“Thanks Maddie. And you’re right I didn’t. Question is… how are you gonna make it up to me?”
I drank the last of the water as he spoke.
“Make it up to you?” I asked.
“Yeah. Did you conveniently forget about me asking for another shot with you? Now that you’ve gotten the part I mean?”
I thinned my lips as he finished. The truth was I felt terrible about what I’d said to him. After all this time and everything he’d put me through, Trevor had managed to surprise me. And for once, it wasn’t in a bad way. I had a suspicion I would still regret what I was about to say, but I went ahead with it.
“Okay, Trevor. Um, can I call you later this week? I’m just busy with a bunch of stuff at the office. I really shouldn’t even be here right now.”
Trevor shoved himself up from his seat. A huge grin splashed across his face.
“Maddie, you have no idea how happy this makes me. Of course, yeah, give me a call when things settle down a bit.”
After an uneasy hug goodbye, I thanked Trevor once again for the audition and of course, the part. As I drove back across town, I felt as though I ought to be happier. When it came to getting the part, I was. Yet, my joy was bittersweet. Even though he’d assured me it wasn’t the case, I had my doubts that Trevor would keep his word and give me the part unless I did give him another chance.
For now, I’d have to trust him and hope for the best.
After a brief period of relative normalcy, Maddie started acting flaky again. The gaps between the times I’d call and when she got around to getting back to me widened as each day passed. To make matters worse, Carmen wouldn’t fess up. However, unlike the last time Maddie behaved this way, I had a feeling she wasn’t bullshitting me now. The woman really had no idea what Maddie was doing when she wasn’t around the office.
And let me tell you, that was a goddamn deal breaker for me.
Not only that, but my thoughts drifted from concerns about the damage Maddie did to the business to a much darker suspicion. Of course I didn’t think that was likely, but she’d been desperate recently and goddamn emotional. And in my experience, an emotional woman is just as likely to stray as a neglected one.
Oftentimes, even more so.
In any case, it wasn’t something I could prove at the moment, so in practical terms it didn’t matter. What did matter to me was the continued lack of focus Maddie dedicated to the business, an undertaking she’d convinced me to invest in, and I’d be damned if I’d stand by and watch her piss my money away.
Before leaving the office that afternoon, I picked up the phone to give her one more try. To my surprise, she picked up the phone instead of Carmen.
“Well, hello there.” I said. “Cat got your tongue again?”
“Hey!” she replied with a chipper tone in her voice. Frankly, her mood caught me off guard. Far from being dour, she seemed upbeat. Hell, giddy. I ignored it for the moment and instead pressed her on her disappearing act.
“What’s going on with you? Why haven’t you been returning my calls?”
“I’m sorry,” she said. “I didn’t mean anything by it. I’ve been busy. That’s all.”
She sounded sincere but something didn’t sit right and although she hadn’t come out and said so, I had a pretty good idea of what the problem might be.
You see, since my last visit, I’d put pressure on her to put together a plan to delegate a larger portion of the office management to Carmen. I wanted to free Maddie’s time up so we could expand the business into other cities around the country. We’d done so well in Los Angeles, I’d become convinced duplicating the success in other major metro areas would be a lay-down deal.
My guess was she’d been dragging her feet. I suspected as much, since she didn’t seem too enthusiastic about the idea when I proposed it. That didn’t matter to me. This was the best plan and the only way for the business to grow. I’d drag her along kicking and screaming if need be and if past history was any guide, that’s exactly what I’d have to do.
“So,” I said, as I sat in my chair. “Where do things stand with the transition plan?”
“Hmm?” she muttered, half-listening to me.
“Maddie,” I said in a firm tone.
The sound of my voice brought her attention back to our conversation.
“What?” she said. “I’m listening.”
I clenched my jaw in response to her attitude. “No, you aren’t, Maddie. Now have you gotten the transition plan together or not?”
“Yes,” she replied. “I was just finishing it up when you called.”
