Elizabeth sits back and relaxes. This is incredible. Sixty employees. Sixty! Twelve executives and Supervisors. The Farm is thriving again. Today is a staff meeting day, one of the monthly meetings that Richard insists on holding with his employees.
Elizabeth is hardly listening. She is distracted. And the distraction is none other than the speaker himself. Richard. She is secretly in love with him, and it is difficult to concentrate when he is speaking. His rich voice is raising the hairs on her skin. His cologne is intoxicating her senses. His eyes dance mischievously when he laughs, and his dimples put emphasis on his handsome face. His fitting suit looks good on his athletic body, although some would argue that any clothing item looks good on Richard. At fifty-seven, Richard looks better than many men in their forties and late thirties.
The breaking up of the assembly alerts Elizabeth that the meeting is over. It is late evening, and they are all heading home. Elizabeth heads to her office, trying to push Richard away from her thoughts. She has a report to finalize before she heads home.
She knows nothing can happen between her and Richard. It is common knowledge that Richard loved his ex-wife. Probably still does. This confuses Elizabeth. Silvia contributed to the Collapse of the Farm, and when Richard was broke and miserable, she dumped him for a younger tycoon. The divorce was finalized within a year, largely because Richard did not contest it. Within two months she had married the owner of the local chain of supermarkets, Rascals Ltd.
Richard still has Silvia’s photos in his office, alongside those of his three children. So, no, nothing can happen between them. Besides, he is twenty-seven years her senior and probably sees her as his daughter. Elizabeth is thirty, while Richard’s first-born daughter is twenty-eight.
That, however, doesn’t stop Elizabeth’s mind from wandering when she is in his presence.
Richard took over the Farm seven years ago when his father died of a heart attack. He left his corporate job to manage the family enterprise since he is an only child. For four years he built upon his father’s foundation. Then the Collapse occurred.
The Collapse happened three years ago. The Farm tottered on the brink of bankruptcy. Drought followed by floods in one year had ensured that the farm had been making losses for the two seasons of that year. During the Collapse, many of the workers fled the farm because the Farm could not afford to pay them. If Richard’s finances had been better managed, he would have survived unscathed. But his ex-wife Silvia used to burn the money almost as soon as it came in. She was the Chief Operating Officer (COO) of the Farm-on paper. She hardly did anything on the farm besides earning an exorbitant salary which she squandered alongside the rest of the profits of the Farm.
Richard adored her and usually allowed her to spend as much as she wanted. As long as the farm was producing, he was not worried.
Silvia’s spending worried Leonard, who was the Head of Finance and Elizabeth’s former boss. Leonard was the first to go when the Collapse began. As the drought began, Leonard attempted to tighten the screws. Sylvia would have none of it and continued spending heavily on her personal grooming and foreign vacations. Leonard resigned. Two months later, as the cash flow dried up, Sylvia left Richard for a younger, more flamboyant businessman. Without saying, that broke Richard as a man. His wife of twenty-eight years left when he needed her the most.
What followed was a mass exodus of employees, in what Elizabeth has christened The Collapse. The Farm went on its knees. Richard as a man was wrecked. He despaired and almost gave up on the Farm. It is at that point that Elizabeth took charge. She came to work every day, even though the Farm Office was now deserted.
She lives a frugal and had therefore saved a tidy sum in the years she had worked. She could afford to go without pay for a while. When the drought ended and the floods subsided, she bought seedlings with her own money. She pulled Richard back to work. She hired several casual workers who helped Richard and herself plant and irrigate. She worked side by side with Richard for a whole season, tilling, irrigating and harvesting just like the casuals. That is when she developed feelings for him.
The Farm made a decent profit that season. Richard wanted to pay her back but she refused, shrewdly insisting on acquiring shares on the Farm and being made the COO. Now the Farm is back to its old self with Elizabeth as a shareholder and COO.
Elizabeth remembers all this as she steps into her office-Silvia’s former office. She sits behind the massive desk without bothering to close the door. She turns on her laptop and attempts to work. But concentrating is difficult. Her mind keeps drifting back to Richard. Then she feels his presence. She has long noticed that she can smell him from a distance. And not just his cologne, because she can smell him even out in the farm with his body covered with sweat and cow dung. It is his presence. His powerful, masculine presence.
She looks up.
There he is, not far from her desk. He is looking at her in the strangest way possible. She can feel her intestines churn. It is a strange look, but a strangely adoring look. She has fantasized about him before. But those have just been that fantasies. There have even been moments, in the past year, when she thought she saw him gazing at her, but she has always dismissed it as the deceptive workings of her brain.
But this look right now is real.
She stares at him but says nothing. She hopes her emotions are in check but internally her bowels are wreaking havoc and her pulse is on the verge of explosion. So when he turns to leave, her heart sinks.
Then, just as he reaches the door, he turns back and faces her.
“You know, Liz, I don’t know how to say this. But I have fallen in love you and would love to be in a relationship with you. Think about it, and let us talk tomorrow. Over dinner,”
She must have looked shocked because he hesitates then comes back in and looks at her softly.
“It is okay if you do not feel the same way. I am sorry for even suggesting it. Forget I asked. We can just be friends and colleagues as always,”
As he turns to leave for the second time, she panics.
“Wait,” she says, rising from her seat. “I love you too. I just never thought you would say that. There is nothing to think about. I have imagined it for almost a yea…”
Suddenly he tugs her to himself and hugs her, then kisses her forehead while they are still locked in an embrace. They do not hear her enter.
“Well, well, well. What do we have here? What a cute site. I knew this girl is a gold digger,”
Richard and Elizabeth instinctively look at the speaker. It is none other than Silvia.
“Listen, young lady. If you think you can just snap my husband like that, you are mistaken,” she says.
“Former husband. You divorced him three years ago, remember?” Elizabeth shoots back.
“He is MINE. I have come back for him. And by the way, I also want my office back.”
Elizabeth looks at Richard, seeking support. But Richard says nothing. He looks shocked and confused.
“Let us go home darling. You still love your wife, don’t you?” Silvia coos, taking Richard’s hand. Richard does not resist but allows her to lead him out of the office. Silvia turns and winks at Elizabeth as they exit.
Elizabeth’s emotions are on a riot. She steadies herself and sits on her desk. What just happened there? What kind of spell does that woman have on Richard? What next now?
(Continued at The Age Factor II)