Across town from where Elloree sat listening to the chatter in the Art League meeting, Mark Williams replaced his phone receiver and stared at it. He had picked it up only to put it down again several times during the last few minutes. It was Saturday morning, and his empty offices were coldly deserted, the heavy silence at once a relief and oppression to him. His old, walnut desk was strewn with unopened mail and unanswered memos, but he sat drumming his fingers impatiently on the work-worn wood.
“Oh hell,” he muttered to himself. “I promised I’d leave her alone and let her make her own decision, but damn it, it’s a crime for her to even think of passing up this chance.”
At forty-five, Mark Williams had a rugged rather than handsome appearance. Even in an expensive, perfectly tailored suit he managed to look slightly disheveled. Thick but already graying hair framed a keenly intelligent face lined and hardened by years of fighting for his business survival. Although only of average height, his broad shoulders and determined air made him appear much taller. Mark Williams had never wasted much time worrying over his appearance or his appeal to women. He had always been singularly driven by his fierce desire to build his company, Wishes Inc., into a respected, international competitor, and everything else in his life had come second.
He whirled his well-worn, burgundy, leather office chair around and faced the window. It wasn’t a pretty view, but to Mark, the sprawling gray industrial area below was the real city, and he loved it. He had turned down several opportunities to move his company from this dreary, unsophisticated end of town. His wife, Sylvia, had urged him to move uptown as soon as Wishes Inc. had begun to grow, but he had stubbornly refused. To him, this was where his life was, and the real pulse of the city could be felt only here. He sat staring out on the foggy, damp cityscape lost in his thoughts of Elloree. Just as he heard the outer office door open and then click shut, he made a silent promise to himself. Somehow, he would get her to accept his offer.
“Good morning, Mr. Williams,” came the somewhat formal but pleasant interruption.
“Oh yes, Miss Mills, I forgot I asked you to come in this morning.” His thoughts came back to the present.
Joan Mills looked slightly rebuffed by his casual, forgetful tone. She had been his dedicated secretary for many years, and she was what Mark called good people, the kind it was hard to find these days—loyal, hardworking, and unattractive. Long ago, he had decided unattractiveness in a secretary was a definite virtue. Too many of his business acquaintances insisted on window-dressing their offices with voluptuous young secretaries. Their images might flatter male egos, but Mark had heard more than one story of steamy office romance gone sour. Too often, the pretty corporate playmate turned into a bitter adversary, claiming sexual harassment or crying fraudulent tax evasion to the government auditors. For Mark Williams, such entanglements brought risks that would never be worth taking. Hard work and dedication to Wishes were all that mattered in an employee. And although he insisted on total loyalty to him and to Wishes, he rewarded those around him generously when they worked hard to accomplish company goals.
This morning, Mark really looked at Miss Mills for perhaps the first time in five years. She was wearing a charcoal, pinstriped suit with flat, serviceable shoes. The drab color she wore seemed to reflect her personality. Quiet and never prone to giggles or emotional outbursts, Miss Mills was consistently efficient and paid strict attention to detail. Her monotonous wardrobe of gray skirts with matching sweaters or blouses was only occasionally varied by black or dark blue accents. Summer or winter, her shoes were the same sensible, low-heeled black leather and her hair, now streaked with silver, still hung loosely to her shoulders, as it had when she had walked through the door of Wishes on her first day.
It struck Mark this morning that Joan Mills had been unobtrusively growing older with him and Wishes, Inc. It startled him to see just how much she had aged since he’d last looked at her. Although no one could accuse Miss Mills of ever having been pretty, she had an honest, sincere character that reflected itself in her quiet, peaceful expression. Mark couldn’t help but think how funny it was that he still called her Miss Mills after all these years, but somehow it would seem almost blasphemous to even think of such an individual as simply Joan.
Miss Mills was busily preparing coffee in the adjoining room. Presently, she reappeared, cheerfully placing a steaming mug before him. The coffee and her quiet smile warmed him as always. Theirs was a special relationship, built on years of trust and mutual respect.
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Genre – Women’s fiction
Rating – PG-13