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Old 06-12-2010, 10:08 AM   #1
agouderia
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Default Available in all Sizes - by agouderia (~FFA, ~BHM, Drama)

~FFA, ~BHM, Drama - A pushy FFA and a inhibited BHM are unable to synchronize their intentions in the fashion world

Available in all Sizes
By agouderia


[Author's Note:] A broken foot gives me some time to pull together various pieces of a slightly gloomy story that has been spooking through my archives for a while.


Part 1 – Arts-Loi/Kunst-Wet

Antonia briskly changed metro lines at Arts-Loi/Kunst-Wet on her regular way to the office in Brussels, her mind on the tumultuous business developments at ‘signC’, an American up market fashion brand that had lately merged with two British brands and was struggling to establish itself on the European continent.

Checking her blackberry for news, she turned the corner only to have somebody bump into her - the next thing she realized was that her new Italian suit had coffee all over it: “Merde!” to only get a stream of expletives in British English as a response: “Bl**** f***ing hell! F***, f***, f***!”

In the last second before some very snide remarks left the tip of her tongue, Antonia cut them off as she took a closer look at the offender: He was roughly her own age with an adorably plump face, a mop of soft brown hair and honestly almost green eyes. As he raised himself, she noticed he was quite tall, broad with a nice round belly pushing out of his coat. Instantly melting, this was exactly her kind of guy, Antonia automatically switched to flirt mode, saying in mock reproach: “Now, now … those are 4-letter words. Good boys don’t use them, especially not in front of ladies!”

He blushed dark red, but asked with a microscopic grin. “How do you know I’m a good boy?”

“You definitely look more like a good boy than a bad boy – trust me, I’ve learned to tell the difference! Right now you’re only being naughty, spilling coffee on strange ladies and using 4-letter words!” Antonia winked.

“Oh f***, no sorry, you speak American English, I have to watch my language,” he went on. “I’m so clumsy, I ruined your nice suit, my sincere apologies. I’ll reimburse you for the damage – be it dry cleaning or a new suit. I don’t have my new business cards yet – so please take a picture of my passport to confirm my identity? I’ll give you my mobile number so we can solve everything.”

Antonia looked at him in surprise, but actually did take a picture with her blackberry: “Oh, a true British gentleman! Why do you think you have to watch your language because I speak American English …. Mr. … - double checking the name on the passport - Watherwood?”

“Please … Philip is fine. You’re…?”

“Antonia …. Antonia Langley. Nice meeting you Philip – even though it would have been nicer over coffee that had stayed in its cups. Here’s my card. Now about the language … you still haven’t answered my question…”

“Well, you Yankees are known to be prudish as far as that’s concerned …” Philip showed a reluctant grin blushing even deeper.

“We can discuss more in depth how prudish I am when we get together to deal with the damages,” Antonia winked at him. “By the way, I’m only half American – the other half is probably even worse in your British eyes! But now I have to run, otherwise I’ll be too late for an important meeting. See you soon!”

“With pleasure. Again, please accept my apologies!” Philip smiled shyly at her.

At least her suit had been ruined by a guy who was worth bumping into, Antonia thought, giving her a good reason for getting back in touch with him. Now she needed a new, clean outfit from Saskia at “signC”; maybe it was even better if she wore their own design when being introduced to the new CEO and his team. But she would have to hurry to get that done.

Dumping everything on her desk, she hurried over to Saskia Wissemaar, their young Dutch designer who was busy re-vamping the women’s clothing line for the European market. “Saskia cherie, quick – I need a clean, cutting-edge outfit for meeting our new CEO. A cute Brit poured coffee all over me at Arts-Loi!”

Very slim, almost mousy and exceedingly shy, Saskia emerged from behind a few clothes racks with some fabric samples in her hands. “Let’s go over to the presentation salon – I have two new outfits ready that would be great for you. Very forward thinking of you to insist we have a sample of all sizes we offer from US 0/UK 4 to US 16/UK20 at hand.”

“I’m not going to apologize for being 5’9’/1.75 and wearing a size US 10/UK14 – that’s totally normal for someone my height!” Antonia said pulling off her jacket. “This fully stocked presentation salon is bringing so much interest and business – I know of 7 contracts so far we got because either the buyers or their spouses could actually try on some of our designs in their size, see how good they feel in the great work you do – even take them home with them,” she smiled at Saskia, who blushed hiding behind her curtain of limp blonde hair. “I was actually interested in trying that dress belonging to the 3 piece of suit& dress in grey with purple and pine green threads; that would match the gray pumps I’m wearing …”

“Here it is,” Saskia pulled it off the rack. “You shouldn’t wear it with the matching jacket, that’s a bit too conservative. I have this short dull purple leather jacket as a new design sample… that would upgrade the entire outfit.”

“Ooooh, gorgeous Saskia! You know how I love purple! Too bad … I have the perfect matching purple high heels at home for this outfit,” Antonia slipped on the cloths in delight.

“Purple brings out your grey eyes beautifully,” Saskia surveyed her plucking everything in place, as Jan, ‘signC’ spokesperson and Antonia’s deputy stuck her head through the door: “Here you are! Hurry up you two– Craig has arrived!”

Antonia sped by her office, brushed her hair, applied more lip gloss then assembled with all her colleagues down in the small lobby. She was dying of curiosity what the new CEO was going to be like – his predecessor had been a true disaster: Angel Perdoso, a Latin male as attractive as his name insinuated, but the business brains of a pea as well as a knack for disastrous office politics constantly letting his turbulent bi-sexual love life interfere with business decisions. His only noteworthy, half-way useful talent had been holding motivating, witty public speeches; in the end he had been fired for going over budget and putting a number of oddities on expenses.

The meeting room door opened, out stepped Craig Richardson, ‘signC’s lanky, relaxed and perpetually ill-fittingly dressed CEO of global operations followed by a slight, elder grey-haired man and a younger, taller, seriously broad man in a dark, conservative suit – Antonia felt her jaw drop as she recognized Philip Watherwood, now without overcoat and coffee cup. He looked around the circle of people searchingly, saw Antonia locked eyes giving her a small, rueful smile.

“So, meet the team of ‘signC’ Europe,” Craig Richardson said. “May I introduce our new CEO, Philip Watherwood. So far he has headed the finance department of our main shareholder, Green*Star investments. Now he will make sure our entry into the continental European market proceeds much more smoothly than it has so far. He will be assisted by Jean-Luc Perreau who is in charge of HR as well as distribution and production.
Now Philip, Jean-Luc let me introduce you to everybody: First Franck Gordon, our head designer with his team, notably Saskia Wissemaar who is responsible for the women’s line.”

Antonia saw Franck smirk and role his eyes as he shook hands with Philip Watherwood, while Saskia immediately hid behind Jan again after she had barely touched his hand.

“Baas Geerts who is in charge of finances,” Craig continued, “Antonia Langley, marketing and communications. We merged the two departments since Antonia not only is a communications specialist, but also a true expert on the entrails of the Single European Market and the various country specifics. It doesn’t do any harm that she’s fluent in the EU’s four big languages. Having good, hard-headed American common sense on top of that is an extra bonus, as you will notice. You’ll also find a lot of the latter in Jan Davenport, her deputy and our spokeswoman. You can rely on both of them.”

Antonia blushed lightly. “Thank you so much Craig. Pleasure to meet you, Mr. Watherwood,” she smilingly stretched out her hand.

Philip smiled too and shook her hand. “Highly improved circumstances for meeting you, Antonia Langley …. Ms. Davenport.”

As customary, Philip gave a short introductory speech concentrating on the importance of meeting their business objectives; not as entertaining as Angel Perdoso’s Spanglish, but it showed he had a lot of business sense and already had put some work into familiarizing himself with ‘signC’. Antonia noticed he used her as his point of reference in the audience so she happily complied, smiling reassuringly or giving him short nods since this allowed her to leisurely give him a thorough once over.

He was a big guy, a little over average height, around 1.86m/6’1’ in a dark, well tailored suit obviously aiming at visually minimizing his size: Antonia could make out powerful shoulders, around his middle there was a substantial belly defying some of the camouflaging efforts as well as probably a backside nicely balancing it out in size, making him overall heavy and well proportioned. Philip’s very regular facial features formed a rather stark contrast to his massive physique – his round face was boyish with rosy cheeks, a little double-chin, the soft, wavy, slightly tousled hair and those startling, light green eyes with very long lashes, giving him an innocent appeal, making him look much more vulnerable than his powerful bulk suggested.

A polite round of applause told Antonia that Philip had finished and she had to end her visual appraisal. “Thank you everybody for welcoming Philip Watherwood,” Craig ended the introductory session, “Will the heads of department please meet in 10 minutes in our main meeting room.”

“Do I really have to come?” Saskia asked Antonia uneasily.

“Since Craig explicitly said only heads of department, that technically means only Franck, Baas, this Jean-Luc guy, me and probably Jan as spokeswoman,” Antonia looked thoughtful. “If you don’t feel comfortable, you don’t need to come. But give me your updated presentation materials – just in case I have to make sure Franck doesn’t go around telling a lot of bull-shit about your work!”

She picked up some her own files before heading to the meeting room with Jan, where Franck, his design assistant Guy, and Baas from finances with his accountant Urs had already assembled. Franck, a vain, megalomaniac, self-styled Scotsman with French roots – though Antonia suspected he really was from some dead-boring industrial dump just south of the Scottish border – was openly bitching against the new management. “I can’t believe it! What the bl***y hell is our investor thinking? Replacing someone as truly angelic as Angel, who was the epitome of a fashion company CEO with this 30 stone whale?”

A powerful sting of acrimony made Antonia immediately shoot back at him, “Discovered a new species now, have you? A stone whale? That’s definitely not on the CITES list!”

Franck’s assistant Guy snickered. “It’s not a new breed of whale – it’s a whale that weighs 30 Imperial stone!”

“Oh, thank you for reminding me you people once had an empire,” Antonia replied sarcastically, “and for using a unit of measure I choose to ignore since it makes medieval bazaar dealings look progressive. Please enlighten those of us who have undergone some civilisatory evolution since Stonehenge was built what 30stone would translate to in a 21st century unit of measurement?”

Guy looked at her dumbfounded so Jan said. “One stone equals 7 kilogram.”

“So 30 stone would be 210 kilograms (465 lbs.),” Antonia groaned rolling her eyes. “Christ Franck, no wonder your fashion samples never fit anyone! That estimate of yours is way too high - it’s about 40% off!”

Franck airily huffed it off. “Whatever, Watherwood is way too fat to represent fashion! How embarrassing will it be to have him open one of our flagship stores? It’ll look like we’re a tent manufacturer!”

Antonia retorted heavy with irony. “I always thought you insisted on opening all stores yourself? Give Philip Watherwood a chance, his business ideas sounded very well thought out…”

Just then the sliding doors to the small guest office opened, Craig Richardson and Philip Watherwood stepped in; it was obvious from their look that they had heard the essence of the previous exchange – Craig’s brows were thunderous while Philip’s chubby cheeks were bright pink and his expression was frozen.

Antonia flushed in embarrassment as Craig said quietly authoritative. “This meeting is for heads of department only,” making Urs leave immediately and Guy after some grumbling follow him. Craig chaired the meeting, asking for a short report on current developments from all departments while Antonia was baffled that Philip did not say anything, ask any questions but just took notes in stony-faced silence while Franck was completely unabashed by his gaffe going on endlessly in a vain presentation of some random new design ideas.

After the meeting Jan joined Antonia in her office with two coffees smirking. “So, you think our new boss weighs 130 kg (285 lbs)? What’s your take on him otherwise?”

Antonia hid her face in putting some files away. “I never said that.”

“Well, that’s the result of your setting Franck’s estimate right!” Jan giggled. “I know you’re an expert on big boy calculations. He’s honestly good looking in a sort of teddy bear way, too.”

“At least he seems to know a lot more about calculations than Angel did – after today Franck will clearly not have his ear, that’s good news,” Antonia tried to give the issue a different spin as Saskia entered with Antonia’s soiled suit. “Antonia – I’m giving this to our specialized dry cleaner in Antwerp, okay? If they can’t get the coffee stains out, I think I have a solution of camouflaging it with some weaving embroidery I’m experimenting with.”

“Oh, now tell me about the guy who spilled coffee all over you this morning,” Jan instantly went for this diversion. “Are you going to call him or wait till he calls? Do you want to meet him again?”

“Thanks a million Saskia that sounds great!” Antonia sighed, “I’ve already met him again - it’s Philip Watherwood.”


Antonia spent all evening musing how she felt about Philip Watherwood being her new boss. Sure, his considerable plumpness strongly appealed to her; he seemed nice, had common sense and she was pretty sure they would be able to work well together. On the other hand, she had initially thought of him, just from the visuals and his reactions to her flirting as maybe potential friend- or relationship material – that could be difficult to reconcile with office politics. The Angel, Franck, Guy, Baas on-off rectangle had wrecked enough havoc in every respect.

Nevertheless, she looked forward to going to the office the next day more than ever taking special care to dress nicely. To her disappointment, she did not see much of him for the next two days because he was constantly in meetings with the investors or other finance people. It was not until Philip’s Watherwood’s third day at ‘signC’ that his assistant, calm, efficient Czech-Belgian Joanna came to Antonia’s office with a small tray featuring a large cappuccino and an envelope.

