All I Ever Wanted

Page 9


“It really was,” he acknowledged, then added in a terrible Bogart impression, “We’ll always have Santa Fe.”
Oh, God. That sounded horribly final! Desperate, I stammered and blathered, hoping to change his mind. “I—I just feel like we have…something…we have this incredible bond, and I…”
All of a sudden, I understood the phrase hopelessly in love. Michelle’s voice was kind in my head. You’re not supposed to have to convince him, hon. I ignored her. “I just don’t think we should…I don’t think we should throw away what we feel for each other, Mark.”
How I hated saying those words…and yet, I had to. I had to beg, even as I detested myself for being so…weak. So helpless. So willing to throw out dignity, so ready to trade that for whatever scraps Mark could give me. But dignity was thrown out just the same. “Please, Mark.”
“Uh…well,” Mark said slowly, crushing his cracker fragments into crumbs. “Callie, you’re just fantastic, and I really wish I was in a different place in my life right now. But I’m not.” He gave me a James Dean sort of look, lowered head and sheepish grin. “We’ll be okay, right? We’re friends still, I hope. I mean, I hope you’ll stay for dinner. I cooked for you.”
Don’t stay. Have some self-respect and walk out of here.
I swallowed. “No, of course we’re still friends, Mark,” I said. “Of course!”
“Great,” Mark said, setting aside his plate of crackers and cheese. “I knew you’d understand, Callie. Thank God you’re not one of those hysterical women who can’t handle being alone, right?” He grinned. “I’m starving. Wanna eat?”
“You bet,” I said. I found myself standing and following him to the dining room table. For the next hour, Mark chatted about his parents and their cruise to Norway, a couple of clients, the unfairness of the Yankees winning yet another World Series. The entire time, I murmured and nodded and even ate my damn dinner as my mind whirled. How the hell… Did I just…agree? Somehow, I’d just signed on the dotted line to accept this situation…this un-situation, more like it. Mark had cleverly orchestrated this so there was no scene, no real breakup, no crying…nope, we just sat down and ate, back to colleagues and coworkers. He handled it well, I had to admit.
By the time I got home that night, I’d convinced myself that Mark had been sincere. Timing…a perfectly acceptable answer! Everything he said…true! Mark was right! I did deserve it all! For the next little while, Betty Boop and I held out hope. Tried to be perky and waited for Mark to notice me again and be ready and in a place in his life where he could give me what I deserved. But the days slid past, and my lifelong optimism eroded bit by bit, until even I couldn’t deny the truth. He didn’t want me.
I should’ve hated him, but that was impossible. First of all, I loved him (the devil’s in the details, right?). He was funny and talented and a great boss, loved his work and valued his employees. He’d send me goofy e-mails or links to odd news stories, sometimes texted me during a meeting with a comment about a client, called me at home if something occurred to him. When he complimented me on my work, I’d feel such a rush of pride and joy…joy that faded to a chalky residue moments after he left.
Those three days in Santa Fe had been so perfect that I just couldn’t get past them. I should’ve called Annie, gotten drunk on chocolate liqueur candies, made lists of why I hated Mark. But I didn’t. I was my father’s girl, and if I could’ve gone back in time, I would’ve endured that flight all over again, just to have those happiest moments back again, when I’d had all I ever wanted.
ON MONDAY, I HAD A date to meet Doug336 for lunch. We’d taken our relationship to the next level…that is, we’d exchanged a few e-mails, allowed each other to view a photo, checked out each other’s Facebook pages, the usual cyber rituals that masqueraded as human interaction these days. Annie was very confident. “You need to get out there,” she said, as if she knew all about heartbreak from the six hours she and Jack had been apart during eleventh grade. “This will help. You’ll see. Mark will be a distant memory any day now.”
It was possible, I thought, picking out my clothes even more carefully than usual. Not only was I meeting the guy who might be The One—it was Muriel’s first day of work at Green Mountain Media. The very thought had my stomach cramping.
