Lori was midway through her workout routine when she heard the unmistakable blood-boiling sound of Stephanie Lancaster’s heels click-clacking against the overpriced marble tile her father had insisted on during last year’s renovations. She got on a bike, put her headphones on and started pedaling feverishly. Lori hoped, beyond reason, that if she focused hard enough, she could just will Stephanie away. Today she had other things to focus on, very important things. Things she’d been working on for the better part of a year. She lowered her head, firmed her grip on the handlebars, turned up the music, and pedaled.
Still, every time the notes in the song bottomed out, she could hear it, click-clack, click-clack, click-clack, building to a crescendo. PLEASE DO NOT COME IN HERE, Lori hoped against hope. NOT TODAY. But the odds were not in her favor. Stephanie spotted Lori through the gym’s glass doors, dripping in sweat and burning up the pedals on her bike as if she were a New York City messenger. She pushed the doors open and marched straight over to Lori.
“Lori,” Stephanie announced. “Nice to see you getting a workout that doesn’t involve my daughter” When Lori tapped at her headphones to indicate she couldn’t hear, Stephanie wasn’t buying it. “Cut the crap” she demanded. “We both know you can hear me.
“You’re right,” Lori finally spoke up. “The loudness of your ego is hard to drown out.”
“I was just here to hash out my client’s settlement details with Titus” Stephanie explained. “And I just realized I couldn’t leave without seeing you too.”
But Lori was not in the mood for mind games and pointless fuckery. She wiped at her brow with the back of her hand, then tried her best to send Stephanie on her way. “I have no business with you Stephanie”
“Not anymore you don’t” a wry grin crept across Stephanie’s face “I told you I would see to it that my daughter moved on.”
“What? With Monica O’Rourke?” Lori’s tone was unmistakably dismissive
“Of course with Monica” Stephanie scoffed. “She’s stunning, and smart, and not a conniving wench like you.”
Lori thought back to her adventures with Carly in the community center parking lot. She couldn’t help laughing at Stephanie’s naïve confidence. It was pathetic that she even felt the need to march over to Lori’s place of business to gloat in the first place. But Lori knew Carly couldn’t move on quickly, especially not with someone handpicked by her mother. “I wouldn’t be so sure about that”
“And why not”
At this Lori had to laugh again. She was so amused she had to start pacing around Stephanie to keep from hysterics. “Because, Stephanie I told Carly what you did.” Lori calmed down enough to stand still again. The tone in her voice shifted from amusement to satisfied surety. “I told her every last dirty, underhanded detail.” She waited patiently as Stephanie swallowed hard as if that fact was a bitter cold gulp of air. “And I was four fingers deep inside of her when I told her” Lori added, just to rub it in. “She begged me to let her c…”
Stephanie immediately slapped Lori before she could even finish the sentence. “Shut your filthy mouth!” she shrieked. With her phone secured from the depths of her purse, Stephanie immediately began searching for the photo evidence she’d gathered as proof of the chemistry between Monica and Carly. Carly had posted the picture of her and Monica floating the balloon together to her twitter account. Even to Irene, who was growing ever vocal about her reservations, Carly and Monica looked like the second coming of Barack and Michelle. Stephanie flashed the photo in Lori’s face, making sure to hit the like button in front of her.
“#Carmon is trending in Atlanta.” She smirked with renewed confidence. When Lori turned her back to walk away, Stephanie felt compelled to add salt to the wound. “They’re going out tonight.”
“You just don’t know when to quit, do you.” Lori scoffed. “I’m not worried about a staged charity date”
“Staged or not, Carly needs someone like Monica” Stephanie insisted.
But Lori was having none of it. She’d been around Carly long enough and shared enough secrets to know how badly Carly’s mom had screwed with her head. “She needs someone who respects her enough to be honest with her” Lori retorted.
Feeling insulted by Lori’s presumptions, Stephanie felt the need to explain her position. She wasn’t upset with Lori, in a way she understood how a person could spend two or three months with Carly and suddenly believe in magic. Her daughter had a sort of genuine mystery about her. It was a quality Stephanie was glad to exploit for the family benefit, and it was also the quality about Carly that terrified Stephanie the most. She worried what would happen if some unscrupulous person ever tried to take advantage of her little girl. “My daughter is like a Cherry Blossom tree in full bloom” Stephanie waxed poetic. ”You,” she waved a finger in Lori’s direction, “are the Gale Force wind coming to rip all her flowers off the branches.”
“What.” Lori muttered, her face scrunching in confusion.
“It’s in your nature to be careless Lori.” Stephanie explained. “Can you really blame me for doing everything I can to protect my daughter from your wreckage?” With that Stephanie walked out leaving Lori to stew in the steam of her newly formed anger.