I’ll tell you. If I hadn’t been sitting down, I would have fallen down. In the couple of months I’d worked with her, I’d never known Maddie to put together something like this so quickly. Maybe she’d turned another corner.
“Um, good,” I replied, still in disbelief. “Send it over.”
“And what about your schedule? You’ve broken out the plan in a way that gives you maximum flexibility, so you can travel? Right? To do this correctly, you’re going to spend a good deal of time on the road, Maddie. There’s no substitute for hands on when it comes to getting things up and running.”
As I finished speaking, a noticeable silence rose between us.
“Maddie?” I said, as I pulled the phone away from my ear to see if I’d been disconnected.
“Maddie?” I repeated. “You have planned to allow for travel, correct?”
Her silence lasted for a few more seconds until, after an audible hard swallow, she replied, “Grey, I have something to tell you.”
Over the next few minutes, Maddie recounted to me the story of how she’d landed a role for an upcoming film. I listened in stunned disbelief to her as she chatted away. You could hear the joy in her voice. She was thrilled, finally getting to live her dream and all that shit, which doesn’t amount to squat in the real world.
What she failed to understand, and has since we began this enterprise together, is that this isn’t just about her. When you’re three years old, it’s normal to believe the world revolves around you. But when you’re twenty-three, well, that’s just asking for a huge fucking disappointment.
As she finished telling me her story, I realized that once again she’d put me in a position where I’d have to help her get her priorities straight. Tiresome fucking chore though it was, she left me with little choice. She was the face of this fledging brand we were building and like it or not, her dreams would have to wait.
“Maddie,” I said as I exhaled. “I am going to tell you this as plainly as I can. You will not be acting in this or any film. Do I make myself clear?”
Hardly a second passed from the time I finished speaking when she replied.
“I assumed as much from you, Grey.”
I leaned forward in my chair. “Don’t force my hand, Maddie. Trust me. You won’t like the outcome.”
“Are you threatening me, Grey?”
“Yes,” I said, as I resisted the temptation to smash the phone on my desk. “You bet your sweet ass I am. And if you don’t believe me, Maddie, try it and see what happens.”
“The hell with you, Grey,” she fired back. “You’re just upset because this is something I’m doing that you cannot control.”
She laughed as she finished speaking. As if the notion gave her utter satisfaction, she cackled in my ear with joy. I balled up my free hand until my knuckles whitened.
Her voice turned harsh as she continued. “I am doing this. We will just have to figure out something else for your grandiose expansion plans, because I refuse to back down. Do I make myself clear, Grey?”
I clenched my jaw so tight, I thought I might shatter my molars.
Mustering every ounce of self-control I could, I replied, “This is your last warning, Maddie. Do not cross me on this or…”
“No!” she yelled, interrupting me. “This is your last warning, Grey. Stop. Telling. Me. What. To. Do. Now, goodbye!”
Flabbergasted, I pulled the receiver away from my ear. Pursing my lips, I exhaled and placed the phone back down in the cradle.
Looks like it’s time for another trip to the coast.
I felt liberated, if only in a spiritual sense.
Difficult though it was, telling Grey what he could do with all his boorish behavior made me feel incredible, almost invincible. Of course, I realized there would be ramifications for my outburst. But now that I had the acting role, at least I had some leverage. He didn’t bother to call me back after I hung up on him, which, uh, was a good thing because the conversation was going nowhere.
Grey was stuck and he knew it.
He couldn’t fire me for two reasons. The first, and most obvious, was that I owned the company and the second was one of his own making. The plan we’d discussed for expansion involved a huge portion of my time, which would now be taken up by the movie role. Plain and simple, Grey would have to learn to work with me if he wanted to get his way. And for once, I had the upper hand.
It was just before six o’clock in the evening as I sat in my office going over the terms of the contract Trevor gave me for the part. As I read, the setting sun cast a glow across the entirety of my office, filling it with a burnt orange hue.