My clothes felt more restrictive than I remembered. It wasn’t even from me gaining weight. My blazer and shoes and a pair of Elena’s pants still fit, but it was all very uncomfortable and hurt. I didn’t even stop wearing heels, but I did stop trying to look like a real CEO.
That was the only way I thought that Everett would listen to me, though.
I didn’t know where he lived anymore. I had a feeling that I wasn’t the only one he kicked out the building. But there was a lot I didn’t know about Everett. After I hired him, he became like a stranger to me. And he didn’t stop Mike from being so mean either.
I felt bad for him once I got closer. He had a new dog, who was huge and wiry, and a cup of coffee. Apparently he really liked coffee and always was seen in the office with one. But he also looked worried. His hands twitched and his big shoulders were more tense than I had ever seen them.
“Uh, hey, I haven’t seen you in a while,” I said, waving my hand. “You know, I adopted a dog too.”
His schnauzer let out a huge yawn. I was in for a bad time.
“Yeah…we moved too, but we’re still in Uptown. We have to stay close to the hospitals.” Everett’s voice was still gentle, but it didn’t go up and crack when he was excited, like it used to.
It was hard to prepare myself for what I wanted to say, so I sat down. His dog didn’t let me pet her. Everett was quiet too. He barely sipped his coffee, and it was weird to see him without Mike on a Saturday. Was a religious thing? I had no idea.
“This is about the new board of trustees member, isn’t it?” he asked, breaking the silence. “I’m on the hiring committee for them…I know what this will mean.”
“I didn’t want to say it.” I rubbed my forehead out of frustration. I didn’t know if he made it easier or harder. “It’s easy to know that I dearly miss that place.” Even if that was becoming more and more of a lie.
“I wish there was something else in our lives too,” he said softly. “It’s not only about me. We’ve both been consumed by Cosavo and it feels like our relationship is drained empty.” Oh, he was talking about Mike.
“I…is this why everyone thinks you’re on the line about this decision?” I asked.
“I’m not even on the line in my heart. If Frank Savoie Jr. wants to have Mike resign, things could be normal again. He’s…he’s so stressed and throws things against the wall when he gets home, and that’s about the only way we talk now. It’s not the job for him. Even his body’s telling him to stop, and…I’m not going to talk about that. It’s personal.”
“I get it. It ruined my health too,” I said. I wasn’t even a little vengeful and happy at that news either. There was no pain like deciding between work and checkups, or an emergency room visit. And I always chose the other third option of staying home and eating pills. But Mike would work through anything, and that had to have been worse. What could I even say to Everett? What would Mike do if Everett doomed him?
“Look, he doesn’t know how great taking a break is. And he won’t believe it, but I feel like a different person without that job. I hate the thought of working there again, but I’d do a lot of things for Andrea that he wouldn’t. It might be killing him inside to, you know?” I said. “But he won’t say that…I know Mike doesn’t let anything stop him.”
“It can’t get worse for him, I know that,” said Everett. “I can’t promise this. I’m sorry.”
What kind of answer was that? A stupid one, but the sort of stupid excuse I gave to avoid conflict at Cosavo too. Maybe it would free Everett from Mike. He needed a boyfriend who wasn’t CEO in some twisted revenge plot. But, he could be right about it changing Mike. I wanted Mike to change so I could feel some peace.
Either way, it was a long walk back to Gian’s apartment.
“I feel awful about this Cosavo business,” I said. Elena was nice enough to still hug me on demand, even if she was nervous about how I was living my life. Was it even about that? It could have been about handling the Cote estate or growing older.
“It’s a beautiful place deep inside,” she said, rubbing my shoulder. “You’re doing this for Andrea. I can’t think of anything better than that.”
“I hope you’re right.” I didn’t have the courage to say that I just wanted to play tabletop games with my friends. Elena wouldn’t understand.
“You feel tense, piccolina. Does nonna need to rub your shoulders?” They were getting sore too.
I breathed out with ease when her fingers massaged my back. Ngoc never even hugged me, so I really liked that Elena loved being so close…
“Sorry to interrupt the love making, but Thu has to leave now.” Gian was standing behind the half-wall and did not look happy. Was this something about Cosavo? Because even he didn’t like Cosavo enough to drag me out of the living room for it.
