Loving The Billionaire, Book One: The New Boss By J.M. Cagle

“Do you think it’ll be George?”

“It has to be. It is clear this isn’t a regular birthday party.”

Courtney tuned out. Frankly, she was sick of hearing about what was going to happen at this birthday party. Anderson was turning eighty and she thought it was a time to celebrate instead of wondering if he was going to be announcing his retirement and the new CEO of the company.
 Loving The Billionaire, Book One: The New Boss
 Loving The Billionaire, Book One: The New Boss By J.M. Cagle
She took a sip of her drink and slide her sunglasses back down on the bridge of her nose. The party for Anderson’s birthday was massive. His entire backyard had been turned into a paradise. There were wild animals around the grounds for the guests to interact with. The pool was open for business and family members let their kids go swimming in the tropical themed pool. There were two mini-bars set up plus a buffet underneath a tent that offered a respite from the heat. It wasn’t Courtney’s first time being here at Anderson’s home. She had been his assistant for over ten years. Having just turned thirty-four herself, she couldn’t help but reflect on having been working for Anderson this long. He had always been a kind boss, going so much as giving her some time off after her marriage crumbled two years ago. Hearing everyone say that he was going to announce his retirement today bothered her more than she was letting on. Anderson had five kids of his own, produced through his marriage of over fifty years to his wife Susan. The oldest wasn’t here – Rebecca was seen as the black sheep of the family. She had always hated their wealth and was currently living in India doing who knew what. Next came George, who seemed primed and ready to take over the CEO position. Currently he was going around the party, making sure to mingle with everyone as if he was already CEO. Anderson had always seemed to be grooming him for the position. It seemed only natural that since Rebecca wanted nothing to do with the business that George would overtake the position. George was in his forties and had a firm hand around his wife, as if they were the perfect family. Courtney knew better, however. After that came Alexander. She didn’t seem anywhere. To be honest, Courtney didn’t care for Alex. They were roughly the same age. Alex had a failed marriage under his belt as well. Neither one of them had kids. It seemed like enough to start up conversations over. But Alex seemed to be icy to his core. Conversations with him seemed stilted. He was closed off to everyone. He always had girlfriends but they were flings – two weeks max and the girls were gone. After that was Sydney. She was involved in the business as well and had a head for business. She was serious to a fault and didn’t have the levity that Anderson or George had when it came to dealing with people in the business. Courtney admired the way she had a head for banking and numbers but didn’t talk to her often either. The youngest was Jill. Jill was different from her other siblings, even Rebecca. Having no interest in the business but not willing to miss out on the billions her family had, she was working on becoming a model or an actress. (She seemingly changed her mind daily.) Courtney wasn’t sure if Jill really wanted to be a model/actress or just wanted the glamor the life gave her. She spent the most of out of the family but at age nineteen she was the freshest face. Bright, charming and funny, Courtney always enjoyed talking to Jill. It was Jill who was coming over to talk to her now. Courtney was at a table near the pool, watching the kids jump in and out of the beautifully blue water. Jill plopped down next to her. She was wearing a bathing suit with her hair thrown up in a messy bun. Her designer sunglasses probably cost more than Courtney’s own apartment. “You look bored.” “I’m not,” Courtney replied, “People watching. It is always interesting at these parties.” “Especially this one with everyone talking about if dad is going to retire or not.” In spite of the promises to herself not to feed into it, she couldn’t help but ask, “Is he?” Jill glanced behind her at her mother. Susan was a lot younger than Anderson – the typical trophy wife. Anderson seemed to love her and was always kind to Susan. She was decked out today in full designer clothing, sitting next to Anderson primly. Jill turned back to her, “Dad didn’t tell you?” “No,” Courtney replied, suddenly feeling alarmed, “Tell me what?” Jill slouched in her chair, “Didn’t tell me either. I thought you knew something.” “And I thought you knew something.” The two women looked at each other and let out a laugh. Courtney felt a little better. It wasn’t that she didn’t like George. But Anderson had been her boss for more than ten years. She had been in charge of so many important things in the business and traveled the world with him as his right hand. The job, which had meant nothing to her at the start, had become her whole world, especially after her marriage ended. It would feel wrong to be working for someone else. “Dad doesn’t tell me anything.” Jill remarked, looking glum. Courtney wanted to change the subject quickly, “How is your modeling?” That distracted Jill from brooding. She seemed to think that Anderson didn’t take her seriously. And the truth was that he didn’t. Courtney didn’t want Jill to know that Anderson thought her actress/model thing was just a passing phase so she could spend money and say she was working. It was another thirty minutes before Susan stood up and called for everyone’s attention. The party slowly came to a halt. Anderson stood up from his chair which was on a slightly raised platform with a table in front of him. The rest of the family sat down there as well. Jill shot Courtney an eye roll. She knew what was coming next. Every year Anderson made a speech about what the previous year had been like and what he hoped the next year of life would bring. Courtney found herself tuning out. Not to be rude but Anderson’s speech was always the same thing. After ten years of birthday parties, she was used to hearing them. She glanced at the rest of the family. Susan, prime as ever. The empty seat representing Rebecca. George, who looked as if he was preening. Alex, who looked almost bored. His eyes were roaming around the grounds when they suddenly fell on her. Their eyes locked. Alex looked as if his face was carved from marble. Handsome yet untouchable. His gaze made the hair on the back of her neck stand up. Courtney tore her eyes away from him and focused on Anderson, tuning in to what he was saying. “So, it is with both relief and trepidation that I announce my retirement…” Wait, what? Courtney suddenly stood up a bit straighter. She thought she