Cassandra stretched out from underneath her sheets, pushing them off her body as she pulled herself up straight against the headboard. The young girl whispered apologetically at the noise she made, not that it was what woke her up, but she didn’t have the voice to say so. She just watched quietly, her cheek resting against her knee. Her morning tray sat on her side table, the fresh smell of tea wafting through the air.
She shuffled to her balcony, wrapping her arm around her waist, looking over her home in silence. The colours of dawn, a brilliant yellow and underlying orange, was slowly fading as the blues of the sky become more prominent. Cassandra sucked in a deep breath, enjoying the warmth of the rising sun on her face. She waved at some of the gardeners who noticed her, and they smiled back in greeting before falling back into their work.
Nothing had changed since she left Santa Montes a month ago, but things didn’t feel the same. Her biggest competitor died a few weeks after she left. A stroke, she heard it was. His son, a man she heard of only a handful of times, had flown back into the city to take over the business she intended to buy. The long-planned redecoration finally hit its peak, and she returned to a completely refurbished house. Her mom had gone on a trip herself, so Cassandra was all alone in her home.
The changes weren’t wildly life-changing, but with the life she led, it was impactful.
Cassandra leaned against the rails, dropping her head down in thought. Another thing that changed was her morning routine. They were so different in the past. There was a time, not too long ago, she woke up to a short message from her fiancé. He would wish her a good day or compliment her simply to brighten the start of her day. She used to wake up in the mornings to slip an engagement ring on her finger. It had become so much of a habit that she couldn’t even remember how she stopped doing it.
Cassandra sighed, massaging the back of her neck unconsciously. She turned away from the balcony to begin her day. She was never very comfortable with vacation days or stepping out of the office for long periods. After one month away, she was more than ready to get back to the heat of things.
“Morning Miss Hernández.” Her chauffeur smiled, hurrying ahead of her to hold the door open as she climbed into the back seat. The door slammed, the engine revved, and they were on their way.
The skies overhead were fully awake now as dawn had faded away, the sun rising fully over the sky. Santa Montes was a city filled with skyscrapers of different sizes and shapes, it was one of the many things that made the drive to work enthralling. The tall buildings with windows reflecting the bright sun and the light blue of the sky above them. As her car rolled through the streets, she listened to the busy day unfold, the honking of cars cruising through the tight roads, the low hum of voices from the people conversing on the sidewalk.
She had lived in Santa Montes all her life, so there was no street she didn’t know and no business she wasn’t aware of. She grew up admiring the tall buildings, wondering if she would ever make it up there as her father had. In the end, she made it up there but fell short in other areas of her dreams.
She exhaled noiselessly and looked up from her fingers. She unintentionally traced the shape of her ring finger as she looked out the window. It had taken a few weeks for the ring’s imprint to fade away, but the mark on her heart from that day didn’t.
Her lips pursed as she shook her fingers out, she was changing things, memories included.
The door clicked, her head snapped around as her chauffer pulled the door open for her to step out. She took the hand he offered, muttering her thanks distractedly while she reached for her purse.
Placer De Cuerpo had been her pride and joy for eight years. It hadn’t always been successful, especially when she started, reluctant to have any sort of aid from her father. It wasn’t as a form of rebellion but for the joy of relying on her strengths to get to where she wanted. Her parents had been proud of her, their pride built her ladder which, she consistently climbed until she was at the top of not only the tall buildings she admired as a child but the business as well.
“You are early.” Julia, her assistant, smiled, straining her words for emphasis. She stepped closer to pull Cassandra into an awkwardly placed hug as she held some folders against her chest. Her tone was accusing, but her smile was teasing and wide. “You shouldn’t be this early.”
“Says the woman that is already here.”
“True, but unlike “the woman that is already here”, you don’t know how to take vacations.”
Cassandra turned on her heel, using her back to push against the large doors of her office, so Julia could see her roll her eyes. When she turned around, she found a whole new office staring back at her. Julia stood by the door, anxiously waiting for Cassandra to take in the new outlook of her office.
Her desk was now a large L shaped executive desk that sat backing the glass window at the back of her office. The cream-coloured couch was replaced with a white linen sofa with a polished cocktail table in front of it.
“Well,” Julia prompted, walking in as Cassandra stepped further into the room. “Is it what you wanted?”
She looked down at her feet, watching her white platform heels pace over woollen carpet tiles. When she met Julia’s eyes again, she nodded. “It is better than I imagined. You are amazing.”
“I am glad this made your day.” She waited for Cassandra to sit before putting the folders down. “Your coffee is on its way up, but you need to read this. They refused to sell.”
Cassandra paused, her purse hovering just above the floor, shock registering on her face, but she quickly smoothened out her expression. She slid her seat closer to the desk and turned the folders around to face her, quickly turning the pages and reading carefully.
For over a year, she tried to purchase the failing company of one of her biggest rivals in the business. Herald Clark had been as formidable an opponent like any other, but his pride was what made him different. No matter what she offered, no matter how his company changed—for the worst—he refused to sell it to her. Or to anyone else. She sent her final offer a few days before he died, and she had been so sure she wouldn’t get a reply for a long time, yet, here it was.