And Gian was often scary. I didn’t want to risk any punishment from him. I was doing too well.
“I did not want to say this in front of my mother, but what the fuck are you and Gene doing?” All of Uptown could hear him. Why didn’t he meet with me upstairs instead?
“We’re trying to take our company back. Everything’s legal–”
“Do I really have to tell you that murder is wrong?” he asked, with his hands up.
“I didn’t murder anyone and I have no idea what you’re talking about,” I said.
“Joseph Savoie, in the hospital after his house was bombed.”
“Oh my god…what about his family?” It was the first time I really thought about someone else’s family. But he talked about his wife and two daughters during our dinner at the Indian restaurant. They didn’t deserve this…they never wronged me….and neither did any family for that matter, you crazy bitch.
But for sure, it wasn’t me, and it wasn’t his brother, and it wasn’t Gene!
“Gian, I can prove my innocence, I promise,” I said. “So if you were dragging me to the hospital to visit him, I will. I don’t want anyone to be harmed.”
“I wasn’t blaming you, but I’m a lot more suspicious of the people you trust…again.”
Maybe it would be an excuse to get away from Gene as soon as our offices were back,. But if Gene was innocent too, I would have his back. He was pervy, awful, kind of racist…but I had done enough in my life to wrongly accuse others of killing. I hated those Cote brats but Andrea and I were wrong once…like any human. That was something I learned in therapy.
Speaking of hospitals and murder, Gian drove to Wexner-Israel. Where my neurologist practiced, and where Jacob was born and where he died.
The hall was filled with Savoies. Joseph’s family was still alive. His daughters looked unharmed, and his wife had a neck brace on but at least was not in the hospital. I didn’t even know what happened to him.
But I was sure that Frank Jr. was innocent. He looked miserable and was taking frantic phone calls, one after the other. He was almost as in bad of a state as I was seven years before that. I finally started to feel for this family I made sure to not know too well.
“Junior…what happened to him?” I asked.
“Bomb planted at the front door….what kind of sick bastard would do that?”
“I don’t know, so that’s why I’m here.”
“I know we both wanted the job, but I never asked for it to be like this,” he said. “It wasn’t a serious rivalry, I just wanted to finally be part of my dad’s bank. What if Joe never forgives me, or what if I can’t do anything?”
It was tough for me to figure out what to say. I never lost a sibling…I never had one to begin with. I didn’t know how they felt about each other, or how seriously they took rivalries and fighting for jobs. I felt a little like the sick bastard who would plant a bomb…because I didn’t understand any of this.
“I need to talk to him,” I said to Frank, putting my hand to his chest. “Please, even if he doesn’t want to ever see me again. I don’t actually like Cosavo that much, and I’ll take never working there again after saying that, but…I don’t want to be the bad guy.”
“Don’t worry, I didn’t want you to be CEO again anyways,” said Junior.
I guess that was the twist ending to my plot all along. It was pointless, and someone got hurt over it. But a weight was lifted off me as well. All I had to deal with was crushing guilt about Joseph.
“Thu, what the fuck is that?” Gian asked. I got a croissant at the cafeteria. It was the only good thing I remembered about the hospital. I got a lot of breakfasts there when Jacob was recovering from surgery, and they made super fresh pastries.
“Eating away my guilt,” I mumbled with a full mouth. I felt terrible, but it was so rich and flaky. And it was way better than talking to Gian about giving up my job for good. I didn’t want to admit that he was right too, by keeping me away from it.
“He’s awake for now,” said Junior. “He actually sounded happy to talk to you again.”
I finished my croissant and opened the door. He was calm in his bed, in the blue hospital room. I remembered those too well and it was frightening to be inside of one again. I could hear him breathe, through it sounded awful and mechanical. And he still looked asleep.
“Joseph…I’m really sorry about what happened to you and your home and your family,” I said, biting one of my knuckles. “And I’ll do anything to help prosecute the guilty.”
“Thanks…don’t waste your time.” He groaned as he spoke. The pain looked horrible. He was covered in cuts and bruises and bandages. There was a post-surgery suction bag peeking out from the covers.
“But I have to, someone’s out there. I know I’m infamous now for being wrong about what’s murder and what isn’t, but bombs don’t just appear. Babies can die…and that’s really bad.”
“This isn’t about your guilt or your baby,” he said.
