We’ve been back home for a few weeks. Thanksgiving has come and gone. A family feast that finally felt right since mom’s passing. It was a small family setting with Grandma, Grandpa, and Ryann, and I. Valerie was given the week off to go back home to Northern California to visit with her family. Something she hasn’t been able to do in years. And I feel guilty for not realizing the amount of abuse she took from Pearl. The workload, the demands. Everything she was asked to do, she did it and then some. Val never argued. She simply did what was asked of her.
And today, I’m finally able to give Val an early Christmas gift. My lawyers have officially terminated Val’s employment contract with Pearl, and she’s officially my employee. She’ll no longer have split duties or have to do any of Pearl’s bidding. And considering Pearl was on the verge of looking for a replacement anyhow, she should be ecstatic. Minus, the whole me doing this behind her back and with my lawyers.
It wouldn’t have come to that if Pearl weren’t so persistent with effing contracts for everything. But she sure is shit about closing loopholes. Loopholes my lawyers found.
With that being said, I’ve asked for a meeting with everyone. And I mean everyone minus Dax. I’m about to drop bomb number one to Pearl. I need her to still be oblivious to bomb number two. And if Dax were here, she’d be suspicious. And I can tell with her sitting across from me, now, she’s already suspicious - her perfectly manicured fingers tapping against her knee. She’s trying to read me, and I know she thinks she can read me. But she can’t. She’s never been able to.
There are only three people who’ve ever been able to read me. My mom, grandma, and now, Ryann.
Looking up to the movement at the doorway, I see Val and Ryann come walking through. Ryann taking her normal seat in the armchair tucked away in the corner, and Val takes the armchair next to Pearl. Her tablet in her hand, ready to take notes or anything asked of her.
Sliding forward in my chair, I pull out a blue folder from my desk and set it in front of me. My hands clasping together on top of the folder. I have everyone’s interest. Except for Ryann’s because she knows what the meeting is in regards to. Ryann didn’t need to be here for this meeting, but she still offered to attend the meeting knowing Pearl may lose her ever livin’ mind. And in a moment of selfishness, I told her that I needed her here when I know it’s a terrible idea. But Ryann gives me a confidence I haven’t had in years, and it’s a sober confidence I love. I need her here to help see me through this.
“So, I have a proposition for you,” I start out.
Pearl arches a brow, her curiosity peaked. “For whom?”
“You,” I tell her.
Pearl scootches in her chair, sliding eagerly forward as she attempts to reach for the folder. I pull it out of her grasp and hand it to Val, “This is for you.” I tell Val, keeping my eye contact with a perplexed Pearl, “In there you will find contracts for new employment.”
“Uh, she has employment. She’s my assistant. Thomas, what is going on?” Pearl nearly demands. The panic rising in her voice as she tries and controls her anger. My mom used to always call Pearl a ticking time bomb. Of course, mom never knew I was listening in on her and dad’s arguments whenever it came to the devoted family friend.
Leaning forward, I rest my arms across my desk, “I want Valerie under my employment. Meaning she will answer to me and only me. She will no longer be your assistant, and you’ll be free to hire whomever you feel is fit as your own personal assistant. A personal assistant who will only cater to you and will not be involved in anything I do.” Pearl’s mouth falls into a hard frown. One that is about to be permanent. “And Ryann is now strictly under my employment as well.”
“I’m sorry?” Pearl coughs, “Are you drunk?”
I catch Ryann firing a glare into Pearl’s back. A warning – she’s about to strike if Pearl says another word regarding my sobriety.
Instead of entertaining the idea, I sit back in my chair and chuckle my amusement at her questioning my sobriety. “Actually, no. I’ve been sober for what is it now....” I trail off as I mentally count off in my head.
“Roughly, two months,” Ryann answers, her tone proud of the accomplishment. Again, it hasn’t come with its struggles. But coming home to Ryann, or having her here to talk, makes everything worth it. Not to mention, I feel great. And I’ve also picked up boxing, which is helping me release a lot of my pent-up anger and anxiety.
