Chapter 4 – Getting to know you
Madison, Arlene and Jess left early the next morning. Arlene was off to an audition in New York, Jess flew to California to visit her uncle and Madison went to Florida with her family for their annual cruise. Meri, being the wonderful roommate and suitemate, had helped each of the girls load their luggage into state cars bound for the airport.
Finally, around 1:00 Meri began to lug her stuff out to her dark green VW Jetta in the parking lot behind the dorm to drive to her apartment in Fountain Inn. On her last trip down to her car, Meri dropped her stuff on the pavement beside her car. She pushed her sunglasses up her nose and put her hands in the back pockets of her jeans. "Mr. Davis, would you please be kind enough to get off of my car?"
James looked up from the pavement to the petite girl standing next to a large plastic container and a pile of other bags. "Hello to you too, Miss Connolly," he responded. He didn't move from his position leaning against the trunk of her car.
"Are you going to get off of my car so I can finish packing?" she was irritated and didn't bother hiding it. All she wanted to was to go to her apartment and finish the orchestration sitting in her manuscript book.
James got the hint and stepped away from the Jetta. "Would you care for a hand with those?" he offered, taking a step toward the large plastic container that looked particularly heavy.
Meri beat him to the container and instead tossed him her keys. "Open the trunk for me," she commanded before hoisting the plastic container off the ground. "Push the button at the bottom."
Without turning around James pointed the tiny remote behind himself, successfully unlocking the trunk. Meri stored the container easily in the trunk. She proceeded to pack the rest of her bags in her car before turning to James again. "May I have my keys, Mr. Davis?" she asked, holding out her hand expectantly.
James held her keys out of reach. "Have you thought about our offer?" he asked.
"Yes, I have," Meri replied, sounding annoyed. "But I haven't come to a conclusion yet. Please give me back my keys so I can go home, Mr. Davis."
"So you were just going to leave without giving us an answer?" James went on. "Carol and I are leaving for England tomorrow. We need an answer from you."
Meri dropped her hand to her side and glared at him. Who the hell does this guy think he is? She thought to herself. "Fine. I was going to call Ms. Anderson tonight, with my answer after I went home and relaxed a bit. Honestly, I thought about taking the damn job, but you, Mr. Davis, are starting to really piss me off. I don't think I could work with a pretentious ass like yourself and then turn around expecting to go to college sane. I don't appreciate you just coming here demanding an answer from me." She turned around a got in her car and started it. Thank goodness for Smartkey, she thought to herself. "Oh shit," she whispered to herself. James still had keys—car keys as well as apartment keys, dorm keys and mailbox keys.
She leaned out of her window and beckoned James over. "I'd like my keys back, Mr. Davis," she said.
James leaned on her window. "I'll propose a deal to you," he began. "I'll give you your keys back if you let me tag along with you today." Meri gave him a pointed look as he went on. "And you tell Carol your answer in person tonight," he ended with a slight smirk on his face. Meri was still glaring at him when she suddenly lunged for his hand that held her keys. James jerked away just in time.
"Look, Mr. Davis, I don't like you one bit," Meri spat at him. "You may be the writer of this goddamn movie and you may be the bloody lead actor for all I care, but none of that means anything to me."
James stared at her. Whoa, she's really pissed off, he thought to himself. "Miss Connolly, you can hate my guts all you want, but right now you're being a touch rude," he said in a dead calm voice. "I think your attitude is childish. You're going at me like I've wrecked your car or something. So if you would kindly remove the enormous stick that's been lodged up your ass we can get through business and if you don't accept our offer, you'll never hear from me or anyone at Markham Productions ever again."
All Meri could do was stare at James. No one had ever spoken to her like that, not even Madison in a joking manner. They stared at each other for what seemed like an eternity. James' expression was void of emotion while Meri's exemplified anger at its peak. If looks could kill, James would be dead ten times over.
Finally Meri let out a sigh and turned her gaze away from James. "Fine," she said. "Get in the car." James smiled victoriously and dropped her keys in her lap before proceeding to get in the passenger side.
"Please put your seatbelt on, Mr. Davis," Meri said. "I don't fancy getting a ticket." Hearing the click of James' seatbelt she sped out of the dorm parking lot.
Halfway to Meri's apartment James chose to break the silence that enveloped after leaving the dorm parking lot. "Meri?" he began.
"Miss Connelly, if you please," Meri corrected.
"Alright, Miss Connolly," James emphasized her last name. "Where are we going?"
"My apartment," she answered, sounding slightly exasperated.
James snuck a glance at Meri. Dear God, she's not making my job any easier, he thought to himself.
While at a stoplight Meri turned to face James. "Why are you here?" she simply asked.
James blinked at her. "What do you mean, why am I here?" he asked. "I'm here trying to offer you, Miss Connolly, a job."
The light turned green before Meri answered. "I know why you're here. What I meant was why are you, Mr. James Davis, spending his time with someone like me?" she asked.
