Lena smiled at Terry. She was on a video call with him while she rode from O’Hare Airport to her company’s office in downtown Chicago.
“Mommy, when are you coming home?” Terry pouted.
“Sweetie, I just left this morning.”
“I know but I want you to come back.”
Lena was proud of how quickly Terry picked up language. Once he stopped speaking Anguillian all the time, he spoke as well as Evan did. “I’m here until Saturday.”
“You’re gonna miss love day.”
Lena smiled. “I’m going to call you on Valentine’s Day.”
“Daddy said I can help make Na-Na dinner.”
“Oh that will be fun.”
Terry smiled. “More fun if you were here.”
“Awww. Sweetie you know I hate going out of town. This could not be avoided. You better behave yourself for your daddy and Na-Na so they’ll let you come to the airport to pick me up.”
“I will.” Terry looked like he was running with the phone.
“Why are you running?”
“To give Na-Na her phone back.”
“Stop running through this house little boy.” Annette fussed.
“I love you Terry.”
“Love you too mommy.” Terry handed Annette the phone.
“That boy refused to wait for Evan to get home to call you.” Annette smiled.
Lena laughed. “That’s okay. I made the mistake of telling him what time I would land.”
Gwennie reached for the phone while Annette held her. Annette shook her head. “These two are going to be fun while you are gone.”
“I hope they don’t give you too much trouble.”
“Oh Kareem promised to keep the same schedule that you and I have so I know I will be getting my breaks.”
“Good for him.” Lena rolled her eyes.
“Why are you irritated with my son today?”
Lena couldn’t help but laugh. “He is trying to set me up with someone he knows.”
Annette shook her head. “Ink ain’t even dry on the divorce decree and he is trying to set you up.”
“I think he feels bad because he is dating.”
“He should feel bad because he was dating that…”
“Annette…” Lena paused and smiled at Annette. “We are past that.”
“You think you’re past it. I know I’m not.”
Lena looked up as the car pulled in front of a building. “I have to go. I just got to the office. I’ll call and talk to Evan as soon as I can.”
“Okay. Try and relax and have fun while you are there.”
“This is not a fun business trip.”
“Try to make it one.” Annette’s face got serious. Then she smiled and turned to Gwennie. “Wave bye bye to mommy.”
“Love you Gwennie. Love you Annette. Talk to you later.” Lena hung up the phone. She took a deep breath and then braced herself for the cold Chicago air when the driver opened the car door.
“Are you bringing your bags inside as well?” The driver asked.
“Yes.” Lena cringed. The cold air hurt her face. “I am.”
“You go inside and I will bring them in.”
“Thank you.” Lena adjusted her computer bag and purse on her shoulder. Then she walked quickly into the lobby of the building. A few moments later the driver came in with her two bags. Lena handed him a tip and smiled. “I appreciate your help. Enjoy the rest of your day.”
“You too.” He smiled and headed back into the cold.
Lena took her two suitcases and headed over to the residential tower of the building. Her company owned a two-bedroom apartment that they used for both clients and traveling staff. It spent most of the winter months empty because no one on the team ever wanted to go to Chicago in the winter. Paul had to bribe Lena with ballet tickets to get her to go. The Chicago office was falling apart and he wanted to know why. It was one of four offices that ran without a full-time senior partner and the only one of the four that struggled. Paul didn’t warn the two junior partners there that Lena was coming. Lena felt that she needed to just pop up in order to actually see how things operated. After getting her things situated in one of the two master bedrooms of the suite, Lena headed downstairs and to the commercial tower. She took a deep breath as the elevator doors opened, hoping that the office wasn’t as big of a mess as Paul thought.
Lena rested her head on the stack of files she had in front of her on the dining room table. Her phone began to ring and she let out a loud groan before answering without seeing who it was.
“I apologize for not getting back to you sooner. It is that bad?” Paul asked.
“Paul, I need to fire half the staff.”
“Are you fucking kidding me?”
Lena sighed. “Nope.”
“Well I’m glad I called in reinforcements when I got your email.”
“He’s on vacation.”
“Not anymore. He made the mistake of spending his vacation in the states.”
“You can’t make the man shorten his vacation.”
“I didn’t. He called me to check-in. I mentioned your email.” Paul paused. “I didn’t know that you two haven’t been in the same place at the same time.”
“He was training in New York while I was in London.” Lena didn’t want to admit that she was happy for the help.