had heard incorrectly. Her eyes darted around the crowd but no one looked surprised. How could that be? Anderson was going on about how he had built his billionaire company from the ground up. He had started the media company when he was eighteen with his savings. Then he dropped out of college to focus on the company instead of his education. Before he knew it, the media company was making money hand over fist and expanding rapidly. It wasn’t anything new to Courtney. She knew the history of the company. It was the fastest expanding media company in the world. Anderson and his family was worth billions. “Obviously with me stepping down as CEO of the company, we will need a replacement. I’ve given this a lot of thought and I would like to announce who will be replacing me…” Everyone still looked bored. It was as if everyone had known Anderson was going to retire and name George the next in line. How had Courtney missed this? How could everyone, from people who were casual family friends to people who had only been working at the company a year or two look so unsurprised by this news? Courtney must have stuck her head in the sand, oblivious to Anderson getting ready to retire. “My son, Alex.” Anderson suddenly boomed out, announcing the heir to the company. “Wait, what?” Courtney mumbled aloud. Chapter Two The boredom that had settled over the crowd of party goers was suddenly gone. With the announcement that Alex, not George, was going to be running the business, murmurs broke out everywhere. Even Courtney couldn’t believe it. She watched as Alex stood up and offered a stiff wave to the crowd. What the hell? Courtney thought to herself as she studied him. Her eyes drifted to George. He looked crestfallen although he was trying to hide it. Of course he was upset! It had seemed common knowledge that Anderson was going to pick George to take over the company. George had talked up everyone under the sun for years, spending long hours next to Anderson, learning what he could. Yet suddenly Alex was the billionaire leader of the company. He sat back down, seemingly unmoved by the murmurs and whispers throughout the crowd. George stared straight ahead at nothing, as if he was hoping he could melt into his chair. Anderson went on, “Alex has spent long hours learning the ropes of the business, including spending a year at our headquarters in Shanghai. He is fully equipped and ready to lead our company into the next phase while I enjoy my retirement.” Was he really? Courtney still couldn’t believe it. Anderson wrapped up his speech quickly, as if sensing people’s confusion. Susan stood up and clapped her hands twice, signaling for the massive birthday cake to be brought out. Nothing distracted people like cake, right? *** It was close to midnight when Courtney decided to call it a night. Anderson had long since gone to bed – he was eighty after all. She hadn’t gotten a chance to speak to him about the retirement or putting Alex in his place. She made a mental note to speak to him Monday morning. Courtney said good-bye to everyone, including Jill who was drunk by the pool. She took the long way around to the driveway, walking through the garden. It was quieter here. Even though the house was crowded with people, no one was out in the gardens. She found herself stopping to sit down on one of the benches to try to clear her head. Why was she so upset that Alex was replacing Anderson? Courtney realized it was mostly nerves. Anderson had been a great boss. George had seemed like an okay guy, minus the fact he flirted with anyone who moved. Alex just seemed cold, like an ice king. What if he fired her on the spot because he wanted someone else working for him? Something shifted in the bushes nearby. Courtney stood up, suddenly alert. She expected someone to drunkenly pop out of the bushes. Instead the bushes moved again and someone came into view. It was Alex. It was as if Courtney had conjured him up by thinking about him. His tie was undone and he had a water bottle in his hand. His cellphone was in his other hand. He slid it in his pocket when he saw her. “Alex. Sir.” Courtney greeted him, suddenly unsure of how to talk to him. He waved his hand, “Alex is fine. No point in getting formal on me now.” “I was just leaving.” She said as if to explain why she was in the gardens. “You’ll be in Monday, correct?” Courtney studied his face. Like usual, it was impossible to read. Alex had never been one that just showed off his emotions. She supposed that it would be a good trait to have in a new CEO. Yet Anderson had always been open and kind with what he was feeling. There had never been any doubt with him. Courtney figured that it would be nothing but doubt with Alex. “Yes…Alex. If that’s okay.” “Why wouldn’t it be?” He replied, sitting down on the bench, not looking at her, “I’m not going to go around and start firing everyone, contrary to popular opinion. Especially not my dad’s beloved assistant.” “Not so sure about beloved but I like the job.” “Clearly since you’ve been there for ten years.” Courtney wasn’t sure if that was some sly dig at her or not. Was Alex insulting her from having worked there for so long? Courtney had everything she needed at this job. A great income, benefits and what she had thought was job security. Although now that she was looking down at her new boss, she wasn’t so sure. It felt strange standing up as he was sitting down. Almost as if she should sit down next to him. But that felt weird too. Just being around him felt odd. “Well I’m heading out. Pretty late. Congrats on the promotion though.” She hoped her words didn’t sound phony. Alex looked up at her. His eyes were devoid of any emotion. Again Courtney felt that it was as if she was staring at a statue. How could this man be her boss now? “Thank you,” He replied and after a moment added, “You’re the first person to tell me that.” Uh-oh. Courtney knew that didn’t bode well for how anyone felt about Alex taking over the CEO position. Best to leave. She didn’t want to get dragged into company politics. She waved good-bye and quickly left Alex behind on the bench. *** Courtney slid into bed, running her fingers along the sheets. Even though her divorce happened over two years ago, it still felt strange to get into bed alone. Justin had been her entire world for the seven years they had been together. They had been married for five. It had been such a comfort to end each day next to him. Whenever she woke up in the middle of the night, seeing him asleep next to her had been a nice feeling. But Justin had left her for someone else and now the bed was cold and empty again. She wondered what he was doing now. She had seen photos of him on social media, touring the world with his new girlfriend. They had gone to Thailand together and then spent a