The Spark Theory

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Chapter Twelve, part 2

Okay, people, gather around.” Smith was calling the meeting to order as we filed into the conference room. Minutes before, he had asked a few of us in the office to join him for an impromptu meeting.

“This,” he said, passing around some papers, “is our future.” He sat down at the head of the table. “I just met with the President and Director of Marketing for this company, and they are very interested in seeing what we can come up with to help market their new business venture. This could mean big business, people. I want to see some great ideas. I smell a Clio, here.”

I grinned when he said this. Smith, always the optimist, had said this at every meeting I’d been at since I’d begun working for him the month before. Never mind that he’d already won three of the coveted advertising awards in his career, he was always reaching for the next one. I glanced at the sheet in front of me for the details and had to stop to make sure of what I was reading. Seldrige Sports Wear? I barely heard Smith as he continued talking. It seemed like Seldrige and company wanted to tie in their new charitable foundation with some new advertising, and they were looking for something fresh and original. I continued reading before I noticed it had grown quiet. I looked up to see all eyes on me.

“So, Kate,” Smith was asking, “what do you think about that?”

“Umm,” I paused. “Did I miss something?”

The others around the table laughed as Smith scowled -- something he rarely did. “Oh, boy,” he rolled his eyes. “This is getting off to a great start.” He pointed at me. “You,” he said, “are in charge of this one.”

I gulped. “I am?” I said weakly.

“You’re ready.” He stood. “I have full confidence in you.” He looked around the table. “I have confidence in all of you.” He started to leave the room. “I will leave you guys alone to start brainstorming. I want to hear some ideas by the end of the week.” He paused at the door. “Oh, and Kate?”

“Yes?”

“My door is open. Don’t hesitate to come to me if you need anything. More people, resources, whatever. I want this to be a good one. No, scratch that, a great one.” He walked out the door.

All eyes turned to me after Smith left. I looked around the room and realized that the people Smith had asked into the conference room were some of the newer staff he had hired. Most of them right out of college or design school, I knew them all as hard workers. Yet, I was worried that their inexperience might come through. As I looked into their eager faces, I put a big smile on my face and decided this was the opportunity I had been waiting for. There was nothing to do but put my all into it.

After a one-hour brainstorming session, I left the conference room in better spirits, sure that my earlier misgivings were unfounded. We’d been able to come up with some basic ideas and lay out the groundwork for some of the pieces involved in the campaign -- our target markets, where we’d focus our efforts. Jose, the graphic artist, and Carol, my writer, even came up with several ideas for the ads themselves. All in all, it was a great start, but I knew there was a lot of work yet to come.

I took a sketch pad and decided to head Central Park, where I found a nice patch of grass in the shade. I began listing random thoughts, ideas, trying to tie in what we’d just come up with during the meeting. I was there for about an hour and was totally engrossed in my work when my cell phone rang, startling me.

Grabbing it out of my bag, I hit the answer button and held it to my ear without really looking to see who was calling. “Hello?”

“Hello there,” a voice said.

I was so focused on the page before me that it took me a second to realize who it was. “Clark?”

“Long time, no talk,” he said.

“Well, yeah,” I agreed. “How are you?”

“Great. Better now that I’m talking to you.”

I grinned. “You are the king of cheezy comments, you know?”

“What?” he asked. “I thought that one was pretty good.”

I secretly agreed. But there was no way I was going to let him know that. He didn’t need to know how good it felt talking to him after not talking to him for a few weeks. “What have you been up to?” I asked, changing the subject.

“Oh, you know. Much of the same. I’m sorry I never called you back around July 4th. I actually went away for the holiday last week, and I just got back yesterday.”

“You were on vacation?”

“Yes. I went out to my parents for the July 4th holiday, and then I stayed out in the Hamptons for a few days. Camille had a place out there with a few friends.”

“Oh,” I said, hearing the enthusiasm drain out of my voice. The tiny bubble of happiness that had started to form as we talked popped.

“What about you?” he asked. “What have you been doing? I got your message that Friday, but things were so busy. I should have called you back, though.”

“Oh, no, that’s okay.” I lied. “Well, I went out to Long Island for the July 4th weekend, too. Emile and Charlotte came out with their baby. And, my sister was there, too.”

“Oh, really? I wish I would have known. Maybe we could have all hooked up somewhere. We were pretty close to each other.”

“Right, no.” I shook my head but then realized he wouldn’t see that. “It was all crazy, and we were busy. I’m sure you were, too.” I hesitated before continuing. “So, Charlotte and Emile told me you were looking for me a couple of weeks ago. At their gig?” I think I did a pretty good job striking the right balance of interest and breezy nonchalance.

