Miss Callahan Ch. 16-20

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Author’s note: We’re close to the end! There will be one installment after this one. Thanks for sticking with the story -FFF

Chapter 16

My office feels unusually quiet as I continue to stare at my computer screen, not really reading anything. It’s the same thing I’ve been doing all morning.

In the past, I’ve always been able to work through any personal turmoil I’m going through. But with this situation, I can’t seem to parse out the personal from the work because it’s all intertwined.

It doesn’t help that I got so little sleep last night. By the time I got done finalizing the exploration questions with Jackie and Michelle, it was almost ten o’clock. Once we were done, I felt like I needed to focus before today so I went to my own apartment instead of Lauren’s and now I haven’t seen her since she left my place on Monday.

She called me this morning to let me know that Altitude “leadership” thinks she should stay home during Olivia’s visit. Lauren sounded less than thrilled with the decision, but I honestly can’t blame whoever made that final call. If Olivia’s visit is just an indirect way of making contact with Lauren, then she shouldn’t be here to make it easy for her ex.

I’m also relieved for my own, biased reasons. I don’t think I could concentrate on this upcoming meeting if I knew Lauren was around. I’m already nervous enough for it.

I look at the clock on my computer and see that I only have 20 minutes until the meeting starts. Which means Olivia is probably here in the office— maybe even already in the conference room with Michelle— and I can feel the nerves in my stomach grow.

I pull out the mirror in my desk for one final look. I’m acutely aware that while I’m about the meet one of Altitude’s biggest clients, I’m also about to meet my girlfriend’s extremely beautiful ex-wife.

I usually try to dress nice for client meetings, but I can’t lie to myself and say I didn’t spend a little extra time getting ready this morning. Jackie may be able to see through my pettiness, but Michelle will just assume I’m trying for the sake of the account.

After I finish reapplying some of my lipstick, I smooth out the dark blue sleeveless blouse I’m wearing. I paired it with a pencil skirt that has won me more than one pitch and I’m happy to see that at least my appearance looks more put together than my insides feel.

“Hey,” I hear as someone say as they knock on my open office door.

Jackie is standing there uncertainly. We haven’t talked on a personal level since she left my apartment over the weekend. Normally it wouldn’t be weird for Jackie to stop by my office, especially before a client meeting, but things still feel awkward. We spent most of yesterday together but Michelle was there the whole time and this is the first time we’ve been actually alone.

“Hey,” I say back tentatively.

“They’re ready for us. Michelle sent me to get you.”

My eyes automatically snap back to the clock on my computer to confirm that I wasn’t actually late.

“Apparently, Olivia Ellison wants to start now,” Jackie adds when she can see the confusion on my face.

A wave of annoyance rolls through me but I will my face not to show it. Olivia Ellison is once again proving that she has an insatiable need to control situations. Beyond what Lauren has told me about her ex, I’ve already seen it first-hand. Not for the first time, I feel a spark of anger over her presence here. This entire meeting feels like at the worst, some kind of trap, or at best, a complete waste of time.

“Have you seen her?” I ask Jackie, not able to stop myself.

Jackie gives me a long look for a moment before she shakes her head slightly. It’s as if she’s having an internal battle on whether or not she can speak to me like a human.

“But Sarah did,” she finally says, staring around my office instead of looking into my eyes. “And you can imagine what she said,” she adds, but her voice sounds guarded and doesn’t hold her usual humor.

I’m sure I can guess what Sarah said, knowing Sarah. But I can’t help myself but ask anyway.

“What did Sarah say?”

Jackie leans against my doorway and looks down the hall before turning her head back into my office.

“That she was the hottest woman she’d ever seen.”

This time I know I can’t hide my extreme annoyance so I busy myself by putting the mirror back into my desk drawer. When I look up, Jackie’s eyes are on me. I wouldn’t say her expression is warm, but she does look softer than she has in recent days.

“Ready?” she asks.

“No. But let’s go,” I reply and move around my desk so we can head to the conference room.

I leave my phone on my desk because I’m paranoid that somehow Olivia will see Lauren’s name on it. But as I walk slowly behind Jackie, I can’t help but think about her and what she might be doing right now.

