Chapter 3

4489 Words
Beatrice My tongue has sprouted hair, and my mouth tastes like something has crawled in it and died. I try to crack my eyes open, but the sliver of light sends a searing pain through my head, as if I'm being hit with a hammer. Somebody moans. I think it's me. "Get off," a gravelly voice says. I manage to open my eyes and see that I'm lying on the couch, half of my body on top of Olivia, practically smothering her. Rosalind is snoring under the coffee table, and the room looks like it's been hit by a liquor store tidal wave. Sitting up, I breathe through my nose to fight off my hangover nausea. "What happened?" I ask. My memory is fuzzy, like my tongue. There's something about American Airlines and horses, but my brain won't give up any more details. The children make noise in their bedroom, and Olivia drags herself off the couch to attend to them. I'm struck by the weight of being a parent, and I decide to help her out by making her family breakfast. My head pounds with each movement as I hobble to the kitchen. I find eggs and bread and start to make toast and scrambled eggs. The noise finally rouses Rosalind, who is still lying prone under the coffee table. "What happened?" she moans. So much for filling the gaps in my memory. Alcohol is an unforgiving lover. At least I'm reasonably sure I didn't dance naked on the table or embarrass myself too much. "Coffee," I say, unable to form full sentences. But Rosalind understands me. She struggles to stand and comes to the kitchen. Like a freak of nature, her clothes aren't wrinkled, her hair is done perfectly, and her makeup is still in place. "I hate you," I mumble, but I don't mean it. Despite Rosalind's perfect wardrobe and Birkin bag, she's kind and has adopted me like a best friend, big sister. She also knows how to make coffee. By the time I finish preparing breakfast and Olivia comes out with the kids, Rosalind pours me a cup, and I take a much-needed sip. "What happened?" Olivia asks, making all three of us wondering the same thing. I help her get the children seated around the table, and I serve breakfast. She adds cereal and milk to the menu, pouring out four bowls. Rosalind's phone chirps, and she fishes it out of her purse. "This says that my seven tickets on American Airlines to Idaho this week are confirmed," she says, showing us the phone. Her eyebrows knit together, and I can almost see a giant question mark appear over her head. "That's weird," I say. "I'm going to Idaho this week, too." I freeze so suddenly that my coffee flies out of the cup, sending a stream of hot liquid over the kitchen floor. My brain whirrs to life, and the memories spill out. I slap my cheek. "Oh God. What did we do?" "Seven tickets?" Rosalind asks. Olivia's mother walks in, wearing another housedress and slippers. "I thought I smelled coffee," she says, pouring herself a cup. "Are we all still here?" "Diane, do you have any idea why I've bought seven tickets to Idaho?" Rosalind asks. "'Cause we're all going when Beatrice goes," she says. I sit down on the couch. It's all coming back to me, as if my brain in on rewind. "All of us?" Rosalind asks, eyeing the children. They finish eating, and Olivia turns on the TV to something educational and animated and sits her kids in front of it. There's a look of panic on her face, and she herds all of the adults into the kitchen. "What did we do? What did we do?" she demands. We turn our heads to Diane, who is the only one not reeling from the effects of evil liquor. "Operation Billionaire," she says with a wide smile. She's obviously delighted. "Operation Billionaire," Rosalind repeats. "I think it was my idea." "A genius idea," Diane says with glee. "Three women. Three billionaires. Finally, my daughter will get the man she deserves." "Yes, Olivia deserves a good man," I say, deflecting the attention from me because now I remember everything. Operation Billionaire is supposed to start with me. I'm the goat, the virgin for sacrifice, the poor patsy who's going to make a fool out of herself. I need a drink. But it's too late. They've remembered too. They stare at me with obvious intense purpose. "I'm not going to do it," I say. "We went through all this last night," Rosalind insists. "You love a billionaire. He's lined up for next week. You'll be right there with him in Idaho. It's kismet." "Ripe for the picking," Diane agrees. I cross my arms in front of me and stomp a foot. "No. I refuse." "Not this, again," Diane complains. "I had to listen to this all night. Back and forth. Back and forth. No. Yes. Yes. No. I've got a headache from it. You've got the goo-goo eyes for Cole Stevens. It's a done deal." "You already agreed," Rosalind says. "Even Olivia agrees. We're your backup team, your pit stop crew..." "Your backup singers. Your supporting actresses. We won't let you down," Olivia