Taking a deep breath, Lindsay Richardson tightened her grip on the thick leather handle of her father's briefcase, trying to draw some of his strength and fortitude from it.
Something warned her she was going to need all of that, plus a special prayer, to face her first day of work at Copley Industries. She opened the door to her boss's office for their initial meeting.
"I said no interruptions, Claire, please." She heard a man's voice coming from the other side of the cavernous office. He spoke without looking up from his desk as he shuffled through a stack of papers.
"I'm sorry. I'm not Claire. But she told me--"
"Claire doesn't run Copley Industries. I do. That's the First Commandment here."
Lindsay cringed at his use of that particular phrase, but she bit her lip and gripped the leather handle of the briefcase even tighter than before.
He stood up and switched on the recessed copper-rimmed lights. Now Lindsay could see him clearly. She was in trouble. She had walked into the wrong office.
"I'm sorry for intruding, I have an appointment with Mr. Copley, but it must be your father, not you. I didn't open the right door."
His clear blue eyes narrowed. From the tip of his sandy hair to his designer shoes, everything about the thirty-something executive spelled advantage to Lindsay. She felt like an alien life form under his intense scrutiny.
"I'm your Mr. Copley. For now," he said, coming toward her from behind his desk. There was something in his tone of voice Lindsay didn't understand. "Call me Dean."
Lindsay felt like a bobble-headed doll as she nodded. "Okay."
"Who are you, anyway?"
"I'm Lindsay Richardson, from St. Gregory's Elementary School."
When there was no response from him, she continued talking really fast, before he could tell her to leave. "We saw each other on Saturday. I was handing out leaflets about the church music group at the apartment complex. You're an owner there, and so's my sister. Don't you remember?"
"No. What did I say?"
"You mentioned something about my timing being bad."
"One might say it's still true." He raised one eyebrow.
Lindsay grew more flustered than before. "You told me it was private property and..."
"'We don't allow solicitations on this premises' Right. Now I remember. You are Meg's sister. I see the resemblance." His eyes swept over her in a quick, experienced appraisal. "Except you looked more comfortable in those sweatpants."
Lindsay almost died from embarrassment. She hoped he wouldn't notice the deep flush she felt racing across her cheeks.
"But why are you here now?"
"After you went in the house, your father came by. We talked for a few minutes and then he offered me a job here. He told me to show up Monday, so here I am. I've already done all the paperwork with Claire, and I thought I'd be meeting with him when I came in here."
"Well, he didn't tell me. How do you like that." He gave a laugh.
Lindsay had to keep thinking quickly, before he decided he didn't need her around. "I guess he figured I'd explain it all to you, then. Like I just did." Concern crept into her heart. What if he didn't keep her? She needed this job. "I'll be going."
"Where's my cell phone? I just had it."
She followed him over to his desk, laden with files and magazines.
He pressed a button on his telephone. "Claire. Where's my material about Lindsay Richardson?"
"You don't have any, Mr. Copley," Dean's secretary explained in a patient tone of voice from the other end of the speaker. "She brought all her materials with her." He disconnected the speaker, and imitated her: "She brought all her materials with her."
He sounded just like Claire. Lindsay wanted to laugh at his antics, but was stopped by his intense stare. Then he smiled, and Lindsay felt the charge of 550 volts of electricity course through her.
He walked past his desk to a putting green, complete with waterfall, set along the windows in the far corner of the office. Picking up a golf club and focusing on his putt, he mumbled: "Second commandment: never work with a close personal friend. And my dad; I can't believe he hired you and didn't even tell me. What's your job?"
"I'm the new Assistant Executive Secretary."
"I don't need one. Why'd he hire you?"
"He knew my father," she answered quietly. "They were very close friends, they went way back. In Africa during the war, and all. So I guess, when he learned about my father's..."
"Oh, just missed." With a groan, Dean tossed his putter aside.
She gripped the leather handles of her father's briefcase even tighter. Give me strength, Lord. She didn't want talk about losing her father with Dean. The pain was too fresh. And he didn't seem too concerned about her, anyway. He appeared to be very wrapped up with his own agenda.
Dean slapped his palm against his forehead. "You know, he always does this to me."
"Tells me I'm running the company and then just does whatever he wants, anyway. Sometimes I really wonder why I'm here." He plunked into a chair.
"I know how you feel," she couldn't help saying. "I'm sort of wondering that, too."
He looked at her curiously, as if seeing her for the very first time.
Locking into his bright blue stare, Lindsay felt herself starting to get pulled into his world. And like a swimmer competing against the current, she struggled to stay afloat.
A moment passed before he spoke again. "You'd better be able to multitask, to work for me."
"After caring for my mother, who has Alzheimer's? No problem."
"And always be straight with me. I can't stomach a liar."
