Authors: Coco Laurent
After the Interview
By Coco Laurent
Zoe stepped outside the airport’s baggage claim doors and felt the sultry weight of Houston’s heat and humidity envelope her. This city in September was not welcoming to an east coast native like Zoe. Her assignment was to attend the petrochemical symposium and interview a representative of Marshall Petroleum. Heading to the rental car shuttle, Zoe felt beads of sweat form on the bridge of her nose and her blouse started to cling to her body under her jacket. As she stepped into the shuttle van, several male customers turned to give her lingering glances. Working as a business journalist, she was accustomed to this type of attention. Zoe Alden, a tall green-eyed brunette with stunning features and an elegantly curved body, took a seat directly opposite what looked like an air vent and sighed, feeling the cold blast of air. Removing her jacket to take full advantage of the air conditioned space only increased the looks already centered on her. The white silk blouse and tailored navy pencil skirt felt like a second skin to Zoe, and the fact that the backs of her legs were sticking to the pleather seat did not help. She longed to get her car, drive to the hotel and take a shower. Her interview with C J Fairchild of Marshall Petroleum was at three that afternoon. Zoe hoped this would give her ample time to go over her notes and fine-tune the interview questions during lunch. Traffic in Houston was notorious, and being only ten miles from the company’s headquarters was no guarantee the drive would be easy or quick.
Luckily, it didn’t take long to get the rental car and head to the hotel. The men on the shuttle had deferred to Zoe and let her be at the head of the line. Zoe wasn’t sure if this was southern gallantry or just the men’s desire to watch her walk a few paces ahead of them. Whatever the cause, she was thrilled to be headed up to her hotel room before noon. When she entered the room, Zoe wasted no time in kicking off her high heels and peeling out of her business attire. Heading into the bathroom, she stopped with one foot on the tile when she heard her cell phone ring. Zoe wanted to ignore it but she strode quickly to the bed where she had dropped her purse, found the phone and looked at the caller ID. It was Jeff, the editor of the
, the publication Zoe was writing for now.
“Hey, Jeff, what’s up?” Zoe asked.
“I just wanted to let you know that we got a call from Marshall Petroleum, asking you to confirm your appointment with Mr. Fairchild at three this afternoon. Being a busy guy, he probably doesn’t want to waste time if you are a no-show,” Jeff said.
Zoe sighed audibly, “Great, one of those guys. I promise you, Jeff, if he tries to put me off with info I can access on the company’s website after I came two thousand miles I—”
Jeff cut her off in mid-sentence. “Don’t get annoyed just yet, Zoe. Give the office a call and then do the interview. Remember, you have plenty of time to talk to other members of the industry at the symposium. Gotta take another call. Later.”
Zoe shivered because the room’s AC she had cranked down now blew cold air forcefully on her bare skin. She thought about making the call after her shower and then grinned at the thought that she was just about to make this call to Marshall Petroleum in the nude. As she dialed the number, Zoe tried to push down her annoyance at having her shower delayed just to satisfy Mr. Fairchild’s protocol. Zoe knew C J Fairchild’s business reputation by heart; he was a calm negotiator who always put Marshall Petroleum in the driver’s seat of any deal. He was also a sought-after bachelor who appeared in public with beautiful women but rarely the same woman more than once.
After the third ring, Zoe was startled to hear a calm male voice answer the phone. “C J Fairchild.”
Zoe, a bit stunned, took a second to answer with, “Mr. Fairchild, this is Zoe Alden from the
confirming our meeting at three this afternoon for the interview.”
“Ms. Alden, thank you for calling. I wanted to make sure you were in town and I would have uninterrupted time to speak with you today. I look forward to seeing you this afternoon.”
Zoe grinned at the thought of what he could be seeing right now as her body was visibly reacting to the cold air washing over it. Zoe was roused by Mr. Fairchild’s voice saying her name. He asked if she had plans to attend the petrochemical symposium starting tomorrow.
Zoe poked her nail into her bare thigh to focus and said, “Yes, I plan to attend the symposium and get a clearer picture of the changes in the industry.”
“Perfect, I look forward to showing you our company’s contribution and introducing you to the other major players in the game. See you this afternoon. Goodbye, Ms. Alden,” he said, hanging up the phone.
He doesn’t sound so unapproachable, Zoe thought, placing the phone on the bed and smiling with satisfaction. Surprised by how much the unexpected phone encounter and the images created had added an element of excitement to the afternoon, Zoe spun around and headed back to the shower. If C J Fairchild looked half as good in person as his voice sounded then maybe Zoe could picture him naked during the interview if it got boring. The fact that he, and not an assistant, had answered the phone was a shocker. What was up with that?
When the shower’s hot water pelted her skin, a strong shiver rippled through her goose bump covered body. Zoe felt the tension start to ease, and then her body reacted as memories of showers with her husband, Jean, invaded the present. It had been one of their favorite places to make slow and passionate love. Zoe, feeling the warm water slide over the curves of her body, was ready to let go and languish in these sensations. She remembered the feel of Jean’s lips tracing the lines of water as they ran down her neck to her breasts. No, Zoe told herself with a stomp of her foot. This is not the time to revive those memories because tears and self-indulgent emotions will follow and I have no time for that now. Jean, a French photojournalist, had been killed while on assignment in Syria two years ago, and Zoe still harbored anger at him for leaving her alone. The assignment had been a last minute job to help out his friend, Marc. Jean and Zoe had fought at the airport then parted with harsh words. Knowing this was his last image of her still hurt. Zoe stepped out of the shower and pushed these thoughts out of her mind. The past could not be changed and she had to live for the now.