“What’s that? I never say no to a cappuccino, why are you bringing it, Joanna? What’s in the envelope? Am I fired?” Antonia asked, eyeing the envelope.

“With best greetings from Mr. Watherwood,” Joanna replied. “I don’t know what’s in the envelope, but from what I’ve heard from Watherwood and Richardson, you would be the last one they would fire!”

Antonia opened the envelope in wide-eyed amazement looking at a gift certificate for “1 business suit” from the Italian boutique her suit had been from. “Is Mr. Watherwood available?” she asked.

“He’s in a phone conference right now, but you can come over in 20 minutes,” Joanna looked at Antonia in curiosity. “What was in the envelope?”

“Uumm …. something about return shipments,” Antonia mumbled, still staring at the gift certificate in awe, completely at a loss of how to react. To check on the actual damage, she went over to Saskia, who confirmed that a few small coffee stains had remained but she was doing a cover up design to hide them making the suit as good as new.

Antonia was nervous as she was shown into Philip Watherwood’s office; he was still on the phone but waved her to sit down on the sofa. Looking around, she noticed major changes to Angel Perdoso’s previous styling who had lavishly decorated the office with many pictures of himself and some celebrities, a pricy liquor cabinet, elaborate flower bouquets, expensive giveaways, silk pillows and seating duvets - all in all amounting to a rather ostentatious display. Now nothing in the room told anything about Philip Watherwood’s personal style or preferences, not a single picture, only a battered case of color pencils on the desk. The only piece of furniture he had exchanged was his chair, where he had replaced Angel’s slim, cool Spanish designer steel one with a sturdy, wide old-fashioned CEO chair fitting his big frame nicely.

“Antonia, what can I do for you?” Watherwood addressed her after finishing his phone call, only to blush and correct himself. “Sorry, I mean Ms. Langley – it’s continental style here, Monsieur and Madame, but since we met beforehand, I somehow ….” trailing off looking slightly embarrassed.

“Please, I’d be happy if you call me Antonia, most people around here do,” she smiled warmly putting the envelope before him. “I came to thank you for your generosity, Mr. Watherwood, and to return this. It‘s way too much and absolutely not necessary. Saskia will make my suit as good as new.”

“If I may call you Antonia, I’d greatly appreciate it if you call me Philip – we had originally agreed on that,” he smiled shyly. “Those are just the damages I owe you from our first encounter – after all I ruined your suit.”

“But it is honestly too much, Saskia will find…”

“I double-checked with Saskia – she is just artistically camouflaging the done damage,” Philip smirked. “As new CEO I find it is my duty to fully know what is going on around here. So you still need a new, clean suit – it’s on my insurance anyway. Besides…” - he added softly, “… you honestly deserve it for reacting so very nicely, thoughtfully to my clumsiness.”

“It was an accident, it was only fair not to overreact,” Antonia was surprised, she hadn’t expected sincere gratitude for simple flirty friendliness. “But if you insist, I’ll gratefully accept the certificate and promise to obtain a new suit which will be a credit to ‘signC’s’ professional approach.”

As Antonia left Philip’s office, she had trouble hiding her delighted smile and the feeling that she was totally smitten by her new boss.


Part 2 – On planet office

Last edited by Lou Grant; 06-13-2010 at 08:49 AM.
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Old 06-12-2010, 06:33 PM   #2
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Yay! fashion AND a fat guy. Looking forward to more of this one!
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Old 06-13-2010, 06:28 PM   #3
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Woot, a new story to follow!
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Old 06-14-2010, 01:31 PM   #4
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Yay, another great looking new series to follow!
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Old 06-15-2010, 06:24 PM   #5
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More, please! This one looks great!
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Old 06-20-2010, 05:14 AM   #6
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thank you every one for the interest and the ex ante praise - I hope not to disappoint.

I was slightly surprised though to find my original key word "non-romance" to be changed to "drama" by the editors. The essence of the story is more about small things, personal difficulties and expectations getting in the way of a successful relationship - drama seems like too big a concept to describe that! So don't expect anything tooo dramatic!
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Old 06-20-2010, 05:21 AM   #7
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Default Part 2 - On planet office

Part 2 – On planet office

There were a few raised eyebrows as the staff at ‘signC’ noticed that Philip and Antonia called each other by their first names, despite Philip being exceedingly continental formal with everyone else, strictly sticking to the Mr./Ms plus surname. But since the new CEO’s insistence on reassessing, in part overhauling the entire market entry strategy made everybody work long hours very little capacity was left for idle gossip.

Antonia also found out she could work well with Jean-Luc Perreau, a very experienced French business man with mild manners behind which he hid quiet resolve and quick decision making. He seemed to have known Philip for a long time, because he once mentioned having mentored him during business school.

They bonded over their joint enmity against Franck Gordon and his circle when Antonia caught Jean-Luc writing cynical comments in French to one of Franck’s presentations on a napkin during a session. Playfully, she spilled a little bit of water and pushed her own napkin with a few added comments of her own over which he acknowledged with a minuscule smirk. After the session he asked Antonia: « Alors, vous pourriez aussi travailler en Français? »

« Le Français c’est ma troisième langue, mais je suis assez bien à l’aise en l’utilisant dans un cadre professionnel. »


After that, Jean-Luc communicated with Antonia mainly in French, a bit to Jan’s dismay. “Keeping up with you and Jean-Luc is really difficult for me; you know my Italian is a lot better than my French!”

“Don’t worry, just let me know what you didn’t understand – I’m absolutely not hiding anything from you. I’ll be happy to translate whatever you need,” Antonia reassured her.

Philip also noticed because one evening as they were going through the data of a new market survey he commented smirking. “You really are an expert in good communications – very foresighted of you to work with Jean-Luc in French.”

“Well, he seems to appreciate it … and for me it’s easy enough as well as good practice.”

“The communication skills must be your Yankee side, not the Kraut one. That’s the part of your identity you seem to have been trying to hide from me,” Philip teased, reddening slightly.

“I wouldn’t say I’ve been purposely trying to hide it,” Antonia was caught by surprise. “But how do you know, we haven’t talked …. Sorry stupid question, of course you know, you’ve seen all our HR dossiers, which show I work here as an EU citizen. Anyway,” she winked, “your stereotype is wrong in my case – the communication skills come from my Kraut side. My mother is German and a professional interpreter, while my father is American and your typical bookish, quiet historian.”

“That’s pretty hard evidence that Krauts might exist who have some communication skills to offer,” Philip laughed, adding in a more serious tone. “I didn’t mean to offend you- there is nothing wrong with being part German. I’m not partial to the ridiculously outdated Kraut & Hun-bashing of British tabloids. With respect to our job here, you knowing Germany and the German market is a valuable asset – after all it’s the largest one on the continent. But I totally agree, maybe we should talk more.”

“Thank you, I expected nothing but a reasonable, international approach from you,” Antonia smiled, grasping the opportunity. “Speaking of talking more, why don’t we finish these charts quickly and then go for dinner. I’m really hungry.”

Philip shifted uncomfortably in his chair, leafed through papers before mumbling. “Perhaps another time. I have to finish a few things. But maybe we can have some coffee, now, to make it a little nicer?”


As well as she got along with him, over the weeks Antonia was first puzzled then stunned to observe that there seemed to be two versions of Philip operating at ‘signC’ – it was almost like watching a real life Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde experiment: First there was business Philip, confident, forceful, sure of his facts and numbers, full of ideas, at ease with his leadership and in enforcing the necessary measures. Second there was personal Philip, absurdly shy, insecure, quickly retreating into his shell like a tortoise and seeming to freeze, non-responsively evading people and issues.

It was Saskia, painfully shy herself, who brought up the full extent of this phenomenon after a session with Franck and Philip about which designs to produce and market. Antonia dropped in at the very end on return from a short business trip, to find Franck pushing his issue of only selling sizes US 0/UK4 to US 10/UK14 in their own flagship stores. Seeing Antonia, Franck quickly ended the session saying, “Thank you Mr. Watherwood for your support of my concept, it’s the perfect approach for our brand profile” – before leaving the room.

Philip got up and wordlessly left too, giving Antonia a curt nod; in passing she briefly caught his eye, astounded by his extremely wounded expression.

“That can’t be the final decision,” Saskia said despairingly to Antonia. “I don’t understand why Philip let Franck get away with it, he didn’t respond at all. I couldn’t do anything -you know I’m unable to speak up to Franck.”

Antonia was bewildered by the situation. “I know Franck is an asshole to boot – but calm down, tell me exactly what happened. Come into my office so we can talk in peace and quiet.”

Over a pot of tea, Antonia extracted from upset Saskia what exactly had happened – surprised to learn that Franck had very obviously been arranging meetings with Philip when she was not able to attend so she couldn’t interfere.

“What exactly happens during those meetings?” Antonia asked Saskia.

“It’s not easy to describe,” Saskia shook her head. “Do you know what I mean if I say Franck and Philip speak different languages?” – seeing Antonia hesitantly nod she went on – “Philip talks numbers, while Franck can’t tell a number from a Christmas tree. On the other hand Franck talks Franck and fashion, whereas as Philip goes mute when he has to talk about Philip and fashion …”

“I sort of understand what you’re getting at…. how exactly does that go?”

“Mostly Philip starts out with an overview of the latest figures he has – budget lines, production planning, orders, order projections and the like. As always, Franck hasn’t prepared any of the details, even though I have my lists ready for the women’s lines and put them in front of them. I don’t think Guy has done anything meaningful for the men’s section.”

“Shit no,” Antonia rolled her eyes. “Don’t ask me how terrible his offer calculations were for some retailers who were actually interested in taking in the men’s line – I had no chance of selling that! But sorry, I interrupted you … how do the meetings with Philip and Franck continue?”

“Then Philip starts asking Franck about his non-existing details, which numbers he can meet, where cuts in production might be made … naturally, Franck can’t answer any of these questions. When Philip starts getting demanding, tries to get him to commit to deadlines or changes, Franck shifts the topic. He’ll talk about random details of the style, design, presentation of the men’s line, lacing them with small barbs against Philip’s … um .. well, size, you know…”

“Do you mean to tell me Franck makes fun of Philip’s weight to his face?”
Saskia nodded. “How does he do that? What does he say?”

“Well … one time he started out about adding a line of belts to the accessories, going on about necessary belt length in reference to waist size, off-handedly adding that for waist sizes like Philip’s you needed longer extensions. ‘50” probably is not enough, I would say 54”, even though it’s difficult for me to tell since our line goes only up to 36”, that’s my daily point of reference,’” Saskia mimicked Franck’s affected tone of speech.

“You can’t be serious! That’s horribly mean and totally out of line, Philip is his boss!” Antonia was deeply upset. “How does Philip respond?”

“Not at all, that’s the problem,” Saskia sighed. “Sometimes he blushes, he always looks very uncomfortable, he sort of freezes and doesn’t say anything… it’s like, I don’t know…”

“… like having a tortoise which has retreated into its shell sitting at the table. The more you prod it, the less it reacts.”

“Exactly, that’s the perfect comparison Antonia,” Saskia went on. “I understand how he feels, I hate it to when people say something about me as a person, I can’t respond either. Today was particularly awful – Franck needled Philip with the importance of appearance to be convincing in fashion, talked about his own nose and chin job and asked Philip whether he had ever considered lipo-suction.”

Antonia was shaking her head in disbelief and disgust, cringing at the thought of how Philip must suffer from this. From what she had observed, he seemed to be extremely sensitive about his weight, far more than she had ever experienced with her own previous, big boyfriends. Still it surprised her he was not willing or able to play the professional card of his higher status and competence to shut Franck up. “This is total disaster – for our business prospects and for Philip personally. We’re behind schedule anyway. This has to stop!”

“But how Antonia?”

“Very simple – I will join you in all these meetings. I know how to deal with Franck’s crap,” Antonia was determined. “Come to think of it, I have a hunch he has been scheduling meetings when I’m not available on purpose, to bypass my opinion, get Philip to somehow consent to his idiotic ideas. Now, I want you to tell me whenever such a meeting is scheduled again. And I’ll talk to Joanna; give her my schedule so she can keep an eye on this too. Thank you for being so honest Saskia, that was incredibly helpful for me.”

“Telling you was the only thing I could think of, I’m counting on you to rein in Franck,” Saskia gave her a small smile.

Joanna nodded in grim understanding as Antonia told her about double checking on the scheduling of Philip’s meetings with Franck and how important it was to include her as head of marketing. Only three days later, she informed Antonia a meeting had been arranged on short notice for that afternoon.

On entering the meeting room, the first thing Antonia saw was Philip’s backside, for once without the camouflaging suit coat. What a luscious sight, she thought to herself, beautifully rounded, well-fleshed, perfect in proportion to his thick thighs, reminding her so much of the adorably cuddly behind of her favorite childhood teddy bear. Leaning against the wall for support, she appraised how above his belt, Philip sported the ideal tire-like love handles and as he turned side-ways, she saw his full belly in profile hanging heavily over his belt-line, ever so lightly jiggling with his movements.

Philip suddenly noticed her, his face freezing as he hastily snatched his suit coat, quickly pulled it on and buttoned it up. “Antonia, … how, what are … you … want … doing here? Aren’t you at a new client’s?” he stammered.

