Chapter 8 – Winner Takes All

So, this should be the final chapter I post online. It’s one of those sorry-not sorry moments. I finished up all the final touches on the book’s editing, including cleaning up a few consistency issues I found in stuff that was posted here. It’s doing a final formatting, and the whole thing should be available on Amazon starting Tuesday or Wednesday (at the latest).

Enjoy chapter 8, and I hope you’ve liked what you read enough to enjoy the rest of the book.

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Chapter 8 – Cojones

When Javier had told his mother this morning that he’d stop by the restaurant tonight, he’d actually been excited about seeing Tina. But, given how the day went, he was pretty sure she had zero plans to show up. Let her tell it, he had somehow ruined her  triumph.

Part of him felt sympathetic. She’d clearly been told she could have the VP post, but by one half of the partnership. His uncle had never agreed to that. He’d broached the subject briefly with Uncle Ben in the afternoon, and Ben had called Tina a wild card. Good with on-the-ground stuff, and a real whiz at campaigns that were grass root-ish and got young people involved, but not as good at the slick, traditional marketing sector. Yes, times were changing and “new technology needed to be embraced, but you can’t forget the tried and trues of getting people to take notice,” Ben had told him.

Tina had wanted the job and good for her, but Javier was here now. And he wasn’t the reason she hadn’t gotten it. She hadn’t gotten it because Ben didn’t fully trust her. She needed to suck it up and deal, like a grown up. He’d already been burned by one woman who believed she deserved to be top dog and played dirty to get her way. Finding out about Tina today had to have been a blessing in disguise.

He sighed, as he entered the back door of Santiago’s, ending up in the kitchen. He nodded hello to a couple of the regular chefs, guys who’d been there when he’d been in college. He walked through to the back office, looking for his mother. She said she’d be in, but he didn’t find her.

Javier went out to the main dining area. Pretty empty. But Mondays tended to be on the lighter side. No music tonight. Just great food. He glanced over at the bar and saw Tina. Unexpected, but for some reason he smiled. He was glad she was there. Maybe he’d misjudged her. Maybe she wasn’t a spoiled diva who thought she deserved whatever she wanted. She must have realized her anger at him was misplaced. She’d come to dinner. Though, in retrospect, he’d asked her to come whether she was celebrating or commiserating. Perhaps they could commiserate together.

He sidled over to her, a grin on his face, confidence in his step, and leaned on the bar. She turned to him, raised an eyebrow, her mouth a hostile line.

His cheer oozed out like a deflating balloon, but he managed— just barely— to keep the smile on his face. She needn’t see his disappointment.  “I’m surprised to see you here,” he said, his voice upbeat.

“Well,” she said, picking up her drink, which looked like something fizzy and non-alcoholic, perhaps a ginger ale, and took a sip. “I thought about what you said today and decided I should come.”

He sat down on the bar stool next to her, looking her over. She was still in her work suit. She hadn’t gone home to change. “What is it that I said that stuck with you?”

She opened her mouth to answer, but then a familiar voice called her name. “Ms. Jackson,” the voice said. Josef Santiago — tall, pudgy, and wearing a short-sleeved shirt that showed off his hairy arms and accentuated his belly paunch — was striding toward them. “Javi?” his father said.

Javier cringed, wishing his father wouldn’t call him that. He was a grown man. Javi was the name of a child. Like Timmy or Tommy or Benny. At some point, you outgrew that shit. He felt his jaw tighten as he spoke to his father. “Yeah, Dad, it’s me.”

Josef Santiago looked from his son to Tina, and then back. “If you’re here as backup, to try to sway me, that’s not going to work.”

“Sway you?” he asked.

Tina smiled and stood, walked toward Javier’s father and shook his hand. “Mr. Santiago, I’m actually here independent of your son. At Taylor & Thompson, we each have individual accounts. As I mentioned to you, I’ve worked there for eight years and have a wealth of experience turning small mom-and-pop businesses into the next trendy location. I think our firm could do wonders for you.”

As what she was doing sank in, Javier felt the heat rise in him. “Are you trying to get my dad’s restaurant as a customer?”

“Yes,” she admitted without the slightest hint of shame. “Of course. This is a wonderful establishment, which I learned of for the first time last night. And as you told me today, it’s not your fault they decided not to hire me for the VP job they promised me would be available. Them hiring you doesn’t impact me. My boss told me if I want to be the VP to bring in some new clients. So here I am, working on that. Hard work. Not nepotism. I don’t have an Uncle Ben to look after me. My Uncle Ben only offers me rice, not jobs that negatively affect other people.”

Javier could feel the vein throbbing in his neck. She had some nerve. Her hard stare was an indication that she had no intention of backing down. If he wasn’t so fucking mad, he might find that look a complete turn on. Like, I  want to throw you down on the floor and take you right now turn on. But he was that mad, and no matter how hot Tina was, she wasn’t going to make a fool of him.

“My father’s not interested,” Javier said. He turned to his dad, and his eyes pleaded with him, just this once, to back him. Just this one time, stand with him, rather than against him.

Josef looked at Javier, then at Tina. “I didn’t say that, son.”

He glared at his father. Of course. He should’ve just kept his fucking mouth shut. Or contradicted her, told his dad that doing this would help him out immensely. He opened his mouth to ask his father if they could go to his office and talk.

“Javi,” he heard his mother’s voice call from behind. He turned and she was coming towards him, her arms outstretched. His mother was a hugger. A serious hugger. Every time she saw someone she knew, she wrapped her arms around them. It didn’t matter that she’d last seen the person. Five minutes ago, five hours ago, or five years ago, the next time she saw a person, they got a hug. The only thing the length of absence determined was the length of the hug. Since he’d seen her last night, their hug was brief.