Hunter Purifoy hated waiting. He hated it so much that he’d become notorious for walking out of meetings if all the participants were not present within five minutes of the scheduled start time. Yet, he found himself waiting, waiting and wondering. If it wasn’t Lori would he have afforded as much Grace? Would he have been bending over backward to keep the folks from Center-G on the teleconference line. This was Lori’s deal after all. It was unlike her to be tardy to her own party. At least, it hadn’t been like her in years.
Three months ago Lori had barged into a board member meeting without even bothering to request permission before interrupting the discussion. “We’re fucked” she announced while handing out a carefully packaged portfolio style competitor analysis to each board member.
“Young lady, we are in the middle of…” One board member tried to lecture her.
But Lori cut him off swiftly. “Getting screwed” she asserted. “We’re losing two percent every month to Center-G this quarter.”
Arnie Maxwell, one of Hunter’s most trusted advisors, at least had the decency to skim through the portfolio before completely dismissing it. “Center-G is a fad boutique wellness company. We’re not even in the same market.”
Lori was prepared for that too. She slammed a stack of social media printouts onto the table and began reading them aloud “Finally dumping Trazamil thanks to Center-G #FlushThePills” she started. “Center-G cares about the whole person @PurifoyPharma should be scared #FlushThePills.”
Finally, it seemed like she had their attention, but the residue of skepticism still lingered. “Well, isn’t that what we have you in PR for, to respond to these things?” One person spoke up. Hunter, seeing the spark in Lori’s eye was to fascinated to interject with his own thoughts. He wanted to see how she was going to play her hand. He wanted to see if he’d raised her right after all.
“Why respond when we can take over?” Lori retorted.
Arnie nearly spun out of his chair at the suggestion. “I’m sorry, now I can see that this is possibly a bigger concern than I first thought,” he conceded. “But there is no way on god’s green earth Purifoy is getting into the business of wellness retreats.” At his assertation a few other board members had a chuckle.
But Lori wasn’t done yet. “Arnie, buddy, unclench” she said this half-jokingly but with enough condescension for Arnie to know he’d stepped too far. “Center-G and their Kumbaya Yoga and snake-oil represents an attack on Purifoy’s bottom line” Lori continued. “My bottom line.” She slammed her palm on the table for emphasis. “We’re not going to merge with them. We’re going to dismantle them”
Lori went on to explain how buying out Center-G and then disassembling their services would allow Purifoy to absorb any non-overlapping customer base. “That’s nearly five billion dollars in new growth potential by the end of the third quarter” she finished. By the time she was done, everyone in the room was fully on board. Hunter couldn’t have handled it better if he’d spoken the words himself. He recalled being so prideful and boastful that he bragged to his golf buddies for a full week about it.
Now though, with Lori running more than five minutes late to her own meeting, any good grace Lori had earned with her father was beginning to wane.
She was supposed to have hopped in the shower by now, she was supposed to be getting ready for her conference call with Center-G,. But she couldn’t. She couldn’t focus. She found a jump rope in the corner and whipped that into oblong hoops with rapid speed until her feet could no longer sustain the rhythm. Lori put her headphones back in and broke away from the jump-rope to do pushups. When she got tired of the pushups, she went back to the bike. She repeated that rotation over and over until there was nothing in her head except the music. Eight miles on the bike, fifteen total minutes of jump-rope, and two-hundred pushups later, Lori finally felt the endorphin high kicking in. By then though, she was already ten minutes late to her video conference.
There was no time for a shower, or to straighten up her hair, which was dripping in sweat. No, they’d just have to take her as she was. She had the upper hand any way. Lori walked into the room to find her dad chatting up Brian Fielding, the forty-something CEO of Center-G. He’d dialed into their video conference system from Miami.
“Lori,” Hunter turned in his chair, immediately startled by Lori’s disheveled appearance. “So nice of you to join us.”
“Hey, Brian” Lori announced into the camera. “Nice to see you.” She spoke as if they’d met before. They hadn’t.
“I was just telling Brian that we’re prepared to give a very generous offer.” Hunter tried to steer the conversation back on course.
“I’m all ears” Brian responded with clear indication that he’d been waiting on Lori.
For her part, Lori was not fazed by the judgmental glances coming from both her dad and Brian. She was still riding her endorphin high and it was just starting to peak. “The offer’s four-hundred million” Lori stated flatly. At that both Hunter and Brian dropped their mouths in shock. For Hunter, he was stunned by such a ballsy undersell. For Brian, he was simply insulted.
