After dropping his things off at the hotel in Misty Hollow, Alan headed back to the lobby to grab a bite at the food cart. His meeting with Strawberry was the next day. As he passed by the check-in desk, he saw a familiar face. “Lydia!” he said, greeting the lavender mare with a cheeky grin. “Am I to presume you’re here on the same business as I am?”
“You know it,” said Lydia, face brightening. “I’m going to win that contract, too.”
“We’ll see about that,” Alan said good-naturedly.
“I think it’s safe to say that Fairfax Publishing has a more attractive offer,” Lydia continued, taking her key card from the clerk.
“It’s not just about the money,” Alan argued as they walked away from the desk. “The right personal relationship can make up for financial shortcomings.”
“That’s just another way of saying you’re cheap,” Lydia said with a sidelong look. “I’d expect nothing more from Monk Publishing.”
“Just you wait and see,” Alan pestered her. “My bargaining skills are second to none.”
“Let me drop off my bag, and I’ll buy you a drink,” Lydia invited.
“Sure. That sounds good.”
* * *
“…as you can see in this chart, we offer very generous royalty rates; you’re not going to find anything better in the industry,” said Lydia during her lunch meeting the following day with Strawberry.
“Indeed,” said Strawberry, trying to keep her face expressionless as she mulled over her options. It was a generous contract that was offered; but if the founders could throw off their own family members so easily, what might they do to their business associates? Aloud Strawberry said, “Apparently my boss is connected to the owners of your company?” and immediately regretted it–what would Thomas think of her inserting herself into his family affairs?
“Oh, is that so?” Lydia asked with a pinched smile.
“Some sort of family feud, a real shame,” Strawberry remarked, sipping her coffee to strengthen her resolve. “He’s never even met his grandparents.”
“How dreadful,” said Lydia without any great emotion.
“Yes,” said Strawberry coolly as she pushed the folio back toward Lydia. “Well, your offer certainly is generous; but seeing how the company owners treat family, I’m disinclined to accept.”
“I assure you,” Lydia insisted, “you will be treated equitably–”
“No,” said Strawberry, with unusual force.
“Of course, I respect your decision,” Lydia murmured. “Might I walk back with you to the clinic? I’d like to introduce myself to Dr. Fairfax. Family connections and all.”
“Oh, um… sure,” said Strawberry, not sure how Thomas would take the intrusion.
* * *
“This is the first time they’ve thought to reach out to us, when we have a connection to their business?” Thomas scoffed at Lydia’s greeting.
“I won’t deny it,” Lydia said plainly. “However, I do not dictate family policy.”
“But that’s why you’re here, talking to me, so you can report back,” Thomas said sharply. “Your business is with Strawberry. Keep it that way.”
“Come now, I think we’ve gotten off on the wrong hoof unnecessarily,” said Lydia in a more cajoling tone, even as she studied the room and absorbed every detail. “I haven’t done anything personally to harm you.”
“I’m afraid I’m very busy and don’t have time to chat. So if that’s all…”
“You and your sister?” Lydia queried, her darting gaze landing on a recent photo of the siblings from Elaine’s graduation.
“Yes…” Frowning, Thomas stood in front of the picture and blocked her line of vision. “Good day.”
* * *
“You’re being very cross today,” Tabby said, herself feeling quite cross after he had snapped at her for leaving dirty dishes in the break room sink.
Thomas looked at her as if coming out of a trance. “I’m sorry,” he said apologetically. “I guess I’m just on edge. Apparently someone at Fairfax Publishing made the connection. Their agent came to say hello.”
“Why would they notice you now after nothing all these years?” Tabby asked, relaxing her attitude.
“I don’t know, maybe it was just convenient, lining up with their business interests.” Thomas shrugged. “In any case, they’re not going to get any intel out of me.”
* * *
“Strawberry. It’s Alan Morrow with Monk Publishing,” said Alan upon entering the clinic later that day.
“Oh… I wasn’t expecting you so soon,” said Strawberry, looking up from her computer screen.
“No worry, I’ll just wait here,” said Alan cheerfully. “Er… the owner, Dr. Fairfax, wouldn’t happen to be available, would he? He has family ties to the company, you know. I’d like to introduce myself.” Despite what Cecil had said, the crotchety old stallion would be curious, and Alan wanted to return with ample intel.
“I’ll check,” Strawberry said with a wan look.
Alan rose with alacrity at the entrance of the veterinarian and held out a hoof. “Dr. Fairfax, it’s a pleasure to meet you–”
“You can cut the formalities, I know what they think and you’re just talking to me to appease your curiosity,” said Thomas with a grim smile, ignoring the proffered hoof. “You can let your boss know that we got along just fine without their support. Now you can get on with your business with Strawberry, but leave Elaine and me out of it.”
“Of course,” said Alan, backing down. Full of stubborn pride! The family resemblance was striking.
“It’s a sensitive topic,” Strawberry said by way of explanation as Thomas stalked off.
“I understand,” Alan assured her, and settled into a chair to wait until Strawberry was available for their dinner meeting.
A white unicorn mare entered the room, with gently curling sapphire blue hair. Alan was struck by something in her appearance, and felt unusually tongue-tied. He stood up and introduced himself. “Alan. Alan Morrow,” he said, feeling dreadfully awkward as he extended his hoof.
