Ella took another look at herself in the mirror. The peach, silk blouse draped gently over her, managing to give her a demure, yet sexy look all at the same time. She still thought the grey pants would’ve looked much better on someone taller and slimmer about the hips. But Tilly had insisted she’d look good in those trousers and Ella had trusted her friend’s judgement.
They’d gone through her entire wardrobe yesterday, hunting for an outfit appropriate for a business meeting. Not surprisingly, they’d found nothing among the heaps of clothes they’d pulled out which fit the bill. After a hasty shopping trip, and a healthy dose of what Ella insisted was bullying, she and Tilly had put together the perfect outfit for her meeting with the Catering Manager at The Plaza.
Ella stepped into the three-inch pumps. At least they added a few precious inches to her short person. Pulling on her camel trench coat, she took a deep breath, crossed her fingers and stepped out of the apartment. Down in the lobby, she looked around, wishing James were back. Since when she’d started craving his particular brand of encouragement, she couldn’t say. But he was in Geneva, wrapping up his contract.
She pulled the sash of her coat tighter around her waist as the frigid January air assailed her and sent up a quick prayer of thanks when she spotted her Uber pulling up next to the sidewalk. There was plenty of time before her ten o’clock appointment, but the traffic in Manhattan was a beast even at off-peak times. At a quarter past nine in the morning on a weekday, it was a cannibal - eating up car after car in the soupy traffic that clogged the streets. She’d thought it a feat when she got into the Uber in under five seconds and yet apparently she’d been too slow, earning herself a couple of rudely put suggestions to get moving.
Despite the unholy traffic, the there-to-kill slippery roads, and the incessant stops and starts, the driver pulled up along the majestic circular drive of The Plaza with ten minutes to spare. It was only about a mile from her home - something she’d have most definitely walked on any other day - and made it here in the same amount of time. But today, she needed to keep all her short but laboriously styled hair in place. Hence the procession through the unmoving traffic.
With a relieved smile, she included a generous tip and paid the driver. “Thank you. That must not have been a pleasant ride as a driver.”
The slim woman at the wheel shrugged, “You get used to it. Good luck. And thanks for the tip.”
Ella chuckled, “That obvious?”
The woman smiled, “You could’ve passed for an employee here, if not for the fidgeting.”
“Thank you. Have a nice day.” There was something about the young woman that made Ella want to be friends with her, but now wasn’t the time. So, with a nod, Ella turned as did the driver.
Maria Gonzales was a trim, tall, beautiful woman who wouldn’t have looked out of place on a catwalk. She was also warm and welcoming as she led Ella into the small room that served as her office. It had been a long walk from the reception in the lobby to this spot in the belly of one of New York City’s most iconic hotels.
When Ella had stayed here as a guest with Christian, she hadn’t even thought of the offices of the people who kept the giant establishment working. Now she knew the working areas were far less luxurious. Maria’s ‘office’ was a tiny room, not much larger than the little galley kitchen at Sugar & Salt. Her desk, though neat, was stacked with papers. It was at a stage where no amount of organisation and neatness could salvage it.
“I hope the traffic wasn’t too bad?” Maria enquired as she closed the door to enclose them in the tiny room.
“Not any worse than usual,” Ella conceded.
Maria chuckled as she took her seat behind her desk and motioned for Ella to settle down also. “Would you like a drink? Coffee? Juice?” She asked, her hand already on the phone on her desk.
“Water will be good, thank you.”
Maria relayed her order for a coffee and water to the person on the other side of the phone and turned her dark-brown eyes fringed with thick, velvety, black eyelashes to Ella.
“So...I’m glad you could make it today. As I mentioned on the phone on Monday, we have a welcome hamper that goes out to all the suites and other select rooms. It is usually a collection of fresh fruit, nuts and freshly baked goods,” she began.
A soft knock on the door was followed by muffled footsteps as a young woman brought in a cup of coffee and glass full of water on a tray. Quietly, she placed the drink in front of Maria and Ella and left with a polite smile.
Maria continued, “The hamper contents need a change and we are discussing with new vendors.” She waited to take a sip of coffee.
Ella nodded, waiting for Maria to continue. In under a quarter of an hour, Maria had effectively and efficiently laid out the details of what was expected of the vendors, how they were paid and the length of the contract.
“I know this is a lot to take in and obviously I don’t expect a decision right away. Take this contract, study it, maybe show it to your lawyer if you wish, and feel free to come back to me if you have any issues,” Maria said, pushing a folder towards Ella.
“Well, it is a lot to take in,” Ella began. She picked up the contract, “It’s probably in here already, but what about the menu? I mean, do you dictate what sort of baked goods go in the hamper?”
“Not really, as long as you provide us with a list of products that you intend to send, along with the ingredients and nutrition information.”
Ella nodded. “That’s great. I do have quite a few more questions, but maybe I’ll just go through this first,” she said, tapping on the thick folder.
“That’s a good idea. How about we catch up again next week. By then, you’ll have had time to go through it and we can discuss further,” Maria suggested.
“Sounds good to me. There’s just one thing. On the phone you mentioned that someone recommended us. Do you mind sharing who it was? I’d love to thank them.”
A wide smile lit up Maria’s face, showing off her gleaming white teeth. “Why not. I am sure he wouldn’t mind. It was my ex-boyfriend. In fact, did you know he owns the building where you have your coffee shop?”
Ella gaped, “You mean James? James O’Connor? He told you about me, my coffee shop?”
Maria nodded, “Yes. Of course, I didn’t take him at his word. I came down a couple of times and tried some of your stuff. By the way, I love the Japanese pancakes! I’d never had such fluffy yumminess before.”
“Ah! That’s why you looked familiar!” Ella exclaimed.
Maria winked and gave a lop-sided smile, “Yep.”
Ella managed to hold on to her relaxed smile, at least she hoped she did, until she’d said her goodbyes and was out of the hotel. For a moment she thought about calling for another Uber. But she needed to walk, clear her head of the fury that was swirling like a dark cloud over her head.
The least he could’ve done was tell her he’d used his wiles to get his ex-girlfriend to consider her for the contract that could be the biggest thing that had happened to the business since Ella’d started it. She didn’t need anyone’s crutch to make her business grow. And she was going to make it clear to James the moment he returned back from Geneva. She wasn’t about to let another man make her decisions for her. Her fledgling business might make it or it may not make it, but it’d be with her own work. She didn’t need anyone’s, least of all James’s help, thank you very much!
In her fury, Ella strode on, oblivious to the large bulk of a man who pulled a woollen hat close over his ears and matched his step to hers.