Zoe had tried jump-starting her personal life almost a year after Jean’s death. The decision to take a few lovers and not date had been intentional. This hadn’t satisfied her desires sexually or emotionally. None of the men in New York had been invited to her apartment and the reporter in Madrid had never received a follow up call or email. What still amazed Zoe was that none of the men had seemed to even notice her lack of interest or care.
Zoe couldn’t stand the thought of sharing the intimacies of her life with these men. The apartment was full of memories. It had been Jean’s home too. After months of this lifestyle, Zoe had called it quits. There were days she felt lonely but at least she didn’t feel like a fake.
Traffic was not too bad, allowing Zoe’s rental car to speed north on I-45 to The Woodlands. Good thing, as it had taken her far too long to decide what to wear to the interview. Why she had decided on the peach silk Italian-made suit was a question Zoe had stopped debating. What rule said she had to dress in gray, black or brown to look professional? Besides, the peach silk suit made her feel beautiful, which created confidence, and made her green eyes more stunning. Zoe knew it was never a bad thing to have the wow factor on her side when she started an interview. Pulling into the parking lot of Marshall Petroleum’s office complex, comprised of six buildings, she was impressed. She grinned as she realized the buildings’ layout resembled the five-pointed star on the state flag of Texas, with the headquarters right in the middle of the star. Oh, these oilmen in Texas could be so predictably loyal. Mr. Fairchild was undoubtedly loyal to Marshall Petroleum but Zoe had every intention of asking hard probing questions. She intended to live up to her reputation as a ball-busting business journalist.
Luckily, visitor parking was in a parking garage and not in the blazing afternoon sun; this meant a cooler start on the ride back to a quiet night of hotel food and writing. Stepping out of the elevator into the lobby, Zoe was struck by its centerpiece. The McGary sculpture, The Roughneck, commissioned by George Marshall years ago was a seven foot tall bronze statue showing the oil worker, tools in hand, with muscles straining as he tightened the rig’s gearing. Zoe, used to the grandiosity of New York, was amazed that the statue took up only a small portion of the building’s lobby and contrasted perfectly with the Terrazzo floors. Three of the exterior walls were floor-to-ceiling glass with the remaining wall covered in life-sized photos of Marshall Petroleum executives at rig sites, each with an accompanying short bio. This was a reminder to Zoe of the longevity of this oil company and the deep pockets it had. As Zoe approached the reception desk, she noted no less than four security guards and state of the art scanning machinery for all persons headed to the upper floors. I guess this group is serious about secrecy because this level of security does not come cheap. An attractive blonde receptionist welcomed her with a slight Texas drawl and informed Zoe that Mr. Fairchild was expecting her in his office on the 21
floor. Zoe clipped her visitor ID card onto her jacket and headed through security to the bank of elevators. On the ride to the 21
floor, Zoe shared the elevator with three sharply dressed executives who all said, “Welcome to Marshall Petroleum ma’am.” As the men stepped out of the elevator on the 19
floor, Zoe marveled at how those words, combined with the accent, just seemed to flow like honey.
Later that day, as she recalled the afternoon, she would blame that damned Texas drawl for her lack of concentration. How else could you explain the fact that she had almost fallen into C J Fairchild’s arms as she exited the elevator? Seeing Zoe start to trip, he had stepped forward to catch her body with his and stop what would have been an embarrassing fall. With one hand on her lower back and the other on her shoulder, he could have been pulling her in for a kiss. Anyone walking by could have assumed this was a very intimate greeting. Who would have imagined he would be waiting just steps from the elevator for her arrival? Zoe was used to interviewing executives that delighted in stonewalling her, not those who appeared to be welcoming. She decided this tactic of Mr. Fairchild’s was as an attempt to rock her composure, which put her senses on high alert. Zoe glanced at the secretary behind the glass wall with the name C J Fairchild etched into it and saw a smirk on the woman’s face. Bitch, Zoe thought to herself, regaining her composure.
Zoe’s attention was drawn away as Mr. Fairchild said, “Hello, Ms. Alden, it’s a pleasure to see you. Let’s head to my office? Can I have Margie get you anything to drink before we start?”
Oh crap, Zoe thought, walking beside him. C J Fairchild not only has a silky smooth version of the drawl but he is every bit as gorgeous as advertised. Her senses also told her that he knew it. If here say was true, he also didn’t hesitate to use his looks to his advantage. Game on, she mused. In contrast to the men on the elevator, C J Fairchild was minus his suit jacket and tie. This allowed Zoe to see that he had an athletic build but was not overly muscular. Obviously his clothing had been personally tailored. The dress shirt and pants both well fitted left room for ease of movement. Zoe thought to herself, he is self-assured and too cool to let on that I almost tripped over myself. As they passed Margie, Zoe asked for a coffee with almond milk and hoped that Margie had to run to the store to get the milk.
“No problem,” Margie said politely, “and for you Mr. Fairchild”? “I’m good,” C J said as he continued to his office. Zoe thought, yes you are, and when her eyes briefly connected with Margie’s, she knew Margie was thinking the same thing. My god, what is it about this guy?
Instead of taking a seat behind his surprisingly modern-styled desk made of steel and glass, C J Fairchild headed to a sitting area by the windows and positioned himself on one end of a plush brown leather sofa. Mid-stride he had picked up his suit jacket and slipped it on.
“No need to make yourself uncomfortable. I won’t be taking any pictures,” Zoe said.
“I’m comfortable thank you,” he replied.
Zoe really wished he would not say things like that because it was very distracting to her. Left with two options: either sit on the opposite end of the sofa or in one of the two chairs across from the sofa Zoe opted for the chair directly in front of him. She placed her bag atop the rustic wooden coffee table, hoping to regain her stance as inquisitor. C J Fairchild smiled as she pulled out a pen and her notepad.
“You don’t record your interviews with your phone or a tablet I see. Why is that?” he asked.