Location: New Department Office (Morning)
(I’m going to be sitting next to Hunter Stark . . . wonder what that’ll be like?)
I dropped my bag on the desk. There were boxes on the floor beside my chair.
(Wilma must have had all my stuff sent up from Production for me! She’s so thoughtful!)
Hunter “Looks like you have a patron saint. I have to haul my own.”
I turned to see Hunter with several boxes on a small dolly. He seemed as energized by the new challenges as I was.
Hunter “How long’ve you been with MH?”
Heroine “Since college. I did the internship program in France, then came back to L.A. as Associate Product Manager.”
Hunter “Sounds like me, except I interned here in L.A. Always knew I wanted to be in this business.”
Heroine “Same here. So many of my friends in college didn’t have a clue. They took the first job that came along . . . “
Hunter “And now they’re miserable, but they can’t get out, right?”
Heroine “Exactly. Mortgage, kids . . . and no work they’re passionate about.”
Hunter “Gotta have it.”
I raised an eyebrow at him.
Hunter “Passion, that is. Not a mortgage or kids! Not yet, anyway!”
Heroine “Yeah. SO not there yet.”
Hunter “It is strange that we’ve never actually met. Like I said, I’ve seen you around . . . “
Heroine “You’re friends with Damon, too. I’ve even heard him mention you.”
Hunter “He tell you how I kick his ass on the court every week?”
(Actually, he tells me how you’re not nearly as good at hoops as you are at trash talk.)
A) “Yeah, something like that.”
B) “Funny, that’s not how he tells it.”
C) “He’s actually more into the teamwork.”
Heroine “Yeah, something like that.”
If he read something into my smile, he didn’t react to it.
Hunter “I’m surprised he’s so honest about it. Most guys would just lie.”
Heroine “Damon’s not most guys.”
I didn’t react to his smirk, either, a smirk which seemed to suggest Damon didn’t rise to Hunter’s standards as a guy’s guy.
Heroine “Funny, that’s not how he tells it.”
Hunter didn’t seem thrown by my dig at his truthfulness. He just shrugged.
Hunter “D’s a good guy. Enjoys going out for lunch after the game more than playing the game.”
Heroine “He’s not as competitive as you are, then?”
Heroine “He’s actually more into the teamwork.”
Hunter “Every team has its stars.”
Heroine “And you’re one of the stars?”
Hunter “You said it, not me.”
Heroine “In the end, it’s the number of wins that matters, not who scores the points.”
He stared at me as though I’d just insulted his dog. Then he just changed the subject . . .or seemed to.
Hunter “I’m here early and stay late most days . . . not much of a life outside the glass box.”
Heroine “I think balance is important, though, don’t you? My folks think I work too much, but I don’t know. I go out sometimes. I have friends outside of work.”
Hunter “Then you’re not ambitious enough.”
The look on his face made it hard to tell whether he was serious or not. Either way, it put a damper on what had been a pleasant conversation.
Heroine “I’m going to unpack before Robert calls us back.”
Hunter “Sounds good.”
He didn’t unpack himself, just dropped off his boxes and wheeled the dolly away.
Location: Conference Room (Late morning)
As promised, we were called back to the conference room late in the morning. Everyone took the same seats they had earlier . . .
(It’s weird how people always do that.)
. . . except for Noah, who sat on the other side of Francis this time. Francis looked like a nervous bird, unsure why the cat was so close to his cage.
(And the exceptions are the ones that make life interesting.)
Mr. Newell looked more serious than he had earlier.
(Finally, they’re going to tell us what we’re here for!)
Tim “Before I turn this over to Robert, I wanted to remind you all to make sure your laptops and tablets have the latest security software . . .”
Tim “No work product leaves this floor, no one comes on the floor except team members.”
Robert “Thanks, Tim. I second his admonition about security. The company’s future is riding on this project . . . “
Robert “. . . so, we’re going to pursue the goals we set out here today with laser focus, relentless drive, and rigorous attention to quality.”
Robert “M. Housler has always been a wholesale operation. We sell to our vendors – department stores, boutiques. We’ve never even had a retail Internet presence.”
Robert “That’s all about to change. Retail is M. Housler’s future.”
Robert “You will be creating our brick-and-mortar and virtual stores from scratch: what they’ll look like and what products and services they’ll offer.”
Robert “Hunter, Francis, and [USER_FIRST_NAME], led by Alistair, will design, develop product for and open a flagship retail store here in L.A. in six months.”
(This is incredible! I have dreamed of an opportunity like this!)
Robert “Noah, Damon, and James are on Tim’s team for a new, fully-interactive and groundbreaking retail website to complement the flagship.”
Damon, sharing my excitement, reached over and gave my arm a pat under the table.
Robert “Once we’ve opened the flagship and the new website, we announce five new stores in New York, London, Tokyo, Paris, and Milan to open within the year.”
(Our store concept will be world-wide?!)
