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Episode 1: Part 6

The board meeting starts at nine a.m. exactly. Well, it’s supposed to. The only people in the boardroom are Mark, Nicole, and Jacob — Don said he was running late (which could mean anything, from losing his keys to losing his legs).

A safe haven from Wesreal’s graffitied walls, the surroundings look just like any other boardroom: corporate and nicely bleak. Yet it doesn’t help Nicole’s rapidly waning desire to be there. Sunlight reflects off every goddamn surface, making her squint as she checks the clock over and over. The consultants are not essential to the meeting, but when you start something, you follow through. Mark could get so spooked he mistakes the window for a door. It happens.

“Is Anderson coming?” Jacob breaks the silence, standing in the corner like Nicole told him to. He took it very literally.

“Who?” Mark asks. He turns in his chair to face Jacob. Leaning against the wall near him, Nicole crosses her arms and sighs.

“Raisin,” she says.

“Oh! If he hasn’t died in his sleep, yes.”

“Are there, like, cool nicknames for the Board?” Jacob asks and puts his hands together. “I want in. Please?”

Nicole shakes her head, which only serves in making Jacob’s puppy eyes more adamant.

“Fine, just fucking stop that,” Nicole groans, ceding. Jacob closes his eyes, ready to process the information. “Anderson is the California Raisin, Larsson is Mr. Clean, Dean is Fat Albert and Mark is Rain Man.”

“Old, bald, overweight (Black?) and autistic?” Jacob asks, then slowly nods. “Cool.”

“I tried to make Golden Retriever catch on for myself, personally,” says Mark, playing with a curl of his thinning dirty blond hair. Jacob looks unconvinced.

There’s a growing sound of footsteps, and then Don barges in, out of breath.

“Sorry, I had a family thing,” he says in between wheezing.

“Oh, we were all wondering where you were,” Nicole deadpans. “God forbid we attend a board meeting without Don Amiri and his wisdom.”

Don looks hurt and is about to say something when the remaining board members start arriving.

“Wow, there’s just one of each of you over there,” says a man in his seventies, looking at the consultants. His assistant leans in to whisper something and his mouth opens a few times before he adds, “Sorry, that’s kind of a not great thing to say.”

“Raisin?” Jacob asks Nicole in a hushed tone. She nods.

Next is a bald man with piercing blue eyes. Jacob raises his eyebrows, putting names to faces. A heavyset Black man walks last, shakes hands with people within his reach and sits down at the end of the conference table.

“Good morning, everyone. I’m Albert Dean, member of Wesreal’s Board of Directors,” he starts, soft-spoken. “Roll call, anyone?”

“Oh go on, go on, everyone’s here,” Raisin says. “Oh, Ellen isn’t.”

“She quit last year,” Albert whispers to him. “Alrighty! Everyone is here. And more, we have consultants from Davidson Libera present. So be civil. We got a lady here.”

Nicole tugs at the collar of her button up.

“So, first item on the agenda — we need to name an interim CEO. He who shall not be named is very much in jail.”

“Who?” asks Raisin.

“Johnny.”

“Oh, right, right.”

“Back to the agenda,” Albert says. “Well, it’s Mark. Right?”

The board members nod and hum affirmatively.

“Great. For obvious reasons, Mark Buchanan, being the chair, is excluded from the vote. Any questions or suggestions from anyone present?”

“When’s dinner?” asks Raisin. His assistant whispers something in his ear and he settles down.

“So, no questions. Alrighty. In that case, we can move on to the vote.”

A knock. Heads turn to discover —

“Daddy’s hooome!” Johnny sings with a cheerful smile, walking in like he owns the place (which he does). At this moment, Nicole wants to mistake a window for a door.

“The fuck he is,” Mark says. He gets up and kicks his chair away. It doesn’t topple over, just gently slides to the side. “Daddy hasn’t been home for a very long time, because daddy was in jail for killing hookers!”

“No, daddy got framed for—”

Nicole cries, “Can everyone just fucking stop saying daddy?!” which everyone ignores.

