It's Just Business, Right?
"Fitz, come one. Cheer up, honey. If not for me, then for Little Grant," Olivia pleaded. She rubbed his cheek hoping it would stop him from gritting his teeth. She grasped his hand and put it on the rise of her belly, willing Little Grant to kick as a diversion. Nothing happened. Olivia sighed and sat back against the high booth. It was their normal Wednesday night dinner at Dave and Buster's.
Fitz turned to face her. "I can't believe he pulled this," Fitz said, his eyes shooting darts across the dining room at Ethan who sat across from Karen at a small table. Their heads were bent close, and they were in deep conversation, oblivious to the others around them.
"We forbid Karen from visiting him so what does he do? He comes to her. I understand your anger, hon, but he hasn't done anything wrong," Olivia said. She wouldn't admit it to him, but she thought it was a romantic gesture.
"He should have known that a 'no' to Karen coming there meant a 'no' to a visit between them, period. Livy, I'm sorry about my mood. How about a kiss? I think that will help." He scooted closer to her in the booth and leaned in for a kiss. He deepened it. For the sake of peace, she let him.
"Ahem...Dad...Liv..." Karen said. Ethan stood half beside and behind her.
Fitz pulled back and actually had a smile on his face. "That helped," he whispered in her ear, " but you'll have to continue cheering me up later."
Olivia rolled her eyes heavenward and handed him a napkin. "Now you are wearing my lip gloss."
"Sir, may Karen accompany me to the Harry Rockets Ice Cream Shop? We'll be back in an hour?" Ethan's voice cracked a little, but Olivia admired they way he looked Fitz directly in the eyes. She had to press her lips together to keep from laughing. Despite his courage, Ethan looked terrified. Karen had, no doubt, schooled him on what to say and how to make the request.
"No," Fitz said not trying to hide his contempt. Olivia sighed and squeezed Fitz's forearm.
"Yes, Ethan. That is fine," Olivia said, "but's let's make it 45 minutes and bring two small milkshakes for Fitz and me. I'll take caramel cashew. Fitz will take chocolate."
Ethan broke eye contact with Fitz and looked at Olivia. "Ok, Mrs. Grant...um...th-thank you, ma'am." Ethan made a move as if to address Fitz, but Karen pulled on his arm. She mouthed a silent, "Thank you," to Olivia as she and Ethan walked away quickly as if they thought Fitz would overturn the decision.
"Olivia, why did you do that? Who knows where they will go or what they will be doing." He was scowling now. "I want to pretend I like him so she can stop liking him just to thwart me, but I can't."
"Honey, I limited their time and when they bring us our shakes, we will have proof that they went to the Harry Rockets. It's always crowded there on Wednesday's so they will have to at least get there 15 to 20 minutes early in order to get our orders and back here in 45 minutes...so calm down, babe, really."
"Okay, honey. You are right. I think between Gerry and me, Ethan is sufficiently put on notice about what he should and should not be doing with my daughter," he said. He exhaled audibly.
"Exactly. The fact that he still likes Karen and wants to see her despite your active animosity speaks volumes."
Olivia had planned to tell Fitz about the offer and her decision to fire Jake, but she had yet to broach the subject. She had already waited one day. She knew she couldn't keep it from him any longer.
"I have some news," Olivia said after a little while. It wasn't until she spoke that she realized he had been speaking to her too. She only heard Brent's name. She instantly regretted announcing it like that, but he stopped speaking and directed his full attention to her. Being on the receiving end of his fully focused gaze could sometimes be overwhelming especially if the topic was challenging. He had that way of looking at her that was sort of arresting, like she was pinned to a wall.
"Templeton Press made me a job offer," she began. She was careful not to mention Jake's name.
"Oh really? Don't they know you are already employed?" he asked. His tone wasn't favorable. He associated anything related to Jake as suspicious. This included any mention of her publishing house. She changed tactics.
"I really value your opinion and feedback, honey. I also always want to be considerate of your feelings. In light of those things, I have decided to fire Jake and get another agent." she said.
Fitz's expression was unreadable, but it definitely wasn't positive.
"What did he do, Liv?" Fitz asked, his eyes narrowing.
Maybe I should have waited. He's still in a mood, she thought.
"He didn't do anything. I sensed that he might be...attracted to me...so I knew that working with with him would be inappropriate."
"What did he do, Liv?" Fitz repeated.
Olivia wanted to rewind the conversation. Fitz's bullheadedness was beginning to grate on her. Is this my fault? Should I have addressed this earlier?
