People milled about the mouth of the Tristis Opera ivory home swaddled in sweaters with raised cardboard signs that read something to the effect of "Corporate Greed Hurts Us All" and such. Callum stared through the tinted passenger window as the two pairs of security guards parted the sea of people and herded them back enough for him to step out of the car and slam the door. They swarmed back to the limits the security established by their outstretched arms. Adare arrived at his side and accompanied him down the path toward the door. Callum squinted up at the distorted visage of Dylan Potter behind one of the reflective windows a moment before it disappeared.
"No more greed! No more greed!" chanted the people with misted breath.
"We're only people, making a living," Adare assured them simply and firmly. A woman with golden curls shoved her way through the crowd and thrust a plastic cup toward the pair, dousing Callum with frigid water when it struck his chest. He gasped with surprise at the chill and stared down at himself with dripping dark hair. Adare draped an arm around his shoulders and rushed him through the door.
"Wealth has the tendency to blind people on each side of the spectrum," he murmured as he accepted a paper towel passed to him by his secretary and gave it to Callum. "And when a person is most known for products and a company, society often forgets or disregards his or her humanity."
"Excuse me while I get more of these," Callum diverted himself toward the bathroom as Adare continued toward the boardroom. He arrived at the mirror and planted his palms on the obsidian marble counter to regain his breath. Who was it that people saw when they looked at him? He always saw Eli as a man who chased his dreams with late nights and labor, and whose wealth was the fruit of his deserved success. Did anyone else see Eli as these people saw him? Surely, they must have.
Today was about to be one of declining morale. He reached toward the paper towels to dry his hair and clothes as much as he could. He straightened his suit and scraped together all the poise he had to return to the boardroom with composure.
Several pairs of eyes stared silently at him when he entered. He cleared his throat and strove to raise his eyes to them. "We have some company today, clearly," he started with a response of wry smiles. "So we must conduct ourselves with respectful attitudes and dignity. We all have a role here, and there is absolutely nothing unethical about that. Well each make a living with honest time and effort, and we produce exceptional merchandise. Do not be concerned with the manner in which they regard you."
"Are they dangerous?" Isabella asked with a steady tone, but a curious shimmer in her gray eyes.
"I have not seen anything more than a cup thrown," Callum answered after a moment, "but it might be best if you travel in pairs outside, in case there is more. And now that this meeting is called to order, we can go to reports. Mrs. Brennan has stapled the minutes to your papers. Any corrections?"
Without any corrections, the minutes were passed.
"Mr. Potter, you have the financial report?"
"Yes, sir," Dylan shuffled his report to the top of his stack of papers. "As you can see, sales have declined rather drastically with the economy, and with them have declined our profits. Our expenditures have been reduced, but the difference made is minimal. Anyone have any questions?"
Callum swallowed as he stared down at the report ahead of him. He dismantled and revaluated the mathematics in his mind repeatedly, but it continued to add up as he saw on the report. "We are going to have to come up with some fresh ideas," he said eventually. "Some way to reach out to people who are hurting economically so that they can afford our merchandise, but without compromising profits to the point where we get into trouble. Shall we assemble a committee to come up with a plan?"
"We could include that in our special events planning," David Fitzpatrick proposed across the table as he eyed the other members of his committee. They nodded their agreement and swiveled their chairs around to see Callum. He approved this idea with a nod and a word of gratitude.
Still, the pit in his stomach when he reviewed the report tightened until the sun rose the next morning. The sun streamed across the room through the window to the right ahead. Sparrows twittered in the leaves. The clear skies were contrasted with crisp air, but he was warm with Melia beside him and her head on his shoulder. She stirred against his side and opened her eyes to peer up at him.
"Lá Breithe Shona dhuit," she raised herself up on one elbow and kissed his cheek with the gentleness of a rose petal.