Love Incorporated
By Elena Lane
Date: July 9, 2021
Ch. 11

Tabitha Collins woke that morning, already in a bad mood. It was dull and rainy outside with no indication that the sun would ever brighten the darkened sky. It was the type of day where Tabitha wanted to pull her duvet back over her head and go back to sleep until the sun wakened her the next morning, but of course, that was not a possibility. Being the daughter of the Collins & Collins CEO, Mark Collins wasn’t easy. There were many expectations Tabitha’s parents had for her and for the most part, she didn’t mind going to the formal functions or smiling pretty for the cameras, but it was days like these where Tabitha craved the comfort of generic sweat pants, not Gucci and Prada.

Since her day was jam packed, Tabitha had no time to wait. So, she rolled out of bed and into the shower, fighting the urge to blow off all her responsibilities because if Tabitha was anything, it was punctual and organized. If she let herself stay in bed any longer, it would throw her day off completely and Tabitha could not let that happen. She dressed in a casual, but stylish outfit, making sure to throw on a pair of rain boots. From there, she looked at her watch, seeing that she had just enough time to make it to her ten-thirty appointment for the final fitting of her ball dress, which, if everything went according to plan, would need no further altercations. If it didn’t fit, well, Tabitha refused to think of that option. The Collins & Collins annual banquet was that evening so Tabitha didn’t have time for last minute altercations; everything had to stick exactly to the plan.

Unfortunately, things rarely go as planned; as Tabitha was looking down at her phone, walking into the boutique, she felt the impact of one hundred and seventy pounds of pure muscle. Tabitha fell to the cold, wet ground with her phone falling beside her. She sighed, that’s what she gets for paying attention to her phone rather than where she was walking. She looked at the man who had knocked her down (or rather, who she had knocked into) and groaned when she saw his face. Braxton Decker, the son of Melanie and Horace Decker, AKA the devil’s spawn. To Tabitha’s surprise, he didn’t laugh at Tabitha or say some cocky joke. Instead, he offered Tabitha a hand, but she brushed it off, sensing that the boy had ulterior motives. She wanted nothing to do with anyone in the Decker family, especially not the notorious playboy, Braxton. She reckoned he was the worst of them all. He was careless and wild, nothing like Tabitha. Tabitha was sure that Braxton blew off all familial duty and gave no concern to anybody besides himself. In all honesty, Tabitha had had very few encounters with the boy, but his cool exterior was off putting to her.

She did a once over of Braxton. He certainly was an interesting character. They had gone to the same prep school; so, she had had more brushes with him than she had liked, but she had never been able to figure him out. He was rebellious, but was in no way the stereotypical bad boy. He didn’t have gray stormy eyes or a sleeve of tattoos and he didn’t even wear leather jackets or a dangerous grin. Instead, Braxton had a looked that verged on being preppy and a smile that was boyish and sweet. Though, despite this, something about him, be it his general attitude or brooding stances, seemed very rough around the edges. Look inside any major gossip magazine and there was Braxton, getting into trouble. So he was a bad boy, but to someone who (for some inexplicable reason) didn’t know him, he could pass himself off as the boy next door. Braxton Decker was a confusing paradox that Tabitha struggled to comprehend and his mysteriousness vexed her. She liked flowcharts, not jumbles.

“Sorry,” Tabitha said to him through gritted teeth. She hadn’t wanted to say anything to him, but at the same time, she liked to be accountable for her own mistakes and the whole incident had been her fault. So, she sucked up her pride. She laughed stiffly, “I’m such a klutz sometimes.”

“I’m glad you ran into me, Tabby. It’s been ages since we’ve talked,” Braxton commented.

“And let me explain this to you, Decker; there’s many reasons why we don’t talk. One of them is because you insist on calling me Tabby when everyone else calls me Tabitha.”

He shrugged, “Everyone needs a good nickname.”

“Not me,” Tabitha disputed, “Anyway, as much as I like talking to you, I have a fitting to go to.” She looked at her watch and groaned, “And I’m already running late.” She gave him a frustrated look. “Thanks a lot,” she said even though her tardiness wasn’t completely his fault.

“Text me sometime, Tabby.” Braxton said with a small smile and if Tabitha hadn’t known any better, she would have thought it was genuine, but Tabitha did know better and she knew that Braxton Decker was a playboy, albeit charming. He would only bring chaos to her otherwise ordered life.

“I would never text you. Besides, your number is something that I’ve worked hard to keep out of my phone,” Tabitha quipped, a smirk tugging at her lips.
Braxton gave a thoughtful look then said, “So, I guess I’ll have to text you.” He gave another smile, obviously pleased with himself and said, “I’ll see you later, Tabitha. Have a nice fitting.” And just like that, he was gone. Tabitha stared at the spot where he had been standing for a moment. She realized what a mystifying, perplexing person Braxton really was and also that her jeans were really wet. What a terrible start Tabitha was having to her dreary summer day. She figured that things couldn’t get worse. Of course, Tabitha was wrong.

Tabitha got home from her fitting and threw herself on the couch with an exasperated sign. Her dad, Mark raised an eyebrow, while her other dad, Kevin rolled his eyes at her dramatic entrance. Kevin spoke first, “Was the dress fitting really that exhausting?”

“Oh, that part was fine and the dress fit perfectly, thank God, but it’s what happened before the fitting that put me in a bad mood.”

“What happened?” Kevin asked, eyebrow raised.

“I ran into – literally- Braxton Decker.”

“Ugh, no wonder you’re upset. The Decker family is tactless and ignorant. I don’t know how they manage to run a business with those peanut sized brains of theirs,” Kevin ranted.

The two families went a long way back. Both had large companies that produced a wide array of goods ranging from body lotions to computing products. It wasn’t the fact that they were competing against each other in the same market that was the problem. It was more of an ideological battle between the two families- personal, not professional. Both Collins & Collins and Decker Works were companies that were, primarily, family owned and run, but the values that each family held were vastly different. Decker Works valued the traditional family- man and wife- and snobbishly advertised themselves as keepers of Christian morals. While, the Collins family disputed that two men heading a family could be just as moral as any other family. In the case of the Decker family, the Collins felt that they were more moral than the Decker family because they were not uppity or hateful.

So, because of these differences of opinion and a general enmity between the two families, there had long been a rift between them in the world of the ultra-wealthy. Everyone who was in the inner circle knew not to invite the Collin’s and also invite the Decker’s to an event. It was something that simply wasn’t done; the sole exception to this rule was for a select charitable events. For charity, they didn’t get along per say, but the two families could co-exist.

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