I scowl with frustration at myself in the mirror. Damn my hair, it just won’t behave, and damn Rose for being ill and subjecting me to this ordeal. I have tried to brush my hair into submission but it‘s not toeing the line. I must learn not to sleep with it wet. I recite this five times as a mantra whilst I try, once more, with the brush. I give up. The only thing I can do is restrain it, tightly, in a pony tail and hope that I look reasonably presentable.
Rose is my roommate and she has chosen, okay, that‘s a bit unfair, because choice has had nothing to do with it, but she has the flu and as such cannot do the interview she‘s arranged with some mega industrialist for the student newspaper. So I have been volunteered. I have final exams to cram for, one essay to finish and I am supposed to be working this afternoon, but no - today - I have to head into downtown Seattle and meet the enigmatic CEO of Cullen Enterprise Holdings, Inc. Allegedly he‘s some exceptional tycoon who is a major benefactor of our University and his time is extraordinarily precious... much more precious than mine - and he‘s granted Rose an interview... a real coup she tells me... Damn her extra-curricular activities.
“Bella I’m sorry. It took me nine months to get this interview and it will take another six to reschedule, and you and I will both have graduated by then. As the editor I can‘t blow this out... Please.” Rose begs me in her rasping, really sore throat voice...
I stare at her red-rimmed runny eyes, her bright pink nose... ”Of course, I’ll go Rose. You should go back to bed. Would you like some paracetamol?”
“Yes please. Here are the questions and my minidisk recorder. Just press record here. Make notes, I’ll transcribe it all.”
“I know nothing about him.” My voice is anxious.
“The questions will see you through... go... I don‘t want you to be late.”
“Okay... I‘m going... I have a long drive. Go back to bed, but please make sure you eat - I made you some soup to heat up later.” I stare at her fondly.... only for you Rose would I do this.
“I will. Good luck... and thanks Bella, you‘re a life saver as usual.”
I smiled wryly at her and head out the door to our room.
I cannot believe I have let Rose talk me into this. But then Rose can talk anyone into anything. She’ll make an exceptional journalist. She’s articulate, strong, persuasive, argumentative... beautiful, and she‘s my dearest, dearest friend. The roads are clear as I set off from Portland; it‘s early and I don‘t have to be in Seattle until two this afternoon. Fortunately she’s lent me her car. I‘m not sure my old truck would be up for the journey. Well, it is the least she can do - I frown into the rearview mirror - but I have to say her sporty BMW Z4 is so much more fun to drive than my truck and the miles slip away as I put my foot down.
It’s cloudy, but at least it‘s not raining as I make my way into the city. The Seattle traffic is heavy, but I have an hour to go and I’m feeling fairly confident that I should be able to find somewhere to park... Thank heavens for the Sat Nav on the Z4 otherwise I’d be royally screwed.
My destination is the headquarters of Mr Cullen’s global enterprise. It’s a huge thirty-storey office building, all curved glass and steel, an architect’s utilitarian fantasy with Cullen House written discreetly in steel over the glass front doors. It’s a quarter to two and I feel an immense sense of relief that I’m not late as I walk into the enormous, frankly intimidating, glass, steel and white sandstone, first floor foyer.
Behind the solid sandstone desk a very attractive blonde haired young woman smiles pleasantly at me. She’s wearing the sharpest charcoal suit jacket and white shirt I have ever seen... she looks immaculate.
“I’m here to see Mr Cullen. Isabella Swan for Rosalie Hale.”
“Excuse me one moment Miss Swan.” She arches her eyebrow slightly as I stand self- consciously in front of her. I am beginning to wish I had borrowed one of Rose’s jackets rather than wear my navy blue peacoat. I have made an effort and worn my one and only skirt. It‘s brown, and I have sensible brown knee-length boots and a blue sweater. For me... this is smart. I tuck one of the escaped tendrils of my hair behind my ear as I pretend she doesn’t intimidate me.
“Miss Hale is expected, please sign in here Miss Swan. You’ll want the end lift on the right, press for the 30th floor.” She smiles kindly at me, amused no doubt as I sign in. She hands me a security pass that has VISITOR very firmly stamped on the front... personally I think it’s obvious that I’m just visiting, I don’t fit in here at all... nothing changes, I inwardly sigh... I thank her and walk over to the lifts, past the two security men who are both far more smartly dressed than me in their well-cut black suits.
The lift whisks me with unseemly haste to the thirtieth floor. The doors silently fly open and I’m in another large foyer, again all glass, steel and white sandstone. In front of me there’s another desk of sandstone and another young blond woman dressed impeccably in black and white, who rises to greet me.
“Miss Swan, could you wait here, please?” She points to a seated area of white leather chairs. Behind the leather chairs is a large glass-walled meeting room with an enormous dark wood table and twenty dark wood chairs around it, beyond that a floor-to-ceiling window with a view of the Seattle skyline, looking out through the city towards the Pacific Ocean. It‘s a stunning vista. I stand and admire it, momentarily distracted before I sit.
I fish the questions out of my satchel and go through them, inwardly cursing Rose for not providing me with a brief biography. I know nothing about this man I am about to interview. He could be 90, he could be in his 30s... My nerves are beginning to kick in - I am uncomfortable with this one-to-one stuff. I am much better in a group scenario... preferably not asking any questions... sitting somewhere in the back. Well, judging by the building - all clinical and modern – he’s probably in his thirties... fit, tanned, blond, to match the rest of the personnel.
Another elegant, flawlessly dressed blond comes out of a large door to the right. What is it with all the immaculate blonds? It’s like Stepford here... I take a deep breath and stand up.
“Miss Swan,” the latest blond asks.
“Mr Cullen will see you in a moment. May I take your jacket?”
“Oh please.” I struggle out of my pea coat.
“Have you been offered any refreshment?”
“Err – no...” Oh dear, am I going to get Blond Number One into trouble?
She frowns and eyes the young woman at the desk.
“Would you like tea, coffee, water?”
“Glass of water would be lovely, thank you.”
“Jessica, please fetch Miss Swan a glass of water.” She says sternly to the young woman at the desk. Jessica scoots up immediately and walks to a door on the other side of the foyer.
“My apologies Miss Swan, Jessica is our new intern. Please be seated. Mr Cullen will probably be another five minutes.”
Jessica returns with a large glass of iced water.
“Here you go Miss Swan.”
Blonde Number Two goes and sits at the sandstone desk at her station and they both continue their work.
Perhaps Mr Cullen insists on all his employees being blonde... is that legal? I‘m wondering idly, when the office door opens and a tall, elegantly dressed, rather beautiful black man exits. I have definitely worn the wrong clothes. He turns and says through the door,
“Golf, definitely, Cullen.”
I don’t hear the reply. He turns, sees me and smiles kindly. Jessica has jumped up and called the lift.
“Good afternoon ladies,” he says as he departs through the sliding door.” Mr Cullen will see you now, Miss Swan. Do go through,” Blonde Number Two says.
I stand rather shakily, collect my satchel, leave my water and make my way to the partially open door.
“You don‘t need to knock – just go in,” she smiles at me, and I push open the door and stumble through, tripping over my own feet as usual and falling head first into the office.