IT WAS SUPPOSED TO BE BUSINESS Wasn’t it? [Part 2 of 8]
Meeting day. Ronnie’s wearing her one and only business suit, accented by a red scarf and a matching nylon computer bag hanging from her shoulder. Striding into the lobby, she checks her watch. Perfect. It’s 2:35 PM. Exactly five minutes late. Can’t seem too anxious. She crosses the Hilton lobby heading for the restaurant, which now appears to be mostly empty. The maitre d’ greets her with a hint of a French accent, and leads her to Mayor Jonathon Steadman, texting on an iPad at a table for two against the back wall. That’s right. A table for two, not a booth as planned, with space for her Mac. Instead, she sees a dating surface where every square inch is covered by chargers, bread plates, wine glasses, bread in a basket, butter and flowers. The mayor stands as she approaches. Her first words: “I thought–”
“Me too,” Jon replies, turning off his iPad. “The booth I ordered, the party never left. They put us here.” Her eyes dart back into the room. Tables are vacant all around. Big tables. And booths for four. “What?” he asks.
“How ‘bout that one over there?” She points.
“I asked. They closed the section. But there’s plenty to talk about. Please…” He gestures to her chair. With reluctance, she sits, as he lifts the bottle of white from the bucket. “May I?” He pours.
Yep, she thinks. This is a set-up. Clear and simple. But she’ll keep it confined to this space. She’ll maneuver them back to business and the next stage of design, followed by the second payment. “Ronnie?” he asks. She reconnects. “You okay?”
“Yeah. Just thinking about how I’m going to show you the site without showing you the site.”
He returns the bottle to the pool of ice, which pretty much defines the air in their bubble right now. “So tell me more about your ideas,” he says, smiling his words while lifting his glass.
“It’s sort of difficult without a reference.”
“Explain the theme, then. You know, in broad strokes.”
He knows the theme! They went over that last week, and he approved it. Or maybe he just approved her, in his mind. She drops her gaze to the menus lying on their plates. “Shouldn’t we order?”
“Oh sure. The blackened salmon…to die for.” Cardboard menus raise to eye balls. She’s glad about that. She can hide behind the list of appetizers. She starts scanning, with utter boredom. Any hunger she had shrunk with the size of this table.
“Do you think I’m a bad person?” comes the question from behind her paper wall. She lowers it.
“Why would you ask that?”
“Well you know, with the smear campaign going on. You don’t believe all that, do you?”
“I didn’t think about it,” she says, doing her best to sound convincing.
“It’s all lies. Totally manufactured. Politics, it’s gotten so dirty. And all I’m trying to do, is DO the job…and keep doing it.” He waits for agreement. There is none. “You believe me, don’t you?”
“Of course.” Up goes her menu.
“Because that’s what the new site’s about,” he continues. “Getting across that I’m real. And accessible. I care.” He takes another sip. “You don’t drink?”
Down goes her menu. “Not while working.”
“You make it sound so serious. We’re tossing ideas. Concepts. What I’m trying to get across.”
“I was briefed by Mr. Blau. And you and I discussed it last week.”
“But we didn’t finish. You need to know me as a person, because that’s what the website’s about.” He smiles again, more genuine this time. Or so it appears.
She throws a second glance back into the room. Where’s the fucking waiter? None anywhere! Her eyes return to him. He’s locked onto her face. “Mr. Steadman–”
“I’m only designing the layout. Your staff is writing the content.”
“But it’s all important! Because… You see it’s… What I’m trying to say is…” His face crinkles. “I’m losing the race.” And his gaze leaves her, with his “love me” twinkle. In fact, he’s looking sad, as he reaches for his glass and downs what’s left in it.
If there was any better time to leave, it’s now. Ronnie grabs her computer from under her chair and stands. “Mayor Steadman, I really need to show you the graphics. Your office would be a better –”
“Don’t go. I need to talk to you.”
Their waitress arrives. “How we doing here? Ready?”
“We need more time,” the mayor states, as if he’s talking to Ronnie.
“Sure thing.” Server girl scoots away, leaving Miss Stein still in escape mode next to her chair.
