Thursday, I had another gig with Emile and the band. We decided to meet at the bar beforehand to blow off some steam, as we’d all had crazy weeks. Final exam time was approaching at the University where Emile taught. Add to that the fact that his and Charlotte’s baby was due in just a couple of weeks, and Emile was falling apart at the seams. I was going a little crazy myself, trying to tie up the loose ends for my client presentation in a little over a week while still trying to stay on top of my other accounts, and I’d been putting in some late hours at work. Paul and Tom, the other guys from the band, arrived, and after we set up the equipment for the show, we sat at a table to relax with a pitcher of beer.
The beer didn’t last very long, so I took the empty pitcher to the bar for a refill. When it was ready, I grabbed it and turned away from the bar, nearly running into the person behind me.
Brown eyes flashed in recognition. “Hey!” Clark said.
“Hi, Clark,” I said, my heart thumping from surprise of the near collision.
“Kate, right?” he asked, smiling at me.
“Good memory,” I smiled back.
“That’s a lot of beer you’ve got there,” he indicated the pitcher. “Do you always drink that much?” he teased.
“Yep,” I teased back, grinning. “It’s one of my dark secrets.”
“Really?” His eyes opened wide in shock.
I faltered for a moment. “Well, no,” I hesitated. “I was just kidding.”
He grinned. “Gotcha,” he laughed.
I felt my face flush red with embarrassment, but I didn’t look away. I was tongue tied, now, though, so I pulled the “my friends are missing me” excuse. Gesturing over my shoulder, I said “Actually, I’m with a group of friends. I should probably get this pitcher over to them before they go mad with thirst.”
He looked past me to where everyone was sitting. “They look okay to me.”
I glanced at to the table and saw that he was right. The guys were talking and laughing, looking like they were having a good time. I turned back to Clark, who was looking at me expectantly. Of course, I couldn’t help but notice his eyes again. My heart fluttered, but then I told myself to get a grip. "What are you doing here?” I finally said.
"Waiting for a group of friends. We’re going out, and I told everyone to meet me here first. I’ve walked by this place a few times since I moved into the neighborhood, and I wanted to check it out. I heard the local band was pretty good, actually.”
“Oh, they are,” I said automatically. I hesitated. “Um, do you want to come and hang out with us while you are waiting?” I wasn’t sure where I got the courage to ask. I also wasn’t sure why I was asking. I sensed that this guy had an affect on me, but knowing he had a girlfriend, and still trying to get past my breakup with Mike, I was trying hard not to go there.
“Sure,” he said. “Let’s go.”
I asked the bartender for another glass, and then we headed over. As he followed me to the table, he leaned over and asked, “Do you come here a lot?”
“Yeah,” I replied. “Just about every Thursday.” He was so close, I felt the heat from his body.
“Oh, so you must know a lot about the band that plays here, then.”
“Yeah, I guess you could say that.” We reached the table, and I introduced Clark to everyone. “He’s my neighbor,” I explained. “He’s new in the neighborhood, and he thought he’d check out the local bar. Heard the band here was good.” I raised my eyebrow in mock seriousness. Clark looked around questionningly as everyone laughed. Emile reached out to shake his hand.
“It’s nice meeting you, Clark,” he said. “Have a seat.”
“So, you heard the band is good, huh?” Paul asked.
“That’s what I hear,” Clark answered, as he sat down in a chair next to me.
“Just what I like to hear,” said Tom, smiling.
“What Tom means,” Emile explained, “is that you’re looking at the band. That’s us.”
“All of you?” Clark glanced at me in surprise.
“Well, no,” I said, jumping in before Emile could respond. I could feel Emile’s eyes on me, but I ignored him and continued. “Emile is the lead guitar player, Tom here is the bass player, and Paul is on the drums. Charlotte’s the lead singer.”
"Where is she?” he asked, looking around.
"She’s actually at home,” Emile hung his head. “Hopefully with her feet propped up on something taking it easy.”
Clark looked confused again.
