Say My Name
Uniformed staff stands at the door, offering us flutes of champagne as we enter the ballroom. “Wow,” Cass says, and I silently echo the sentiment.
The room is stunning. Huge, but not overwhelming. Golden light fills the space, but is broken up by a pattern of geometric blue images projected onto the floor and ceiling. A few corners of the balcony are highlighted in red, giving the room a festive, nightclub atmosphere. Two massive columns seem to stand guard over the space, and between them, a crowd gathers around a circular bar, the stacked wineglasses twinkling like colored stars in the clever lighting.
Behind the bar, a screen displays a montage of photographs—soaring skyscrapers, angular office buildings, innovative housing complexes. I recognize each as a Jackson Steele project, and those images are interspersed with sketches, blueprints, and construction shots of the Amsterdam museum that is as much the focus of the documentary as the man himself.
Cass drains her flute of champagne and makes a beeline for the bar. “I need a refill and you need liquid courage,” she says.
“I do not,” I lie, but she orders a glass of cabernet for both of us anyway.
I take it, ignoring the voice of reason that tells me that I shouldn’t be even slightly tipsy around Jackson Steele. That if I am going to get through this, I need to be clear-headed, professional, and ice, ice cold. Smart words, and I shoot them all to hell when I lift my glass and down a long, slow sip.
“To kicking butt and taking names,” Cass says as she holds her glass out in a toast. I clink mine against hers, then take another smaller sip. What had she said? Liquid courage? Yeah, maybe that was a good thing, after all.
I glance around, scoping out the area and searching the faces. The room is comfortably elegant, with linen-covered tables mixed in with plush couches and designer chairs. Most are empty, as the guests are standing to mingle and work the room. I recognize a few of them. A reality TV star in the corner, an agent I met once at a party. I don’t see Jackson, though, and I’m starting to get antsy. He must be here somewhere, and I’m afraid that if I don’t find him before the screening, he’ll be whisked away to some after-party before I have the chance to talk with him.
“What’s he look like?”
“You don’t know?”
She shrugs. “You didn’t tell me until today that your Atlanta fling grew up to be a hot-shit celebrity architect. Hot shit and just plain hot, right?”
“That’s about the sum of it.” I stumble for a moment—because how do you describe perfection—and then I stop, because he is right in front of me. Not the man, but his image, projected on the screen behind the bar for all the world to see.
“Whoa,” Cass says as she follows my gaze. “Shit, fuck. Seriously? That guy is positively gorgeous.”
I nod, my eyes glued to the screen, my throat thick. I’d thought that the magazine cover did him justice, but I was wrong. On the cover, he is brushed and polished, his rough edges smoothed away by the magic of Photoshop. But this—this is raw and grainy. It’s candid and stunning and awe-inspiring.
It’s Jackson, standing astride two parallel iron girders at least thirty stories above a city I don’t recognize. He’s wearing jeans, a long-sleeve white T-shirt, and a white hard hat. He is holding on to a giant hook suspended in front of him, and seems unaware of the camera that I can only assume is taking this shot through a long lens from a safe distance.
The shadow of beard stubble is as unmistakable as the brilliant blue of his eyes, which seem to burn in the white light of the sun. His free hand rests against his forehead like a visor, blocking the sun as he surveys the structure rising all around him. Behind and beneath him, the city spreads out, but it is Jackson who is the focal point. And from this single image, there is no question that Jackson is a man with the power to grab hold of the earth and remake it as he wants it. And in that moment, I can only hope that what I can offer is something that he wants to claim.
I hug myself, then step back as the image fades and is replaced by another building site. I turn and find Cass staring at me. She sighs, then shakes her head slowly. “Christ, Syl. I can see it on your face.”
I look away, but she grabs my arm.
“This job isn’t worth it. He’s going to rip you to pieces all over again. He half has already.”
“No.” I take a deep breath. “No, he won’t—he hasn’t. And he didn’t rip me to pieces in the first place. I did that all by myself. All he did was—”
“All he did was what I asked him to.” And with any luck, he would do exactly that again.