“Please,” Jon whispers. “I need to talk to someone…who doesn’t work for me.”
“What do you mean?”
“Someone who’s neutral, and fair…honest. I need your advice.”
“Isn’t that what wives are for?”
“Not mine. He bites his lip. “Jesus. I wish I hadn’t said that. You’ve got to keep this confidential. You have to.”
“Please sit down. Just a few minutes.” She’s not sitting. “Please.”
Wow, she thinks. He’s actually begging her, with pleading puppy dog eyes, tearing now. She wants to leave. Needs to leave. But…
“Please…” he asks again, almost inaudible.
Everything about ‘Please’ means GO. But she isn’t. She isn’t because the mayor of millions of people is asking “Front Office Appeal” to pull him out of pain. And so, against her better judgment, she returns to her seat.
“Thank you,” he mutters, in a quiet, almost quivering voice. “And I apologize for getting emotional. I don’t know why I’m feeling this way, but I am…with you.”
She says nothing. What can she say? It’s best to hear his mea culpa and then run for refuge. “Ronnie… May I call you Ronnie?” She nods. “Ronnie, you wouldn’t believe the pressure I’m under. They’re after me. They want to kill me, my family, my entire future. They want to steal my respect, my integrity, my reputation, my heart and soul. And they will stop at nothing to do it….unless…I give up. And I can’t do that. I’m fighting for my people, for a little peace of security after forty years of work, for the right to live in the home you’ve earned, for education to level the playing field, for an examination that could save a life from cancer… I’m fighting for so many who have no voice, or power, or hope… I can’t give up on them. I can’t walk away from the war. I have to stay in, even if it takes me down. And through it all, I can’t…not even once, to anyone, show how scared I am.”
“Not even your wife?”
“Especially my wife. She would shatter. And worry. And worry.” He shakes his head, eyes fixed to the menu entrees and their thirty dollar prices. “I can’t do that to her. I can’t drag her into the fire. She’s fragile. Loving, but fragile. So we don’t talk about these things.”
“She doesn’t ask?”
And now, with his head still lowered, he continues with…a sad silence, his fingers interlocked on the table as if in prayer. Not one more peep from the man who thunders impassioned oratory before millions. This white knight, this savior of the poor, is a lost little boy screaming for his mother hidden somewhere in the crowd.
And what is Ronnie now, beyond the underpaid web designer with the pretty face? Ronnie Stein, at this precious moment, is the First Mommy to the Mayor of money and power. The thought is validating. And yet, somewhere from the other world, the one where she lives in a depressing city room six floors up, comes a distant chime of clarity pointing her mind back to the picture, his picture, a cheap look-at-me invitation from a sandy volleyball game. If this man wants to be real, if he sincerely needs a confidant, he must explain that emailed photograph. Consequently, Ronnie asks the question. “Jon?”
His eyes raise to hers. “What?”
“Are you into cybersex?”
His face goes red, prompting another stretch for the bottle in the ice. He fills the glass, giving himself time to frame an answer. Swallowing, he returns her gaze. “It’s a distraction, I think. Role playing, in a harmless way. Mostly it’s meant to be a joke.”
“It isn’t funny.”
“I suppose not. Maybe it’s more about reaching out. I don’t know why I do it.”
“How many people are you reaching out to?”
“Do they meet you here for lunch?”
“I’ve never met any of them. Except you. Really, the job brought us together. I didn’t think it would end up like this. It just happened.”
She turns away, not at all convinced. He’s lying about this lunch. That’s obvious. But what about his work? Was that BS as well? Probably not. You can’t fake fear. Not like that. So the next question has to be: does she like him? Even a little? Maybe. He can be charming. But does she care about him? She’s starting to. But she’s been down this road before; a sexual advance disguised as opportunity. And if this is about sex, the job will surely crash the moment she says ‘no.’
The waitress scoots back. “Have you two decided?”
To be continued…07/29/2011
So what’s Ronnie’s next move? And the mayors? What’s your opinion about sexting and cybersex? Is it romantic, ever? What would YOU do it you were Ronnie?