Butt-dialing the Billionaire: Chapter 49


It’s amazing what can change in a week.

Just one short week ago, I was deliriously happy.

Because of Jack.

I couldn’t believe I could be that happy. I couldn’t believe I could enjoy even the most mundane activities.

Standing in an endless line for coffee? Fun if Jack’s there. Crossing the street to avoid heavy construction? Magical when Jack has my hand. Shoe shopping? The best.

Playing hooky? Day drinking? Lying on the ground listening to birds? It’s like I’d never really relaxed until Jack came around. And I can’t remember ever laughing like I did with Jack. I’d never savored things. Especially not sex.

I had so much.

Now I’ve lost it all. Not just Jack, but it’s Wednesday of our last week at SportyGoCo. Dave says we don’t have enough sales to show a profit, and without Wonderbag, there’s just nothing we can do. For a while, Mackenzie, and Shondrella and I were busting our asses to try to get more orders on yoga pants, but it’s a losing battle.

Renata comes over and leans her chin on the top of my cubicle wall. “We’re gathering lunch orders. We’re thinking of ordering from a little place called Sushi Station.”

Sushi Station is a ridiculously expensive sushi restaurant a few blocks up. Wycliff is still footing the lunchtime bills for whatever reason.

I still haven’t told the gang about Jack’s identity. There’s so much fuss being made about our breakup and his punch and his disappearance, I don’t want to talk about him anymore. I just want to move on.

People have been ducking out to interview for new jobs. There was a time when having SportyGoCo on your resume was a major plus, but thanks to Bloxburn’s work to ruin SportyGoCo’s reputation, it’s becoming the equivalent of doing fashion design for the Hee-Haw Dollar Mart. We’re sharing leads, and my friend Tabitha has offered a few people interim positions.

I scroll through the Sushi Station menu. “I’m not that hungry,” I say.

“We’re ordering extra in any case. Sammy down in shipping is going to drive a sushi care package over to Lacey.”

I nod. Sammy down in shipping has taken over Jack’s driving duties.

“You’re gonna feel good again,” Renata says. “Actually, I have a smokin’ hot cousin moving here from Omaha. I should fix you two up.”

“That’s okay,” I say.

“We can double!”

“Not there yet, sister.”

Renata points at my desk. “Look!”

I looked down at Keith’s bloom. It’s almost a proper flower now.

“So pretty,” Renata says.

“I might try to take it home. Keep up the Instagram, you know.” No post ever got so many comments as the sad one in the aftermath of Bert’s attack on Keith. Now everyone’s excited about the bloom.

Dave comes by with a Bert alert. Shondrella groans from her cubicle. Bert has been everywhere lately, picking on people and generally striving to give out some last demerits, hoping to do a little more firing; all the better to reduce liabilities.

We’re all on impeccable behavior, determined to hang on until the end of the week in order to get our severance packages. It’s unbelievably sad, though. This family that we love. And also, we can never sell Wonderbag, being that it belongs to SportyGoCo, and Bloxburn will kill it with fire just like it’s killing everything else here. Which also really hurts. Wonderbag is my baby. Lord knows what our old owners did to Jack’s parents. Must’ve been a doozy of a thing.

I tap a few keys and bring my computer back to life, trying not to think about Jack.

Easier said than done.

I’ve dated my share of men, but this thing that Jack and I had was in another stratosphere. And yes, he could be challenging. He didn’t know how to do emotions or family, but that was part of his amazingness—that he was venturing into new territory, bravely trying these things that are second nature to other people. He made me feel alive.

Bert comes through being his mean, petty self. He has cruel words for Dave to start things off as usual, and then he’s deriding the rest of us. He pauses at Varsha’s desk and plucks a saltwater taffy from her little bowl without even asking. He unwraps it and shoves it in his mouth, then he makes a face and spits it out. “Yuck.”

Seriously want to kill him.

Right at that moment, the door opens. A woman with pink hair and big red glasses strolls onto the design floor and introduces herself as Maya. “I’m to report to the design department,” she says. “I’m the assistant to the new CEO.”

“Wrong company.” Bert points at the door. “Out.”

Clarence and Marv from security have wandered in.

“I’m to report to a Jada Herberger,” she says to Bert. “Are you Jada?”

I go up, praying the whatever this is doesn’t lead to a demerit. “I’m Jada, but I’m senior designer here, not the CEO. There must be some mistake.”

“I’ve been told you’re the new CEO of SportyGoCo. I’ve been assigned to execute your vision in all things SportyGoCo.” She rattles off a few names—Wycliff executives, it seems.

“She’s not the CEO,” Bert says. “I am.” He points at the door and addresses Marv and Clarence. “Make yourselves useful and escort this one out.”

“You’re Bert Johnston?” Maya asks.

Bert nods.

Around us, nobody moves. Nobody breathes.