couple of months in London. All the places that Courtney had told Justin she had wanted to go to he had taken his new girlfriend instead. Courtney knew that she shouldn’t be thinking about Justin right now. She hadn’t dated anyone since the divorce. It felt strange to even think of someone in that way. Even if Justin had left her for a young pretty thing, Courtney didn’t feel the urge to hop into another relationship. Her mind wandered back to the party. Alex was her boss now. Anderson would be living a quiet life in retirement. Why had he chosen Alex over George? She couldn’t imagine how George was feeling right now. Furious, probably. He had been a shoo-in for the job and everyone liked him well enough. Alex was unreadable. He had no warmth to him. Even in the garden he had managed to make Courtney feel like working there for ten years was something to be ashamed of. And the fact that no one had offered any sort of congratulations to him…Had Anderson made a major mistake? Courtney rolled over, trying to shut her mind off. There was no point in dwelling on what it all meant. She would turn up Monday morning, ready to work. Best to stop thinking of both Alex and Justin all together. Chapter Three Courtney was nervous. Today would be the first official day of Alex as her boss. She was sure that Anderson would be there wrapping up loose ends. Right? Surely he couldn’t have meant that Friday was his last day forever? Most people would throw a big retirement party before the new person took over. But Anderson had looked tired at the party, now that Courtney could think back on it, and maybe he was just going to let Alex do his own thing. The elevator doors opened. Courtney stepped out on the top floor. There was a flurry of activity going on. The top floor didn’t just have Anderson’s office on it. Most of the top level executives had offices up here. Anderson kept his office door open at all time so everyone felt that they could approach him with ideas. Now, however, Courtney could see the office door was closed. Her own desk was untouched, looking the same that it had on Friday. The floor was usually quiet but today people were walking around wildly. Some people had boxes. Courtney stepped into the hallway and looked around, “What’s going on?” Marge, one of the senior executives, scowled, “What do you think? People are being fired.” “What?” Courtney replied, alarmed, “No way.” “And why not? I wouldn’t worry. Looks like your desk is untouched.” Courtney glanced back at her desk in front of the closed office door, “Yours was touched?” “That’s how everyone found out they were fired. Our shit thrown in a box and a letter stating we had been let go with full severance packages.” “Alex said he wasn’t going to fire anyone.” Courtney said, although the words sounded pointless now. Marge snorted, “So much for that.” She took off passed Courtney, holding her box of her things. She couldn’t believe it. Marge had been with the company for years. She was a senior executive and brought a lot of information to meetings. Who else had been let go? And why was Alex firing people when he said he wasn’t going to? Suddenly spurned on by the fact people were being let go, Courtney turned around and knocked twice on the office door. No answer. People were staring at her now and she felt as if she couldn’t suddenly turn around and shrug at them about being fired. So in spite of her own self-interest, Courtney opened the office door and stepped inside. Alex was typing away at a brand new computer on the desk. The office had already been redecorated. In place of the photos that Anderson had put up everywhere were blank walls. Anything personal had been removed. Now it felt like a waiting room at a doctor’s office. The view behind the desk was still glorious. Yet Alex didn’t seem interested in it because he had closed over the blinds. The office was illuminated purely by a few lamps. Alex looked up when she entered. She had closed the door behind her. Alex’s face looked like steel. His suit was perfectly tailored. He looked back down at the computer screen. “Courtney, good morning. I understand you are used to how my father ran things but I do have to inform you that my office door will be closed. If I don’t answer your knock, you aren’t to come in.” “I’ll file that away,” Courtney replied in a tone that made Alex look back up, “I thought you weren’t going to fire anyone, sir.” “And when did I say that?” “Saturday, at the party.” “Saturday was a couple of days ago. I spent all of Sunday rethinking how to approach this position. I went over everyone in upper management and who did what. Some cuts had to be made.” “Really? Some of these people have worked here for ages. They’ve been helping this company forever. If your father knew about this-” Courtney knew instantly it had been the wrong thing to say. Alex’s face changed. For a brief moment she saw actual anger behind his eyes. Then they closed back over, seemingly ice cold again. “My father, if you remember correctly, is no longer in charge of the company. I am. And since he has retired, he has no interest in the matters of this company. He has left it all to me. I went through all the employees. Every single one, Courtney. The people I let go were overdue for a firing. My father is a bit sentimental. I am not. So before you yet again stampede in here to play the savior, may I remind you that I am your boss. Not your friend. Not your equal.” Courtney fell silent. Anderson had never spoken to her like that but why was she surprised? Alex had revealed his true colors. He wasn’t going to be kind or nice to anyone, no matter what they may have done for the company. She merely nodded at him and turned back around, leaving the office. She made sure to shut the door behind her. “No luck, huh?” She looked over to see her close work friend, Suki, walking past her desk. She didn’t have a box with her and looked okay. Courtney assumed that she hadn’t been fired. “No. No luck at all. He’s vastly different from Anderson.” Suki glanced at the door and lowered her voice, “No one can understand why Anderson chose him. We all knew Anderson had been falling ill a lot easier lately. Maybe he kept bothering him about it. Put the idea in his head. Spoke poorly about George a lot.” “Maybe. I don’t know. In the end there really isn’t anything we can do, is there? Anderson picked Alex. If we want to keep our jobs, we’ll have to go with it.” Suki nodded, “Luckily we managed to avoid the axe but what about next time? It is a classic move to come into a new position and fire people, after all. Shows your dominance. Shows you aren’t going to be like the old boss.” Courtney thought it was clear as day now that Alex wasn’t going to be anything like Anderson. She was still smarting from the verbal lashing she had