tagRomanceMr. X Games Ch. 02

Mr. X Games Ch. 02


Three days had passed since we returned. Mom and I had a lunch planned to go over what I had missed at the office and get her thoughts on how we could shake things up. I called Cat to see if she was available for dinner after the meeting but she said she wasn't and had to rush off the phone.

I walked into the restaurant and the hostess escorted me to the table. Stopping about twenty feet from the table, I saw Ronnie there with Mom. Ronnie saw me stop and must have been concerned.

"Nicky, I swear I didn't set this up. She reached out to me. I didn't ―"

Mom took her hand.

"It's fine, honey. He knows. It's not a problem, right Nicholas?"

I continued to the table, surprised and a little taken aback. Ronnie couldn't read Mom, but I could. She also called me Nicholas, which is a dead giveaway. She was angry, likely at me.

"Sure. Ronnie's always welcome. So, how did this," I motioned between them. "come about."

"I saw your sister on TV and I thought it was time that we met. My son didn't introduce me, so I took care of it myself."

Yeah, she was definitely angry. She was handling it well though.

"Did you tell Veronica how much attention we've been getting?" As she had when I was competing, Mom handled much of the marketing and media outreach for the agency.

"No, not yet." I turned towards Ronnie. "Thanks for putting yourself out there. I know that wasn't easy. Since the interview we've been getting calls from media across the country. Many of them want their own sit-down."

She looked slightly panicked at the idea of doing another interview.

"I've got it covered, Ronnie. We probably won't agree to any of them, but if we do, I'll handle it. I know that must have been difficult for you and I appreciate your doing it for me. To be honest, I'm surprised that you got Angie to go along with it."

We had a good lunch. The conversation roamed from work to New York and back again. Mom and I didn't exclude Ronnie from the discussions. That hadn't gone over so well in Bristol. Eventually, Ronnie got a text. She looked at her phone and then at us.

"That's my Mom. Thank you for lunch. It was really nice to meet you, Ms. Tremaine." She stopped and looked at me for a second before continuing. "Nick, I'm really sorry."

Why did I get the feeling she wasn't apologizing for not letting me know she met my mother?

Mom was smiling as she spoke to Ronnie and seemed to miss that undercurrent of whatever it was I was barely picking up. "It was great to meet you too, Veronica. Let's do this again."

After Ronnie left I got the look from Mom. They all had it in their repertoire. The mom look.

"She's a lovely girl, Nick and I'm glad she has you in her life, but you have to stop trying to protect me. Any issues I have are with her father, not with her. Keeping me at arm's length with Ronnie or with the surgery hurts me more than helps me."

I laughed softy, remembering my conversations with Ronnie.

"Do you find this amusing, Nicholas?"

"No, what I find funny is that I keep saying the same thing to her. She's concerned about her relationship with her dad and how that affects me." She smiled at me ruefully. "I'm sorry, Mom. I love you and I don't want you to worry."

"I know, and I love you too. You're a good boy, Nicholas, but you should give me more credit. If Veronica is important to you, she's important to me. Now go pay for lunch. We're heading over to St. Joseph's to light a candle."

I didn't argue. I was going to donate a kidney and if she wanted us to light a candle and say a prayer, that's what was happening.

* * * * *

Work took up most of my time for the next couple of days. All the reports that I had asked for came in and going through them was a painstaking process. In general, they were much better than I expected. I was intrigued by a proposal for medical tourism, especially where it related to stem cell therapy.

When I started to get eye-strain I took a break and called the psychologist that handled my evaluations. His receptionist put me through.

"Hey, Doctor. This is Nick Tremaine. Any word yet?"

"Hello Nick. You saved me a phone call. Everything is fine. You're all set from our end. Would you mind if we informed Veronica? Entirely up to you, but her family is understandably interested."

"Yeah, sure. Feel free."

"Thanks, and please call if you have any questions."

After not knowing me for the first twenty-three years of her life, Ronnie wanted to make up for lost time and asked if we could together again this weekend. She wanted to meet at her parents again, which was odd as she knew how I felt about George and his house. I suggested Cat's place but Ronnie seemed determined to have it at her home and assured me that our father wouldn't be around. I reluctantly agreed. When I showed up Terry let me in and asked me to carry some of Ronnie's art supplies out to her.

