The Occasional Wife
Chapter 1 – Everybody Wants To Rule The World (Tears For Fears)
Gale Hawthorne hung up the phone that sat on his expansive cherry wood desk and straightened his tie. He stood and grabbed his gray suit jacket, which was draped across a nearby upholstered chair. The big boss, Bank President Coriolanus Snow wanted to see him immediately.
Finally getting that promotion, he thought. He'd worked for L.A. Federal Savings and Loan for three years now, ever since college graduation. He'd done a great job helping to set up the merger between his employer and National Trust Savings and Loan in Oregon. Finally he'd get some recognition for all his hard work.
Snow's secretary Delly Cartwright waved him in as he approached. "He's waiting for you," the plump blonde said with a smile.
Gale smiled back. This was his day.
He opened the door to find Cato Ableman, the other acquisitions trainee, already seated inside.
Why is he here? A moment of doubt passed over Gale. But his confidence returned quickly. He'd worked hard and knew he deserved the promotion.
"Thanks for getting here so quickly Mr. Hawthorne," Snow said. "Please have a seat."
Gale sat down in the chair next to Cato.
"I called you here Mr. Hawthorne to commend you on your fine work with the National Trust merger," he said.
Gale smiled broadly.
"As you know the Acquisitions department manager position has been open for some time."
This is it, Gale thought.
"I have decided to give this position to Mr. Ableman, here. While you both have done excellent work, he shows the greater maturity. You'll be reporting directly to him now."
Reporting to Cato? Gale groaned inwardly. How can Cato be more mature? What was Snow talking about?
"How is your lovely wife?" Snow turned and asked Cato.
"Great. Clove is fine."
"I enjoyed myself at your wedding," Snow said. "Such a lovely affair."
So Cato was married, Gale thought. Big deal! That didn't make him more mature did it?
"I always like to see our managers settle down," Snow continued. "Married men are more dependable. They make better managers than single men."
He frowned at Gale. "That will be all Mr. Hawthorne."
Gale stood up and left, while Cato stayed behind to get further instructions.
Gale fumed all the way back to his office. Married men are more dependable. What kind of crap was that? Hard work should count for something. And he'd spent a lot more time in the office than Cato ever did.
For the past three years he'd been trying to figure out how the corporate world operated. It was a strange place where appearances mattered more than reality. Where how you dressed and the location of your office determined your status among your peers. Where the egos of your superiors must be carefully tended.
Now when he finally thought he'd figured it all out, Snow had thrown this curveball. Married men were more dependable. Ridiculous. A lot of the married executives he knew cheated on their wives. He'd even heard rumors about Snow and his secretary Delly.
Gale had no intentions of getting married simply to advance his career. He guessed he'd marry someday, but right now work came first. If only there was some way he could make it appear that he was married and dependable without actually having to get married.
He carefully dialed the phone on his desk. "Hello Catnip," he said. "How about lunch?"
Twenty-three-year old Katniss Everdeen sat at the sidewalk café drumming her fingers on the table as she waited for her friend Gale. She was dressed in a blue skirt and matching blazer. Her long dark hair was pulled up into a tight chignon. She looked every bit the definition of a serious-minded career woman.
Katniss stared impatiently at her watch. She had to be back by 2 p.m. for a presentation. Where was he?
Katniss and Gale had been friends for almost twelve years. They'd both grown up with single mothers who were still close friends. Katniss thought of Gale as her older brother. In fact, people had often mistaken them for brother and sister when they were growing up because they both had the same dark hair and grey eyes.
She hadn't seen him for several months now, ever since he started working on that bank merger project. But that was okay; she was busy too. After graduation from college she had been hired at Abernathy, Inc., one of the premier public relations agencies in Los Angeles. She'd been working long hours for the firm as a public relations representative. It was interesting work and she'd learned a lot on the job, but it didn't leave much time for socializing. She'd been pleasantly surprised to get Gale's call. She wondered what he'd been up to lately.
Finally, he arrived. Katniss waved at him, and noticed that several women turned to glance as he walked by.
Gale's a good looking guy, she thought. I should set him up with Madge.
"Sorry I'm late," he said as he sat down across from her. "Something came up at the last minute."
