"And don't forget to read the next two chapters, discussion and recitation tomorrow!" Selena called out from her desk as her students began filing out of the classroom. As the last student left the room, she glanced up at the clock and smiled. 3 pm—perfect, she still had some time to freshen up before meeting Megan at the nearby coffee shop. She hadn't talked to her best friend in ages, and now that there was a rare occasion that they were both free, they had planned to catch up.
Megan was already seated and waiting when she finally arrived. Waving excitedly to her, Selena made her way through the relaxed atmosphere and gave Megan a brief hug. "Meg!" she said happily as they both sat down. "Finally! How have you been? We haven't talked in so long!"
"I know," Megan Stanford said, her deep blue eyes glimmering behind her glasses. As usual, her reddish brown hair hung loosely past her shoulders, the sides held together by a jeweled clip. "We barely get to see each other at all. It's a good thing our schedules finally let up."
As the waitress left after taking their orders, Selena said, "So, what've you been up to lately?"
"I've got my hands full with this new case," Megan said with a sigh. "Obviously, I can't talk much about it, but Tyson Corp. has just filed another lawsuit against us. I swear, they just don't learn…."
Megan was wearing an annoyed expression, one she usually adopted whenever she was talking about her latest case. As corporate lawyer and Head of the Legal Department for Sheridan International, one of Branwood's fortune-500 business firms, she was often faced with high-profile cases that left her with either a huge migraine…or a huge paycheck.
"Anyway," Megan dispelled her previous look and waved the matter away; she even started to smile as their orders finally arrived. "What about you? How's teaching going?"
"It's good, although there's something I just don't get," Selena said, eyebrows slightly furrowed. "Only a small number of people take my classes, and I don't understand it. Why such a small number? I mean, advanced trigonometry and calculus is fun!"
She was met with Megan's blank, deadpanned stare.
"What? It is?" Selena said defensively. Knowing that she couldn't sway Megan to love math—she'd always been more of a language person—and that trying to convince her that trigonometry and calculus was awesome was useless, so she hastily decided to switch topics, but before she could speak, Megan beat her to it.
"So…" Megan said, twirling around the straw in her glass, "I heard about what happened with Raff." Slowly, she shook her head. "Look, Selena, I know you're out to get him because of what he did and everything, but..." She raised an eyebrow at her.
"What?" Selena said defensively. "I'm not doing this to extract revenge or anything like that! Okay, so fine, he did cheat on me with some blonde bimbo towards the end of Senior Year—I get that, and it's not my problem if that idiot couldn't control his hormones then, but that's not why I did what I did. I simply did this because he has committed an atrocious crime against nature and the animal kingdom, and the light on his disgusting deeds must be shone in order to expose him for the heartless ass he really is."
"Right…" Megan fixed her with a shrewd look, the one that usually made witnesses cower in the courtroom. "And I suppose that ruining his career and paying him back for what he did to you was just an added bonus that just happened to conveniently and coincidentally be in the mix. Of course, Selena, whatever you say."
"I hate it when you do that," Selena said, rolling her eyes.
"What?" Megan instantly adopted the expression of a perfectly innocent cherub. "What did I do or say this time?"
"Nevermind," Selena said with a sigh, knowing that it was pointless to take the bait. "Anyway, enough about me. What else is going on with you right now? Or are you letting your job become the center of your universe once again?"
"Says the girl who lives and breathes Math," Megan retorted. After taking another sip of her drink, she added, "Seriously, though, Selena, be careful. This is Raff we're talking about here. If he can manage to rip apart 5 books in succession with only his hands when he's mad, imagine what he can do now that he's supremely vexed and has an entire company at his disposal."
"I'm not afraid of him," she said defiantly. "I only did what I had to do." She shook her head. "Why don't we change the subject? No more Raff Jacobs talk for the duration of this conversation, please." She smiled when Megan nodded. "So…you didn't answer my question yet. What else is going with you right now, apart from your job?"
