The smell of spice lingered long after she had left the elevator. It was oddly mesmerizing, breathing in her scent as she stood close to him in the elevator. Sebastian could still picture the lights glinting on her dark red hair as she walked away. His gaze had lingered on the pale skin on the back of her neck, making him wonder what it would be like to touch it.
“Sir, don’t forget your check,” Frank said, pulling him out of his reverie. His assistant took out a cream-colored envelope from a folder he carried. “It’s the one you signed yesterday, made out to the children’s foundation. I know you hate bringing your checkbook with you.”
“Thank you Frank,” Sebastian said, putting the envelope in his jacket pocket. The elevator doors opened and they stepped out into the basement parking lot where a large grey limousine was waiting for them. “I suppose I can’t just drop this off at the reception, can I?”
“You could. But if people see you getting chummy with the hospital board and personally handing them a check, they’re more likely to give a donation of their own. You’ll have plenty of time after your meeting to get to the fundraiser. Are you sure you don’t want me at the meeting?”
“It’s really more of an informal chat with the British ambassador, Frank. I’ll need you here to help Callie prep for the meeting next week for the Beijing deal. Her new assistant can barely keep up with her.”
One of Sebastian’s bodyguards, Selene, opened the limousine door for him. “Mr. Chase,” she greeted him as he got inside.
“How is your mother, Selene?” he said as she sat down across from him.
“She’s fine, sir. Thank you.”
They rode in silence, and Sebastian’s mind went to the impromptu interview with the latest applicant for the tutoring job. It was a pity Ms. Slade did not pass muster. Her resume wasn’t bad. Cum laude graduate of English at a respectable university. A master’s degree in Comparative Literature. Bylines in the local papers. Nothing too grand, but her essays were thoughtful and sharp. He had read an article of hers published two years ago titled “Are we raising our sons to be boys or men?” and this was what prompted him to shortlist her among the applicants for the job. In the piece, she described how society has been teaching toxic values of masculinity, producing boys unprepared for a modern, more progressive age of gender equality.
He’d been raised that way, and he hated it. His father, a patriarch — in every sense of the word — of an old Texas banking dynasty did his best to mold Sebastian into his image.
Benson deserved better.
When Benson’s father — Sebastian’s brother Eric — passed away five years ago, and his mother permitted Sebastian to adopt the boy, Sebastian swore he would do good by his nephew. He had made sure to raise him with better values than what he himself had been forced to live by growing up.
Now his adopted son was ten years old, and while he seemed happy and healthy, Sebastian worried about the lack of a female role model in his life. Sebastian had no other siblings, and doubted he would be getting married any day soon. He thought the best solution was to hire a female tutor and companion for him. His son was enrolled in the best private school, and the curriculum was challenging enough that most of their students had tutors.
There was no question about whether or not to hire Ms. Slade. He could never abide by tardiness. When a person acted with discipline, it was a reflection of a disciplined mind. Which was what he needed in a tutor for his son Benson.
Sebastian had three other interviews lined up for the job. He was sure Ms. Slade would find a position elsewhere that would make the most of her talents, but for now that position wasn’t that of tutor to his son.
“You seem to care for your son very much. I hope you find what you’re looking for.”
He felt an emotion nearly overwhelm him, and he realized it was regret.
It was something he hadn’t felt for a very long time.
“Tell me again why you aren’t trying acting? Lots of aspiring screenwriters try to get a break that way,” Victoria said. “I mean, look how well it worked for Matt Damon and Ben Affleck. And Sylvester Stallone.”
Her best friend and roommate Nicolette rolled her eyes delicately, in a way that very few girls are able to. “Are you kidding me? Can you imagine the really horrible lines I’d have to work with until I get to work in a decent production?”
“Most actors just have to go through it at the start, I think.”
“Most actors have the patience for it,” said Nicolette.
She had a point, Victoria thought. Nicolette wasn’t the kind of person to do anything she wasn’t crazy about. She was either all in or not at all. This explained much of her career trajectory: make mad money working as an escort while (in her words) her ass was still pointed the right way, until she got her scripts on theater screens across the country.
She and Nicolette were hanging out in Nicolette’s bedroom watching movies. It was their favorite thing to do together. They didn’t get a lot of time together because Nicolette worked mostly at night and Victoria worked during the day, so on the rare occasions they were both free, they made sure to schedule some quality girl-bonding time. Tonight, they were having quiche from the corner bakery, and watching Old Boy, one of Nicolette’s all-time favorite films. As they’d already seen it together about fifty times, they were having a light discussion about Nicolette’s writing career.
“Plus,” Nicolette added, “do you know how my clients like to talk about their lives?”
“Yeah, you mentioned that.” Victoria laughed, recalling the stories Nicolette would tell her about the men she’d go out with at her job, ranging from hilarious to creepy to just plain sad. One of them had her over to cook him Thanksgiving dinner because he couldn’t celebrate it with his ex-wife and estranged children. A terrible cook who prided herself in this particular non-talent, Nicolette ended up serving burnt turkey and soggy mashed potatoes, but the 45-year-old investment banker was so happy he cried.
“I get a glimpse into the lives of the rich, powerful, and sometimes sad men and women of L.A.,” said Nicolette. ”It’s the stuff great movies are made of.”
“I love that I get to talk to you about these things,” Victoria said. “I never get to meet anyone rich and powerful. Well, hardly ever.” She suddenly remembered blue eyes and dark hair. “Hey, actually I did meet someone like that today.”
“At the coffee shop?”
Victoria shook her head. “Job interview.”
“I didn’t know you had a job interview today. How did it go?”
“Not well. Disastrous.” Victoria sighed.