TFSOF Carmen POV: Damned if you do, Damned if you don’t.

(Call with Christian about not hiring Ana.)

It’s almost spring. Stepping through the pristine glass doors of my building, I notice for the very first time that the morning air isn’t filled with the crisp bite of winter. The sun shines unimpeded over the shiny black surface of my town car, and there are birds chirping in the still barren trees overhead. 

It’s all a sign of good things to come.

“Good morning, Ms. Gallagher,” my driver greets me, a broad grin stretching across his stubble spattered cheeks as he pulls open the back door of the car.

“Good Morning, Hugh.” I wink as I duck below the roof and settle into the wide leather seat, already warmed for me. The cup of coffee I need to start my day is sitting in the cup holder, along with a newspaper. I nearly roll my eyes as I look up and meet Hugh’s in the rearview mirror. He chuckles to himself as he pulls off the curb.

“The problem with people today is that no one reads the damn newspaper.”

He’s said that to me countless times, and so, as we sit in traffic, I drown out the sounds of horns and the pedestrians passing by my window by doing my part to solve the problem, and read the paper. It’s dry mostly. The stock market is performing fine, the Governor signed a new bill about healthcare, and Syracuse is advancing to the next round of the March Madness tournament. The world seems to be turning just as it always does, but when I turn the page and see a very familiar perfect coif of bronze hair shining at me like a Pantene ad, I scowl.

It’s seems, once again, Grey Enterprises Holdings has broken new ground in the technology industry in New York. A quick cursory glance of the article, though, tells me… it’s not in fiber optics. Grey’s acquired some green energy think-tank that just had their funding pulled by NYU.

“What are you up to?” I wonder aloud, narrowing my eyes at the paper as I search for answers.

I first met Christian Grey in 2009. His company was starting to make waves on the West coast but Grey Enterprises Holdings wasn’t even a blip on my radar back then. The fiber optics industry was like the Wild West during the gold rush. Open. Lawless. Filled with possibility. There was no competition yet, and the money came pouring in.

I went to a conference about fiber optics technologies advancements hosted in Los Angeles that winter, both to make sure I really was providing a product as cutting edge as I thought I was and because a streaming company was quietly shopping for upgraded fiber optics service. I’d gotten the tip from my old college roommate, who was VP at the time, and she’d assured me no one else knew. So, I floated around that conference like I owned the place, sipping champagne as I mingled with the other names in the industry.

When I first saw Grey, I thought he was an intern. He was barely old enough to drink, and he stood out like a sore thumb amongst the 30 and 40 somethings I was quickly growing tired of having the same inane conversations with. When his business partner finally made her way over to introduce herself, I gave her a gracious smile and my name, and to my shock, Christian Grey knew exactly who I was. He started listing off my company’s biggest achievements as though he’d had them written on a note card. It put me at a disadvantage because I didn’t know what he had done. I didn’t know what he was like. And I didn’t know the speaker we were all waiting on ran his god damn R&D department. All I knew is how utterly charming he was, and I let him take me for sucker that night.

Because the next day, I found out about Christian Grey. I met my friend for lunch, where she’d planned to take me to speak with the CEO about Gallagher Corporation’s fiber optics service. She smiled sweetly as she walked right past his assistant’s protests and opened the door to find him sitting across the desk from the same smug smile I’ve grown to detest more than anything else in the world.

I walked in just in time to see their handshake.

And that’s the story of our relationship. He’s one step ahead, one phone call in front of me. Always. It’s like being in traffic, not able to move, not able to go back. If I could, I would ram him out of my god damn way, but every time I’ve tried, it’s bit me in the ass. He’s ruthless. He comes for you. And after he’s done all the destruction he can, some sweet gesture of good will follows a few days later. Like a wedding invitation.

 The car comes to a stop as I roll my eyes, remembering the announcement that Grey wouldn’t be making an appearance his own wedding that I’d flown 3,000 fucking miles to attend. I tuck the paper in my bag and flash another grateful smile to Hugh as he helps me out of the car.

The moment I step through the doors of Gallagher Corporation, I’m swept up in a whirlwind of busy. There’s a service outage all across the East Village that takes two hours with my tech team to resolve, I’ve got two client meetings to get in before lunch, and my accounting team weighs down my afternoon with less than desirable news about our Q1 revenue streams. While Fiber Optics continues to boom, almost a quarter of my divisions are underperforming, and there isn’t a division sinking our profit margin more than publishing. As I look over the financial reports the advisors in front of me have drawn up, laying out the dire financial situation of Greenwich Small Press, I feel myself grow hot.

The Seattle branch is bleeding, and Wallace still hasn’t found me a director.

Gathering the reports, I storm back to my office and shout for my assistant to get Scott on the phone. The ping that he’s waiting on the line for me comes through before I even take my seat behind my desk.

“Another quarter, another loss,” I say without greeting. “You’ve got some explaining to do, Scott.”

“I know, it’s rough. I’m trying, but our press is being pushed to the limit and I’m spread so thin…”

“So where’s the Seattle director? I asked you to find me someone weeks ago.”

“I have found someone. I actually just had a, uh… meeting with her the other day. A real giant in the industry I think will bring a fresh perspective and experience.”

“Who?”