"I need to be out of here by 1:30," Katniss said. "I've already ordered."
He quickly glanced at the menu and placed his order with the waiter.
"I have a huge favor to ask of you Catnip."
"Sure, anything. What is it?"
"Would you be my wife?"
Katniss sat back in her chair. Her face grew pale. "What? Gale, we're not like that.. I never…"
"Never considered it, huh?" He smirked, before growing serious. "Look, I was passed over for a promotion today simply because I'm not married. The bank I work at is extremely conservative and they view married men as being more dependable I guess."
"That's absolutely crazy. It's 1985. Who thinks like that anymore?"
"Bank President Coriolanus Snow. If I want to get ahead at work, I need a wife. Since I don't plan on getting married anytime soon, heck, I don't even have time to meet anyone, I need someone to pretend to be my wife." He paused for a moment before asking, "Would you be my occasional wife?"
"What exactly does that involve?" Katniss asked cautiously.
"Attend a couple of work functions with me, that's all."
"That's fine for now Gale, but how long would I have to keep this up? Maybe at some point in the far off future, I might want a personal life."
"You Catnip, really?" Gale laughed. "I thought you were all business and no fun." His expression changed. "It won't be for long, Snow is close to retirement. Once he's out it won't matter. I can tell everyone we split up."
Katniss thought it over. Really where was the harm? Gale would advance in his career and she'd get to attend a couple of fancy dinners, maybe even make some business connections for Abernathy, Inc. She'd be doing her bit to fight back against old fools like Coriolanus Snow who ran their companies as if it was 1885 instead of 1985. She had to admit the thought of pulling it off appealed to the rebel in her.
"Okay, Gale. I'll do it."
When Gale arrived at work the following week, he wore a gold band on his left hand. He had framed a couple of photos taken the previous Christmas that included Katniss with his family that he set out on his desk. He made a point of telling Bristel, the secretary with the biggest mouth, that he and his old girlfriend Katniss had tied the knot in Lake Tahoe over the weekend. He knew Bristel would spread the word among the other secretaries over lunch. Snow would definitely hear about it before the day ended.
He was right. Around 5:30 p.m. that evening, Snow phoned him to pass along his congratulations. "You must be sure to bring the your lovely wife Katniss to the dinner next week."
As soon as Snow hung up, Gale dialed Katniss' number. "I need my wife next Friday evening. There's a big dinner to celebrate the merger. Mostly executives from my bank and National Trust, with some Acquisitions people like me thrown into the mix."
"So soon?" Katniss was surprised. "Okay, I'll go."
It was almost 8 p.m. when Katniss left the office to head home to the studio apartment she shared with her 19-year-old sister Primrose, a sophomore at U.C.L.A.
"Studying hard little duck?" Katniss asked. Prim was hunched over the tiny desk crammed in the corner of their room, her long blonde hair hanging down her back.
"I need to keep my grades up if I want to apply for medical school," Prim replied.
"Yeah, hard work is the only way to get ahead in this world."
"Do you think it will ever get easier for us?" Prim questioned.
"I hope so," Katniss sighed.
The two sisters had lived a comfortable upper middle-class childhood in Santa Monica until the their father had been killed by a drunk driver twelve years ago. Unfortunately their mother had no marketable job skills and had fallen into a deep depression. Within a year, the family had run through their savings and meager insurance money and ended up on welfare. They lost their home and moved into low-income housing in the San Fernando Valley. That's where they had met the Hawthorne family.
Eventually their mother had been trained as a nursing assistant and was able to find employment in a retirement home. But it didn't pay much, and Katniss and Prim had gone to bed hungry many times because money was needed for other things like rent, electricity, and water.
Katniss had resolved from her early teens that she would never let herself fall into the same trap as her mother. She would never be dependent on a man to take care of her. The only way she knew how to survive was to throw herself into a career of hard and relentless work.
But there was a problem. Something about her life didn't feel right. She couldn't put her finger on it exactly. She liked her job most days, but she knew there had to be more to life than working. There had to be some other reason to get up every morning. She just hadn't found it yet.
