Chapter 4

I decided to call him Aaron. He hadn’t shared his name, but I figured he needed one. Aaron was the first I could come up with.

And Aaron was all I could think about. Not in the obsessive, questioning way, but in the subtle repeating of our conversation… the sights and sounds from the night before undermining the present ones. Even busy with a stack of old forms, I couldn’t get him out of my head.

The phone sang from its cradle, a blatant series of tones I was slowly beginning to loathe. I shuffled the papers in my arms, pulling the receiver up to my face.

“Blackwell residence, may I help you?” I asked with a fake cheeriness. My morning had begun in a fog and I was about ready for it to end. My brain said I should have been excited, or anxious, or something other than the blank apathy I was feeling. I’d finally talked with Aaron… but all I could do was remember the facts, not process any of the information.

“Yes, this is Dr. Elkaly…”

My stomach growled as I copied down the message, lunch an approximate forty-eight minutes away. I’d have to wait. I replaced the phone of its cradle, sauntering to the recycle bin with the stack of papers. My efforts to green-ify my father’s business had only gone as far as to get a recycle bin in the reception area.

“Scarlett?”

“Yes?” I jerked around, looking up to see the half dazed face of my father.

“Could you come into the office for a moment?”

“Sure.”

The door clicked shut behind me as I slipped in behind my father. I froze just behind the closest couch, a Miss Amelia Varion commanding the center of the room. She lounged effortlessly against my father’s desk, her black blazer and slacks screaming board member while the too-professional edge of her cropped hair and makeup whispered of a cold, commanding ego. I’d met her before—though usually only at Comwell functions. And her emails were relentless—a stream of “My courtesy is show, you can’t actually refuse.” She did get things done, though, and well, so I had to respect her.

“Scarlett, good morning.” I navigated the sofas in time to accept her handshake, returning a smile.

“Hello, I didn’t notice you arrive, Miss Varion,” I said, letting a little bit of warning into my voice. On some level, I wasn’t sure I actually cared what my father did with his free time, I just thought I should know about it. “Is there something I can do for you?”

“Yes, actually, there is. We are looking at a new marketing direction and were wondering if you’d be willing to help.”

My father took his noncommittal stance by a window, his eyes already glazed over with separate thoughts. But he was listening, I was sure.

“In what way?”

“Well, Comwell is a bit of a foreign name to the common man. While that’s not exactly alarming given our industries, we don’t want to appear an impersonal entity.” She took a moment to refold her hands. “What we’re proposing is making Comwell appear more as the personal, quality business we are.”

“I’m sorry, how do I fit into all of this?” I’d heard enough pitches to be wary of impending boredom. While I didn’t mind the momentary break from the usual, I didn’t want to spend it listening to a longwinded Amelia trying to indirectly kiss up to her boss.

“We want you to be the new face of Comwell.”

“What?”

“It’s quite simple, darling, really. We want you to be what outsiders see when they first encounter Comwell.”

“I understand what you mean, I just don’t understand why you’d want me to do it,” I replied curtly.

“Because you are the family behind Comwell. You and your dad, of course. If people can put a face to a name, it becomes personal. Our customers will see you, and think integrity, values, quality, and all the other things that come from a family business.” Amelia took a moment to readjust her blazer. “It quite simple, really.”

“I see.”

“And you’re not a bad looking lass, and with a bit of makeup, some professional photographers, perhaps a couple of coaches, we could get adequate results.” She sounded like she was discussing the proper amount of jelly to spread on toast. I bristled.

“Well, if it’s just that simple, get someone else.”

“Don’t be unreasonable, no one else has the royalty for the position. Think of it as a way you can directly contribute to the business, darling.”

“I already contribute.”

“Scarlett,” my father piped in, pulled from his stupor, “Don’t you want to be something more for the company? This way you could be integrated, really make something of yourself.” In some small way, it sounded like he was actually looking at my interests, and not just the companies. My throat tightened as I watched his face fade back into unknown thoughts.

“So, what do you say?” Amelia asked expectantly.

I kept my eyes own the half slumped, barely aware figure in the corner. My only thoughts were that maybe it would mean something to him.

“Okay.”

Midway through my first bite of organic chicken quesadilla Aaron came flying back into my head. I didn’t know if it was the Mexican food, or his emotionally starved expression, or a combination of both, but there he was. More stunning than the obvious thoughts was the fact that I’d forgotten for a time…

I set the triangle of quesadilla back down, appetite erased. I sat back in the barstool, pulling my hands away from the marble countertop. Sun danced across the kitchen from the skylights overhead. My mom had always loved the skylights… even in a thunderstorm, she’d sit and just watch through the gray.

Sylvia appeared through the pantry doorway, carrying a box of corn flakes. Black, Lithuanian-curly hair bounced about her shoulders, accentuating her already jovial step. She set down the box on the far side of the kitchen, taking a quick visual stock of the ingredients amassed around her.

Sylvia had worked for our family for years… since I was barely a tot. Like most of the things in our household, my mother had fallen in love with her family. After that, it’d just been a matter of letting her stay in the guesthouse.

“Oh, Scarlett, was the quesadilla bad?” Even though she’d spent countless classes working on her English, her eastern European heritage was always evident in the little ways she said things. “Do you want me to make you something else?”

“No, thanks, I’m just not hungry anymore.” I pushed the plate away, leaning an elbow against the counter.

“Do you not feel well? I could make you some soup, maybe?”

“No, really. I think I might just go back up to the office.” The tile floor was cold under my feet as I slid off the stool.

“Deary, you need to take a break. Why not call a friend, maybe? Go out, have some fun.” Sylvia cemented her hands against her hips. “You need to leave this house sometime.”

“Yeah… sure. Who am I gonna call?”

“What about Hailey?”

“She’s in Marishes.”

Sylvia knew not to ask about anyone else. No one else ever cared to get past the million-dollar house.

“What about a movie to go see?”

“Not really…”

“Or coffee? We could go get a latte.”

“Sylvia, we both know you make a better latte than Starbucks. I think I might just read a book…” I ran a hand through my hair before moseying towards the doorway.

“And you’re sure you’re not hungry?” I turned away before I was stabbed by her sad, too-caring face. I couldn’t real hope to make her understand that being out in fake society hurt more than a house full of ghosts.

“Yes, Sylvia.”

“Well… you know where the snacks are. And I better not find you up in that office!”

“No, ma’am.” I wasn’t really keen on sitting outside and listening to Miss Amelia Varion anyway. Plus, I figured it’d do her some good to learn how to answer a phone.      

The End

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