She folded her hands and sat up straighter, glancing sideways at Veronica for approval. Veronica gave her a slight nod. "So, Mr. Crisp, do you really think this product is a sound investment for Veridian Dynamics?"
Ted swallowed and shifted nervously. "Yes, yes I do." Lem and Phil wouldn't even meet her eyes.
The other executives waited for her response. She looked upward and to the left for exactly three seconds, just enough time to seem to consider her response. Then she turned her confident gaze on Ted again. "All right. You may proceed with the testing phase."
Ted sighed with relief. "Thanks, sweetheart," he said.
She raised an eyebrow.
"Uh-um, sorry, Miss Crisp."
She nodded, satisfied.
Two days ago
Rose was bored. It was just another day of product testing toys to find an overseas market for the company. She had hoped when she came in to Veridian's daycare today that she'd be placed on air-duct dusting duty, or something. Anything.
"They never test anything that I like," she thought aloud.
She moved a toy with her thumb and forefinger distastefully, then got up and headed for the bookshelf. Though it probably wouldn't help, she'd read all of them several times over. Choosing one that might last longer than a half-hour to reread, she sat.
Suddenly, Veronica was standing beside her chair. "Oh, really?"
Rose was getting used to these little drop-ins. She patted the child-sized chair beside her. Veronica looked at it dubiously, then gave a little shrug and sat.
"Yes," Rose answered, once Veronica was seated, albeit awkwardly. "This whole place is geared to littler kids. I'm at that in-between age, when I'm too old for little kid toys, and too young to go hang out at the mall."
Veronica looked pensive. "I don't remember those years very well... but my father definitely had me working by then." She smiled wistfully. "Ah, I can still remember the tang of hydrofluoric acid in the air. Which is mostly why I can't remember those years..." Veronica brightened. "I bet I could call–"
Rose stopped her. "Child labor laws, remember?"
"One of the worst ideas of the 1930s, if you ask me. You know, I'd love to have you intern for me again. You might find it more interesting on my floor, that is, if you've changed your mind."
"My dad, remember?"
Veronica tsked. "Unfortunately, I do. He's rather protective of you. But weren't you just complaining about how bored you were here? You are two years older, after all."
"Your ideas are making a big splash upstairs, do you know that?" she cajoled, spreading her hands wide. "Although I've been taking credit for them."
"If I became your assistant again, would I get credit?"
Veronica patted her hand awkwardly. "Oh, sweetie..." She stood. "No. I'd still take credit. That's the way of the corporate world. But you've got to start somewhere!"
Rose looked back at the knots of children playing with the dolls behind her and then back at Veronica. "Eh," she said. "It's better than here."
"So what do I do now that I'm here?" Rose had managed to get into Veronica's office without incident. Her dad was at the lab and Linda was turned the other way, talking on the phone when she passed by.
"Well, would you like to help me choose proposals to greenlight?"
Rose frowned. "What does that mean exactly?"
"It means that we take a brief glance at possible projects and decide whether they are in Veridian Dynamics' best interest." Veronica waved her over to the desk. "It's easy, and fun!"
"Doesn't sound easy..."
"You'd be surprised." Veronica opened up a folder filled with carefully-typed prospectuses. She spread them out across the top of her desk. "Look at these and tell me what you think."
Rose bit her lip as she scanned the files. "I don't even know what some of these are."
"Neither do I, honey, but that's not important!" Veronica gestured across the multitude of possibilities. "Which looks like a good investment? Go with your gut."
"Um..." Rose's eyes unfocused a little as her hand hovered over the desk. One of the choices slightly to the right seemed to draw her hand toward it, as if she were playing Ouija Board with her friends at a slumber party.
Her hand smacked down. "This one."
Veronica raised an eyebrow. "You're sure."
Rose tried to sound confident. "Yes."
"Then so am I." Veronica plucked it out from the pile, and swept the others off into the large trashcan beside her desk. "Now, was that so hard?"
"Oh," Rose said, holding a hand to her fluttery stomach. "I felt a little bit like I was rushing down a giant rollercoaster."
"That's the fun part."
It turned out that the idea was for a fun, new use of recycled paper. This appealed to Rose - especially since they did that recycling service project at her school. Veridian Dynamics went through a lot of paper, particularly the shredded kind. Instead of sending it to the city's refining plant, Phil had suggested that they find a use for it in-house, maybe even something they could market.
