Footprints

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Chapter 16

“You have got to be kidding me”, she pushed back her chair and faced away from him.

“No I am not”, he sat there his usual composed self.

“Benji, do you even realize what you are suggesting”, she swiveled in her chair once more and looked him straight in the eye.

“Yes I realize B. But I also feel that this will work”, he explained.

“This can’t be the only way Benji”, she got up now and started pacing around.

“No I am not saying this is the only way. What I am saying is that this is our best shot”, he shifted in his seat and watched her restless movement.

“Come on Benji, you are better than this. I know it. You know it. Why can’t we try something else”, she was reluctant.

“B I know I can share so many other ideas with you. But I shared this one since I believe this will work best in our favor”, he crossed his legs and leaned back. He placed one finger on his chin right below the lower lip. He was observing and making judgments. He definitely was.

“Benjiiiii…..”, she stomped her feet in a child like manner.

“Ok, alright I will try to think of something else”, he raised his hands in defense and got up from his seat.

Without saying another word he started walking out of the room. Just when he was on the edge of the door, he heard the next statement.

“You really think this is the right way”, she asked him in a small voice.

He smiled to himself. He knew this trick would work. When had Bethany Hill not given into anything when he played like a puppy that had just been kicked in the gut? Never, yes never. And this time too, she gave in.

“Yes B, I think this is the right way”, he turned around, his hands in his pockets, his face not giving away the relief that was taking over him.

“I don’t want to cause any more damage”, she came back to her seat and sat down in a defeated manner.

His heart melted. He knew that stance. He knew his Bethany was vulnerable in that moment.

“I know B”, he walked up to her, “and neither do I. Even I don’t want to cause any more damage. But look at it from my side B. This is an opportunity to set things straight and mend some fences. This is also an opportunity to let the world know what Bethany Hill is doing and why.”

“Well if you say so. I will go with your gut feeling”, she smiled at him.

“Great”, he rubbed his palms with excitement. “I will start making the calls”, she started walking out.

“Benji”, she called him. When he turned around she simply said, “I trust you.”

“You won’t regret it”, he smiled giving her assurance that she had made the right decision.

Once he was out of the door, Bethany sat down in her chair and looked out the window. The overcast weather that had loomed for the past few days was now beginning to clear up. The sun had started piercing the dull gray with its golden arrows. It was just a matter of time before the warmth took over the cold and wretched.

Outside Benjamin struggled with the phone that he had precariously nestled between his shoulder and ear. Ruffling through some files with his head tilted to the side in an effort to maintain the fine balance he shot out orders, “Yes Lawson I need that tomorrow.”

“But Mr Hart, this is too short a notice”, the man on the other end of the line said.

“I know Lawson and I am sorry for that but I don’t have much time. I need that contract draft tomorrow”, Benjamin now held the phone and put down the file.

“I understand Mr Hart but….”, the man tried to reason again.

“Lawson I don’t want to hear a but”, Benjamin’s voice took on an authoritative tone.

“Is it really that important”, the man asking knowing what that tone meant.

“Yes it is Lawson or else I wouldn’t have pushed you so hard”, Benjamin softened his tone.

“Ok Mr Hart, you will get the contract papers tomorrow”, the man on the line agreed.

“Great”, Benjamin’s slapped the desk in excitement. “I will wait for them”, he finished the conversation and put the phone down. He leaned back in his seat in a thoughtful manner. This idea was going to work. It had to work.

He picked up the phone again, pulled out the contact list, and dialed a once familiar number.

“Hey stranger”, the voice on the other end greeted him teasingly.

“Hi”, he replied tersely.

“Wow, that was a pretty civilized response”, the voice teased again.

“I am not calling to argue Catherine”, he replied.

“Even I don’t intend to Benjamin. But put yourself in my shoes – although you are not used to heels – and think about it. How many times have we ended up being at odds with each other lately”, she asked him.

“And whose fault was that”, he shot back.

“Benji let’s not get into that. Let the bygone be bygones”, she was in no mood to talk about the past.

“Very well, let’s keep it that way then”, he nodded his head.

“So what made you dial my number today”, she was curious.

“How much have you changed Catherine”, he asked her upfront.

