“Do you have a plan, sir?” I say. I know we’ll need to figure out a strategy before Monday. That means we have a little over twenty-four hours.
“No. But I will before Monday.”
“I’ll come up with ideas tomorrow after we’ve had a chance to talk about everything.”
My heart skips a beat. “Sir?” I don’t know why the idea of going to his home at three a.m. makes me nervous. I’ve been there before, many times. And in various times of the day — and night.
“Right now. Hurry.”
He disconnects the call before I could even reply.
“Do you know what time it is, Kate?” Maricar said when she sees me getting dressed. She is leaning against the frame of my open bedroom door.
“Yes,” I say as I pull on a pair of slacks. “It’s a work emergency.”
“Uh-huh.” She looks at me disapprovingly. “Your boss thinks he can call you over any time and you’ll come running.”
“That’s because he can.” Warmly dressed in a sweater and slacks, I pack my laptop and tablet into a leather bag.
“Is this why you hardly ever date?”
“What does that have to do with anything?”
“It’s just that you’re always working. When are you going to find the time to meet someone?”
“I don’t know.”
That’s the standard line I tell the well-meaning people who decided they needed to pry into my personal life. The truth is, I’ve tried. Dating apps, allowing myself to be set up on blind dates, you name it. Nothing came out of them. The truth is, I’m tired.
“All my friends are married,” she says. “Everyone is getting married except you.”
“Good for them.” I give a glance at my appearance in my full-length mirror. When I started working for Raul, I tried to always look polished and pressed — I’d wear my usual light but impeccable makeup even when working outside business hours and outside the office. It didn’t take long before I realized what I looked like made no difference to my boss.
Maricar sighs. “They everyone has someone out there for them. If you’d only take some time for yourself and put yourself out there, you might find him.”
“Maybe,” I concede. This isn’t the first time she’s said this and I’m in too much in a hurry to argue with her. “Maybe I’m not the relationship type.”
Maricar is silent. Her expression, however, speaks volumes. There is concern there, and not a little sadness.
I walk past her toward the front door. “Don’t wait up for me,” I say.
“Does he even notice you, Kate?”
I almost freeze in my steps but I force myself to keep walking down the short corridor. “What?”
She’s following me into the living room. “You know what I mean.”
“That’s not…” I shake my head. “I’m not in love with Raul, okay. He has nothing to do with anything.”
“Right.” She doesn’t look convinced.
“I can work for a good-looking man without being interested in him, you know.” At her loud burst of laughter, I turn to her, my hand on the doorknob of the front door.
“Good-looking! Kate, Raul is probably the hottest man in all of Boston.”
“If you say so.”
“You know, I’ve been wondering,” Maricar says, coming closer. Her brow is furrowed as she examines me, as though looking for something in my expression. “Are the two of you …?”
“Maricar, seriously. He’s my boss. And he’s not the type to sleep with his employees.”
“That’s true.” Her tone is curious, as though the idea was fascinating. “Although I wonder if a fling with him is what you need.”
“Nobody needs a fling. What are you even talking about?”
She shrugs. “Maybe you just need to get him out of your system. And when he breaks your heart — which he will— you’ll be able to move on.”
“That’s…” I shake my head. “That is the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard.”
As much as I hide my tumultuous thoughts about Raul, I’m bothered about what Maricar said about him breaking my heart. Because it was true— no scenario with me and him lead to anywhere but heartbreak. Whether I worked with him for twenty years keeping my feelings tucked carefully inside my heart or if by some miracle he asks me to share his bed the way he does every woman who catches his eye, in the end, he will always be the same man who refuses to commit to a relationship.
The streets are empty as I walk briskly toward Raul’s brownstone townhouse from where I’ve parked my car. I’ve been over there more times than I can count, but I still can’t help marveling at the magnificence of the house. I’m not really into expensive things, but houses are different. This one is old and not at all showy. And even from the outside, it exudes comfortable luxury.