"I don't know any other way to be." The plush, rust-colored carpet she stood on felt like it was turning into quicksand. How could she keep her focus with him staring at her like that?
Taking another deep breath, she asked: "Doesn't your father work here?"
"Not really. I run Copley Investments, our subsidiary investment firm. My father started Copley Industries as Copley Air, making the units that heat and cool buildings all over the world. He's semi-retired now, allegedly. But actually, his main pastime seems to be making my life tough and undermining my authority."
With her own father gone for not three months yet, it hurt Lindsay deeply to hear him speak this way about his own father.
"If that's the way you feel, then why don't you say something to him about it? That would be honest." She spoke from her heart. At that moment, his power over her future meant little to her, compared to how she felt about her father.
Dean stood up and walked closer to her. She felt his energy as he approached. And, like the maple trees thrashing against the November gales blustering outside, she held her own and stayed rooted firmly to her spot.
"You're seriously telling me what's honest? Really? Well, Lindsay Richardson, I have the perfect proposal for you."
Lindsay hoped he couldn't hear her heart thumping in her chest.
He continued: "Why don't you let me deal with my father in my own way, and why don't you go find your office."
"All right. Thank you, Dean." She reached out to shake his hand but he dismissed her with a nod towards the door. He wouldn't shake her hand. How humiliating!
As she walked away, she could feel his eyes on her back. She primly smoothed her navy blue skirt and gave the dark bun coiled at the nape of her neck an efficient pat.
Then she straightened up on purpose, just to show him that Lindsay Richardson had a real backbone--even though their meeting had been iffy.
"Ask Claire for 206," she heard him call as she closed the copper doors behind her.
Even though she was just starting a new job, why did the latching of the doors sound decisively, and eloquently, final to her? Gripping her father's briefcase, she repeated one of her favorite prayers: "As one door closes, another one opens."
Alone in his office, Dean twirled in his leather executive chair, ideas and impressions swirling through his mind. This new, surprise hire, Lindsay Richardson looked nice enough. And she had "it": a closeness to her family he longed for but could never grasp. He could tell from the look in her eye, especially when she spoke about her father. He had tried not to let on, but he could tell she hurt. But how could he make her experience at Copley Industries a long and happy one? If he did, he would just be playing into his father's hand.
She really looks like she needs the job, though. How can I fire her on her first day? I can't. I won't. Dean shook his head, glancing at the framed photo of his father on one side of his desk. Of course he'd make it work for Lindsay. His issues with his father weren't her fault.
Somehow it seemed like his dad was always there. As a youngster growing up, not a day went by without his father asking him about his activities. All through his formative years, his father had been a stern and steely presence. And Dean still felt his influence, even to this day. Yet, it might have been nice to sometimes feel he could speak to him, one on one, without having to defend himself. Without the steel.
Of course he appreciated all his father had done for their whole family. Gratitude was the only reason that he had gone into the family business. He was certainly not suited for it. And his heart wasn't in it, never had been.
Ronald, the golden boy, was the one who should have been sitting in this chair, not him.
His friend Gordon had to hear about this latest outrage. He reached for the phone. As he did, Dean looked at the hideous scars spread across both of his hands, aching physical reminders of the pain he had been through the day he had accidentally killed Ronald. He knew Lindsay had been embarrassed when he rebuffed her extended hand. A simple gesture of gratitude on her part, a handshake, was impossible for him. The scars on his hands made shaking hands out of the question for him. The pain from his past was a pain he was still feeling to this very day.
The helicopter crash had occured years ago. But when would the pain ever go away?
Suite 206 was in the corner of the old brick manufacturing plant, so typical of the turn-of-the-century industrial complexes lining Providence's Blackstone River Valley. The Copley family had completed a total renovation five years earlier, creating an exciting, state of the art office and retail facility to house the design, manufacture, and distribution of their primary business, Copley Air.
Lindsay could remember her father mentioning its much-touted opening when it had been publicized in the newspapers and on television at the time, since it provided such a boost to the local and regional economy.
She looked around admiringly. The original exposed piping and ductwork was now painted cherry red. Additions and structural changes over the years had resulted in an odd-angled lay out throughout the whole place.
It dawned on her that the odd design of the place duplicated the odd path her life seemed to be on right now. Five years earlier, when the building had been completed, it never would have occurred to her that she'd be working here. Yet, as life would have it, here she was.
"Good morning, again," said Claire, with a friendly smile. The plump blonde bustled over to her, silver bracelets jangling. "How's it going so far?"
"It's had its twists and turns," Lindsay replied.
Claire gave a crooked smile. "With Dean, I'm not surprised. Do you know what projects you'll be working on?"
Shaking her head, Lindsay answered: "We haven't gotten that far yet."