“Well, he said he is going to meet up with you as soon as he can. In the meantime, you can send me the major personnel issues.”
“You’re admitting that you haven’t checked your email in the last twenty minutes.”
Paul laughed. Lena could hear him clicking. Paul groaned. “What’s this shit?”
“Your ex-partner had a very creative way of interpreting the job requirements. There are a few that I want to try and save.”
“Wait…” Paul paused and groaned again. “Lena, you are firing two of the three junior partners.”
“Don’t start. They’re incompetent. I had them all report to me as a group and then separately. I wanted to fire them right then but I decided to sleep on it.”
“There are ten accounts that are in the danger zone and three more I’m not sure that I can save.”
“I’m sure you can save them.”
Lena smiled at her boss’ confidence in her. “I’m going to do my best.”
“That is all that I can ask.” Paul began to type. “I’m going to see who else I can get to help.”
“I have two projects already in LA. I’m prepping two more to come to Miami.”
“I can get there on Monday.”
“Good. I need to get home to my kids this weekend.”
“We’re going to make that happen.”
“I appreciate your confidence but you are not looking at the stack of files I’m looking at.”
“I’m here for another hour.”
“No. You are going to race home because you know your wife invited her parents for dinner tonight.”
“Fuck,” Paul yelled. “Okay. I’ll call you in the morning.”
“Enjoy your evening.”
“Hey, there is a bottle of cognac in the liquor cabinet. Crack that open.”
“I’ll seriously consider it.” Lena hung up the phone and went back to working on one of the more seriously botched accounts. She got through reading and taking notes on one page before she got a video call on her laptop. She didn’t want to look up since she had already talked to her kids as soon as she came in from the office. It wouldn’t stop so she pressed the button to answer it. “Are you about to do some of this work for me?”
“Naw.” Gloria smiled.
“Certainly not.” Macie shook her head. “I have my own pile of work on the floor.”
“What’s up ladies?”
“We were just checking in on you. You haven’t been responding to texts.” Gloria frowned. “Is it that bad?”
“Yup.” Lena turned the laptop so they could see the stacks of files. “What’s going on with you ladies?”
Lena did her best to listen to Gloria’s latest relationship crisis and work on the account at the same time. She didn’t lose focus on her work until Gloria mentioned that her boyfriend proposed. “Wait, what?”
“You heard me.”
“What did you say?” Macie raised her eyebrow.
“I told him that I needed to think about it.”
Lena sighed. “I can’t with you. You just spent twenty minutes fussing about how you weren’t sure how serious he was and then you say he told you how serious he is about you two…”
“… and you told him you gotta think about it.” Macie sighed.
“Honey, I’m home.”
Lena looked up at the door of the condo. Roderick shut the door behind him and took off his scarf. “How on earth did you get here that fast?”
“Who’s that?” Macie asked.
“Rod.” Lena glanced down at her laptop and then up to Rod.
“I was visiting my daughter. I’m staying ten minutes away.”
“Rod?” Gloria paused. “Oh your white British work husband?”
Rod scrunched his face up and Lena burst out laughing. Lena looked at Gloria. “Huh?”
“Kareem said he was white.”
Lena turned the laptop around so they could see Roderick and his ebony skin. “Why do y’all listen to Kareem?”
“Oh well hi Rod.” Gloria giggled.
“Hello ladies.” Rod looked up at Lena. “Your husband thinks I am white?”
“You didn’t correct him.”
“Nope.” Lena shrugged. “And he is my ex-husband.”
“So… Rod…” Macie began.
“Ladies, I got to go. I have a stack of work that I need to explain to Rod.” Lena turned the computer around. She looked at her two friends, in the separate chat windows, both pouting. “Glo, you better tell that man yes before I get back to Miami or I’m kicking your ass.”
“Love you too bitch.” Gloria rolled her eyes.
“Bye Rod.” Macie and Gloria said at the same time.
“Good night ladies.” Rod sat down at the dining room table after taking his peacoat off.
Lena closed the video chat window. She looked up at Rod. “Hi.”
He smiled. “Hello.”
“You didn’t have to cut your vacation short.”
“I heard you were in distress.”
Lena looked away from his smile. She had always admired it from their video chats and conferences but it seemed to have a different effect in person. Those pearly whites of his were almost making her forget that he was her colleague. “I am fine. The Chicago office is in distress.”
“Ah.” Rod leaned back in the chair. “So, I think we should go and get some dinner.”