On Thursday, Katniss was sitting at her computer writing a press release when she got a phone call from Haymitch Abernathy, the firm's founder.
"Sweetheart, I have a vender coming in this afternoon who is trying to pitch his bakery. I don't have time to meet with him. Get his business card and tell him we'll be in touch."
"Okay." She hung up the phone. She knew Haymitch went out to lunch nearly every day drinking with clients. He rarely did much work after 1 p.m. She didn't mind meeting with the vendor.
It wasn't uncommon for various vendors to approach Abernathy, Inc. in the hopes of getting business. After all, the public relations agency was responsible for producing many events for its clients. Maintaining a list of dependable suppliers was an important part of the job.
Katniss returned to her press release. She was nearly finished when she heard tapping on the side of her open door.
She looked up.
A handsome blonde-haired, blue-eyed man, dressed in a dark suit was carrying a cake box into her office.
"Hello," he introduced himself. "I'm Peeta Mellark from Mellark Bakery in Santa Monica."
He looked at Katniss carefully, then looked at the nameplate on her desk. "I know you." His face lit up like it was Christmas morning. "It's been a long time Katniss Everdeen." He smiled broadly.
Katniss blushed. She recognized him, too. Peeta Mellark had been in elementary school with her. He had been the cutest and nicest boy in the entire sixth grade. A memory flashed into her mind. A few weeks after her father's death, she'd found a loaf of raisin and nut bread from his family's bakery in her backpack when she got home from school. She always suspected Peeta put it in, but she couldn't prove it. At any rate, the bread had fed her family for a couple of days because the cupboards at home were bare. Her mom had been too depressed to get out of bed.
He looks really good, she thought. Even better than when he was eleven.
"So nice to see you, too," Katniss collected herself. "You work for your parents' bakery now?"
"Yeah, I got a business degree last year and I'm putting it to use. I'm trying to drum up some corporate business." He pulled a small flat metal case from his jacket pocket, opened it, and handed her a business card.
"Thank you," she said as she took it from his hand. Her hand briefly touched his for a second and she grew flustered yet again.
What is wrong with me?
She set the card down on her desk, while Peeta sat down in the chair across from her.
"I also brought a sample for you, too." He opened the box to reveal a double-layer chocolate cake decorated with white chocolate shavings on top."
"Oh." Katniss moaned. "It looks delicious."
Peeta grinned. "I'll cut you a piece." He set the cake box down on her desk. He pulled a plastic knife from his pocket and cut her a large slice. "Do you have a plate or something?"
Katniss opened her bottom desk drawer. She had eaten so many meals at this desk that she had a fully stocked kitchen inside it. She pulled out a paper plate and a metal fork. Peeta put the cake onto the plate and pushed it toward her.
Katniss grabbed the fork and began to eat. It was so rich and yummy, she didn't want to swallow it right away. She wanted to savor it. She swirled the cake around her tongue and let the chocolate simply melt into her mouth. "This is so good," she said after she swallowed her first bite. "What is this filling?"
Katniss took another bite. Still good.
"Do you want some?" she asked Peeta who was staring wide-eyed at her as she ate. "I have more plates in here."
"No, I'm fine," he said.
Slowly, she finished eating the slice of cake. "I'm definitely telling Haymitch about this cake. Mellark Bakery will go on our supplier list. Don't even worry about it."
Peeta smiled. He pushed the cake box toward her. "Put this in your employee lunch room so the others can have some."
"Oh, I was planning to take this home for myself," she joked.
"I can make you another one,' Peeta responded a little too quickly.
Flustered yet again, Katniss changed the subject. "Have you gotten any corporate business so far?"
"I have my first job tomorrow night," he said. "In fact, I need to get back to finish up. They had a last minute request I need to take care of."
He stood up. "It was great seeing you again Katniss. He reached across the desk to shake her hand. But instead of shaking it he held it tight.
"We should get together sometime…if you're available." He paused awkwardly and blushed.
"That would be nice," Katniss replied. "And yes, I'm available," she added shyly.
Peeta grinned again and left the office.
Katniss sat back into her chair and sighed. Where was I? Oh right, the press release. She got back to work. But it took a long time to finish writing it. She couldn't stop thinking of Peeta.