Darian Oliver, home from college for summer break, never expected to do more than earn a few dollars from his part time summer gig.
But when he takes a position as a server with a catering company, he finds himself serving up more than cheese cubes after stumbling upon Ms. Jackson, the most fascinating woman he's ever met.
Meeting Ms. Jackson that night was the only upside to dressing up in that idiotic tuxedo get up; like the hired help that I'd become. Ms. Jackson stood out in the crowd as I held out the silver tray of hors d'oeuvres for the guests in the crowded banquet hall. The room was filled with finely dressed men and women who'd gathered for a formal company party in the swanky Renaissance Hotel. But when she walked in the room, they may as well have all disappeared.
It was the summer before my senior year at Xavier University of Louisiana, and I was in need of some major cash. My father had been laid off of his job two months before. And that meant he could no longer help pay for the portion of my tuition that my partial academic scholarship didn’t cover. It wasn't long before I realized that if I wanted to graduate, it was going to be up to me to earn the extra money necessary to make that happen.Hence, the only reason that I would have signed up for that job in the first place. It paid well. Much better than any other gig that I could've booked over the two and a half month vacation that I was back in my hometown in Dallas. According to my calculations, I’d make nearly half of what I’d need for my last year of college. I knew that I'd have to figure out later how to find the other half. But that would be a problem for later.
And it was a problem that was nowhere on my radar when I saw the petite woman in the fitted royal blue, strapless dress walk through the double doors of the banquet hall. She moved with confident strides, her hips swaying with each step, commanding the room the moment she swept through the doors. Her reddish brown hair was pulled back, bringing attention to her high cheekbones and long neck, features which only added to her regal flair. Her honey colored complexion seemed to glow under the banquet room's lighting, as if a spotlight had been directed on her. But Ms. Jackson didn't need a spotlight to draw the attention of all of the guests as they milled about, engaged in their small talk. Heads turned as she breezed past each group. Appreciative, longing stares came from the men in the room, while a few of the women gave admiring, albeit envious, once-overs. But she seemed oblivious to them all. Or, she was so accustomed to the attention that it no longer affected her.
I watched as she stopped in front of a full-figured woman dressed in a charcoal gray pantsuit and greeted her with a hug. As guests approached me, reaching for samplings of the hors d'oeuvres from the tray I held in front of me, I gave them weak smiles---just enough so that it looked as if I cared---and would turn my eyes away, searching the room until I'd spotted her again. She seemed to float across the room, from person to person, easily engaging in conversation.
She gave a polite pat to a young woman's shoulder and turned toward where I stood next to my coworker, Robert. She moved in our direction, glancing quickly at Robert before her eyes drifted to mine. Her chestnut-colored eyes lingered, before slowly trailing down, taking in the rest of me. She directed her gaze back up to meet my eyes again. Traces of a smile played on her full, red-stained lips, when she finally reached us. The sweet fragrance she wore drifted my way before she did, adding to what seemed like her innately seductive allure.
“Good evening,” she said, nodding her head slightly toward Robert before locking her gaze with mine again. She reached out to pluck a cheese cube from my tray, her eyes never leaving mine as she bit slowly into it. With a wink, she said, “Thank you,” in her deep, sultry voice and turned to head toward the platform located at the front of the hall. I watched as she took a seat in one of the stage’s chairs next to a man and another woman.
The event’s host, the pantsuit-wearing woman from earlier, approached the podium and spoke over the microphone, urging all of the guests to be seated as they prepared for the night’s speakers.
The host’s nasally, high-pitched voice echoed through the room. “Ladies and gentlemen, it is my pleasure to introduce you to our first guest, Sylvia Jackson, sales expert extraordinaire and personal development speaker.”
I watched as the woman smiled at the host and moved confidently up to the microphone, her high heels clicking on the wooden floor beneath her with each step. Sylvia Jackson. Finally, I had a name to attach to the sultry woman in the fitted blue evening gown.
I moved to the rear of the hall where I and the other servers were tasked with setting up the tables in preparation for the dinner that had been arranged for the event’s participants. But my mind wasn’t on proper place settings because I’d found it nearly impossible to pull my attention away from the woman whose clear voice now carried throughout the room as she spoke with eloquence, charm, and class punctuating every sentence. It was apparent that she’d been designed specifically for the purpose of public speaking; as it seemed effortless for her as she stood before the sizeable crowd. The entire audience was captivated by her message. And I wasn’t excluded from those pulled in by her words. She spoke of the power of taking initiative and of follow through. She spoke of belief in oneself and of taking chances in order to achieve great things in life. And I ate up every word, following her as she paced back and forth across the stage, speaking with her hands to emphasize her points.
She ended with more words of encouragement as she urged the audience to learn to trust their instincts, believe in themselves and take the first steps to follow their dreams and aspirations. Ms. Jackson truly had a gift, because by the end of her speech she had me motivated to go out and do more, be more. She returned to her seat amidst thunderous applause and a standing ovation. And as she smiled out at the audience, her gaze lingered as our eyes met, before she continued her assessment of the crowd.