“Yeah, I stopped by for a beer and I was hoping to see you. It had been a while since we’d seen each other, and I missed your company.”

My heart skipped a beat, and that lost enthusiasm crept back in. I tried to keep my voice controlled and casual as I continued. “Oh, yeah, they told me you were there alone, so I thought maybe Camille had gone back to Paris or something.”

“No. She was out that night with some of her model friends. I chose to skip that. There’s only so much I can take,” he laughed. “But, anyway, I dropped her off at the airport on Sunday night. She caught the red-eye back to Paris and she’ll be there for about another week before heading to London for a while.”

“Oh, that’s too bad,” I said, trying to sound sorry that Camille had left. “I would think a long-distance relationship is hard.”

“Oh,” he paused. “No, it’s okay. It kind of lets us have our own space for a while, which can be good, you know?”

“Right. Well, guess what I’m working on at the moment?”

“What?”

“The new ad campaign for Seldrige Sports Wear.”

“What? Awesome! I told my dad about Smith’s company, and I knew they were going to meet with him, but I wasn’t sure if my dad would go for it or not. He has his people he likes to work with, you know? So, you’re getting to work on it, huh?”

“Yes. Smith put me in charge of this one.”

“Pressure. Did you come up with anything good, yet?”

I laughed. “Well, I’m getting there. It’s only been a couple of hours, you know.”

“I’m sure it’ll be great. I’m going to go see our advertising director when I get off the phone with you and get the low down. I’ll probably be a part of all of this seeing how the charity was my idea.”

“Great, then maybe we’ll be working together.”

“Yeah, that will be good. Listen, I need to get off of the phone anyway, but I wanted to see if you were going to be at the bar on Thursday.”

“Yes, I’ll be there. You should definitely come. We’re having a going away party for Emile and Charlotte. They’re moving to Pennsylvania.”

“What? What’s that all about?” he sounded about as surprised as I had felt eleven days before.

“I’ll fill you in when I see you on Thursday,” I laughed. “You will be there?” I asked, hopefully.

“Wouldn’t miss it,” he said. “See ya Thursday.”

I hung up the phone in good spirits. Even though he’d just spent the week with his girlfriend, he told me he’d missed my company and he wanted to see me again this week. I smiled and picked up my pen to continue working when my cell phone rang again and I picked it up.

“Did you forget something?” I asked, smiling into the phone.

“Only how good it is to hear your voice,” the man on the other end said.

I was taken aback for a second before I recovered. “Mike?”

“Yeah, it’s me. How are you, Kate?”

This was so unexpected that it took me a few moments to find words to respond. “Fine. I’m fine.”

“Good, I’m glad to hear it.”

I waited, not sure what to say next and wondering why, after weeks of no contact, Mike had decided to call. He must have sensed my hesitation because when he spoke again, his voice was slow and controlled.

“Well,” he said, “you’re probably wondering why I’m calling.”

“Yeah, I guess I sort of am.” I picked up my pen and began doodling at the top of the page I was working on, waiting for him to continue.

“I’ve missed you, Kate.”

I stopped drawing and realized my heart was beating in my throat. My mind was racing. I kept thinking back to our time together, how he had left me for another woman, and how I had convinced myself that I hadn’t really been in love with him after all. Now, hearing his voice, a surge of emotions came flooding through me. I couldn’t decide if what I was feeling was disbelief, indignation, longing, or what. Probably a little bit of all of it. I began concentrating on the pattern I had drawn on the paper, not sure how to answer him.

“Kate,” he continued. “Are you there?”

“Yes,” I whispered. I cleared my throat and answered again. “Yes, I’m here.”

“I’ve missed you, Kate,” he said again. “The last few weeks, I’ve been thinking about you a lot. We were together for so long, Kate, and what I did was wrong. I don’t know what I was thinking. All I can think is that I was temporarily insane.”

“I don’t understand.”

“I want to be with you, Kate. I want to try again.”

“What about . . .,” I realized I didn’t even know the other girl’s name, “what about your girlfriend?” I winced as I said the word.

“She. . ., well, that didn’t work out. She got a new job and moved to Boston. We were going to try the long-distance thing, but a few weeks ago, she called and said she couldn’t handle it anymore.”

Ah, I thought. That’s how it is. “Look, Mike,” I said. “Now’s not the best time for me, and this is a lot to take in. I’ll have to think about this. I just don’t know.”

