Content Warning for: child abuse (verbal, adult shoving a child)
That sounded like Board of Trustees member Gordon Blakely, who was in perfect health.
Mike was not happy about leaving the dinner he looked forward to all year. Freddy could handle it on his own, but that wasn’t why Mike started the charity in the first place. He wanted to be the role model for children with kidney disease and to take his influence as far as it could go. They didn’t have as many role models as some. But the world wouldn’t stop without one banking CEO.
“You better had a damn good reason for this, Blakley.”
“It’s not a good reason.” Gordon sighed and pinched his nose bridge. “But please, this isn’t the first after-hours drudgery we’ve had to do.”
“Think about the children!” Mike yelled. “I worked my ass off for them!”
“Your job wa–is working your ass off for Cosavo.” He noticed how Gordon had a little slip there as he spoke. “Everything else is optional.” What was going on with him? They worked so well together; he was the closest thing he had to what Andrea had in Gene.
“…this should be quick. You’ll be able to get back to your dinner in no time,” said Gordon.
Mike noticed Everett out the corner of his eye when he walked in. It all made sense as to why he skipped out on the dinner. Sure, Everett’s kidneys were perfect, but he wasn’t the monster to not care about sick children. He said that Nora, their dog, needed to be watched, but he must have gotten his little sister to instead.
Mike wanted answers, but at least Gordon had a promise in that conference room.
It was a familiar sight, except for Frank Savoie Jr. at the end of the conference table, instead of his father. Mike had met with him before, on friendly terms, but his position was so new, and he preferred the senior Frank. Junior was the only one who wasn’t biting their lower lip in anguish. Or that was how Mike read it.
“I gave Gordon a lot of shit for this, but this was the one night I wanted off,” Mike said. “Unless I’m in a room full of people who don’t care about sick children.”
“I’m sorry, but we all know how you are with bad news,” Junior said. “Better after hours than swearing at some poor interns.”
“Whatever. Say it nicely, or don’t. I don’t care.”
“Fine, I’ll be blunt about it,” he said.
“…we made the decision to let you go as CEO.”
For once, Mike didn’t say anything. It was a fluke that he even got to sit in the CEO’s chair, but he didn’t expect to be let go after less than a year there either. He thought of it as a life sentence of sorts…even if he told Ashley that he dreamed of other things. Was Frank reading his mind for one fleeting thought that he barely stood behind?
Or was there something behind him sharing a table with Gene and Thu at the retirement party?
“…this is a position you have to work for, not just one where you get preference just because your father and your grandfather stole the company,” he continued. Ugh, he had to bring history into it. Mike didn’t give one shit if Aubrey Cote stole a humble credit union and turned it into a banking empire. Business was cruel sometimes.
“Fuck off Junior, that was decades ago and I’m not accepting some bullshit plan of Thu’s,” he said. “I am qualified! And I love it here, I am passionate about this bank.” If Thu could lie through her teeth to say the same things, so could he. Mike was not going to leave while insulted by a Savoie, and he wouldn’t pretend to be happy about it.
“This isn’t anything about Thu. You’re both the worst CEOs I can think of,” said Junior. “It’s just the way Andrea raised you two.”
Mike wanted to choke Junior against the wall for that. He wanted to rip the man from his cushy chair at the head of the table and watch him turn blue.
But that was a fantasy, and they had Everett waiting nearby for a reason. He escorted Mike out and Mike had to calm down a little with his boyfriend’s hand on his shoulder. He kept it in for the elevator ride down to the exit to Uptown.
One of his hands was balled into a fist. He was suspicious of how Everett voted for the new Board of Trustees member, even if Mike didn’t expect Junior to fire him either. Before that, Mike just didn’t like the guy that much. But Everett seemed to for a reason.
Would Mike stoop so low as to punch his own partner in the face? He never even liked to see Everett get a paper cut or a pulled muscle.
“It had to happen,” said Everett, grabbing Mike’s fist before he even planned for it to go anywhere. “I’m sorry.”
“Did Thu tell you to do this?” Mike asked. “Or did you follow her example and suck Gene’s dick?”
“Don’t be ridiculous. I wanted to save our relationship.” Everett’s grip on his wrist tightened. “I wanted to save you. I can’t let you be angry at home and hurt yourself just for revenge on Thu, and you had to stay in the hospital twice in a month. You were never like this before.”
“We’re still gonna talk to that bitch,” Mike muttered as he dragged Everett by the hand across Uptown. Uncle Gian couldn’t keep a secret. He always talked about where Thu lived.
Mike didn’t find Thu in Gian’s apartment. He found Gian and that little white dog he always gushed about. Gian still acted like a welcoming uncle. He got up off the couch to greet Mike like it was for a friendly dinner party instead.