After a few more insignificant speakers, the crowd dispersed as I helped, half-heartedly, with clean-up duty. But I never lost sight of Ms. Jackson as she chatted with members of the audience who had swarmed around her. She stood in front of an elongated table, gifting them with friendly smiles, handshakes, and encouraging pats on their arms as she spoke to them. The energy she emitted seemed to flow out of her and infect those she touched so easily. I could tell that she was good at this. Damn good. After her encounter with the excited strangers, I noticed her hand them each a small business card that she’d picked up from the table.
I looked over to see that the other servers had packed away utensils, serving dishes and other supplies as they loaded up the catering vans. I knew that I might not ever get a chance to see her again, and before I could analyze my next move any further, I found my feet were making their way toward where she stood, saying her goodbyes to the hostess. I stood just behind them, and waited, watching them speak.
“Thank you again, Sylvia, for doing this. Your speech was such a treat. I’m sure you’ve inspired many here tonight.”
“It was no problem, Rhonda. It was my pleasure actually. I enjoyed this. Anytime you need me to speak for an event, don’t hesitate to call me, okay?”
I glanced back to see that my coworkers had nearly finished cleaning up, and hoped their chatting would end soon. Luckily, seconds later Rhonda gave Ms. Jackson a parting hug and walked off. My throat went dry when Sylvia turned around and focused right on me.
I’d spent the time I was waiting for the ladies’ conversation to end rehearsing in my head my opening lines for her. But now as she stared directly at me, my ability to even form a coherent sentence had seemed to vanish. And that was unlike me. I hadn’t been a member of my school’s debate team for the past three years for nothing. I knew how to form a sentence. But that evening, I couldn’t.
I watched as a half smile curved her lips upward. “Hello, there,” she said reaching out a hand toward me. I took her hand in mine, reveling in the small, delicate softness of it.
“H..hi,” I said, wanting instantly to kick myself for being so shaken up. How the hell was she even going to take me seriously when I was behaving like a scared juvenile? “I just wanted to let you know that I really enjoyed your speech tonight. It was riveting, engrossing, and extremely motivational."
“Well, I’m glad you liked it,” she said, pulling her hand away from my grasp, as I’d yet to let it go. “Are you working with the catering company here?”
I shook my head, but then nodded it. “No, I mean, uh, yes.” I was stumbling over my words and sure I’d confused her by now. There was just something thick and heavy that emanated from her and hung in the air around us, making me a nervous wreck. Call it sexual tension or her inherently sensual nature, or hell, even my imagination. I'm not entirely sure what it was. But whatever it was, it was making me look like a blundering fool. “What I mean is that I’m not with the company full time. Just for the summer. I’ll be finishing my last year of undergrad in the fall. And I’m just doing this gig to earn a little extra for the upcoming year.”
I heard myself rambling, but she didn’t seem to mind. She looked interested and seemed to listen intently as I spoke. Like I'd said, she was good at what she did. Relating to people just seemed to be her thing. She had a way of making a person feel as safe as if he were talking to his oldest friend.
“I’m sorry, what's your name?”
Stupid, I thought, shaking my head again. “Sorry, I didn’t tell you, did I? It’s Darian. Darian Oliver.”
“Okay. Nice meeting you Darian. What are you studying in school?”
“I have a double major--Pre-Med and Political Science."
“Iimpressive. So you’re smart and a hard-worker. Nice.”
I grinned, sure that I looked like an overly eager fool. She reached behind her to grab a card from the table. “Well, I have to get going. But if you ever need more like tonight’s speech, I have some great videos on my website that you could check out. There are also other great resources that I’m confident could help you in your future endeavors, as well.”
I glanced down at the beige business card, and smiled when I read her name in bold script. “Thank you,” I said, pocketing the card.
I felt her slender fingers around my upper arm as she gave me a friendly pat.“It’s really no problem. I’m glad that my talk helped you.” She picked up the remainder of her cards and sauntered toward the banquet hall door. I watched her move away, assuming that I'd seen the last I'd ever see of the petite powerhouse.
There just isn't enough time in the day. That was usually my first thought every morning when I awoke and picked up the miniature notebook I placed at my bedside. In that notebook, was my daily to-do list which I always compiled the previous night before going to sleep. I was well aware that I was likely amongst an increasingly shrinking number of people who still used pen and paper to plan out their days, instead of Blackberries and sundry other smartphone devices.
But it worked for me, so why disturb it? That's the way I've always felt about it. Nevertheless, whether recorded using paper or digital means, my task list had still grown to an absurdly ridiculous length.
My brother Barry's voice echoed in my head. You need to hire an assistant, Sylvia. I know you think you're Superwoman but you can't do it all. That was my older brother's version of words of wisdom after Thanksgiving dinner the year before. It was one of the few times a year that I was able to see most of my family. And every year, I always heard the same words of admonition from them all.
Where’ve you been?
We haven’t seen you in forever.