“The meeting was postponed,” Antonia noticed with shock that her voice was hardly more than a hoarse whisper, so turned on was she. “I was admiring your sense of style – the combination of different shades of gray of your suit, shirt and tie with the touch of dusty turquoise in shirt and tie is cutting edge. For a numbers guy you do a fabulous impersonation of a fashion expert,” she winked at him. Seeing him freeze even more, she continued smiling. “Joanna told me you were having this meeting with Franck and his team about the different production and order schemes for the various markets. Since that very directly concerns my department, I would like to join you if I may. Are those the new budget lines you have calculated? Could you maybe explain them to me?”

As expected, the business twist paid off – Philip immediately relaxed nodding. “Why certainly, maybe you’re right, it might be useful to have you here. Now here you can see….,” launching into a detailed explanation of his charts, letting Antonia lean close to him, smell his cool, spicy aftershave and feel the warmth he radiated, allowing a few lusty tingles.

Franck pulled a disgusted face as he entered the meeting room and saw Antonia sitting next to Philip. “Why Antonia, I’m sorry you must be misinformed. We’re not ready yet to discuss the details of our designs for marketing yet, so attending our meeting is a waste of your precious time.”

“Don’t worry Franck, my time management needn’t be your concern.”

“Now that everybody is here, we can start. And I sincerely hope we will get a big step closer to finalizing the time-line for order, production and marketing of both the women’s and the men’s line,” Philip started handing out a few spread sheets. “I’ve gotten headquarters to extend our time and budget lines a little, but we need to decide which sizes, color variations and design samples as such we want use for our market introduction,” before going into some details of the figures.

“If I may make a suggestion, I would like to suggest we start first by determining the size ranges and percentiles we will offer in the individual markets before moving on to the details of the designs. This will give us more accurate guidelines of which leeway we have in the other questions.”

As Antonia had expected, Philip nodded and Franck immediately took the bait. “Oh Antonia, we don’t need to talk about the sizes, we already decided on that last time. Didn’t you get our minutes to serve as the base for the marketing?”

“Indeed, I got those minutes. And as your head of marketing, I am vetoing your suggestion, which was no definite decision,” Antonia countered. “One pre-determined element in our business plan always was that we would offer the standard size ranges in the individual markets, cut to the standard height. Meaning we’ll for instance offer sizes US 6-16/UK 10-20 cut to 170-172cm/5’7’-5’8’ for the German and Benelux markets, but US 2-12/UK 6-16 for height 161-165cm/5’3’-5’5’ for the French and Portuguese markets. Considering the current discussions in the fashion world about realistic sizing and catering to a wider range of body types, it would be absurd to seriously discuss down scaling the size range offered.”

“I know where you’re coming from Antonia; I understand it’s difficult in our industry not being able to wear model sizes.” Franck tried to sound soothing. “But we have an image of cutting edge fashion to establish in Europe, we won’t achieve that with plus sizes…”

“The only thing you’re convincing me of right now is that you are not up to scratch as far as current debates in fashion and customer expectations are concerned,” Antonia interrupted him. “My own size is a non-issue in this equation. If you can’t accept the decision in the business plan, you can try and convince the board to change it – but I’ll make sure they read and understand my market surveys beforehand, so they won’t believe your nonsense. Can we now please move on to the men’s line, where we do need to take a decision on the size ranges for the different markets, since they are much less conventionally established? Please excuse me Philip; I didn’t want to take over the course of the decision making.”

Philip gave a shrug and a hint of a smile. “No, its fine – the men’s line needs to be decided on. Mr. Gordon, as you can see, Antonia gave an overview of the male size ranges in the various markets some time ago, could we please have your suggestion of how you think we can proceed, which average height range we should cater to and which types of designs might match?”

Franck was slightly flustered and quickly looked through the paper Philip indicated at only to say. “Hmmm, I don’t know if I can agree with these findings. My suggestion would be to offer XS-M/L or 26’-34’ in most markets, maybe going up to an ‘L’ in some.”

“Okay – but that’s pretty far off the market survey suggestions,” Philip looked through the charts taking a deep breath. “They mostly suggest doing S-XL as standard, in some markets even going up to XXL. Which reasons do you have from deviating so far from the recommendation?”

“Mr. Watherwood, you’re new to the industry,” Franck started. “It’s particularly difficult for you seeing you have less personal exposure to normal fashion shopping than most ordinary customers … since the well, specialized clothing range offers little comparison to the regular market….”

Seeing Philip grit his teeth and his jaw tighten under his chubby cheek, Antonia was seething and didn’t care at all whether she was being rude. “For heaven’s sake Franck, this is not about personal experience! Market surveys are solid socio-economic research. They tell you about the objective size of markets, not your personal, subjective micro-census. Analyze them, adapt to them … and then sell successfully!”

“Fashion is a very personal business – I always try to envision what I would wear to fit as a source of creativity ….”

“That is not a professional approach Franck. We do mass market quality wear, not haute couture. It’s time you get that! Now I will double-check with the size ranges for men in the various markets, let you know the most realistic options and you can give us a final selection of production samples for the men’s line in… which time line would you suggest Philip?”

Exhaling Philip looked through his charts. “Two weeks, maximum. Or better make that Monday next. Antonia, maybe you can do a first draft selection with Saskia of the women’s designs in the meantime? From what I understood we’ve already gotten much further in that segment. Since we have nothing more to really decide on yet, I suggest we adjourn the meeting.” Quickly gathering his papers, he left.

Franck shot Antonia a look of pure loathing, Saskia hid a tiny pleased smile behind her curtain of hair and Antonia gave Franck a questioning raise of her eyebrows to hide her pleasure before she went off into Philip’s office.

“Philip – quick question, tonight is AmChamEU’s dinner for the US Congress delegation to which all US companies in town are invited. Are you coming?”

“Umm … do I have to? I’m not American. Can’t you go? At least you’re half American, nobody can tell the difference anyway. Take Jan instead of me, that’ll make 1.5 Americans and be more convincing for your audience there. And Antonia – thank you for your expertise in this discussion just now. That simplified the proceedings considerably.”

“Thank you. Off the record – Franck is awfully annoying to work with. It’s best to shut up his ramblings before he really gets going. Too bad you’re not coming tonight, it’s a lovely location.”

Last edited by Lou Grant; 06-20-2010 at 12:45 PM.
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Old 06-20-2010, 05:28 AM   #8
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Default Part 2 - On planet office

It soon became pretty clear to Antonia that Philip avoided eating in front of others: He never went to lunch with anybody from the office. He rejected all her attempts to have dinner with him during their long evening work sessions. He abstained from touching food served in meetings – even if she sometimes could hear his stomach growl hungrily when she was sitting next to him. He only went to business lunches and dinners, often taking her along, if there was no way around it; there he ordered a salad if there was no set menu. Although talking about food, wine, dining and chocolate was probably the top small talk subject in Brussels – next to the awful weather or the disintegration of Belgium - he made sure to switch topics or stayed quiet throughout those discussions.

Still, Antonia’s fondly observing eyes noticed he was clearly gaining weight: his face became rounder, his double chin was more pronounced, his delightfully plump backside looked even more inviting, his belly bulged more and hung further over the waistband, his thighs thickened …. his camouflaging clothes got visibly tighter until he started exchanging them for bigger, more covering ones.

Unfortunately, Franck’s sneering entourage also noticed making Guy cattily remark one day. “I think all we need is a little more patience – soon Watherwood will be too fat to fit through the front door, then we’re rid of him.”

Some laughed, some shook their heads but to Antonia’s ears this cutting remark felt like a slap in the face.

“If you and Franck continue designing such unmarketable crap and not controlling the manufacturing process, we indeed will not need him anymore because we’ll file for bankruptcy!” she snapped at Guy, tossing him the latest list of trial run manufacturing errors and returns. “Take care of this immediately!”

During the long hours they worked, Antonia needed a bite to eat every once in a while. At first she was reluctant to help herself to anything in Philip’s presence but gave up since they often got to a point when she couldn’t concentrate anymore because she was hungry– and no longer productive. So she switched tactics, tried her best to get Philip to eat something too, which was easiest in cases when his stomach growled audibly. To be prepared, she made sure she always had really healthy snack options at hand during long work sessions – yet was naughty enough to also introduce him to the best chocolates in town.

Sitting late over some spread sheets together, she would eventually get out the box of her favorite Marcolini specialties, putting then seductively on the table, elaborating their virtues, or she would add a Marcolini dark chocolate croustillante to Philip’s coffee or ask his opinion on a new chocolate flavor she discovered and wanted to give away as a present. They had to finish a report one Saturday coinciding with Philip being with ‘signC’ for 100 days, so Antonia bought a medium-sized “bombe au chocolat’ at Pain Quotidien for their coffee table.

Philip eyed it with an endearing mixture of guilt and greed, asking, “What’s that supposed to be?”

“Beware … it’s a bomb!” Antonia giggled. “Since we have to work on a Saturday, and we have a small anniversary to celebrate I opted for one of the best celebratory cakes in town: bombe au chocolate! I’m pretty sure you’ll love it – it’s on my international top 10 list of European chocolate cakes.”

“What exactly are we celebrating?”

“Your 100 days anniversary here at ‘signC’ – congratulations!”

“I don’t know whether that really calls for a celebration,” Philip sighed. “Also I don’t remember asking you for a European chocolate cake market survey.”

“Oh – as Craig told you I’m into all types of research on the European Single Market,” Antonia replied, trying to keep the tone light, weaken his resistance of accepting the cake, cutting a piece, setting it in front of him with a cup of coffee. “I can gladly update you on my findings concerning yoghurt, face cream, car defrost as well as – more related to our line of products – hosiery, shoes and handbags.”

Philip laughed taking a bite of the ‘bombe au chocolate’ only to blissfully role his eyes. “I really shouldn’t be participating in your market survey, but it’s divine!”

“Well, I do my best to come up with quality market analysis,” Antonia grinned, happy to see he quickly finished his first piece to automatically cut himself a second.

Working as hard as she was, with endless hours overtime, many of them spent with Philip, Antonia’s social life and contacts with friends went notably downhill. But she felt guilty about it, even as wound up as she currently was, she missed them. So she did jump on the opportunity on the first sunny Friday afternoon when Heather called suggesting. “No more work as an excuse – meet me in 45 minutes at Grand Sablon for coffee in the sun!”

Laughing, Antonia answered. “I’m coming – boss is in a meeting, I more than deserve such a tiny break!”

Walking across the sunny, slightly chaotic but charming cobble stoned Place du Grand Sablon, Antonia saw Heather sitting at the edge of a table in front of Pain Quotidien with the twin buggy parked in front of it, feeding some biscuits to Aurelia and Alexandra, her two-year old twins, to whom Antonia was god-mother.

In many respects, Heather was Antonia’s soul sister, both of them had spent most of their lives moving back and forth across the Atlantic and felt equally at home in both worlds, creating a very strong bond. Heather had now permanently settled in Brussels, being married to Benedict, a lovably clumsy, but sweet-tempered Austro-French Eurocrat and having 4 children. As if that wasn’t enough, she taught part-time as a lecturer in American studies.

Delighted to see them all, Antonia hugged first Heather, then the twins settling Alexandra on her knee, amusing her with playing a folding game with her napkin while she drank her coffee and caught up with Heather.

“Girl, you’re working too hard. Look at how pale you are – you’re probably down to a size US 8/UK 12 by now, am I right?”

“Sort of…. work really is challenging, but for the first time I have the feeling we are getting somewhere, we have a fair chance to be successful on the European market. I can work well with my new boss, he’s got business smarts,” Antonia answered rather primly, grateful her eyes were hidden behind her sunglasses.

“But you’re definitely not working next weekend!” Heather sounded determined.

“Why do you say that?”

“Because we’re doing a girl’s weekend!” Heather deftly caught the glass Aurelia was threatening to throw on the sidewalk. “We’re going to Antwerp on Saturday- I need to buy an outfit for a posh wedding we have to attend in Austria. You know how hopeless I am with fashion, how difficult it is to find something in my size. On Sunday we’ll drive out to the beach to see how the sea has fared over the winter, go for a nice long walk…”

Antonia smiled. “Sounds like a wonderful plan. I’ll make sure it’ll really be a weekend for me – I deserve it by now. Don’t worry about you’re size, you look beautiful, we’ll find you a great outfit!” eyeing her fondly.

At 5’5’ (165cm) Heather was comfortably settled at exactly 100kg (220 lbs) making her altogether round, apple-shaped; her baby-like little blond curls framing her pink cheeks and intensely blue eyes giving her a classical cherubic look. She had battled her weight for all her life, three pregnancies in five years not making things easier. After the birth of the twins, she had weighed 112kg (245 lbs.) and had been intensely pressured by her doctor to diet, despite Benedicts loving reassurances. After losing only 2 kgs in 2 months of strenuous dieting, Heather had given up, only to have her weight naturally drop to the 100kg which seemed to be her set point with which she was comfortable. Admitting to her own lack of fashion sense, she always resorted to Antonia for cloths advice.

“Come to think of it – Saskia just sampled two lovely outfits, borderline business elegant/cocktail, one dusky rose, the other deep royal blue, which would be great on you… why don’t we give that a try?”

Heather rolled her eyes. “You know I wear a UK 22-24/US 18-20, ‘signC’ doesn’t cater to that!”

“Not right now, but if you ask me, we should expand our regular sizing to a UK22/US18 … I’m working on that; there is the market in many European countries.” Antonia wrinkled her brow. “But Saskia would certainly be happy to upsize her design for you, tailor-make it so to say. It would cost you the fabric plus the hours for the seamstress – not more expensive than the Italian plus-size chic we would otherwise go for!”