“This is the best offer they might or would ever get for this company. Maybe,” she sighed, resting her head against her palm as she began to ponder over the situation. “I mean, I understand why they wouldn’t want to sell the company, more so now. It is all they have left of him, but maybe they would change their mind in the long run.”
“Doubtful.” Another file hit the desk, and Cassandra looked down at it sceptically. “His son, Harrison Clark, flew in for his burial and has stayed since. He took over the company and is working overtime to get it back on its feet. He is the one that refused to sell.”
“Him? From what I know, he doesn’t even live in Santa Montes. I thought he would be more than grateful to have the business taken off his hands?”
“Doesn’t look like it. Much less with all he has invested in the company. I didn’t want to give you the information earlier because I know you. You would have run back here like he was coming for your company. The company started producing over a week ago, it seems that he is sticking the original products”
Cassandra pushed to her feet, the loose material of her baggy trousers swaying as she walked. “What else do we know about him. I can barely remember him because for as long as I knew Herald Clark, his son was not too present in the picture.”
“True. I don’t know much of anything but, if it interests you, then I can start looking in, so we know what we are working with.” Julia walked up to her, folding her arms to mirror Cassandra’s stance. Her voice dropped an octave lower and a warning tone filtered through her voice. “The one thing I think we can accept is that you might never acquire that building.”
Cassandra shook her head doubtfully. When she started her company, she had faced so many problems and setbacks that the temptation to give up was potent. Love for what she wanted to achieve was her strongest motivation. There was no promise that Harrison Clark had the same drive. He had flown in for his father’s funeral, and though the late Mr Clark had been passionate about his business, there was assurance that his son was the same.
“No, I doubt it, Santa Montes is a very competitive place, especially for growing businesses. Without the motivation, he might decide to pack up and return to where he is comfortable. Once the pain of what he lost recedes, he might reconsider.”
“Cassandra, pain is a powerful motivator, especially when it’s paired with love and respect, both of which he had for his father. Harrison Clark would not easily sell the company his father had lived for. It might not be the job he wanted, but he is determined. This is his father’s legacy, a man he, I think, idolized. If his father refused to sell, I don’t think the son would sell one of the few things the man was proud of.”
“I thought you said you didn’t know much about him?”
“I don’t, not the things you want to hear anyway, but I have been dutifully following his progress since he rejected your offer. I have my eyes and ears in very strategic places.”
Julia was a very resourceful woman, so Cassandra could easily believe that she knew a lot. They had met three years after her company had started up, at a conference in Zambia. Julia’s light attitude and careful wit charmed Cassandra immediately, and she quickly prepositioned Julia with the position as her assistant. Julia was employed at the time so it took her a while before she joined the business, but the wait was worth it when scaled against all that she brought along.
“Then what have you heard?”
“He has been working double time. The name of the company, which is common knowledge, was changed to ‘Bold and Lewd’. He has also reached out to the stores his father owned and a few malls to make deals with them to reopen the ones that were closed and restock the ones that are still open. He has some shows planned to put out some new designs.”
Cassandra prided herself on being a good judge of character, but her intuition had failed her many times in the past. Especially when she was more than certain she was right. It had cost her in the past, she traced her ring finger again out of habit before forcing herself out of the memory. She could not allow her judgment to be wrong when it came to her work. The biggest threats were sometimes the ones that looked most harmless. If she underestimated him because he was a fresh face in a failing company, he might become her worst nightmare.
She palmed her face and screamed into her palm. Her pacing picked up again while Julia took a seat at the desk and watched her in silence. Her aching passion to win was always something she never seemed to be able to explain to people. So many names she had acquired the last four years, she could barely remember them all, but they left an impression. The names went from teasing to funny, and a few going over the barrier of being harsh still, none of them fazed her. She was all of those things they claimed and more, with pride. Winning was what she knew how to do best.
“I want to know everything.” She turned to the window as she spoke, looking down at the city, watching the cars drive through the roads. “Everything that might be useful. He might not be someone I should worry about yet, but I would still like to be in the know, just in case.”
“Julia,” she called, but she didn’t turn from the window.
“Aside from this, is there anything else?”
Julia sighed, and Cassandra turned at her hesitation. “There is a lot you have to catch up on. Your doctor did call though, you have missed your regular check-ups, and he doesn’t want to involve your mother. I highly doubt that you want that as well. I set up an appointment for later this week.”
“The rest,” she patted the folders on the desks. “Are in here. You have a lot to catch up on, but I will pretend you weren’t working on some of these during your vacation. Your first meeting today is at ten, so you have time before then.”
“I’ll check on it.” Julia threw back as she sashayed out of the room, pulling the door shut.
Cassandra stared out at the closed door for a while before she closed the folder she had opened. She picked them up and walked over to the sofa, sitting down with a sigh. Cassandra wasn’t sure how she knew, but she could tell that whatever happened with that company, she was in for a long journey.
There was no way she would let a setback change her entire day. There was no way of knowing how it would turn out, so she didn’t have to worry too much. Like with everything else, she would watch and wait patiently until the right time presented itself. If it became a challenge in the future, she would welcome it. She thrived on competition.
She looked out the window from her spot on thecouch. From the seat, she could see more than a handful of skyscrapers. Each timeshe looked out, she counted them in a solemn reminder to herself that no matterwhat happened, she had to remain at the top. Not for the fame or recognitionbut because it was all she had for herself.