Twisted love by ANA HUANG ,chapter 6,ALEX

“DON’T DO THIS.” I poured myself a cup of coffee, leaned against the counter, and took a leisurely sip before responding. “I’m not sure why you’re calling me, Andrew. I’m the COO. You should talk to Ivan.” “That’s bullshit,” Andrew spat. “You pull the strings behind the scenes, and everyone knows it.” “Then everyone is wrong, which wouldn’t be the first time.” I checked my Patek Philippe watch. Limited edition, hermetically sealed and waterproof, the stainless-steel timepiece had set me back a cool twenty grand. I’d bought it after I sold my financial modeling software for eight figures, one month after my fourteenth birthday. “Ah, it’s almost time for my nightly meditation session.” I didn’t meditate, and we both knew it. “I wish you the best. I’m sure you’ll have a flourishing second career as a busker. You took band in high school, didn’t you?” “Alex, please.” Andrew’s voice turned pleading. “I have a family. Kids. My oldest daughter is starting college soon. Whatever you have against me, don’t drag them or my employees into it.” “But I don’t have anything against you, Andrew,” I said conversationally, taking another sip of coffee. Most people didn’t drink espresso this late for fear of not being able to sleep, but I didn’t have that problem. I could never sleep. “This is business. Nothing personal.” It baffled me that people still didn’t get it. Personal appeals had no place in the corporate world. It was eat or get eaten, and I for one had no grand aspirations of becoming prey. Only the strongest survived, and I had every intention of remaining at the
top of the food chain. “Alex—” I tired of hearing my name. It was always Alex this, Alex that. People begging for time, money, attention or, worst of all, affection. It was a fucking chore. It really was. “Good night.” I hung up before he could make another plea for mercy. There was nothing sadder than seeing—or, in this case, hearing—a CEO reduced to a beggar. The hostile takeover of Gruppmann Enterprises would go ahead as planned. I wouldn’t have cared about the company, except it was a useful pawn in the grand scheme of things. Archer Group was a real estate development company, but in five, ten, twenty years, it’d be so much more. Telecommunications, e-commerce, finance, energy…the world was ripe for my taking. Gruppmann was a small fish in the finance industry, but it was a stepping stone toward my bigger ambitions. I wanted to iron out all the kinks before I took on the sharks. Besides, Andrew was an asshole. I knew for a fact that he’d quietly settled with several of his past secretaries out of court over sexual harassment charges. I blocked Andrew’s number for good measure and made a mental note to fire my assistant for allowing my personal cell information to slip into the hands of someone outside my tightly controlled contacts list. She’d already fucked up several times—paperwork with errors, appointments scheduled for the wrong times, missed calls from VIPs—and this was the last straw. I’d only kept her on so long as a favor to her father, a congressman who wanted his daughter to get “real work experience,” but her experience was over as of eight a.m. tomorrow morning. I’d deal with her father later. Silence hummed in the air as I placed my coffee cup in the sink and walked toward the living room. I sank onto the couch and closed my eyes, letting my chosen images play through my mind. I didn’t meditate, but this was my own fucked-up form of therapy. October 29, 2006. My first birthday as an orphan. It sounded depressing when I put it like that, but it wasn’t sad. It just… was. I didn’t care about birthdays. They were meaningless, dates on a
calendar that people celebrated because it made them feel special when, in reality, they weren’t special at all. How could birthdays be special when everyone had one? I used to think they were special because my parents always made a big deal out of it. One year, they took the entire family and six of my closest friends to Six Flags in New Jersey, where we ate hot dogs and rode roller coasters until we puked. Another year, they bought me the latest PlayStation, and I was the envy of my class. But some things were the same every year. I’d stay in bed, pretending to be asleep while my parents “snuck” into my bedroom wearing goofy paper cone hats and carrying my favorite breakfast —blueberry pancakes drenched in syrup with hash browns and crispy bacon on the side. My dad would hold my breakfast while my mom tackled me and yelled, “Happy birthday!” and I’d laugh and scream while she tickled me fully awake. It was the one day of the year they let me eat breakfast in bed. After my sister was old enough to walk, she’d join them, climbing over me and messing up my hair while I complained about girl cooties getting all over my room. Now they were gone. No more family trips, no more blueberry pancakes and bacon. No more birthdays that mattered. My uncle tried. He bought me a big chocolate cake and brought me to a popular arcade in town. I sat at a table in the dining area, staring out the window. Thinking. Remembering. Analyzing. I hadn’t touched any of the arcade games. “Alex, go play,” my uncle said. “It’s your birthday.” He sat across from me, a powerfully built man with salt and pepper hair and light brown eyes almost identical to my father’s. He wasn’t a handsome man, but he was vain, so his hair was always perfectly coiffed and his clothes perfectly pressed. Today, he wore a sharp blue suit that looked woefully out of place amongst all the sticky children and haggard-faced, T-shirt-clad parents roaming through the arcade. I hadn’t seen Uncle Ivan often before “That Day.” He and my father had a falling out when I was seven, and my father never spoke of him again. Even so, Uncle Ivan had taken me in instead of letting me drift through the foster system, which was nice of him, I guess. “I don’t want to play.” I rapped my knuckles against the table. Knock. Knock. Knock. One. Two. Three. Three gunshots. Three bodies falling to the floor. I squeezed my eyes shut and used all my strength to shove those images
out of my head. They’d return, as they had every day since That Day. But I wasn’t dealing with them now, in the middle of a stinky suburban arcade with cheap blue carpet and water ring stains on the table. I hated my “gift.” But short of carving out my brain, I couldn’t do anything about it, so I learned to live it with it. And one day, I would weaponize it. “What do you want?” Uncle Ivan asked. I shifted my gaze to meet his. He held it for a few seconds before dropping his eyes. People never used to do that. But ever since my family’s murder, they acted differently. When I looked at them, they would look away—not because they pitied me, but because they feared me, some base survival instinct deep inside them screaming at them to run and never look back. It was silly, adults fearing an eleven—now twelve—year-old-boy. But I didn’t blame them. They had reason to be afraid. Because one day, I would tear the world apart with my bare hands and force it to pay for what it had taken from me. “What I want, Uncle,” I said, my voice still registering the clear, high pitch of a boy who had not yet hit puberty. “Is revenge.” I opened my eyes and exhaled slowly, letting the memory wash over me. That was the moment I’d found my purpose, and I’d replayed it every day for fourteen years. I’d had to see a therapist for a few years after my family’s death. More than one, actually, because none made any inroads and my uncle kept replacing them in the hopes one would stick. They never did. But they all told me the same thing—that my obsessive focus on the past would impede my healing process and that I needed to focus my energy on other, more constructive pursuits. A few suggested art while others suggested sports. I suggested they shove their suggestions up their ass. Those therapists didn’t get it. I didn’t want to heal. I wanted to burn. I wanted to bleed. I wanted to feel every scorching lick of pain. And soon, the person responsible for that pain would feel it too. One thousandfold.

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