Antonia looked up as a broad shadow fell over their table, only to see Philip loaded with a stylishly cool black Marcolini bag full of chocolate in one hand and a big “bombe au chocolat” box in the other indecisively looking at her before turning to hurry away.

“Bon soir, Philip – I’m happy to see you are working on our Belgian chocolate survey!” Antonia smiled at him till he flushed. “May I introduce you to Heather, my best friend and soul-sister here in Brussels; these adorable two little devil-ettes are my god-daughters Aurelia and Alexandra.”

Heather smilingly got up, stretched out a hand in greeting to Philip looking at him in avid curiosity. “Philip, may I say Philip – or do you prefer the continental ‘Monsieur’… whatever?” – seeing him shake his head, she went on – “Pleasure to meet you! Antonia has been telling great things about your competence …. even though we are a bit mad at you for chaining her down in the office all the time” – winking at him. “Would you like to join us for a cup of coffee?”

Philip shook his head, half sputtered a response, but Heather had already relieved him of his parcels, took the twins play things off the chair shoving it towards him, beckoning him to sit. “Okay, a quick espresso would be nice.”

Heather quizzed Philip unabashedly and Antonia found out more about him in the 20 minutes of coffee than she had in all the weeks before at the office: That he was an only child, he had been to boarding school and hated it, he had studied at the College d’Europe in Bruges – delighting Heather, since her Benedict had been there too – he loved going to concerts, he had a cat named Chopin.

Keeping her sunglasses on despite the setting sun, Antonia could discreetly observe his first tense then more and more open interaction with Heather, asking her about having twins, teaching American studies to Europeans, the inner workings of Eurocracy. Heather’s own visible roundness seemed to make him lose some of his inhibitions, for he even opened his waxed outdoors jacket offering a glimpse at his shirt encased belly underneath, jiggling merrily as he laughed at Heather’s stories of the twins pranks, making Antonia feel all warm and fuzzy just watching.

After a good twenty minutes, he got up, smiling. “Lovely meeting you Heather. Antonia, have a nice weekend, see you on Monday.”

As soon as he was out of earshot, Heather burst out laughing, shooting Antonia a very wicked grin. “God girl, no wonder you’re working so much overtime! He’s totally your type ….. he would fit perfectly into your teddy bear collection!”

“I don’t know what you mean, he’s my boss!” Antonia responded defensively. “I have an absolute moratorium regarding my teddy bear collection. With all in all 93 teddy bears – if you include the ones as mugs – my apartment is seriously overpopulated – I’m getting in trouble with animal welfare!”


Continued in post #13

Last edited by Lou Grant; 06-25-2010 at 04:35 PM.
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Old 06-20-2010, 12:18 PM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by agouderia View Post

I was slightly surprised though to find my original key word "non-romance" to be changed to "drama" by the editors. The essence of the story is more about small things, personal difficulties and expectations getting in the way of a successful relationship - drama seems like too big a concept to describe that! So don't expect anything tooo dramatic!
Since you wondered about it publicly I will give an explanation here.

Story tags (or key words if you prefer) are concise descriptors placed at the beginning of a story to help readers quickly locate a genre and/or determine whether a story will be of interest to them.

Admittedly I’m pretty lenient about what qualifies as a useful tag. However, using a tag to alert people to what the story is not about (as you did) seems to me to defeat the purpose. You could have also used non-feeder, non-sci-fi or even non-Neil Diamond fan fiction for that matter. All would have been correct but needless. Simply not using the Romance tag would have sufficed to let readers know your story is not a romance. Hence the reason I clipped your non-romance tag.

I added drama as a tag because a story about relationships or the difficulties associated with relationships qualifies in my opinion to be tagged as such.

Hope that helps.

Last edited by Lou Grant; 06-20-2010 at 12:49 PM.
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Old 06-21-2010, 02:15 PM   #10
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1) I'd call it a drama, at least as with regards to how that term is used in tv and movies.

2) I don't really care what you call it, I'll happily devour each new installment like it was a bombe au chocolat!

3) I especially love the cast of characters....spent a couple of years in Europe, not enough to become international, but enough to meet a bunch of people who were, and the characters in this series really seem to feel 'right' from that group, it really feels authentic for me.
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Old 06-23-2010, 07:56 AM   #11
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I am very much enjoying this smart, sexy story. Don't feel too pressured by the 'drama' label. I'm not sure that means it has to have high adventure. I think it just means you have an actual plot. Which you do; it's adorable and I'm looking forward to more!!
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Old 06-25-2010, 09:53 AM   #12
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Default Drama - or not

Okay, okay - I give in! I understand the reasoning behind the drama tag - hope the outcome somehow fits.
Next time I'll try to stay more in line of labeling ....

Thank you for the support and happy to hear you're enjoying it so far ... so here is the next chapter...
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Old 06-25-2010, 10:01 AM   #13
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Default Part 3 - Antwerp

Part 3 – Antwerp

“Wow, oh wow…. I’ve never had a dress I looked this good in before!” a delighted Heather twirled and preened in front of the wall sized mirror in the design studio, for the first fitting of the up-sized elegant dusky rose dress Saskia had made for her. “Let alone one that fit this well! Antonia was right, your work is wonderful!” she beamed at a blushing Saskia.

“Thank you, it was a real pleasure for me,” Saskia said slightly breathlessly. “It also helped me improve the design. To perfectly show of your curves, I raised the waist a bit, let the square neck-line run a bit into a V-shape and did more of a drape over the hips. This works much better for all sizes US 10-18/UK 14-22; I just let the 2 smallest sizes the way they were.”

“You’re very sweet Saskia, but it’s more that the cut does a good job in insinuating my bulges might be curves,” Heather grinned. “Now I can’t wait to try on the blue one.”

“Heather – no more bogus remarks! But she’s right Saskia, you’ve done an excellent job –and it’s very sweet of you to have helped out,” Antonia smiled.

“Look, oh look – I think this blue one is even more flattering. For the first time ever I don’t know which one to wear because both our so lovely,” Heather came out in the off the shoulder dull royal blue wrap shift which beautifully framed her creamy shoulders.

“Very simple – you’re wearing the rose one during the day and the blue one in the evening. And somewhere down the line the bride will kick you out because you’re outshining her by far!”

“You might actually have a point there, Antonia” Heather giggled. “The bride has hideous taste; we’re friends with the groom.”

“So you are still here Antonia, I thought I heard your voice,” Philip stuck his head through the door, looking surprised. “Why good evening Heather, what are you doing here?”

Saskia immediately retreated behind the curtain of the fitting area while Antonia bit her lip, feeling a bit guilty of not having informed Philip that she had enlisted Saskia and her team for a private matter, albeit covering the costs.

Only Heather smiled gleefully at Philip and sashayed in front of him, showing off her dress. “Salut Philip. Saskia has been an absolute darling to upsize these two dresses for me as outfits for a wedding. Isn’t it lovely? But just so you know – I’m paying for the material and the work from the seamstress, so it’s no strain on ‘signC’s’ budget. I hope you don’t mind too much.”

“Uh no, that’s okay,” Philip showed a small smile. “The dress suits you beautifully.”

“It would be so great if ‘signC’ extended their size range to at least US 18/UK22 - Antonia said she is working on a survey.” Heather continued smiling playfully at Philip. “Speaking as a potential enthusiastic customer – may I be so bold to petition you as CEO to offer an additional size or two? You can probably understand my clothes shopping problems pretty well yourself.”

Antonia held her breath while Philip blushed bright pink and froze, even Saskia peered out from behind her curtain in curiosity. Not getting a response, Heather looked at Philip in bewilderment then at Antonia with a questioning shrug.

Without answering, Philip gave a short nod and turned to leave. At the door, he halted and said in quiet bitterness: “Correct observation Heather, I understand all too well. And that is why I cannot say nor do anything about it.”

Looking after him in astonishment, Heather asked Antonia, “What was that all about? Was my question so out of line? I thought coming from me it should be okay, more empathizing than offensive.”

Antonia exchanged a knowing look with Saskia. “By Philip’s standards, that actually was a complete and almost constructive response to the issue. Don’t worry, you did nothing wrong, your remark was absolutely in line under normal circumstances.”

“Unbelievable,” Heather shook her head. “He’s as bad about his weight issues as I was as an insecure fifteen year old girl. And that with working in the appearance fixated fashion industry. How awful must that be?”


After Philip having been unavailable for her all through Monday, Antonia was slightly apprehensive as she knocked on his office door in the early evening, wondering if he was seriously angry at her because of the Heather incident.

“Philip, do you maybe have twenty minutes?”

“Um … yes… of course. Sit down, let me finish reading these charts,” Antonia watched Philip methodically go through the numbers, high-lighting and structuring them with his colored pencils, before he turned to her. “So, which new impending disaster would you like to talk to me about today?”

“It’s not that bad,” Antonia smirked a bit uncomfortably. “First of all I wanted to sincerely apologize to you for not asking you before I offered Heather to use Saskia’s resources to solve her clothing issues. Also, it was not Heather’s intention to interfere with your executive decisions regarding our sales policy. She was just voicing an unfiltered consumer opinion. I’m very sorry for the entire incident – and, well, I would fully understand if you entered an official reprimand into my HR file.”

Philip looked at her in surprise and laughed. “Don’t be absurd Antonia. If it didn’t cost ‘signC’ anything, it doesn’t matter to me. Since you are the only one Saskia feels comfortable working with, she will have been happy to help. If I also get your American marketing approaches correctly, aren’t we supposed to be in constant dialogue with our consumer target groups? So forget it. Now which other real problems might we have?”

“Thank you very much. It won’t happen again. I’m very grateful for your generosity and understanding.” Antonia once again marveled how confident and easygoing Philip was long as it was purely about business as she laid the two large silver gray elegant invitations on his desk. “We have two invitations for the annual reception of the Fashion Department of the Belgian Royal Academy of the Arts in Antwerp. They’ve started including all foreign fashion companies with European headquarters in the country to promote Belgium as a fashion location, so we’re on the list. It’s a great event, a bit gala reception, a small exhibition, a fashion show with something like a ball.”

“Umm yes, and why should I know about this?”

“Well, because you as CEO are more or less obliged to go. The normal and expected person for you to take along would be Franck as our head designer,” Antonia couldn’t help a very wicked grin as she saw Philip’s appalled expression.

“You’re not serious are you? You can go with Franck if somebody has to go!” Philip snapped with a small shudder. “Sorry – that was unprofessional.”

“Philip, I feel exactly the same way as you do at the prospect of going there with Franck,” Antonia quickly responded. “To be very honest with you, currently I would like us to avoid public statements and appearances of Franck as far as possible. Jan and I have recently had enough trouble trying to streamline or rectify some major interview gaffes of his. Since ‘signC’ really should be represented well there, you should go – and it probably would be a professionally sensible idea if you allowed me to accompany you.”

Philip played with his pencils, let out a deep sigh then looked up at her with an almost imperceptible sly grin, “Okay, attending with you is slightly less disagreeable an idea than taking Franck along.”

Antonia tried to keep her smile from getting too big as Philip studied the invitation in detail and his face fell. “Umm, I don’t know, is a dinner jacket obligatory?”

“Dinner jacket? You mean a tuxedo, right?”

Philip nodded, playing with his pencils, then stammered, looking totally embarrassed. “Ummm, well, I don’t know… so short notice, can’t find … don’t think I have… probably not possible…”

Instinctively, Antonia realized what the problem might be – Philip’s recent so cute to watch expansion most likely had made him outgrow his tuxedo; so right now he probably was worried not to find a rental one that fit or have a new one made in so few days. “Oh no, this is continental Europe, people here are generally more relaxed or less educated, whichever way you want to see it, regarding formal wear. You’ll see everything from next-to-nothing over rags masquerading as fashion up to ball gown with tiara there. Why don’t you wear your, I think it’s Italian, black suit? That’s a very stylish look, maybe with an elegant to eccentric shirt & tie combination?”

“Will that honestly do?”

“Absolutely,” Philip’s skeptical look in his green eyes gave her an idea. “Actually, come to think of it – I think I might know the perfect option! You’ll find it on your desk on Friday when you get back from London in time to get ready!”


Happily humming, Antonia was arranging everything to dress for the Royal Academy reception on her bed – after a Friday afternoon of having indulged herself with a massage and an elegant evening hairdo – as her mobile rang. “Hello?”

“Antonia, what is this?” Philip sounded tired and frustrated. “Why is there a dress shirt and bow tie in this box? What were you thinking? This can’t … oh f***, I don’t need this!”

“’This’ is Saskia’s and my official suggestion for dressing you up as the perfect image of a ‘signC’ CEO,” Antonia cooed playfully to not get wound up in an argument. “It’ll look great with your suit, I’m 120% sure of that. Now hurry up and change, the shuttle service is coming at 18h45 to your place. I don’t have time now to talk, still have to do my make-up. See you at 19h00 here – we can talk then. Bye!” hanging up on him.

As Antonia descended the stairs in front of her house, Philip was already waiting for her, his face relaxing a bit as he saw her in one of her vintage all time favorite, deep blue-green, beaded bare shouldered slim evening dresses with classic 40’s movie stars waves to her shoulders. “You look wonderful.”

