Erin was hardly through the door of the communal PR office before Francesca, the graphic designer, said, “I heard one of the artists is really yummy.”
“He’s hot as hell,” Erin tossed off. “He’ll photograph well if we choose his design.”
Even if Allison hadn’t been busy at her corner desk, Erin wouldn’t have gone into what had happened with Kai. She and Francesca were friendly, but Erin kept her private life strictly separate from work. Francesca had no problem airing her most personal matters to Erin or to anyone else within earshot, including Allison. Allison loved to gossip, so she encouraged it. But Erin wasn’t playing that game anymore. She had found out quickly that anything she exposed to Allison would be used against her.
“I wish I’d seen him,” Francesca said. “Emily says he’s super-cute! Are you going to pick him, Allison? It would be nice to have a new guy around here.”
Allison rolled her eyes in exasperation. “I wish it was that easy! Instead I have to go sit on a stupid ball. All my careful planning, covering all the bases… I didn’t expect to have to take a trip to Brooklyn before my flight.”
Francesca gave her a puzzled look. Erin tried to clear up the confusion. “You saw the benches for the sundial, didn’t you? Mr. William is afraid they’ll be uncomfortable. So Allison is going over to check them out.”
“Call for a cab to be here at 5:30, Erin,” Allison ordered. “A half hour to get over the bridge should be enough time. I tell you, those balls better work or I’ll break some balls of my own.”
Erin felt a little bad that she might have ruined Kai's chances by pointing out the unusual benches. But someone had to. It was one of Allison's biggest criticisms when they first sorted through the proposals.
Besides, he shouldn’t have been rude. He shouldn’t have called her good girl. It made her squirm just thinking about it.
For the rest of the afternoon, Erin worked with Allison on plotting out their potential PR strategy if they decided to choose Malachi Muiro. Allison had already developed a plan for Hannah based on her international appeal, but for Kai's hook she focused on his small-town Pennsylvania roots and the local foundry that would cast the sundial. Erin could tell that Allison was now questioning her earlier decision to choose Hannah, even though she would never admit it. The meeting at Kai's studio would decide his fate.
Erin couldn’t help but feel satisfied knowing both Kai and Allison were being put out because of her. It was totally passive-aggressive, and she knew she shouldn’t feel that way, but there it was. She wished she could point out Allison's wavering loyalty from Hannah to Kai. But Allison didn’t like being teased or tested, not in any way. She had no sense of humor about herself.
When it came time to pack up to go, Erin was brought up short when Allison grabbed her rolling suitcase and said, “Come on, Erin. The car’s waiting.”
“I’m going with you?”
“Don’t be so stupid! I told you when you ordered the car.” Allison gave her a look. “What’s wrong with you, Erin. Are you sick?”
Yes, Erin wanted to say. I’m sick and tired of you. Now she had to go to Malachi Muiro’s studio and act like nothing was wrong. “I’m a little under the weather,” she managed to say.
“Suck it up!” Allison ordered. “I’m not going to Bushwick alone.”
“How am I going to get home?” Erin asked.
“Grab a cab.”
Erin didn’t want to try to explain to an uptown girl like Allison that Brooklyn was not like Manhattan when it came to finding cabs on every corner. Even in her short time in New York City, Erin had learned that confirmed Manhattanites knew very little about the outer boroughs where she lived.
Before Erin could protest or even visit the bathroom to check her hair or freshen her makeup, Allison rushed them both down to the street past the ugly fountain that squatted like a fat, beige troll at the base of their glass building. Erin could almost see the sundial in its place. The bamboo was a little harder to imagine.
As they were whisked over the Williamsburg Bridge in the cool limo-car, Erin felt she was at a real disadvantage. She wished she could put on some lipstick, but Allison was right there and would know she put it on for Kai. Erin wasn’t going to give her boss that kind of leverage over her. Allison would surely say something uncomfortable in front of Kai because she never let an opportunity pass by to take a jab at Erin.
But it wasn’t fair—Allison's makeup was perfect. She had been gone for nearly twenty minutes before she had reappeared to drag Erin away with her. In fact, Allison looked really good. Her frosty blond hair was freshly cut, curving gently at her shoulders and around her cheekbones. She was in her mid-thirties, but she was toned and hard from her daily workout.
Men responded to her because of her presence and confidence, but Erin could see the tiny signs of strain in her face. The lines around her eyes, and even worse the wrinkles in her neck. Allison dated a lot, almost constantly, and often told Erin and Francesca stories about her dates that were sometimes very funny, and sometimes very cruel. She wasn’t kind to the men who didn’t meet her exacting standards.
Erin let out a sigh. Allison was angling for Kai. Erin wasn’t even sure what she was sighing for; this whole thing was such a mess. She wondered if Kai would bite Allison's hook in order to clinch the job.
If that’s what Allison wants, then she shouldn’t have brought me along. Then again, maybe Allison had brought her as protection, to keep things from going too far, too fast. Allison was smart, too smart to risk her professional reputation.
The car took an abrupt left turn, and they drove through a badly pot-holed street, making them bounce into each other on the seat. The sidewalks were lined by squat industrial buildings with loading docks and vents dotting the long brick walls. A lone straggly tree rose up here and there from the sidewalks.
As they pulled up, even Allison sounded a bit doubtful. “Are you sure this is right?” she asked the driver. He pointed to the number on the side. “Three, two, zero. Like you asked for, Miss.”
It was an old red brick hulk, two floors high with broad factory windows dotting the second floor. The small panes were crisscrossed with wire and some were levered open for ventilation. Several bikes were chained to the wrought iron grate in front, protecting an empty square of dirt. Faint lines of graffiti still showed where the paint had been water-blasted off the bricks.
Allison told the driver to wait and she left her suitcase in the car. The black steel door had several swirls of fresh spray paint across it. Allison pressed #3 that was marked with K. Muiro, and a buzzer sounded to open the door.
A sign on the door to the ground floor space was for a sheet metal fabricator. They had to walk up a battered set of steps to the second floor. Everything was out of scale, with super-high ceilings and wide passageways. It felt so strange that Erin was a bit uneasy.
Whatever happened, she prepared herself to not react, no matter what Allison or Kai might do. She had gotten back at Kai for irritating her at the meeting. Now that Allison was trolling for him, she would have to stay far away.