Work and Play Pt. 08byhero101©
A/N: Hello? Anyone there?
So it's been MONTHS since I've updated, and I am so incredibly sorry. I won't ramble on about my excuses. I'm just gonna give you a story.
Welcome back to Zeke's world.
DISCLAIMER: There is a large portion of this chapter (the last time in this story!) that a character makes unwanted advances toward another character.
TWO DAYS LATER
On my way out the door this morning—I was early, so I wasn't in a big rush—a lady was walking her German Shepherd along the sidewalk. Of course, I set my laptop bag down and not-so-calmly asked if I could pet him (his name is Toby), and it even further sold me on getting a dog.
Kelsey, the owner of the dog, was actually making her way over to my house with a basket in hand containing three different types of cookies. "My grandparents, Marlene and Gary White, live next to you. They said you're very nice."
I've talked to the old people next door twice. Once was to admire their grass (and ask how they took care of it; I wanted my grass to look like THAT) and the other time was to help the old lady close her fence in the rain.
"They're also very nice," I responded, standing up and straightening myself out.
"I'm Kelsey. I just graduated from Oklahoma Christian University, and I'm living with them for a few months and helping pack up until they can move back with my parents in Brush. They felt bad they never got to properly welcome you into the neighborhood, so they sent me over," she said sweetly, handing me the basket of cookies. "Peanut butter, chocolate chip, and sugar. Made from scratch."
Kelsey is 22 years old. I'm not interested, of course, but I LOVE that dog, so I was extra nice. It'd be nice to have a friend that lived next door, even if it was only for a few months. If I see her again, I'll drop the "I'm gay" bomb and hope she still wants to be friends. At the time, I just thanked her for the cookies, made small talk for about five minutes, and then told her I had to go onto work. Kelsey, with a swish of her long, brown hair, batted her eyelashes and stuck her hand out to shake mine.
I'm NOT telling Shannon a thing about Kelsey White.
Coincidentally though, Shannon came to me yesterday, telling me it was my job to come with her to sell this patent to this company, Lancer Inc. I, of course, did an 'in your face' thing to Gabriel, until I found out he was still coming with us. Then I took it back but he still wouldn't kiss me. That's alright.
I've been thinking about what we're going to do in my house this weekend. What I'm going to cook, what I'm going to wear, etc. I think it's going to be fun.
Shannon and I decide to take her car, and Gabriel takes his own car. "So, I must admit, I barely know what we're selling," Shannon says. "All I know is we're going to get $3 million."
"Only $3 million? Yeah, right," I scoff. "We're selling an internal design that is practically useless to us, but will increase Lancer's revenue by 24% if they do their marketing right. If they really try hard, they could make a smooth billion off of this design if they're really ambitious. I'm going for $10 million here."
"You're trying to do what now?" Shannon asks.
"I'm going to sell that patent for $10 million instead of 3," I explain. I've been thinking about it all night and this morning. I'm SO pumped."
Shannon shakes her head. "Good luck, but that's not gonna happen."
Gabriel arrives in the parking lot two minutes after we do. He's wearing a nice suit, but not his nicest. Now that I think of it, all of us are underdressed. I carry some files, Shannon has a briefcase, and Gabriel has his laptop. I can't stop thinking about it. I'm really going to do this.
We step into the lobby of the small building, where we're greeted by a small, blonde lady. "How may I help you?"
"We're representatives of OrtegaTech. We're here to speak to a..." Gabriel checks the name on my file, "Stephen Browning? 3:15."
The lady, Marsha by nametag, smiles sweetly and checks her computer. "Absolutely! Mr. Browning isn't here currently, but—" She's interrupted by a commotion behind us. A man storms into the building, whisps of gray hair a mess and his shoulders tense as he treks over to Marsha's desk.
"What are you good for if you can't get me out of shit like that?!" he booms in her face. She's completely speechless and shaking. "I never EVER want to see an idiot like Beneval again. God—"
Gabriel gently places a hand on the man's shoulder. "Sir? I don't think that's the best way to deal with—"
The man swivels quickly and smacks Gabe's hand off of his shoulder. "How DARE you touch me, boy? I'm not interested in any sales pitch from your kind of people," the man snaps. Then he looks Shannon up and down in disgust before turning back to Marsha. "I got a meeting with these OTech assholes in a minute. Do your job, maybe?" With that, he storms to an elevator and is upstairs before anyone can properly react.
