Rise of the Billionaire
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“Do you owe this man something?” Dominic cut through Jake’s brush-off.
“Just gratitude. I’d like to see something good happen for him.”
Ever the voice of reason, Jake asked, “Have you even asked him? He may not want—”
Dominic spoke over him again, “Send him to me. I’ll find something for him.”
Yes! “Thanks, Dom.”
Dominic swaggered over to his business partner and slapped him on the back. “That’s why I’m Batman.”
Jake rolled his eyes and appealed to the powers above for help, then laughed. Jeremy joined in, followed by Marie and Dominic.
Marie turned her attention to Jake and asked, “Jake, how is the wedding coming along? I thought you were shooting for a winter wedding, but now it looks like you’re waiting for spring. Should I give Lil a call? Are you having trouble finding locations?”
Dominic motioned toward the door. “Come on, Jeremy. It looks like they’re going to be awhile.”
As they walked out the door together, Jeremy was struck by how much had changed between them over the past few weeks. He turned to Dominic and said, “Thank you for helping me break ties with Tenin, and for everything else. Every last one of our people made it home safely. I don’t know if that would have happened without your help.”
Dominic nodded slowly. He wasn’t a man who accepted gratitude, and Jeremy guessed it was because it was still a novel experience for him. On his journey to find himself, Jeremy had learned that he wasn’t alone on that quest. Even his idol had lost and fought his way back, a fact that made Jeremy admire him more instead of less. The people around Dominic didn’t share much about his private life, but the old newspaper articles Jeremy found online described a painful childhood that Jeremy couldn’t even imagine. His own experience had been one filled with sorrow instead of violence. Still, he sensed a need in the man. The same part of him that had cared for his own father for so long reached out and offered comfort to a man who, if asked, would have denied needing it. “I know you’re not that much older than I am, but I have to say something. I used to imagine what my father would be like if he hadn’t been so ill. I’d like to think he would have been like you.”
Dominic’s jaw clenched and he looked away. “I hope to God I do better than mine did.” Once again, Jeremy was given a glimpse of the tortured man beneath the tough façade. Then Dominic said, “Get out of here, Jeremy, I’ve got phone calls to make.”
As Dominic walked away, Jeremy said, “You’re going to be an amazing father, Dom.”
Dominic didn’t stop, but Jeremy knew he’d heard him, and that was enough.
Due to the upcoming winter holiday, the campus was unusually empty when Jeisa arrived at WIT, and that had worked out well for her. With most of the student body gone, she was able to meet with the project head several times. She’d rented a small condo in a quiet area a short way from the university and had spent her evenings furnishing the modest one bedroom.
It was impossible not to wonder how Jeremy was, or feel some sadness at the realization that things were truly over between them. His frequent attempts to call her had dwindled to once a day and then had finally stopped altogether.
Things happen for the best, isn’t that what everyone says?
Maybe I needed to have my heart broken to find myself.
Jeisa went into the main building that housed the GWP and used her access code to enter the administrative offices beside the lab. She hadn’t expected an office of her own. Most of the people in the department were given a corner of the large central office—some even shared desks. Perhaps they thought being the daughter of a well-known politician made her a valuable member of the team. Still, it was a bit of a surprise, considering the honesty she’d exhibited during her interview regarding her lack of real experience.
All in all, everyone had been very nice—a little odd at times, but nice. The spike-haired blonde grad student who had adored Jeremy during their first visit sighed dramatically each time she saw Jeisa. On Jeisa’s second day in the department, she dropped by her office and asked, “What is it like to be you?”
Not quite sure what the woman was asking her, Jeisa had referenced the room around her and said, “I am grateful for the chance I’ve been given, and I intend to work my tail off to show everyone that I deserve it.”
The woman had looked up at the sky, shook her head, said something beneath her breath, then left.
Jeisa unlocked the door to her office now and smiled when she saw the fruit basket on her desk. She walked over and reread the card. “Please join us for dinner this weekend. We’ll send a car. Nicole and Stephan.”
Gifts had arrived daily and had become somewhat of a joke in the office. Abby had sent a care package full of office supplies—everything from personalized stationary to a very practical stapler. Every corner of her office was full of flowers from the Andrades, chocolates from Maddy, and cards from both her American and Brazilian friends. The overwhelming support she’d received was humbling and made her a little ashamed that she hadn’t trusted them to support her dream.
Even her father had changed his stance. He’d sent her a ridiculously expensive leather chair to put behind her desk. She wanted to say, “I’m working, not dying.” But she didn’t.
I don’t need sympathy, I need a kick in the ass.
She looked out the window of her office and watched a couple walk by, hand in hand, laughing about some secret joke. She wanted to open the window and warn them to savor every second of it in case it didn’t last.