James looked at her before answering. "It's my job to hire someone that I feel can do the job. Looking at your file and samples from Berklee shows that you've got talent and you're creative. Two things I know I like to see in everyone who works for me and for Markham Productions. Spending time with you tells me how you, if you accept the job, will react on the set and how you interact with everyone," he said. "I'm merely trying to get to know you, Miss Connolly."
They passed a brick sign entitled 'Fontaine Terrace' on their right before turning into a spacious parking lot. Meri parked next to a Volkswagen Toureg. "Well, if you're going to 'hang out' with me until I can dump you at your hotel, come on and help me carry my stuff in," she said while getting out of her car.
James got out and looked up at the building in front of him. Instead of the typical apartment complex he expected stood a gorgeous two story condo with a few hundred feet on both sides separating it from the surrounding condos, all which were also two stories. No two looked the same either. James couldn't help but stare.
"I get that reaction a lot," Meri said over her car.
James snapped out of his reverie and turned his attention from the condo to the girl on the other side of the car. "Well, when you said apartment, I assumed a little box inside an even bigger box," he confessed sheepishly. "Not this." He gestured to the piece of architecture standing before them.
"Apartment, condo, flat…they're all places to live," Meri replied nonchalantly. "Are you done gaping at my home to help me move all this stuff inside?" She asked a second time.
"Oh, right," James said and opened the passenger door. Meri opened the trunk and took out the large plastic container before joining James at her front door.
"Yes, sir, he's with Miss Connolly right now. Yes, I know that, sir," Carol spoke into her cell phone. "Well, James is supposed to be bringing her tonight with her answer. Alright Mr. Markham, yes, right, see you then." She closed her cell phone. Glancing out the window Carol let out a sigh. "Jams, this trip better be worth it," she whispered to herself.
She reached into her briefcase and took out a manila folder with a picture of a smiling Asian girl with flowing black hair standing next to grand piano paper clipped on the cover. Inside the file was Meri's application to Berklee, complete with sample compositions and orchestrations. Carol took out the sheet on top: General Information. For the fifteenth time in the last four days, Carol began reading.
"This is the last of it," James said when we walked past Meri in the entryway.
"Oh good," Meri replied and moved to take the box from James. "That would be random things belonging to my music room."
"Just show me the way," James insisted. "I've got it alright."
Meri looked at him skeptically. "If you say so," she said hesitantly. "Remember that I did offer." She led him past the sitting room and through the kitchen before coming to a set of French double doors. She paused before opening the doors. What am I doing? Meri asked herself. I'm about to let a total stranger in my music room. Meri's eyes widened at that revelation. No one but her had ever gone into her music room, not even Madison, Arlene and Jess.
James noticed that Meri stopped in front of the doors. "Um, Meri?" he asked quietly.
Meri whirled around to face him. "Yes?" she answered, trying to hide any signs of her internal struggle. She looked at him pointedly, almost daring him with her eyes to ask a question.
"Are you going to open those doors or do you just want me to stand here all day holding this box?" he asked tentatively. Bloody hell, what is in this box? Feels like a few weights instead of whatever it really is, he thought to himself.
Meri held out her arms and took the box from his arms. "Here, I'll take it and put it away later." To Meri the box seemed light as a feather. "Go ahead and make yourself at home in the sitting room or whatever. I need to put away a few things." And she excused herself to go upstairs, taking the box with her.
James watched her retreating back before turning to the doors in front of him. This girl was confusing the hell out of him. Not wanting to piss her off, James decided to give himself his own tour of the ground floor.
Turning around, he surveyed the kitchen. There was a light pine round table in the center of the room surrounded by four matching chairs that fit with the pale pink walls and cream tile floor. There was a vase of white tulips sitting in the middle of the table. Directly across the small table were three large bay windows with cream gauze curtains. Marble countertops accented both sides of the stove and stainless steel sink. Glass adorned the light pine cabinets making all its contents visible. Directly across from the spot where he was standing was a 5 ½ ft tall stainless steel refrigerator next to an alcove where the pantry was. Just about every appliance in Meri's kitchen was stainless steel. The room was pristine and very shiny. Of course, James thought to himself. She lives at school most of the time.
Meri was still upstairs so James backtracked through the kitchen into the hallway. A few pieces of art hung on the cream colored walls as well as some photos, mostly of her and her roommate and suitemates from West Haven. A small canvas next to a half bathroom caught his eye. It was an oil landscape of a large mansion in the distance framed by oak trees and weeping willows. The simplicity of the painting was what struck James. Leaning closer to the canvas he could see every brush stroke, every place where one color met another.
"That's one of my favorites," said a voice from behind. James whirled around to face Meri leaning on the stair rail. She had a small smile on her face.
"Yes," James smiled. "It's brilliant, really. For a moment, I thought I was looking at an original Monet."
Meri's smile turned into a small smirk. "Well, thank you, Mr. Davis. Nice to know my work is appreciated." James looked at her with a confused expression on his face. "Look at the bottom right hand corner."
