Betty was enjoying the salmon and crab stick sandwich, and the cherry soufflé she was having for an afternoon snack at an expensive cafe on Fifth Ave. Claire Meade sat across her sipping her cappuccino as she flipped through a magazine. Betty inhaled the cool scent of Fall as she glanced around the busy streets of Manhattan. It's so wonderful to relax and enjoy a gourmet dessert.
"Mrs. Meade, how are Alexis and DJ in France? Do they know the financial crisis of Meade?" asked Betty as sipped her fresh lemonade to wipe down the last bites of her sandwich. "They're doing fine. Dj can speak straight English now and he's into playing the violin. Alexis knows about our financial crisis but of course I played it down a bit so she wouldn't worry..."
Betty was about to shove a spoonful of cherry soufflé in her mouth as she listened to Claire's narrative about Alexis when she noticed a sudden change in Claire Meade's relaxed countenance. She saw her freeze and her hazel eyes were alarmed. She anxiously called for the waiter and asked for the bill. The spoon was half way to Betty's mouth when Claire pulled her out of her seat.
"Come on, Betty, we better go." And before Betty could reply she was half dragged hurriedly out of the area. "Wooh, Mrs. Meade, where are we going?" asked Betty.
They were almost running inside Saks. Claire was taking her up and down the staircases. Betty wondered how in heaven's name could Mrs. Meade move so quickly in her two inch Christian Dior metallic pumps. "The limo is on the other exit, Mrs. Meade." But Claire was unmindful. She was still hurriedly dragging Betty around as though they running from someone. "Why are we running?" asked Betty.
Betty couldn't be mistaken. She heard a faint voice calling out Mrs. Meade's name repeatedly. She wanted to glance back but couldn't since Claire was half dragging her. As they were running, Claire pulled out her cellphone and called the driver. "We're at the exit near the United Nations. Pick us up. Immediately!" said Claire in between breaths.
In five minutes the black limo was already outside Building One waiting for them. Claire rushed inside the limo and Betty quickly followed. As the limo sped off Betty kept her gaze outside the window and soon a familiar man in a tailored suit came into view but the limo was already too far for him to follow on foot.
"Thank you, Betty", said Daniel as she placed the two cups of steaming coffee on the conference room for him and Wilhelmina. They were going through Meade Publications' financial reports and their presentation to the prospective new company partner who would help them save Meade Publications by investing in the company. Betty closed the door and prayed that this business meeting would somehow work out for all their sakes.
I wonder where Matt is taking me tomorrow night, thought Betty. I can't believe we've been dating for a month. What should I give him to mark the occasion? Betty was deep in thought that she almost collided into a tall man in an expensive European suit. "Excuse me," said the man with a slight Italian accent.
"I'm sorry, I'm afraid I wasn't looking," apologized Betty with a smile. The man returned her friendly smile. She gasped as looked into the man's dark blue eyes. He was the man running after them in Saks the other day.
"I'm Anthony Salvatore. Daniel Meade is expecting me," said the elegant looking man in his 60s.
It took a moment before Betty could reply. "Oh..yeah. He's at the conference room..." uttered Betty as she led Mr. Salvatore to the conference room.
"Hello, Anthony" said Wilhelmina, getting up from her seat to shake his hand. "Do you still remember me? Bradford introduced us during our engagement party."
"Of course. How can I forget", said Anthony in a friendly manner as he shook Wilhelina's hand but Betty noted the distaste that reflected in the man's entrancing blue eyes.
"Uncle Tony..." said Daniel with a smile as he shook his hand. Uncle Tony! Betty couldn't believe her ears.
"Come on, stop calling me Uncle Tony. I know you're my godson but please just call me Tony. I feel ancient when you call me uncle," laughed Anthony.
"Alright...Tony...habits are sometimes difficult to change. I'm used to calling you uncle," laughed Daniel.
Daniel noticed that Betty was still in the room. "Oh forgive me...Tony...this is my assistant Betty. Betty, can you call my mother. I told her I need her in this meeting," said Daniel.
Betty smiled awkwardly at Mr. Salvatore as they shook hands before leaving the room. Before she could reach her desk, Claire appeared in the hall clutching a portfolio. "Am I late for the meeting Betty? I was looking..." her voice trailed off as she noticed the man inside the conference room from the glass walls.
