“Are you even listening to me? I feel like you’re not listening to me.”
“I have to shake hands with all the important people, especially Samuel Newton because he’s a potential donor. I have to put on the charm and make sure we raise at least three quarters of the ridiculous target that’s been set.”
“You see, you always do this. You say things back to me perfectly, and then we get to an event and you just wing everything. I don’t even know why I bother with you sometimes.”
Turning on the very same charm he had to harness on that day, Maxwell turned to her. “Because you love me and you know that without you, I’m a dead man.”
Lyra rolled her eyes, no doubt unmoved by his words. “That doesn’t work on me Reyes.”
“But you admit it works,” Maxwell teased.
With a blank stare perfectly executed in his direction, she turned to leave the room, leaving him to finish up. He positioned his tie and grabbed his stuff before heading downstairs where he could hear his best friend schmoozing some poor client into conducting business with him.
Despite her irritation with him, Lyra handed him his smoothie when he got to the kitchen. He took it from her before nudging her, and he got the result he wanted as she flashed him a small smile.
She loved him too much to stay mad at him.
“I’m warning you Max. This is an important event for the foundation. It’s not one of your business things. Please take it seriously,” she pleaded.
He gave her the sincerest smile he could muster. “I promise. This was important to my mom. I won’t be adding any Maxwell Reyes flavour to it. It’s all about Vivian Reyes and her legacy.”
Her eyes softened at the mention of his mother like they always do. “She’s looking down and she’s proud of you. I’m sure of it.”
“Thanks. I’d better get going if I’m going to get to everything on time today. I wonder if I’ll have time to squeeze in a consultation,” he mused.
“I would be genuinely stunned if you did. You already work so much,” she chided.
He shrugged. “You can’t have the money and titles that I do without working like I do.”
“And I get it, but how are you going to shift everything around when Remi gets here?” she asked.
“I will figure it out. I’m trying to push as much work as I can before then. Besides, I have you guys. Do I need anything else?” he joked.
That earned him a stern look. “You know we’re trying for one of our own. You need to find a woman to do this life thing with you.”
He kissed her cheek once he realized that Dexter would not be ending his call soon. “Again, I have you guys. Tell that husband of yours that I’ll see him later.”
He didn’t give her the chance at a comeback, instead heading out to his car. With it having come back from a wash just the day before, the sleekness was emphasized even more as the sun shone down on it.
He got on his way to a meeting he wasn’t overly excited about, considering he was going to be stuck in a room with his persistent ex – but she always knew that his weakness was a good business deal.
She’d managed to convince her bosses that he was the solution to a problem they had, and now she had to convince him of the fact.
He sat in traffic, thinking about what the day represented. While they were honouring his mother with a section at her favourite hospital, his thoughts drifted to that day, almost seven years ago – the day she left.
His hand automatically moved to his chest as it tightened. Thinking about her always had him feeling like this. No matter how much time had passed, she still had a hold on him that he simply couldn’t shake.
And didn’t want to.
When she left, he was distraught, but he could never bring himself to hate her, or move on from her. He’d tried, anyone around him could attest to that, but it was never the same – he was never the same.
His trip down memory lane was cut off by the GPS alerting him that he’d arrived at his destination. While the city was his home, he’d been away for four years, so he needed some help navigating some of these places.
He parked his car in the visitor’s section, before heading into the building. The board ahead of him let him know which floor he needed to head to, and soon enough he’d arrived. The whole place was chaotic, and he wasn’t quite sure where to go.
He turned to find his ex heading his way. Kendall Anson had always been beautiful, and she didn’t look any different as she sauntered towards him, stylishly dressed in a fuchsia dress and matching heels.
“What’s going on here?” he asked her.
She shot him a look. “I haven’t seen you in three years and that’s the first thing you say to me?”
He sighed, slightly annoyed. “I’m not here to catch up with you Kendall. Tell me why I’m here.”
She wouldn’t ever admit that his coldness actually hurt her. “Follow me.”
They headed towards her office, and the more chaos they passed, the more Maxwell started to get anxious about why he’d been called in. They reached her office and it was barely decorated, with some boxes laying around the office.