received from him. She sat down at her desk, determined to do her job well and try to ignore Alex. She wasn’t going to mess up again. *** Courtney usually worked late. There was no way around it. As the assistant to the owner of a billionaire business, she constantly had things to do. After the rest of the offices emptied of people going home for the day or for good, Courtney was working on going through her e-mails. She had gotten more today than any other day she had been working here. Everyone was e-mailing her about the CEO change. She wasn’t surprised. No one could believe that Alex had gotten the position. It was after six when the office door behind her opened. Alex stepped out. For the first time today Courtney got a good look at him. His hair was perfectly combed and his suit seemed to fit him like a glove. He looked every part the dashing CEO of the company. At first glance, Alex seemed perfect. It wasn’t until someone looked twice they’d see his face like stone and his eyes devoid of emotion. “I’m going home,” He said to Courtney in a brisk voice, “Do you usually work this late?” “Usually later, sir.” Alex studied her for a moment, as if he was trying to fit something together in her mind. Courtney didn’t say anything else. Was he not speaking because he thought the silence would bother her? His next question was unexpected, “You think I went too far today?” Was this a trick? He had given her a lecture for the ages just earlier this same day. There was no way that Courtney was stupid enough to tell him that she had thought he had made a mistake today. “You’re the boss,” She replied, “I’m sure it’ll end up being good for the company.” Alex clicked his tongue against the roof of his mouth, “Dad always said you were smart as a whip. I know you think it is a bad idea. You wouldn’t have stormed into my office like that if you had thought it was a good idea.” Courtney didn’t say anything. She wasn’t sure what he wanted to hear. Did he want her to tell him that it was a bad idea? She wasn’t going to. She felt as if she was stepping into some mental minefield and needed to be fully aware of her next step. “Sir, I apologize if I came across as if I knew more than you. It was wrong of me. I shouldn’t have been so presumptuous. I’m sorry again for what I did. I trust you in all of your decisions,” She lied, “And whatever you need me to do, I’m here.” Alex was studying her again. Courtney felt exposed in front of his stare. It made her feel odd. Once again she could feel the hair on the back of her neck stand up. “Okay,” He finally said and turned away, “Have a nice night.” Courtney watched him go, wondering what in the world he was thinking about. Chapter Four The rest of the week passed by quickly. There were no more firings, as if Alex had been pleased with who he had let go. He hadn’t brought anyone back. He barely spoke to Courtney. Work, which had always been a pleasure, now quickly became something that Courtney dreaded. How could things have changed so rapidly in a week? It felt strange to her that work was so different now. Just a week ago it was a job she had loved. Now she felt as if she was walking on eggshells. It was Friday evening before Courtney knew where the rest of the week had gone. She was alone in the office with just Alex. The office door was sealed, as usual, and she was working on something on her computer. Usually she had the radio on but it hadn’t been on once all week. It was then that a voice stirred her out of her thoughts. Alex’s voice. He was angry, yelling at someone on the phone. Courtney froze. She didn’t want him to think she was listening in on him. But he was yelling so loudly that she couldn’t help but overhear it. “I know what you think! You’ve told me a million times this week! I have no interest in what you think anymore!” Yikes. Courtney turned back to her computer, trying to focus on her e-mail. Yet the next sentence made her stop. “George, I don’t care! This isn’t your business to run!” Yikes. He was yelling at George. Courtney had assumed that he was probably upset he had lost the position to Alex. This was certainly nothing she should be hearing. She tried to write more of her e-mail. “No one is asking you. No one is asking you about anything important, do you understand? Maybe you should focus on your crumbling, shitty marriage instead of trying to wiggle your way into my job!” Courtney knew that George and his wife, Demi, had been having a rough patch. She didn’t know the full details of what had caused it. But it had all seemingly been silently agreed upon in the family not to bring it up. To hear Alex mention it and use it as an insult just reminded Courtney again of how different he was from Anderson. The office was now silent. Courtney relaxed slightly. But then the office door opened quickly and Alex came out, holding his briefcase in one hand tightly. His knuckles were white. He was trying to keep his face impassive but it was failing. For the first time ever Courtney saw real emotion on his face. “I’m leaving for the night,” He said to her, “I’ll be in tomorrow but you have the weekends off, correct?” “Do you need me here tomorrow?” Courtney offered, not wanting to piss him off any more than he already was. “No. It’s fine,” He paused for a moment, “I was too loud in my office. But you’ve been stuck in my family bullshit for ten years so I suppose nothing can surprise you.” Courtney wasn’t sure what to say to that. She always tried to keep her space from the affairs of Anderson and his family. She was sure if she got involved it would only distract her from work. Whatever she did accidently find out she kept close to her heart, refusing to share with anyone. Courtney didn’t want to be known as someone who spread gossip around of the family she worked with. Alex went on, “Listen, let’s cut the shit. We both know no one wants me in this position. All week has been like this. Everyone wanted George to run the company. I know this. I’m not an idiot. But trust me – George wouldn’t have been any better.” Courtney stared at him, still unsure what to say. She wanted to tell him the truth – that everyone had wanted George to take over. Everyone had been expecting George, after all. But Alex looked actually upset and she didn’t want to make things worse. So all she said was, “Okay.” Her simple reply seemed to suck all the energy out of him. His shoulders slouched forward and he suddenly sat down at the chair near her desk. Courtney stiffened. What was he doing? He wasn’t going to try to be friends with her now, was he? “Dad didn’t have a secret bar in his office somewhere, did he?” “No, sir.” Alex let out a sigh and closed his eyes. For the first time, Courtney actually felt bad for him. He probably wanted to do his best and it seemed as if he was acutely aware