"Sure. Cat around?" I asked hopefully. Cat hadn't responded to my text messages. I figured she was taking care of whatever she missed at her chocolate shop while we were away, but I was concerned.

"No, she's out with Adam. Maybe she'll drop by later."

I stopped, my chest growing tight. "She's out with Adam? Didn't they break up?"

"They got back together when you guys got back from New York." I realized that she may have heard something in my voice when she looked over quickly. "Is there a problem, Nick?"

"Nope. I guess there's no problem at all." I tried to remain expressionless.

I guess she's pretty perceptive. I saw the understanding dawn on her face as she realized what the situation was. If I saw pity as well, I would have lost it.

"Oh, Nick, I'm sorry. I didn't know. I can't believe Cat or Ronnie didn't tell me. I shouldn't have said anything."

"No, it's fine. Listen, I forgot that I have an appointment with a client. Can you tell Ronnie that I'll catch up with her?"

"No, Nick, please stay. I, I don't know, Ronnie wants to see you and I'm sure Cat ―"

"Yeah, no, it's just bad timing. I forgot the appointment. I'll call Ronnie. I gotta go.

Angry, frustrated and confused, I walked out and got in my car. I hadn't driven five miles before I got a call from Cat. Terry must have called her. I turned the phone off and tossed it angrily on the seat next to me. I drove to the gym and spent a brutal two hours punishing myself for being an idiot.

After showering and returning to the car, I turned the phone back on. There were three more calls and four texts from Cat. I blocked her number and deleted the texts without looking at them. Yeah, I know. Childish isn't a good look on me. It was a self-indulgent moment fed by anger. I'd be unblocking her number soon. I couldn't risk not being available if there were any problems with Ronnie's health.

I drove back to the office and stayed there until after nine going over the proposals and researching medical tourism. It looked like it would be risky if our initial outlay was significant, but it was potentially very lucrative.

I worked twelve hours the next day and twelve the following. I sent Ronnie an email apologizing for walking out on her and Terry. She asked if we could try again that Saturday. The surgery was in less than two weeks, so we didn't have many weekends left. I agreed, and she told me she would make sure our father wasn't around.

When I knocked on the door on Saturday Terry stepped out, keys in hand.

"I have to do some shopping. I'll be back in about an hour. Ronnie's in the back and there's lemonade on the counter. Thanks, Nick!"

As I stepped in, she hurriedly made her way to her car. I went to the kitchen to grab the lemonade and saw Cat standing there waiting for me.

"I'm so sorry, Nick." There was almost a pleading tone to her voice as she leaned back against the counter, away from me.

I thrived on pressure and confrontation. This was easier for me than the awkward looks, butterflies and longing. I stood looking at her for a beat or two before responding.

"Sorry, Cat? What do you have to be sorry about? We had some fun in Connecticut. It was a one-time thing and it's over. I get it."

Aside from the ceiling fan and our conversation, it was silent. No sounds of cars driving by, no birds in the backyard, no television droning on. I stood in the middle of the kitchen while she continued to lean on the counter, shrinking back from me.

"No, it's... that's not what it was. I just, I don't know. I was with Adam for three years. He came to the store when I got back and ―"

"Cat, you don't owe me any explanations. Especially now. A phone call when you decided would have been nice, but whatever." I recognized how my voice sounded and knew what it meant. It was cold, tight and controlled as it always was when I shut down everything and focus on the crisis in front of me.

It was hard to tell but she seemed a little spooked as I continued. "I clearly thought that we had something different than what you thought. It happens. Adam's not such a bad guy. He's older so you guys probably have a lot in common and you have a history. Look, I'm here to see Ronnie, but I'm sure we'll run into each other. I'll see you later."

I grabbed a couple of glasses and the pitcher and headed out to the porch.

Ronnie mouthed 'sorry' as I put the glasses and pitcher down. We heard the front door close behind Cat. "Taking a shot at her age? She's only three years older than you. Not too subtle, but I'll bet that got to her."

I took some juvenile pleasure in that.

* * * * *

When she returned, it was clear that Terry could sense that I was angry. She looked askance when I stared at her. Leaving Ronnie and I alone for another hour or so, she eventually stepped back into the room.

