After lunch, Rusty and I sat down in the library to work more on the website. I uploaded the pictures that I had been taking of the inn and the farm onto my laptop and we scoured through them together, selecting the best shots and sorting them into groups. I had taken a number of pictures of Grace the day before with her brightly colored yarn. I had even coaxed her to pull out some sweaters and other projects to showcase. They looked like bright water color paintings, their shades and hues blending and fading, accenting and contrasting. I was mesmerized by the caliber of her work. I knew that incorporating this aspect of the farm, the sweet little gift shop with all its beautiful accessories, and possibly even creating an online store for her to sell her yarn from, would be an important addition to the website.
In addition to the beautiful grounds and property, I had quite a few pictures of the men working, and I was embarrassed that Rusty would see so many of just himself in there. Image after image of him: the sunlight streaming through his hair, his face crinkled in a laugh as he was reaching out to Rascal, or him fixing one of the fence posts, a look of concentration and effort etched on his face as he was lifting the post to level it, or him taking his baseball cap off and wiping his brow, looking off in the distance. I hadn’t realized that I had taken so many of just Rusty. I began clicking through the images quickly, praying that Rusty hadn’t noticed the large number of them.
“I think that we’ve got a lot of possibilities here,” I said, hoping to cover up my embarrassment.
“You’ve got a great eye, Annie,” Rusty said, indicating the screen on my laptop. “Your pictures seem to tell stories. Like this one…” He pointed to an image of his father leaning on a shovel, his pants and boots covered with dirt. His large black cowboy hat shaded his eyes, but I could still see the sense of pride in the expression on his face, tinged with an anxious concern, as he looked out at the field. “You captured my father well. He is so proud of the heritage his father and grandfather left him. This farm means everything to him. Those animals are more than just a means for survival or paying the bills. He knows each one of them individually, their temperament, their favorite treats. He is terrified that he is going to lose this property, although he will never show it or say it out loud. But I can see it in the expression on his face right here, and the way he is looking out at the farm.”
Rusty’s voice broke a little.
“Thank you for helping us with this, Annie,” he said softly. He cleared his throat, trying to sound more controlled. “Like I said, you have a great eye.”
“So do you,” I faltered. “I’ve seen some of your images hanging around the house.”
He looked a little sheepish. “They’re nothing, really. It’s just a hobby. And I can’t do any of this technical stuff like you can.”
“No, I’m serious,” I insisted. “Your pictures move me. There’s one in particular, the one hanging in the sitting room over the fireplace. It’s beautiful.”
Rusty was looking at me. His face was so close to mine. We had both been pouring over the images on the screen and I hadn’t realized how close together we were sitting.
“I know which picture you are talking about,” he finally said, after what had seemed like an eternity of quiet, looking into his clear brown eyes. He lifted his hand and gently swept a lock of hair that was falling into my face, tucking it behind my ear. I stopped breathing as he held his hand there a little longer than was necessary. “I like that picture too.”
Our faces were now only inches apart. As I looked deeper into his eyes I could see tiny flecks of green that sparkled in the light which was streaming in through the window. It was the same green which I had seen the day before, when Grace was talking to me so intently. His hand gently cupped my cheek and pulled me in closer, making my heart pound in my chest. I closed my eyes, anticipating the sensation of his lips on mine when suddenly my phone erupted with Steve Perry’s high pitched croon. “Don’t stop…believin’...hold on to that feeeelin’!”
I had always liked that Journey song before. Now, cursing under my breath, I fumbled for the phone in my back pocket. Rusty drew away. That ring tone was definitely going to have to go.
“Hello?” I almost barked into my phone, not even looking at my caller ID.
“Hello? Annie? This is Brad.” My co-worker’s faltering voice trembled on the other end of the line. My stomach sank and I let out a groan.
“Hi Brad,” I said, my voice flat and resigned. Rusty shot me a questioning look, and then politely tried to act like he wasn’t listening to my conversation.
“Annie! We are in serious trouble here!” Brad’s voice started rising in pitch and volume. “Rockefeller Jewelers are not agreeing to any of our contracts! They are saying that we haven’t given them anything that they want to work with! They are threatening to pull out and go somewhere else! Peabody is going insane!”
Now my stomach had dropped so far I didn’t think it was even attached to my body any longer. “What do you mean? They liked the last pitch we made! Are you sure they aren’t just trying to play hard ball?”
“I’m sure, Annie. They are serious. They are threatening to walk and Peabody is livid! He wants you here tomorrow.”
I tried to take a few deep breaths. I can handle this, I told myself, hoping that I would believe it.
“Okay, Brad. It’s going to be fine. Tell Peabody that I’m on it. I will be there tomorrow. We will make this happen.”
I could hear Brad on the other end of the line starting to make incoherent sounds, like maybe he was hyperventilating.
“Brad!” I practically yelled into the phone. Rusty gave up trying to look like he couldn’t hear what was going on. “Listen to me! It’s all good! I’ve got an idea and they are going to love it! Tell Peabody that I’m on it!”
The sound of labored breathing filled my ear. Ugh, he was such a lightweight! Finally I heard his little whimper, “Okay, I’ll tell Peabody. We’re good. You’re on it.”
“Alright, thank you Brad. I will see you tomorrow. Now go and get a Diet Coke or something,” I said, rolling my eyes. I could see Rusty trying not to smile, but it was immediately replaced with a thoughtful look on his face.
My irritation with Brad’s reaction quickly turned to serious panic after I disconnected from the phone call. What was I going to do? I told Brad that I had a great idea, one that would solve everything, but really I had nothing. I was just trying to appease him and Mr. Peabody. Rockefeller Jewelers had seemed genuinely interested in my last campaign pitch. I had thought that they were just dragging their feet over contract issues. Now the realization hit that not only was I about to lose the largest account of my career, but I may also be on the verge of losing my job. I dropped my face into my hands and let out a long moan.