Everyone stands still, listening to the loud air conditioning before Gabriel chuckles softly. "A redhead, a Mexican, and a black woman walk into a company. They're berated heavily." He tucks a lock of hair behind his ear. "And that's the end of the joke."
"Oh. My. God," I whisper. "That was horrifying."
Marsha was trying her best to hold herself together. Shannon ended up talking to her quietly before Marsha sent us upstairs at 3:25.
"We'll go in, sell it, and get out," Gabriel grumbles in the elevator. "I don't want to talk to this man. How uncaring can you be, geezus."
Oh, no. I'm not giving up that easily. Stephen Browning may be a disgusting racist piece of shit, and we may not want to spend more than a minute in a room with him, but he's going to pay for this damn patent.
We're led to his office door by a red-faced Marsha, and as soon as he sees us, Stephen Browning is red-faced as well. I'll admit that I took personal offence to the way he treated Gabriel and Shannon downstairs, and I hope I can hold it together.
"Let's make this quick," is the first thing Stephen Browning says to us as we sit down. I'm not having any of it. Not even a greeting? In the blink of an eye, his shitty company could be GONE. I'd be nicer to us.
"Yes, sir," I reply loudly. Gabriel is still a little steamed, and Shannon has basically tuned out. "We're going to start at seventeen and work our way down," I start. Gabriel doesn't look at me, but he tenses up, I want to grab his hand and tell him exactly what I'm thinking: I have a plan to roast Stephen Browning over hot coals.
"Excuse me?" Stephen gripes. "Seventeen what?"
"Beach balls," I reply sarcastically. "Is it just me, or do people usually pay for patents in millions of dollars? We're starting out at $17 million, and we MIGHT work our way down." The room is silent for a good five seconds before Stephen laughs, heartily and obnoxiously.
"I talked $5 mil at most. Absolutely not," he laughs.
"17 ballpark or we walk," I say sternly. Even Gabriel has to turn toward me at this point. I ignore him, though. I'm not letting some 67 year old failing businessman gripe his teeth at the company I proudly work at, AND bash the vice president—the SEXY, sophisticated and amazing vice president—of said company in front of my face without paying for it. Browning needs this patent for production. He's going to take it if I have to shove it up his ass and he's going to take it for no less than $10 million.
"Look, kid. I don't know who you think you are, but I don't appreciate being snapped at by some sassy intern. No deal."
The room is silent for a good ten seconds while I decide if I should take offense to being called an intern. No. I shouldn't. I shrug. "Well. Thank you for your time," I say.
The three of us stand up, dusting off our clothing and shaping up to leave when Stephen clears his throat and stands right up too. "This is... this is ridiculous! I-I know that contract isn't worth more than $3 mil! You're trying to—"
"Mr. Browning, to my and my uncle's company, this patent may be worth one-hundred dollars. To you? $100 million. I don't think we properly introduced ourselves. This is Shannon Briggs, our number one financial manager. Ezekiel Hartigan, an advertising and sales genius, and I am Gabriel Ortega." Gabriel leans over Browning's desk in a menacing, dark way. "My last name currently decides if your company will keep making a profit or not. So do we want to try this again?"
God that was the hottest thing I've ever seen. I want to jump him.
Stephen Browning sits back down, sighing out in a defeated way. "Ridiculous."
"What's ridiculous is the way you treat your consumers and employees," Shannon speaks up. "It might even contribute to your financial deficits. Mr. Browning, whether you like it or not, you... NEED us. So we either start at seventeen and see if we can sweeten the deal... or we both leave empty-handed. And I don't know how you'll manage empty-handed. Our 'kind of people'... we're actually doing quite well. We don't need you."
It's been an hour of analyzing and re-analyzing and typing and going over shit and we have this idiot at $11 million now. And quite honestly, I'm not ready to give him any less than that. He's in a sweat while I type on Gabriel's computer, editing and re-editing the deal with every add-on. I don't really have anything left.
"Okay! $10 mil and I'll do you a personal favor. I'll advertise for you. I'll let you have us for a month."
"Mr. Browning—" Shannon begins.
"This 'girl' has a lower-ranking position than you and makes the same amount of money. Mr. Browning, our last offer is $12 million dollars," Shannon snaps. Stephen Browning is a fuming mess, and we're not much different. I've basically read numbers and done estimates while Shannon and Gabe have been playing hardball. Stephen Browning groans into his old-man hands. "I'll tell you what. Personal favor? You pay $11 million and write the sweetest letter of recommendation for that woman downstairs. Marsha Tyler."