Veronica breezed into the lab, Rose in tow, after both of them had been sure that Ted was in another part of the building. Phil was dripping a chemical into a tube with a tiny eyedropper.
"You," Veronica said while pointing at Phil, all no-nonsense. "Which project are you working on now?"
Phil's eyedropper flew into the air and whizzed over to land in Lem's open soda can on the other side of the lab. He tried to pretend no such thing had happened as he answered, "Um... nothing?"
"Oh, relax. You're not in trouble," Veronica said airily, peering around his workstation. Rose tried to imitate Veronica's stance. "I'm just curious."
"You are?" He brightened considerably. "Well, it's actually very exciting. I'm trying to determine whether adding trace amounts of certain chemicals to food can trigger a euphoric response."
"Why?" Rose asked.
Phil hunkered down to talk to her, raising the pitch of his voice. "Well, you see, little Rose, people are so unhappy these days."
Across the room, Lem took a gulp of soda.
Phil continued, "With just a little dash of Happiness Serum (it's a name I'm trying out) in their food or drink, we might be able to stop crime, end war, usher in a new era of peace!"
"What if people need to be sad? Like if your gerbil died?"
Lem was now blinking rapidly, his mouth stretching into a wide smile.
"So insightful!" Veronica praised, stroking Rose's hair without actually touching it. To Phil, she said, "Cancel this project."
"What?" he said, begging Rose with his eyes to reconsider. She stared him down - no one was going to take away the feelings she'd had for Mr. Fluffypants. Phil cringed back.
"I'm approving this project instead." She slapped the file down on an empty surface.
"The recycled paper one?"
Both girl and woman answered him with a look.
"Al-Alrighty then!" Phil agreed hastily. Across the room, Lem was starting to dance with a spare lab jacket, his glasses askew.
"Can you have a working prototype ready tomorrow? Say by...?" Veronica glanced at Rose for confirmation.
"4:30 should work."
"4:30, then. Well, can you?"
Lem burst into the midst of them. "Of course we can! Phil's a genius!" He wrapped Phil in a tight hug.
"Very good, I'll expect to see it ready at the meeting tomorrow." She turned on her heel, Rose following again.
Before they were out of earshot, Rose could hear Phil protesting, "Lem? Lem!"
Veronica slipped her smartphone from her blazer. "Note: research possible use of Happiness Serum in foreign markets." At Rose's questioning look, she added, "Another thing to learn in this business: even in your failures, always find a way to turn a profit."
"Are you ready?" Veronica asked.
"I think so," Rose answered, straightening her cardigan.
Rose and Veronica stood outside the conference room door the next day just before the meeting. Several executives from upstairs were in the room waiting for Veronica Palmer and her young protégé to arrive.
Veronica had been so impressed with Rose's savvy and excellent business acuity that she'd insisted Rose be in on the presentation meeting. When asked why, a simple "I'm trying to get a pulse on our untapped tween market" was more than enough.
She introduced Rose all around and directed her to sit in a chair near the head of the table.
"Ladies, Gentlemen, Veronica," Ted greeted as he walked into the conference room, followed by Lem and Phil. "You know, I'm really surprised that you picked this project. Isn't it a little... environmentally-conscious?"
"Oh, it wasn't my idea, Ted," she said, stepping out of the view she had been blocking.
His eyes immediately settled on the poised and confident figure of his daughter, sitting in one of the conference chairs. "Rose?"
"Mr. Crisp." She nodded coolly.
Veronica stepped behind him and murmured, "Just go with it."
Later, after the meeting, Ted pulled the two of them aside. "Didn't we agree that Rose doesn't belong up here?"
"We did," Veronica said placidly. "At the time. But times change, Ted."
"Dad, I'm too old for Veridian daycare now. And if I'm just going to watch videos and read books I might as well be home. But you say I'm too young to do that, so..."
Veronica continued, "At her age, I already dreamed of being president!" She added as an aside, "Of my own company, which everyone knows is really the more powerful job. She has talent, Ted. Will you be the one to stifle it?"
Rose fixed her face in the most hopeful yet pitiful expression she could.
Ted looked back and forth between the two until his shoulders slumped. "All right." As Rose tackled him in a hug around the waist, he clarified, "but only one or two hours a day, after homework. Deal?"
"Deal," she said into his tie.
Veronica watched them quietly. In another few years, Rose would be a master manipulator. She could feel a strange warm glow in her heart area - she decided she liked it.