“Charlotte is Emile’s wife,” I told him. “She’s almost nine months pregnant and due any minute.”
“And huge!” Paul added. Everyone laughed.
“The doctor put her on bed rest,” I continued, pointedly ignoring everyone as I looked at Clark. “Otherwise, nothing much else could keep her from being here.”
“Ah,” Clark said, as if understanding.
We chatted for a while longer, just snippets of conversation here and there -- about Emile’s impending fatherhood and the changes that would bring, Paul’s troubles at work, the movie that Tom and his girlfriend had seen the night before. I watched Clark out of the corner of my eye. He joined in now and then, but mostly he sat and listened. He appeared to be enjoying himself, and I was glad. After a while, Emile pushed back from the table.
“Well, guys,” he announced. “Time to get started.”
I groaned. It seemed too soon, and I was having fun. I got up from the table. “Guess that means me, too,” I said sheepishly. Clark looked up at me in surprise.
“Kate sings for us when Charlotte’s not here,” Emile explained to Clark, also looking at me. “Will you stay and watch the show?”
I held my breath as I waited for him to answer.
“Yeah,” he said, answering Emile while still keeping his eyes on me. “My friends will be here shortly, but I’ll stay as long as I can.” He turned to Emile. “Looking forward to it.”
Emile looked questioningly at me as we made our way to the stage, but I just shook my head and smiled. I picked up my guitar and strummed a few chords, making sure it was tuned and ready to go. My heart was beating fast, and I was scared to look out into the audience. I always got a bit of stage fright before a gig, but this was a little something more.
Emile’s deep voice boomed out of the speakers as he introduced the band, and the audience clapped and cheered, the regular Thursday night crowd ready to go. Paul clicked out a few beats with his drumsticks, and we launched into the first song, the music ringing loud and fast. Paul and Tom’s regular groupies moved closer to the stage, and I saw Clark walk toward the bar, bobbing his head to the music and smiling.
It was a great set, full of energy, and I felt really alive and in tune with the music. The third song was a ballad that Charlotte had written, one of my favorites, but also the most difficult for me on the guitar. I prayed that I didn’t screw up in front of Clark, but I picked out the beginning notes with ease and launched into the first verse.
My thoughts get jumbled by the ringing in my ears.
It’s you again, my one-time friend.
I’m out of focus as your words pass through my head,
And I realize, as I close my eyes.
I still see you, I still smell you, I still dream you.
It’s hard to keep up, it’s so hard to stay strong.
Sometimes I’d take the pain, to be with you again.
A strange addiction that was never quite fulfilled.
Do you feel it now, I don’t know somehow.
I still see you, I still smell you, I still dream you.
The words continued, talking of a love that really never came to be. I knew the story behind it -- Charlotte had been a freshman in college when she’d fallen for someone who’d never really been more than a friend and she’d woven a whole song around it. It had a haunting melody that hinged on my ability to play the guitar. Luckily, I made it all of the way through, and when the closing chords sounded, the crowd applauded. I looked up to see Clark at the bar, grinning and clapping with the rest of them.
We launched into the next tune, a fast number that got the crowd rocking, when I noticed Clark had been joined by a few people. The girl I’d seen with him at the cafe on Sunday was there, with a couple of other girls who looked just as beautiful, and a few guys. They were discussing something, and Clark was pointing up to the stage. After a few more moments, everyone turned and started to head out the door. Clark looked over and gave me a wave and a shrug in apology, and then he followed them out. My heart fell, but I tried to keep my face indifferent, singing my heart out so that it doesn’t get stuck in my throat.
The rest of the set went by quickly and before I knew it, it was over. “Great set, tonight,” Emile said, pleased. The crowd had been fun, and we were still full of adrenaline as we started to pack up the gear.
“Yeah, that was great!” Paul echoed. I smiled. It had been fun, especially the part before the set started, and I secretly hoped that Clark would decide to come back another time.
“Are you all set in here?” Jim’s voice startled me, and it felt like I jumped about a foot before turning to face him. “Oops, sorry,” he apologized.