“Do you want to know whether I have aged or not”, she teased him again.

But Benjamin was in no mood for jokes. He was not going to engage into any kind of a friendly banter with this woman unless he had his doubts addressed. So he kept quiet. He did not respond to Catherine’s jab with another cheeky comment.

The woman understood what the silence meant and decided to be serious and honest with him, “Yes Benji, I have changed. I know the mistake that I made is not worth forgiving but I have apologized for it so many times.”

“Do you repent it”, he asked her again.

“Benji why are you interrogating me”, Catherine stopped everything that she was doing. This was not Benjamin’s style. He definitely had something up his sleeves.

“Answer the question Catherine”, he said simply.

“Does it really matter Benji? Bethany already hates me and doesn’t want anything to do with me. You don’t trust me anymore. I have lost all respect for myself. So how does it matter whether I repent it or not”, Catherine replied bitterly.

“It matters Catherine because if you repent your mistakes you don’t repeat them. But if you just realize that you have done wrong but do not repent it then the chances are that you will repeat it again. And I am not willing to take any chances”, he explained his stand.

“I guess you are right”, her shoulders slouched. She knew he made sense.

“So let me ask you again Catherine, do you repent what you did”, he asked in the same serious tone.

“It’s sad that after so many efforts from my side to apologize you still need to ask me this question. But nevertheless I repent it Benji. I repent every single moment. I was young and naïve and I made a mistake. I put my career over my friendship and betrayed Bethany. I was desperate to get into the high ranks and I saw that article on Bethany as my ticket to the higher rung of the ladder. But now that I am there I realize how bullshit it is. It’s painfully lonely and miserable. I am miserable. I was played and I didn’t realize it. And trust me when I say this that I would do absolutely anything to make it up to Bethany. I want her back Benji”, Catherine’s emotional plea was heartfelt and sincere this time.

“What if I give you a chance to make it up to B”, he asked her carefully.

“What”, Catherine couldn’t believe what she had just heard.

“I can give you an opportunity to make things right with B”, he repeated himself.

“Are you serious Benji coz if it’s a joke then I don’t appreciate it”, she was being serious now.

“It’s not a joke Catherine. I have an opportunity for you to make it to up to Bethany. But you have to promise me this time there will be no games”, Benjamin was still being reluctant to reveal the details of what he had in mind.

“I cross my heart Benji. This time no games. Just give me an opening and I am ready to grab it with both hands”, she said eagerly.

“Ok here is what I was thinking”, he started, “B has agreed to do a video documentary and I want you to do it for her.”

“Are you serious? She finally agreed to it”, Catherine pinched herself. It hurt. No she was not dreaming. This was happening. This was happening for real.

“It took a lot of persuasion but she has agreed to it”, Benjamin replied.

“Oh Benji thank you so much. You are a magician. I just love you for this”, the woman was besides herself with joy.

“Catherine you have to promise me that this time you will not fuck this up”, Benjamin warned the woman.

“I promise Benji. I promise this time I will not betray Beth or you”, Catherine promised.

“I will hold you to that”, Benji warned her.

“How did you do this Benji? How did she agree to this”, the woman asked him.

“Can you come over for dinner tomorrow”, he asked her directly.

“At your place”, Catherine sounded surprised.

“Yes, at my place”, he confirmed.

“You think Beth will be ok with me being there”, Catherine was skeptical about the idea.

“No she will not be. But I will take care of that”, he was taking charge now.

“Ok, I will be there”, Catherine agreed.

“Good. I will tell you the details of our arrangement tomorrow over dinner. Be there at 7”, he told her.

“Count me in”, Catherine replied and ended the call.

Once done with Catherine he made his next call.

“Hello”, a different woman greeted him on the other end of the line this time.

“Hello Ms Goodman”, he greeted her.

“Benjamin, how many times do I have to tell you that I don’t like it when you call me Ms Goodman”, she smiled into the phone.

“Well Vanessa, what are you doing tomorrow evening for dinner”, he asked her directly.

“Are you asking me out on a date”, Vanessa teased him.

“Well for now it’s purely business”, he smiled to himself.

“Humor me Benji”, Vanessa teased again.

