The meeting was breaking up in Alvin's office and the mood turned jovial. It had been a good forecast review. All divisions were 'in-sync' so there was confidence among them. Although the meeting was held in the CEO's office, Frank chaired it. It was the first such meeting with him as the new CFO. Although Frank was new to the job, he was known to those around the table, having been recently promoted from his former position of Corporate Controller. To most of the brass it had been a welcome elevation. Frank had spent years at the company earning their respect.
The crowd of VP's started to shuffle from the office. From his chair behind the large walnut desk Alvin called out.
"Frank, would you stay behind a few minutes?"
Frank returned and took a chair in front of the desk. When they were alone Alvin rose, walked to the door and closed it. "Have one with me, Frank?"
"Al, I would like to, but it's a little early for me," Frank answered.
"I'd appreciate it if you would, anyway. I think I recall that you're a scotch man. It'll be bourbon for me."
The older man lifted the panel on a hidden wet-bar in an office alcove. In a minute he returned with two tumblers filled with three fingers each.
"Cheers!" Alvin broke the silence.
Frank lifted his glass and took a healthy sip. "That's good Scotch, Al."
Al sat behind his desk, head bowed, staring into the amber lubricant.
Frank spoke up. "I think the forecast is in good shape, Al. The 10-Q will be on Wall Street at month's end. The conference call with the investment bankers will go well."
Alvin raised his head to look at Frank. "That's not why I wanted to talk with you. I know all that will be fine."
Alvin took another sip of his drink and then continued.
"With your formal installation tonight as CFO, I want to clear the air. I was against your appointment, but the Board overrode me. It was nothing personal. I thought we needed a bigger name to help push through the big stock offering next month. You're here now, and we'll work together."
"I won't let you or the Board down; and the stock offering will go off as planned," Frank answered.
"I know that, Frank," Alvin answered. "You see, what I really want to say to you is that the Board was right and I was wrong. It's hard to admit it, but now I'm glad you were chosen. I've been watching you. You are right for the job."
The promotion had been a surprise to some. 'Controller-types' were not usually considered for the top finance job. It usually goes to a Wall Street guy from outside the company. The Board had taken a long time, but finally decided. At long last, Frank was in the corner office next to Alvin's. He took over the duties a few weeks beforehand. That night there would be the formal installation at a management dinner party at Alvin's estate. The Board members were already arriving at the airport.
Alvin's admission caused Frank to think about the older man sitting in the CEO's chair across the desk. In his view, it took a big person to do what the Chief Executive had just done. Frank arrived at Western Chemicals a dozen years ago at about the same time as Alvin. The older man arrived as President. Frank had been employed by the outside auditing firm that helped split the new company away from its parent.
He was thirty then. From deep in the bowels of the finance organization, Frank moved up the food chain to the position that he just won. Frank was short and stocky, five-eight if he let his hair grow. He looked like he was still playing fullback for his college football team. He could be a bulldog, when the situation called for it. The lunchroom wisdom said that when Frank 'had a tiger by the tail', it would be just a matter of time before a striped rug would appear in front of the fireplace in Frank's den.
He had never indulged in the office politics game, allowing his work speak for itself. By not playing the game he won it. He had made no enemies and thise around him seemed to follow his lead. When a tough assignment came up, Frank's name did, too.
Alvin changed the subject, "Well, are you and the little lady ready for the big gala at the house tonight?' His face now crinkled with impending mirth, "We'll have a band. I'll bet you'll want to dance a few slow ones with Trudy. That must always be ... interesting." Alvin laughed at his own joke.
Frank didn't speak out loud, but sighed to himself.
"That joke was only slightly funny the first two hundred times I heard it. I can't believe that I'm a senior officer in one of the largest corporations in the world and have to sit here and listen to lewd jokes about my wife."
The joke was about the obvious disparity in height between Frank and his wife, Trudy. While Frank scraped five-eight, Trudy towered at six-two. The slow-dance image was of Frank's face buried in Trudy's cleavage as they paced around the dance floor. It was a fallacy. With a difference of six inches, Frank's eyes were at Trudy's chin or a little lower if she wore heels. At any rate, Trudy and Frank managed fine, and slow-danced whenever they had a chance.
Alvin must have noticed Frank's distant look. "You probably hear that one all the time. I'm sorry. Actually, I like Trudy. She and Gloria should get together more. They'd probably hit it off!" Al glanced back to the picture framed behind him on his credenza to emphasize the reference.
"Not really!" Frank thought, but continued his silence.