"Ronnie, your father will be home in about forty-five minutes." She said it for my benefit and not my sister's. If George was going to be here, I wasn't.

Ronnie and I finalized plans to get together later that week to go over some of her art.

"Okay, I guess it's time to hit the road. I'll see you Wednesday, but if you're not up for it, it's not a problem. Just let me know."

"I'll be fine, Nick."

I bent over and kissed the top of her head and made my way to the door.

Terry called to me. "Nick, wait."

She wasn't going to give me an opportunity to just drop it and I relished the chance to let her know what I was thinking.

"Yes?" Just as it had been with Cat, my voice was cold and clipped. I was very still, very contained and very perturbed.

Concern was obvious as she continued and there was an undercurrent of something else that I couldn't identify. Fear? Apprehension? Terry and I weren't really at a place where we had serious conversations. She seemed nervous. "You need to talk to her. She was scared. Adam was safe. She... Just talk to her."

"Okay, Terry, a few things. First off, I don't need to do anything. Second, I don't like getting ambushed. Third, you kept acting like I disliked you because of my father. I did at first, but I got over that pretty quick. Now I'm finding a new set of reasons to dislike you. Don't overstep. You're my sister's mother, that's it."

I moved a little closer, invading her personal space. Yes, it was a dickish power move.

"I gave you exactly what you wanted. Your husband abandoned me and my mother and yet here I came, like a puppy starving for affection. You won. I'm putting my life on the line for your daughter. Congratulations. When I see Ronnie, it won't be here. I'll never step foot in this house again. Now leave me the fuck alone."

I stepped out and slammed the door behind me. Did her look of pain and regret bother me? A bit, but I'd get over it. I guess it stemmed back to George walking out on us, but any sense of betrayal set me off. Until that day, she'd been nothing but nice, but she tried to walk me into the lion's den.

Terry had nothing to do with my feelings about Cat, and I had no problems with her until she helped her sister to set me up. They knew how I felt. There was a reason I hadn't returned Cat's calls and texts, and yet she was here, waiting for me, and Terry conveniently has to rush out to go shopping. Fuck that.

Stopping at the gym, I worked out some of my aggression for a couple of hours. I showered, got dressed and headed to the parking lot. Cat was standing by my car, her back to me. My heart started pounding. My ire was piqued, but I couldn't stop looking at her. She was wearing work-out gear. Did she join my gym? Couldn't she just leave me alone?

I walked to my car and stopped a few feet away.

"Stop calling me and stop following me!"

The woman turned, her phone to her ear. With skin that was three shades too dark to be natural, this perma-tan refugee from Jersey Shore wasn't Cat. She gave me a look that showed that she clearly thought I was a lunatic, clicked on her car alarm and quickly walked towards the gym.

"Sorry! I thought you were someone else. I..." Fuck it. My shoulders slumped and I stood there for a few seconds. I got in my car and left for the office, embarrassed by my behavior and maybe, possibly, just a little sad that it wasn't Cat.

I bought some Thai food for the people working late and dug into the last of the reports. I had thought that I was going to have to fire at least five people, but everyone surprised me. Some clearly got help, but that could be spun as teamwork. I was pretty happy with the results of my speech. What I wasn't happy with was the fact that it was after seven and Marissa was still in the office.

"Marissa, can you step in here for a minute?" I called to her from the door to my office.

There was no reason for her to expect that this wasn't a standard business discussion. She had a notepad and waited for me to start. I was apprehensive. This was a conversation that was long overdue.

"How old is Sophia?"

"Her Godfather needs to ask how old she is?"

"Okay, she's four, my point is why are you here at seven at night instead of home with your four-year-old daughter?"

She replied quickly and I sensed some frustration. "Because things need to get done. Why are you here tonight, ten days before you go into surgery?"

I couldn't help but smile.

"Touche. So, we have to discuss a few things. When my mom's not here, I'm putting you in charge. I've also changed my will."

Her face hardened when I said that. I sighed. She hadn't mentioned anything about the surgery and I could tell it was bothering her. We talked about everything but this topic she avoided.

"I know it's been bothering you but you don't have to worry. This is completely safe. It's not exactly the same as getting my tonsils out, but as far as risks go, it's not too far off. But, and it's a tiny, small but, if anything happens to me I'm giving Mom another ten percent so that she'll have permanent control of the company and I'm splitting the rest between you and Ronnie. There's also a college fund set up for Sophia and some life insurance stuff."