"There's no need for you to get angry. I'm trying to have a conversation with you." Olivia pleaded.
He smiled, but it didn't quite meet his eyes. "He had to do something to give you a sign that he was attracted. What did he do? That is all I am asking."
But she knew it wasn't. He was asking for a reason to confront Jake, evidence to reinforce how he felt about him.
Olivia swallowed and then took a deep breath. Her inner voice told her to delay this conversation. She ignored it.
"It's the way he looks at me. Abby says it's that 'I want you, Liv' look." She looked away from him as she constructed her thoughts. When glanced at him, caught sight of his expression, she wish she could take it back. "He's gotten better since we've been married, but I don't know...this job offer just seems like a ploy to...I just think it's best to get another agent. I really do want to consider the job offer. It really is a dream job. But all this is very subtle. He hasn't done anything at all. So..."
"Go on..." he said.
"Well, I called Templeton Press and they said that the job was in no way tied to Jake. Although he pitched the idea of this job to them, It is my offer to accept on my own terms...Fitz, I should stop. You aren't hearing anything I am saying. This was not a good idea to tell you tonight. You are pissed with Ethan and now this-" Olivia said.
"I'm not mad, Livy. I am simply listening," he said calmly.
"Your ears are red and its spreading. That's is a sure fire sign that you're mad," Olivia observed.
"I am angry...no mad...at Jake, and to be honest angry at you, Livy. I saw the way he looked at you when I first met him at the restaurant. I thought meeting me might help him to understand that you were engaged. But then, I heard that voicemail he sent you this summer about the conference room change. It wasn't what he said, but how he said it. That is when I started suggesting that you get another agent. Now, based on what you are saying, you have felt the same way all this time, but you continued with him. I don't understand why. Are you attracted to him, too?"
"No, Fitz! I can't believe you asked me that? And you know what? I don't appreciate the tone you are taking with me! You've been walking around with a big chip on your shoulder ever since Ethan showed up and you've taken it out on me! Get up so I can pee! And I want to go home, when I get back!" Olivia said. She looked away from him trying to shield her eyes. Crying wasn't something she cared to do right now, but her hormones were out of whack.
"Livy...I-I'm sorry, baby," His expression and tone of voice instantly softened.
She wouldn't look at him. "Let me up," she mumbled. She pushed his hands away from her face.
He grabbed her shoulders and pulled her into his arms. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry," he whispered repeatedly against her neck.
She opened her eyes and met the concerned stare of two older couples sitting in the booth across from them. Olivia looked embarrassed when two of the women, one African American and one Hispanic, came over to their table.
"Is everything okay, dear?" the African American woman, who looked to be about 60, asked.
Fitz pulled back, but kept one arm around Olivia's shoulders. "Actually, no. I'm being an insensitive jerk to my wife tonight. I've been in a funk all night because of our teenaged daughter. My wife has only been trying to cheer me up," he said.
"Is your daughter the young lady who was asking to go to Harry Rockets earlier? Is that her boyfriend? The boy who was with her?" the other lady asked.
Olivia was too shocked to wonder about how long they had been listening to their conversation across the aisle.
"Yes. She asked to visit him at college in a couple weeks. We said no, but he showed up here today to visit her. I've been a little hard to deal with since he made an appearance after school," he said.
"Well we can understand your anger now, but don't take it out on your wife. When are you due, dear?"
"November 10," she said with a small smile.
"Okay, we'll let you get back to apologizing," the other lady said.
Fitz turned and gently placed his forehead to hers. "I apologize for my tone and for my generally sour mood. Do you forgive me?"
She nodded her head in agreement.
"Can we finish talking about this at home?" he asked.
She nodded again. He kissed her on the cheek.
"Fitz, let me out. I really do have to pee."
"Oh, okay. I'll walk you to the bathroom."
He knew he wasn't out of the doghouse when she zipped past him surprisingly fast without a look back.
"I thought we were going to talk. I walked Rolfo after school today," Fitz said. Olivia was putting the leash on Rolfo at the kitchen door. They had just gotten in from Dave and Buster's. She handed him the leash and sat in a nearby kitchen chair to exchange her sandals for her tennis shoes that rested beside the door. Unable to maneuver around her stomach, she sighed and gave up.
Fitz walked over to help. He knelt before her and slowly removed her sandals. "You're still mad at me aren't you?" he asked, rubbing her calves.
"Just put on my socks and running shoes, please?" Olivia instructed impatiently, avoiding his eyes.