“Thank you, so do you,” surveying Philip with a pleased look, for the emerald green bow-tie with the white dress-shirt, with silver grey pin-stripes and the matching emerald green Chinese silk-knot buttons looked as good as she had imagined. “I owe you an explanation. Saskia had made a series of lovely bow ties with wonderful Indian silk some time ago for a presentation. I remembered this one, thought it would be perfect on you. Saskia volunteered to make a matching shirt, coming up with this fabulous design. You make the result look even better than my wildest dreams.” Antonia squeezed his fleshy upper arm in delight.

“It is very nice and stylish, thank you for the idea. It’s much better for the occasion than anything I had,” Philip helped her into the car with her high heels and long dress before squeezing in himself. Not looking at her, he murmured uneasily. “How could you find the right fit?”

“Guilty as charged. I have to confess I stole the spare shirt you keep in the closet of your office as a sample. Saskia transferred the pattern and made it to measure. Now you have one more reason to officially reprimand me,” Antonia winked at Philip who went pale.

“The shirt was made at ‘signC’?”

Immediately seeing his dread of maybe Franck having found out his exact measurements, Antonia vigorously shook her head, sending her styled waves bouncing. “No. As I said, the shirt is a private favor of Saskia’s. She took the pattern from your shirt quickly at ‘signC’ but did everything else personally at home. You can totally trust her, Saskia loathes Franck finding out about this even more than you or I do.”

Philip exhaled slightly. “When you have an idea you are convinced of, you certainly go for it, don’t you? I wonder whether that is your brash Yankee side which never thinks about collateral damage – or maybe more the German ‘Blitzkrieg’ approach?”

“That’s supposed to be a joke, or isn’t it?” Antonia was dismayed at the analogy. “I meant well, I wanted to spare you the trouble of finding something to wear, thought this would look real good on you. I’m sorry if I didn’t meet your tastes.”

“No, the result is very stylish, thank you. It did save me time and trouble,” Philip replied softly. “I was trying to joke about your very determined approach, hope you’re not offended,” to then remain quiet and tense for the rest of the drive.

Entering the grand reception, Antonia showed Philip around to the small exhibition, introduced him to a various representatives of the Belgian and European fashion industry, sat in at two short fashion shows before Princess Astrid gave the official address, making Philip whisper wickedly into Antonia’s year. “There seems to be some law of nature that royal addresses must be dead-boring and beside the point. The one’s I’ve heard back home from Princess Anne are no better. Vive la République!” making Antonia start to giggle in spite of herself.

After having mingled for some time, Philip suggested to sit at a small table around the bar area where a live act was scheduled to start shortly, ordering a full bottle of champagne for them, while Antonia made sure to get another now large plate of the delicious tidbits. “Cheers Antonia, this event is indeed not as bad as anticipated. If they have some good music now, it might even be nice.”

“Good to hear that, I think you also made a good impression on a number of interesting people. So cheers, to a fashionable evening,” Antonia smiled, finding it enticing how Philip’s bulk was half spilling out of the tight little chair.

Instead of the music starting, there was a commotion around the stage, an upset woman in a skimpy sequined dress ran back and forth until Antonia saw Wouter Dehaenen, spokesperson of the Royal Academy’s fashion department walk by angrily speaking Flemish into his mobile. Since they were quite well acquainted from several other programs, she waved him over. “What’s wrong?”

“Bon soir Antonia, sorry I’m in a hurry, our piano man seems to have a drug problem, is not fit to play …. now I have to find someone to fill in quickly.”

“What kind of music needs to be played?” Philip surprised Antonia by asking.

“Oh sorry, let me introduce you: Philip Watherwood, our new CEO at ‘signC’ - Wouter Dehaenen, spokesperson of the Royal Academy’s fashion department.”

“Pleasure, excuse me for not being able to talk right now. I need to find a pianist who can do regular, sort of jazzy bar music and songs, nothing special.”

“If you don’t find anyone else, I can give it a try. I’ve played quite a lot, also in bars,” Philip offered almost eagerly.

“Would you? Could you? I’ll immediately take you up on that offer,” Wouter’s eyes lit up. “Because so far we haven’t even come close to any other solution. Could you come talk to Leila, our singer? See if maybe it would work?”

“Sure. Antonia, you don’t mind, do you?” Philip unsqueezed himself and ambled after Wouter as a stunned Antonia sat there shaking her head. Over the next half hour, her astonishment mounted seeing Philip not only talk animatedly to the singer, then disappear behind stage to come back 10 minutes later to settle himself at the piano and start playing. Leila gushingly announced her set, introduced Philip with profuse thanks and started singing, while Antonia focused on watching Philip, who seemed totally relaxed as he sat there concentrating on playing.

“Apart from the fact that he’s an excellent piano player and saved my evening - your new boss really is a tubby cutie,” Wouter Dehaenen settled next to Antonia who was still watching Philip play the piano in awe. “Those eyes, that hair and especially that delicious round ass…”

“Wouter, I have to object in all form against the use of such language in reference to our CEO….” Antonia smacked him in mock reproach with her clutch while he cheek kissed her now in a formal greeting. “Anyway, I always thought Angel was more down your line…”

“As far as sexual orientation goes, yes … but otherwise no, too vain, too dumb, not meaty enough…” Wouter grimaced. “But I’m pretty sure this delightful butterball here is straight – or is he not?”

“98% sure … my gay-dar has been totally irresponsive..”

“Lucky you that leaves him for you to chase…”

“You’re impossible Wouter, he’s my boss,” Antonia protested.

“So what? You even dressed each other up to match – your dress and his tie, very becoming shades of emerald-blue-green for both of you” Wouter grinned at her shamelessly. “Also, I’ve been watching you eying him lustily the past few minutes … most obvious.”

Antonia turned dark red. “Caught! I did change my own dress plans for tonight after we had chosen the tie for Philip, wore this dress instead of the red one. But it’s news to me you have a ‘faible’ for the chubbies.”

“Admittedly, your plump Philip is a bit bigger than my usual preferences. But he’s got a great broad shouldered frame and his hair totally does it for me, that’s my weak point,” Wouter patted his own bald plate. “But the attraction seems to be reciprocal. He keeps looking over at you and by now is positively glowering at me for flirting with you.”

“Wouter, that’s absurd. He is doing no such thing!”

“No use denying it, Antonia. You two would make a great couple, and from the signals I get, you both want it. Anyway – I’m curious how this works out. Not only with you and your CEO, but also ‘signC’s’ market entry – it’ll be interesting to see if your approach of adapting things to the European market will pay off. Even though if I were you, I would get rid of Franck for that endeavor. So keep me posted – and have fun with the conquest of that chubby hottie! He’ll definitely be worth it, trust my word, piano players are great with their hands!”

After Leila had ended singing, Philip took a short break, talked a while with her then settled back at the piano and continued playing, giving Antonia only a short wave. As some people got up to dance on the small dance floor, she re-filled her own and Philip’s champagne glasses and took them up to join him at the piano.

“Is it allowed to speak to the piano man?” seeing Philip smile and nod,

Antonia continued. “Are you trying to shock me out of my wits with your hidden brilliance? Where did you learn to play like this?”

Philip laughed softly. “I never tried to hide this from you – but how much piano playing do you normally do in the office. It’s my favorite form of relaxation; I’ve played since I was six. As far as quality goes, I’d say I’m a pretty advanced amateur. Now what about you, shall I play something for you so you can sing?”

“Sing? No way!” Antonia shuddered. “Unfortunately I’m a totally non-musical person, I’m tone-deaf. The tiny amount of musicality I might have is strictly limited to phonetics.”

“… at which you are really good, though. I’m always really impressed how you go back and forth between all those languages, never mess anything up.”

“I’ve done it all my life, it’s nothing special. Would you maybe like a sip of champagne – I brought your glass?”

Seeing Philip nod again, she held his glass to his lips, her hand softly resting against his chubby chin so there were no drops, feeling an electrical jolt as her hand touched his soft skin. Looking down, she admired how his well fleshed thighs were pushed comfortably apart, his round belly supported by them. Philip saw her glance and immediately with one hand tugged his coat over it, fastening the top button.

Leaning over the grand piano, so he could see her cleavage, Antonia teased: “From the look of it, you seem to have spent many a party hidden behind the piano playing away. Don’t you know many women have a thing for the piano man, can’t wait for him to finish and come out?”

Blushing deeply, Philip played on a while before he murmured. “Well observed. I like playing; it’s often the best, most appreciated thing for me to do at a party. And it does often get me a very nice audience …”


Part 4 - In the board room

Last edited by Lou Grant; 06-25-2010 at 04:34 PM.
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Old 06-25-2010, 12:00 PM   #14
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*happy sigh*
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Old 07-01-2010, 06:31 PM   #15
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This one is really coming along nicely, agouderia, I love the way you're developing these characters - Philip sounds divine
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Old 07-02-2010, 02:40 PM   #16
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Really loving this story! Hopefully there is more coming soon
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Old 07-03-2010, 03:56 AM   #17
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Default Part 4 - In the Board Room

Part 4 -In the Board Room

“Here are the latest updated charts of the market research we have done,” Antonia came into Philip’s office with the print outs in one hand, her USB stick with the files in the other shortly before he was to hold his first presentation on most recent progress to the board of investor’s. “Shall we give them a quick run through so you are comfortable with presenting them?”

Philip, pale, looking exhausted after several night shifts, rubbed his eyes saying. “A brief look probably is not a bad idea,” sinking heavily onto his chair, only for the straining top button of his suit coat to half pop off, leaving a small tear in the fabric. Philip’s face froze in instant mortification: “Bl***y utter f***ing utter shit!” he swore helplessly under his breath not looking at Antonia.

Antonia’s heart melted at his distress as she looked at her watch, only 50 minutes before the start of the meeting – definitely too little time for him to go home change or buy a new suit. Thinking rapidly, she softly put her hand on his upper arm. “Stay right here. I have a good idea; I’ll be right back, just wait!”

She literally ran over to Saskia’s studio collected needles, pins, various threads, a small collection of patches and samples before she went back to Philip’s office, who was still sitting there his face buried in his hands.

“Philip, if you will please hand me your coat,” Antonia said gently, placing her sewing utensils in front of her on his desk.

“Forget it, it’s no use. It’s ruined, I’m just too bl***y …” Philip mumbled.

“I know how to fix that, believe me,” Antonia insisted. “Now give me that coat, please, we only have 45 minutes to the meeting!”

“It’s hopeless, I’ll have to embarrass myself…. thank you for trying…”

On the verge of losing her patience with his self-pitying obstinacy Antonia said very directly: “Look Philip, you always say we need solutions. I’ve got a solution -don’t be so stubborn, at least let me try it. Give me your coat!”

Philip looked up at her in surprise, reluctantly took off his suit coat, and handed it to her, giving her a brief full view of his round body, before he quickly sat back down, his elbows on his knees, pulling in behind his desk half hiding from her view, making himself as small as possible.

Antonia sighed but set to work: Measured all three buttons as close to the seam as possible -adding a good 3 cm /1.5’ in width – and quickly sewed them on tightly with a double thread. Then she chose three tiny leather patches, stitching them over the small tear and in corresponding position next to as well as across from the other buttons, making it look intentional before she smoothed her work, checked whether it buttoned correctly, handing it back to Philip. “There you go that should do the job!”

With unbelieving eyes, Philip took the coat half hid behind his tall chair, tried it on, easily buttoning it up over his expansive midsection, looking down on himself in amazement. “Antonia, you’re a genius, a total genius! Where did you learn that? You could work as one of the cloths designers – you just saved my life!”

“It’s nothing, I’m glad you finally let me help,” Antonia shrugged. “Those are old-fashioned feminine skills – knowing how to sew. My grandparents had a tailor store, so I learned a bit there. Now you have to go to the meeting…”

“Could you please come too? Assist me with the presentation do some of the market survey figures yourself? I’d really appreciate that,” Philip looked at her with puppy dog eyes, exhaustion and relief written all over his plump face. “You don’t have to convince me you’re a good woman, I’m known that from the first day I came here,” with a small shy, but slightly wicked grin.

“I’d be more than happy to, thank you for the honor of presenting to the board,” Antonia smiled. “I’ll just run over and dress the part, meet you in 10 minutes over in the board room.”

Getting the most conservative charcoal pin-stripe suit from Saskia along with a white wrap blouse and a scarf in berry shades to match her lipstick, Antonia joined Philip, who had set up everything in the board room and was making small talk to some of the board members, nervously introducing her to those she didn’t already know.

Philip started his presentation by going through the time line for ‘signC’s’ market entry in continental Europe along with the most recent budget adjustments and cost cutting measures, easily answering questions, countering objections before he ended the first part. “So far, my predecessor has not familiarized you with the details of the markets conditions or our strategy to meet them. I would like to hand over to Antonia Langley, our marketing &communications director, to give you some insights on the specifics of the various country markets.”

“Thank you for the introduction Mr. Watherwood,” Antonia had barely started as the door opened and Franck came in, followed by Guy pulling a platform trolley with several dummies showing designs she had never – with the exception of one dress and coat – seen before.

“Gentlemen, allow me to give you a more vivid, more fashionable impression of how we plan to conquer the European market,” Franck said unabashedly. “Here you see a cross-section of our most cutting-edge design samples… plus the ones myself, Guy here… and oh yes, Antonia is wearing one too, even though she doesn’t quite convey the desired styling. Mr. Watherwood – why didn’t you at least wear the tie I sent you? It must have fit – size isn’t all that much of an issue with that accessory….”

