I made it to Walter’s office early for our meeting. He had already skipped out on the first two appointments I had made with him but this one, I felt like he’d keep. He couldn’t flake this time. Especially not after getting the email I’d sent him the last time he’d left me sitting in his lobby for the better part of the day. To make sure I had his attention I sent him one of the recordings I had of him and Elgin’s wife in a hotel room. Patricia had shown up that day looking much like she had the first time I met her. The only exception was this time she had on a new piece of jewelry. I don’t know where she works or what she does but I doubt that whatever she does pays her enough to afford the monster diamond that was hanging from her neck.
They’d been so wrapped up in each other they hadn’t noticed me sitting in the lobby watching as they checked in. Walter hadn’t been able to keep his hands to himself and I snapped every picture I could of the exchange. Once they got on the elevator I hung back to see what floor they stopped on before I called a car of my own. I made it to their floor just as the end of Priscilla’s dress made it inside the door. As disgusting as it was, I stood listening at the door to their exchange. After an hour or so I’d left and they were still going at it.
The day I’d sent Walter the email I hadn’t even had time to close the web browser before my phone rang. David’s voice was on the other end of the line asking me to hold as he connected me with his boss. Walter came on the line and I could tell I’d struck the right nerve. He’d been so smug disregarding me and now here he was on the other end of the phone behaving like a wounded animal. All of a sudden, his jam-packed schedule had opened up and he could see me any time day or night. With the ball back in my court I’d decided to make him sweat it out but I also didn’t want to give him enough time to come to his senses and try anything stupid. We agreed to meet at his office in two days’ time, and the time had finally come.
I stepped off the elevators with confidence knowing that I wouldn’t be leaving here today without what I’d come for. I walked up to David’s desk to sign in. He gave me a little smile and wink before I walked back to have a seat in the empty lobby. Walter hadn’t kept me waiting for long before he came out and walked me back to the office he had hurriedly rushed me out of so many times before. While he tried to appear to be collected, I could tell that he was far from it. The way his hands shook as he reached for the door handle, I knew I’d gotten to him. I just needed to get him back to the point he had been at the night I sent him the recording. He offered me a drink while he poured himself one. I declined as he slammed down the first and immediately poured himself another before he took a seat behind the large cherry wood desk in the middle of the room.
“How can you even prove that’s me on the tapes. That could be any man named Walter as far as I know.”
“So, this is how you want to play this?” I asked. I came into the meeting today hoping that Walter would want to get this over as quickly as possible but here he is trying to lawyer his way out. The manila envelope I had in my bag held more than enough proof to back up my claims but I was hoping not to have to use it.
“Surely, you can appreciate me wanting to act in my own best interest here. Just from what you’ve sent me already, my wife won’t believe that it’s me so I don’t see any reason I should even consider your threat.”
If this is how he wanted to play it, then so be it. I pulled the envelope from my bag and held it up for him to see. “Sure, your wife may not believe the recording but she won’t be able to hid behind her denial when I send these pictures to her.” I said as I slammed the envelope down on his desk. He smirked and I could tell he still thought I was bluffing. This guy is really making it hard for me to feel bad for ruining his family.
Sitting across from him, with one leg crossed, my hands in my lap, I watched as his face went from amusement to shock as he emptied the contents of the envelope onto his desk. “How did you get these and who the hell are you?” He asked, anger flashing through his eyes as he held the pictures I had taken of him cheating on his wife a week ago outside of this very office.
“You know full well who I am and you also know what I want. Give me 20 minutes with Elgin to talk to him about selling his story. It wouldn’t hurt if you nudged him along in my direction while you’re at it. I’d hate to have to come back again to ask for your help. Wouldn’t you?” I said with more confidence than I felt.
“How do I know these pictures will never come out? How do I know this is all of them?”
“Oh, I never said this is all of them. You can’t possibly think I’m that stupid to bring you my only proof. What I can assure you, is that once I have what I need I will send you over the flash drives with the rest of the pictures and that’ll be the end of it. But, if I’m not sitting in front of Elgin by the end of the week I may just have to swing by your wife’s mommy and me classes to break the news to her that her man is no different than any other self-serving son of a bitch. I can only hope it doesn’t send her into labor early. She’s what seven months along by now judging from the new picture of her on your bookshelf.”
Standing from his chair, he crossed the office and paused in front of a window overlooking the street I had just walked in from. “You’ve made your point, no need to continue with the threats, I get it.” he said while taking another gulp from his emptying cup. “I’ll talk to him and see what I can do, in the meantime you stay away from my wife and this office.” he’d said.