He reached over and slid her running shoes closer. He took his time, stretching out each action. She purposely looked away from him until she couldn't help but meet his gaze. How can he look so penitent and sexy at the same time, she thought. She continued looking at him, but abruptly looked away when it was on the tip of her tongue to agree to what his eyes were asking for.
"Fitz, this is exactly why we need to talk outside on neutral territory. Let's resolve this Jake Ballard issue once an for all. There will be no clouding of the mind with make up sex. We have to do the hard work. So let's go." She let him pull her out of the chair. In minutes, they were hand in hand walking down the sidewalk with Rolfo by their side.
"Last night you said you heard the message from Jake. How did you hear it Fitz? It came on my cell phone that is locked."
"You gave me the lock code to your phone after you fainted at school last year. Remember, I couldn't get your mom because her number was in your phone and I didn't have it programmed in mine? You have mine too...that's not really what you're asking, right?"
"Right. Why did you check my messages? Why were you searching my phone?" she asked.
"When we were in California, you went out shopping with Sybil and Lauren. Well Livy, you left your phone. Ballard called you a couple of times...saw his name on the caller ID... I saw the message indicator and I checked it," he said.
They walked for a time in silence. "Fitz, I felt that Jake was attracted to me, but I thought he got over it. Or maybe I hoped he would get over it. It was hard navigating the whole thing. On the one hand, I didn't see him that much so I thought it was doable. Mostly, I just ignored him which was easy to do over the phone. On the other hand, I...half the time I thought I was imagining the attraction...I don't know. But you have to know that I am not attracted to anyone but you. I can't believe you asked me that question at Dave and Buster's tonight. Don't you know that you're the only man who takes my breath away? My passion for your runs deep and wide."
He stopped and gave her the look. She chuckled and averted her eyes to the ground. "You're so easy. Focus Fitz," she said tugging on his arm to resume their walk. His gaze lingered on her face in silent promise of what would happen later. It was fun to tease him this way, albeit outside the context of an argument. She often forgot about her sexual teasing, but he'd always bring it back up later. It made her feel powerful that she could plant a seed in his head that he would think about all day.
"Livy, I didn't mean it. This thing with Brent and Patrice has affected me in ways I didn't imagine. I know that they have their share of problems, but my mind started taking me to places I didn't want to go. But I meant what I said, I'm sorry for being such an ass tonight."
She squeezed his hand. "I suppose every marriage has its challenges, babe. I can guarantee I'll never be unfaithful to you. You have to know that. You have to trust that. We're both going to meet people who might be attracted to us. That's natural but it doesn't mean it changes what we have or the trust between us. "
He stopped and hugged her. "I know. You're right."
"So tell me more about the offer," he said. He walked to a nearby bench. Rolfo gladly stopped and plopped down. "Do you really want to take the job?"
"Yes. I wouldn't travel any until we decided it was okay, and even then not a lot," she said.
"But I wouldn't see you at school every day. No more quickies in my office."
"Fitz, it was only a matter of time before one of us transferred to another school. We never had any quickies...well that one time in the supply closet, but that doesn't count."
"I was hoping you would consent to do it on the desk with your principal at least once..." he said slyly.
"I think you need to view the professional ethics and sexual harassment video again. The power dynamic will make it difficult for me to refuse," she whispered.
"I think it's time to go home," he said.
"But, seriously, Fitz I really want this. Are you agreeing?" She was anxious and happy, hoping he would agree.
He looked deep into her anxious eyes. "You are a talented and gifted teacher, Olivia Grant. Of course, I agree. But, I want to go with you when you fire Ballard unless you plan to do it by phone, in which case, I want it on speaker with me in the room."
"Do you really think that is necessary, Fitz?" she said with a sigh. "This is not like dealing with Savannah or Mellie. This is strictly business regardless of the supposed attraction."
"It's necessary. He's going to be mad for two reasons. One, you are making him a great commission. Two, he is attracted to you...the bastard. When you fire him, he will lose money and whatever illusions he had about having you. He's going to want to argue to keep you. I don't want you to be alone with him when you sever the partnership. I'll do it for you if you'd like."
Olivia ignored his suggestion. "I understand. I've already made an appointment to meet him tomorrow," she said.
A flash of anger appeared and then disappeared across his face. "What time and where?"
"4:30 at Tattersall's Book Nook...at the cafe there. I can handle this. You need to get over your hangups Fitz. I'm an adult who can handle her own business. I'm telling you that I can handle this. I will handle this. Do you understand me?" Olivia leveled with him in a firm voice.
Fitz raised his eyebrows. "I understand Mrs. Grant. But can I suggest that you choose a woman to replace Jake?"
