The previous days events stayed with Nika as she headed to work. Her stomach was in knots. After all, she had planned her meeting with Stephen for later that Friday evening.
As soon as she walked through the front door, Rick popped up.
“Uh, Bullock wants to see you in his office, now.” He was visibly nervous and kind of sweaty, but then again he was always sweaty.
“Uh, okay.” Nika didn’t mean to mock his verbal pause, but having to see Bullock now only added to her nervousness. Rick watched her walk off to the office people only went to to get yelled at.
“Miss Noble have a seat.” Mr. Bullock motioned to a chair after Nika closed his office door. She sat down, fearful of what was to come. The room smelled a little like sour milk and old bananas, and it was lit only by the light from outside.
“Miss Noble,” he began, crossing his chunky arms over each other on the surface of his desk, “what is this I hear about you wanting to get off of the McDowell story?”
Relief stopped Nika’s heart from jumping out of her chest. She’d forgotten that she hadn’t told Rick that she was still going to do the story, after her brief textual conversation with Stephen. Rick had her thinking that she was in trouble for something she wasn’t even aware she did.
“Oooh no, Mr. Bullock, I’m still going to do the story. Sorry about that mix up, it was a miscommunication.”
“Okay, good. I didn’t want to have to fire you!” He jokingly exclaimed in his deep, southern drawl, then started laughing a raspy laugh, coughing up phlegm as he did. Nika adjusted herself in the chair and let out a weak laugh, uneasy about having possibly been fired. Somehow, she felt like Bullock hadn’t been joking.
“I need that inside story. Got some big stuff potentially happening soon and ‘Mister Elusive’ is going to be all over the news. Vital Signs is going to be the one with all the information, first!” Bullock huffed. He struggled to get his weight out of his seat, then wobbled to the door and opened it for Nika.
“Get that story girl! I want to have it online in no more than two to three days. If that means no weekend for you…no weekend for you!” Nika got up and walked out, uttering a meek “yes sir” as she did.
Terry was waiting for her at a nearby cubicle. Nika shook her head at him to signal that now wasn’t the time for chit-chat. He nodded back in understanding.
When Nika arrived home, she was welcomed by an empty apartment. Erika was at her weekend gig, most likely getting ready for her Friday night performances. She was an eclectic singer and musician, her music a fusion between R&B, electric, and weird space sounds. She was white and Japanese, so that made the situation even weirder. Her fans didn’t care, though; she was a genius to them.
Her meeting with Stephen was in two hours and she wanted to use that whole time to make herself irresistible to him. There was still a piece of her that wanted Stephen back; to have that feeling of him wanting her again, even if it wasn’t real. She had no idea what to expect from that meeting but before the night was over she was going to a) get her story and b) make him want to eat her panties.
Stephen wanted to meet at a low-key place, as his identity was still pretty unknown. Pieces had been written about him, but Bullock was right about him being elusive. No newspaper, online or hard copy, magazine, daily show, or radio show had ever been able to get an interview with him in person.
He chose a small, classy restaurant right outside of the downtown area, hidden in a quaint brick building that looked pretty bad on the outside. It was dimly lit when Nika walked in, but she could tell the place was nice. Never judge a book by the cover. The tables were spaced a considerable distance apart and most of them were private booths. Stephen was already seated close to the back. She could see him scanning her body; she knew she was stunning. She decided to wear a thigh-length, tightly-fitting champagne colored dress, sleeveless, with a pluging neckline. Her bright red lipstick made her teeth look even whiter than they already were and it also looked amazing against the deep olive undertone of her skin. She let her medium length, wavy, brown hair down for the night. Her thick, dark eyelashes and the black eyeliner made the golden specks in her brown eyes pop. Her legs topped it all off, with her peep toe pumps showing off her well-toned calves.
Stephen stood up and pulled her chair out as the maitre’d walked her to the table. He kept staring at her, even after they sat down. Nika, noticing all of it, acted in a nonchalant manner. She bent over to pull a small notebook and pen from her purse.
“Wow, Nika, you look…wow.” He was stunned, to say the least. He always thought she was beautiful, but that night beautiful couldn’t even describe her.
“‘Wow’ what?” She asked innocently.
Stephen sank a little into his seat and smiled, his prominent chin dimple making it hard for the butterflies to stop fluttering in Nika’s stomach.
“You look beautiful. Even when I saw you at the hotel the other day and you looked like you had run there.”
Nika blushed and chuckled.