I’ve felt a sort of tension from Lauren ever since Olivia sent that text over the weekend. izmir escort Once Lauren found out about the exploratory meeting in the office, her mood didn’t improve. We both know there has to be more to Olivia being here beyond giving Altitude some account insights.

After making some calls yesterday, Michelle is pretty convinced Ellison isn’t giving any of the other agencies the same courtesy. Though, given the fact that we’re only two weeks out from the pitch itself, this meeting feels more like Olivia trying to create chaos in our process than help us.

It’s simply impossible to know what her ultimate motive is. It seems odd to me that she has come all the way to Seattle and hasn’t tried to reach out to Lauren again. But so far, that one text was the extent of her communication to Lauren.

I’m in my head by the time we reach the conference room and I almost walk past it until I see that Jackie has stopped.

When I walk the couple steps back to the door, Jackie’s brow is furrowed as she looks at me. Just like in my office she looks like she wants to say something but instead she just turns to the door and opens it.

I take one last deep breath to calm the nerves jumping around my stomach. This is just a client meeting, I remind myself. Olivia Ellison is just another prospect.

But as I enter the room, that small reminder dissolves as I come face to face with a beautiful, dark haired woman sitting at the head of the conference room table.

“Emma King and Jacqueline Silva, I presume,” she says in a low, authoritative voice. “Michelle here claims you’re the stars of this show.” A pair of dark green eyes roam up my body before coming up to stare piercingly into my own.

“Let’s see then, shall we?”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Part of the reason I’m on the development team is that I’ve always been confident in front of clients and prospects. Presenting, speaking in front of groups, or just connecting with clients one on one has always been a strength of mine. But as I stand there stupidly staring at Olivia, that’s not obvious to anyone.

“I’m not one to ever correct Michelle, so I’ll take the compliment,” Jackie says smoothly, moving over to where Olivia and another woman are sitting so she can shake their hands.

Even though Jackie and I aren’t in a good place right now, I’m still appreciative of her typical confidence because in that moment I feel unusually paralyzed. Talking about and planning for Olivia Ellison was one thing— suddenly seeing her right in front of me is an entirely different matter.

“I’m the Silva part of the equation, but you can call me Jackie. Only my mom calls me Jaqueline,” Jackie says as she shakes Olivia’s hand.

“Olivia Ellison. And this is Madeline Rosario,” Olivia says as Jackie moves over to shake the hand of the other woman sitting at the table.

“But you can call me Maddie,” the woman replies with a smile. “Only Olivia calls me Madeline.”

I see Jackie return Maddie’s smile before taking the seat next to Michelle. And it’s only then that I realize I’ve just been standing near the door, watching Jackie act like a normal human while I just stare at them. If Michelle told Olivia I was some kind of “star,” I certainly wasn’t proving it yet.

It’s not until I can feel all the eyes in the room on me that I’m able to kick myself into gear and repeat Jackie’s motions.

“Emma King,” I say as I walk over to Olivia’s side of the table and extend my hand to her.

Unlike the way she stayed seated when Jackie introduced herself, Olivia stands when I reach her. She doesn’t say anything as she takes my outstretched hand, but I can feel her eyes roam up my body again and I can’t tell if she’s checking me out, assessing me, or just trying to intimidate me.

Olivia looks exactly like the pictures I’ve seen of her, but maybe even more beautiful and I understand Sarah’s sentiment. But unlike the softness that is always simmering right under the surface of Lauren’s domineering persona, Olivia seems strangely cold and detached. When her eyes reach mine again, there is no genuine warmth there, even though she has a small smile on her face.

Needing to break the intense moment, I turn to Maddy so I can shake her hand as well.

“Nice to meet you, Emma,” Maddy says to me and her smile feels much more sincere than the one Olivia is still directing towards me.

I take the chair next to Maddy so I’m across the table from Michelle and Jackie. Olivia continues to stand at the head of the table, and as I sit down, I’m able to get a better view of the woman.

The dark green dress she’s wearing matches her eyes almost perfectly and despite my less than friendly feelings towards her, I also can’t help but notice how uniquely green they are. Unlike Lauren’s own green eyes, which are light, Olivia’s take on a much deeper hue and remind me of the evergreen forests surrounding Seattle. I can’t help but alsancak escort wonder cynically if Olivia and Lauren used to sit around comparing whose version of green is prettier.