She gave him a wicked smile. "She could be attracted to me too?" When his only response was a lifting of one eyebrow, she shook her head at him.
"I'm going to hire whomever I decide. I do, though, have some ideas about teachers to replace me. I met a young man who attended my conference session this summer. He said he was moving to Denver. He contacted me through my website last week to see if I knew of any job openings in 4th grade in this area. Fitz, he seemed pretty sharp. I'll ask him to send you his resume. I can't wait to tell Abby, Huck, and Harrison. And Fitz, I know I hadn't said anything, but I was sort of uneasy about balancing the baby and school. You know how I am when school is in. I'm not sure if I could have done it all even with GG's help. I will help whomever you hire to get settled. Now, I can finish the nursery and my manuscripts of course. I am going to call Daniella and Ron tomorrow," she said in a rush of excitement.
They got up and started walking back towards the house with Rolfo in tow.
"And Fitz, I am totally ready for non-neutral territory," she said with a sly smile, which he returned with a promise in his eyes.
As soon as Olivia disconnected from Daniella and Ron, she was buzzing with joy. They'd been excited about her acceptance of the job. Before she could make her next phone call, her phone rang.
"Hi Olivia, it's Patrice."
Olivia smiled, but her hearing Patrice's voice tamped down her excitement somewhat. It made her think about her argument with Fitz. "Patrice...hi. It's great to hear from you. How are the kids? Though, I know they aren't kids anymore."
"Oh, they're fine. I'm calling because I'm really worried about Brent. Have you or Fitz seen him? I know he was staying with you two for a few days...at least that's what the message he left on my phone said. We are having problems as I'm sure he told you. I wouldn't talk to him.
"Oh really? He left here last week headed back home. Are you saying he's not there?" Olivia asked.
"The kids and I are staying at my sister's. He's at the house...was supposed to be at the house. The kids were supposed to spend the weekend with him, but he wasn't there when I went to drop them off. I checked around and found a note from him that was written to me, but it wasn't finished. He was apologizing for...for everything and then he said he couldn't live...live without me! I can't believe him...that he would say that after all that has happened. He hasn't touched me in at least a year. I know he's had affairs. We've been living separately for some time now. Why in the world would he act this way just because I am leaving. He's made it clear that he doesn't want me so now that he finds out that I have someone else, he does this. He can't do this to our kids! It's not fair to them. Oh my God Liv, do you think he's done something to hurt himself?"
Olivia tried to take it all in. She had only met Patrice twice so she was at a loss for how to respond appropriately. "Patrice, you said that the letter was half written. Maybe he was just blowing off steam...trying to get his feelings out. Have you tried his parents or brothers?"
"No. No, I-I-I didn't think to try them. You know I'll call them now. Thanks, Liv. I'm sorry I didn't make it to your wedding. It's was so hard..."
"I understand, Patrice. There is no need an explanation or an apology. We are enjoying your beautiful gift. GG uses the stand mixer a couple of times per week. Please keep us posted when you hear from Brent. I'll call Fitz to see if he's heard anything."
"Okay, Olivia. Thanks, Bye."
The phone rang again, immediately after she disconnected the line.
"Olivia, please say this isn't true...that's its a mistake," Jake said. "You aren't going to end our relationship, are you? We are a great team. We need each other."
Olivia felt like she had whiplash. Things were happening too fast for her to absorb. Olivia sat down at the kitchen table. She held the phone for a moment."
"Olivia? Olivia, are you there?"
How in the world did he find out about this so quickly? I just accepted, she thought.
"Jake, I would rather talk to you about this in person at our meeting today," she said. She cradled her belly. Whenever she felt threatened, this was her immediate response.
"Here's what I think is going to happen. You are going to come to Tattersall's with your husband because he is forcing you to do this. I know you. The Olivia I know wouldn't do this. You value our partnership. I have only gotten you a very lucrative book contract and now a plumb position doing what you love. How has that cost me my job? I've been trying to wrap my mind around it. Can you help me, Olivia?"
Olivia hated that she was beginning to regret firing him as if she had done something wrong or owed him. She also felt upset at his chastising tone.
"Jake, I think we should wait to talk." Her voice was shaking she felt tears forming behind her eyes.
"No, Olivia. We began this relationship, just you and I. Why couldn't you have the common decency and acceptable business practices to end it, just you and me?" he said. His voice was low and steady.
"Jake, this is business! So there is nothing personal here. I no longer need you to be my agent. You will get your commission for the book deal, but not the job since I am now negotiating that alone. You were a good agent, but my needs have changed. I appreciate your help. Let's just cancel our meeting today. I think that is best." Olivia knew she couldn't face him now. She couldn't deal with his accusations.