“No, no,” I instructed my reflection. “It’s all good. And you look very cute.” I definitely needed some positive affirmation today, needed to look the part of Young Professional Cool Creative Director. Today’s choice was an adorable, sunshiny yellow dress paired with killer red heels. Red-and-orange beaded necklace, orange suede bag.
Damien watched as I struggled through the office door with a tray of scones. “Can you help me out here, Damien?” I said.
“I’m busy,” he returned, evidenced by the single sheet of paper he held.
“You’re such a putz,” I growled, finally making it into the lobby. “No scones for you.”
“I’m on a diet,” he said, then lowered his voice. “She’s here.”
I paused. “Okay. Great! Super.”
Damien pulled a face—half sympathy, half disgust—and sat down at his desk.
Green Mountain Media was shaped like a triangle. Damien’s domain was the foyer, a large, sunny space filled with framed prints of our work, several large ficus trees and a couch and coffee table across from Damien’s glass-topped desk. Next came the art department, an open, cheerfully cluttered space featuring large-screen Macs, printers, scanners and miles of cable and cords. Here Pete and Leila reigned, speaking in their computer-geek acronyms. As the triangle narrowed, there was the conference room, then Karen’s office, which was large and dark due to the perpetually drawn blinds (we suspected Karen was part vampire, as she hated mornings and sunshine). Across from Karen was Fleur’s office. As creative director, I got a bigger office, closer to the apex where Mark held court in the point of the triangle. Now, the previously empty office directly across from me held our newest employee. Muriel.
As I approached, my heart tightened. Mark was leaning in Muriel’s doorway. “Hey, Callie,” he said, smiling as if this were a normal day.
“Morning, boss,” I said, reassured that my voice sounded normal. I paused, the tray of scones growing heavier. My purse slipped off my shoulder. “Hi, Muriel. Welcome.”
She stood next to Mark, one bony hip tilted out. “Hello,” she said, giving me a quick once-over. Her nostrils twitched. “How are you, Calliope?”
“Great!” I answered. “How about you? Getting organized?”
“Already done.”
Muriel was beautiful, I couldn’t deny that. Her hair was black, pulled back into a severe twist, revealing her narrow, ice-queen face. Glittering pale gray eyes, white, white skin with two fiery spots of pink glowing on her cheeks, as if she were burning from fever. She wore a very fitted black suit—Armani maybe, sleek and vicious—and a black silk shirt. Couldn’t have been more than a size two, and I instantly felt quite large and very soft. “Well. I should put these scones—”
“Do you have a moment?” she asked.
I glanced at Mark, who looked blandly back. “Um…sure! Of course.”
“I’ll leave you girls alone,” Mark said, standing aside to let me by. “You look nice today, Callie.”
“Thank you,” I said. He smiled and closed the door. Setting the tray down on the only available surface—Muriel’s desk—I felt a little sweaty. Muriel’s perfume suffused the air.
“It looks great in here,” I said, forcing a smile. Great if you liked sterile, that was. Over the weekend, her office had been redone—the standard-issue desk had been replaced with something modern and white. A sumptuous white leather chair sat behind it. On the walls hung black-and-white Ansel Adams prints—well, given the deVeers money, they were probably originals. Black bookcases, white walls. There was a picture of her and Mr. deVeers in ski gear standing on some mountaintop. I seemed to remember that Muriel’s mother died when she was young.
Muriel sat behind her desk. “Have a seat,” she said, looking at me with those glittering eyes. I obeyed, feeling like I’d been called to the principal’s office (something that had never happened in real life, let me assure you).
“Would you like a scone?” I asked. “I made them this morning.”
“No, thank you,” she said, folding her hands primly.
“So,” I said. “What’s up?”
Once again she looked me up and down as if surveying a bug. “I thought you should be aware that Mark’s told me about the little…fling…you two had last year,” she said.
Fling? Is that what he called it? My heart flinched. All of me flinched, apparently, because she smiled, an evil little Cruella De Vil smile. “I didn’t want you to think you had to hide that information,” she said. “It must be quite hard, still having feelings for your employer.”