continues. "Besides, you said you love him. I think love deserves a chance...I mean, if it doesn't get me pregnant." "I don't love him." It's not a total lie. I have a horrible crush on Cole Stevens, but how can I love a man without knowing him? And who cares about love? I've loved a bunch of men, and now I don't have a microwave. But this was the argument all night, and in the end, I did agree to Operation Billionaire. After all, what do I have to lose? Either I plot and plan and scheme with two new friends and an adopted mother and four children, or I can stay alone and apartment shop with bad credit. "He's a billionaire, Beatrice," Diane says. "Don't be an idiot." And that settles it. I'm not going to be an i***t. It's all hands on deck to Idaho. I land in Idaho in Cole Stevens's private jet. Not the big one with the Jacuzzi, but the small one with the aromatherapy toilet, two flight attendants, and a barbecue lunch that they touched down for in West Texas. Despite fantasies to the contrary, the jet isn't only for me. Cole Stevens sent it for the entire Extra Platinum Events staff that are handling some of the rodeo events and the gala. Fifteen, total. I'm a junior assistant event planner, which means that I know how to use Excel, have a passing knowledge of CPR, and can walk twelve miles in high heels. All of these skills come in handy regularly. But as the private jet taxis at the small airport attached to Cole's ranch, I worry that I won't be able to take a step. 'Cause I'm scared. Not the nervous to speak publicly kind of scared. I'm the Texas Chainsaw m******e guy is all plugged in and heading toward me kind of scared. I grab the last rib off of the table and take a bite, while my colleagues shuffle out of the plane. One of the flight attendants eyes me, and I stick a finger up while I clean the bone of tangy meat. I wonder if the pilots would fly me somewhere less scary, like Syria or North Korea, but they're putting on their blazers and leaving the plane, too. One of the flight attendants looks at her fingernail and then throws a pointed look at the other flight attendant. I get the picture. They're annoyed, and I'm causing trouble. I put the rib down. I wipe my hands on a napkin and grab my purse. "Sorry," I mumble and step outside. There's blue everywhere above me, and a bright sun shining in my eyes. It's hot with a dry breeze. In the distance are pristine mountains and a lake, and just outside the airport, there's forest, wide plains, and Cole's ranch. I don't see all that...basically, I just see the airport and the mountains in the distance, but I've seen the photos and helped create the content matter for the rodeo gala brochures, so I know it's breathtaking and beautiful, and at the heart of it all is a six-foot-four, hunky alpha man with a talent for making money and other things. I blush when I think about the other things. Yes, I've fantasized about the other things. Athletic, creative other things. "I can't do this," I say out loud. "One foot after the other," one of the pilots tells me, misunderstanding. I can do one foot after the other, but I can't hunt and catch my billionaire crush. I've been bullied into exiting my comfort zone. I'm the victim of peer pressure. It's a gateway drug to other heroin or bungee jumping. Rosalind has been generous and kind, letting me live with her while I'm homeless. I passed my extra time during the past few days calling my credit card companies, while she and Olivia planned the strategy for Operation Billionaire. Waxing was involved. So was intense Googling. It turns out that Olivia is a talented information gatherer. With a child in one arm and another attached to her leg, she's gathered enough intelligence about Cole Stevens so that I now know his favorite brand of cereal-Frosted Flakes-and his favorite movie-Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid-and his Aunt Polly's birthday-October twelfth. Could a man be more perfect? And now I'm supposed to seduce, nab, and seal the deal with him? Ridiculous. What am I doing? I could get fired. I could get arrested. Worse, I could get laughed at. My mind is made up. As soon as Rosalind and Olivia arrive, I'll lay it out for them. I'm going to work the gala as usual, Rosalind can use the hotel's spa, and Olivia can give her kids pony rides. But that's it. Nothing more. Operation Billionaire is officially terminated. Now that I'm free from humiliating myself, I take a deep, healing breath. That's better. Now I can do my job without worrying. I take two steps down, delighted by my new resolve to do nothing, but my delight doesn't last another step. Running across the tarmac is Rosalind along with Olivia, who's pushing a four-seater stroller. They wave their arms at me, and Rosalind points at her watch, like time is of the essence, and my essence is late. Sweat breaks