Maya smiles, a quick, curt movement. “The company that holds your contract, the company that hired you, has been acquired in an aggressive takeover. Your contract has been terminated.” Another tight smile. “Effective immediately.”

Bert straightens indignantly. “Bullshit.”

“You’re being terminated,” Clarence says. “You have ten minutes to clear out your desk, and after that we’re to take you out of the building.” Obviously, neither Clarence nor Marv is all that sad to see him go.

Bert’s well-scrubbed cheeks puff out ever so slightly. “How about this instead—You’re fired,” he says to Clarence. “You and Marv. Go get your things and clear out. Now.”

“Yeah, no.” Marv looks at the clock. “Nine minutes.”

“You don’t have that power anymore, Bert,” Maya says.

Bert’s expression turns thunderous. He gets on his phone and has a quick, hushed conversation that turns his expression grim.

Maya comes over to me. “I’m here to get you up to speed and to manage all of the operational details so that you can apply yourself to the creative end of things. That’s my mission here.”

“I don’t understand. This company was closing. Now it’s not? And Bert’s fired?”

“Yup. And I was hired by the head of Wycliff HR. I promise you, I’ve done this at quite a few companies, including one other design firm. Have you ever heard of Zoozy Mayhem?”

“I love Zoozy Mayhem!”

“I love them, too.” She explains to me how she works, though I’m still pretty confused about everything. Is this some kind of joke?

A woman in a white coat wanders in. “I’m here to see Jada. I’m from the Plant Genomics Research program at NYU. I understand there’s a cactus that we’re going to root and regrow?”

“Exsqueeze me?” Renata says. “Are you here because of Keith’s Instagram?”

“Oh my god,” I say, falling back into my chair, mouth slack. “It’s Jack.”

“What about Jack?” Renata asks.

My pulse races. “Jack did this.”

People are looking at me with deep concern. They know how heartbroken I’ve been.

Suddenly I’m up and stomping to the door. I fling it open and head down the hallway. “Where is he?” I turn a corner, prepared to search every nook of this building if I have to and hunt him down like the—

And then he’s just…there. Jack. My Jack. The Jack who smiles and spoils me and secretly cares. His face goes bright—exactly the way I feel inside—and he sets off running. I do the same, my arms and legs pumping not nearly fast enough.

When we crash, he catches me, pulling me into his big, strong arms. “I’m so sorry,” he whispers into my hair. “I’ve been such an idiot.”

“What are… What’s… What did you do?” I ask. I should probably be more shocked, but I realize here that I always knew he’d come. Deep down.

“What I had to do. What I was meant to do. I bought Bloxburn. Well, actually, we bought their parent company. SportyGoCo is not closing.”

“I thought you couldn’t,” I say.

“I couldn’t do it alone. But I learned from a very special person that being a part of things isn’t so bad and that working with a team is its own kind of magic. So, you know. I asked for help. Mended a few fences. Made some groveling apologies.”

“You did?”

His warm eyes get smile crinkles on each side. “Groveling apologies. People seemed to enjoy it, too. I’m trying to turn over a new leaf—and keep it turned over. I was such an asshole.”

“Jack—you don’t have to—”

He tightens his hold on me. “Please, let me say this. You believed in me, and I pushed you away like you didn’t matter, and I said some really shitty things, too. I can’t stop imagining how terrible it must have felt to grow close to a person and then have them do that. I want to be with you, Jada, and I’m not really sure how to do that. All I can promise you is that I’m gonna keep working on being the kind of guy who deserves you. But no matter what happens, the company is back, and I’m putting you in charge. We sent somebody to do the managerial part, but you can direct things—”

“So it really is real.”

“Yes. The old owners want to stay retired. You can run this thing how you want, no matter what you decide about us.”

I press a hand to his chest. “Jack—” He claps his hand over mine, warm and solid. My heart feels like it’s expanding in ten different directions.

“I want to work on being the man that you deserve. I want to win you back.”

“Silly Jack,” I say. “You never lost me,” I say, gazing into his eyes. I have the sudden sense that I can feel his heart, right through his eyes.

“I’m shitty at togetherness. I’m shitty at harmony.”

“I know.” I go up on tiptoes to kiss him. The instant our lips meet, he yanks me to his chest. I fling my arms around him.

“You!” A hoarse, agitated-sounding voice barks out. It’s Bert. He’s down the hall between Clarence and Marv, pointing at Jack. “He’s the one you should be escorting out of here.”

“Are you going to go up and clean out your desk, or are you leaving with just that shirt?” Clarence steers him to the elevators.

“Sorry, Bert, looks like you got your last demerit,” Dave says, strolling out into the hall.

Bert stomps into the elevator. “This is not over!” he says just as the doors close on him and the guards.

“Hey, Jack, nice to see you!” Dave says.

Renata and Shondrella come out.

“Jack! You’re out of jail!” Shondrella squeaks. “You got sprung!”