“Show me where that bitch is, Gian! She fucking stole my job again!”
“Thu…isn’t here. She’s with a friend right now,” he said. “I’m sorry, I knew there were rumors but I thought they were only that–”
“I’ll murder her and that sick fuck Gene for this!” Mike tried to shove his uncle, even though he was a stronger man than him. If he couldn’t get his chance with Junior, it had to be somebody. “Don’t you know what they’ve done?”
“Why don’t you just take out Gene instead?” Gian mumbled.
Mike did not want Everett to even come inside, but he did to break up the fight. Unfortunately, Everett was also strong, and strong enough to pick up Mike with ease.
“He let this all happen!” Mike tried to struggle away.
“I can’t believe you,” said Everett. “This is what I was talking about.”
“Put him in my room,” said Gian. “He’ll calm down, he always does.”
Mike wasn’t impressed by silk sheets or moody lighting. But he knew that Thu slept in the former guest room, and that Gian wanted to avoid conflict. Of course, he’d make her wish that he only murdered her baby instead of tearing her throat out. He didn’t like being CEO, but he especially didn’t like Thu being so selfish. If not being CEO couldn’t humble her, what would?
But soon, his breathing slowed down. His blood pressure dropped. Mike didn’t fall asleep, but he fell into a calmer, introspective state.
He should have known that Gian took creepy pictures of his mum and came to them every night. God forbid he take a blacklight to them and learn the truth. But no matter why Gian had them, Mike was still surrounded by his mother’s image. Her warm smile and sparkling dark eyes. It was like being hugged by her again.
There wasn’t really a Jewish afterlife for Leah to believe in, but Andrea also got his kids baptized as Catholics behind her back. And none of them practiced much of anything beyond the highest of holidays. So Mike had a free license to think of his mother being anywhere he wanted her to be. Was she watching what went on downstairs?
She didn’t like Cosavo, that was for sure. She never even went to the parties. If she was still around, Mike would run into her arms for a long embrace. Leah would tell him that everything would be okay, job or no job. She’d talk for a long time about everything Mike could do instead.
But as much as he loved his mum, all he did was serve Cosavo. Be miserable. Miserably serve Cosavo.
“I can’t fucking take it!”
In his furied daydream, he saw Leah again, aghast at his screams. She still had tearstained eyes and her soft purple sweater on. Mike never interacted with her in those dreams, but he also didn’t know what would happen if he did. She comforted him all the time as his mum, but he never had a chance to be there as her son.
“Mum, I’m sorry I’ve let myself get to this point,” he said. She was drying away a tear on her sleeves. “But you wouldn’t let Cosavo get to that point either.”
“Are you mad at yourself?” she asked. “I didn’t raise you to be like that.”
“I am. You never even knew Thu…but you’d hate her if you did. You’d understand…and then you’d feel bad for me again, and give me a hug.”
On command, she did. Mike buried his face into his mother’s shoulder, like he always did as a kid. There was so much that Leah would be happy about too, like being a grandmother to Anthony’s kids or meeting Everett. But Cosavo made it hard to focus on that. At most, all Mike could think about was how good things used to be. With Leah. She was a stay-at-home mum, so they had tons of fun together.
She had so many books…
…and she always wanted to learn how to write code too.
“Hey, remember those records that your grandfather gave us?” His grandfather, Leah’s father, loved jazz and blues and swing. He still shipped the family pieces of his record collection once he went digital with it. “And how I taught you and Tessa how to dance to them?”
“Oh my god…you don’t wanna know where I used those skills.”
“Michael, come on. I knew you’d grow up and go to gay clubs,” she said. “But I hope you were safe.”
“Let’s not talk about that. I can clap out a rhythm and we’ll start from there.” Keeping rhythm was the only thing he learned from Anthony about music. And Anthony could print a hello world statement in a couple of languages. But unlike stupid coding exercises, a beat was all that was needed for dancing. It echoed through the walls of that black room, which Mike was unsure even existed.
When Leah twirled him around, every single detail about the old house fell into place.
Andrea wasn’t home that much. Anthony usually kept himself in his room to play violin or guitar, so no one could hear him. So Leah had her other two children all to herself. The house was warm and smelled like fresh-baked bread. And Mike’s health was probably as good as it ever was…
“You better keep it quiet, I just got home,” said Andrea. His voice was always deep and booming, and it shook Mike whenever he heard it.
He remembered that night. It was just like every night. The two of them would argue because they loved or hated their job, house, or kids.
“You can’t hear anything in the bedroom anyways, just stay in there if your head hurts that much,” said Leah. Andrea never listened, though. “And I made dinner two hours ago. We have to eat too but you’re the one who’s always home so late.”
