Authors: Cate Kendall
âSo, how was the flight?' he asked as he sat in the other leather chair next to her.
âDraining. It's a big globe we live on.'
âAnd you guys are so far away!' Peter said, grinning.
âActually, it's you guys who are far away; we're just fine,' she gibed back.
âYou know, I just love that country of yours.' He leaned forward. âI need to get there more often. Maybe on vacation. Would you be my tour guide?'
Gemma pictured the large American in the outback with a brand-new Akubra perched on his head and smiled at the thought. âOf course, you'd be welcome anytime as my guest.'
âWell, I might just take you up on that, Gemma.' He stared at her with a smile playing on his lips a moment longer. Gemma wondered about the fluttering in her stomach. âNow, onto business.' He broke the moment by standing and moving to his seat behind his desk where he flipped open a file.
When they were finished with their meeting, Gemma stepped into the whisper-quiet elevator, which whisked her to the twentieth floor. She stepped out onto the plush overgrown wool lawn that spread from the elevator door. The sound here was muted and hushed, the decor more sophisticated and understated.
The meeting, although intimidating, had been promising. The board had asked her a few questions about her history and her projections for IQPR Melbourne and what the position entailed, specific to the Australian market. The board members' well-modulated senior voices, the rich burgundy velvet drapery and heavy oak-panelled walls helped Gemma feel comfortable and secure as she gave her report.
After the meeting she decided to freshen up in the executive bathroom, which looked more like a health resort than an office loo. River pebble tiles framed the large mirrors, Egyptian cotton luxe mini-handtowels nestled in wicker baskets and an array of fragrances, lotions and mints perched on bamboo trays. Gemma washed her hands and grimaced at her reflection. It looked like jet lag was catching up with her. She felt as if someone had slipped a Valium into her chamomile tea. At least there was only half an hour until she could slide between the crisp, white sheets of her king-size bed and sleep away the fatigue.
Thankfully the worst of the fatigue hadn't hit her until about an hour ago. She'd felt herself slowing down at lunchtime, but had made it through the informal meeting with Peter and then the board meeting.
She reapplied her mascara, patted her face with her Benefit compact in a feeble attempt to conceal the dark shadows under her eyes, and then caught the lift back to the fourteenth floor.
Gemma tapped on Peter's door. He looked up and beckoned her to enter.
âWell, how'd it go upstairs?' he asked.
She entered the room and fell into his guest chair. She smiled back at him. She could learn a lot about leadership from this man. He was genuine in his concern about every aspect of the business.
âYeah, good, no problem.'
âThey're voting on it right now, you realise. They'll be done by about six,' Peter said, looking at his watch.
âReally, that soon?'
âYes, we need to get moving. It's been an oversight to have the position empty for so long. That's probably due to you; there's been not a drama or a peep from the Melbourne office so no one's been in a real rush to get the situation resolved.'
Gemma looked at Peter. It wasn't his fault. He was simply one of the many cogs in the wheel of the corporate system. It completely and absolutely sucked that even in this day and age they were still caught in the prejudices of age and gender. Yet they hadn't stopped raving about how amazing her performance had been as temporary CEO. So what was with the hesitation to hire her? Oh, honestly, who was she trying to kid? She was only thirty-nine and trying to get a top job in a predominantly male marketplace. There was no chance. She just needed to let it go, do her job and wait.
âHey, you know me, I do what I can.' Her head was heavy with fatigue. Jet lag was like being drunk. She actually had to stop herself from slurring. âSo I really have to get back to the hotel to sleep off this exhaustion. I just popped in to say goodbye.' She picked up her briefcase from the floor.
âHow about we have dinner tonight and I can give you the news on the board decision so you know who you can expect to land on your doorstep in two weeks' time?' Peter came around from behind his desk and perched on its edge to make his suggestion.
As much as Gemma was keen to hear the outcome of the board meeting, she just couldn't imagine being dressed and ready for an evening out in two hours â she knew Americans liked to dine early. âOh, PeteÂ .Â .Â .' She looked at him with tired eyes.