James turned around and looked in the instructed place. The initials MCC were clearly painted in light green paint. He slowly turned back around to see Meri smiling sweetly. "So it is yours," his voice held a tone of respect. She's a bloody virtuoso, extremely intelligent and natural painter, he laughed to himself. He really should've seen it coming. "So is this a real place?" he asked, nodding towards the painting.
Meri walked down the remaining stairs and stood next to James. "Yes," she said quietly. "It's my family's manor back in England. Wales, actually."
"So you're English?" James asked. Meri nodded the affirmative. "If you don't mind me asking, why are you here in America? You could've gone to the Royal Academy in London."
Meri bowed her head briefly and looked up at him. "I did go to the Royal Academy," she explained. "That's where I got pretty much all of my conservatory training." James looked at her questioningly. "Don't look at me like that," she scolded. She walked past James into the kitchen. James did the only sensible thing he could think of. He followed her. "But they couldn't let me go forward with the type of composition I want to do."
Meri headed straight for the refrigerator. "Do you want anything?" she called over her shoulder. "I have juice, uh, Coke, Cherry Coke, bottled water...I can make some tea or coffee if you'd like." Her voice was muffled from sticking her head in the fridge surveying what she had.
"Anything's fine," James said. He sat down at the table and looked out the window. Her backyard was fenced with trellises with a small gate that led to a small dock on the river. The sun was still shining brightly and reflected off the river.
A tall bar glass was set in front of him, jolting him out of his trance, was filled partway with ice and a can of Cherry Coke was set down next to it. Meri pulled out the chair across from him and held her own bar glass three quarters full of Cherry Coke. "Alright," she said, looking him straight in the eye. "Go on and ask me whatever the hell you want. I'll answer how I see fit and the moment you go over the line I'm dumping back at your hotel. Understand?" She took a drink.
"That sounds reasonable," James replied, a little taken back at her sudden coldness. He poured the dark liquid into his glass. "Why did you come to America?"
Meri pulled one of the tulips out of the vase and brought it to her nose, inhaling its scent before answering. "I started playing the piano when I was three. My parents thought it was important for a lady to know something about music," she began. "I proved to be quite the pianist, playing Bach's Goldberg Variations at the ripe age of seven. My parents began to see my music as a frivolous hobby. My music teacher came to our Manor for my lessons and thought I was 'absolutely brilliant,' as she would say. She convinced my parents to let me take on other instruments after that. Of course, I excelled on all of them." She paused to smell the tulip in her hand before going on. "While other kids my age played outside, I practiced five or six instruments a day. Anyway, to make a long story short, my teacher got me to audition for the Royal Academy where I studied for four years prior to coming here," she leaned on the table and looked James. "Does that answer your question?"
James gazed at her, letting the information she just gave him sink in. He then picked up his glass and swished the ice around before answering. "No, Miss Connolly, that doesn't," he stated before taking a drink. "Your sarcasm is unneeded. I merely asked you why you chose to come to America when you were already attending one of the best conservatoires in the world. It doesn't make sense to me. So, despite your keenness for sarcasm," James went on. "Explain to me why you left the Royal Academy and England, for the matter, and chose to relocate to America."
Meri cocked an eyebrow and leaned back in her chair. Her laughter broke her stony expression and startled James. "You're a trip, Mr. Davis, you really are," Meri giggled. "Here I am being a complete and utter bitch and you're..." She began giggling again. "You're composure is classic...no really, this is absolutely fabulous! You're taking my bitchiness with incredible stride and I must commend you for that. Honestly, I had expected you to 'put me in my place,' as Arlene says, hours ago." Her giggling was replaced by the first genuine smile since they met.
James gaped at her for a moment before finding his voice. "You mean up until now you've been acting?" He continued to stare dumbfounded at the woman across from him.
Meri shook her head vigorously while reaching for her glass. "Oh no, no, no, no," she emphasized. "Today just wasn't very good to start off with in the first place. You showing up as I'm leaving and demanding to tag along flat out pissed me off for about an hour or two. That was the second time you, er, 'reprimanded' my behavior today, the first being in the dorm parking lot. I was just thinking while you were talking of exactly how much of a bitch I've been to you all day and I found it amusing that you hadn't really said anything earlier about it."
James stared at Meri as she downed the rest of her glass and got up to place it in the sink to wash later. When she returned to her seat James leaned toward her. "Well," he began. "Now that that's cleared up, do you mind telling me exactly why you left the Royal Academy and England?"
Hey hey! OMG that chapter was hard for me to write. Too many things on my mind…my apologies for spacing out my updates so much. *runs and hided behind a chair* No really, I just finished playing this game that my roommate bought last night and I guess it stimulated my creativity flow :)
Thanks so much for everyone who's reviewed my story thus far. Reviews really do make my day, whether they're constructive or not. It drives me to write!!! Really, it does!!!
Anyone wanna Beta for me?