Pearl turns to look over her shoulder, Ryann’s face impassive as she holds Pearl’s glare. I watch as Ryann starts spinning the ring on her middle finger, a trait she does when she’s trying to not show her nervousness.
Clearing my throat, Pearl returns her glare to me. “Anyway, you will no longer have to worry about the constraints or stresses managing employees. Your focus will solely be as my publicist.”
“I’m sorry,” Pearl scoffs. “But I control Ryann’s and Valerie’s contract. You can’t just void a contract....”
Pulling out a red folder, I hand it to Pearl. “Actually, I can. I had my lawyers look at both Ryann’s and Valerie’s contracts. You may have a fondness for trying to keep employees under lock and key, but you need to work on the loopholes.” I watch her shuffle through the folder. Speed reading over the documents in her hands. Documents that officially transfer all employment to me. All I need is for Ryann and Val to sign the new contracts. Ryann did last night, and I know Val will once Pearl is gone. “My lawyers have outlined the void within their current contracts and the legality. Both Ryann’s and Valerie’s contracts have a clause stating if they sign onto new employment, it will void the current standing contract and employment.”
Pearl starts to stutter, “But they haven’t signed onto new employment. They are still working for you.” Her sad attempt at an argument.
Smiling, “They each have new titles. Ryann is now my Personal Executive Assistant. And Valerie is Executive Coordinator. New titles, new job descriptions, and new employment. You,” I say, pointing at Pearl. “Were their boss, and now I am. Different employment.”
Pearl looks to Val in total horror and betrayal. A joke at best with her mock hurt and I know no one in this room is buying her dismay. I watch as Val sinks in her chair, her face hidden by the blue folder as she pretends to read the files I handed her. “You cannot – you can’t do this.”
“Why?” I challenged.
“I’m in control of all employment. Everyone is to report to me. To keep the stress and bother of unnecessary questions from you – to me. The whole purpose of me being in charge was so you can focus on your jobs.”
I have to mentally keep myself from rolling my eyes, “Or to control.” I say more to myself than to her. But it was said, it was mumbled, and by the shocked look on Ryann’s face, it was very much heard.
“I beg your pardon,” Pearl derides.
Ignoring her, “As I said, they are now under new employment as soon as they sign the new agreements. And if you attempt to argue the clause, there are five others listed as well. All five stating the transfer of employment and void of their current contracts.”
Pearl slams the folder closed; her pinpoint laser-focused eyes locked on me. A Pearl I’ve seen when she and my mom would have a duel of words. My mom was never one to cross when it came to her family. And Pearl crossed her. One too many times. “I will have my lawyers review the documents before any type of transfer occurs.”
Sliding forward in my chair again, my jaw tenses as I play this little stare-down game of wills. “Your lawyers can look over the documents as many times as they’d like. And they can contact mine with any questions. But once they sign these agreements, they are under my employment. Not yours.”
“This isn’t over,” Pearl warns, storming to her feet. She ushers for Val to follow her out the door. Only to have her demand denied.
Instead, Val reaches over to my desk and grabs a pen. Signing the document in front of Pearl before heading it back to me. “Thanks for the employment of eight years.” Val states to Pearl, “But this is my notice, and I’ll be takin’ on a new job with better hours and fewer demands.”
Pearl’s nostrils flare before turning her rage towards Ryann, “You,” she points an angry finger at Ryann, “this is all on you. You have secrets, Miss. Anderson, remember that. Or else, they may slip out.” Pearl storms out of my office before I can get a word in. My blood is boiling with the passive-aggressive threat. I watch Ryann’s face turned ghost white, her hands trembling so much that it forces her to stop spinning her ring. I’ve never seen Ryann look this terrified since knowing her. But the sheer panic and fear in her eyes tells me there is something I don’t know, and I don’t know if Ryann was ever planning on telling me.
Val rushes to Ryann, taking her trembling hands into hers, and whispers low enough to keep the conversation between the two, private.