"What's he doing here?" exclaimed Claire. Before Betty could reply Claire was half way back to the elevator. "Tell Daniel I'm at an emergency meeting with the creative writers of Hot Flash. He can proceed without me."
"But Mrs. Meade..."
The elevator door closed and Betty had no choice but to bring the message to Daniel. As she entered the conference room, they all stopped in the middle of their discussion to turn to her.
"Uhm...Daniel, your mother is in an emergency meeting with the writers of Hot Flash. She can't make it. She said you can proceed without her," said Betty, smiling hopefully.
She noticed the disappointed look on Tony Salvatore. Apparently, Daniel noticed it too. "Don't worry, I'll get her. Her office is just one floor up," said Daniel.
Betty's mind began to race. I have to stop Daniel. "Uhm...she's not in her office. It's a... lunch meeting. They're out," explained Betty.
"What lunch meeting? It's already four o'clock. I spoke to her at 2pm and at that time there was no meeting yet," said Daniel.
"It's a late lunch meeting," explained Betty. Hoping Daniel would buy her excuse.
"Don't you worry, Tony. Daniel and I can run you through the proposal and we can discuss the financial matters even without Claire," suggested Wilhelmina.
"I know but I was kind of hoping to talk to her and invite her to be my date on Friday at the Cosmopolitan Ball," explained Tony.
"Oh, the annual party of the Association of American Lawyers. I'm sure my mother would love to go with you, Tony. I'll tell her about it tonight," said Daniel.
"But shouldn't you be asking her first Daniel before committing her," protested Betty.
Wilhelmina glared at Betty. "I know Claire, she'll be thrilled. Excuse Betty...sometimes our secretaries forget their place," said Wille, flashing Tony a big smile before glaring back at Betty, giving her the look to get out of the room.
"Now, where were we?" began Wilhelmina as Betty left the room.
It was past 7pm. Betty stayed past five to reduce some paper work that were on a deadline since she will be going out with Matt tomorrow night and couldn't stay in case she can't finish them on time. Daniel's meeting just concluded an hour ago. She was shutting down her computer when she noticed the purple Michael Kors clutch bag she borrowed from Mrs. Meade was still inside her bottom drawer. She had forgotten to return it this morning. I'll drop it off up her office before I go home.
The floor was deserted. Everyone must have gone home. But the lights were all still on. Mrs. Meade's office is to the right hallway after I see the huge aquarium of colourful salt water fishes. As Betty turned to the right hallway, she could hear voices coming from Claire's room.
Mrs. Meade must still be around. Betty was about to call her name when she heard Wilhelmina stern voice reverberating. "Claire, for Pete's sake...What's the big deal? We're only asking you to go with him to the lawyers' Annual Ball," screamed Wilhelmina in exasperation.
Betty stopped dead in her tracks. She knew she should leave but instead, she stepped closer in curiosity until she could see Claire lying on the sofa inside the room, unmindful of the outraged woman hovering over her and her son seating beside her with a beseeching look on his face.
"You're finally useful at something beneficial for the office and you refuse..."
"Stop it, Wilhelmina. I'm not some pawn you can sacrifice in a chess game just so you can achieve the result you wanted. Why don't you be the one to go with him," glared Claire.
"I would if he wanted me. I don't know what's wrong with that man to insist on taking you when I have offered to come with him," said Wille.
Daniel sighed and waved his hand to stop the bickering of his mother and Wilhelmina before focusing his attention back to his mother. "Look, mom, this is Uncle Tony, we're talking about. We don't think of you as a sacrificial lamb. He just wants to take you out to this party, okay. I don't see anything wrong with it," insisted Daniel.
Clairee looked at Daniel and asked earnestly. "Are you doing this because he wouldn't invest in Meade Publications unless I go with him to this party?"
"No, mom, he didn't say that. He already agreed to the partnership, to bail out Meade Publications, not just Mode, mom, but the entire company. All he asks was to take you to this party," explained Daniel.
"Oh, Claire, it's not like we're asking you to murder anybody," said Wilhelmina in condescending tone.
Daniel and Claire looked at her sternly. "Oops. Bad joke. But it's not like you haven't killed before..." said Wilhelmina in a joking manner. Daniel gave her a look that says let me handle this.
Wilhelmina sat on Claire's manager's chair before adding , "Look, Claire, you don't have to sleep with him if you don't want to..."