“Ugh, not again Mike, Tessa said. “Not your fault. They always do this bullshit.” She wasn’t supposed to use that word back then.
He looked over her shoulder, as the conversation started to detach from his memories. He wanted to fill in the gaps instead.
“…our kids? They should never feel like they have to work for you, or your nasty Asian child bride! We’re dead! Their lives are just beginning, and they can actually live them unlike you!”
“Goddamnit Leah, you don’t have to keep bringing her up,” said Andrea. “Or my dad’s company. Yours was only a millionaire for a reason.”
Scolding was a memory for any night. Andrea would lock the doors of his office with one child and scream until he was crying and coughing instead. And it wouldn’t take long until he was ready to yell at the other child. Anthony was lucky for being quiet. He rarely got yelled at or could even be found, and he definitely never got spanked. Mike was not going to let his mind go back to the spankings if he could help it.
If there was one fault to Leah, it was that she let those things happen. Even the spankings. Even what happened to Tessa.
“Don’t think this doesn’t apply to you.” Andrea grabbed Mike’s arm to stop him from running off. “I know you’re miserable in the real world without me. The CEO should have never been an ungrateful little bastard like you.”
“Shut up, you and mum were married when I was born.” And out of the choices for the position, he may have been an ungrateful bastard, but he didn’t have rocks for brains like Thu.
“You know that I mean,” said Andrea, shoving a heavy hand onto his son.
“You know who was ungrateful and miserable, it was Thu!” Mike said, groaning in disappointment. There was never any way to get through to Andrea, but he could try in his dreams. “Why didn’t you ever listen to me?”
“Because listening is hard, and I listened to no one. Do you really think I was out there helping Thu?” Was that Mike’s subconscious telling him to care about her? Gross, he had to block that out of his mind. “Nothing’s changed, you’re exactly like her, and the only difference was that I could fuck Thu every night and make her do my bidding.”
“I am nothing like her!” Mike yelled.
“Well, you two throw the same tantrums,” Andrea said.
“Thanks a fucking lot, dad.” Mike woke up with a headache. He must have got whiplash from trying to fight his uncle. But what made Gian different from Andrea was that Gian let his most belligerent children sleep overnight with him.
Though, they were even once Mike saw his huge collection of Leah pictures.
“Look…I know I have a lot to answer for,” Gian said.
“Where did you even get those pictures?”
“We have other things to talk about too.”
“No, seriously, this conversation is happening right as I learn that you cum to pictures of my mum every night.” Mike had no qualms saying it while Gian took a seat a couple feet away.
“I know, but I had a long talk with Everett about the other thing,” said Gian.
“Yeah, my whole career’s down the shitter and I wasted all that time, that’s what. Now what am I gonna do?”
“He said that you’ve secretly been miserable, and I believe him. Because I’ve seen that too.”
“Come on, I’ve been pissed off since birth,” Mike said.
“But you haven’t,” said Gian. “And not like this. You didn’t slam doors and walls and go off the handle at your own friends and family. You used to know where to leave your anger, and Cosavo is a stressful place! I used to be miserable there too.”
“And so fucking what if I am then? Thu doesn’t have the right to do this, and you still let her be a selfish bitch!”
“I know I’ll never be able to convince you otherwise,” Gian said.
“Yeah, yeah, you tell me how much better she’s getting all the time, and even Everett says she’s out in the city eating ramen and walking a dog. That doesn’t change what happened between us.” Mike started to breathe deeply and calm down a little. “I mean, it’d be nice if it could change. I’ve been trying to forget her.”
“Look, listen to this then. If Thu can almost become a functional member of society with therapy and not being CEO, imagine what it could do to you,” said Gian. “I can help with all the details, and you never have to be her friend.”
“Ugh, I know, you want everyone to tolerate each other so you can have a peaceful Christmas or interfaith Purim again,” Mike groaned.
“I mean, it’s a good goal if you ask me,” said Gian. “But do it for you…and for Everett.”
“He hasn’t said much to me about this. Is he scared of me now?”
“You are scary when you’re angry. I worry about you all the time,” said Gian, slouched down in despair too. Or were the pictures of Leah making him horny and desperate again? How did his uncle even fuck his girlfriend in that room and explain that wall?
Mike wanted to lighten the mood and ask those questions, but Gian got a phone call instead. It must have been Thu: that needy, selfish worrier. Mike could think that until therapy told him not to.
“Oh, it’s just Thu’s friend. I’m sorry, Mike,” said Gian, rubbing his neck as he winced at his phone.
“Whatever,” he said, rolling his eyes.
“Kari, hey, is everything alright?”