“Oh, no,” I lied. “I’m fine. I’ve known Mark most of my life, and we’re very good friends. Thank you so much, though.” I tried to match her cool tone, but it was hard when my face was practically bubbling with heat.
“Mmm-hmm,” she murmured, raising a silken eyebrow. “Well, I commend you for not letting it get in your way. I’m not sure I could work with the man I loved if the feeling wasn’t mutual.”
Wow. I mean, really. Wow! It took balls of steel to say that. “I’m fine, let me assure you,” I said, though my throat was tightening.
“Well! Good for you, Callie,” she said. “Now, you’ll have to excuse me. I have work to do.”
I stood up, my legs unsteady, and walked to the door, hoping not to look as shaken as I felt.
“Callie?” Muriel called, writing something on a pad.
She didn’t look up. “Don’t forget your snack.”
“They’re for everyone,” I said defensively. “I always bake on Mondays. Production meetings.” She didn’t answer, just shot me a dubious look, as if she knew I’d be galumphing across the hall with my scones and stuffing all twelve of them into my mouth.
Taking care not to accidentally let the tray, oh, I don’t know…hit her in the face, I picked it up and left, closing the door quietly behind me.
THE NATURE OF ADVERTISING is to make people yearn for something. As creative director, my job was basically to come up with a concept…the big picture, the general idea of an ad campaign. But it was more than that, too. To me, there was something magical about my job. When I had an account, I got the chance to repackage something, to focus only on its good qualities, to convince others to like it, want it and need it. In essence, I focused on the positive. That had always been a strength of mine.
Mark was the account exec on all of our clients, though I knew Fleur had high hopes to move up the food chain. For the time being, she worked under me, doing the grunt work of writing the copy before giving it to me for approval and tweaking. Pete and Leila took care of the graphics side of things, the layout and fonts and color schemes and all that fun stuff. Karen booked ad space, paid the bills and dealt with our vendors, and Damien answered the phones, made appointments and worshipped Mark.
And now there was Muriel. We’d never had anyone work on just one account before, but then again, Bags to Riches was our biggest client. They wanted to do a huge national ad campaign—radio, television, Internet, print, billboards, everything. This morning, Muriel was supposed to give us the lowdown on what the client wanted, and then we’d finesse some ideas. I already had a few mock-ups prepared.
And so, ten minutes later, the entire staff filed into the conference room. I set down the tray of scones in the middle of the table.
“God loves you, Callie,” Pete said, lunging for one, then breaking a bit off and feeding it to Leila like a male cardinal.
“Those look great,” Mark said, grinning at me. “Muriel, Callie’s an incredible baker. Want one?”
“Oh, absolutely,” she said, smiling up at him. “I’m starving.”
“Bloody hell, don’t tell me you’re that thin and you eat carbs. Life’s so unfair. Hi, I’m Fleur Eames.” Fleur stopped dunking her tea bag and stuck out her hand. “Sorry I’m late. You wouldn’t believe what happened to me on the way in. Fucking deer almost smashed my windscreen, yeah?”
“You hit a deer?” I blurted.
Fleur glanced at me. “Almost. I had to pull over and settle down, though. Have a ciggie, calm my nerves.”
“Nice to meet you,” Muriel said.
“Great meeting you,” Fleur said. “Heard oodles of good stuff about you.”
“Ass-kisser,” Damien whispered, taking his customary seat next to me.
“Okay,” Mark said. “Let’s get down to business. Everyone’s met Muriel, we’ve got Callie’s great scones…” He smiled at me, and I forced a smile back. Good old Callie, scone baker. “Muriel, want to get us rolling? Tell us everything we need to know about Bags to Riches.”
“Absolutely. And let me just say I’m thrilled to be here.” She smiled at each of us in turn, then cleared her throat and reached for her notes. “Bags to Riches is an outerwear company that makes clothing out of a unique blend of cotton and plastic grocery bags.”