Gloria had that trophy wife look. It was her job to look good all the times. She had a standing weekly appointment at an exclusive salon. No one knew her actual hair color or her age—even Gloria may have forgotten them. She had a personal trainer that would visit her in the mini-gym at the estate and help her work on her tummy and derriere; afterward they would crush cellulite away from her thighs with a rolling pin. She luncheoned at the club, then attended a Board meeting at her 'charity du jour'. After such a hard day she would relax on the veranda by sipping iced tea and vodka as she watched the muscular gardeners tend to the grounds. She served as 'fashion coordinator for all formal social gatherings. Gloria had an entourage of executive wives. They all had the same routine, but Gloria did it best and the others hoped to learn from the Grand Mistress.
Frank downed the rest of his drink. "Al, I have to clear a few things off my desk before I go home. Thanks for the drink. Thanks for your confidence, you won't be sorry. See you tonight."
The two shook hands and Frank set his glass down and left Alvin's office.
Frank was walking to his car in the company lot a while later. He saw Alvin waiting for his driver. Frank could have had a driver, too, but hated the pretension of it.
The corporate office was near the center of the city. Frank lived in a suburb some miles out of town. Traffic was heavy. During the drive home he had a chance to think about his conversation with Al earlier that afternoon. He was happy that it had taken place. He hadn't known of Al's opposition, but it didn't bother him with the air was cleared. He wondered why the Board had taken so long to select a new CFO. It had been difficult to be a candidate and function as Controller at the same time. The delay had given the obvious signal that there was serious opposition. He once considered withdrawing, but quitting and Frank didn't go together very well.
Frank and Trudy lived in a suburb that was not far from the one where most of the corporate executives had there homes. They chose the location because the public schools were the best in the County. To most executives that factor didn't matter because they sent their children to private schools, or their children were grown. Frank and Trudy considered the Public School experience an important part of the girls' educations. There were times when they enjoyed the small, but meaningful, separation from the corporate world. Frank and Trudy considered their home to be what suited them. They could have traded up, but never saw the sense of it. They had a large lot and a tree-lined back yard that gave them privacy where they enjoyed their swimming pool. When the nest was empty they would think about it again.
They had two children, both girls, who were eighteen and fifteen. They weren't perfect, but it is hard to find a perfect person. The elder, Patricia, was tall, like her mother. Margaret was short like Frank.
As Frank drove it occurred to him that he and Trudy were an unlikely couple, but their marriage seemed to work well. Frank sought sanity in a world that was sometimes crazy. Trudy was grounded. She made their home a peaceful haven. Trudy needed protection from the sting of sharpened serpents' teeth that poured venom into her vulnerabilities. Frank was up to the task When he was unable to bite off the snake's head before it struck, he would neutralize the poison before any real damage could set into the wound.
Trudy was like Frank in her disdain for social climbing. She chose not to join Gloria's corps of Ladies in Waiting. She suffered and prospered from her decision. She never regretted her choice. Her home and family kept her busy enough. She could afford a live-in housekeeper like the other executive wives, but turned it down.
"She preferred to raise her own kids," she once explained.
Frank arrived home and walked upstairs to the bedroom. He called out to Trudy, and she answered from the master bathroom. Her gown was hanging on the closet door. He saw that Trudy had his tux laid out for him, so he started undressing for his shower.
Trudy emerged from the bathroom in her robe. "Frank, I can't do anything with my hair!"
"It will be fine. Just comb it like you always do."
Trudy's hair was medium length. Being perfectly straight, it hung straight down to the tops of her shoulders. It was naturally blonde, bright like sunshine.
"Frank, this is a big night for you! I can't show up looking like I'm going to the grocery store."
"Relax! Your blonde hair will look great with your blue gown."
"I don't know, Frank..."
Frank walked over to her and hugged her from behind.
"I wouldn't want a fancy hairdo taking attention away from this gorgeous body."
"Frank, you always say the right things," she said.
"Relax, Trudy," he replied. "You just need a little confidence."
"I know these events are part of the drill, Frank," she said. "A lot of the women like them because they can get dressed up. If it were up to me, we'd stay here by ourselves."
Frank gave her an affectionate pat on the behind. Frank turned to the bathroom. Before he got into the shower he called out to her.
"Are the girls deposited at your parents?"
She replied that they were.
Frank knew that Trudy needed a few minutes' attention. She always needed it in the run-up to a corporate event. He couldn't blame her. In an hour or so they would be public fodder. He understood her shyness because of her tallness, especially as she towered over him. After all these years she had never become used to the difference.
