Chapter 27 & 28
Meaghan woke up to an overcast Wednesday, but the happy trilling of a seruling told her that Tina was awake. She stretched, swung her feet to the floor and padded over to her clothes rack. ‘I wonder what outfit he would like,’ she thought, then pressed her hands to her cheeks. Where had that thought come from?? Angry with herself, she grabbed a towel and headed over to the bathroom.
After rinsing her mouth and putting away her toothbrush, she was walking back to her bedroom when she heard her cell phone ring. Quickening her steps to her nightstand, she looked at the screen. It was Cynthia, her supervisor at her old job.
“Good morning, Meg. Could you stop by the office this morning before heading your assignment? I’ve already cleared it with En Ahmad. It will only take a short while.”
Meaghan wondered if there was something that Jules needed, but she readily agreed to go there first.
When Meaghan arrived, she walked directly to Cynthia’s office and knocked on the door. Cynthia opened it and ushered her in. There was an unfamiliar woman with dark hair and wearing a red blouse with gray slacks sitting at a small conference table next to Jules. Meaghan took a seat across from her, and looked at her supervisor questioningly as Cynthia sat down.
“This is JoAnne from our main company, Ahmad Holdings.”
Meaghan gave a start. She didn’t know she had been working for Rickie’s family business; nevertheless, she had no idea why she needed to visit her old office. The woman gave a friendly nod and then stood up.
“I understand from Rick that your research has uncovered some links with several of our subsidiaries. I would like to be your liaison with the parent company, and integrate the information we have with the other research you have been doing. That way, we can protect the company if there are any,” JoAnne paused for a moment, “shenanigans going on.”
Meaghan was puzzled. “Wasn’t the task force started by the government? I don’t think I can disseminate any information at my level. Until my contract is up, my services are to be used under the terms of the contract. I’m sorry; I don’t think I’m going to be able to help you.”
JoAnne spoke. “Is it alright if I speak with Meaghan privately?” Cynthia nodded, and she and Jules filed out of the office. Meaghan felt the impact of her eyes as the older woman studied her for a moment, then grabbed her hands. Meaghan was startled when the woman gave a genuine laugh, squeezed her hands and then released them. She smelled a light whiff of lilacs as JoAnne sat back in her chair.
“Your answer tells me you are an honest sort, so I want to be frank with you. I have to confess that I had an ulterior motive. I’m his father’s assistant, so you can discuss anything regarding the company, but, in reality, we both just wanted to meet the woman that put a spring in Rickie’s step. Unfortunately, the elder Ahmad cannot travel easily, so he sent me to the battlefront.” As Meaghan continued to stare, mute, JoAnne smiled widely.
“I approve of his choice. Sethe likes you, too. You’ll need to stop by the house sometime soon to have a meal with the family. Your sister is, of course, invited, as well.”
Meaghan’s head was whirling, her thoughts careening around chaotically.
“I don’t…I mean, we aren’t…um…there’s nothing happening between us,” she stammered. JoAnne just steamrolled over Meaghan’s attempt to explain.
“Don’t worry, I’ll make the arrangements. Here’s my card with all my numbers on it. Just let me know when you and your sister are available. Also, if there is any additional information you need from the company, call me directly as well.” JoAnne stood up, walked to the office door, stopped and turned.
“We are all happy for you and Rickie.” Meaghan was so shocked, she didn’t notice JoAnne give Cynthia a high-five as she walked past. Her boss then came back inside the office, and handed Meaghan a manila envelope.
“These are the current companies that we are handling, along with the projected sales and updated delivery locations. If you need anything else, just talk to Jules.” With that, she sat down at her desk as Meaghan walked back out in the main office area, still stunned.
As she walked past Jules, a sudden thought claimed her mind.
“Jules, have you received anything else from Ivoire at the France office?”
Jules shook her head. “The only one I correspond with nowadays is Mystisith. Is there a problem?”
“No, no, I was just curious. Anyway, you have a good day.” And with a smile, Meaghan walked out of the office. The smile, however, did not last long as she thought about what JoAnne had said.
What was she going to do?
Thursday evening had Meaghan cleaning the terrace house with a vengeance. Friday was a half day at work, and the girls for the party would start arriving in the early afternoon, so she wanted to do most of the work today.
The work went a long way to burn off her excess energy, but did nothing for her mind as she ruminated over her conversation with JoAnne yesterday in Cynthia’s office. She liked the woman immediately, but was a bit intimidated by her manner. How in the world was she supposed to go to a meal at Rickie’s house? It wasn’t as if they were actually dating or anything; he was her boss.
She skittered away from the way he made her feel, especially when he touched her, like she was a princess in a fairy tale. Her cheeks grew heated when she thought about that kiss, and her hand tingled as if it too remembered the firm but soft lips pressed against it.
Meaghan shook her hand out and then put it out of her mind, and went to the kitchen to put together the cake. Since Tina occasionally had a reaction to flour, the rich dessert was made gluten-free. She gathered together semi-sweet chocolate, butter, whey sugar, eggs, and cocoa powder. She would be able to bake the cake tonight, and finish it quickly tomorrow.
She had the kitchen cleaned up and the cake cooling on a rake by the time Tina came into the house, chattering on her phone. She gave Meaghan a quick hug and, still chattering, walked back to her bedroom and closed her door.
Meaghan shook her head and walked out of the kitchen. Had she ever felt that carefree? Even before their parents passed, she had been responsible for your younger sister, but she wouldn’t trade their closeness for anything.
She walked out of the kitchen and into the living room, where her modest stereo sat on an antique credenza, a photo of her parents on top of the record player cover. Meaghan arranged the CD’s she had set aside to provide music for the party. Tina’s music taste was eclectic, ranging from the pop sound of Forteen to the harmonies of The Solianos and jazz of Michael Veerapan. Her favorite singer was Siti Nurhaliza, a multi-cultural performer who nevertheless employed native instruments like the seruling as background to her music. Meaghan’s gift to Tina was her most recent live album, which her sister had wanted.
Once completed, she sat down on the old couch, stretched, ran a hand through her hair and closed her eyes. She thought about reviewing Ivoire’s file again, but it was nice to just have a moment of quiet in the house.
The cell phone ring was almost loud in the silence. She uncurled from the couch and ambled over to the table. She looked at the Caller ID and took a quick breath. It was him…
Rickie sat in the driver’s seat of his car in front of Meaghan’s house, listening to his phone ring as he willed her to answer. He had spent the entire day in meetings of one form or another, including a teleconference with his father, and so missed seeing her at the office. His father was up to something, he was sure, but he couldn’t catch his cagy father despite several attempts. The elder Ahmad did hint about having a special dinner soon, but neither Rickie nor Sethe had any anniversaries upcoming. He had left a message for JoAnne regarding this, but she hadn’t replied as yet. After dinner, he was feeling restless and decided to go for a drive. Almost without thought, he ended up in her neighborhood, and felt a sudden need to hear Meaghan’s voice.
~ ~ ~
Meghan carried the phone back to the couch, sat down, and pressed the [OK] button.
“Hello?” she asked, cautiously.
“Selamat petang, Meaghan. How are you tonight?” The warm, smooth tones sensitized her ears, and as she listened, she played with her earring.
“Selamat petang. Good evening, Rickie. I’m doing well. How are you?”
There was a pause, then in a low voice, he said, “I miss you.”