"Well, there's plenty of time for that later. But if you like to travel, there are a lot of opportunities here. Anyway, I brought you a nice hot cup of tea." She handed Lindsay a china cup and saucer. "How do you like your office?"
"I've never seen anything like this in my life," she said.
"It is unusual," Claire agreed. "Just like Dean."
Lindsay thought she detected a note of motherly pride in Claire's pleasant voice. As far as she was concerned, to call him "unusual" was a bit of an understatement.
Wandering towards her work alcove, she admired the smoked-glass shelves mounted on the wall by copper brackets near her desk, filled with assorted hard-covered books and plants. The lower shelf was loaded with various copper frames, and each frame had different people in it.
"I see the Copleys love copper, Claire, because it's so close to their name. But who are all these people? Does Dean have a big family?"
"I don't know who they are, Lindsay," Claire answered. For the first time, the bubbly secretary seemed subdued. "They came with the frames."
"You mean nobody knows any of these people?" Lindsay hadn't ever heard of anything like that. "They're just decoration?"
"It's more than that. Ever since the accident, he doesn't allow any of us to keep any personal pictures anywhere. It's one of the few rules here. He has one picture of his father on his desk, that's it."
Lindsay was confused, and asked: "What accident, Claire?"
There were tears in Claire's blue eyes as she answered.
"The helicopter crash, twelve years ago. You're probably too young to remember." She dabbed her eyes.
"I think I remember something about it," Lindsay said slowly. "It didn't happen around here, though, did it?"
Claire shook her head. "No. It was in Vail, Colorado."
"I remember now," Lindsay's expression was somber. "Not everyone made it."
Claire nodded sadly. "Dean was piloting the chopper that went down. They lost his brother, Ronald...the shining star of the family. My husband, Normand…and...others. Dean still has the scars on his hands from the fire..."
Before she could finish, Dean came into the office.
"Where's my file on the Wyman project, Claire? Please," he added. The strong lines of his chin and jaw were tight.
Lindsay stepped aside to let him in, and as she did, Dean walked straight into her path. He collided with Lindsay so forcefully that the cup and saucer in her hand went flying, spilling hot tea all over the front of his suit.
"Oh no," she said. "Oh, I'm so sorry!"
Dean shook his head impatiently but didn't say anything. He just grabbed for his handkerchief.
"How clumsy of me. I'm such a klutz!" Lindsay continued, snatching the handkerchief from him. When she did, she noticed his hands...and the scars, just as Claire had told her. The red, thick skin was rippled and warped along the top of both hands, up beyond his wrists. That must be why he didn't shake hands, she thought.
She could only wonder what it must have been like to know he had caused his brother's death. How had he recovered? He must have incredible fortitude... Could he possibly have a strong faith to have such fortitude?
"This shouldn't be too much of a problem," she chattered, hoping he hadn't noticed her looking at his scars. "Club soda and sea salt are very effective on tea stains, believe me, I've had to..."
Dean made a face and took her hands firmly in his own. "That's quite enough, Miss Richardson," he said.
Mortified, humiliated and certain that she was about to be fired, she froze in mid-dab. "I'm really sorry. I don't know what happened."
"It was an accident." Dean's lips were thin and his voice was flat. "We all know that accidents can happen."
Lindsay knew his words were filled with meaning, for he had been though a terrible accident. What a deep man he might be. She puffed her cheeks out in a grateful sigh of relief. She noticed that his eyes seemed to soften.
In that moment, with his features relaxed, he looked so fresh and natural. Lindsay couldn't help but notice how genuinely handsome he was. It was as if he was freed from all the artifice and his real self was shining through--if only for an instant. She opened her lips to speak, but before she could say anything he gently released her hands. Lindsay realized how nice his warmth had felt.
"My first day, though..." She shook her head.
"I'll call your dry cleaners, Mr. Copley," Claire interrupted, shooting Lindsay a look. She reached for the phone.
"After you get me the Wyman file, please, Claire. And please arrange for the cleaner's to get me my tux for the gala tonight."
"Of course. Be right back." Claire hurried off.
"Are you drying out?" Lindsay asked.
She thought she saw the hint of a smile highlighting Dean's face. But she must have been wrong, because he winced and clutched at his left hip.
"Oooh - arthritis?" Lindsay asked.
"My silent beeper," he replied dryly. "I'm only... how old are you?"
"I'm only five years older than you. Not a fossil, yet. Although I know arthritis can strike folks at any age." He took out his cell phone and scanned the message screen. "Gwynneth."
She recognized the name as that of Gwynneth Holt, the ravishing socialite seen frequently with Dean at charity events.
He looked up from the screen and said: "Well, Lindsay, here's your first official assignment. Gwynneth can't accompany me to the Heart Association gala tonight. Make yourself useful and find me a replacement."