You're always working; when are you going to let up?
Don’t forget about your family, now. You busy out there helping everybody else, and forgetting about your own blood.
And Barry had been sure to put in his opinion on my busy life as well. But, this time, I couldn’t brush him off as I had most of the comments I’d received. He was right and I couldn’t deny that. After seven years of doing all of the heavy lifting for most of my career, the demands of my growing business had begun to catch up with me and were starting to wear me down. There I was, however, seven months later, and still hadn’t hired an assistant.
But it was just too hard to relinquish control over to just anyone. Why would I give my baby over to someone who wasn’t even the least bit invested in seeing it thrive? I just wasn’t ready for that yet.
I groaned and crawled out of bed, ready to start my usual routine. I craved routine. Making order out of my daily chaos was the only thing that kept me from being swept away by my fast-paced world.
“Sylvia?” I looked up over my computer to see my secretary, Pamela, at the open doorway of my office.
“There’s a young man here to see you. I asked him if he’d like to book an appointment for a later date. But he insisted that he’d like to speak with you whenever you get a chance today. And he...” she looked down the hall in the direction of the waiting room where I assumed the aforementioned “young man” sat. She continued, her voice lowered, “It doesn’t look like he plans to leave any time soon.”
It wasn’t the first time that I’d received surprise visits at my downtown office. And Pamela had become quite adept at managing them and turning them away when necessary. So, if even she had a problem getting the “young man” to leave, then he must have been pretty determined.
I rose from my desk and led the way back down the hall to the small waiting area. When I turned the corner, I pushed away the momentary surprise that hit me when I saw the "young man" in question. I knew that face. To be honest, I couldn't forget it. The strong-jawed face with deep-set dark eyes that seemed to pierce the deepest fibers of my being, was unforgettable. He no longer donned his tuxedo, but a navy blue short-sleeved shirt and black slacks which gave him a sophisticated sort of air. But why was he there in my office?
He stepped forward, his hand outstretched. I accepted it, allowing his large hand to practically swallow mine in his grip. His hands were warm. And smooth. He didn’t have the rough hands of someone who was accustomed to hard labor. And his attire along with the wire-rimmed glasses he now wore, only confirmed my assessment of him as the bookish type---most likely a college student.
I pulled my hand away, "Hello...Darian, right?"
I didn't miss the look of surprise that crossed his face. Little did he know that my impeccable memory and ease at placing names with faces had served me well many times before.
"Right," he said, wonder in his tone. But with a slight shake of his head and the audible clearing of his throat, he continued. “I don't mean to take up much of your time, but...I'm here because I noticed that you have a need, and I'd like to fill that role for you. "
It was my turn to be taken aback. What in the world was he talking about? "Excuse me? "
His voice was assured; almost cocky. "An assistant. I'd like you to entrust me with that position."
I was working overtime to impress her as I sat across from her in the large, masterfully decorated office. She seemed even more petite behind the expansive desk , but intimidating nonetheless.
I'm no stranger to work or to the interview process. I've been working in some capacity since I was sixteen. But no other interview had ever felt as crucial as the one Ms. Jackson gave me that day in her office.
I really had come in with the intention of seeking additional summer employment. But I'd be lying if I'd said that was the only reason I talked myself into pulling out her business card and using my GPS to locate her downtown office.
She sat with her hands clasped together as her arms rested atop her glass top desk. She studied me carefully before saying, “So, why should I hire you as my assistant, Darian?”
I scanned my brain, sorting for the answer that could be most effective at persuading the woman who sat before me. I’m smart. I’m the best person for the job. Because I can be the one to show you just what you need. I tossed that last thought out. Sexually charged intimations wouldn’t get me anywhere. At least, not with this woman. Instead I answered by saying, “Because I’m a determined person in every task that I decide to take on. I’m goal oriented, and when I make goals, I do whatever it takes to reach that goal. I can help you implement a plan that could help to make life easier for you, and provide you with access to more resources which could help to expand your reach and your audience.”
I didn’t exactly know where that answer had come from. It seemed to flow directly out of my mouth without waiting for my mind to filter or dilute it. I shifted nervously in my seat as she sat for what felt like forever, staring at me with her hands folded on her desk. Suddenly, she rose from her seat and walked around the desk, stopping right next to my chair. I looked up at her ans watched as her face broke into a grin and she held out her hand to me. I took it and she shook my hand firmly. “I want to welcome you to my team, Darian.”
My face erupted into a broad smile and I stood, continuing to shake her hand excitedly.
“But,” she said, pulling her hand away to cross her arms as she leaned back against her desk. “I want to do a trial run with this. I will give you two weeks. I’ll pay you during this time, but I want to see if this….relationship...will work out.”
I nodded my head. “No problem. That sounds great, Ms. Jackson. I promise, you won’t be disappointed.”
“Good, “ she said, her smile widening. “And call me Sylvia, please.”
“Thank you….Sylvia,” I said, testing out the way her name slid off of my tongue so effortlessly.