacobsen—he just came into something big. Maybe even Marina Apondi.”

“Those two hate me,” I say.

“Those two only hate you because they think you hate them. They’d love to have you on their side. People want somebody like you on their side—you’re brilliant and charismatic and completely fearless. A brawler with a heart…and a conscience. Everyone saw how you built your Formula One team. You built a real organization, and you would have been on top if you hadn’t screwed it up. I’m glad you’re going for it with this one.”

“I really fucked it up. You have no idea.”

“You go big.” He shrugs. “It’s one of the best things about you.”

“Thank you.” I pick up my glass and watch the bubbles in the sun, rising to the surface and popping one after another. “I don’t know what I’m doing.”

“None of us do,” he says. “None of us have any goddamn idea.”

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