Stephen scoffs. "For what?"
"For her interview as a secretary in OrtegaTech's financial branch, working under me," Shannon says.
"You want to take my secretary?" Stephen grumbles.
"Your secretary for a million dollars," Shannon says. "I think that's a pretty good deal."
"Deal," Stephen says after some hesitation, sticking out his hand.
"That was VERY irresponsible," Gabriel scolds me right when we reach the parking lot. "You didn't discuss a thing with us before you opened your mouth. That was LUDICROUS." I just look at him. He's reprimanding me in front of Shannon? Seriously?
"He would've been paying 3 or maybe 2 million if—"
"I don't care, Zeke!" he yells. "I don't care about that money. I told you—I'm so sorry, Miss Briggs," Gabriel stops, cooling his tone down. "I'm sorry. Zeke? Please talk to me later."
"No, Gabe, talk to me now," I insist. Shannon looks absolutely mortified with the way we're carrying on. I realize too late that I call him 'Gabe' right in front of her without thinking, but she's already dismissed herself and is in her car within the next twenty seconds. "I was taught to be direct and even borderline punitive when negotiating, and I sure as hell wasn't going to let that asshole get off easy—"
"You can't take everything personally!" Gabriel argues. "I KNOW he's an asshole. I know what he said right to my damn face and he didn't blink an eye! But guess what, Zeke? I have to deal with racist idiots all the time! My own father was a racist piece of shit! I told you that you couldn't be emotional about this, and you did it anyway. What if Browning had said no and didn't go on? Then he goes and tells other companies that we overprice?!"
"I didn't think of that," I reply.
"Of course you didn't!"
"Please stop yelling at me," I say softly, my voice cracking. I stare at the ground. I feel awful now. I went through the steps in my head and everything. I didn't even slip up like I usually do, and he's still angry at me. I just did what I was taught, not straying away for even a second.
Gabriel sighs. "I already have a lot to deal with right now and this could've gone very badly," Gabriel says, his tone much calmer. "I'm really just trying to do things as smoothly as possible. Any other time, I'd be happy you shook that guy up, but I'm in a hard place right now." I nod in understanding.
"I'm sorry," I say quietly. I didn't think of the unprofessionalism of the situation. I hope I didn't screw up too hard.
"Baby?" I look up. "I'm sorry. I know a few years ago, I would've done the same thing. It's good to be direct. I just didn't want to have to deal with such an openly disgusting bigot for that long. You did good. And I want to kiss you, but there are people here. So I'm going to talk to you for a few seconds more while Miss Briggs can see but not hear, and then we'll shake hands. Alright?" I nod with a small smile on my face. "It was pretty hot when you raised your voice in there, though. And I love the way your ass looks today. Delicious like a... delicious something or other."
"Mr. Ortega, are you making a sexual pass at me? I am your EMPLOYEE," I say dramatically. "I don't want to hear about all the sexy things you want to do to me... possibly in my shower this weekend after a plate of ribs."
"I can't wait for Saturday so I can fuck the mess out of you. And ribs? You know how to make a man happy, Mr. Hartigan."
"Sir, this is completely and utterly unprofessional," I say, crossing my arms and shaking my head. Gabriel gives me a smile. Then he holds his big hand out, and I shake it. "By the way, a lady moved in next door and she made cookies for me and I shouldn't eat them all by myself. Chocolate chip, sugar, and peanut butter."
"I'm allergic to peanuts. See you Saturday," Gabriel says, walking to his car. Weirdo.
I sit in the passenger's seat of Shannon's car and take a deep breath. "What is your issue?" she asks, a laugh in her voice, but it's not humorous. "You trying to get fired?"
"Look, I know I messed up in there. I just couldn't handle that jerk's comment toward you," I explain.
"No, honey. What happened in there was awesome. I think you made us a force to be reckoned with. Solid. But you mouthing off to Gabriel? Are you crazy?" Shannon chuckles. "His name is the company. I just... you've got guts, kiddo."
"I'm not scared of him anymore," I shrug. "But yeah, I guess I was... brash." Just as I finish that sentence, Gabriel knocks on Shannon's window. She rolls it down.
"Would the two of you be opposed to taking a celebratory late-lunch?" Gabriel says. "My treat. Anywhere you want."
We sit in Outback Steakhouse (the three of us didn't want dainty food) and wait for our food. I sit next to Shannon, and she swirls the ice around her cocktail. "Well, Miss Briggs, I believe we aren't as acquainted as we probably should be," Gabriel says after a sip of his own drink.