“What are you, the Kool-Aid man?” Mark continues, gesturing to Johnny. Amused at his own joke, he lets out a high-pitched giggle; it sounds unnatural coming from him, to say the least. When nobody reacts, he looks around the room. “Cause he crashes through walls?”

“Can I just ask,” starts Albert, ignoring him. “What does this mean, Johnny? Are you out?”

“Course I’m out!” Johnny says and laughs. “Paid off the fine, it’s all good in the hood!”

Everyone but Mr. Clean looks various degrees of uncomfortable.

“Oh-kay, I guess the meeting is adjourned,” Albert says. He’s about to get up, when Nicole stops him.

“Your CFO is in jail,” she reminds, to which Albert clicks his tongue and nods.

“Oh, Dougie. Well, how about Mark, again?”

“I’m not working with him,” Johnny hisses.

“CFO is good with me,” Mark says, indifferent.

“I’d like to propose my candidacy,” pipes up Mr. Clean. Everyone in the room breaks into a a cacophony of ‘no’ and ‘fuck no’.

“All in favor of Mark Buchanan taking over as CFO?” Albert says. Every board member raises a hand. “Let the record show that everyone votes in favor. Mark, you’re exempt from voting.”

“I know. But you know how in reality shows if you’re humble people think you deserve to go home? It’s kind of weird though, right? Like being humble doesn’t impair my ability to do makeup—”

“Meeting adjourned!” Albert exclaims, getting up at last. Every board member follows suit, everyone but Mark. When they’re gone, he lets out a noise, something between a hiccup and a giggle.

“What is that? Is that happy or scared?” Nicole asks.

“Happy,” Mark says. He smiles for a second to drive the point home. “So thank you.”

“I’m not sure what you’re thanking me — us — for, the Board voted for you.”

“You’re right, I rescind my thankfulness.”

Jacob butts in with “The deck was pretty cool though, right?”

“Bruh, it made The Room look like Citizen Kane,” Don says.

“Worst presentation I’ve ever seen,” Mark agrees, patting Jacob on the shoulder.

They fall silent when they hear Johnny clear his throat. Unwilling to witness whatever is about to go down, Mark promptly excuses himself. As Nicole and Johnny exchange looks, the guys make their exit as well.

“Nicole, I am so—”

“Full of shit,” she cuts him off, livid. “I know.”

“I’m serious, can you just…”

“No!” Nicole shouts. “Fuck off, Johnny. I— We gave you so many chances, God knows why! And you fucked it! Again! Seriously, you’re a piece of shit. And I know you’re used to paying people to tolerate you, but I’m not your fucking friend.”

Eyebrows knitted, Johnny looks away. Just for a second, Nicole feels her heart sink. Before she can make it worse, she flees, leaving Johnny alone in the room.

Nicole swears she hears a quiet “sorry”, but what does it matter?

***

“It doesn’t feel like we won,” Jacob says, looking at Nicole and Don. They came to a bar nearby to celebrate, but the atmosphere has been unquestionably solemn.

“Winning is bullshit,” Nicole scoffs, putting her whisky glass down. “Also, we won when we got hired.”

Before Jacob can respond, Nicole’s phone rings, putting an end to the conversation. She gets off the bar stool and walks away to answer it.

“Holden, what?”

“Hi, is this the coldest bitch in North America?” Holden asks, chipper.

“No, that’s your mom’s fucking corpse.”

“She was cremated.”

“Are you gonna tell me why you called, or?”

“Oh right,” Holden hums. “Johnny quit.”

“What?”

“Johnny quit. You know. CEO. Of Wesreal.”

Nicole is at a loss.

“Shall I repeat again?” Holden asks. “Johnny—”

“Shut the— Like, what… What— Why?”

“I dunno, took up fucking, uh, buddhism.”

“Are you fucking— Are you serious?”

“Well, not the buddhism part. But he did quit.”