“Did you just move into this place?” he questioned.
She pointed towards the chair before her. “It’s all a part of why I recommended you for this.”
He took a seat. “Recommended me for what?”
“Max, these are the headquarters of Lockhart Bank. They moved while you were gone, and right now, everything is a mess,” she started off.
He knew that this was the part where he needed to pay attention. “Define mess.”
“Ciaran fucked up some deal, and now people have lost their monies. There are lawsuits coming in from all directions, and public trust in the bank has gone to shit. The bank’s stocks are in freefall, and without the right help, they could face closure,” she got to it.
“And you told them I could fix everything,” he caught on.
She shrugged. “You’re the best in the game. If anyone can save this place, you can. I was recruited to be a part of the team that fixes things up. There are a couple of well-known people they’ve recruited, and you’ll meet them if you agree. They hadn’t found a leader yet, and that’s when I recommended you.”
He wasn’t completely on board. “How long are they looking to have a plan in place for?”
“They would prefer to have everything back to normal within a year, despite the rest of the team and I telling them that a year might be too short a time to fix the mess that was made here,” she replied.
His thoughts immediately drifted to Remi.
It had been a long and complicated process to have the adoption agency agree to let him adopt, and he wasn’t sure if taking on a project like this one would be wise with him about to become a father.
“I was expecting you to agree right away,” Kendall admitted.
“There are some logistics I need to figure out first. I can’t give you an answer right now,” he said honestly.
“Alright, that’s fair. I’ll email you the list of people who are being brought on board. You can run a background check on them and see if that changes your mind.”
He was gone not too long after that, and Kendall had no choice but to retreat to her office, disappointed. She’d put in an effort with her outfit, picking her best perfume, and yet the man didn’t even bother with a single compliment her way.
She stood at the window, looking out at the city. When this opportunity landed on her lap, she wasn’t sure about taking it, until she heard through the social grapevines that Maxwell was making a return to New York.
The opportunity suddenly seemed perfect enough to draw him back into her life, but after the meeting they’d just had, she wasn’t too sure. It had been three years since they’d broken up, and she was still left without any answers.
They’d dated all through their senior year in high school, and the first year of college, until Maxwell wanted nothing to do with her. Try as she may, she never learnt why he’d unexpectedly changed his mind about them.
When she saw him again five years ago, she thought they could pick up where they’d left off. He was single, and so was she, but a year into their reunion, he made the decision to leave New York. She followed him, but after two years of being in an isolated relationship, she realized that she was lonely.
She let him go, keeping track of his life from the sidelines. She watched as his career skyrocketed, earning him respect as a venture capitalist, and crisis manager. He was the biggest corporate fixer in the game.
So, it was only natural that she’d be curious about how things would play out this time round.
But as she stood there, playing their meeting over and over in her head, she realized that she may have just lost him forever – a realization she wasn’t sure she agreed with entirely. She had to give things one more shot.
She had to win him over.
Maxwell reached his newly decorated penthouse and headed over to his new office. He’d spent the night over at Dexter and Lyra’s place after they’d gone out for celebratory drinks, so he hadn’t had the chance to tour his new place.
He fired up his laptop, making himself a cup of coffee as it booted. He was going through the schedule in his head, and with what Kendall had proposed, he realized that he wouldn’t be able to fit in a consultation after all.
He needed to verify everything he’d found out.
Coffee in hand, he headed back to his desk and fired up his search engine. For the next two hours, he was immersed in research to do with Lockhart Bank. Kendall had put the situation lightly.
The bank was a bomb waiting to go off.
Ciaran Lockhart was at the centre of the mess, and he’d conveniently disappeared. His father and CEO of the bank, George Lockhart, was mum about his son’s whereabouts, and Maxwell had already identified his biggest obstacles should he take on the project.
“I don’t know how she knew you’d possibly be late, but I’m glad she sent me.”
Maxwell looked up to find his best friend leaning on the doorway. He hadn’t seen Adrian since they’d parted ways in Greece the month before. Adrian had stayed behind to wrap up their business deals while Maxwell attended to the call about his adoption process.
“A new project just landed on my lap,” Maxwell defended.