There was a pause on the other end of the phone before he finally answered. “I understand how it all sounds. But, will you please think about it? I miss being with you. I know I screwed up, and we have a lot to talk about. I just hope that you’ll at least give me the chance to make it right. Please call me.”

He hung up without another word, but I sat there for a moment, my phone still held to my ear while I tried to digest all that had just happened. I found it hard to believe that Mike wanted to be back with me so bad and wondered if it was just a case of him knowing how it felt to be dumped. On the other hand, I remembered how comfortable being with him had been. Sure, I didn’t think I had been “in love” with Mike, if I even knew what those words meant, but I had definitely cared for him. I just wasn’t sure if I could let myself take the chance. Plus, I knew that I was beginning to have stronger feelings for Clark, despite the fact that he was unavailable.

I just didn’t know what to do. All I knew was that I wanted to be happy. Here I was with a crush on someone I couldn’t have. And, someone I wasn’t sure about who wanted to be with me -- at least in theory. A laugh nearby brought me out of my thoughts. I looked up to see a mom playing with her little boy, each of them laughing as he ran to try and catch the bubbles she was blowing. They looked so happy, carefree, and so in the moment. Just like . . . . A thought struck me and I dug around in my bag until I found the card I was looking for. I dialed the number on the card and waited three rings until the person on the other end answered.

“Hello?”

“Penelope? It’s me, Kate. Clark’s friend? I’m calling you about that lunch. And,” I added, “there’s something I want to talk to you about.”


“I’m so glad you called,” Penelope said as we settled in at our table the next day. “I think Clark was sick of me bugging him about it, so he’ll be relieved to know I can stop now. Boy, I’m hungry!” she said, scanning the menu. “What looks good?”

Her open and friendly demeanor put me right at ease, making me feel like I was lunching with an old friend instead of a new acquaintance. “Oh, I don’t know,” I said, looking over the choices. “I think I might be in the mood for a burger.”

“Burger it is,” she said, closing her menu. “I hope the fries are good.” She picked up her drink and took a sip. “So, how are things going with you?”

“Pretty good,” I replied, taking one last look at the menu before closing it. “I got a new job a few weeks ago, and that is going well, I think.”

“What is it you do?” she asked.

“Advertising.” Just then, the waitress came over to take our orders. True to her word, Penelope ordered a burger -- albeit a veggie one -- with fries, and I stuck to a burger and a salad.

“Can’t tempt you with any fries?” Penelope asked me as the waitress took our menus.

“Oh, I don’t know,” I hesitated. “I’m trying to be good.”

Penelope looked at the waitress. “Bring a small extra plate, please. We’ll probably share my fries.” The waitress left, and Penelope returned her gaze to me. “There, now that that’s settled. Tell me more.”

I laughed, charmed by her self-assurance and apparent eagerness to know more about me. We made small talk for a while, her telling me how her work was going. I told her a little bit about what I did, and how Clark had recommended me to Smith for the job, and she wasn’t surprised.

“Uh, hmm,” she said, sipping her iced tea. “Clark is so nice. He’s always looking out for others. He’s just good that way. Sometimes I think it gets him into trouble.”

“How so?”

“He likes to see the good in everybody, which is not necessarily a bad thing, but it can get a little bit irritating when he’s always giving everyone the benefit of the doubt.”

I was trying to follow what she was saying, comparing it to the Clark I knew so far. “I always wondered why he recommended me to his friend without even seeing any of my work. I just told him what I did and what I was working on, and he told his friend how ‘good’ I was.”

“Clark is a little too trusting at times,” she agreed, “but he is also pretty good at reading people. So, I’m sure he could sense good things in you, that’s all,” she shrugged. “I love Clark to death. Did he tell you we were dating for a while?” I nodded. “Yeah, that didn’t go so good. I guess we knew each other in a different way since we practically grew up together. He’s like my brother, really.” Our food arrived, and we each started eating before she continued. “What about you? Are you dating anyone?”

“Not at the moment.” She looked at me eagerly, as if waiting for me to continue, so I told her a little bit about Mike, how we had dated for over a year but how he had left me a few months ago for his coworker.

“Damn, that must have been hard.”

“It was for a few weeks.”

“Weeks?”

“Okay, maybe a little longer than that. But, I don’t know. I guess I realized that I wasn’t sure that loved him in the way I should have, that I only felt comfortable with him. But, now I’m not so sure.”

“What’s making you change your mind?”

I told her about my conversation with Mike the day before and how he wanted to see me again.