But in typical Blakely fashion he ignored the answer he didn't want to hear, putting his hand up to stop her saying any more. âAnd because you are so shattered, you poor little Aussie girl, how about you go back to The Algonquin now, get a few hours' sleep, and I'll come at nine for a light supper at The Round Table?'
Her mouth dropped in an O of surprise. âFirst, I would
to go to The Round Table, and second, how did you know I'm at The Algonquin?'
âI phoned your secretary in Australia. How else would I find out where to send the flowers?'
âYou sent the flowers? They're gorgeous,' Gemma replied. What was that about? she wondered.
âSure, everyone gets flowers when they arrive in New York.'
âOh, of course,' Gemma said with â was it relief or disappointment? She couldn't work it out.
âWell?' He folded his arms across his chest and cocked his head to one side. He seemed amused by her clearly confused thought processes.
âSee you at nine!' Gemma replied and breezed out of the office. She walked down the corridor towards the lift. She must really be tired. Her heart was racing.
Gemma woke at eight pm feeling refreshed after passing out on the bed practically comatose, fully clothed, three hours earlier. Before she got in the shower, she sent Tyler a quick email. She kept it light and friendly and hoped she might even get a response from him in the next day or so.
She sat on the bed, her thoughts swirling in confusion. She wished she knew what was happening with him. Maybe she'd worked too much when he was younger. Or maybe his behaviour was normal teenage stuff. But then not all kids were being marched into the vice-principal's office on a regular basis. She shook herself from her reverie and rushed to get ready for her supper with Peter.
She showered quickly and slipped on her favourite travelling LBD â a Donna Karan lycra number â and made her way to The Round Table restaurant.
The maÃ®tre d' led her to a corner table with red plush wingback chairs. It was as magnificent as she'd imagined it would be. Glowing candles on each table and gentle classical music kept the ambience mellow. Timber pillars and wainscoting featuring ornate floral parquetry adorned the walls, while the ghosts of bons mots from literati past clung to the chinoiserie mural above.
She ordered a Manhattan, figuring it seemed appropriate, and sat back to drink in the beauty of the room. But her moment was interrupted by more thoughts of her son. She'd try to call him in the morning before she went to the office. She knew he'd still be up because he was such a night owl these days.
âWhy so sad?' said a deep voice from above.
âOh, Peter, sorry, I didn't see you come in.' Gemma stood and put out her right hand in greeting. He took it and pulled her closer to give her a brief kiss on the cheek then took a seat opposite her.
âHow are you?' she asked, assuming brightness.
âConcerned that you didn't answer my question,' Peter replied.
âOh, I was just thinking about my son. You have a teenager too, don't you?'
Peter groaned and rolled his eyes. âYes, Emily; my God, what a pain teenagers can be. She's given us no end of strife. Her mother's on the phone to me every other day with stories more stressful than the last.'
âReally?' Gemma said and thanked the waiter as he delivered her drink and took Peter's order.
âWell, that's a slight exaggeration. She seems to have actually come through the difficult years. Emily is really a wonderful girl â headstrong for sure, she gets that from her mom. She's going to college next year and then hopefully medical school after that. Fingers crossed she doesn't go too wild at Brown.'
âWhat kind of teenage angst have you had to deal with?' Gemma asked, sipping her drink.
âIt's actually a lot better now than it was. Marguerite and I broke up when Emily was fourteen.' Peter shifted to get more comfortable in his seat. âShe'd been a real pre-teen demon: sulky, surly, nasty, no respect at all for her parents. But we'd been so involved in our own problems we barely took hers seriously. We just put it down to the usual teenage sulkiness.'
âYes, I'm wondering if that's Tyler's problem, just typical teen stuff.'
âWell, perhaps it is,' he said thoughtfully, âbut I know in Emily's case she was acting out due to the hostilities in the home. Twenty-twenty vision in hindsight though, eh?'
âReally?' Gemma asked, leaning forward in interest.