She was a reserved woman and never got emotional in public, but I could see that she was a little angry and a little touched.

"Don't say that Nick. I seriously don't want to hear that again. Nothing is going to happen. In six weeks you're going to be back in here and everything is going to be the same. You're going to be fine. I don't want to talk about this. I'll see you in the morning."

She got up to leave, took ten steps and came back. She hugged me tightly but stiffly and then left again. That went better than I had expected.

I sat in my office for a while, killing time. After doing some browsing online, I wound up ordering twelve pounds of truffles from various chocolatiers. She was an emotional undertow I couldn't swim away from.

I guess I should have expected it by this point, but my thoughts kept drifting to memories of Cat. The odd thing is that they weren't lurid. It wasn't the dancing and it wasn't the sex. It was the times we sat in Ronnie's hospital room, talking quietly or the look on her face as she talked about the chocolate shops they visited in Connecticut.

And what the hell was I going to do with twelve pounds of truffles?

Two days later I was in my office with Mom and Marissa going over plans for the time I'd be out. There was a tentative knock on the glass wall and I looked up to see Cat. It wasn't a doppelganger again, it was actually her.

"Uh, hi. Can we maybe talk? I brought some chocolate for your staff," she lifted a bag."but now I feel a little stupid. Where did you get all those truffles?" With a nod of her head towards the front desk, she referred to the pound after pound of truffles we had in bowls for clients.

"They were a gift." I wasn't going to admit the truth. "Listen, we're sort of busy here. Can I give you a call sometime?"

I could feel Marissa and Mom watching us. Cat gave them a tentative smile.

"Sure, whatever you're comfortable with." She looked down and then stepped forward with the bag outstretched.

"You can leave them with the others in the front. If we like them, we'll place an order." Okay, that was petty. It was well played, but I didn't feel like I was winning anything.

"Place an order? That wasn't... okay, sure."

I could see the pain on her face before she turned and made her way towards the exit. My eyes followed her the whole way.

"Nicholas, who was that?"

"She owns a chocolate boutique in town, Mom."

"That seemed to be about a heck of a lot more than some chocolate." From her expression, she appeared more concerned than curious.

"Leave it alone. Let's get back to work."

She let it drop but I could feel Marissa staring at me. If anyone knew how to read me, it was those two and Angie. Their expressions told me they knew how upset I was.

* * * * *

I was starting to think that I was fighting a battle that I couldn't win. Stress, before I went into the hospital, was the last thing I needed. I had snapped at my mother, I was being curt with Marissa and I was ignoring employees. Worst of all, I couldn't continue to convince myself that I hadn't been a complete dick to Terry.

I wanted to speak to someone with some expertise, so I decided to talk to the person I knew who had the strongest relationship with a woman. I know that Jerry loved his wife to death and it seemed that his feelings were reciprocated. They were in love and had been for decades.

Stopping at a liquor store, I picked up a bottle of Jack Daniels 150th Anniversary it wasn't cheap, but it cost me less than speaking to a professional would. I found his house easily enough. I had been there a few times over the years. It exuded a feeling of family. Sort of what you would expect. A basketball hoop in the driveway, a bike in the yard and an older car that likely belonged to one of his kids. The Mercedes was in the open garage.

Jerry opened the door when I knocked and was clearly surprised to see me. He looked like what he was, a middle-aged man carrying a few extra pounds and a growing collection of gray hair. He was taller than me, about six-two, and was wearing his glasses.

"Hey, Nick. Everything okay?" His concern was evident. We got together once in a while to watch a game or play some nine-ball but there were also a few times when I came to him with deeper concerns. It probably wasn't a good idea to have that sort of relationship with an employee, but it worked and I wasn't going to change it.

"Sure. Yeah. Uh, I just wanted to give you this and say thanks again." I handed him the bag with the Jack. He took it, looked in and cocked an eyebrow.

A voice echoed from further in the house. "Jerry, who is it?"

"It's Nick Tremaine, Joan. I'm gonna be in the garage." He turned to me. "Let's go talk."

He had some folding chairs and we relaxed for a few minutes talking about the Mercedes.

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