“So, let me get this straight,” she said. “He left you for another woman because he wanted a change, but then that woman moves away, breaks up with him, and now he suddenly wants to get back with you?”

“Okay, that sounds bad.”

“Yes, it does. Are you going to call him?”

“I haven’t decided, yet. I mean, we were together a long time. Don’t you think I at least owe him a conversation?”

“I don’t think you owe him anything, honestly,” she said, pointing with a french fry to help drive home her point. “Besides, you can do better.”

“I’m honestly beginning to wonder.”

“See, there’s your problem right there. If you doubt you’re good enough, you never will be.”

I picked up my glass and smiled into my drink, remembering what Clark had told me about Penelope and her always positive attitude.

“So, you and Clark seem to be getting pretty close,” she added.

I looked up, caught off guard. Could she see my face getting red? “Clark?” I asked. “Oh, I don’t know. We hang out every once in a while,” I shrugged.

She nodded and continued, apparently choosing to ignore the change of tone in my voice or simply not noticing it. “Despite his tendency to see the best in everyone, Clark can be a bit complicated,” she said.

“What do you mean?” I wanted her to elaborate. I thought about it. Although I had fun hanging out with Clark, there was a part of me that always felt he was holding something back, not fully being himself.

“Did he tell you anything about himself?” she asked.

“Well, yeah, he did.”

“And, you didn’t run screaming?”

“No, why should I? I admit I was a bit surprised at first, finding out who he is and all.”

“Yeah, Clark’s pretty sensitive about his family. He feels like he’s had to live under this microscope all of his life.”

“Yeah, he sort of implied that.”

“He downplays it, I think. But, that grandmother of his,” she gritted her teeth, “she was a real bear. It was always about the business. I think when her husband died, and she took over the company, she felt a lot of pressure, being a woman in business and all. She was always after Clark’s dad, and Clark, too, drilling it into them both. It got so I could hardly stand to be around her. Of course, I was always there, my mom and Clark’s mom being best friends and all. I think Clark’s mom wanted us over there a lot for a little sanity. When his grandmother died, well, it was sad, but then it was like a weight lifted. Clark’s dad tried to be like her, at first. Strict about the business. But, the fact is, he loves his family, his kids, and he just wants them to be happy.”

“Speaking of sanity, how did you stay so sane?”

Penelope smiled, “What makes you think I’m sane?” I laughed. “No, really,” she continued, “I guess money wasn’t as big of a deal to my family. I think my great-great grandfather or something actually made and lost a fortune a few times, so it wasn’t like it couldn’t be done again, if it ever came down to it. My dad actually turned out to be one of the saner ones of the bunch and my mom, well, she’s just cool, so I guess they both rubbed off on me in a good way.”

“And, photography, how’d that come about? Your mom?”

“In a way. Did Clark tell you she and his mom were art majors?” I nodded. “Yes, well, she was always trying to get me to pick up a paint brush when I was a kid. Bored me to death. She was very disappointed.” She grinned, and took a bite of a fry, pushing the plate toward me.

“So, what happened?” I asked, reaching for a fry.

“My uncle, on my mom’s side. He was sort of the black sheep of the family in that he didn’t fit into what the ‘bluebloods’ would call the Hampton set. He took off West when I was a baby, ended up in L.A. He came back to visit us one summer and gave me a camera. It was only one of those instant ones, you know? But, I was hooked. I was constantly taking pictures. I must have gone through a million of those film cartridges, trying to set up the perfect shot. And, I guess some of that art training my mom was always trying to push on me rubbed off. Luckily, my mom -- and my dad -- paid attention and for my next birthday, I got a real camera. I mean one where you have to take the film in for developing and all. When I got older, my dad built me a dark room so I could learn how to develop film.”

“It sounds wonderful!” I exclaimed.

“Yes. I always feel so lucky that I found my passion so early on.”

“I think it shows. Your work is wonderful!”

“Thanks!” she chirped.

“So, speaking of your work, that’s one of the reasons I wanted to meet with you today.”

“Uh, oh. An ulterior motive for lunch? And here I was thinking this was just a friendly get together,” she said, a scowl on her face.

“Sorry, I . . .” I stammered.

“Kidding!” she smiled. “You did say you wanted to talk to me about something. What’s up?”

I started to tell her my ideas for the new Seldrige ad campaign, and as I explained, the smile on her face grew. “Oh, Kate!” she leaned forward and grabbed my arm. “That sounds wonderful! When do we start?”

I laughed, tickled by her enthusiasm. Maybe this will actually work, I thought.

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