You have something to say to me, Cassidy, say it. Or shut the fuck up.”
“All right,” Jules said. “I will.” He took a deep breath. Exhaled. “Okay, see, I, well, I love you. Very, very much, and . . .” Where to go from here . . .?
Except, his plain-spoken words earned him not just a glance but Max’s sudden full and complete attention. Which was a little alarming.
But it was the genuine concern in Max’s eyes that truly caught Jules off-guard.
Max actually thought . . . Jules laughed his surprise. “Oh! No, not like that. I meant it, you know, in a totally platonic, non-gay way.”
Jules saw comprehension and relief on Max’s face. The man was tired if he was letting such basic emotions show.
“Sorry.” Max even smiled. “I just . . .” He let out a burst of air. “I mean, talk about making things even more complicated . . .”
It was amazing. Max hadn’t recoiled in horror at the idea. His concern had been for Jules, about potentially hurting his tender feelings. And even now, he wasn’t trying to turn it all into a bad joke.
And he claimed they weren’t friends.
Jules felt his throat tighten. “You can’t know,” he told his friend quietly, “how much I appreciate your acceptance and respect.”
“My father was born in India,” Max told him, “in 1930. His mother was white—American. His father was not just Indian, but lower caste. The intolerance he experienced both there and later, even in America, made him a . . . very bitter, very hard, very, very unhappy man.” He glanced at Jules again. “I know personality plays into it, and maybe you’re just stronger than he was, but . . . People get knocked down all the time. They can either stay there, wallow in it, or . . . Do what you’ve done—what you do. So yeah. I respect you more than you know.”
Weeping was probably a bad idea, so Jules grabbed onto the alternative. He made a joke. “I wasn’t aware that you even had a father. I mean, rumors going around the office have you arriving via flying saucer—”
“I would prefer not to listen to aimless chatter all night long,” Max interrupted him. “So if you’ve made your point . . .?”
“Okay,” Jules said. “I’m so not going to wallow in that. Because I do have a point. See, I said what I said because I thought I’d take the talk-to-an-eight-year-old approach with you. You know, tell you how much I love you and how great you are in part one of the speech—”
“Speech.” Max echoed.
“Because part two is heavily loaded with the silent-but-implied ‘you are such a freaking idiot.’”
“Ah, Christ,” Max muttered.
“So, I love you,” Jules said again, “in a totally buddy-movie way, and I just want to say that I also really love working for you, and I hope to God you’ll come back so I can work for you again. See, I love the fact that you’re my leader not because you were appointed by some suit, but because you earned very square inch of that gorgeous corner office. I love you because you’re not just smart, you’re open-minded—you’re willing to talk to people who have a different point of view, and when they speak, you’re willing to listen. Like right now, for instance. You’re listening, right?”
“Liar.” Jules kept going. “You know, the fact that so many people would sell their grandmother to become a part of your team is not an accident. Sir, you’re beyond special—and your little speech to me before just clinched it. You scare us to death because we’re afraid we won’t be able to live up to your high standards. But your back is strong, you always somehow manage to carry us with you even when we falter.
“Some people don’t see that; they don’t really get you—all they know is they would charge into hell without hesitation if you gave the order to go. But see, what I know is that you’d be right there, out in front—they’d have to run to keep up with you. You never flinch. You never hesitate. You never rest.