When I first moved from London to New York, I dreamed of success, glamour and wealth. I have always been ambitious since I can remember, mostly driven by the desire to get away from my family.
Don’t get me wrong, I love my family but as the youngest and only girl, I always felt a little cut off from Dad and my brothers. Mum tried to spoil me and gave me what she could but in a family of boilermakers, I was always the girly girl and not treated seriously.
I got jobs, which allowed me to pay for university and elocution lessons. With all traces of my Northern accent eliminated and with a Masters degree in Business Administration, I headed for New York.
It was, however, extremely difficult to obtain a job that suited me and I realised I would have to settle for something a little lower than I had originally planned.
My best friend Emma was supportive.
‘You start off at the bottom, Charity,’ she had said, ‘and you’ll still rise to the top. You’re smart, beautiful and have that great English accent! Someone will snap you up!’
That someone was Lillian Maunder at a company called Spotsworth Manufacturers. She was in charge of the employment program and I tried to be as calm as possible as she examined my CV.
‘Very impressive, Ms Mellows.’
‘You have residency?’
‘Yes. I am on the path to become an American citizen.’
‘I see and why New York, Ms Mellows?’
‘The challenge, if you can make it here and all that stuff’,’ I said with a shrug. ‘And it’s exciting, new. It is the centre of the world in many respects.’
‘Yes, it is. I can offer you a position as a supervisor in the Administration department. It’s not much but it’s a beginning.’
‘I’ll take it.’
As I explained to Emma over a coffee, it was just a start. Emma was an aspiring actor and worked at many different jobs to keep her head above water. We had met because our apartments were in the same building and had bumped into each other a few times.
‘You could try modelling,’ Emma said and I laughed at the suggestion.
‘I want to do something serious! Besides, why would anyone want me as a model? I’m not skinny enough!’
‘You mean you’ve got big breasts?’ Emma laughed.
‘They’re not enormous,’ I said crossly, ‘but too large for modelling.’
‘Not for runway modelling but there are other types, you know, lingerie catalogues, Men’s mags, things like that…’
‘I most definitely will not consider that!’ I said primly and that was the end of the matter.
My direct boss was a grey haired man called Jon who was ten years my senior. He ridiculed my degree and delighted in giving me menial tasks to complete. The clerks who reported to me looked at me in sympathy but I took it all. I had to have a job to pay the rent and, somehow, I knew my break would come.
In fact, it did but at first, I didn’t recognise it for what it was.
‘Once a year,’ Jon said examining his pen, ‘Spotsworth hosts a dinner where all our major investors attend. It is our way of thanking them for their faith in our company. This year, you will organise the dinner.’
‘Yes, you Miss mellows. We always book the Cedar Room at the Radcliff Hotel. Mary has the invitation list. The file with all the details is in that cabinet. Don’t fuck up, Miss Mellows!’
He delighted in swearing at me as if he thought I would be appalled and quit. I think that, after living with four working class brothers, I had heard more swearing than Jon had heard in his entire lifetime but my accent made him think I was all prim and proper.
Seething, I took the file home and went through it. Emma looked over my shoulder as I worked my way down the list. She had dropped in on her way out on a date to gain my approval for her dress.
‘There’s some big names on that list,’ she said. ‘Look, there’s Verity Venables! Wow!’
‘And who is she?’
‘One of the richest women in New York. She’s smart and sassy. Her husband was a property developer who left her a few million when he died. She took the money and the company. It is now the largest property company on the east coast!’
I looked up with interest.
‘Yep! Runs the company with an iron hand and the gossip is she is a ruthless businesswoman. Anyone that works for her has got it made.’
Emma raced out to meet her date and left me staring at the list.
Jon scowled at me and looked around the room.
‘Is everything in order, Miss Mellows?’
‘Of course,’ I said brightly and checked my face in the mirror next to the potted fern.
The dress I had purchased for the occasion put a sizable dent in my credit card but I had to look good, look like I was capable of walking the corridors of the rich and famous.
‘The most important guest is Mrs Venables. Last year she didn’t bother to turn up so let’s hope she arrives as the chairman will be pissed if she doesn’t. And,’ Jon said with a sneer, ‘I suppose I’ll just have to blame you!’
I said nothing. I had, of course researched Verity Venables as much as I could and had even telephoned her office to confirm her attendance for the dinner.
In fact, I had telephoned several times until a haughty private secretary confirmed that Mrs Venables would attend.