I was bursting with excitement on the inside but as I sat in his office I continued to only show him my poker face. I didn’t want him to know that while I had threatened that I had more pictures of his infidelities, it was all a bluff. “A pleasure doing business with you Mr. Morris. I look forward to hearing from you soon.” I said as I stood from my seat and crossed the floor to shake his hand.
Not sure if he had cameras recording the hallway I kept my composure and even skipped chatting with David on my way to the elevators to make sure he knew I was serious. I didn’t want to be the messenger responsible for bringing down another woman’s house but I would gladly be the bearer of bad news if Walter thought for one minute that he could back out of our deal. Once inside the elevator I did my happy dance while I waited for the car to let me out onto the first floor, then I pulled out my cellphone to call Amanda, we need to go celebrate and I can finally let her know why I’ve been ducking her in the office since last week.
We agreed to meet each other at “Roast” as it had become my new favorite spot. I’ve come to love the atmosphere of the place where fellow creators came to showcase their work. On several occasions I have been tempted to bring my art in to join them. The last time we had come we got to witness a recreation of a popular painting while the artist kept to the beat of a drum solo provided by another artist. The place was a visual feast for the artist inside me and I found myself creating reasons to go whether with Amanda or by myself. I had been doing a lot more of the latter recently since Michelle had made it her personal mission to recruit Amanda to be her right hand. No doubt because she had seen how close we were and she still seemed to have it out for me. I didn’t’ want to get my girl caught up, especially since I was flailing trying to secure this meeting with Elgin, but now that the ball is rolling again I can’t wait to see her today.
I had already gotten to the café and ordered our usual drinks from Jasmine who, it seemed, had given up on her little crush on me, when I got a text from Amanda letting me know she was parking. She walked in wearing a beautiful tropical themed sundress that turned heads as she entered. She waved at me while pushing her sunglasses on top of her head as she walked to our table. “So you do still have my number, then.” she said jokingly. I knew this was coming, this had been the longest I had disappeared from her in a good while and I knew she wouldn’t let me off the hook without giving me grief about it first.
“Yes, I do still have your number, things have just been crazy with this Elgin story and I didn’t want to have you caught up in the drama.” I replied.
“Oh good!” she exclaimed, “So you do have the interview. Michelle has been worried and whispering in Randall’s ear about it since you brought it up and she’s been trying to get him to sign off on her taking over.”
“Well she can go find another tree to bark up since I’ve already secured Elgin through his lawyer today. That’s why I wanted to meet with you.” I’d said.
“Well, before we get into that I have a huge favor to ask of you. Now, I can’t pay you but it’ll be going to a good cause if you agree to do it.” she said, she actually looked nervous as she sat across from me looking at everything but me.
“What’s going on?” I asked, hesitant for the answer. From the way she was writhing in her seat I could only imagine what was about to come out of her mouth.
“I want you to do a nude portrait of me for my birthday.” she said looking me in the eye for the first time.
“Are you serious?” I asked, letting out a sigh of relief that she wasn’t asking to come and live with me. As my best friend, I love her and all, but we learned in college that the two of us sharing a place was a non-starter. And by the way she was just acting I was almost certain that’s what she was leading up to.
“Yeah, it’s going to be a part of a gala that I am putting together. I’ve commissioned artists from across the city to do renderings of me that I intend to display at my 30th birthday party next month. It’ll be a silent auction and all of the proceeds will be donated to charity, So I’m hoping that you will say yes. I know you will shut the place down with your amazing talent and there will also be some major players from the art scene there too.
“Are you kidding me right now? Of course I’ll do it. Thank you so much for letting me be a part of this. I’d said. When do you need it by?
“Well I want to have everything set up the night before the showing so you have until then. You’ll just have to let me know when you want me to come over and pose for you. It’s going to be kind of tight with me needing to do different things for all the artists involved but it’ll be worth it to be able to give back to the community don’t you think.”
I couldn’t have agreed with her more. We talked more about the show Amanda was planning as a woman I’d never seen working in the café before, came over to our table. “Are you ladies still doing okay?” she asked. She flashed a smile so beautiful I couldn’t respond. Everything about this woman was working for her. From her mega-watt smile to her coffee colored skin, it’s like my brain just stopped working. “We’re fine, thank you.” Amanda had come to my rescue. “Well, let me know if there’s anything you need.” she said looking me square in the eye. “I will.” I was finally able to make out as she walked away. “What was that about?” Amanda asked when the brown goddess was out of earshot. “I don’t know but I damn sure wouldn’t mind finding out.” The woman looked back at our table as she made it back to the bar. Her lips curled into another of her devastating smiles when she caught me staring, again.