Antonia groaned inwardly, sensing this barb would be the final straw to ruin Philip’s nerve after the suit incident. Sure enough, he reddened, froze and intently shuffled through his charts. Counting to five in her head, knowing a response from Philip was now going to be unlikely, she cut Franck off. “Gentlemen, for those of your who have not met him yet, our head designer Franck Gordon who is charge of the men’s line and is overseeing the design adaptation for the entire European market. Now I would like to first give you the details of these various markets, get a feeling for them before Mr. Gordon can then introduce you to some of his new suggestions.”

Ignoring Franck’s trying to get a word in, she went through her presentation asking for questions and elaborating as much as possible to give Philip the time to get his bearings back. But as the discussion wound down, Franck immediately took over, going into the details of his designs.

Suddenly, one of the board members from Green*Star interrupted him. “Sorry Philip, I’m confused. In the material you gave us I can a full pre-selection of the women’s line. But only one of the pieces Mr. Gordon is showing us is in the pre-selection, oh yeah, plus Ms. Langley’s suit. Have you already selected the designs and called for orders, yes or no? And what about the men’s line – there is nothing in here except the recommendation of which sizes to market? When are you finally going to decide on these things, time is running out?”

Briefly clenching his teeth, Philip spoke up. “The women’s pre-selection has been completed by Ms. Langley and Ms. Wissemaar, who mainly does the women’s designs. The calls for order have been placed and we expect final results in 10 days. Mr. Gordon would like to give an idea what else might have been possible. As for the men’s line, here a few more basic decisions need to be taken…”

“A general question for women’s and men’s line I think the board needs to deal with is the size range we intend to offer,” Franck used this deviation to evade any questions why his men’s pre-selection was not ready yet. “If ‘signC’ wants to establish itself on the European Market, it must boost the image of high style in all aspects. That means cater to true fashionistas by offering them chic, trendy and perfectly fitted clothing – which can only be done successfully in sample sizes, maybe one or two above that.”

“Mr. Gordon, the board has already decided on this question in passing the general investment plan– we offer the individual markets standard size ranges for the women’s line,” Antonia interrupted him and decided to take the discussion in her hands, knowing Philip was not going to, despite catching Craig Richardson’s astounded and slightly disapproving look. “It makes no sense whatsoever to try to sell size US 0/UK 4 on for instance the German or Dutch market, where your average woman is 5’8’/1.72m. Unless she is a delicately built model, only anorexics will fit into that – and that in turn is also an image we do not want to convey. Considering the market realities along with the current debate in fashion about being more accepting of various body types and catering to them, Mr. Gordon’s suggestion of down-scaling the size range for women’s clothing borders on absurdity. At any rate this discussion is a waste of the board’s precious time – and I would kindly ask you gentlemen to confirm your original decision for us so we can move on.”

Seeing the vast majority around the table nod, a few shrug their shoulders and no protest arise, Antonia heard Philip breathe a sigh of relief next to her and continued to finish the issue off. “Now to the men’s line. Here the problem is that you have several strongly diverging scales of measurement for establishing the sizes, not only across the individual markets, but also within them. We’ve researched the sales ratios of the sizes in the individual markets, compared them to the data available in the national sizing institutes. As a last step, we’ve had the Royal Academy’s tailoring class come up with a standardized median sizing which would fit across the board of the markets.”

Having pushed the issue so far, Antonia didn’t care anymore that Franck now found out she and Saskia had by-passed his competencies completely because she had been so convinced by Saskia’s idea. Franck shot her a look of pure hate, tried to speak up while even Philip looked at her in surprise; he seemed to have forgotten he had given her memo with the suggestion an ‘ok’. To make sure Franck could not get a word in, she turned to Craig Richardson. “Our suggestion now to the board is we use this adapted size scale for production of the men’s line, then trying to market the average size ranges in the various countries.”

Craig nodded. “Sounds like a sensible, well researched solution. Gentlemen, can be have your okay on this?”

A general murmur of assent went around the table, only the Green*Star representative who had spoken up earlier was critical: “If I look at all the problems adapting our products to the European markets is causing, why on earth don’t we just move in with a chain of stores, boost our production of the US and British designs we have anyway and sell them off? That’s a much cheaper and certainly better approach.”

“Even though this is a marketing question, I would like to hand over to the true expert we have among us – since it was Philip Watherwood who originally wrote the exploratory survey at Green*Star about why ‘signC’ should offer a European design for entering the local markets,” Antonia smiled encouragingly at Philip.

Taking a deep breath and shooting her a look of gratitude, Philip showed a small twisted smile. “Sure Jeremy, it is the better approach if you want ‘signC’ to make it onto the endless list of failures of US and British retailers trying to establish themselves on the continental European markets. This list of failures includes giants like Wal-Mart, GAP, Marks&Spencer’s down to more specialized ones like Land’s End, Eddie Baur or Liz Claiborne. The only ones who have been successful are the big sport’s wear companies like Nike – and for instance Levi’s. But guess what – the jeans Levi’s sells in Europe are designed and tailored in France, the match the fit and styling expectations of the customers here. Apart from some cultural differences, everyday fashion markets are much more national than you would expect. But also if you look at high-end fashion, European designers are much more successful on the US market than vice-versa. All that data told us that if we wanted ‘signC’ to expand to Europe, it meant looking at the markets, matching their needs and desires …. “


As the meeting ended, Craig Richardson said good-bye to Antonia, handing her several envelopes. As she looked into them at her desk, they were US marketing materials she had requested from her colleague Arthur, on one of them a small post-it saying. “Pick me up this evening, 8:30, Hotel Marriott Bourse”.

Antonia was puzzled, but nevertheless put on a casual chic dress and met Craig at the appointed hour. “So, what can I do for you, Craig?”

“I don’t need to tell you this meeting is confidential. How about going for the local specialty mussels&fries to that one place….?”

“You mean ‘Léon’?” Antonia tried to suppress a grimace. “Definitely the wrong place if you want our meeting to stay confidential.”

“… And from the look on your face, you don’t like mussels! Any alternatives?”

“I guess I’ll have to practice keeping a straight face. Near here, I know a good Thai restaurant and a very nice, chic Greek one. But whichever one we choose, we should drive. Brussels downtown has turned into a major European crime hotspot – you’re three times more likely to get mugged at gun point here than for instance in Rome.”

“Really? It’s Greek then for me, I don’t like European style Asian food!”

After they had ordered Antonia looked at Craig expectantly, waiting for him to start, but he inhaled his beer first. “Now tell me what the hell is going on here in Brussels? I don’t need to tell you the meeting was a disaster. It’s not your fault; you did an excellent job in bailing out Philip, finding a solution. But it’s not your job to bail out your boss in front of the board! What’s ailing Philip? Why is he putting up with that kind of crap from Franck?”

This turn of questioning was worse than Antonia had feared, immediately pushing all her protective instincts regarding Philip into alarm mode. “So far, Philip has been doing a good job in my opinion cutting costs, getting things back on track for the market introduction and focusing our efforts. He’s new to the fashion business, he needs some more time. You know working with Franck isn’t easy – he thinks he’s Christian Dior, Coco Chanel and John Galliano all wrapped into one …. Often forgetting we do mass market fashion.”

“Antonia, your loyalty to your immediate superior and to your project over here honors you. You already did an impressive showing of that today – together with your undeniable expertise. It’s no surprise Philip sings your praises. I was actually starting to wonder whether he has been developing a crush on you, but never mind. But – you’re also the resident American on the team; you owe headquarters some loyalty too. So – spit it out – what’s going wrong here?”

“As you saw for yourself, Philip and Franck live in different spheres which can’t really connect, making working together difficult,” Antonia tried to keep it vague. “But I think things are improving, together with Saskia we’ve got everything worked out for the women’s line…”

“Look, I know Philip is a good guy,” Craig interrupted her. “As I said no complaints about his work on the numbers. But he clearly isn’t the same guy I chose based on his performance at Green*Star. Franck’s scene today was blatant insubordination – down to him making fun of Philip’s size. So again … what’s the matter with him?”

Cringing, Antonia looked for a neutral phrasing: “If any industry is appearance fixated, it’s the fashion industry. But even by those standards, Franck is an extreme case with a totally bigoted outlook – he keeps telling me I’m too fat to be a convincing representative of a fashion company, too. Philip seems to be having a hard time adapting to this culture, where profit margins are less important than the inches of your waist-line…”

“That’s all total bull-shit! Philip is in charge of the profit margins, who gives a damn about his waistline?” Craig downed his third beer. “Jeez, I know all you people make fun behind my back for my total lack of fashion sense, that I can’t get my suits to fit right – so what? I do the business, not the designs. By the way, the last adjective that comes to mind when I think of you is fat … if I may say so.”

“Sure, I know that. I’m tall with a normal feminine build, that’s all. Franck is plain obnoxious, and worse, incompetent as a designer and managing a clothes line. Isn’t there anything you can do about it on behalf of headquarters or the board so we might actually get rid of him?”

“No chance – for two reasons. He had a three year contract – we’d have to pay the full sum, even if we fired him.” Craig dipped another small meatball into the tzatziki. “In addition, he has some fans on the board. It looks like he and his assistant Guy have won over several people by staging pretty steamy drinking parties in Amsterdam.”
Seeing Antonia’s disgusted grimace, he nodded. “Even if I agree with you, there is nothing I can do about it. What you have to do though, is get Philip back on track. I’ll have to tell him tomorrow morning he’s on probation now. He must meet all time-lines and not allow himself another showing like that in front of the board. That also means you filling in for him is not an option. Can I rely on you to take care of that?”

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Old 07-03-2010, 04:05 AM   #18
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Default Part 5 - Lago di Como

Part 5 – Lago di Como

“Oh shit!“ Antonia groaned dropping backwards on the bed after having gotten off the phone with Jan, informing her about Franck’s fourth attempt at suicide she could remember. By now she considered them to be more annoying than disturbing – Franck was such a drama queen. Quickly she debated whether she had to inform Philip, deciding there was no way around it: As CEO, he needed to know, especially since he could not yet assess how non-dramatic this incident was. She had hoped their first business trip together to Milan to negotiate new fabric contracts would not be ruined by this news. After the awful board meeting two weeks ago, Philip had been tense and withdrawn, working endlessly and worrying Antonia by looking pale and puffy.

She tried to call him on his mobile only to reach voice mail; his room phone was somehow disconnected, as the front desk informed her. Grumbling Antonia realized she had to get up and dress halfway presentably again - plain t-shirt dress, pony tail, glasses. As she reached the 7th floor, she knocked on the door of Philip’s room only to here a gruff. “Moment!”

“Philip, it’s only me, Antonia!” she said through the door. “I’m awfully sorry to disturb you ….” as the door was pulled open Antonia had to make sure her mouth didn’t drop open too. Philip half hid behind the door in an old, way too tight t-shirt and boxers which camouflaged none of his big body: the massive belly pushing out in front, about 4’’ of bare flesh showing at the bottom hanging over a tight waistband cutting into big love handles, thick man boobs featured prominently, wide shoulders and meaty upper arms straining out of the sleeves.

Simultaneously, Antonia and Philip blushed. “Philip, I have to ask forgiveness for intruding on your privacy so late. I couldn’t reach you by phone … I absolutely need to inform you; something has happened in Brussels. Since it’s confidential, I don’t want to do it standing in the hallway. I hate to ask, I know it’s inappropriate, but may I come in for a second?”

Philip blushed even deeper red if that was possible, opened the door fully to let her enter with a short grunt. It took Antonia only 5 seconds to realize she was indeed intruding deeply on his privacy: Throughout the room she saw the evidence of what either could be called a big dinner or, less politely, a bad case of binge eating – a two storey room service trolley full of empty dishes, wrappers of Swiss chocolate on the table, bags of chips and cookies on the couch, a can of nuts. How humiliated he must feel that she was witnessing this, Antonia thought to herself, instinctively feeling she would need to say or do something to make him feel at ease again, especially trust her discretion.

Turning to Philip, she saw he had hastily put on a way too small hotel bath robe into which he could barely fit his shoulders, gaping over his broad belly which he somehow tried to conceal by wrapping his arms in front of him.
“Again, my sincere apologies for barging in like this,” Antonia started. “But I have nuisance news from Brussels I think you should hear from me instead of from someone else: Jan just called – Franck tried to commit suicide again.”

“Franck? Suicide? Again?” Antonia could see Philip’s mind was immediately off the present embarrassing situation. “Is he alive? How bad is it?”

Antonia couldn’t help laughing a little, looking at Philip’s distressed round face. “He’s fine – this is just one of his usual small drama acts. Since I’ve been with ‘signC’ this is the fourth attempted suicide I’ve witnessed, all for pathetic excuses of a reason. That’s also why I wanted to inform you in person to give you the background to make the correct assessment of the situation.”

In this second, there was another knock on the door making Philip open; it was the maid with a stack of towels and bath robes, apologizing in rapid Italian for the delay and inconvenience, also presenting a complimentary bottle of wine.

Philip took the textiles, handed Antonia the bottle complimenting the maid back out. Leaning against the door, he sighed heavily. “Please excuse my being in such a state, today was really exhausting. Thank you for coming – that definitely was the right thing to do.”

“Do you have any more questions? Shall I prepare a small press release in case there are any leaks?” Antonia asked, making her way back to the door, desperately thinking of how to make amends. “Again, I didn’t want to disturb you, just make sure you were informed. Good night, I’m there if you need anything else, please let me know.”

