Most Eligible Billionaire: Chapter 7


Vicky

I can’t believe how close I came to signing it all away. Henry is smart. And he’s willing to play dirty. It’s sink or swim, now, and I need to swim.

I’m a little bit scared. Last time I tried to swim, I drowned.

But I’m in it now. The ultimatum has been offered and yanked away. The only alternative is running away with my tail between my legs. And what kind of example is that to Carly?

April agrees to become my assistant. I don’t think it’s out of any real loyalty to me—I don’t have illusions of her being my ally now or handing me secret strategies. April is a Girl Scout whose allegiance belongs to Locke Worldwide. She seems to think that if I understood what they’re all about, I’d love Locke Worldwide, too.

We visit different offices in the Oz-like glass building, gathering things for the packet, and then I take her out to a French bistro and grill her on how the board works and what the people are like. She’s smart. Straightforward. I like her and her Princess Leia hair.

I give her the rest of the day off and head home with the packet she put together for me. It’s a sheath of bylaws as thick as my thumb, along with some smaller envelopes, one of which contains a credit card and activation instructions.

In another I discover a check for seventy-five thousand dollars, one month’s pay for being on the board.

I stare at it a long time. April told me I was getting it, but I’m still shocked it was just sitting in there. I take it out and hold it up to the light, as if that will tell me something. Is this really the check? Like maybe it’s a piece of paper announcing the coming of the check, mentally preparing me, so I don’t keel over out of shock. It seems like there should be more fanfare around a check that large, like it should be brought in on a satin pillow amid a heraldry of trumpets.

But of course it’s real. I don’t waste any time, because I still feel like Henry could yank it all away from me at any moment. He’s probably working on it right now, spinning plans and sharpening swords.

I get right on the bus and head down to my bank. I hand it over to the teller expecting her eyes to pop out of her head at all the zeroes. Or maybe she has to call somebody over. But she just puts it in. I’ve asked for $600 cash back. She asks if I want that in fifties. I nod, waiting for an alarm to blare or something.

Instead I get the cash.

I have the account number of Carly’s meager little college fund. I load in fifty thousand plus a chunk of my Etsy savings. It’s something for Carly that nobody can take away—not even Henry.

Maybe that sounds paranoid, but it’s not paranoid if you went through what I did. Rich men have a different set of laws, and sometimes they can bend reality.

I take the cab home, feeling excited and scared. I have so much money still left, it boggles my mind. I’m thinking about the people I could help. Mostly I’m thinking about this makers space I belong to. It’s a shared workshop in a shitty, run-down section of Brooklyn. They have kilns, blowtorches, soldering irons, circular saws, industrial sewing machines, that sort of thing, and struggling artisans like me rent space there.

My mind races with ideas for all the pieces I could buy from my friends there, how much that would help them out. Henry Locke couldn’t take that money back, either.

I smile. I feel strangely alive.

It’s not just the money or helping my friends at the makers space; it’s something about sitting in that boardroom fighting Henry. Something got stirred up; I don’t know what.

Carly gets home and asks how it went.

“It was amazing,” I say.

“They were nice?”

“Complete assholes. Especially Henry, the leader of the pack. One of the biggest jackasses I ever met. He tried to fool me into voting against my own wishes, but I didn’t.”

I think back on his words. Baring his belly for the superior predator. Begging for mercy. And the way he smiled when he said it. It’s the first time I noticed he has dimples, and they’re lopsided—one deeper than the other. Like one dimple gets more excited.

“Uh! Such a jerk!” I say.

“But you didn’t vote against yourself?”

“Hell no.” I look her in the eye—I need her to hear me on this. “When people come at you, you have to stand up for yourself. Nobody will fight for you quite like you will fight for you.”

I want it again.

I’m already thinking about the next board meeting. It’s next Tuesday, and I plan to be ready.

I should be working on my line for my Saks meeting. I have five days left and need drawings for demure little hoops to go with the small necklace set. I should be thinking about soldering the mock-ups, but instead I pull out Locke Companies materials.

I pull out the credit card. April told me that it’s for things we need for the meetings. Anything used in a board meeting can go on the credit card she said. A new briefcase. A movie projector, a purse for Smuckers. If you use it in a meeting, it goes on the card. I’m thinking of my friend Latrisha, a furniture artisan. I could use the credit card to commission a new carrying case for Smuckers.

But then I get an even better idea.

I walk Carly to school the next morning. We wave to the beginner mimes, hard at work building their sadly misshapen invisible wall. We do a bit of window-shopping at the Fluevog store—I’ve told Carly she gets two splurgy purchases with our new money.

I wave as she disappears up the school steps. I bundle Smuckers into his flowered carrier and hail a cab, giving the address for the cavernous makers space.

All kinds of people rent space there—tattooed woodworkers and potters, hipster upholsterers, and jewelry-making metal workers like me. It’s open twenty-four hours, because so many of us have straight jobs during the day, the bread and butter job while we try and make it as artisans.

I find Latrisha at her corner station, sanding away at a mod chair. I go over. “Sad face,” she whispers. “I brought cookies and everybody ate them all.” We bring snacks a lot. Sometimes we bring wine. Then she notices Smuckers. “The baby!”