“Dinner?” Lena pointed to the stack of files. “Do you see this?”
“This is only half of the mess.”
Rod nodded. “So, we are ordering in is what you are saying.”
“Well, find me a menu cause I am starving.” Rod pulled a stack of files over to him.
Lena held up a menu she had sitting on the table. “Paul swears this is good soul food.”
“Paul?” Rod raised his eyebrow.
Lena laughed. “Yes.”
“No.” Rod pulled out his cell phone and made a call. “Raeni…”
Lena laughed as she heard fussing.
Rod rolled his eyes. “Rae, I’m just calling to get your opinion on what Lena and I should have for dinner.”
“She’s right here. Hold on.” Rod held the phone out to Lena. “My daughter wants to talk with you.”
Lena took the phone. “Why are you fussing at your father?”
“Because he was supposed to visit my granny for his vacation and then he ends up here bothering me. Is he going to be working now?”
“How is school?”
“Hard.” Rae sighed. “I can’t thank you enough for passing my information on to your soror.”
“Hey, you got yourself into school.”
“But you got them to look at my application.”
“So you two are finally in the same place at the same time. You know he was so mad that I met you on my graduation trip last summer.”
“Was he?” Lena raised her eyebrow at Rod.
“Are y’all talking about me?”
“Of course.” Lena smiled. “Rae, my boss suggested this restaurant.”
“Order from Charlotte’s. I’ll text you the number.”
“Okay. What do they have?”
“Better yet, I’ll just order for you guys.”
Lena laughed. “Okay.”
“Please keep my daddy busy so he doesn’t keep trying to hang out.”
“I will try. We have a ton of work to do.”
Lena hung up the phone before handing it back to Rod. “She’s sending dinner over to us.”
“She’s sick of me already.” Rod sighed.
“So, you’re supposed to be in the Bronx with your mother?”
“My mother said I was cramping her style.”
Lena giggled. “She sounds like Annette. She has to schedule her date nights on nights when Kareem is going out as well, else he gives the guys a hard time.”
“As he should.” Rod opened the file on the top of the stack. He read for only a few seconds before closing it again. “You’ve got to be kidding me.”
“I might need a drink for this.”
“Paul said there is cognac in the bar.”
“His taste in food sucks but he has impeccable taste in alcohol.” Rod stood up. “Would you like a glass?”
“One shot, on ice.”
“As you wish.”
Lena sat down and tried not to watch Rod walk over to the bar. She couldn’t help herself. He was more her type than she cared to admit, from his slightly below the shoulder length locs to his athletic physique. Lena forced herself to focus on the mess of an account she had been reviewing. She and Rod had been working together for a little over ten years. They had a good friendship, in addition to a great working relationship, and she was not going to let the fact that he looked better in person than she thought he would ruin that.
Rod fixed Lena’s drink first. He glanced back at her and then poured himself a double shot. He had been so excited to finally meet his friend and coworker that he forgot how beautiful he thought she was. “Okay, so why is it that Paul never mentioned the extent of how awful this work is coming out of this office?”
“He didn’t know. The junior partners have done a very good job of glossing over things and covering things up.”
“Did you fire them?”
Lena looked up at him and smiled. She took her glass from him. “No. I told Paul I would sleep on it first.”
“This one I’m looking at looks like an undergraduate project.”
“I think they are getting interns to do the work.” Lena slid the file she was working on over to him. “This one and that one you have are the two that had clients contacting Paul. I have one more that we have to try and save by the end of the week. There are ten more that are in trouble.”
“Have you sent those to other offices?”
“Two are in LA. Two more are going to Miami in the morning. I have two for you to scan before they go to London. I thought two could go to Amsterdam but I’m not sure what to do with the last two. New York is swamped already.”
“Let’s leave two here. Do we have a headhunter out here?”
Lena opened up the address book on her laptop. “Not one I want to use. Our former colleague used him and now I have to clean house.”
“What about your contact at the university?”
“You want recent graduates?”
“We can train them.” Rod slid the file back to Lena and sipped his drink. “We could use some interns too.”
Lena began to type up an email. “I’ll see what she can do.”
Rod and Lena worked in silence until the phone to the condo rung. Rod got up and answered it. “Hello.”
“Mr. Cartwright, there is a food delivery for you. Would you like me to send him up?”
“Yes, thank you.” Rod hung up the phone. “Food is here.”