“Gosh, you scared me,” I admonished. “Guess I’m a little jumpy today.”
He walked into the conference room, where I was prepping for the client presentation. After weeks of work, the day had finally arrived, and the clients were due in about an hour. Tina was off working on some last-minute changes to our outline while I was setting up the conference room.
“Relax,” he said. “I know you’ll do fine. Let me guess? You came in this weekend, right?”
“Only on Saturday,” I replied, shaking my head. “I figured if I don’t have this together by now, I never will.”
Just then, Tina rushed in. “Okay! Here it is,” she panted, plopping down a pile of newly copied outlines.
“Were you running?” I tried to conjure up the image of her sprinting down the hall. As usual, she was a bit overdressed, in a pencil skirt and high-heeled shoes. Even Jim’s jaw dropped a little as he looked at her.
“I thought we were in a hurry,” she smiled, her perfect teeth flashing. “Anyway, now we can relax for a bit before everyone gets here. Who’s up for a coffee break?”
I hesitated for only a moment. “Okay, that sounds good. Jim?”
“Sure,” he agreed. “Anything to avoid work for a little while.”
“You guys start without me,” Tina called, as Jim and I head out of the conference room. “I’ll be there shortly. Bathroom,” she explained.
We continued to the kitchen for coffee but, when we got there, discovered the pot was empty. I frowned -- the last person who gets a cup was supposed to check the pot -- and started making a fresh pot. After I got it brewing, I turned around and leaned against the counter, arms folded, my mind racing ahead to the meeting.
“Okay, you’re supposed to be relaxing now, remember?” Jim’s voice shook me out of my daydreams.
“Right,” I nodded. I looked around for two clean coffee cups. “So, what did you do this weekend?” I asked, trying to keep my mind busy.
“Not much. Friday, I met up with a friend from college who just moved back to the city. That was fun.”
“Catching up on old times, huh?”
“Drinking, ogling girls, trying to one-up each other. What’s not to like?” He shrugged, grinning at me.
“Right,” I said. “Unless you’re the girl being ogled.”
“Relax, it was harmless, anyway. He has a girlfriend. Anyway, Saturday, I went to the gym, did laundry, boring stuff.”
“Uh, huh,” I said, now watching the brewing coffee.
“Sunday, I saw a movie with Kristen,” he added.
I looked up at him, eyebrows raised. “Oh, yeah? How did that go? So you guys are still officially an item again?"
"Maybe. I don’t know. Why do you have to ask me the hard questions? She called and asked if I wanted to see a movie. I was doing nothing, so I went along.”
I shook my head. ”She’s going to break your heart, you know,” I teased.
He smiled. “Who knows?” he shrugged. “Maybe we’ll get back together for good this time. I can totally see it.” I could tell he was watching intently for my reaction, looking for some validation, so I played it cool.
“Yeah, good idea. She’s nice.” I caught his look of surprise as I turned back to the coffee and smiled to myself. I’d heard too many sob stories from Jim, whenever Kristen decided she needed to play the field. Yet, Jim always went running back to her whenever she called. What with the great luck I’d had in my own relationships, I finally decided it was time to let Jim figure things out on his own. Maybe I’d skipped one or two of the break-up stages, going from denial to acceptance. Letting things fall where they may.
When the coffee was ready, I poured a cup for me and one for Jim and then added cream to his. I handed Jim his cup, and he held it up for a toast.
“To your presentation,” he said.
“Cheers,” I replied. I took a sip, my mind wandering back to the presentation.
After I while, I started to wonder where Tina was. She sure was taking a long time in the bathroom. I finished my coffee, said goodbye to Jim, and went to see if she was still in there. The bathroom was empty, and it was almost time for the clients to arrive. I checked our office, but she wasn’t there, either. Finally, I walked to the conference room, and there she was with our boss, Mark, and the clients! She was passing out a copy of the outline to everyone. They all looked up when I walked in, a smile frozen to my face.