Adrian was confused. “I thought we agreed not to take on any new projects so that you can focus on Remi.”
“I didn’t say I’ve taken it up yet,” Maxwell argued.
Adrian scoffed. “We’ve been best friends our whole lives. I know what that look on your face means.”
Maxwell got up and walked to his room, Adrian following after him. “Are you aware of the situation with the Lockhart’s?”
“Ciaran scammed a bunch of people and now they are calling for the bank to close,” Adrian recalled.
“They’re recruiting a team to fix the mess, and Kendall suggested me to them,” Maxwell informed.
Adrian rolled his eyes at that information. “Of course, she did.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Maxwell asked.
Adrian shrugged. “It means we’re not about to have a fight over this because I’m going to tell you that she wants you back, and you’ll deny it. I’ll try to use this case as evidence that she’s working to get you back, which you’ll again deny because why would she try and get you back after your relationship failed twice already?”
“You’ve valiantly raised great points on both our behalf’s,” Maxwell taunted.
Adrian sighed. “All I’m saying is that you should be careful. That woman knows your weaknesses, and she’s really good at exploiting them too. You’re going to think about this project and be tempted to take it, and all I’m saying is that you make sure you’re ready for what that potentially means.”
“How late are we for the ceremony?”
Adrian shook his head, knowing that try as he may, his words had possibly fallen on deaf ears. It wouldn’t be the first time, and it certainly wouldn’t be the last. He’d been there for Maxwell through everything – good and bad.
They weren’t late at all for the ribbon cutting ceremony, but Lyra still sent her brother as reassurance that Maxwell would make it on time. Since he was already dressed, it was a case of waiting for Maxwell to get ready.
Maxwell didn’t take long to get ready, and they were on their way shortly after. It wasn’t that long a drive, and upon arrival, they spotted the cars belonging to the press. The big red ribbon was placed in front of the doors, and the guests had already started arriving.
“Thank you big brother for making sure he got here on time,” Lyra teased as the two of them approached her.
“Anything for my little sister,” Adrian played along.
“I am not some toddler who needs to be managed,” Maxwell grumbled.
“That is a strong matter of opinion,” Dexter said upon arrival.
His wife looked over at him, surprised. “I thought you weren’t going to make it.”
“I heard there might be a storm so I cancelled my meetings to be here,” Dexter informed.
“A storm? What storm?” Maxwell asked.
Dexter pushed his glasses up. “It’s apparently heading up from the west coast. Flights have already been delayed from there. They predict it might reach us tonight.”
“That’s a quick moving storm if that’s true,” Adrian commented.
“Global warming, I guess,” Dexter said nonchalantly.
Lyra was a little stressed by the news. “I hope that doesn’t mess with the event.”
Maxwell scowled. “I thought we were just cutting the ribbon and calling it a day?”
Lyra glared at him. “I could’ve sworn you said you knew what today was about. Where did you think you were meant to ‘charm Samuel Newton’?”
Maxwell laughed nervously. “Uh, right here?”
Lyra released a sound of frustration. “Somebody get him clued up before I lose it.”
She stormed off and Maxwell realized he’d screwed up. “What exactly is happening?”
“The ribbon cutting ceremony isn’t going to be as short as you would think. There’s a whole presentation before it. Plus, some kids are being brought in. Apparently, the foundation has helped them in one way or the other, so they’re going to show the donors where their money has been going type of thing. From there, the event moves inside for an auction,” Dexter explained as best as he could remember.
Adrian chuckled as he handed Maxwell a piece of paper. “Here’s the full program.”
Maxwell read over it in its entirety. While he’d thought the event to be small, it was anything but. They were fully celebrating his mother as the philanthropist she had been, and the work she’d achieved through the foundation.
“Well then, that explains why I’m in a tux and not a suit,” he joked when he was done.
Dexter and Adrian laughed along. “You’re just lucky that you’re a naturally born charmer. You’ll follow the program with ease.”
“I guess it would be unwise to mention that I’d made plans for tonight,” Maxwell noted.
Dexter patted his shoulder. “Not if you hope to make it out of here alive.”