that no one wanted him in this position. “Sir, can I get you some water?” Alex mumbled something she didn’t understand. Courtney got up anyway and went over to the mini-fridge on the other side of her desk and grabbed a bottle of water. The mini-fridge usually had more in than just her things. She shared it with everyone. But the floor was emptied out and the people remaining had double the work. No one was concerned with bringing their own water and drinks in anymore. “Here.” Alex looked up and took the bottle of water, uncapping it and taking a large swig. Courtney felt a pang of sympathy for him. He was trying to run a billion-dollar business and was facing opposition from everyone. Maybe she could try to be more understanding as well. “Can I get you anything else?” Alex shook his head and she sat back down, unsure of what to say next. He cleared his throat and finally spoke. “I didn’t want people to compare me to my dad or George. I’m not stupid. I know everyone was expecting George to get the position. He was being groomed for it and everything.” “So…” Courtney wasn’t sure if she should ask but she couldn’t stop herself in time, “How did you get the CEO position then?” Alex looked up at her. It felt like all the other times over the years that Courtney had caught him looking at her. The stare that she couldn’t read. The way her body reacted when his eyes fell on hers. Throughout the years Courtney had always felt his eyes on her once in a while. It had felt that he was studying her, as if she was some science experiment. She avoided his stare, glancing at her computer as if she was checking her e-mails. “Long story,” Alex finally replied, “But George is pissed. We never got along anyway.” Courtney knew that as well, although she didn’t know why. When she had started here ten years ago, they had gotten along just fine. It wasn’t until Alex’s divorce that things had soured between the two brothers. “Listen, I can’t go back and hire people I fired. I went over the numbers. It saves us a lot of money. And some of them truly were doing jobs that could be given to other people. We didn’t need a whole person for the job. Dad was sentimental. You know that.” “Yes. I suppose you’re right.” “But what, it made me look like an asshole?” Courtney was growing tired of trying to figure Alex’s moods out so she just said, “Yes.” “Well, I’m not bringing them back. But…maybe I’ll run some things by you before I do them.” Courtney blinked, “Me?” “Why not you?” “Why not your father?” Alex peered at her closely and this time his face looked confused, “Courtney, why would I bother dad?” “Well, I know he’s retired but he still would want to know about the business. He could help you. I know you don’t want to rely on him but….what? What did I say?” Courtney said, trying to make sense of Alex’s pitying stare. “Courtney,” He said slowly, “Dad is dying.” *** After Alex had told her that Anderson had discovered he was in the late stages of stomach cancer, Courtney wondered how she had missed the signs. Alex had even tried to comfort her in his own strange and slightly awkward way by hovering over her and telling her that Anderson hadn’t told anyone until he was too sick to keep working. That was why the retirement and Alex taking over had happened so suddenly. Courtney had worked with Anderson for so long that he had even felt like a second father to her. Her own father had passed away when she was in her early twenties in a car accident caused by a drunk driver. Anderson had filled that gap and guided her through her life. He hadn’t just been a boss to her. He had been a father figure. Finding out that he had been so sick and now had a short time to live was like a punch to the stomach. In bed that night, she tossed and turned. She was thinking back to the last few months, trying to pinpoint what she had missed. The days that Anderson went home early. The fact he had missed coming into the office more and more. Courtney had just assumed that he was getting so old he could just work from home instead of coming into the office every day. Never had she thought that he was sick. Anderson had gone bald years and years ago from stress so there were no signs of hair loss from the chemo. When he looked sickly and Courtney had asked if he was okay, Anderson had blown her off and said he was old. This whole time he had stomach cancer. Courtney was unable to sleep. She wanted to see Anderson before he passed. Alex had said he hadn’t much time left. Even though it was three in the morning, she found herself reaching for her phone. She texted Alex, asking if she could see Anderson later. Courtney wasn’t sure if she’d get a reply. But almost instantly it came – a curt yes. Chapter Five Even though Courtney had been to Anderson’s house many times over the years, it had always been for parties or other social events. Today the mansion that Anderson had lived in for so long was practically empty. Even when Courtney stepped inside, the doom and gloom seemed to ooze from every corner of the house. She had never seen the mansion so empty. An aura of sadness seemed to radiate everywhere. Courtney was shown up the stairs towards Anderson’s room. She passed by Jill who was curled up on a couch in one of the living rooms upstairs. Jill didn’t look up. She was looking out the window with empty eyes. Courtney couldn’t help but feel a surge of irritation. She spoke to Jill the most. Why hadn’t Jill told her? Why hadn’t anyone told her that Anderson was dying? The butler took her past Jill and down the hallway where she knew Anderson had his rooms. He used to complain his house was too large but he didn’t know what to do with his billions. For some reason Courtney felt sad knowing he never ended up with a smaller house. Anderson had another living room area just outside his bedroom. George was here, in a corner of the room, looking outside the window. He didn’t glance at her when she stepped inside. To Courtney’s surprise, Rebecca was here as well. She was sitting on one of the couches, holding a book tightly between her hands. She looked different than the last time Courtney had seen her. All her hair was shaved off, for one, leaving her completely bald. Her clothes looked like she had been training with monks or something in India, which wouldn’t have surprised Courtney at all. Rebecca had always been a bit on the chubby side but was now so skinny her cheekbones seemed to poke out of her face. When she saw Courtney, she offered her a wan smile, “Long time no see.” “Rebecca. Did you just get in?” “Last night.” “You’re here.” Came another voice. Courtney turned around and saw Alex coming out of one of the rooms on the side. Today he was wearing just a regular t-shirt and jeans. His face looked the same but his hair was messy, as if he had been running his