“I’m so glad you came,” his mother said. She was a thin, blonde woman with a pale complexion, a dainty nose and a friendly demeanor. “How’d it go? I didn’t want to call Ben, because y’know, it’s not right for me to ask him. But, I was so anxious. Tell me everything.”

Everything. Where to start? Oh, yeah. How about that chica with cojones the size of bowling balls who decided to come steal his father as a client. He turned back to the bar and saw that his father and Tina were gone. What the hell? Where did they go just that quickly?

“Where’s dad?” he asked.

His mother frowned. “I don’t know,” she said, irritated.  “I’m the one who’s talking to you right now. I want to hear about the job. You have to tell me everything.”

He wished he could, but he needed to find Tina and his dad, first. The last thing he needed was his father agreeing to work with her. He’d never live down that shame if that happened. He slowly turned 360, scanning the restaurant for signs of his father or Tina. He didn’t see them. His father had probably taken her to his office. “Mierda,” he cursed.

“Javi,” his mother said. “Watch your language.”

He dipped his head in apology. “Lo siento,” he said. “I just need to talk to dad before he makes a mistake.”

His mother eyed him dubiously. “Your father’s very competent,” she said, touching his cheek with her hand, trying to direct his face toward her, rather than searching the room with what futile shreds of hope he had left that his father hadn’t screwed him over. “What kind of mistake do you think he’s about to make?”

He pulled away from his mother and headed toward the rear of the building, where his father’s office was. He ignored his mother’s irritated call of Javi and walked as fast as he could to the back, where he barged into the office, without even knocking. He entered in time to see Tina shaking hands with his father.

“It’s been a pleasure,” his father said, presumably to Tina, but he’d looked up at Javier just as he’d uttered “pleasure.”

Tina turned and spied Javier. She flashed him a cat-who-ate-the-canary grin and then said to Josef. “Mr. Santiago, I don’t want to keep you any longer. I’m going to go home and get started. I’ll call you tomorrow so we can talk further.”

Javier stood there, speechless, seething. He wasn’t sure who he was angrier at: Tina or his father. He’d done nothing to her to deserve this kind of attack. And surely, she knew it was an attack.  A direct hit. Yet his father was worse. He’d gone along with her to ensure the death blow.

She was standing right in front of him now, still smiling, still looking satisfied. “Excuse me,” she said.

“There is no excuse for what you just did,” he whispered, the anger hurtling out in each word.

Her smile faded, and for the first time tonight, she looked like she was having second thoughts, like she realized the depths of what she had done.

“I—” she started, then took a step back.

 He waited, his eyes staring daggers at her. If he were that kind of man, he might have actually laid hands on her. But Javier wasn’t that kind of man. He would never touch a woman in anger. Instead, all he could do was offer this glacial hatred that radiated outward, chilling everything in its path. 

Tina swallowed. “I meant, excuse me because you’re blocking the door,” she said softly.

He looked at his surroundings. She was right. He was standing right in the middle of the doorway. There was no way she could leave unless he moved. He had a good mind to stand there a minute more, make her live with the discomfort, make her stare at the wreckage of what she’d done. But he didn’t want to give her the satisfaction. He didn’t want her to relish in her triumph by remembering just how childishly he’d behaved. He took one last look at her. He had no more illusions about who she was. All women in this business were the same: heartless and cutthroat. He stepped aside, and she left. She didn’t even bother to look back and say goodbye to Josef.

Once she was gone, he stepped closer to his father, fully prepared to ask him, “Why?” Why on earth would he humiliate him like this? But, as he opened his mouth, he heard the door close behind them and turned to see his mother standing there, a scowl on her face.

“What is going on?” Cathy Santiago asked, looking at her son and then her husband.

Finally, he thought. His mother would fix this. He pointed to his father. “He signed up the restaurant to advertise with Uncle Ben’s firm, using that woman, instead of me.” He couldn’t even bring himself to say Tina’s name.

Cathy looked at her husband, scrunched up her face in confusion. “You hired Ben’s firm to market us?”

His father seemed to recognize he was in trouble and simply nodded. Trying to explain things to Cathy when you were clearly in the wrong was a bad idea.

“Why would you do that, Josef?” Cathy asked her husband.

He shrugged and said, “Because she asked.”

“Ben has asked you before, and you said no”

“And she reminds me of me,” Josef said. “She works hard, she comes from nothing, and she just wants a chance to prove herself. She doesn’t mind putting in the grunt work. She just wants to be given a fair shot.”

Javier saw his mother’s eyes softening at the explanation. Hell no. “I’m your son,” he interjected. “If he was going to go with Taylor & Thompson, he should have gone with me.”

“You didn’t ask me,” his father said.

Javier glared at his father. “You didn’t give me a chance.”

Josef raised an eyebrow. “Were you planning on asking me?”

No. But he didn’t want to say that. Frankly, Tina had beat him at his own game on this. He knew damned well his father’s restaurant was a great prospect, but he’d also known his father had said no to Ben on multiple occasions. He also knew his father didn’t respect people who used their family connections to get things done. So, there was no point in asking his father. It would have been a failed mission.

“See,” his father said, as Javier had spent too long thinking. “He had no intention of asking me, yet he gets upset when a hard-working young woman comes in here and asks.”  Josef pointed a finger at his son. “Don’t go getting upset because someone had a better idea.”

Javier couldn’t believe his father. Wait. He could. This was always how his father was. Everything was Javier’s fault. Javier was lazy and spoiled and wanted everything to come easy. According to Josef Santiago, Javier could do nothing right.

“I have to go,” Javier said, walking toward the door. His mother looked at him a second, opened her mouth, as if she planned to speak, but then snapped her lips shut, having apparently thought better of it. She simply nodded, and Javier left the office. He needed to be somewhere else, anywhere else but here.