As they were standing there, talking, two buses pulled up. The little kids stepped out of the one bus, guided by their teacher, while the other bus had entertainers for the event, clowns included.
One of the little girls saw the clowns and screamed, running away from them, heading straight for the three men. She ended up barrelling into Maxwell, before hiding behind his legs.
Baffled, Maxwell looked behind him at the little girl who was using him as a shield. She had sheer terror in her eyes, and he wondered what had her so shaken. He looked in the direction of her gaze and landed on the clowns.
He himself, wasn’t a fan of them – he’d always found them to be creepy.
Aware of the attention on him brought on by the terrified child, he squatted down to her level. “Hey there.”
A trembling lip and shiny eyes tore at his heart as she looked his way. “I’m scared of clowns.”
It was the smallest whisper, but he’d heard her just fine. “Do you want to know a secret?”
She nodded, a tear falling down her cheek. “Yeah.”
He reached out to wipe away the tear as more of them fell. “I’m also scared of them.”
“Oh my goodness! I’m so sorry Mr Reyes. I don’t know what’s gotten into her!” the panicked teacher rushed over to them.
Maxwell ignored her, instead picking the little girl up in his arms. She didn’t look older than seven. She was neatly dressed in the same uniform the other kids had on, and her curly hair was tied in two tight ponytails.
“What’s your name?” Maxwell asked her.
“Gabby,” she quietly replied.
He put out the hand that wasn’t holding her up to her. “Hi Gabby. I’m Max.”
She sent him a small smile, shaking his hand. “It’s nice to meet you Mr Max.”
He laughed at that before turning to the teacher. “It’s quite ok. If you don’t mind, I’d like to take her for some juice to calm her nerves.”
The teacher nodded shyly, and Maxwell walked off with the little girl towards the drinks stand. What he wasn’t aware of was that he’d unknowingly garnered good PR not only for himself, but for the event as well.
The people who had witnessed the whole incident, continued to watch him bond with the little one as she sipped from the juice box he’d handed her. The two of them sat on a bench not too far from the drinks stand, and he even managed to get her laughing.
“Max? It’s time,” Lyra interrupted.
Maxwell had gotten carried away listening to the little one tell him all about her favourite cartoon. “Are the clowns a thing?”
Lyra nodded. “She seems to be the only one scared of them. Her teacher swears she didn’t know. There’s not much we can do about them at this point since the other kids are excited to see them.”
“Aside from cutting the ribbon and schmoozing, is there anything else you need from me?” he asked.
“I mean, that’s pretty much it aside from maybe a short speech after you cut the ribbon,” Lyra noted.
“Can Gabby here cut the ribbon and stay with me the rest of the time?” he checked.
She was stunned. She’d never known her friend to be like this, and she was taken back to the phone call they had when he called to tell her that he was adopting a baby. She hadn’t called him out on it yet, but she suspected that he was going through something major that he wasn’t really talking to anyone about.
“I mean, I don’t see why not, but are you sure? She could get bored,” she pointed out.
He turned back to the little girl. “Hey Gabby, do you want to cut the ribbon and then stay with me while you’re here?”
The little girl’s face scrunched up. “Will I have to see the clowns?”
Maxwell shook his head. “Not if you stay with me.”
She nodded eagerly. “I’ll stay with you.”
Lyra couldn’t help the heartfelt emotions she had watching him pick her up. The little girl was beaming, a complete contrast from when she was terrified. She looked absolutely grateful to Maxwell, as though he were her hero.
And for the first time, Lyra believed that her friend had it in him to be a father.
Everyone, guests and press alike, gathered around for the ribbon cutting ceremony. As Dexter had mentioned, the occasion kicked off with a presentation, as well as a speech from Lyra. As the newly appointed president of the foundation, this was her first big event.
“And now I pass on to Vivian’s eldest child Maxwell, who will do the honours of cutting the ribbon,” she handed over.
Maxwell smiled, taking the scissors from her. “As you all heard from my wonderful friend, the St Catherine of Alexandria School for Girls is one of the recipients of assistance from my mother’s foundation, and so I’d like to have a special guest help me with cutting the ribbon. Everyone, this is Gabby.”
“Hi,” Gabby waved shyly, hiding behind his legs once more.