Pushing out of the chair, I barrel out of my office. Pissed beyond what is physically possible. I know Ryann, and I agreed to allow things to remain normal. To allow people and the lime-light society to treat her as if we’re not dating without reacting. Ha, yea, I knew the possibility of that happening was slim to none. And here we are. I’m chasing after Pearl with Travis hot on my heels, and asking me what the hell is going on.
“Pearl,” I growled as I catch her at the front door. Her hand poised on the handle, ready to open and fly out of this house. “What the hell was that?” I need to know if she’s blowing smoke. This is Pearl, after all. When she is fighting to get her way, she’ll use any means possible. And that includes blackmail when she doesn’t have any type of information on you. If Pearl can get leverage, she’ll scam her way through it to make you believe she can destroy your life.
Pearl turns on me, and with the look of the devil on her face, it sends me back to a time when I’ve witnessed her and mom arguing. But as quickly as I saw the look, it’s gone. Replaced by her famous fake sincere smile. “That woman is not who she says she is.”
Crossing my arms across my chest, “Then please tell me who she is.” I’m calling her bluff, and she knows it.
Pearl steps away from the door, and I watch her slowly take the two steps down from the entryway. Standing in front of me, Pearl stands tall and confident, but I’m standing just as tall as I tower over her. This will be one challenge I will not be backing down from. I will not be backing down anymore when it comes to Pearl.
Pointing an angry hand in the direction of my office, “That woman is a manipulator.” I can’t help but laugh at her outward statement. The irony is clearly lost as I watch Pearl’s eyes widen with anger, her lips thinning even more. “Laugh all you want, Thomas, but Ryann is only after one thing. You and your money.”
“Are you sure? Because if I recall correctly, it’s you and Dax who seem to be after my money? Always pushing me into things I don’t want to do. Fueling an addiction to make it easier for you two. Just for the money.” Pearl looks at me with a complete and total mock of horror, and it’s taking all of my strength to not wipe that faux look from her face. Where is Xayla when I need her? “Don’t look at me like that. You’re acting is fucking shit.” I have to force myself to keep my voice low. To keep my deep and indignant tone from traveling through the house.
Easier said than done.
Pearl scoffs, her dainty little hands landing on her hips, “Ryann already has her claws in you, doesn’t she? She’s already corrupted your mind. Made you believe things that aren’t true, and all she’s gonna do is rip whatever dreamland you’re in, right from under you.”
Biting my lip because the urge to fire her right on the spot is so fuckin’ appealing, but if I break her fucking contract, I’ll be in more trouble now than what’s she’s currently causing. My lawyers need to find a god damn loophole, and they need to find it, NOW.
“Leave,” I demand. “Turn over your keys and leave. You’ll no longer be welcome in this house. Unless I say otherwise. All meetings from this point on will be held at my lawyers.”
Pearl lets out a huff of a laugh of disbelief. She takes a step towards me, only to be pulled back by the arm by Travis. Putting some much-needed distance between us. “You’re making a grave mistake, Thomas. Ryann has a past, and I’ll prove it to you. She isn’t at all who she says she is.”
“Leave,” I grate. “And I pray for your sake, Pearl. If you make another threat to one of MY employees, I’m not in earshot.”
“Are you threatening me?”
Laughing, I take a step closer. Her fingers fumbling with the keys on her key ring, “No, it’s a promise. Now, get the fuck out of my house.” Looking at Travis, I give him a head nod to get Pearl out of the damn house and to make sure she leaves the fucking property and to get the keys from her too.
I watch the door closed behind Travis and Pearl and rake a hand through my hair as I mentally groan out in fucking frustration. A round with my punching bag is very appealing right now.
“Thomas?” I hear Val whisper from behind me. Turning, I can tell she’s anxious and slightly unnerved. And I noticed Ryann isn’t standing behind her or in the vicinity. “She said she had to go to the bathroom.” Val panics before I can even ask her what’s wrong.
But with her words, I already know what she’s going to say next. Ryann ran.