“I need a clear answer! If I’m not guilty and you don’t think I’m guilty, then what is this even for? I’m dumb! And I’m not meant to be a CEO…you and your brother were right about me.”
“If you would shut up for a minute, there’s already an arrest warrant out for Gene. Don’t waste their time anymore,” he said. He slowly lowered himself back to lying down.
“Uh…I guess there is,” I said.
I stayed inside until my friends invited me to trivia night at their favorite bar. It was the sort-of lesbian bar they took me to on my birthday. Plus Kari had never been there, and she was bi and sort-of fit in! I was jealous of her, but then she lent me a huge and comfy pink sweater to wear. After that I didn’t feel bad at all. It was soft and smelled like her.
Everything was perfect. Elle kind-of knew Kim the trivia host, who had lots of curly red hair. For this bar, all the questions were about women and lesbians.
Kim’s wife, Jackie, cheered her on, so I guess they fit into the bar well.
But I still felt like shit. I tried to hide it with beer and fries.
I didn’t tell Kari about the warrant for her dad’s arrest. She was the only kid he truly had all the time, and it wasn’t only Gene who cared. She would be heartbroken too. And I didn’t tell Gene either. I didn’t think he was guilty of trying to kill Joseph, because he had my work to win over Everett! He had to trust me a little bit. I felt like I had to warn him, but not that night. Another one.
Even getting Mike out of Cosavo didn’t feel great, and not just because I wasn’t going to take his place. Andrea would be pissed either way. Was I wondering which one he’d hate more? Did I really think his love for me hinged on some stupid last-minute he made while high on painkillers? No one would understand if I tried to talk about it though.
I felt empty inside without Cosavo, even though it made me feel empty when I worked there too.
“For the Local Commerce category, this Sabier City executive was the first Asian-American woman on the SC Business Insider’s top 100.”
Oh god, I was on there one year. They didn’t write glowing praise about me, but I was. This was not the night to be reminded of that place.
Not the night to think about bombings, slander, being secretary…
“…congratulations to Three Thespians and a Trans-sister for being the only team to answer correctly, it was Kwan Yoon-Hee of Snowcap Solutions.”
“Are you crying, Thu?” Kari asked, leaning over the table. “It’s okay that we got this one wrong, like, I’m not a business major…”
I cried a lot and everyone knew that. But even through the tears, I saw that Ashley was angry. And she was never angry. She was as gentle as Kari, but something was not right for her either. She barely talked that night too and hid behind beer like me…what was going on? It couldn’t be another Cosavo problem…she had more to her life than that.
I walked towards the bathroom and hoped that no one was following me.
I didn’t make it in. I wished I could find the words to explain to anyone how shitty this was. How I gave up the worst thing I was looking forward to but still felt like a soulless traitor to my own husband. And to everyone else too. Someone had to be looking forward to me coming back…
“I can’t fucking believe you,” Ashley whispered. I had never heard her swear like that. “You still have this bizarre revenge fantasy about Mike?”
“It’s…it’s not as bad as you think. I’m not going to be CEO.”
“It’s not just his job at stake, it’s everyone’s. And what has he done to deserve this anyways? It’s…it’s fine to think about yourself and your friends first but not like this. I know the company sucks but you’re not helping anyone.”
“I thought I had a lot of passion for the place, but now I’m just confused,” I said. “And it’s been bugging me all night.”
“We still need to help her.” Kari appeared and she became the sweet friend that I thought Ashley was. I didn’t want to think what could get me on Kari’s bad side.
“But it’s still pretty reckless.”
“I know it was, but what can I do? Everything’s ruined now anyways, even for me,” I said. I folded my hands together as I begged for help. “I want to do what’s right for everyone.”
“Reconcile with your family! I’m really sorry for sounding harsh but I can’t stand this anymore. Ever since Axel came to town everything’s gone wrong. A lot of people are between you and them and miserable because of it,” said Ashley. “Do it for them…no, do it for you.”
“You mean I have to apologize to Mike?” I asked.
“Uh…you can start thinking about how he feels? Because even I don’t know that,” said Ashley.
I guess I ruined his dreams, and I never thought of him because it was better for my mind not to. Ashley was healthier than I was. Maybe if I tried hard, I could think like her too…
…where in this big city was he, anyways?