Robert “We’re going to reimagine M. Housler as not only a 21st century fashion retailer, but THE 21st century fashion retailer.”
Robert “I have faith that Tim, Alistair, and I have picked the best possible people for this effort. Now it’s up to all of us to produce results.”
Mr. Newell popped back up as Mr. Stierman stepped aside.
Tim “As Robert said, you’ve all been chosen for your individual talents, but teamwork is essential to launching on time and on budget . . . “
Tim “. . . to that end, we’ll be taking some time for team-building, morale boosting activities . . .”
Alistair “That’s bloody nonsense.”
Tim “It’s hardly nonsense, Alistair. Studies have shown that . . . “
Alistair “That the team who plays together pulls together? Bollocks. The team that works its bloody arse off every day gets the win.”
Mr. Newell just smiled at Alistair, which seemed to push Alistair from simmer to near boiling.
Alistair “You want to throw money away on chummy bonding exercises, that’s on your head.”
Tim “I’m sure that you will spend your budget as you see fit, Alistair. As will I. We’ll see which team gets the best results as we go along.”
(This could get nasty.)
Robert “I’m sure we will, Tim. I’ll be keeping a close eye on progress and budgets. We’ll make adjustments as we go.”
Bomb defused, the meeting broke up. We spent some time in our separate teams.
It soon became obvious that Hunter and I were the creatives, while Alistair and Francis were more interested in the nuts-and-bolts.
(It seems like a good balance.)
Hunter and I were left to brainstorm concepts, while Alistair and Francis met with Robert about budget and logistics.
Heroine “It sounds like they’ve picked a great location.”
Hunter “Yeah. Fashionable, but without Rodeo Drive rent.”
Heroine “That huge billboard the studios are always fighting over for their latest big release is on that corner.”
Heroine “Anyone coming up Beverly has to see that billboard . . . and our store is right in line of sight with it for, like, five blocks.”
Hunter “Hm. Hadn’t thought of that.”
He sat back in his chair and looked me over like I was a car he was considering buying.
Hunter “Pitch me your best idea for this store.”
Heroine “What’s YOUR best idea? You pitch me.”
He gave me a lazy smile.
Hunter “All right . . . Retro Sixties chic. Carnaby Street.”
Hunter “That’s what you say when you hate something.”
Heroine “No. I’m open to all ideas at this point. But didn’t we just have a Sixties revival?”
Hunter “It started when you were dressing Barbie in her Pan Am stewardess uniform, but it’s still going on. Did you hit New York Fashion Week last year?”
Heroine “As it happens, I was in Paris last year.”
Hunter “In New York, half the designers were incorporating Sixties elements. The straight, clean cuts, the shaggy furs . . .”
Heroine “. . . and the really short skirts. Yeah. Not so much of that in Paris.”
Hunter “All right, so what’s your take?”
Heroine “Vintage and Victorian, with an edge. Some frill for the women, but more like . . . Princess of Wales meets mid-Nineties neo-Gothic.”
Hunter “Steampunk grunge?”
(Is he mocking me now?)
Heroine “Not all costume-y like that, but a little, yeah, a little.”
Hunter “You want to bring back jodphurs and pith helmets? Aviator goggles? How about whalebone corsets for everyday wear?”
(Definitely mocking me.)
Heroine “Do you really not have any feel for what I’m suggesting, or are you just being a dick?”
Hunter “Is there a third choice?”
Heroine “Not in this room. I’m going to lunch. We’ll reconvene later.”
Hunter “I’ll work through lunch. Bring me back something with meat in it.”
He was up and out of the conference room before I was.
Location: Kevin’s (a different café) (Interior) (Afternoon)
I ran into Damon, Noah, and Francis heading to Kevin’s, a funky little bistro.
Soon, I was commiserating with them over my salad.
Damon “So you feel like you’ve gotten the opportunity of a lifetime dropped in your lap with this project . . . a feeling I think we all share . . . “
Noah and Francis nodded in agreement.
Noah “And at the same time, you feel like your obvious brilliance is going to be attacked at every turn while you work with Hunter.”
I gave him a sidelong look to see if he was being at all ironic about my brilliance. His cute wink suggested he wasn’t.
(And he has the most beautiful jawline I’ve ever seen on man.)
Damon “It’s just how he is. But the guy is knowledgeable as hell, works like team of huskies . . .”
Francis “Alistair would never work with him if all that wasn’t true, because he knows Hunter is after his job.”
(Maybe they’re right. I’ll just talk to him . . .)
I looked at Noah, expecting him to add to the Hunter praise-fest. He put his hand on my arm and looked deeply into my eyes.
Noah “I’ve known Hunter all my life. He is one of my best friends and I love him like a brother. . .
Noah “But I can’t imagine working with him.”
Noah “He’s arrogant and dismissive and he couldn’t find compromise with a GPS and a team of sherpas.”
We all burst out laughing.
(Noah has a nice laugh, too. Very charming guy.)