I take Smuckers out and soon a dozen people are around, petting him.

I leave him with his new fans and go around and commission things—a pottery bowl set, metalwork shoe rack, glass-blown things. I write checks on the spot. I tell people I came into an inheritance; they don’t need the details. I’ll use the stuff for future Christmas gifts. I just want to spread around my windfall.

People buying stuff makes such a huge difference to makers.

Finally I get back to Latrisha.

“What?” she asks, because I’m smiling so hugely.

“I have a commission for you,” I say. “It’s something a little offbeat. A beautiful piece of furniture. But I need it in a week.”

“You’re hiring me.” She crosses her arms and raises an eyebrow. “You know I’m not cheap. Especially for a rush job.”

“I don’t expect this to be cheap. In fact, cost is no object.” I pick Smuckers up off the floor. “I want a really special piece of furniture for Smuckers. I’m imagining a cross between a dog bed and a throne. And it can’t be plain. I want flourishes. Scrollwork. Metal. Jewels. Whatever. Just make it wildly outrageous. Maybe four feet high or so. I want him to be really comfortable, but regal, elevated above everybody else.”

“I think you’re taking this new dog mom gig a little seriously. You can put a bowl on the floor and he’ll be just as happy.”

“It’s not for my house—it’s…a long story. Trust me, I want a dog throne, the most elaborate thing you can possibly make.”

She tilts her head, peering at me as if through a haze.

I give Latrisha the big update. She already knew about Bernadette and the fake whisperer gig, of course, but not about the will or Henry or my first board meeting.

She stares at me for a long time after I finish my story. “I can’t believe you’re in charge of Cock Worldwide. They sound like asshats!”

“You don’t even know.” I tell her how they tried to trick me. I repeat the jungle things Henry said.

Latrisha frowns and puts her fists on her hips. “A dog throne, you say.”

She starts designing, showing me ideas for freakishly elaborate millwork. We push it further and further. We get a pounded sterling guy involved. She has this vision for some sort of medallion for the seat back. “I’m seeing it the size of a coffee saucer. Like a coat of arms, except not.”

I sit up. “It needs to be enamel!” This is my territory—I used to love working in enamel. I do a sketch of Smuckers’s sweet little face with a sequined bow tie collar.

Latrisha bends over my pad. I tell her what it is.

“I freaking love that,” she says. “What are you setting it in?”

Henry’s face comes to me, and I’m thinking WWHH—What Would Henry Hate? “Pink alloy. Neon pink alloy. This huge Smuckers face medallion set in neon pink.”

“Like candy.”

“Like candy.” Yeah, I’m spending way too much time on a medallion for the Smuckers throne, but I haven’t had so much fun designing something new in forever. The jewelry I create is as subdued as my court clothes and not really fun, but this? I’m loving it, even though it was inspired by that jackass Henry Locke.

Henry is a breed of man I avoid like the plague, thanks to Denny.

The minute I sense a guy might have family money, I’m out.

I’m merciless on CupidZoom, passing over any man with an Ivy League college, any man who shows pictures of himself wearing a Tartan plaid scarf, or who likes two of the following list: sailing, downhill skiing, golf, plus anyone who uses the term equestrian, or has a pilot’s license. If he likes Coldplay, or if the only rap music he likes is Eminem, he’s out. And if there is a III at the end of his name? Triple adios, motherfucker.

Latrisha helped me make that list. A two-bottle-of-wine list right there.

Needless to say, my dating history veers toward cooks, musicians, and students on the ten-year plan. My longest-running boyfriend was a cook, a musician, and a student on the ten-year plan; he wrote songs for me that I hated, but I didn’t have the heart to tell him.

Newsflash: acting like you’re into a song that a guy is singing really soulfully while looking deeply into your eyes is harder than faking an orgasm.

So that one didn’t work out.

“Are you going to put Smuckers’s name on the medallion?”

“That’s what I was thinking, but it might not be fun enough,” I say, then I sketch out the words Smuck U.

“I love that too much,” Latrisha says breathlessly. “With his little sweet face? It’s like it means kiss you or fuck you or love you or hate you. What are you going to wear?”

“What do you mean?”

“You’re part of Smuckers’s entourage. Sort of like, the organ grinder and the monkey—they both get the little vests, right?”

“I hope I’m the organ grinder in this scenario,” I say.

“Oh, def. Henry can be the monkey.”

“An entourage. I didn’t think of that. Or what I’m going to wear, jewelry-wise.”

“Girl, you’re a jewelry maker and you didn’t think of the accessorizing component to all this? It needs to be just as fun as what we’re doing for Smuckers.”

For seven years I’ve funneled my creativity into earning respect. The idea of ultra-subtle class. I never go for wild provocation. But she’s right.

I feel this shiver of excitement as I flip my blank book to a new page. I’m imagining bright colors. Gorgeous, playful imagery. Sassy, irreverent sayings. I start sketching. Designing this line is the jewelry-maker’s version of playing hooky. And when I imagine his gaze landing on me and Smuckers in coordinating shit? The fun only doubles.

Henry wants to go? Oh, I will go.

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