The way Selena was smiling made Megan all too aware what she was asking about, and she rolled her eyes. "Selena, I know what you're asking, and the answer is no. With my job, I haven't even gotten the time to finish reading the book I bought a few days ago, much less go on a date. Besides, it'll just distract me with my job, and I can't have that, especially at this crucial time."
"Meg," Selena replied patiently, laughing. "When we were in high school, you said dating was a distraction. While we were off to college, you said the same thing. Now that you've gotten your dream job, it's still a distraction. Honestly, with the rate you're going now, one day you'll end up a spinster with fifteen cats and a library bigger than the Library of Congress in your home."
"The library, yes, the cats, no," Megan said, laughing as well. "And you're one to talk. Aren't you seeing someone? Anyone at all? Didn't you tell me about this math professor from Talbot's that you met at that symposium---"
"Nah," Selena waved the statement away. "That was nothing; we never even went beyond having coffee together at the symposium. Romance is, as of now, dead in my life." The conversation somehow managed to move smoothly onto another topic, and as the two friends caught up and conversed, Selena almost managed to forget about Raff Jacobs.
Peace—or whatever peace Selena could have when Raff Jacobs was involved—was good.
Raff Jacobs had just consumed his fourth straight shot of tequila. Now, if his best friend or anyone who knew him well were here, he'd know that there was cause for alarm. Because Raff drinking like this—and in his office, no less--only meant one thing: That he was plotting.
God help us all.
His reputation was now trashed to bits. And while that didn't make his magazine or his clothing line any less popular—because apparently, people, psycho individuals that they were, apparently loved buying stuff born out of scandal—he was now being hounded every second of the day by PETA and those other animal-lovers and tree-huggers. He'd already had one investor pull out of a deal after hearing of the whole fiasco. And it was all because of that wonderful little Selena Richmund, former girlfriend and forever a pain in his ass.
"Is this karma for cheating on you in high school?" he said out loud, his voice travelling around his office. "Why, of all people, did it have to be---"
His intercom rang at that moment, and he barked a, "Hello?"
"Mister Jacobs, I'm terribly sorry for interrupting," a very frazzled Anne replied. "But Branwood Network's Gossip Today would like a comment on, and I quote, 'How it feels to have so much haters and people disgusted with you because of the deceit you pulled, all in the name of fashion—no matter how hot the collection was?"
"Tell them I don't have a comment," he said shortly. "And if you want to keep your job, I suggest you not interrupt me anymore with calls from news stations and all that other crap when I'm trying to salvage my company."
"Yes sir," Anne said hurriedly. "No more interruptions. Got it."
"Good," he snapped and shut the intercom off. Reclining in his seat with a frustrated sigh, his thoughts resumed to wondering why he was being tortured like this. "Is this my punishment for creating fabulousness?" he wondered to himself, shaking his head.
The door to his office opened, and he didn't even need to look up; he knew without a doubt that it was Dean. "You know," his best friend said conversationally, "You really should think about giving Anne a raise. The poor girl's nearly in tears; after all the hell you put her through on a daily basis, she deserves it."
"Well, if you think you know how to run my company and its employees better, then why don't we switch places?" Raff snapped, rubbing his temples.
Dean only laughed. "Raff, you are my best friend, but I sure am glad I'm not in your place right now. Speaking of which," he paused, sobering up. "What exactly are you planning to do with this mess?"
"You think I haven't spent every minute of the day thinking about that?" Raff replied, gritting his teeth. "Business is operating as usual, but as to how I'm going to fix my reputation after this…"
"Well," Dean suggested, "First, you could try going into the root of the problem…"
And just like that, the proverbial light bulb was set off in Raff's head.
"Of course!" Raff said, his eyes taking on a glint. "The root of my problems: Selena Richmund and her animal-hugging sad saps."