out on my forehead, and my throat gets thick. It doesn't look like they're going to let me off the hook. They're definitely determined, and they don't look as if they would be convinced by my arguments. I get to the bottom of the stairs and open my mouth, fully intending to tell them about the change of plans, but Rosalind grabs my arm and starts talking a mile a minute. "Diane is already setting up the headquarters. We have ninety minutes to get you ready for the first impression." I pick up my suitcase, and we march across the tarmac at a fast clip. "First impressions are everything, you know. Essential. We can't screw up before we start." "We have a headquarters?" I ask. "The Silver Spurs Inn," Olivia explains. "We have a double suite. There's a Jacuzzi tub and a babysitter service. I'm never leaving." "Rosalind, you're too generous," I say, slightly uncomfortable. She has shelled out a lot of money to keep our Operation Billionaire going. I get the impression that she's got family money-maybe a trust fund-in addition to her salary, but that doesn't change the fact that she's been more or less supporting us this week. She puts her hands up, as if she's surrendering. "Don't look at me. Stevens Enterprises gave you the upgrade when they found out that you brought your sisters and mother with you." "Oh," I say, catching on to the lie. Of course, I'll be so fired if my boss finds out that I've defrauded our client out of a double suite with a babysitting service. But it doesn't matter because I'll probably get fired, anyway, considering what we're about to do. "Ready?" Rosalind asks. I search my body for an ounce of the bravery I had on the plane to stand up to them. Nope, nothing there. I'm a lemming. A cow in the herd. I'm doomed to try to seduce a billionaire hunk...and fail, miserably. "Ready for the cray-cray," I say. There are two vans waiting to take us to the Silver Spurs. The rest of my colleagues eye the four kids and decide to cram into one van, leaving me and my new family to fill up the second one. It takes Olivia fifteen minutes to pack her kids into the car seats, while I try to remember if I took my birth control pill this morning. It's a toss up. I either took the Pill or a Claritin. I've been worried about hay fever around the rodeo horses, so the Claritin is a definite possibility. It's not that I don't want to have children. In fact, I want three, and I've already named them Kyle, Jason, and Betty. But that's in the future when a miracle happens and I find a man who wants to marry me. For now, being near Olivia and her children make me believe that I could spontaneously get pregnant at any moment with four at a time, and the thought terrifies me too. "Ready," Olivia announces, plopping down on a seat and exhaling loudly from the exertion. The van drives off, but it's a short ride to the inn. It's all part of Cole's vast ranch, which includes a main house, convention center, community center, and an equestrian center. Lots of centers. I could use some center. I'm totally off-center. I wouldn't know my center if it hit me on my head. I'm probably leaning in my seat right this second and don't even know it. The van stops in front of the inn, and we shuffle out. "Every time we have to move five feet, it's like planning the Normandy invasion," Rosalind complains, as we help Olivia get the kids out of the car and back into the stroller. "Like Eisenhower could handle what I do on a daily basis," Olivia says, rolling her eyes. With the kids settled, Rosalind takes my suitcase, and we march into the inn. I'm vaguely aware of the Western décor in the lobby, but I'm being pushed through it so fast toward the elevators that I don't have much of a chance to admire anything. Rosalind looks at her phone and shakes her head. "We're three minutes behind schedule," she complains. It really is like D-Day. I know some of the details, but I have a feeling that Rosalind and Olivia have more in store for me than we planned. "Maybe this isn't a good idea," I squeak. At first, I don't think they've heard me, but I catch them exchanging looks as Rosalind pushes the elevator call button. "We're on the top floor," Olivia says, changing the subject. Rosalind looks at her phone. Drat. No way are they going to change their minds. The elevator takes us to the top floor, and Rosalind opens the double doors to our massive double suite. Olivia's mother, Diane, greets us in a fluffy robe and slippers. "Look what came with the room," she announces, gleefully running an appreciative hand over the front of the robe. "There a fridge, too. I've already eaten three Toblerones." Oh, Toblerones. I look around for the refrigerator. I could use a chocolate infusion. There might be tequila, too. But before I can find the fridge, Olivia hands the stroller over to her mother and begins unbuttoning my blouse. "I