Trudy reached for her gown. She had complain to Frank (in vain) that it was rather plain. It had a choker-style collar that formed a halter. Trudy was a little flat-chested, so she could wear it with just cups sewn into the inside. It was sleeveless and backless, so it would be comfortable in the summer heat. It was full length, just as all the other women would be wearing. The fabric was embedded with luxe threads to give it the illusion of sequins sewn into the dress.
She dropped the gown over her head and down her long body, zipped and fastened it. Turning to the mirror, she looked dissatisfied. Frank could never understand why. Whatever gown she would have chosen to wear would have left her wanting. She ignored her long, slender figure filling the garment at all the right places; her supple arms and shoulders on display, perfect as they were, and a back that showed muscular trim; her crowning glory of sunburst yellow atop the blue gown with the sophisticated blue fabric. Surely, it was not a gown that spilled out cleavage over satin, like the other wives always wore. It was, by any impartial estimation, a great look. Trudy overlooked the fact that most of the wives couldn't wear the gown that she had on.
She checked her makeup. She tried to brush on some more to hide her imperfections. Trudy's family was not financially well-off during her teen years. For sure, there were dentists who advised braces. The money just wasn't there for them. They would have corrected the slight overbite that had ridden with her to her adulthood. Trudy mentioned it often, although few others did. Frank only took notice when she complained about it. Then he would cast the worry aside.
"Just don't give me a hickey," he would say. "You might hit an artery!" It was Frank's way to attack fears by ridiculing them. Trudy pretended that his corny jokes helped, but the little demon would never stop whispering in her ear.
Most people thought of Trudy as a kind smile as she was doing or saying something nice If she liked a person, she made sure that person knew it She disliked gossip. There were a few women who envied her; they were the only ones who disliked her.
In her make-up struggles she hadn't noticed that Frank had come back into the bedroom after finishing his shower. As he was climbing into his tux on he called over to her.
"Trudy, you look great! That gown is just right. I'm glad you chose that one. I only regret that no one will be listening to my speech. They'll be looking at you."
"It's about the best that I could do," she sighed.
"C'mon, Trudy!" Frank retorted. It was his impatient voice he used whenever he wanted her know that he wasn't buying the routine.
She perked up. Maybe Frank knew better.
"I'm ready when you are, Frank."
In a minute they were in the car heading to the soiree. Trudy's attitude changed. She would enjoy this dinner and Frank's speech. The real party would start when the two of them got home.
As they drove, Frank asked again for the girls. "Any problem getting them to your parents'?"
"Not really," she answered. "You know 'Tricia, eighteen going on twenty-one."
"Mom and Dad haven't seen them in a while, so it'll be good all around."
Patricia, who was Frank and Trudy's eldest, was nearly as old as their marriage. When she was born the gossip wags started counting back the months and it led to a lot of titters. Most assumed that Trudy was pregnant when she walked down the aisle.
Among those who believed it were Trudy's parents. They waited for the breakup, assuring themselves that the two had little in common. In a way they had been glad for Trudy's 'condition' It made them feel better after the modest wedding As years passed, and the expected split had not come about, they shrugged their shoulders and accepted the union. When they retired they moved to the Houston area "to be close to the kids". Frank's cosigning the mortgage for their patio home in the retirement community helped to foster new warmth between them. It had become Frank's turn to shrug.
All the gossip wags were wrong about the assumed pre-marital pregnancy. It had actually occurred on their honeymoon. Trudy had misread the instructions and got her birth control pills out of sequence. It pointed to another difference between the couple.
Trudy had barely made it to high school graduation. Algebra and Shakespeare were no friends of hers. She was not a whiz in academics, but was smart in other ways. Her radar could detect hypocrisy from long range and she knew when her children needed her for more than laundry and meals. She could foresee warning signs, better than anyone, when something or some person threatened to veer her family's life off-course. With Frank's income they could have afforded many material goods. The family would always enjoy, but never over-taste, them.
Frank met her when she worked as a receptionist at the accounting firm where he was employed. He was recently certified and at the top of his class. As they started dating, everyone assumed that he would move on when he had taken what he could from her lithe, willing body.
All of the erroneous suppositions that others made about them served to strengthen the bond that drew them together. They were signposts to them to travel life's road as they saw fit. The gossip hurt Trudy more than Frank. He often proclaimed that he 'would not give it the dignity of a response'. Trudy tried to do the same. If it wasn't for her parents' continued belief in the month-counting of her first pregnancy, the sting wouldn't have been so sharp.
They arrived at Alvin's estate, and as Frank handed the car keys to the attendant, she repacked her private thoughts and stored them in the back of her mind. There would be time for them later. This night belonged to her husband.