“Elaine Fairfax,” she said, bestowing on him a smile. And what a smile it was!
“F-Fairfax?” It took Alan a moment for the name to register. He hadn’t realized the granddaughter was here, too.
“You’re here for an appointment?” Elaine asked, looking around–for a patient, Alan realized.
“I-I-I’m here to see Strawberry, actually,” Alan stammered. That accursed stutter! He thought he’d left that behind him years ago.
“Oh, certainly,” said Elaine cheerfully, making to go.
“I represent Monk Publishing,” Alan hastened on to explain that it was not a meeting of a personal nature.
A change came over Elaine’s countenance. “Monk Publishing?” she asked huskily, as if holding back tears.
“Y-yes,” said Alan, cursing his lack of tact.
Elaine broke down in tears. Alan helped her to a seat and hovered about solicitously.
“I’m sorry, I’m a veritable water pot,” she said, taking great heaving breaths. “You must think I’m a silly fool.”
“No, not at all,” Alan assured her, offering her a tissue from a nearby box.
Elaine gratefully accepted it. “It’s just that my mother’s father was head of Monk Publishing–she was cut off from the family, you see–and it just occurred to me that you are the closest contact I’ve ever had with her family.”
“That’s deplorable,” Alan murmured, holding her hoof. Stories of the feud and the runaway lovers were the stuff of legend back home in Forest Brook, but had never seemed real until this very instant, with this mare, the product of that union…
“It’s not your fault,” Elaine said, sniffling and making a great effort to collect herself. “It’s not like anyone even knew.”
“Your grandfather knew,” Alan said, frowning as he began to compose the conversation he would have with that stallion regarding his treatment of this mare.
“You know him personally?” Elaine perked up.
“Yes,” Alan said, wanting only to take her in his forelegs and kiss away her tears. “And I’ll tell him he’s a fool for not owning you.”
“You’ll do nothing of the sort,” Elaine said with a hiccupy giggle. “Don’t jeopardize your position on my account. It’s sweet of you to say, though.”
“Elaine, I need you!” A wild-eyed pink unicorn appeared in the doorway. “Quick!”
Elaine jumped to her hooves. “It was nice meeting you, Mr. Morrow,” she called behind her, already moving toward the other unicorn.
“Alan. Call me Alan,” the stallion said, dazzled.
But she was gone.
* * *
“I’m sorry to keep you waiting,” said Strawberry apologetically some time later to Alan. “You never know what will come up.”
“No trouble,” Alan assured her. He had waited patiently, hoping to catch another glance of Elaine, but she had remained out of sight. “If you have more to do–”
“No, that’s all,” Strawberry said cheerfully, jangling her keychain. “I’m free to go.”
“Great,” said Alan. Seeing that she was heading to the door, he jumped up to open it for her. He cast a final longing look at the doorway through which Elaine had disappeared.
They arrived at the restaurant–this Estate Manor place. At least Alan had the more posh setting for his meeting, despite jibes over being cheap. The best lunch venue for Lydia’s meeting had been a sandwich shop.
“I’m very happy where I am,” Strawberry said demurely at the end of Alan’s pitch. “As I told you over the phone, I’m not inclined to change publishers at this time.”
“What can we do to change your mind?” Alan asked.
“Well, it certainly would be nice for your boss to recognize his grandchildren,” Strawberry offered.
“Though I don’t directly control that,” Alan said, “I will certainly include that in my report. Are you sure you won’t reconsider?”
“Quite sure,” Strawberry said.
“Would you like to order dessert?” Alan asked, not missing a beat.
“Oh, no, thank you. I’m meeting friends later for ice cream,” Strawberry declined, giving him a careful look. “In fact… I believe some of my co-workers will be there,” she innocently added. “You could stop by. It’s the ice cream shop on Second Avenue.”
“I’ll certainly take that under consideration,” Alan said fervently.
* * *
“I can’t believe this! It should have been so easy!” Lydia ranted when she met Alan later at the hotel bar. “Neither of us got the contract–it’s preposterous!”
“Looks like our bosses will need to rethink their values if they want Strawberry,” Alan observed.
“As if that’ll happen.” Lydia snorted. “The feud is their life blood.”
“But they like money, too,” Alan said, contemplatively tapping his hoof, “and when Strawberry is approached for movie rights…”
Lydia shook her head as if that could erase the memory of this disaster. “I need something to take my mind off this. First round’s on me.” She gestured for the bartender.
“Not tonight, Lydia,” Alan said, crying off. “I’m going for a walk… clear my head, you understand.” He did not invite her to join him.
He departed, leaving Lydia quite vexed. What was going on with him? He was far too upbeat, given the negative outcome of his mission. Frowning, Lydia settled in to her drink.
* * *
“Don’t you think you might be overreacting a little?” Tabby asked, for once being the voice of reason in the relationship.
Thomas scowled. “They have no right to intrude on our lives in this impersonal manner.”
“If they were solely literary agents, you wouldn’t mind them,” Tabby pointed out.
“If they were just literary agents, they wouldn’t be trying to ingratiate themselves with me and Elaine,” said Thomas stormily. “If the Fairfaxes and Monks really want to know how we’re doing, they can d-n well come see for themselves instead of leaving it to their flunkies.”