The audience greeted her back, making her smile. Maxwell guided her to the scissors, holding them with her, before they cut the ribbon together. Cheering ensued as the building doors were opened. Maxwell said a short speech of thanks before inviting everyone in.
The hall was set up for the event, and everyone headed in and sat where they were meant to. They were kicking things off with some light entertainment as waiters went around the room collecting everyone’s food orders.
As promised, Gabby stayed by Maxwell’s side the entire time. While Lyra had mentioned that she might get bored, the little one seemed entranced by the man, watching him intently as he spoke to some guests.
When the time came for the clowns to perform for the kids, Maxwell excused himself, taking Gabby back outside to the bench. The weather had significantly changed with the skies darkening, and he took off his jacket and put it around her.
She giggled at how big the jacket was on her. “I can’t see my arms.”
Maxwell laughed too. “You look adorable.”
“The clouds look scary,” she commented, looking up at the sky.
He nodded. “There’s a storm coming.”
She was instantly concerned. “Will my mommy come and fetch me? I’m scared of storms.”
“I don’t know princess,” he replied honestly.
She huffed, arms crossed. “If she doesn’t fetch me, can I stay with you?”
“I’m sure she’ll make it,” he instead responded.
The little one was visibly disappointed, but she nodded nonetheless. Lyra watched them chatting from afar. She’d just been notified that for their safety, the girls’ parents would be fetching them straight from the hospital to take them home.
The teacher had just gotten in touch with Gabby’s mother. “Her mother’s stuck in LA, and her aunt is also stuck outside of town because of the storm. I’ve just been told that Gabby’s godmother should be able to pick her up.”
Lyra nodded in understanding and went back inside as they started to clean up. The event had to be cut short because of the storm warning, and the guests had begun to leave. Within the hour, most of the children had been picked up, and the cleaning crew was almost done.
Maxwell had moved him and Gabby back inside the building and gotten her a cup of hot chocolate when her teacher approached him. “Mr Reyes, I didn’t get to introduce myself earlier. My name is Dina Suarez, and I’m Gabby’s teacher.”
“It’s lovely to meet you Ms Suarez. How come you’re still here?” he asked.
“I can’t leave until all the kids are gone, and Gabby here is the only one left. There’s apparently been a massive accident on the highway and her godmother’s stuck in that traffic,” Dina explained.
“That’s terrible! Is she still on the way here?” Lyra asked, having overheard. Adrian had left to attend to some business, while Dexter also joined them.
Dina nodded. “She’s the only person available to take care of Gabby right now.”
“I mean, she technically isn’t,” Maxwell commented.
“Right! Because you’ll take care of her,” Dexter taunted.
He shrugged. “Why not?”
“Oh, I don’t know. Maybe because she’s not your child? How do you expect her mother to react to a strange man taking care of her kid?” Lyra was the one to question.
“All I’m saying is that it sounds like it’s dangerous for any of us to still be here, and for her godmother to risk her life trying to get to us. My place is a few minutes from here, and if you guys stay with us, it will be less weird,” Maxwell suggested.
“If you don’t mind, I could also stay with you. I have nowhere to be, and your idea doesn’t sound too bad. I’ll explain the situation to her mother, and with me there as well, I’m sure she’ll agree that it’s the safest option for everyone right now,” Dina added.
“Thank you, Ms Suarez,” Maxwell said to her.
She smiled. “It’s no problem. I should be thanking you.”
Dina walked away, while Lyra was looking at her best friend in confusion. “What?”
“I’m perplexed as to why you’re doing this. Before Remi, I didn’t even think you liked kids, much less wanted them, and now this. I’m just wondering if you’re ok,” she confessed.
He looked towards the little one and she was falling asleep on the chair. “Is it a sin to want to protect that little girl from a storm?”
“I don’t know Max. It seems like it’s about way more than that,” she noted.
Before he could lie, Dina returned. “I couldn’t reach Gabby’s mother, but I did reach her godmother. She’s in agreement with our plan, and she said she’ll relay the message and come and get Gabby when the storm has passed.”
Maxwell beamed at that. “Perfect! We should probably get out of here then.”