“Let’s see how the business aspect goes. Pleasure is something that we will talk about later”, he deflected.

“Alright if you say so”, the millionaire mock sighed.

“I will come and pick you up at 6 tomorrow. You need to be here at my place for dinner at 7”, he told her.

“My my and I thought you were talking about business. This sounds like a date. You picking me up, taking me to your place, yep definitely sounds like a date”, Vanessa’s tone turned seductive.

“Well Ms Goodman, this is just business. Believe me the date part has not even started yet”, he played along.

“Well I will be waiting for you then”, she laughed and ended the call.

“Tease”, he mumbled to himself and put down his phone.

So finally he was going to have all three women under the same rough. He had yet to arrange for food but that could be taken care of. Now he had to make sure that things would go as planned.

Next day at 7 Bethany heard a knock on her. She opened the door to see Benjamin standing there with Vanessa behind him.

“Ms Goodman, please join us”, she invited the woman.

“Call me Vanessa please”, the woman insisted.

The woman looked stunning. She was wearing a white evening dress that she had matched with flaming red lipstick, black gladiator shoes, and leather clutch. Her auburn curls looked soft and luscious.

‘Hmm she looks effortlessly dressed’, Bethany mused.

“Vanessa prefers to keep it on first name basis”, Benjamin joked as he walked his guest into the house.

“The food is here Benji”, Bethany told him.

“Hmm smells good”, his stomach growled.

“Let’s get started then”, Bethany invited the duo to the table.

“Ah we have one more guest coming B”, he told her tentatively.

“Who is it”, she asked.

“Hello everybody”, Catherine walked into the room.

“What are you doing here”, Bethany was not pleased with the new guest.

“I was invited here Beth”, Catherine replied calmly.

“Who invited you”, the photographer asked.

“I did”, Benjamin went to Catherine and walked her further into the room.

“Benji”, Bethany could not believe it.

“Bethany please, this time do not jump to conclusions. Trust me and let me handle this”, he was becoming stern now.

“Ok”, the photographer backed down a bit. But she was not happy. She had controlled herself on Benjamin’s insistence but that did not mean she had to play nice. She was not going to be cordial to the woman who was now her guest for the evening.

“Catherine, meet Ms Vanessa Goodman. Vanessa this is Catherine Meyers”, Benjamin introduced the two women in the room.

“Pleasure to meet you Ms Goodman”, Catherine greeted the flaming redhead in the room.

“Same here”, Vanessa exchanged a hand shake.

“What is all this Benji”, Bethany asked shifting from one foot to another.

“Patience B”, he replied. “Ladies please join us at the table”, he invited them to the table where the food was ready.

Once everybody had settled down, he moved around and filled up their wine glass. Vanessa looked at him amused, Catherine wary, and Bethany unhappy.

“Alright ladies, let me give you the agenda of today’s meeting”, he stated once he settled down in his seat with his wine glass. The three ladies turned their attention to him. “I will start with Vanessa here. Vanessa you have made an offer to invest in Bethany’s studio and work.”

“Yes that’s right”, she nodded and took a sip of her wine.

“Is the offer still open”, he asked.

“It very much is”, Vanessa nodded once more.

“Ok so here’s the deal. We would be interested in taking up this offer. But we have certain reservations”, he stated.

“Can I know what they are”, Vanessa leaned in the front showing interest.

“Firstly, we want to retain the creative control with us. Secondly, we have worked out an arrangement that we want to discuss with you”, he said.

“I am all ears”, Vanessa was eagerly listening now.

“First is that we want to retain the creative control with Bethany. She is the heart and soul the studio”, he made it clear.

“Agreed”, Vanessa lifted her hands in the air to show her complete surrender to the idea.

“Secondly, we would be having Giselle working with us. Bethany will immerse herself in the new kind of photography projects that she wants to pursue. Giselle will be working on the commercial projects. The two works will be different. You have not mentioned what kind of ROI you want the studio to generate for you but I just want you to know that we will have somebody who is trained under Bethany to handle the commercial revenue generating projects”, he explained.