“Oh, there you are, Kate,” Mark smiled.
“Hi, Kate,” Tina said from where she stood. “I was just coming to look for you.”
“Oh,” I said, trying to hide my annoyance. “Well, here I am.” Right, I thought. Coffee break, indeed. The butterflies had returned to my stomach, but I tried to push them away. I turned to the client. “Sorry to keep you waiting, Mr. Benson.”
“It’s no problem,” he said. “I had an early meeting this afternoon, so I was hoping we could get going a little early. Tina was gracious enough to get us started.” He introduced me to his two collegues and then asked if we were ready to go.
“Sure, no problem," I replied, hoping my nervousness didn’t show. Once the presentation began, however, I started to relax. This was what I had prepared for, this was what I was good at, what I loved to do. I went through the numbers with the client first. Jim had really helped me out there, showcasing his awesome finance skills. Then, I reviewed our target demographics and what magazines and other media outlets we’d be targeting. Tina jumped in on occasion, and she did a great job presenting her ideas for the new logo we’d been working on. All in all, I felt the presentation went really well, and at the end of the meeting, the client seemed happy.
“Well,” said Mr. Benson, as he turned and looked at Mark, “I think the ideas are great ones, and I’m excited to work with your company. Do you have a few minutes to chat alone?”
Mark looked pleased. “Sure, why don’t we go to my office?”
Mr. Benson looked over at us. “Great work, ladies. I look forward to working with you.” He eyed Tina for a second before he walked out of the conference room with Mark, his two collegues following behind.
“Whew!” Tina said, after they left. “What a relief!” She was grinning from ear to ear.
“I know. I can’t believe we did it!”
“This is just the beginning, you know. Now the fun part starts!” She was rubbing her hands together in anticipation of the work ahead -- photo shoots, television and other video spots, working with the client on the ad buying, working with the in-house art buyers for any pieces we needed for the ads -- all of the intricate pieces that made up the total campaign. Now that it seemed the client was in, I had to call a meeting with the whole design team and start getting some final budget numbers together.
There was so much to do that the rest of the day passed by in a blur, and everyone from the office kept stopping by to congratulate us both. Finally, about 5:00, Mark stopped in.
“Hey, guys. Great work, today.”
“He liked it?” Tina asked hopefully, as if she needed to hear it one more time.
“Yep, he loved it. Of course, they’ll be issues with the budget, and we’ll have to work out some of the other details, but all in all, it is a go.” He hesitated at the door for a moment. “Kate, I need you to stop by my office before you leave, okay?” he added before turning away.
“Sure,” I said.
My heart jumped. This was it! All of my hard work was finally going to pay off. I was so excited that I could hardly think straight when I finally walked to Mark’s office half-an-hour later. I knocked quietly on the half-open door.
“Come in,” Mark’s voice called from behind the door.
I opened the door with a smile on my face, my heart beating wildly, my palms sweating. Mark looked up from his computer and indicated the chair directly in front of his desk.
“Wow,” I said, taking a seat. “It’s finally done. Did the client have a lot of changes?”
Mark hesitated. “Not really,” he finally said. “He’s pretty much sold on the concept. He was very impressed with the work you and your team did. He was particularly impressed with the logo design -- thought it fit in very well with the image he is trying to project.”
I smiled. “Great! We debated about that one for a long while, but in the end, we went with one of the first ones Tina designed. It was nervewracking, though, making that decision.” I was nervous and excited at the same time, and I coudn’t stop talking. “We do have a few others he can look at, if he wants.”
“Yeah, we might do that. We’ll want to get started on the print ads right away. He wants coordination with his office as soon as possible.”
“Right. I’ve already called a team meeting for tomorrow to discuss the campaign.”
“Great. I’d like to be there.” He hesitated for a moment again.
I saw the look on his face. “Um, is there anything else?” I asked.
“Well . . .,” he paused. “Kate, um, the client was really impressed with the presentation.”
“Right.” I smiled. I could feel more was coming. “And. . .?”