"Wilhelmina!" cried Daniel.
"... of course it would be better if you would. It wouldn't hurt the company if he triples his investment."
"Wilhelmina! Tony is not like that," cried Daniel, this time more sternly.
"What?! He is your father's best friend. I'm sure the same things go through their minds. Birds of a feather..." she stopped when she saw Daniel was beginning to lose his patience.
"You know I wouldn't compromise you, mom. I'm your son and I love you but please do this for me, for the company."
Claire was beginning to be persuaded. She couldn't turn her son down. "I'll think about it."
Wilhelmina's voice suddenly broke the ice. "Your last name is still on this building. If you care about the company, Claire, if you care about your family, you won't think about it. You'll do it."
Betty heaved a sigh before closing the daily planner she'd been writing on. She glanced at the clock on her desk and saw that it was lunch time. "Betty, come on. Amanda and I are having lunch at the Italian cafe down the street," invited Mark.
Betty glanced up and said, "I can't. I'm going to the SPA with Mrs. Meade."
"Oh, come on, Betty, since when have you been the SPA type," said Amanda, rolling her eyes.
"She's been so stressed lately because of the economic problems of Meade Publications. She needs to soak in goat's milk to help her relax", said Betty.
"Please, Betty, aren't we all stressed out worrying if we'll still have a job the next day when we wake up. Let her and the other management lose their sleep solving this problem, they own the company. I'm leaving Wilhelmina with her constant episodes. After all, it's her boyfriend who stole from the company that caused Meade Publication this economic turmoil," said Mark.
"Sorry, but I can't go with you," insisted Betty.
"I know what this is-sucking up to your boss' mother so you won't be on top of the list just in case Mode would need to retrench," accused Mark, giving her a sly look before leaving with Amanda.
Let them think what they want. Mrs. Meade has been like a mother to me. Every time I need advice, every time I need a friend, she's always there for me. I just want to comfort her during this tough time she's going through worrying about the family business, worrying about her son who's so distressed about pulling it together.
Suddenly Claire Meade was beside Betty, wearing a Burberry black high stand collar, button front, long sleeved jacket and black boot-cut leg wool pants. Mrs. Meade always looks so fashionable without being ostentatious like Wilhelmina, thought Betty. "Are you ready, Betty?" she smiled.
"Of course. Let's go take our milk bath," said Betty, trying to sound equally excited even if Amanda was right, she wasn't the SPA type.
Claire led Betty to the back exit of the Meade Building where Claire's black limo was waiting for them. "Don't go out the visitors' parking area. Use the service entrance never mind the delivery trucks", instructed Claire to the limo driver.
"Uhm...Mrs. Meade...ever since our company had this scandal of being bankrupt, you never passed by the front entrance anymore and now you don't even want to pass the visitors' parking. Are you hiding from the paparazzi after you?"
Claire gave her an amused smile. "You're very observant, Betty. I'm no longer using the main entrance nor the visitors' entrance but it's not the paparazzi I'm avoiding. It's worse," answered Clair dismissively.
Later as Betty and Claire lay, soaking on their respective tubs side by side at the country club SPA , Betty couldn't help but notice that Mrs. Meade was unusually quiet. "Mrs. Meade, I know this may sound silly, considering the financial crisis our company is going through right now but it looks like there's been an awful a lot of things on your mind," observed Betty.
Claire looked at Betty, her hazel eyes clouded with confusion and distress. She sighed debating whether or not to share her concerns with Betty. Betty seemed to have read her thoughts. She touched Claire's left shoulder as though to tell her that everything was going to be alright.
Claire sighed. She stared at the snow coloured water that covered her from breast down, unable to look at Betty. "What would you do if you know someone can help you but you're not at all certain if he was helping you in good faith or helping you to have you indebted to him? Would you accept?"
"I think we both know the answer to that," said Betty as she squeezed Claire's hand. Claire looked at Betty with soulful eyes. What if by accepting his help, you in turn can help hundreds of people who are dependent on you to make everything better."
Betty smiled. "Mrs. Meade, I think I can sleep well at night, knowing I have helped hundreds of people. It probably wouldn't hurt my pride to make a little sacrifice for the sake of many people who's depending on me."
Claire seemed still quite unconvinced but replied, "You're right, the benefit of a greater number must be considered." She stood up and took her robe to take a shower in the other hall.