can undress myself," I say. "This is faster," she says, moving on to my belt. "Wait a minute, why am I getting undressed?" Rosalind answers me by coming into the room, holding a cowboy hat, boots, and an outfit that screams yee-hah. Like Dolly Parton became a meth addict and decided to go out for the evening. "No," I say, shaking my head. "Nope. Not going to happen." Olivia pulls my pants down, and somehow she manages to get me down to my bra and panties without my help. I guess it's a skill that she's honed being the mother of four unruly kids. Rosalind crouches down in front of me and holds out the pants. "Be a team player," she orders, shaking the jeans for me to step a leg in. "Team player?" I shriek. "What are you talking about? I don't see you putting on jeans with neon pink rivets down the legs." "And they glow in the dark," Olivia says with a smile. I stomp my foot. "Listen, I'm working here, and I have to maintain a professional look. I'm not supposed to look like Flo from Mel's Diner." "Lighten up. It's a rodeo, princess," Diane says. She puts the kids in the corner of the room, which is filled with every toy imaginable. "It's not fashion week in Paris. Everyone here is going to wear glow in the dark rivets on their jeans. Do you want to look out of place? Do you want to insult the billionaire hottie crush of yours?" She has a point. What do I know about rodeo attire? Maybe my sensible but smart black suit with two- inch pumps will stand out. Maybe Cole Stevens hates city girls. Maybe pink rivets are catnip to cowboy billionaires. "Fine, old woman," I growl after a moment. "But I get a Toblerone, too. No way am I doing the Annie Oakley bit without some good Swiss Chocolate." Diane pulls a Toblerone bar out of her robe pocket and looks at it longingly. "I guess I can give you a bite." I step toward her and stare her down. "Give it to me," I growl. I'm not playing around...I'll knife her for the damned chocolate. She's perceptive because her expression goes from haughty to terrified, and she hands over the Toblerone. I take it from her and give her my best scowl. After all, the fridge was stocked by my client, so ipso facto, the chocolate is mine. I open the wrapper, and shove a piece into my mouth. Rosalind taps the toe of her designer shoe on the floor. "Time is ticking away," she complains. I take another bite of chocolate and feel better, almost ready to go out looking like I'm selling tickets to a Garth Brooks concert. She hands me the jeans, and I slip one leg in. Well, almost. Olivia purses her lips and pinches her chin, as if she's trying to figure out a puzzle. "Try the other leg," she says. I put my other leg in and pull up, but the jeans stop dead, halfway up my legs. "You said you're a size six," Rosalind says, annoyed. "I am!" At least I was before I hit puberty. Sheesh. "Yank harder," Olivia urges. "Suck it all in. Why aren't you sucking it all in? Can you suck it all in?" "I'm sucking," I tell her. I take another bite of the Toblerone and put the rest of the bar down on a table, throwing a threatening look at Diane, in case she's tempted to take it. I begin to yank in earnest and manage to get the pants to my hips, but I'm in pain. "Why did you get me the only jeans in existence without stretch? Who buys non-stretchy jeans? It's un-American. Stalin would buy non-stretchy jeans." "Stretch is not cowboy chic," Rosalind says. "You need to be authentic." I don't think pink jeans are authentic cowboy chic, but I let it pass. Maybe I'm mellowing or maybe it's just the effects of the pants cutting off my circulation. Anyway, I keep trying to hike them up, but it's a little like squeezing an elephant into a Volkswagen. Not that I'm an elephant. "There's no way this is a six," I complain. "Are you impugning my shopping abilities?" Rosalind asks. "Yes." "No problem, because Olivia was the one who bought them." I whip around and give Olivia the death stare. "They're a size six!" she insists. "Sorry about the stretch. I thought they were so pretty." I don't have the heart to be angry at her. Olivia is one of the nicest people I've ever met. She's had a terrible few years, and she's hanging on by a thread. Rosalind's generosity, along with her contagious go get 'em attitude has helped Olivia believe that she can get on with her life and survive, and for some reason, hooking me up with the perfect man is the first step to her happy ending. So, my complaints about the jeans deflate, as if I'm a balloon. A really fat balloon shoved into a tiny tube. "Are you sure it's a six?" I ask, my voice meek and calm. Olivia takes a look. "It's not a six," she says. "I'm sorry I made a mistake." "See?" I tell Rosalind. "It's not a six. What size is it, Olivia?" She steps back and shakes her head. "No." "No?" "Size is just a number." Her face is drained of color, and she looks