Mackenzie and Varsha and a few others crowd out behind them.

“What’s going on?” Varsha asks.

“Jack owns SportyGoCo,” I say. “Well, he owned it all along—”

“Wait, what?” Mackenzie says. “You own Wycliff? As in the massive international company?”

“Since a few months ago, yes. My parents passed it on to me. But I didn’t actually control SportyGoCo due to contractual issues.”

“What the hell?” Renata says.

Varsha squints in disbelief. “You’re the owner? Why were you pretending to be the office gopher?”

“It’s kind of a long story, but we’re not closing, that’s the point,” Jack says, looking a little skittish. “And Bert and all his policies are outta here.”

“Dude, you are like, this corporate titan?” Dave blinks in disbelief. He puts his fists up by his ears and then opens his hands while making an explosion sound. “Mind. Blown.”

Meanwhile, Shondrella is doing a happy dance. “We’re not closing! We don’t have to get new jobs! Yay!” She hugs Dave.

Varsha asks if our old owners are coming back. I tell her what Jack said.

“So, just to get this straight,” Renata says, raising her hands. “Jack, you were the voice on the speakerphone?”

“Yeah, but those weren’t my words. It was just this idiotic script that I shouldn’t have agreed to read. Though in retrospect…” He knits his fingers in mine. “I’m glad I did.”

Renata turns to me. “You forbid me to give Jack a makeover. You told me it would be wrong to change his doofus style and jump his bones. And I backed off of him.”

I wince and knit my fingers into Jack’s.

“And the next thing I know, you have given him a makeover, and he has turned out like so.” With a look of mock outrage, Renata waves her hands at him. “Like so. And you take him for yourself, lording him over the office in his stylish outfits. Yet that is not enough, is it?” she says. “Noooooo. He now turns out to be a billionaire? Is that what you’re trying to tell me here?”

“Umm…that’s what I’m trying to tell you.”

She snorts. “That’s one hell of a makeover.”

Jack looks over at me. “Yeah, it is.”

We spend the following weeks resurrecting Wonderbag and putting the pieces of SportyGoCo back the way they were before Bert wrecked things. We even develop new sustainability initiatives and better work-life balance policies. We also hire back most of the people who left, including Lacey, who gets a flexible schedule; Sammy gets control of shipping. It’s a new day at office, and everybody’s jazzed.

Jack and I fly to Italy one weekend to stay at the very lavish villa owned by his cousin Charley. Jack and Charley tell me stories of their boyhood over red wine and Scialatielli ai frutti di mare—a traditional seafood pasta dish that might be the best thing I’ve ever tasted.

Jack and I splash around in the sparkling blue sea during the day, and we have frequent sex on our private veranda overlooking the coast. We mostly have hot sex as ourselves, though now and then I find myself unable to pay for a meal and a torrid price must be paid.

Jack puts a lot of fierce energy into his new consortium. We have dinner with the group of his new co-owners one night. Apparently they were enemies, but they all seem thrilled to be on Team Jack. He’s a charismatic, brilliant, fearless man of action.

I could not be happier to be on Team Jack.

Back at SportyGoCo, I turn decisions over to the former senior designer—I’m more interested in concentrating on my Wonderbag spin-off. We do a luxury version and a big-box version.

On the last nice day of the year, an unusually warm Saturday in November, Jack and I have another picnic at the pigeon sound park. It’s our place now. We are bundled up, sitting on blankets in the little nook of statues. The leaves are almost all off the trees and we’re lying there, looking up at the jagged, black lines of the tree branches against the dazzling blue sky.

“Working in the office was one of the most important experiences of my life,” he says.

I’m surprised. I go up on my elbow next to him. I trace my finger down his forehead and over his nose, landing on his lips. He grabs my finger and kisses it.

“What brought this on?” I ask. “Because you finally learned Excel?”

“No, because I used to imagine it was a fate worse than death to have to work at a job, but I was happy being there. Doing something side by side with other people was incredibly satisfying. How did I not know about that?”

I grin. “It is, right? Well, not in every job, but yeah.”

Jack tells me he’s thinking about turning over ownership to the workers long-term—at SportyGoCo as a test, but eventually at more of Wycliff’s holdings, too. “People who work at a place should have some real control and some real power, and get some of the benefit from their work.”

“Is this you sticking it to your parents?

“A little bit, but I would want to do it either way, knowing what I do, having actually worked there—that’s what really got me thinking. I don’t want my life to be a reaction to who my parents were; that’s as bad as following in their footsteps.”

I grab a grape and pop it into my mouth.

I slide a finger over his scruffy cheek. “I think I’ve sometimes lived in reaction to my lazy brothers. However, it turns out loafing around has its charms. Playing hooky. Day drinking. Goofing off.”

“My corruption plan is complete,” he says.

“I hope not,” I say.

A villainous glint comes into his eyes. “Well, maybe I can find a few more ways to corrupt you.”


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