fingers through it non-stop. For some reason, Courtney felt relieved at seeing him. George was giving off a vibe that clearly told everyone he didn’t want to talk to anyone. Rebecca was practically a stranger now. Jill was staring at nothing in the other room. She hadn’t seen Sydney anywhere. As if sensing her thoughts, Alex glanced at the door, “Sydney is in there right now. Have a seat.” Courtney sat down on a chair and Alex sat down on the couch, pulling out his phone. At this George seemed to come alive, “Must you really tend to business now?” He snapped. “I’m not checking my business right now.” Alex replied, clearly trying to keep his tone light. But George refused to let it drop, “You shouldn’t even be here, Alex. You never respected father. Not like us.” “Not like you, you mean.” His tone was still light but the meaning was clear. George stood up and for a second Courtney was concerned the two brothers were going to fight. But then the bedroom door opened and Sydney came out. She had clearly been crying. Her eyes were red and cheeks tear stained. She barely glanced at them as she walked out of the room, sniffling loudly. No one went after her. Susan came out of the bedroom then. She was wearing clothes that sagged on her. For the first time in Courtney’s memory, Susan looked old and tired. She imagined that Susan had been by Anderson’s side through everything, unlike Courtney, who was only told once it was clear that Anderson was on the brink of death. Susan’s eyes fell on Courtney and a scowl crossed her face, “What is she doing here?” That took Courtney aback. She wasn’t sure what to say. Susan had never showed such anger towards her before. She found herself glancing at Alex. Alex replied, “She’s practically family, mother.” “Well, she isn’t family. She shouldn’t even be here,” Susan snapped, going to walk out of the room. Yet at the last second she stopped in front of Courtney, “I never liked how you threw yourself at Anderson all these years. If you’re hoping for something from the will, you should get that out of your head right now.” With that Susan stalked out of the room. Courtney watched her go, feeling confused. She turned to glance back at the room, as if someone could offer some sort of explanation. But none came. George refused to stare at her. Rebecca had her eyes closed and looked as if she was praying. Alex was looking at his phone. Courtney couldn’t believe that Susan had thought she had thrown herself at Anderson. He was eighty years old! She had always strived to make sure to not interfere with his personal life. There had never been a moment that could ever be considered flirting between the two of them. “You should go see him now,” Alex finally said, “Before mother throws another fit.” Awkwardly, Courtney stood up. She was sure that her face was on fire. Had the whole family thought that she was into Anderson? How embarrassing! Courtney wanted to go hide somewhere but instead she made herself step into Anderson’s bedroom. It was dark. The room was illuminated by a lone lamp next to the bed. The windows were closed. Anderson was lying in the middle of the bed with his eyes closed. For a second Courtney was terrified that he had passed on already. But he stirred and opened his eyes. “Courtney?” “Y-yes. I’m here.” She walked over to the bed. How could it be that she had just seen Anderson a little over a week ago? It was as if now that he didn’t have to pretend to be well anymore he had changed into another person completely. Anderson was small and frail, looking shrunken in bed, as he peered at her with glassy eyes. “Anderson,” Courtney said, shocked, “Why didn’t you tell me? I would have done more…would have taken on more work…” Anderson offered her a weak smile and managed to shake his head, “No, girl, no point. I knew as soon as I got the diagnosis it was done. I only went through the chemo so Susan wouldn’t be angry with me.” “Why didn’t you tell me?” “No one outside the family could know. I’m sorry…but I had to put things in order and didn’t want anything leaking to the press.” Courtney nodded, trying to hold back tears, “I understand. But…” Anderson closed his eyes and took a slow breath before speaking, “You want to know why Alex was chosen?” “Yes. I don’t…no one understands…” “Alex is the right one for the company, Courtney. I know you distrust me on this. You think I’ve made a mistake. Everyone does. George is furious,” He paused, taking another long breath, “But this is the best for the company.” Courtney wanted to ask him if he was sure about that. She wanted to ask him why he thought Alex was better than George. But each word Anderson uttered seemed to take the energy out of him. So she didn’t push it. Instead she merely nodded. Anderson squeezed her hand, “Help him, Courtney. If you can help him…he’ll need it…you’ve been by my side of ten years. Now you have to…help Alex.” “I promise. I’ll help him.” She replied, although she had no idea how she would help someone like Alex. Anderson smiled at her weakly and patted her hand, “You’re a good kid, Courtney. Thank you for the last ten years,” He closed his eyes, “I need to rest now.” Courtney had a lump in her throat that threatened to choke her. She knew that this would be the last time that she would see Anderson. She turned around, trying to keep the tears from spilling over. With one last glance at Anderson, she stepped out back into the room. Whatever conversation was going on in the room came to a halt when Courtney stepped back into it. She suddenly didn’t want to be here anymore. Not with Susan, who thought she had been interested in Anderson. Not with George, who was glowering at her as if she had done something wrong. “He’s asleep.” Courtney said roughly as Rebecca opened her eyes from her praying. Alex nodded and stood up, “I’ll walk you out.” She trailed after him, sparing one glance back at the room she had left behind. George still looked angry. Rebecca ignored her completely. As they walked out of the room, she finally let out a choked sob. Quickly she covered her mouth. “Sorry.” She said quickly to Alex, who glanced back at her. He didn’t reply. She followed him down the stairs, thankfully not seeing Susan, and outside. It was chilly today, with a hint of winter in the air. Alex walked her to her car. Courtney wasn’t sure she could talk without starting to cry. “I’ll see you on Monday.” Alex said. For some reason, she had been hoping for more. Some words of comfort, perhaps? When Anderson was gone, she was going to be an outsider to this family. Susan had made it clear she had only tolerated her since Anderson was alive. When he passed, would Alex let her go because Susan didn’t like her? She still believed in this company and…she had promised Anderson she would help Alex. No way would she let him know