The more I tried not to watch her as she moved through the café talking to other customers and laughing that beautiful laugh, the more entranced I was. Amanda must have grown tired of watching me fantasize over the woman because instead of waiting on the check to be delivered to the table, she walked up to the bar to pay the tab before we left. If I wasn’t already in love with this place, I definitely am now. I walked Amanda to her car where we set the date she would come by the studio before getting into my own.
I make it to my house to find my mom’s car in my driveway. It’s not like her to just show up to my house unannounced, yet here she is sitting in my driveway with no advance warning. I tell myself its nothing to worry about as I park behind her but my I can’t stop my hands from shaking as I tap on her window. She looked up at me with a smile before showing me she was on the phone. No longer concerned someone was hurt, I went around to grab the bags she’d been pointing at from her backseat to take them inside. It looked like she had just come back from shopping an insane shopping spree that I’m sure my Dad would call me later to fuss about.
“Mom how long have you been here and why didn’t you call first? I would’ve met you here so you didn’t have to wait.” I asked as I carried in the last of the bags. “I’ve been calling you and texting you and you haven’t been answering the phone. I figured, since you were too busy to pick up, I’d just come over to get my questions answered face to face. What is that smell?” she asked as she cleared a space on the counter to sit down her expensive designer handbag. I’d forgotten to leave a window open to let out the fumes from last night’s painting session and the odor was strong through my small apartment.
“Paint, Mom. What is all this stuff you’ve bought and does Dad know about your little shopping trip today?” I asked while I opened a window to let out air out the space. “Girl your father doesn’t need to know every little thing I do. That’s his problem now, he doesn’t like to mind his own business.” she said with a laugh. “This is the stuff I’m thinking about using at your party when your promotion is officially announced. I want your opinion on it before I call the decorator to get started with making some proposals.” she’d said riffling through the bags, talking more to the floor than to me.
I know my mom well and I also know she could care less about whether or not I liked the decorations she had picked out. “Mom, you know I like anything you put together. But what I don’t know is why you would just pop up and camp out in my driveway, and please don’t say it’s because I wasn’t answering my phone again. Is everything okay with you and Dad?” I asked fishing for the real reason she had made this impromptu visit. “Your father and I are fine.” she said holding up two swatches she’d picked up from her favorite fabric store.
“Okay, so what’s going on?”
“Well, you know your father and Randall are golfing buddies and we are just a little worried about this project you’re working on. Seems people are whispering about you not being able to handle it and there’s some talk about maybe handing it off to someone else. I guess I came to find out what’s going on with you.”
“Wait, why is Randall talking to Dad… you know what, never mind. You guys always do this. I don’t need you keeping tabs on me like I’m a child mom. My work project is fine and I don’t care to talk about it anymore.” I said with more aggression that I’d meant to. It surprised me how angry I had gotten and my mom was looking back at me in disbelief too. “I’m sorry mom. I didn’t mean that to come out that harsh it’s just I’ve got a lot on my plate right now.”
I’d clearly upset her. She started putting the decorations back into their shopping bags then stopped and said, “I imagine, you’d have a lot more time to take care of your work responsibilities if you spent less time on this painting hobby of yours.” She knew how to dig when she wanted to, but I refused to have this fight with her again today. “You know, you may be right, Mom.” I’d said hoping to end the conversation before it escalated any further. To my surprise she dropped it and switch gears on me. “How about I make us some dinner?” she was already on her way to the kitchen when I stopped her. “You know Mom, I should really be working on my notes for the meeting I have on Friday. Can we do a rain check?” she only looked slightly disappointed as she threw her hands in the air and spun on her heels headed back to the living room. “Don’t let me stop you from getting your work done.” she’d said as she grabbed the bags from the floor and headed to the door.
After I helped her load her car, I kissed her on the cheek and made her promise to text me when she made it home. Back inside, I threw myself face down onto the couch and let out a scream. As much as I wanted to call Randall and give him a piece of my mind for bringing my parents into our work business, I knew it wasn’t the right move to make. I sent a text to Amanda asking her to hold off on saying anything about my meeting until I gave her the all clear. I pulled my laptop from my bag and began working on my proposal for Elgin. Amanda had warned me that Michele was breathing down my neck with this story and that was one thing. The fact that this had made it to my parents direct from Randall’s lips, was another. If Michelle thought she was going to weasel her way into my interview at the last minute she was sadly mistaken.