When it was time to go, I headed back to the counter to order a sandwich for Hunter. Noah followed me over, a twinkle in his eye.
Heroine “Well, he wanted something with meat. I figured it might be a peace offering.”
Noah “I admire your impulse, Ms. Gandhi. But can I give you a tip?”
Noah “Take him a peace offering with some teeth in it. Show him you mean business.”
Heroine “By which you mean . . . ?”
Noah “Get him the Reuben. Double-meat.”
I gave him a questioning look.
Noah “Hunter hates corned beef.”
Another winning-but-wicked smile and he was gone. I stepped up to the counter.
A) “The Reuben please. Double corned beef.”
B) “Roast beef with basil mayo, please.”
C) “How’s the jerk chicken sandwich?”
Location: Team office (Interior) (Evening)
Heroine “The Reuben, please. Double corned-beef. To go.”
Ten minutes later, I was back in the office.
Hunter didn’t look up when I set the bag on the corner of his desk. I went to work in the conference room.
After about twenty minutes, I felt his presence behind me.
Hunter “Did you have lunch with Noah?”
Heroine “Um-hm. And Damon and Francis.”
Hunter “And you told him you were bringing me a sandwich?”
Heroine “He may have overheard.”
Hunter “Well played, ninja co-worker. Well-played.”
I heard the heavy thunk of the sandwich landing in the garbage. I admit the sound brought a smile to my lips.
Heroine “Can I get the roast beef with basil mayo to go, please?”
Ten minutes later, I dropped the sandwich off at Hunter’s empty desk then, went to the conference room to work.
He was back, sketching something and munching on his sandwich when I came out for a stretch break. He glanced up.
Hunter “Kevin’s gives excellent sandwich. So, you didn’t run into Noah?”
Heroine “Had lunch with him, Damon, and Francis.”
Hunter “Did he give you advice on what to get me?”
Heroine “He did. I didn’t take it.”
He smiled, took another bite and returned to his sketch.
The bag was stained with jerk sauce when I set it on his desk. He glanced up.
Hunter “Ummmm. Jerk chicken sandwich from Kevin’s. Nice.”
Heroine “Maybe there’s hope for us yet.”
Hunter “Maybe. Let’s see how you do with dinner.”
Heroine “Dream on, Mr. Stark. The only thing I do for dinner is reservations.”
Hunter “You can take me someplace nice when my concept wows Stierman and Housler.”
Heroine “We’ll split the check when OUR concept knocks their socks off.”
Location: Team office (Interior) (Evening)
Hunter was still at it when I called it quits at seven.
I was exhausted and looked it. He hadn’t turned a hair since first saw him this morning.
(Must be that hair gel of his. Probably some kind of preservative that keeps him fresh from head to toe while destroying his human empathy.)
Heroine “Are you sleeping here tonight?”
Hunter “It’s one option. You may think I’m a natural genius, but there’s that whole 1% inspiration, 99% perspiration thing.”
Heroine “Even Alistair packed it in an hour ago.”
Hunter “That’s right, you believe in all that ‘balance’ crap.”
Heroine “I do. Going to go have some right now.”
He gave me a fleeting little smile that didn’t even begin to fill his eyes.
Heroine “Well . . . good night.”
He put his head down and started sketching again, squeezing a stress ball in his free hand.
Location: Hallway at the elevator (Interior) (Evening)
The elevator opened on a pleasant surprise.
Wilma “[USER_FIRST_NAME], dear! How are you? Long first day with the new team?”
Heroine “Yes. Long. Exciting . . . “
She hit the lobby button. I just leaned against the wall.
Wilma “. . . and? I sense there’s more.”
Heroine “Yes. I can’t tell you what we’re working on upon pain of death or worse, but I can tell you that I’m partnered with Hunter Stark, a torture all its own.”
Wilma “He’s got quite a reputation.”
Heroine “I’ve been assured he knows his stuff, but it’s hard to tell through the cloud of arrogance and snark.”
Wilma “It’s just the first day. You’ll be fine. I was talking with Bettina and Esther today. They send their love.”
Heroine “That’s so sweet! Tell them I said ‘hi.’”
The elevator arrived at the lobby.
Wilma “This is you. I’m going down to the parking garage . . . unless you want a ride home?”
Heroine “You’re so sweet, but no. I’m parked just around the corner and need some fresh air anyway.”
As the elevator doors closed on her, Wilma gave me a thumbs up.
Wilma “You’re the best I’ve ever worked with, young lady. We’re all counting on you!”
And so ended the first day of the rest of my life.
E-mail from Hunter
Not sure what you were up to today when you weren’t fetching me lunch. Had a big breakthrough right after you left. Get in early so you can look over my prelims and bow to my brilliance.
Or so we can “compare notes,” if that makes it feel more team-worky to you.
Btw, try to wear something that you didn’t buy at a bargain sale tomorrow. You work for the best fashion house in the country. Dress like it.