“IS SHE JOKING!” Brian shouted into the camera. “We’re projected at TWO-BILLION in profit next year.”
“I’m sure there’s been some sort of miscommunication” Hunter tried to laugh it off.
But Lori wouldn’t allow it. “No, no miscommunication Brian. It’s four-hundred million. Take it or leave it.”
At that, Hunter put the microphone on mute and covered the camera lid. “Care to tell me what in the hell has gotten into you?” he fumed. “You’re going to blow this deal.”
“Dad, they’re sitting on one-hundred million in debt. They’ve completely tapped out the market which is why they’re targeting our customers, and they’ve been underpricing their services in order to beat out the competition” Lori explained. “They can’t possibly continue at the current rate of growth and they know it.”
Hunter turned the camera back on and unmuted the microphone. “well Bri, we’ve had some time to reconsider” he began.
“Good, I’m glad” Brian straightened his spine so that he was centered on his chair.
“Offer’s three-hundred million” Hunter finished. At this reduction, Brian simply hung up.
Hunter turned to Lori, the prideful smile he’d lost earlier once again returned. “I assume you wanted that to happen.”
“Daddy, I wouldn’t have had it any other way.”
They shared a brief moment of comradery. It was only a second or two, but it fed Lori’s desperate need to see her father look at her the way he looked at Arnie, like someone who had earned his respect. “So,” Hunter broke the silence. “What next?”
Lori had already started exiting the room. She turned to acknowledge her father’s question. “Full-Court press” She stated as coldly and savagely as you would expect from someone who had been raised to delight in the destruction of competition.
As she approached her office Lori instinctively took out her phone. Texting Carly about her day had become a habit. A bit of a natural reflex. However, she was swiftly greeted by the sight of Carly on her timeline. A picture of her on her Twitter account. She was stepping into her dad’s town car. Her hair had been done up into a fishtail braid that she swooped over her left shoulder.
She was wearing a summery white paisley dress with cupped short sleeves. Lori had mentioned how Carly’s skin had an irresistible glow whenever she wore white. She tried to fight the thought but it was coming to her in flashed now. Monica’s hands creeping up Carly’s thighs pushing the fabric of her dress ever upward. Lori struggled to hold on to her high. Her eyes glanced downward at the caption under the photo.
Tonight’s the night. Hope Monica’s ready for me #Carmon
Lori shoved the doors to her office open in blind frustration. Not at Carly, she only had herself to blame. She’d underestimated the intensity of her feelings for Carly, and now she was paying the price. “ALEX!” she called out as she stormed into the office. Her dutiful assistant rushed in at once. Alex had decided on a pair of Seven Jeans and a black button up blouse for the day. At the sight of her outfit, Lori sighed in frustration. “Why? Why are you wearing jeans?” Lori asked while approaching the other woman.
Alex looked confused but offered an explanation anyway. “It’s casual Friday” she tried.
To this, Lori simply shook her head. “Take them off” she instructed. “Now.”
As Alex undid her zipper, Carly grabbed at her crotch and felt, through Alex’s underwear, for the moistened signs of a welcoming pussy. Alex was already drenched. Lori let herself slip inside without fully removing the underwear. She closed her eyes and got lost in the rhythm of another woman bending to her will, releasing her body to Lori’s control.
Alex slipped a vial full of purple pills into Lori’s free hand. “I didn’t have time to grab the case” she whispered between gasps of pleasure. “But these used to be your favorite.”
It was a vial full of perks. At the sight of them Lori’s eyes nearly shot out of her head. She could sense herself salivating. Still she held tight and closed her eyes again. She was focused on the rhythm. In, out, two fingers, then three, in, out, then drop to her knees to taste the goodness of her handy work. In, and, out, two, then three, just a taste she repeated. Just a taste over and over to the rhythm until Alex came with so much force that her body collapsed onto Lori’s face with her lower lips still riding Lori’s tongue.
When it was over, Lori opened her eyes and let the vial slip from her grip. Alex lay on the floor shaking with aftershock. Lori soaked in the high of knowing that she’d given Alex that much pleasure. But Lori couldn’t hold her. That’s not what they were about. They’d agreed never to talk about it, and never to interfere with each other’s relationships.
Lori watched as Alex sat up just enough to grab the vial, open it, slip two tiny circular pills into her hand, and swallow them dry. She didn’t bother trying to stop her. This was just a transaction, no different than the deal she was negotiating with Center-G. She wasn’t supposed to care. That fact, made her miss Carly even more. Lori missed being held. She missed talking to someone who actually wanted to listen to her. And, if her only other alternatives were hours in the gym and sex with people who were toxic to her recovery, Lori knew she was fucked.