“Well . . ., I don’t know how else to say this. He was particulary impressed with Tina.”
I wasn’t sure how to answer. “That’s good, right?”
"Well, I’ve thought about it, and I’ve decided to put Tina in charge of working with the client on this one. They really liked her style, how she came across, and so I feel like maybe she’d make a good point person.”
“But,” I paused, “Tina’s only the graphic designer on this one. She was my, my -- assistant, in a way. How can you put her in charge?”
“The client hired us because of our creativity. Tina’s a designer,” he added. “Look, I know how much you brought to this project, and I know how good you are with concepts, numbers, research. You are still a vital person to the team. We’ll need you now more than ever -- you might have to teach Tina a thing or two. But, listen, Kate. This client could be good -- no, great -- for us. And, I think I’ve got to go with what they want -- at least for now. Can you understand that?”
I swallowed hard, my face red with embarrassment. Now it was happening at work, too. Someone -- in this case, Mark -- wanted someone else -- Tina -- more than they wanted me. This time, it hurt. It really killed. This was something I had worked for for weeks. No, months! Years! And, Mark had gone along with it. Mark, who’d been, I thought, on my side. I couldn’t believe this was happening to me.
As if reading my thoughts, Mark said, “Kate, we need a team player here, okay? This isn’t about you or me or even Tina. It’s about what’s best for the company and the client. And, you know Tina will need you. We’ll need you to get this done. You’ll be working closely with her, behind the scenes. Once the client is more comfortable with us, we’ll bring you more to the forefront of things. Don’t worry,” he added with a smile. “It’ll all workout.”
I sat there for a moment, trying to gather my thoughts. “Sure,” I whispered. I bit my lips, not meeting his eyes, not wanting to look in his face for fear of crying. “Sure,” I said again after a moment, finally raising my head. “I understand. Right. A team player. I can be that,” I said quietly.
He smiled and leaned back in his chair, crossing his hands across his chest. “That’s my girl.”
I stood up quickly to make my way out of his office, not wanting to be around people just then. When I reached the door, he called after me.
“Kate, thanks a lot. Really great work. I’ll see you in the staff meeting tomorrow, okay?”
I looked back from where I stood, one hand on the door, “Right. Tomorrow.”
I could barely think straight as I grabbed my bag from the office. It was quiet; most people, including Tina, had left for the day. I felt dazed as I made my way outside and to the subway, barely watching where I was going and almost getting hit by a bike messenger on the way.
Once on the subway, I was lucky enough to find a seat, and I sat, feeling numb as the subway headed uptown. I tried to tell myself that I was feeling silly. After all, it was my hard work that had secured the client. It would be my hard work that would continue to keep the client happy. Mark, the other partners, the client, they’d all come around and see just how important I am. I would get that promotion.
Hard work. I could feel myself getting less numb and more angry as I got off the subway and made my way home. I groaned when I thought about how much time and energy I’d put into the project, how many hours I’d spent, coming up with ideas, going over the details, getting ready. So, they chose the pretty girl over the smart one. I laughed bitterly to myself, as I felt the tears coming to my eyes.
Isn’t that always how it is? I thought to myself. They’ll see. Once things get going, they’ll see. It will all work out in the end. It has to.
By the time I reached my street, the tears were flowing pretty freely. I kept my head down, wiping away the tears with my fingers as I walked down the street. I could barely see where I was going, so when I bumped into someone along the way, I mumbled a quick apology and continued on my way.
“Kate, is that you?” the voice called again.
I turned around. Clark was standing just a few feet away from me, an expression of concern on his face. I wiped away a few more tears and tried to put on a neutral expression as he walked toward me. I could tell by the look on his face that I wasn’t very successful.
“Are you alright?” he asked, his brows furrowed.
I nodded in reply. “Um hum.”
“Are you sure?” His expression was doubtful.
“Sure, I’m f--,” was all I managed to get out before the tears started again.
Clark stood in shocked silence, then said, “Boy, you look like you could use a drink.”