Marie had said you find yourself when you fight for something that’s important to you. Do you lose yourself when you don’t? WIT was everything she’d dreamed it would be, but being there hadn’t made her as happy as she’d thought it would.
Because when it mattered, I ran.
The view from her office window blurred as Jeisa turned her thoughts inward. She found herself back in the Andrades’, waiting for Jeremy to come. The kitchen scene faded as she remembered how his helicopter had looked overflowing with roses. If I had been braver, he would have proposed. If I had waited for him to return to me that night, we might still be together.
But I was hurt.
And afraid—too afraid to risk opening my heart up again to the kind of pain I felt when he left with Alethea.
Jeisa took out her cell phone and called her father. In Portuguese she said, “Dad, are you busy?”
“Jeisa? What’s wrong?” he sounded concerned, and she instantly felt guilty that she never called him. Instead of telling her father what she needed from him, she’d always avoided confronting him. She was beginning to see a pattern in her behavior, and it wasn’t one she liked.
“I’m fine, Dad. If you have a minute, I want to ask your opinion on something.”
She heard her father tell his secretary to hold his calls and then close the door to his office. “Talk to me, Jeisa. You know I’ll help you with whatever this is.”
Jeisa’s eyes filled with tears. She choked out a question she’d been asking herself too often recently. “Do you think I’m a coward?”
With a voice deep with emotion, her father said, “Oh, baby.”
Sniffing, Jeisa persisted. “No, I’m serious. I lie when I don’t want to upset someone. I run away from what I don’t want to face. What if that is who I am? How do I stop? What do I do?”
Her father didn’t say anything at first, then he cleared his throat and said, “Only you know the answers to those questions, but my daughter is not a coward. My daughter left home to follow her dreams and she is making a difference in the world. She is a brave and beautiful young woman. Part of growing up, Jeisa, is taking responsibility for the role you play in your own mistakes and your own destiny. Maybe you weren’t ready to do that before, but you’re ready now. Things get better when you make them better.”
Wiping away one stray tear, Jeisa said with growing resolve, “I will, Dad. I really will.” No more excuses. No more wasting time trying to figure out who was wrong or why I’ve made the mistakes I have. You’re right, the only way things can get better is if I take responsibility for my happiness. Maybe it’s too late for Jeremy to forgive me. Maybe I’ve doubted him right out of loving me, but he deserves to hear my apology. Our love deserves a chance and I’m going to give it one. I won’t hide behind anger or fear anymore. I am going to be the kind of brave that Jeremy has always been, and if we are meant to be, he’ll forgive me.
After a brief pause she said, “I have next week off for winter break. Would you want to meet me in Boston?”
“Boston?” her father asked quickly.
“I’ve decided to fly back there, Dad.” As Jeisa said the words, she became more and more sure it was the right thing to do. What’s stopping me from flying out tonight? Nothing. She said, “I will find Jeremy and apologize to him. I need to make things right between us. I won’t jeopardize what I have here, but I’ve let my fears keep us apart for too long. I love him, Dad, and if he still loves me I’m going to marry him.”
Jeisa’s father made a gurgling sound. “Don’t leave California just yet.”
What is he not telling me? “I thought you liked Jeremy.”
With a groan, Romario said, “I do, but you have a surprise coming and you have to be in California to receive it.”
A surprise? This is about more furniture? “Dad, I told you I don’t need anything else.”
“Just promise me you won’t leave until tomorrow night.” The strength of his request dissolved Jeisa’s remaining protests. Waiting wouldn’t be easy, but her father had never asked for something like this, so she agreed.
“Okay, I’ll book a flight for the next day and I’ll call you when I get the package.”
Romario answered vaguely, “Call me when you get a chance. No rush.”
“I will.” Just before she hung up she said, “I love you, Dad.”
“I love you, too, baby,” Romario said and hung up.
The blonde grad student came barreling down the hallway. “Jeisa, looks like you have another delivery.”
Before she’d gathered her thoughts on the matter, four older men dressed in white shirts, white pants, and red striped vests walked into her office. Behind them, the skeleton crew of the department gathered. One of singers introduced themselves as WIT’s a cappella group. They hummed to harmonize and began to sing:
Jeisa, Jeisa, here you are
Wish you hadn’t moved so far
Don’t be sad, you’re not alone
We’re just as close as your phone
Hope you like your new job there
Call me if you want a beer
Abby said you’d hate this attention
So if she calls please don’t mention
Jeisa, Jeisa, don’t be blue
Hope you laughed
We love you
From Lil and Jake
Happy tears gathered in Jeisa’s eyes. Never in her life had she imagined that so many wonderful, caring people would surround her.