"The literary community is relatively small. We take care of our own. Whenever a client screws one of us over, word gets out fast. It would make it next to impossible to find another agent. I have an idea. Why don't you let me recommend some people to you?" Jake offered. His tone had changed.
"Thanks, but that won't be necessary. I'm sorry you had to make an unnecessary trip to Denver. I have to...go." she said.
"It's no problem, Olivia. I have so many frequent travel miles, I could be anywhere at anytime," he said before disconnecting the line.
Olivia disconnected too. She felt thankful to be done with him, but uneasy about the implications of his words.
"Livy, you didn't hear me when we were at Dave and Buster's. I told you that Brent was staying at his brother's house indefinitely. He said he can't bear to stay at his house. I'm surprised he didn't tell Patrice. Well, I'm not surprised," Fitz said.
"Patrice was so upset. Even after all he's done, she seems to care about him. Brent is a narcissistic, self-involved, insensitive, sorry excuse for a husband I've ever seen. I know he is hurting, but why plan to see your kids and then just leave? I'm glad Patrice has someone else," Olivia said.
"Livy, you are right by all accounts, but I think Brent is beginning to realize his mistakes. I think he just forgot to tell Patrice about the change in plans," Fitz said.
"Fitz, you are a good friend to Brent. Despite all he's done, I'm glad he has a good friend like you."
"Livy, it's 3:30 let's get going," he said.
Olivia had done it. Despite what she said last night, she decided to let him accompany her to fire Jake.
"Jake called me when you were gone. He already knew I was going to let him go. I don't know how, but he already knew."
"Really? What did he say?"
Olivia had already decided not to elaborate. She didn't want to have another argument. "It was strange. He's just...strange. I just want to forget about Jake Ballard so it doesn't matter what he said. I cancelled the meeting, Fitz. I'm sure I'll see him again at some conference or meeting. He may even try to spread rumors about me as being a difficult client. But I don't want to worry about that right now." Olivia yawned and stretched. "There is so much to do without worrying about him."
"Why don't you go take a nap? You can barely keep your eyes open," Fitz said. "I have a couple of errands to run. Karen is going to pick up Granny from the center so you can sleep for as long as Little Grant will let you, okay?"
"What errands do you have to run, babe?" Olivia asked, after another yawn. "Stay with me. I am sleepy, but I need you to put me to sleep." She caressed him through his pants and reached for his belt buckle.
Fitz hardened instantly but covered her hand with his. "Baby, as delicious as that sounds, I really need to take care of some things. I promise to...more than make up for it when I get back. Get your rest." He winked at her and walked her to the stairs.
She shrugged and started up them with another yawn. She failed to notice when he slipped her phone in his pocket.
He hopped in Olivia's Land Rover and sent the text message:
On second thought, I want to meet you to discuss this in person. Fitz won't be with me. Let's meet at City Park at the Pavilion now, if that's okay. Let me know.
Within a minute, a response came through.
I'd really like that. Could you call me now?
"Son of a bitch!" Fitz said aloud before he sent another text.
No. I can't talk now. Please just meet me. I'll see you in 15 minutes. I really want to see you.
The reply came instantly.
Okay. I'll be there.
"But it'll be me you'll see, Ballard," Fitz said aloud as he backed out of the driveway.
Fitz dialed Granny.
"Hello Olivia, dear." Granny said.
Fitz had forgotten he was on Olivia's phone.
"Granny, it's me Fitz. I have Liv's phone. I'm going to meet with Jake Ballard. I thought I should tell someone in case...in case something happens. He thinks he's meeting with her but... I sent him a text from Liv's phone and set up the meeting. So he thinks Liv is coming."
"And you are doing this why, Fitzgerald? And why are you telling me, your meddling Granny, why?" she said.
"I deserve that one, Granny. I need to make sure we are making a clean break from him. I have a feeling about him," he said.
"Okay, just make sure you keep your hands to yourself. Where are you meeting?"
"City Park at the Pavillion in about 10 minutes or so."
"Okay. Keep me posted, Fitzgerald. A few firm words will go further than fists. You are the professional with more to lose if you forget your head. Yes, he didn't have the best intentions where Olivia was concerned, but it is over. Turn down your ego."
"Okay, Granny. Olivia is asleep. I'm hoping she won't miss her phone. She's going to be mad at me for this...for a long time."
"Yes," Granny said chuckling. "You and Olivia keep things interesting for an old woman like me. Be careful."