that though. So instead Courtney nodded. Chapter Six When Courtney got to work Monday morning, she knew instantly that Anderson had passed on. The entire aura of the company was dejected and morose. What little light had been remaining on the top floor was gone when Courtney stepped out of the elevator. It was Suki who confirmed what she had already guessed. Courtney went into one of the bathrooms, closing the door firmly behind her. Even though she had gotten to say good-bye knowing that Anderson was gone for good hurt more than she had imagined. It truly felt as if she was losing another father. She tried to keep it together but the tears fell. Afterwards, she washed up the best she could and re-applied her make-up. Then Courtney headed to her desk, hoping no one could tell that she had been crying. To her surprise, Alex was just getting in. For some reason she had assumed he would be home or planning Anderson’s funereal. But he stepped into his office without a glance towards her, shutting the door behind him. Was he upset? Did Alex feel anything towards the fact his father had just died? Maybe it was unfair of Courtney to assume that Alex felt nothing towards his father dying. She was sure he was grieving in his own way. She just didn’t understand what made him tick yet. For the millionth time since she had said good-bye to Courtney, she couldn’t help but wonder why Anderson had seen Alex as the best fit for the company. He had asked her to help Alex along the way but how in the world was she going to do that? Alex wasn’t a big talker. The kindness he had shown her in letting her say good-bye seemed to have been fleeting. “Courtney,” Her intercom buzzed suddenly, “Can you come in here, please?” At least Alex had said ‘please’. Courtney considered that progress. She went into his office and tried to get a good look at him. He was sitting at his desk. His hair fell in front of his eyes and he looked exhausted. His suit was still ironed to perfection and fit him like a glove. Courtney could make out the muscles underneath his suit and felt her heart skip a beat for some strange reason. “Yes, sir?” “Can you book flights to Shanghai for this week? You and I need to go there. Headquarters is in disarray because father passed on.” “You want me to come with you?” Courtney had never actually gone to the Shanghai headquarters before. Anderson had always given her work to do back here. “Yes, is that a problem? Your passport is up to date, correct?” Alex said without looking up from his computer. “Yes. But…” She trailed off, suddenly unsure if she should bother asking the question. Alex finally looked up at her. His eyes were unreadable. Courtney decided to ask anyway. “The funeral. We’ll miss it.” “I don’t have time to go to it,” Alex replied curtly, “Is that a problem? You said your good-byes, didn’t you?” Something in Courtney snapped. Maybe it was because Alex was being so flippant with the fact Anderson had just died. Maybe it was the fact she was going to miss the funeral to go to Shanghai. “Do you even care that he died? Does it even bother you?” She snapped, her voice wavering. Alex glared at her, “Excuse me?” But she couldn’t seem to stop, “You don’t even seem to care. Are you happy he’s gone now so you can focus on work? He’s gone so now everyone has to answer to you, right?” Alex stood up and marched over to her. He seemed to have grown in size but Courtney was too upset to back down. Tears were spilling over and running down in cheeks in spite of her promise not to cry. “You really think that?” He finally asked her, stopping in front of her. “And I can’t even go to the funeral because of your mother, right? She hates me! All this time and I had no idea that she felt so strongly about me!” Courtney was crying in earnest now, unable to stop talking, “So now I don’t get to go! I’ve never been to Shanghai before!” Alex seemed unsure of what to do. Part of her didn’t even blame him. She had never cried at work before, not even when she found out she was being divorced. But Courtney couldn’t help but feel pain at losing Anderson. It hurt more than she had thought it would. As she cried, she could feel Alex gingerly pull her into a hug. It was awkward. For a second she was thrown from crying. Instead Courtney focused on Alex pulling her in for hug. His arms wrapped around her loosely as if he wasn’t sure if he was violating a million HR codes at once. The hug jolted her. She realized, pathetically, that it had been ages since she had been hugged. For some reason that made Courtney even more upset. She was crying into Alex’s shoulder now as he held her. His body was stiff, as if the contact was new to him as well. “There, there.” He said to her, patting her back. The effect was comical, even though she was sure Alex hadn’t meant it that way. Courtney let out a snort and suddenly was laughing. She pulled away from him. His eyes had widened, as if he had no idea why she was laughing. And what could Courtney tell him? That in his efforts to be comforting he had come off funny? He was still her boss. “I’m sorry,” She finally said, “So unprofessional. I’m sorry.” “It’s okay,” Alex replied and then added, “I told him to tell you.” Courtney looked up at him, surprised, “You did?” Alex, for the first time ever, looked sheepish. In the back of her mind, she thought that it was almost cute but quickly banished the thought. What was she doing? “I thought that he had worked with you long enough to consider you part of the family. It wasn’t that he didn’t trust you, he told me, it was just that he didn’t want anyone outside to know. If it came out that you knew he was sick and investors didn’t…” “I understand,” Courtney replied, “He never did anything without thinking it through completely. I just wish…it all feels so fast. That’s all. I shouldn’t have cried in front of you though. Or mouthed off. I’m sorry. I normally don’t…I don’t act like this.” “Everyone is feeling the loss of my father,” Alex replied, “Myself included. Listen, Courtney,” He hesitated again and she swallowed hard, preparing for bad news, “My mother doesn’t want you at the funeral. So I think you should come to Shanghai with me for a week. We can work at the headquarters. Turn the place around.” Courtney felt her chest tighten, “I had no idea Susan felt that way about me.” “I know. It’s stupid. Dad never thought of you like that. And you always worked so hard that no one ever thought he kept you around because he liked you in that way. I know it. But my family is fucked up. I have no idea why you stuck around so long. Mom is just jealous. Thought you would try to take her place. Don’t let it bother you.” Courtney was bothered by it, however. Even though she knew it was stupid and she never thought of Anderson that way, it bothered her that Susan had