“Good. I need something to go with this drink.”
“Did you eat lunch?”
Lena thought for a moment. “No. I got to the office just before lunch. They were surprised to see me so I don’t think they had lunch either.”
Rod laughed. “You’re terrible.”
“Am I, really?”
“No.” He winked at Lena. Then he went to answer the knock at the door. He smiled at the young man on the other side. “Ah. Food. Just in time.”
The young man brought the bags in and handed them to Lena when she walked over. Lena smiled. “Thanks.”
“How much do I owe you?”
“It’s already paid for.”
Lena turned and put the bags on the counter. Then she looked at the young man. He looked nervous for some reason. The kid barely looked twenty and almost as tall as Rod. The delivery guy’s locs were loose and just to his chin. Lena smiled at him when he looked at her. “I hear the food is really good.”
“Been eating it my whole life.”
Rod handed the guy ten dollars. “Family business?”
“Yes, my grandmother’s.”
“Nice.” Rod paused. “Are you following in her footsteps?”
“No sir. My sister is. I’m in school, hoping to get an internship for the semester.”
“Best of luck with that.” Rod nodded and headed over to the counter.
Lena reached in her bag and pulled out business card. “I know a few people. Send me your resume.”
“I’m sure you’re too busy.”
“I have time for that. Send it tomorrow if you’re able.”
“I will.” The young man nodded. “Thank you and enjoy your evening.”
Rod turned to Lena after letting the young man out. “You have time to review a resume?”
“Come on. We were both in his position at one point.”
Rod laughed. “Were we?”
Lena sat down at the counter. “Okay, so I had connections through my dad. But my friends were in his position.”
“I was actually in his position until I moved to London.”
Lena opened a container Rod handed her. “I remember you saying that you went to college in New York.”
“I went to Columbia.”
“What made you go to London?”
“Couldn’t catch a break in New York. My aunt lives there so I packed up my daughter and headed out there.”
Lena moaned as she bit into the meatloaf. “This is heavenly.”
“You gonna share?”
“Maybe.” Lena smiled as she ate another bite.
Rod watched her lick her lips and walked over to the dining room table. He grabbed his drink and the file he had been working on. “What do you propose we do about these cases?”
“Start from scratch.” Lena sighed. “Unless you have a better idea.”
“Set them on fire.”
Lena burst out laughing. “I don’t think Paul will go for that.”
“He isn’t here.” Rod ate a bite of his fried chicken breast.
Lena looked down at her food in an effort not to watch him. “We need to get a strategy together. We have two days before these clients want to see some changes or we are going to lose them.”
“Well, let’s show them why we make the big bucks.”
Lena looked up. Rod’s smile caused her to smile. Despite how attractive she found him, she was able to begin to focus on work. She got up and grabbed her laptop. “Okay. Let’s start with that one in your hand.”
Rod and Lena worked through dinner. Then they refilled their drinks, sat at the table and worked. After getting three pages worth of notes on the second case, Lena looked at the time.
“Rod, you still have to go back to wherever you are staying. We’ll mess around and be working all night.”
“I have zero concept of what time it is.” Rod laughed as his cell phone alarm went off. “I just know it is time to get up and go to the gym in London.”
Lena smiled. “Paul should have told you to stay here in the other room.”
Lena looked at the area by the door. “So where is your stuff?”
“In my rental car downstairs.”
“Why…” Lena shook her head.
“I did not want to presume you wanted a roommate. On the way over I decided that I could go back to my hotel since I was waiting until morning to check out anyway.”
“Rod, go get your stuff.” Lena stood up. “I need to shower and then we can see if we can make a dent in this last project.”
“Sounds like a plan.” Rod stood up. He wanted to ask Lena if she needed help in the shower but thought better of it. Instead he headed to the door. Rod kept reminding himself that in a week they would both be back to their lives, his in London and hers in Miami.
Lena got up and walked back to her room. Once inside she let out a deep exhale. Then she shook her head. “Keep it professional girl.”
Rod was making tea when Lena stepped out of her bedroom the next morning. She was fully dressed in a suit, minus the jacket she had slung over her arm that was holding her tablet. The other arm was holding her phone. His eyes couldn’t help but follow and admire how well the suit fit her curves while still being an incredibly professional choice.
“Sweetie, I’m going to eat breakfast.”
“You always try to skip it mommy. Na-Na says breakfast is important.”