scared. "I know size is just a number," I say. "So what number is it? A four?" Olivia throws a panicked look at her mother and at Rosalind. I have no idea what's going on. I twist my body and crane my head to see the tag. Size 8. "Size eight?" I screech. "Are you kidding me with the size 8? These jeans can go straight to hell with its size eight. Where did you buy these? Is this a cruel joke? What is this...a size eight in dog years? Is this a size eight on the metric system? Am I being punk'd?" I may be yelling, and two of the kids start crying. Olivia seems relieved to go check on them. Diane smiles wide and prances over to my Toblerone and picks it up. "I guess this is mine, now," she says. I can't argue with her, since I'm standing with the jeans cutting me in half. "Come on, I'll help. We're already late," Rosalind says, grabbing hold of the waistband and pulling with all of her strength. It's a miracle of physics that would confound even Einstein, but we manage to get the jeans on. "Don't drink anything," Rosalind says, wagging her finger at me. "There's no peeing for you until bedtime. As it is, we're going to have to cut you out of there." "Great." "And no sitting." "I'm no engineer, but even I figured that out. I can't feel my legs." "Don't worry. The cowboy boots are a half size too small, so the pain in your feet should stimulate feeling in your legs." "This keeps getting better and better," I mutter. They dress me in a hurry and paint me in two coats of makeup and tease my hair, only to cover it with a pink cowboy hat. I look in the mirror and sigh...because I'm speechless. I literally can't speak. No words will form in my mouth. And not just because no blood is getting to the half of my body bound by hard as nails denim. I look like the entire city of Nashville threw up on me. Olivia hops on her heels. "You look great!" "Define great," I say. "He's going to eat you up," Rosalind says, smiling. "I smell a huge success in part one of Operation Billionaire." I don't know about Operation Billionaire, but I'm pretty sure that Cole Stevens is going to laugh his head off when he gets an eyeful out of Calamity Jane. Uh oh. Cole Stevens. My mouth goes dry, and my skin prickles. In all the excitement about jeans that don't fit, I've forgotten that I'm about to meet Cole Hunka Hunka Stevens. My heart stops, and my brain bleeds. A hurricane blindsides me, and an earthquake rocks my foundation. "I can't see him like this," I croak. I can't see him at all. I need to be an invisible event planner, keeping busy with place settings. He's everything, and I'm a homeless woman in a pink cowboy hat. What was I thinking? Who do I think I am? I'll tell you who I am...I'm a poser. A fake. A phony. "No!" Olivia shouts. "Don't freak out. Don't back down. We're all here to support you. Be a sneaker and go for it." I would love to be a sneaker. My feet are already killing me. Rosalind pats my back. "It's going to be great. We have it all planned. This is just the first day. You don't have to stick your tongue down his throat, yet." "Am I sticking my tongue down his throat?" "Not yet," she says. "This is going to be good," Diane says, eating my Toblerone. The TV is on, but I've become her new entertainment. She's riveted to my new image, like watching The Titanic before it leaves the dock. "T-minus two minutes," Rosalind announces. She hands me my tablet and notebook with all of the details for the gala. "You need to get down to the rodeo grounds for the welcome lunch." They know the details of the event better than I do. "I'm going to get fired," I say. "If you do, you'll get another job. You're a kickass event planner. Your gala looks breathtaking." Rosalind is always positive and uplifting, and I almost believe her. She turns me around and pushes me toward the door. I take a deep breath, open it, and step into the hallway, alone. Dead man walking, I think as my cowboy boots clop on the multicolored carpeting. Two of my colleagues are waiting at the elevator and do a double-take when they see me. "Hello, Beatrice," Cindy Graves says, but her eyes are all over the place except for on me. I don't blame her. An awkward silence descends on us, and Judy, my other colleague, taps furiously on the elevator call button. They don't ask me why I'm dressed like a deranged Western music backup singer, and I don't tell them. I don't think explaining that I'm dressed this way to snag our billionaire client would be taken any more seriously. I pretend to focus on my tablet, trying to look professional. How ironic. Finally, the elevator arrives, and then they ignore me in a smaller space. I want to kill Rosalind and Olivia. How dare they do this to me? I give up. As soon as I find a pair of scissors, I'm going to cut myself out of this outfit and call it a day.
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