Dean groaned. "No, you idiot, I meant your usage of endangered animal's furs! Selena wouldn't be involved in this whole situation if you hadn't---"
"She gave me this mess, and she's going to help me fix it," Raff muttered to himself, ignoring his best friend completely. "But how? Revenge? Tempting, but that'll just make me look like a bigger jackass in front of the media…hmm…"
"Raff, are you even listening to a word I'm saying?" Dean yelled, exasperated.
Raff turning his back on him was his answer.
Dean Roberts was not the sort of man who worried over things intensely. But he actually took a step backward and frowned in suspicion when Raff suddenly turned back to him with a big, if not fake, smile on his face.
"Dean," Raff said, all traces of earlier annoyance gone. "We've been best friends since high school, haven't we? We've gone through our share of stupid stunts--"
"—yeah, your stupid stunts," Dean muttered under his breath.
"—and throughout it all, we've always helped each other, right?" Raff finished, walking over to Dean and clapping a hand on his shoulder. To Dean, the action was like a vice-like grip of a snake. When he tried to shrug the hand off but found that it wouldn't budge, he had an inkling that he was in trouble.
"Raff," he said warily, "Where are you going with this?"
"I was just thinking," Raff said in that same tone. "You and Selena are good friends, right? If you could somehow talk to her…convince her I'm not the spawn of Satan, as she believes--"
I don't think that's possible, Dean thought in his head.
"—you know, make her see my better side? I think that if I somehow manage to portray like I'm on good terms with the very people who oppose me, then it would improve my public image. I mean, if I do it right, I could go from 'Animal-Hating, Conscience-less Barbarian' to 'Nature's Best Friend.' And since she engineered this whole thing, she's the prime person I need to butter up and play nice with." His eyes actually glinted as he saw how his whole plan would play out in his mind. "The media would eat it all up. I'd become an even bigger name than before. It's perfect."
"Uh, good plan, except for one problem," Dean pointed out. "In case you haven't noticed, she hates your guts."
"And I hate hers, but this is my reputation and my entire company at stake here. I'd make a deal with the Devil right now if it meant getting all this bad publicity out of my face." He decided to leave out the fact that his plan was also the perfect way to get revenge and screw with her mind. Acting all nice and chummy with Selena Richmund would manage to drive said girl crazy, he knew it.
Aren't you the devil? Dean was sorely tempted to reply, but he refrained (because he wasn't stupid, you know. He would actually like to continue living.). Instead, he said, "Sorry, Raff. I can't do that. I'd try to stop you from going through with this whole plan altogether, but I know by now that all my efforts would be useless. But Selena's a friend of mine, and I can't help you play her. Leave me out of it."
"Dean…" Raff said in a pleading voice, and Dean had to stop himself from snickering at how pathetic his best friend sounded right about now. "Don't think that I'm playing her. What if I really want to fix my relationship with her? I mean, we did have history, you know. That has to count for something."
"Still, the answer is no."
"Dean, come on…"
"No. I'm leaving."
"Dean, listen," Raff finally said. "Fine. Don't do it because you think you're going to help me in my plan. But both of us are your friends. Don't you want us to be friends again, as opposed to what we are right now? I mean, we can't even talk without wanting to rip each other's faces off."
Grudgingly, he had to admit that Raff had a point. Dean did want his friends to reconcile, not just for their sake, but also for his own sanity. Besides, he thought, it would be nice to have them in the same room without a possibility of murder hanging over their heads.
He hated it when Raff managed to find a loophole.
Raff's smile was smug when Dean sighed in resignation. "You're never going to quit asking me, so alright. I'll have dinner with her, and I'll TRY to see what I can do. But I'm not doing this for you; I'm doing this so I can finally have some peace and quiet."
His grin was still there. "I knew I could count on you."
"I'm probably going to regret this."
Raff merely rolled his eyes, the grin still in place. Finally, he'd found a way out of this mess. And now that the ball was rolling, it was only a matter of time before his plan went into full motion.
Let the games begin, he thought. Richmund, you have no idea what you've just gotten yourself into.