She was already half way out the door when she heard Philip say in a small voice. “Antonia – thank you so much. You’re the only one I feel I can really rely on at ‘signC’. I’ve overheard you standing up to the others in favor of my credentials when they doubt I’m visually convincing as CEO for a fashion company – which is simply the truth. You most likely didn’t need tonight to find out gluttony is my chief vice; it’s obvious at first sight. Lately it’s gotten out of hand again …. I appreciate your discretion and understanding tremendously.”

Antonia smiled warmly. “My pleasure – I’m grateful I finally have a CEO I can respect, who is intellectually challenging to work for, whom I trust to get the job done. Thank you for your praise. Good night again.”

“Wait a second. To make up for this slightly disastrous evening - would you care to join me for some of this pretty decent looking Barolo?” Philip asked, blushing lightly but looking at her openly.

“That’s very kind, but I don’t want to intrude any longer.”

“You’re not intruding, I’d enjoy talking to you; you can tell me more about this suicide’s back story. Let me just make myself presentable, clear things up a little. Could you maybe in the meantime open the bottle, get some glasses? The mini bar is back there.”

Philip quickly emerged from the bathroom now swaddled from neck to ankle in what must be a truly tent-like white hotel bath robe because it covered him completely, wrapped far around his expansive middle, making him look a lot like a cuddly polar bear in Antonia’s opinion. Then he briskly swept all empty packs and wrappers into a bag, moved the room service trolley out the door. “I hope you’ll excuse the bath robe – at least this one fits,” he asked shyly.

“It’s the polar bear look,” Antonia blurted to her own embarrassment, instantly trying to give it a positive spin. “In these times of climate change, it’s a pronounced fashion statement that shows you care about environmental conservation by showing solidarity with an endangered species.”

“Here’s to my favorite communications director speaking,” Philip laughed, taking the glass of wine she handed him.

Despite ending the evening with Philip, wine and a nice, relaxed conversation, Antonia slept poorly that night because the scene in his room haunted her. As much as she loved the tingle of seeing Philip visibly expanding, she had always fantasized this to be the result of pleasurably indulging in fine food, at best in her company. Instead she was seriously worried about him as her boss and secret crush that he was leading such an unhealthy life by alternating between starving himself and binging, probably with a lot of unhealthy foods, clearly making himself miserable to worsen matters.

After much tossing and turning, she made up her mind: Since she now could be considered officially informed about his issues, she would deal openly, supportively with them- starting right the next morning. Putting together the updates from Brussels on Franck’s condition as well as a running list for the day’s negotiations, she sent Philip an SMS asking him to join her at 8h30 for breakfast to discuss these matters.

When she came down he was already there, as usual with only a cup of coffee. “Buon giorno – it’s always a surprise to see one of her Majesty’s subjects as such an avid Italian coffee drinker,” she smiled at him, setting the ingredients she had collected from the breakfast buffet on the table and starting to make a fresh Müsli; cutting banana and apple, mixing it with ricotta, honey, fresh orange juice and some of the Swiss cereal.

“I guess that’s one of my many attempts of distancing myself from my roots,” Philip half grinned. “Somehow it feels like I was drowned in tea the first 22 years of my life.”

Taking a large sip of her own cappuccino, Antonia divided her Müsli in two bowels placing the larger one in front of him saying, “Buon appetito – I’m sure this beats the ready-made breakfast cereals they have here.”

“Thank you, I’m not hungry, I never have breakfast …” Philip shoved away the bowl, but his stomach let out a tell-tale grumble. Antonia didn’t say anything, looked at him long and hard, pushed the bowl back putting a spoon in his hand; sighing, he started eating, mumbling. “Thank you, it tastes very good.”

Then they set to work, went to three meetings over the morning, before Antonia dropped into a small “Tavola Calda” she had been to several times before, got a plate of vegetable pasta for each of them along with an assortment of salads and started eating, eyeing Philip for so long critically until he too picked up his fork and ate everything in front of him. The afternoon was filled with an endless contract negotiation – ending with them having to work through drafts until late in the evening. Since they did this in the small meeting room attached to Philip’s suite, Antonia ordered room service - tuna casserole, baked vegetables, espresso granità - for dinner, stifling a weak protest of Philip’s with a very strict look.

The next day was not much different, Antonia feeding Philip tasty fresh Panini for lunch at a show before they had the final round of negotiations concerning their largest contract for ordering fabric. The talks with the Italians went surprisingly well – in these difficult times they were willing to make more compromises than expected if they received a longer term contract for high quality fabric – so they were finished early by 16h30. Nevertheless, Antonia was exhausted: She had topped the high work load and worrying about Philip with endless brooding over how to solve the wrought work situation at the Brussels office. She smiled mechanically saying good-bye to the Italians not noticing Philip tried to address her twice: “Antonia – do I need to speak Italian to get your attention?”

“Sorry Philip, just my low point in concentration of the day. What did you say?”

“I wanted to thank you again for excellent work, wish you a pleasant early evening. Take some time to relax.”

“Thank you, I’m glad I could help,” Antonia responded in reflex before her mind went back into focus, thinking how she could create the opportunity to talk to Philip in a more personal atmosphere over the ideas that had formed in her mind in the past 48 hours. “How are you spending the evening?”

“Not much, settle down with my computer, catch up on some paperwork,” then blushed, avoiding her eye after he caught her worried expression, probably reading her mind that she feared he would lock himself up again for the unhealthy and frustrating combination of working and binging.

“If you don’t mind, I have an alternative to suggest: We’ve been working so hard, that contract we signed is a major feat, we should celebrate a little. Seeing something else than Milan meeting rooms would do us good,” Antonia paused to think of how to sell her rather personal idea. “One of the best family Trattorie in Italy I know is on a lovely small terrace overlooking Lake Como. It’s only about a 45 minute drive, it’s a nice pre-spring evening. We haven’t had a decent meal yet today. Why don’t we drive there for dinner?”

Philip squirmed uncomfortably. “A nice suggestion, but how can we get there? The limousine service here is hideously expensive, in these times even I can’t put it on expenses ….”

“Who’s talking about limo service? You know I’m very cost conscious. No, I was thinking of simply renting a car out of our pool contract – that would be only €50 for the evening plus gas…”

“But who would drive? It’s dangerous, these Italians are crazy drivers, it’s the wrong side of the road, I haven’t done much driving on the continent…”

Antonia burst out laughing. “I’m driving of course; I know how to get there! I’ve driven a lot in Italy - it’s easy fun with a bit of a challenge … I look forward to being your ‘chauffeuse’! Is meeting at 19h30 fine with you? I’ll make the reservations for car and table.” Despite looking non-convinced, Philip nodded.

After a power nap and a quick change in dress, Antonia joined Philip at the front desk only to see his face fall even further as he saw her. She was dressed in casual Italian chic, pencil jeans skirt, high heels showing off the elegant curve of her calves, a turquoise tunica blouse high-lighting her grey eyes and cleavage. She giggled with delight as she saw what was waiting for her: A cute chubby guy all ready to go in front of a snappy sports car – perfect for an evening outing.

“Dispiace Signora, abbiamo solamente questa Alfa Brera per Lei; le macchine grandi sono già occupate. » the hotel’s dispatch clerk tried to apologize.

“C’è perfetto, Signor Alfredi, una bellissima sportiva macchina italiana. Grazie tanto!” Antonia accepted the keys smiling at Philip.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t bring any casual clothing, I’ve nothing decent …” he started, still dressed in his suit with fresh shirt and tie.

“No problem, my mistake,” Antonia waved it off. “In my enthusiasm for getting out of town I overlooked we’re celebrating a business success. This way we’re going typical Italian style – ladies dressy casual, men in business suits,” she winked at him opening the car door with a flourish, only to notice the smallish, low slung sports seats were less than ideal for his build. Quickly she bent down, pulled the lever pushing the seat as far back as possible.

To give Philip the chance to settle himself without her staring, Antonia walked around the car, threw her coat and handbag into the back then slipped into the driver seat only to start fiddling around with buttons and levers to get everything in the perfect position for herself. Still she could feel Philip slightly struggling to fit his expanse into the small seat, puffing a bit in trying to fasten the seat belt, turning her on pretty badly so she breathed deeply to contain her excitement.

Seeing he wasn’t going to find the narrow slit for the seat belt hidden below the flesh roles on his side, Antonia grabbed its end forcefully fastening it. “The seat belt fastenings are awfully misplaced in these Alfas. I’m lucky I’m not wearing a jacket, otherwise I couldn’t find mine either.”

Philip was red in the face with a touch of perspiration on his brow now looking intensely uncomfortable; for an instant Antonia wondered whether she was doing the right thing, or if she was too overbearing again on him. But as she turned the ignition, kicked in first gear, took off, skidding through the first traffic light barely before it turned red, she felt very optimistic again.

The fast paced, pushy Italian way of driving, racing a BMW to the toll booth, flashing her head-lights to sweep slower cars out of the way was an exhilarating diversion from diplomatically negotiating fabric contracts or primly repressing lusty thoughts about her boss all day, making her spirits soar. Feeling Philip’s warm round bulk so close to her, even though he as usual made sure to cover himself up with his suit coat as far as possible, accidentally having to touch his fleshy thigh in shifting gears sent a wave of contentment through her.

On the short, flat boring stretch North of Saronno she tested how fast the Alfa could go, until Philip grumbled: “May I remind you that we do have a code of ethics at ‘signC’ committing our employees to obey laws such as speed limits?”

Antonia flashed him a wicked grin. “Don’t forget, I have a driver’s license from a country with no speed limit. We learn how to drive fast.”

Soon they reached Como, drove along the scenic lake with the Alps rising left and right, beautiful historic villas set in lush green parks along the narrow winding road with Antonia slightly slowing the pace for Philip to take a good look at the scenery. She pulled into the small car park above the restaurant’s terrace, got out, smilingly looked around at the spectacular view in the evening light while Philip heaved himself out, stretched, and straightened his crumpled suit, before giving her a small wink: “It’s infectious how much you are enjoying yourself. And it’s so beautiful here I think this is a good idea after all.”

“Wait till you taste the food!”

Not even thinking about asking Philip’s opinion, Antonia ordered the house Antipasti platter for 2, the specialty ravioli with squash-sage filling and grilled lake trout along with home grown white wine. As the wine and Antipasti came, Philip for once did not need to be prompted, but took a few quick bites before he raised his glass. “To a great deal, made possible by our wonderful marketing director, ‘signC’ and I owe her a lot.”

Antonia smiled. “To the best CEO ‘signC’ Europe can have – your number smarts and negotiating prowess made the day. Buon appetito!”

The wine along with the good food made Philip more laid back than Antonia had expected, he ate heartily, unapologetically and even finished her fish as she claimed she was full. Nevertheless she was hesitant to speak to him about her new ideas, since they were so far-reaching; in addition, she feared he might deduce protecting him from further uncomfortable dealings with Franck and his associates - who were clearly giving him a hard time personally, undermining his authority as CEO - as one of her main motives.

“This is a delicious dinner, Antonia, compliments for another great suggestion. But why do I constantly have the odd feeling you brought me out here to tell me something?” Philip looked at her, his green eyes warm and amused.

Antonia blushed lightly. “You unfortunately already know me pretty well. I’m still wondering how to phrase it, since it’s a strategic idea. I fear you might think I’m infringing on your competencies.”

Philip laughed out loud. “Let’s see: You’ve been navigating me through what is my job for the past 4 days in a language I don’t understand, you speeded me out here for dinner in spite of my protests, you’ve taken on the micro-management of my meals…. And suddenly you’re worried about infringing on my competencies as your boss? Pray specify what might be more of an infringement!”

Caught, Antonia bit her lip, but seeing him clearly stay amused, took a deep breath. “I’ve been thinking about the situation with Franck – it’s not working. As you know, I’m critical of his professional performance: he doesn’t deliver the kind of style and quality ‘signC’ needs for the men’s line on the European market, his tailoring is poor, he simply doesn’t put the necessary effort into the quality control of the manufacturing process. His problematic social skills – to put it mildly – have negative effects on our entire office and reduce the efficiency of all other measures we are currently undertaking. On top, his constant tantrums, bouts of depression with these faked suicides make him unreliable.”

“I appreciate your – how do you Yankees call it - “straight talk”, Antonia. But those are not exactly news.”

“I’m getting to the news. Why don’t we order dessert first?”

Philip discreetly tugged at his waistband under the table mumbling: “No, that’s really not necessary, thank you.”

“You can’t celebrate without dessert!” Antonia expression was as innocent as possible. “You have to taste “Mamma’s” Tiramisu - it’s my favorite, not so creamy, more flavor, more espresso, more liquor. There’s a new orange panna cotta on the menu I’m dying to taste.”–waving the waiter over and ordering.

“Weren’t you just worried about infringing on my competencies?” Philip grinned at her, finishing off the last of the wine.

“Dessert is an integral part of dinner – so it can’t be an additional infringement,” Antonia grinned back. “Now to my suggestion: From what Jan told me, we have to count on Franck being hospitalized with a little bit of therapy for at least two weeks – right now in the crucial final stage before getting the men’s line ready for production. Guy can’t handle it on his own – he’s even more incompetent than Franck. Why don’t we postpone the launch of the men’s line for at least two seasons? Send Franck into a few months of rehab hoping he comes back more normal? He has a fixed three year contract so he has to be paid until the end of next year no matter what.”