"Well, first off, if I call you Gabriel, you call me Shannon," she says. Gabriel nods. "Well, I don't want to spill my life story over breadsticks, but I'll be happy to tell you whatever you need to know."
"Ezekiel says you two are quite close," he says. I nod.
"Yeah... this guy comes in two years ago, straight out of college and so uptight you could stick a penny—well, I'll spare you the metaphor—but he didn't smile once. Everything in the world seemed like a competition to him. I was so annoyed. I couldn't believe his vigor and professionalism. I wanted him to crack once, but he never did. We were competing for the same job a while back," Shannon says.
"I wasn't that uptight," I counter, gently bumping her elbow. "I didn't want to ruffle feathers and I did my job. Psh, uptight."
"Well, in the last month, you've been so, so much better," Shannon says with an encouraging nod. Gabriel's eyes lighten up and he raises his eyebrows. Coincidentally, in the last month, I've been seeing a whole lot of Gabriel. I know he makes the connection just as I have. I'm the one who blushes, though. "But yeah. I think that has part to do with me trying to get this one on a date."
"Get who where?" Gabriel asks.
"Zeke says he isn't the dating type, but I'm trying to crack him. Too many beautiful ladies in Fort Collins to just sit there," she chuckles. And Gabriel laughs, too. He laughs REALLY hard.
"Well, you're a good friend," he says to her. Shannon thanks him.
I only jump into their conversation a few times while Gabe gets to know a little about my best friend, and then Shannon excuses herself to the bathroom. "Wow, Zeke. She's right. Too many beautiful women—"
"Shut up," I snap.
"No! No way. Gosh, you can't be single forever, can you? What women have caught your eye?" Gabriel teases lowly. I kick him from under the table. "But she really doesn't know you're gay? What—I mean, it was very, very difficult telling Jiao about you but... I mean, in the end, I can tell Jiao anything."
"Shannon is my best friend, but I'm just not ready for everyone to know my business," I explain.
"Why? She's amazing. I doubt that would have any impact on your friendship whatsoever," Gabriel explains. I don't say anything. I know I should stop keeping so many secrets. "Food for thought."
At the word 'food', my stomach growls. I wasn't hungry until Gabriel suggested eating out. Now I just want a double burger. I know it's bad for me, so I ordered a salad, too. Shannon is back at our table just as the food arrives. Our waitress is nice, but tired. I can see it in her eyes. I'll make sure to tip big. There aren't a lot of people here, partially because it's 4:30 p.m., so she makes small talk.
"So, where y'all from?" she asks.
"We just came from a business meeting. We work at the OrtegaTech building," Gabriel says. I know enough about him now to know he's not going to mention his business status.
"Wow. That place is amazing. I've only been inside twice," she raves.
"Oh?" Gabriel says.
"Yeah. My ex-husband works for that company. I always said he wasn't good enough for it, though. His brains fried with all that bourbon," the waitress whispers. Okay. Overshare, much?
"If you've got skill and drive, you can work pretty much anywhere," Gabriel counters, putting on a charm I haven't seen before.
The waitress scoffs. "I suppose havin' that job was the only good thing about the man," the waitress says. "I'm Steph Edgar. Let me know if you need anything else when I get back, alright?" The three of us thank her, but I'm frozen in time. Steph Edgar. Ex-husband. I know exactly who she is.
Shannon catches it, too. "Was that Clay Edgar's ex-wife?" she asks lowly with a chuckle.
"Possibly," I say after a sip of my iced tea. I'm starting to think I might want a cocktail as well. My mind starts to run against itself again and I can feel myself dissociating. Every noise around me starts to mesh together, and I can even hear my own pulse in my ears. Suddenly, I'm not so hungry anymore.
"And who is Clay Edgar again?" Gabriel asks.
"This guy... I don't even know what he's into. But he's definitely a character," Shannon says. That's a nice way of saying he's a total dick.
"Awkward," Gabriel comments. You're telling me.
I tipped Steph Edgar $50 because an enemy of Clay is a friend of mine.
By the time we got back, it was time to clock out. Normally, I'd be wary of leisure while on work hours, but we were with Gabriel, so I'm not too worried. Gabriel says he has to head out, and we sneak a kiss before he tells me he's excited for tomorrow.
Shannon gave me the responsibility of properly sending and filing the results of our negotiation. I practically volunteered to. I'm glad I did the right thing, even if it was iffy. I knew all that planning wouldn't go to waste.