“I’m sending you her resume now.” In the span of a breath, my email pings and I see the attachment clipped to the message with Scott’s name. At the same time, my assistant comes through the door with a stack of papers in her hand and an overwhelmed look on her face.

“Great, I’ll review it and get back to you,” I tell Scott, dismissively. Then I hang up and turn to face the girl struggling toward my desk. “Here, let me help you…”

After hours reviewing the audit reports for the data exchanges we send to our third party vendors, I return to the email Scott sent and open the attachment without reading the name attached. It doesn’t actually matter much to me who this person is, only if they’re going to make me money. And their resume is promising. Harvard graduate. Best-selling author. Experience interning with Seattle Independent Publishing.

Something about that makes me furrow my brow, but my concerns are wiped away by the metrics they’ve provided on the very next line. Forty thousand units moved in two months.

My eyes are just moving up to read the name of this diamond in the rough Scott has found when the phone on my desk pings and my secretary’s voice fills the silent room. “Ms. Gallagher?”

“Yes?”

“You’ve uh… got Christian Grey on line one.”

“What?”

“Yeah, should I patch him through?”

I let my head fall back and sigh, not quite prepared for the fight I know is waiting for me behind the blinking light next to the button for line one. It’s always a fight with him, and whatever reason he’s calling now has to be bad…

“Yeah, I’ll take it,” I tell her. Then I pick up the phone, press the button for line one, and prepare myself. “This is Carmen Gallagher.”

“Hold one moment for Christian Grey, please…” a female voice responds. There’s a click, and music begins to play.

That motherfucker put ME on hold?

“You really love pissing me off, don’t you, Gallagher?” His irritated voice breaks through the music a few moments later.

“Usually. But I actually don’t know what you’re talking about this time, Grey. Would you like to elaborate before you start to scream, or do you expect me to catch up?”

“I’m talking about my wife.”

“Anastasia? I haven’t seen her since your gala last New Year’s Eve.”

“Don’t bullshit me, Gallagher. You’re interviewing her on Friday.”

“What?” My eyes turn back to the screen in front of me, and I quickly scroll up until I see the name typed in bold face at the top. Anastasia R Grey. And suddenly, I realize why the intern position at SIP on her resume stuck out to me. She’s the reason I kicked my old R&D coordinator to the curb when he couldn’t produce an eReader that could compete with the one churned out of GEH. She’s the reason Grey’s publishing arm was able to explode so quickly and corner the market on any West coast talent guaranteed to draw in huge sales. She’s the reason my Seattle branch is bleeding.

How could I have forgotten that same fucking intern married my nemesis?

“She’s very highly qualified,” I continue, as though this information hasn’t completely blindsided me. I can hear him drum his fingers impatiently on his desk, which honestly only makes me concerned for the quality of the manicure I’m sure he’s paid top dollar for.

“You’re not going to hire her,” he says firmly. “If fact, you are going to express extreme remorse over missing out on such a valuable talent, but respectfully decline to make an offer. You can lie and say the position has been filled if you want.”

“And why would I do that?”

“Because you’re not an idiot.”

“Oh, how very generous of you,” I coo back, the hard, icy edge to his voice igniting the joy in mine. The one thing I truly have to give this man after all the time I’ve spend fighting him over the last few years is his sense of resolve. Once he’s set on something, he gets it. Usually that works against me, but as I hear the echo of that resolve leak into the anger he’s put on full display for me like a peacock in heat, I catch the undeniable scent of opportunity.

“I’m not fucking around, Gallagher. This is not a request. I expect her to leave that interview on Friday glowing with pride over her incredible accomplishments and success, all of which you will profusely remind her of again and again. I also expect her to leave unemployed.”

“Because you’re afraid she’ll finally put Greenwich back on top?”

“Please,” he snorts. “I have exactly zero fucks to give about Greenwich Small Press. I haven’t even cared about my own publishing house in years.”

“So then, what’s it to you what your wife does?”

“It’s everything to me,” he says, flatly. I hear him take a deep breath, and the weight of the silence hanging on the line makes my heart thud with excitement. He’s pausing… he’s breaking. I’m winning. “Gallagher…”

“Yes, Grey?” I reply in a saccharine tone.

“It would be wise of you to do this for me.” Even through the phone, I can tell the words come through bared teeth.

I grin. “Really? What’s in it for me?”

“What do you want?”

“You’re just gonna offer me a blank check like that? Fuck, I’m going to need some time to think…”

“You don’t have time,” he snaps. “I’ll owe you a favor, Gallagher. Consider how valuable that is.” There’s a click and the phone goes dead. I pull the receiver away from my face, and stare at it for a moment before resting it back in its cradle. Then my eyes return to the resume still open on the screen in front of me.

It’s difficult. My publishing house needs talent like Anastasia Grey. Unlike her husband, I actually do care very much about the profit line from my publishing houses, and if something doesn’t change soon, I’m going to have to cut the whole damn thing to protect my other assets. She’s my missing piece.

But he’s right. A personal favor from Christian Grey is nothing to balk at. Especially knowing that he and I are going to clash against each other in a few weeks over a fiber optics investment the Texas state government is looking to make by Q3. That could be mine, and so, with doubt plaguing my every movement, I drag my mouse to the X at the top of the document, and close the window.

How rare could a talent like Mrs. Anastasia Grey be anyway?