“Thanks. You look good too.” She said, even though what she really wanted to tell him that he looked debonair in his tailored black suit and that his light green eyes and light blond hair against his Grecian-looking skin with those soft pink lips made her want to kiss him deeply. It brought her mind back to that night on the beach, the smell of sea on his skin, the feel of the barely-there stubble on his face, the sound of the waves making war with the shore, and his strong arms around her body. She shook the thoughts from her mind. She was on a mission and she had to stay strong, though Stephen was making it very hard for her.
“So,” Nika got professional, “Tell me about yourself. What do you want the public to know about you?” She was anxious to hear this, as she couldn’t remember ever knowing anything about his personal life when they were together.
, not even his last name; he seemed to hide things so well.
“Okay. My father is Dutch and my mother is Algerian. A lot of people think I’m Greek, kind of how you did.” He flashed a smile at Nika, who glared up at him from her notebook.
He continued. “I was born in Algeria. When the company my father worked for got a branch here in the states, we came with it.”
“How old we’re you? When you came here?” Nika asked without looking up.
“I want to say five, maybe six. I know it was over twenty years ago. My dad moved here from the UK, trying to get a branch open. After a few months with no deal in sight, he relocated to the Algerian branch. That’s when he met my mother. He always told me the story of how they met; he thought she was beautiful, and she saw a man coming up in the world, so they got married.”
“Excuse me, and good evening Mr. McDowell, ma’am. Something to drink for you? Champagne? Wine?” A waiter interrupted.
“I’ll just have water.” Stephen said.
“And for you ma’am?” The waiter asked Nika, who was still jotting down notes.
“Um, I’ll take your sweetest red wine.” She looked over at Stephen, who smiled, remembering that Nika loved sweet, not bitter, red wine.
“I’ll have those right out for you.” The waiter left them to sit in silence. Stephen tried hard not to be mesmerized by Nika, but he was having a hard time with that feat.
“If you don’t mind, I’m going to record you, because you talk an awful lot.” She joked as she took out her small recorder.
“That’s fine.” He laughed.
“You can continue.” Nika said after she got everything set up. She looked at his face, glad she was recording him, so that she could use his expressions to make sure he was telling the truth.
“Alright, so, my mother’s family shunned her for marrying a non-Muslim man, so I had no family but my parents growing up. My dad was an orphan, so there you go. A branch finally opened up in the states, and my father became the head of it. We originally lived in New York. We were pretty well off then; I went to prep school, played tennis, golfed, did most things little rich boys did.
“Then the company closed down and my father got laid off. We moved down here and we struggled for a while. By that time I was in high school, at a private school, and when we moved down here, I had to go to public school. That was a rough transition for me. Luckily I skipped a grade and I graduated a little before my 17th birthday and moved to Algeria, crossing my fingers that my mother’s family would accept me.”
The waiter once again interrupted Stephen’s interview, this time with drinks and a request for their orders. She picked something random off of the menu and Stephen followed suit. She practically shushed the young waiter away before telling Stephen to continue.
“Where’d I leave off? Oh yeah. So I moved to Algeria and my grandmother and aunt welcomed me with open arms. My grandfather had died the year before I got there. I also found out that they hadn’t shunned my mom. They actually welcomed my father, but my mother was spoiled and selfish and had a disagreement with my grandparents about something, never found out what it was. So she made that story up to never have to see them again.
“I ended up going to college there, got my bachelors from the American-Algerian University and went traveling around the world after graduation with nothing but a duffle bag.”
“Okay. You’re all money now, how did that happen?”
“Not long after I left, my father and a colleague from the company they worked for before they got laid off went into business together. They bought sugar cane plantation property. They had no idea that sugar cane would grow to be so popular so fast. The company grew and they acquired more land and eventually opened some plantations in South America. Now it’s a multimillion dollar business with stock and all that. I came into money when my dad opened an account for me and put a pretty huge chunk of change in it.”
“For no reason?” Nika asked.
“Of course not,” Stephen laughed, “there was a stipulation. I had to learn the business and then work under him. One day the whole operation would be mine.”
“Understood.” Nika pulled out a list of questions she’d prepared for him. Most of the questions she wanted the answers to weren’t necessarily for the interview. She asked him when he started working for his dad, to which he replied, “Six years ago.”
“How do you hide your wealth and influence so well? Don’t people know who your dad is?”
“For one, live modestly. I may have a lot of money in the bank, but I don’t flaunt it. It’s never been important to me; family has. I never had a whole family until I was 17. That’s a big deal for me.”
Nika’s heart melted.
“About my status and my dad’s…I don’t like being in the public eye. I don’t go to events where a lot of people are. My dad was like that too,v until recently. Long story.”
As soon as Stephen finished his last sentence, their dinner had arrived, interrupting the last few questions Nika was yearning, badly to know.