gone ten years without uttering a word to her about it. She wondered how many small and kind things she had done over the years that Susan had resented her for. “Okay,” Courtney replied, even though she didn’t want to go, “I’ll book the trip for later this week.” Alex looked relieved, almost as if he had been worried she was going to cry again or something, “Great. Okay.” An awkward pause fell around them. Courtney wasn’t sure why it felt so weird suddenly. She offered a wan smile and left the office quickly, sitting down at her desk. What had that been about? Maybe she just felt odd because for the first time she had seen a real person underneath Alex’s cold demeanor. She had seen flashes of it before with telling her about Anderson and helping her get to say good-bye. But for the first time it truly struck Courtney that whatever Anderson had seen in Alex she was starting to see as well. Chapter Seven It was seven at night and Courtney was still hard at work. With Anderson’s passing, it felt as if today was never going to end. Was it only a few hours ago that she found out she was going to Shanghai? Felt like decades. Alex was in his office as well but everyone else had gone home. Silence filled the floor. It was slightly eerie. Courtney decided to risk putting on the radio just so she didn’t hear her typing the whole time. When the elevator suddenly made a noise and someone stepped out of it, Courtney practically jumped out of her skin. She was jumpy from the silence and thoughts of Anderson. “Who is there?” She called out. “Just me, Court.” She relaxed instantly as George stepped into view. Out of all the people she was expecting to see today George had not been on the list. George was in a suit that was a size too large. Maybe he has lost weight. His hair was messy and his eyes bloodshot. “Alex here?” “Yes, in his office.” “Not his office.” George snapped. Courtney blinked in surprise but didn’t say anything as George stalked past her. Everyone was in mourning. Emotions were running high. Still it was unlike him to snap at her like that. Before she could say anything, however, George was in Alex’s office. The shouting began almost instantly. George was yelling at him about something that Courtney could barely make out. Alex was slinging words back instantly although he seemed more collected than the last time they fought. “No one wants you there at the funeral anyway!” George snapped, “And if the will says anything about me taking your position, you are out!” “Oh, get out, George,” Alex’s voice came, loud yet somehow bored at the same time, “What, have a fight with your wife? Slept with someone else’s wife again and she found out?” Yikes. Courtney turned away from the office. She never would have pegged George as a cheater. She wondered if Alex was slinging insults that had no factual backing at this point. George was furious he didn’t get control of the company and couldn’t seem to drop it. Like she had known before, things weren’t peachy with George and his wife. But to picture him as a cheater felt a little far-fetched for her. Courtney couldn’t see George being that way. Whatever reason Anderson had to pick Alex over him, it probably had nothing to do with his marriage. Maybe Alex was upset that George had a marriage and his own had ended in divorce. There were more low rumblings between the two of them and then the office door opened suddenly. George looked upset. In spite of herself, Courtney stood up as he slammed the door shut behind him, leaving Alex back in the office. He didn’t say anything to her. “George?” He waved her away and walked off but Courtney trailed after him. She hadn’t ever seen George so upset. There was no way that he could be cheating on his wife. Sure, she had always heard they had problems, but George had always been a stand-up guy to everyone. She managed to catch the elevator right before it closed and she got into it with him. “Are you okay?” She asked. George shook his head, “No. Far from okay. I’m just upset about everything.” “I’m sorry you didn’t get the position.” George turned to her and stared at her with a strange look in his eyes. Courtney couldn’t read it. She patted his shoulder gently, trying to comfort him. “I’m sorry you can’t come to the funeral,” He replied, “Mom is insane. Everyone knows Dad didn’t like you in that way.” “And I didn’t like him in that way either,” Courtney said with a sigh, “I’m crushed by his passing.” “Me too,” The elevator doors glided open and they stepped out into the empty lobby on the main floor, “Listen, you can tell me the truth.” “Excuse me?” Courtney asked, confused. George reached out and grabbed her arm. She looked at him curiously, unsure what in the world he thought she was going to tell him. His gaze was unreadable – obviously a trait with Anderson’s kids. “About how you felt about dad.” “What?” It was the only thing she could utter because she couldn’t believe what he was saying. “Listen, the others might think mom is overreacting when it comes to you but you can tell me. You want in on the company. Now that dad is dead, are you worried?” Courtney’s jaw had gone slack. What the hell was George talking about? How could he honestly think these things about her? “I’m not worried about anything,” She replied, trying to yank her arm away, “I’m fine. Alex is the boss now.” She hoped that stung him. “Alex won’t let you in on the company either, Court. I’m your best shot,” He lowered his voice, “Help me get the position and I can give you whatever you want. On the down low, of course. I’m married, after all.” As he said that, his hands slid down to her bottom and gave it a squeeze. Aghast, Courtney tried to pull away but George was holding onto her tightly. “No one else is here! Don’t pretend you wouldn’t fool around with me to get ahead now!” “You’re crazy!” She cried out. “How am I crazy?” George demanded, looking irritated, “I’ve seen how you looked at me at parties and stuff. I can appreciate a woman that wants to get ahead in life. You know what you want. You want power. I can give you that.” “First off,” Courtney growled, “No, you can’t. Alex is in charge of the company, not you. Secondly, I’m not helping you take control of the company like some cheap soap opera plot. And third I was never interested in your dad like that! Stop listening to your mother!” George seemed irritated that she wasn’t just going along with his stupid plan. Here she was thinking that he was actually grieving for his father. Instead he was a jerk, practically forcing himself onto her in an attempt to woo her into trying to…what, get rid of Alex? Insanity. “This will change your mind.” He said to her, as if coming up with an idea. And before Courtney could do a thing, George was kissing her.


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