I stood in the foyer, staring through the glass door and anxiously awaiting her arrival. I knew what she looked like. An elegant dark haired woman that, even in photographs exuded power and wealth. Her age, I knew was forty three, eighteen years older than I but she looked younger. Money buys everything, it seems, even youthful good looks.
Once again, I smoothed my new dress down over my hips and checked the mirror. That afternoon, I had my dark hair cut and styled so I also looked elegant. I had, I knew, probably less than thirty seconds to impress her before the chairman and the others swept me aside.
I saw the sleek limousine pull up and immediately opened the glass doors as the driver opened the rear door of the vehicle.
Mrs Verity Venables emerged from the vehicle and watched me hurry down the steps. Her dress was fantastic! Obviously a gift from a famous Italian designer and an original that was worth more than my yearly salary.
‘Mrs Venables,’ I said as I approached and offered my hand, ‘I’m Charity Mellows.’
Mrs Venables slowly took my hand, looking me up and down until she finally offered a thin smile.
‘Yes, the persistent one,’ she drawled. ‘You wanted me to attend this thing, didn’t you?’
‘You are an investor, Mrs Venables,’ I said, seeing the chairman waddling down the steps, ‘and…’
‘Sure,’ she said with a hard stare before looking past me.
‘Christ! What’s his name again?’
‘Ah, Henry Mitchell,’ I whispered.
Mrs Venables nodded and then smiled at the chairman. ‘Henry.’
‘Mrs Venables,’ he said breathlessly, ‘it’s great that you came. Let me show you inside.’
‘If you must,’ Mrs Venables said and I stood dejectedly to one side as the chairman and other managers whisked her up the stairs and into the hotel.
The chauffer nodded to me and I expected him to drive off but he just folded his arms and leaned against the car. He was a tall black man with smiling eyes.
‘She told me to wait,’ he said after a minute. ‘I don’t think she’s going to stay long.’
‘Mrs Venables has a dinner engagement across town with the Mayor. She’ll say hello, grab a drink and will be out the door in a flash.’
Well, I thought miserably, there goes my chance of talking to her inside.
I had thought I might follow her to the bathroom or something but now, it appeared hopeless.
All that money on the dress and the hairdresser, all wasted!
Standing slightly behind the limousine, I wrapped my shawl tighter around my bare shoulders and lit a cigarette.
It was a life I aspired to and yet it seemed so far out of my grasp.
‘Here she comes,’ I heard the chauffer call. ‘Told you,’ he added with a wink as he opened the rear door.
Verity Venables strode to the car and I saw the chairman and his wife watching her from behind the glass doors.
Time, I thought sadly as I ground my cigarette out with the toe of my shoe,
‘Was it just your job to get me here?’
‘Yes,’ I said softly, ‘but also for me.’
‘I see. Why you?’
‘I was hoping to talk to you…’
‘About?’ Mrs Venables asked coolly. ‘Hurry up, honey, I don’t have all night!’
‘I wanted to ask you for a job!’ I burst out.
She studied me quietly.
‘You’re English, right?’
‘You sound like the Queen, for god sakes! I met her once so I should know.’
She looked me up and down again, her eyes almost devouring me and I shivered inwardly.
Mrs Venables suddenly rummaged in her purse and thrust a business card at me.
‘That is my private number. Ring me tomorrow morning at eleven. If you give that number to anyone else, I’ll destroy you. Understand? You’ll never work in this burg again!’
I nodded furiously, gripping the business card.
‘What’s your name again?’
‘Charity Mellows,’ I whispered and she smiled.
I watched the limo pull into the busy traffic and, feeling elated, walked up the stairs and through the glass doors.
‘She just thanked me for making sure she could attend,’ I lied sweetly, brushing past him.
The chairman smiled at me.
‘Great to see her here,’ he said to me and I had no doubt who he was referring to Verity Venables. ‘She didn’t even come last year and yet she’s our biggest investor.’ He looked back through the glass doors. ‘I suppose we’re just a small holding compared to her wealth. Great job. What was your name again?’
‘Charity Mellows, sir,’ I said respectfully, feeling the narrow eyes of his scowling wife looking me up and down.
‘As I said, great job.’ His eyes lingered on my chest for a moment until his wife pulled him away.
‘Miss Mellows!’ Jon hissed and I turned.
‘The chairman said I did a great job, Jon,’ I said calmly, ‘so why don’t you go fuck yourself!’
I don’t know whether it was my cold tone or the combination of my refined English accent and the old swear word, but Jon gaped at me with shock.
I left him and walked into the Cedar Room.