“Phew … that is a radical solution!” Philip leaned back, rumpled his hair, his jacket falling open giving Antonia a rare glance at the full splendor of his big round belly, handsomely filled with dinner, rolling over a rather tight waistband – making her eyes sparkle in delight. “What about the costs of canceling production? The layout of the flagship stores? Orders from retailers? Have you thought about all that?”
Seeing Antonia look at his belly, he hastily covered himself up again but seemed reassured by her genuinely sweet smile.

“Yes, I have – by now I’m convinced we will not only save a lot of money, but also have a better chance of a successful market entry for our women’s line. It’s the women’s lines that bring the attention and media coverage in fashion, establish the major part of the brand image, not the men’s clothing.”

Dessert arrived, Antonia handed him the Tiramisu, taking the Panna cotta for herself, but dividing it in half. “We still have 17 days for opting out of the production contracts for the men’s line with only minimal fees. So far, we have only 3 retailers in all European countries who have signed up for the men’s line – in contrast to 47 who want to sell women’s wear. As far as our own stores go – most of them are too small to present both lines on the scale US headquarters expect. So we would actually have a much nicer, more spacious and appealing design for the stores, hopefully attracting more customers with just the women’s line. Saskia is doing a great job in adapting the designs from the US to the European market, creating some new ones to match local demand. Look at my blouse, for instance! Plus: it’ll be much easier for her - she’ll be more relaxed, even more productive if she no longer has Franck as her nominal superior annoying and inhibiting her.”

“Nice blouse indeed,” Philip eyed her cleavage, only to let out a small groan. “Shit, shit, shit, I’ve more or less eaten up the Tiramisu – we were supposed to share.” looking down at one small bite left on his plate in dismay.

“Okay, that’s mine then,” Antonia grinned, spooned up the last piece, slowly pushed it into her mouth before moving her plate still over half filled with orange Panna cotta over to Philip.

“No, thank you, I can’t….”

“You have to taste it, it’s sensational, every bit as delicious as our hosts promised,” Antonia spooned up a little to push it to Philip’s lips which opened up and swallowed, closing his eyes in pleasure. “Mmmm that is something. Orange, cream, some liquor ….” only to have Antonia feed him another spoonful.

“Now that is infringing on my competencies!” Philip gave her a look of mock reproach, took the spoon to finish the dessert, while Antonia was mortified as she realized how totally inappropriate spoon feeding her boss was.

“But I need to sleep over your idea, even though my instincts tell me it’s an excellent one,” Philip went on. “I hate to ask after this tiring week here in Italy – but would you be up for some extra work this weekend so we can re-design the strategy as you suggested for women’s wear only? Come up with a convincing sales pitch for the board?”

“That’s a goal I’m willing to put every waking minute into!” Antonia raised her glass smiling at the prospect of a weekend with Philip, thinking what she could cook for them.

Last edited by Lou Grant; 07-04-2010 at 07:13 AM.
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Old 07-03-2010, 01:13 PM   #19
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YAY! Not one installment, but TWO! This made my weekend even better Well, except keeping my on pins and needles waiting for these two to do something............oh, the suspense
Anyway, thank you and have a wonderful weekend
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Old 07-04-2010, 02:12 AM   #20
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this is a brilliant story so far, well done. i'm waiting for Philip and Antonia to make a move but as it's a non-romance i'm not sure where it's going... it doesn't have to be non-lust you know ;-)

can i ask as someone who lives in the region, have you lived in/around Brussels or are you researching thru the net? Because the descriptions of the places, attitudes, foods are spot on and help the story greatly.

don't keep us waiting for the next installment!
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Old 07-05-2010, 11:06 AM   #21
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I'd like to nominate agouderia for the writer's guild and her own thread in the writers forum, in my humble yet enthusiastic fangirl opinion. Her stories are so well written and intimately detailed - and do a beautiful job of capturing the nuance of feelings so many of us FFAs have experienced.

blows kisses to agouderia
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Old 07-05-2010, 11:23 AM   #22
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Originally Posted by ashblonde View Post
I'd like to nominate agouderia for the writer's guild and her own thread in the writers forum, in my humble yet enthusiastic fangirl opinion. Her stories are so well written and intimately detailed - and do a beautiful job of capturing the nuance of feelings so many of us FFAs have experienced.

blows kisses to agouderia
The nomination will be taken into consideration. Please keep in mind it is not an instantaneous process.

BTW typically the best way to get information to a library mod would be PM. We don't always catch every post added on to stories if they aren't part of the story.

Last edited by Lou Grant; 07-05-2010 at 11:40 AM.
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Old 07-05-2010, 02:27 PM   #23
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So, so, good!
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Old 07-06-2010, 06:15 AM   #24
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Originally Posted by Ssaylleb View Post
this is a brilliant story so far, well done. i'm waiting for Philip and Antonia to make a move but as it's a non-romance i'm not sure where it's going... it doesn't have to be non-lust you know ;-)

can i ask as someone who lives in the region, have you lived in/around Brussels or are you researching thru the net? Because the descriptions of the places, attitudes, foods are spot on and help the story greatly.

don't keep us waiting for the next installment!
Thank you and everyone else for liking this story - I'm working on completing the next installment but now have some major other work catching up to so it'll take a little longer.
And don't worry - even though these two are good at getting in their own and each other's way, need their time - it's not going to be a 'rated G' story

Regarding Brussels - I've been working there frequently for a while so the descriptions come from personal experiences - admittedly including some of my own preferences .....


Quote:
Originally Posted by ashblonde View Post
I'd like to nominate agouderia for the writer's guild and her own thread in the writers forum, in my humble yet enthusiastic fangirl opinion. Her stories are so well written and intimately detailed - and do a beautiful job of capturing the nuance of feelings so many of us FFAs have experienced.

blows kisses to agouderia
- x³ thank you - I simply don't know what to say or better write!

.... even though I'm still in the process of finding out what the writer's guild entails exactly - but knowing something about medieval history, being in the guild is every artisans aspiration
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Old 07-17-2010, 11:08 AM   #25
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Default Part 6 - Warszawa

Part 6 - Warszawa

Stifling a yawn, Antonia carefully balanced the two heavy baskets on the hand rail of the elevator: It was 8:37 on a Saturday, she had already prepared two meals, was forty minutes late – and totally exhausted. In the past two weeks since coming back from Milan she and Philip had worked like crazy to come up with the revised business model of women’s wear only for ‘signC’ on the European market.

“There you are Antonia, I was starting to worry something might have happened,” Philip’s eager smile greeted her as the elevator doors opened. “Oh you brought our office picnic again, that’s even more work for you … but you always make such good things… let me take that for you…”

Yawning again, Antonia handed him one basket. “Here this is breakfast – take it to our meeting room, I’ll put lunch into the frig…”

While packing everything away, she could not stop marveling how Philip had changed since coming back from Milan. It was as if Franck’s absence and the decision to try to postpone the men’s wear line had liberated him: he worked tirelessly, confidently and in a good mood which translated to everyone except Guy and Baas. Dealing only with women’s wear seemed to put him much more at ease; he even suggested she should find a test market for extending ‘signC’s” size range by one or two sizes to her and Saskia’s endless astonishment. Just as surprising was that he enjoyed, even asked her to manage their meals. Mostly he uncomplainingly ate the three full meals with her she prepared, only once fussing over calories. To alleviate his fears in this direction, she made sure to prepare very healthy, filling dishes, off-handedly describing how she made them to reduce his inhibitions of finishing his fair share.

Seeing her yawn as he came back into the kitchenette, Philip immediately set a coffee cup under the machine and handed the cappuccino to Antonia. “You’re so tired… I’m sorry for working you so hard. Here, this might help a bit. I must say, this new Italian coffee machine is the best ‘signC’ investment so far!”

Following him into the meeting room, she could see he had spread out charts of the revised business plan on the tables which they went through for a final run, prioritizing the parts for the presentation to the board.

“Well… that looks seriously good,” Philip surveyed the final set of charts with obvious satisfaction while licking apricot fromage blanc from his spoon. “Is there anything left to take care of over here?”

“As far as I can tell only our internal design HR issues,” Antonia responded. “Franck needs to be told that his only chance of continuing his contract with ‘signC’ is to go into that 9 month rehab program we chose. That’s one good thing about these continental welfare systems – it might be more difficult to sack people, but within existing contracts you can put a lot more pressure on them. I would suggest Jean-Luc negotiates that with Franck. He isn’t thrilled but he has the cool to deal with it. And he can take Jan along as a native English speaker and semi-Brit for the local color…”

“Sounds like a reasonable plan. What about Saskia?”

“That’s a bit more problematic than it looks at first sight,” Antonia sighed. “She’s been doing excellent work, she’s totally thrilled to be rid of Franck as her superior and as comfortable as she can be with having to discuss and decide on things just with you and me. But … major but- she’s sort of in denial what taking on the full responsibilities of head designer would mean, like giving interviews, more public presentations, etc. She’s absurdly shy, not up to that right now…”

“Any ideas what we can do about that?”

“Saskia’s work is really good – and deep down, she knows that. She’s also more ambitious than it seems at first sight. I would suggest we send her to a therapy to overcome her shyness. Heather had a suggestion, a university colleague of hers from the psychology department, a French woman married to a Dutchman that should work for Saskia.”

“Sending everybody into therapy, sounds very American to me … were everybody has their personal, how do you say, shrink?”

“Now that’s a cliché!” Antonia giggled. “But don’t forget, Freud was a native German speaker – so I’m a bit like the personification of the two biggest psycho-analysis nations on earth.”

“Bl**** hell, what have I gotten myself into, if I don’t watch out you’ll send me into therapy next.” Philip laughed. “Anyway, talk to Saskia; she’s most likely to accept your advice. Now about how we will present this to the board next week in New York…”

“Were you thinking of taking me along?” Antonia’s eyes widened in surprise.

“Umm… of course, it was your idea. You’ve put so much work into it.”

Touched and pleased as she was by his suggestion, as well as eager to go on another business trip with him, Antonia could not blend out Craig’s warning which kept ringing from the back of her mind that Philip needed to fully redeem himself on his own in the eyes of the board. So it would probably not be a good idea if she came along and did part of the presentation. Not looking at him to hide her disappointment, Antonia shook her head. “Philip, that’s a great honor and I can’t tell you how much your praise means to me. I’d love to come to New York with you. But I don’t think it’s possible. I have too much to do here. We need to take care of the HR issues we just spoke about. Because of all the work we have put into the revision of our strategy, I’m totally behind schedule on all our marketing materials for the fall launch. I need to stay here and work on everything…”

***

Happily stirring her coffee, Antonia knocked on Jean-Luc’s office door to discuss the next steps with him after having received two SMS very late the night before: a simple ‘V!!!” from Philip, and a slightly more elaborate “good girl! Not what I had anticipated as solution, but definitely one that should work! Count yourself in for a bonus!” - from Craig.

Entering, she was surprised to see Saskia and Guy sitting across from Jean-Luc – Saskia looking as if she would like to hide under the carpet and Guy with pure hatred in his eyes.
Backing off, Antonia quickly said. “Sorry to interrupt, I’ll come back …” but got no further, because Guy got up, grabbed her coffee and poured it all over her.

“You bl*** f***ing Kraut slut! This is all your fault! Why didn’t you let Franck do his work? You’d do any disgusting thing to get ahead! Course a fat f*** like Watherwood will take any attention he can get, not much choice looking like a whale, ey? How many packs of Viagra did you need to feed him before he could get it up? Lucky you’re fat enough yourself, otherwise he’d have smothered you…” before he kicked his chair and stormed out.

Antonia stood there open-mouthed, not knowing what to say, realizing it was not necessary to say anything. Saskia got up, carefully stroked her arm. “Are you okay?”

“Yeah, I’m okay. Only covered in coffee and pretty disgusted.”

Alors- that takes care of the problem of integrating Guy into Mme Wissemaar’s new team,” Jean-Luc said with an air of smugness. “An unprompted physical attack in front of witnesses is enough to fire him.”

In that moment Baas came in looking agitated. “Is it true, Guy was just fired?”

“I wouldn’t say he was fired –it is more that he fired himself,” Jean-Luc’s comment had a cynical tone to it.

“Well then, I’m resigning too. If Franck is not coming back and Guy is going, I don’t know who I can work with here anymore. Mr. Watherwood has been by-passing my competencies for months, doing everything with Urs. You’ll find my notice on your desk this afternoon.”

“Wow, is this some sort of rotten office soap? Who wrote this script?” Antonia couldn’t help shaking her head. “I need to go change, the coffee is getting cold.”

Tant pis – it was not my intention to get rid of so many people so quickly,” Jean-Luc sighed. “What are we going to do about the CFO position? How can we inform headquarters about that?”

A happy grin spread over Antonia’s face. “Headquarters will be delighted! Baas himself already answered that question for you: Philip doesn’t need a CFO – he’s been doing the work with Urs all the time anyway. Saves a lot of money and increases efficiency!”

Jean-Luc tilted his head, raised his eyebrows then cupped Antonia’s face in his hands and gave her a small earnest kiss on the lips. “Merci cherie, your sang-froid really cut our Gordian knot here. Philip should do this, but he probably won’t dare, so my reverence in his name.”

***

Last edited by Lou Grant; 07-25-2010 at 11:49 AM.
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