I don’t bother to ring the doorbell. Raul gave me the key to every one of his homes and apartments a long time ago — plus I didn’t like having to wake up his housekeeper. I use a key to unlock the front door and, once inside, I punch in the code to the security system.
He’s already in his study when I get there. Standing in front of his desk, he’s reading something on his iPad, a finger occasionally tapping on the screen. His grey sweatpants and white tee make me feel overdressed but also intensely aware of his strong, toned body underneath the soft fabrics. There’s no denying just how low the waistband of his sweatpants clings to his hips. Maybe he pulled them on in a hurry. Maybe he sleeps naked.
Was there someone in bed with him?
“Thank you for coming.”
Raul’s voice jolts me out of my thoughts and I shake myself mentally. Pay attention, Kate. You’re at work.
“Of course,” I reply. I set my laptop bag and purse on the smaller desk a few feet away from his. It’s my desk. He had it put in a couple of weeks after I started working for him, on my request. I told him I needed the space to work. What I didn’t tell him was that working on the same desk as he was too distracting for me.
He smells like oranges and cedarwood.
I try not to stand or sit too close. At all times.
“This plan to fire me,” Raul says. “It can’t just be about … what they say it is.”
I’m setting up my laptop. I don’t see him as he speaks but I could hear the weariness in his voice. It’s not a lack of sleep or physical tiredness. This is personal to him— the company, his family, his aunts on the board of directors. And he’s emotionally strained.
“Not usually,” I reply. “But…”
He sighs. “But you think it is.”
“You know your aunts better than I do.” I sit at my desk, pulling up the records of the last board meeting.
A chuckle. “That I do.”
When I glance up at him, he’s not smiling. “And?” I prompt him.
“I was never good enough,” he says. “They gave me a chance and now they’ve decided that I won’t ever be good enough.”
Jesus Christ. I didn’t want to have to spell it out but he just wasn’t getting it. “Raul.”
“Yeah, I know. My tias love me, etc. But the thing is—”
I cut him off. “Raul, they want you to get married.”
He blinks. “They never said anything.”
“And they won’t. Your Tia Grace is a staunch feminist, your Tia Carmen is the same but more low-key.”
“Say you’re right.” He ran a hand over his face, now covered with a light layer of weekend scruff on his chin and sides. “Say this is some ploy to get me to find a woman to make an honest man out of me. Surely, they don’t think I can get a wife within two days?”
I give him a shaky smile, wondering if he could hear the rapid pounding of my heart against my chest. “They know you well enough to know you’ll figure it out somehow.”
He was quiet for a long time.
I look down at my computer so he doesn’t see my eyes. “I’ve set up an appointment with your lawyers tomorr— in the afternoon. They’re asleep but I left them a voicemail right after you called me. You’ll need a prenup but you’ll have to explain the situation to them.”
“Explain that my meddling aunts have forced my hand?” He laughed bitterly.
“That you and your wife— whoever she may be — will only be married for, say, a year. Or five years.” My tone is efficient, almost robotic at this point. “It’s up to you but I recommend five years. One year is too short a time to fool anybody.”
He’s pouring himself a drink from the wet bar. “Go on.”
“You have friends, Raul. Female friends. Maybe one of them may be willing to do this for you.” I glance down at the browser tabs on my laptop. “Or you could marry an actress. A good one, but not too famous. A good actress can convince your aunts the affection is real.”
“How real do they expect it to be, when I apparently have to conjure up this woman before Wednesday?” He takes a large swig of his drink. I’m assuming it’s vodka, from the look of it. He’s not going to offer me any, of course. I’m here to work.
“I think …” I place my trembling hands on my lap under the desk, hoping he hasn’t noticed them. “I think they just want you to make the effort.”
“So these are my two options — a friend or an actress?”
I shrug. “I may be able to think of another option by tonight. But for now, that’s what I have.”
Raul stares at me for so long I wonder if he’d fallen asleep standing up. With his eyes open.