Lena looked up at Rod and smiled when he pointed to a plate with a bagel. “Look Terry. I have a bagel.”
Terry looked at the plate when Lena turned the phone. “You need more.”
“I will order something when I get to the office.” Lena sighed. “What did you eat for breakfast?”
“Eggs and bacon.”
Lena laughed. “Your daddy cooked.”
“Yes. Then he took Evan to school.” Terry looked as Lena walked over to get a mug. “Who is that?”
Rod leaned next to Lena and smiled at Terry. “Good morning Terrance.”
“Hi Mr. Roderick.” Terry smiled. He had seen Rod during one of Lena’s many video chats while she was working from home. “Mommy can’t have coffee.”
“Why not?” Rod raised his eyebrow.
“Na-Na says it is bad for you.”
Lena huffed. “Terry, sweetie, I have to get to work.”
“Mr. Roderick make sure my mommy comes home Saturday.”
“I thought we got to keep her for two weeks.”
“No!” Terry yelled. He pouted. “Send her home tomorrow.”
“But you just said Saturday.”
“She is going to miss love day.”
Rod nodded and then whispered. “Did you send her something special?”
“Yes.” Terry whispered his reply.
“Give me a hint.” Rod paused and chuckled as Terry said something to him in Anguillian. He smiled and nodded. Then he responded, causing Lena to whack him on the arm. “Terry, I must go before your mother beats me up.”
“Mommy doesn’t hit.” Terry giggled.
Lena smiled at Terry. “That’s right. I love you baby. I will call you before dinner.”
“Love you mommy. Bye Mr. Roderick.”
“Have a good day Terrance.”
Terry giggled at Rod’s British accent. “Yes sir.”
Lena hung up the phone and sighed. “No fair having conversations with my son that I can’t understand.”
Rod realized how close he was standing to her when he inhaled. “You smell glorious this morning.”
Lena fought back the blush forming on her face before turning to face him. “Don’t change the subject.”
“I apologize for being Bahamian and understanding every form of Caribbean Patois.”
“Apology not accepted.”
Rod took her mug from her. “No coffee for you.”
Lena groaned as he walked away. “If I don’t get coffee I will fire everyone over there.”
Rod chuckled. He had heard tales of mornings in the office while Lena was pregnant and not allowed to have coffee. He poured her a cup of the coffee he brewed especially for her. Rod stuck to tea. “Here.”
“Thank you.” Lena smiled.
“So how is it that Terry knows what I look like but Kareem doesn’t?”
Lena couldn’t help but laugh. “Evan tells his father everything. The rest of us tell him almost nothing.”
Rod shook his head. “Poor Kareem.”
Lena rolled her eyes. “Whatever.”
“You still pissed at him?”
“He’s trying to set me up on dates. I think it’s to make him feel better about dating. We’re divorced. He dated before we were divorced. Why is he feeling bad now?”
Rod couldn’t help but chuckle. He understood being young and foolish. However, he couldn’t fathom possessing Lena’s affections and being unfaithful to her. Lena had always been regarded as quite the prize among the men in their business circle. Though pursuing her had never crossed his mind before, Rod understood the collective groan from the men they both knew when she got married. Now that she was actually in his presence, he was deeply grateful to Kareem for being an idiot.
“Kareem doesn’t need your sympathy.”
“Perhaps I should thank him then.” Rod mumbled before sipping his tea.
“What was that?” Lena raised her eyebrow.
“What is that you’re reading on your tablet?”
“Oh. The resume from the delivery driver.”
“He sent it this morning?”
Lena shook her head and swallowed a sip of her coffee. “No. He actually sent it last night.”
“I don’t understand why he doesn’t have an internship already. Typically those are set up at the start of the semester. We’re over a week in and he’s still looking.”
“Where does he go to school?”
“UIC.” Lena laughed. “He is studying marketing.”
“Give me that resume.” Rod reached out for her tablet. Lena slid her chair down closer to him and let him read. “What are the odds?”
Lena thought about Rae and how nervous the young man had been when he delivered the food. She smiled but kept the thoughts to herself. As she leaned closer to continue reading the resume over Rod’s shoulder she sighed. “Fate is strange.”
Rod took a deep breath and prayed he could make it through the week without jeopardizing his friendship and professional relationship with Lena. He just couldn’t understand why she had to smell so good. The tea tree oil and lavender was intoxicating. “Yes. Fate is a tricky witch.”