The gold buttons of her silk dress and branded designer belt only enhance how sophisticated, and quite frankly, rich the woman looks. With her impossibly black hair, fair skin and high cheekbones, I once again think that Olivia Ellison looks like a runway model.

It’s been so long since I’ve felt this kind of burning sensation in my stomach that for a moment, I don’t realize it’s jealousy. In any normal circumstance, I would look at someone like Olivia and probably feel a sense of desire. But looking at her now only reminds me that she was married to my girlfriend.

Olivia’s voice jars me out of my distracted thoughts and when I bring my eyes back up to hers from their journey down her body, I can tell she noticed. But based on the smile that seems to grow slowly on her face, mixed with the slight look of surprise, she doesn’t seem to mind the attention.

“I’d like to say a few things before we get started,” she says, still standing at the head of the table.

I finally tear my eyes away from Olivia to look across the table at Michelle and Jackie. Michelle seems more tense than I’ve ever seen her, and I can’t help but wonder how much interaction she’s already had with Olivia since the CEO and Maddy arrived at Altitude. The smile on her face seems tight and I’m curious if she also feels a sense of annoyance at Olivia’s presence. After all, Olivia has already made it very clear who is running this meeting and it’s not Michelle.

“Thank you for having us here today,” Olivia continues. “As you know, my father is stepping aside, effective at the end of this month, and I am taking over as CEO for all Ellison family subsidiaries. Ellison and Altitude have shared a long history together and my first order of business is not to change that relationship. But as you also know, we are launching something special. Something revolutionary. Something cutting-edge and new. And I need that kind of thinking from my agency partner. That’s what I’ll be looking for when making my choice. My father is a traditional man and he’s led our company well by being a steady and consistent leader. But I should warn you now that I’m not my father.”

Olivia stops talking for a moment so she can take her seat, but even when she’s sitting, she’s still an imposing figure with her long legs crossed in front of her like she owns the room. I look over to Michelle to see if she’s going to speak, but her face only shows slight concern.

“I’m here to be a resource for you so you can be successful in two weeks when we return,” Olivia continues. “An offer I’m not giving the other agencies. I hope you will take full advantage of my presence here.”

Her eyes land on me when she ends the sentence and their intensity makes my entire body want to fidget. I do everything I can to keep a level gaze with her and not look over at Jackie or Michelle, who I’m sure are attempting to process Olivia’s opening statement in the same way I am.

Olivia is obviously trying to make this visit seem like an advantage for Altitude. Something we should be grateful for. But Olivia’s speech sounded rehearsed and didn’t hold a lot of real emotion. The sincerity of her visit just doesn’t seem to fit with the cold, appraising woman that’s in this room.

“Thank you, Olivia,” Michelle finally says but her voice isn’t the strong, commanding one I’m used to hearing from her. Though to be fair, I wouldn’t want to follow Olivia’s grandstanding either. “As you said, our two companies have enjoyed a long and successful relationship. I know you’re used to working with our Austin team, but I’m certain you will also be impressed with the Seattle office’s level of experience and success in the technology space. It’s not every day that a new launch comes around that is this exciting and groundbreaking and I know I speak for all three of us, plus Altitude’s leadership, when I say that we are more than capable to handle the job and passionate about the opportunity to lead in such a groundbreaking space.”

As Michelle speaks, Olivia finally removes her eyes from mine and turns her attention to the other side of the table, but it really wasn’t until Michelle was a sentence or two in that it happened. Olivia’s focus on me is unnerving and more than confusing. Could she somehow know about my relationship with Lauren? Or is this just how Olivia acts in meetings? It’s hard to know without having experience with her, but she’s definitely not giving Jackie the same kind of scrutiny.

“Let’s not speak for the group, Michelle,” Olivia replies with a smile that doesn’t quite reach her assessing eyes. “But you’re right, I am used to working with the Austin office. So please—” she motions with her hand to me and then to Jackie, “—tell me about yourselves and what role you play at Altitude. buca escort But first, Madeline, why don’t you start?”