“Benjamin and Bethany, my offer to you was never about ROI. I wanted to engage myself in what you guys do. I love Bethany’s style and I know that she is moving into a completely different direction now. But I am willing to support that. I believe in philanthropy and I think what Bethany is doing is really great. I appreciate that a lot. And I am more than happy to give away the creative control to Bethany. I cannot do a better job than her at this”, Vanessa said.

“Bethany what do you have to say about this”, Benjamin asked the photographer.

“Vanessa, are you really ok with not making a lot of money from the studio during the initial stages”, the photographer asked her again.

“I wouldn’t have suggested the idea of me investing if I was not ok with it”, the redhead smiled.

“Well then I don’t have any problems”, Bethany gave her approval.

“It’s done then”, Benjamin smiled.

“Now can you tell me what she is doing here”, Bethany looked coldly at Catherine.

“I am coming to that”, Benjamin replied. “We all know that a lot of crap is being written about B by the press lately. A lot of those stories are really unpleasant to read. In fact, some of them have caused a lot of problems in B’s personal life”, he said.

“If you are talking about the rumors of that mystery lady and Bethany being secretly involved with her then yes I have read those stories”, Catherine responded.

“That is happening because B has never stood up in front of the press and said her side of the story”, he said.

“I agree to that”, Catherine nodded her head.

“I want to change that. I want Bethany to stand in front of the cameras and reveal her true self. I want her to get out there in the limelight and tell her story in her words. This will give her a chance to set things straight”, Benjamin said with strong conviction.

“And what is your plan’, Catherine asked.

“I want you to do a video documentary on B. You had suggested it earlier and B didn’t agree to it. But I want you to do it now”, Benjamin said.

“I still don’t agree to it”, Bethany got up from her chair.

“B you agreed to it yesterday”, Benjamin told her.

“Yes, but then I didn’t know you were going to involve Catherine in this”, the photographer said.

“What is the problem with Catherine doing it”, Vanessa asked looking clueless.

“They have a history”, Benjamin replied.

“Yeah we have a history where she smeared mud on my personal life. My dad disowned me, my friends left me, I lost peace of mind because gossip mongers started chasing me. She exploited one of the darkest secrets of my life to her benefit”, Bethany was turned on.

“Benji, I told you she would never forgive me”, Catherine looked at him with defeated expressions.

“Will you let me talk”, Benjamin looked at Bethany. He was evidently unhappy with the photographers rant.

When she came back to her place and sat down he started again.

“Catherine we both know that last time you fucked up big time with B and I won’t let that happen this time. Nevertheless I am asking you to do this documentary on B for several reasons. First and foremost you owe her and this documentary will be your apology to her. You need to make this documentary in such a way that it counters all the crap that’s been going around including what you started back then. This way you can right the wrong that you did last time. Secondly, we will have you sign a contract that will reserve the release rights with us. The documentary will be not released unless and until Bethany approves it”, he said.

“You want me to sign a contract”, Catherine looked surprised at the suggestion.

“You can’t blame us for not trusting you”, Benjamin replied.

“Ok I am ready to sign the document”, Catherine agreed.

“But I am not”, Bethany shot back.

“B, trust me Catherine will be on your side this time. She will do justice to your side of the story”, Benjamin tried persuading the woman.

“How can you be so sure? What if she messes around with me again”, Bethany was still skeptical.

“She won’t. I have a detailed contract ready for her. If she signs it then you will be completely protected. And if she signs it then it will mean that she is serious about mending the broken friendship”, Benjamin looked at Catherine.

“Give me the papers and I will sign them right now without even reading them”, Catherine showed conviction. She was desperate now to win back what she had lost. And she was ready to pay any damn price for that.

“I am assuming you are doing all this in front of me for a reason Benji”, Vanessa said.

“Yes, you will be a witness to this exchange”, he told her, “and since you are our new investor you need to know that we are going in front of the press. We want you to know that we are going to go public with Bethany’s plans and her story.”

“I get it. You have my complete support Bethany”, the woman smiled at the photographer.

“B, everything is now taken care of. All you have to do is trust me now”, he looked at the woman hopefully.

What could she do? She knew Benjamin was prepared. He had thought this through. All she had to do now was make a decision. It was either a yes or a no.

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