“Do you know why?” Nicole asks, nervously picking at her nails.

“I do. I’ll let him explain though.”

There’s fumbling on the other end as Holden puts her on speaker.

“Because I started a new fucking company!” Johnny’s voice comes out. He laughs, clearly as excited as Holden.

“Fucking great,” Nicole mutters. “What is it, sex trafficking?”

“Better!” Holden exclaims. “NF-motherfucking-Ts! We’re gonna be the two biggest swinging dicks on the blockchain!”

“More like cock chain,” Johnny whoops.

“Oh fuck, I wanted to get one of those!”

Nicole hangs up, unable to handle it anymore. She looks across the room, unmoving. Don and Jacob are close, closer than usual, having a hushed conversation under the dim green lights. Jacob looks alarmed (which is the norm for him) as Don is staring him down with an intense look on his face.

“Are you happy here?” Don asks him. Aside from a few digs at Jacob, he has been pretty much silent the entire time. Jacob tilts his head, puzzled.

“Here as in the bar or New York?”

Don sighs and says, “DL.”

“Oh!” Jacob explains, then falters. “Is that a trick question?”

“Why the fuck is it always about trick questions with you?” Don asks, staring at the ceiling in frustration. When Jacob is about to answer, he makes a shushing motion. “If I go, will you follow?”

“What?” Jacob asks. His expression is on par with an orphan that got told Santa isn’t real. “Are… Are you unhappy?”

“Yeah I’m unhappy!” Don groans. “I work my fucking ass off, and it’s like she doesn’t see it! She’s too busy getting foot massages from clients and shit.”

“I’m sure she… I’m sure she cares. In her own way.”

“Fuck that.”

They drink for a while in silence. Don glances over at Jacob occasionally, an unspoken question on his mind. Apologetic, Jacob looks back with a tiny smile.

***

Bright clinking reverberates in the hall of an apartment building; Nicole stands in front of the door to her apartment with a set of keys. Light pools into the hallway and disappears when she walks in and slams the door shut.

Nicole kicks off her high heels, unclasps her bra and takes it out through her sleeve before throwing it on a nearby drawer. She sighs and heads to the bathroom.

It’s a nice one-bedroom apartment. Nicole bought it five years ago thinking she’s gonna make it her own, but eventually accepted that it’s never going to happen with how much she’s out of the house. Thankfully, the furniture it came with is faceless enough.

Makeup now washed off and clothes changed in favor of a bathrobe, Nicole sits on the living room couch, arms wrapped around her knees. All the lights are out, save for the blue glow coming from the TV. Memories change one after another as fuzzy voices fill the room, dulled by the whirring of the VHS player.

“Are you actually recording?” asks a man on the shaky camcorder video. He smiles and ruffles his shaggy dark hair. “This is a violation of my privacy.”

“Listen, I wanna remember this, alright?” the voice of Nicole behind the camera shoots back. It sounds younger, less fed up with everything.

“Nicki, it’s a fucking Quiznos,” the man laughs. Distorted colors bleed together into a rainbow, moving and warping.

“Yeah, but you’re here!”

He rolls his eyes and smiles. It’s carved into Nicole’s mind, burned into her eyelids, but none of it feels like yesterday. It feels like a long fucking time ago.


5 responses

  1. i haven’t really been attaching songs to these but THIS is very much the ending song to this episode: https://open.spotify.com/track/7DliLn6kCQtXa5fYkcZnsV?si=6c356154ef484de4

  2. d7ck

    dang just when you think johnny boy might have an upward trajectory he gets into nfts 🙁

    1. this is how i love my characters, pathetic and throwing away their chance at redemption ❤

  3. Lux

    Hey! I somehow missed that you’d debuted this until now so I sat down and read everything up to here, and I’m glad I did!
    I love how awful everyone is in their own unique ways, while still feeling real (and even vulnerable)
    Your writing is really snappy and funny, I really enjoyed the read! Can’t wait to see more 👀

    1. aww, that’s really nice! thank you for reading!

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