Olivia is such an overpowering presence that I almost forgot Maddy was sitting there as well. In any other scenario, I’m sure I’d be appreciating how pretty she is in her own right. It’s not every day that two beautiful women come in for a client meeting. Most senior level people in the tech industry are unattractive white men.

But now that I’m looking at Maddy more closely, I notice just how pretty she is. Her outfit doesn’t immediately scream money in the same kind of way that Olivia’s does, but her white blouse is flattering against her beautiful brown skin and her eyes remind me of the color of honey. She gives Olivia a quick nod before turning her attention back to us.

“Thanks, Olivia. And thanks for having us here. I know it’s not always easy moving meetings around last minute,” Maddy says.

Her tone is already less combative than Olivia’s and as she looks at us, she seems to be genuine in her sentiment. But I also remember what Lauren told me about Maddy and how loyal she is to Olivia. It could be that they just do a good job playing good cop/bad cop. Or maybe the Lauren of all it all is making my head feel like a fun house and I’m reading way too much into things.

I realize I’m not listening to anything she says as I continue to over-analyze the situation so I force myself to focus back in on what she’s saying.

“—and I was in-house at an Austin company that became a client of Olivia’s consultancy firm. After two years of being on the client side, an opportunity came up within her company. We’ve worked together ever since and when Olivia asked me to join her team at Ellison, I jumped on the opportunity,” Maddy says. “While Olivia will be heavily involved in this launch, I will be the primary point of contact for the agency who wins the business.”

As she’s talking, my eyes slide back over to Olivia and it’s then that I notice she’s staring at me. I quickly glance over at Michelle and Jackie, but their eyes are trained on Maddy, who’s now talking about her role at Ellison. When I look back to Olivia, she has a slight smirk on her face that looks more cocky than charming.

“Thank you, Madeline,” Olivia says, finally breaking eye contact with me to look back over at her colleague. She then turns her attention back to the three of us. “Madeline should be trusted through this process as if she were me. Any direction from her, can be considered direction from me.”

This whole meeting is feeling more tense by the minute and as I look up at the clock behind the conference table, I can see that we’ve already wasted ten minutes of our hour-long meeting on Ellison talking at us, but not really telling us anything useful. And we still need to get through our own requested introductions. At this point, we’ll probably only get to ask three of our exploratory questions.

“Thank you for that background,” Michelle chimes in next. “I can start from our end—”

“Actually, Michelle,” Olivia says, cutting Michelle off. “Since we spent some time together this morning, I’d like to hear from Jacqueline and Emma.”

If this were any other situation, I would have laughed at the comically wide eyes on Jackie’s face, but luckily, I was able to hold that in and Jackie was able to school her features quickly. Michelle’s smile tightens even more and it’s as if I can feel the tension rolling off her and over to my side of the table. Michelle has always been a strong leader and she’s great with clients, but I’m not sure even in all of Michelle’s years of working in the agency world, has she come across someone like Olivia Ellison.

Olivia is giving Michelle an unreadable expression, but it almost looks as if she’s waiting for Michelle to challenge her. But when Michelle simply looks over at Jackie to begin, Olivia’s gaze follows.

“As I said before, I’m Jackie Silva. I’ve been with Altitude for seven years. I started working here on the client services team as a graphic designer, but through my time here, I have transitioned into a creative lead on the design team. My team manages and leads all creative ideation, creation and execution for any new business effort.”

“Thank you, Jaqueline. As I understand it, most of your experience at Altitude sits within the gaming industry, is that correct?”

Jackie just stares at Olivia for a moment before answering and I’m sure she’s trying to work through what Olivia just asked. It’s true that when Jackie was on the client services side of things, her two largest accounts were both in the gaming industry, but she’s worked on the development team for four years now and it’s not clear how Olivia’s comment is relevant to anything.

“Um, yes. That’s correct,” Jackie says, glancing at Michelle as she does. “But I’ve led creative strategies for many different verticals.”

She sounds both a mix of uncertain and defensive and it feels as if we’re suddenly in the Q&A portion of a pitch when we’re the ones who are supposed to be asking the questions of Ellison.

Olivia gives Jackie one of her long, intense looks before nodding and bringing her eyes to rest on me again. She quirks her eyebrow and I have to assume that’s her way of asking me to begin.

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