âYeah, we were so selfish, so blind to that little girl.' Peter frowned. âKids need a loving environment, a regular routine, gentle words. At least that's what I think.' He nodded his thanks to the waiter as his drink arrived. âWhy do you think divorce rates are skyrocketing? Many couples decide an angry home is not healthy for the kids. It's better for them to have two peaceful homes instead.'
âSo, if you don't mind me asking, what happened to your marriage?' Gemma asked.
âMarguerite had an affair and left me,' he said, taking a big pull on his short glass of iced whisky, vermouth and bitters.
âOh, no! I'm so sorry.'
âDon't be, I deserved it, well, not deserved it, it was more that I couldn't blame her at all. I was so gung-ho about my career I was completely blind to everything.' He smiled ruefully. âAnd the TV industry will suck your marrow absolutely dry. You have to be very careful if you think you can maintain any semblance of normal life. I lived at the studio.' He shook his head. âAnd sure, it worked, I had a soaring career, enormous pay packet but meanwhile my wife and little girl were living as if they were a single-parent family. I hate myself for doing that to them. I was actually almost glad it happened. Marguerite's not a bad woman. She deserves happiness. It gave me a real shake-up of course, and I vowed to be ever-present.' He gave Gemma a small smile. âIt sounds a bit hippy, but do you know what I mean? I have to multi-task â be aware that it's my secretary's birthday at the same time that the head honcho is flying in at the same time that my golf partner is feeling neglected and needs eighteen holes, yet at the same timeÂ .Â .Â .' he put one finger up â. . . remembering my own health and exercise needs.'
âWow, it's a real juggle,' Gemma breathed out, exhausted just thinking about how Peter balanced his lifestyle yet also aware that she was doing exactly the same thing.
âAntipasto plate?' he asked her as he skimmed the menu.
âPerfect,' she said and Peter placed the order with the waiter who'd materialised at his elbow.
âSo it's a conscious thing then?' she mused almost to herself.
âWhat?' he asked, taking another sip.
âWell, you're just such a top bloke.'
He chuckled at her Australian term.
âNo, that sounds weird,' she continued. âIt's just that you're so genuine and passionate about everything; there's not an insincere bone in your body. Forgive me if this comes out the wrong way, but you're not very American. All the Americans I've ever met are real go-getters and somehow brash, but you manage to be on the top of your game and so, I dunno, polite, without that kind of attacking natureÂ .Â .Â . Sorry if that sounded rude.'
âCan I let you in on a little secret?' he whispered, leaning forward. She grinned and leaned in towards him. Their upper arms were pressed against one another. His breath was sweet with whisky.
âSure,' she whispered.
âI'm not American.'
âWhat?' She laughed; of course he was.
âNo, I'm not. I'm Canadian. I grew up in St Catharines, Ontario. It's the kind of town that is big enough and comfortable enough just to sit back and live your whole life there. But it wasn't for me. I wanted more, bigger, better. I got an athletic scholarship to Dartmouth University in Hanover, New Hampshire then landed my first job in network television.'
âOoh, impressive â isn't Dartmouth an Ivy League college?' she asked.
âYeah, it was great. And having a US degree made working down here so much easier. I could have worked in Toronto â it's a lovely city â but as Steve Martin said in
, “Toronto's just like New York but without all the stuff.”'
She burst out laughing at the gag.
âBut don't tell anyone about the Canuck thing; they'd tease me mercilessly. They'd call me a lumberjack, ask if I grew up in an igloo or knew Celine Dion. It'd be never-ending.'
âOh, well, that explains it.' Gemma laughed, sorry to have to sit back and break the intimate moment with this unsettlingly charming man as their waiter approached.
They stopped their conversation momentarily while the waiter performed the silver service show of presenting their meal.
Gemma stared unseeing at the activity, busy in thought. Finally the waiter left them to pick at the olives and prosciutto. âYou know, I really think you're on to something,' she finally said.
âWhat about?' he said, his mouth full of breadstick.
âThe family life thing. Stephen and I aren't too hunky-dory, and I think Tyler senses it.'
âOf course he senses it. They're very intuitive, children. Even when you pussyfoot through the relationship, acting all polite and respectful but deep down you want to trip your partner up with the broom, the kids can sense it.'