“It should.” She laughed again.
I shook my head, and she slapped me playfully on the arm.
“Not to worry, Erica. We’ll have a blast.”
“I have no doubt.” I grinned and grabbed my purse to head out. As worrisome as her playful threats were, I had bigger things on my mind. “All right, I’ll catch up with you later.”
“No problem, hon. Knock ’em dead.” She smiled and gave me a quick hug before I left.
I stepped outside, hesitating in front of the entrance that would take me back up to the office. The aroma of coffee and the promise of fall mingled in the air. I couldn’t go back to work with all this news in my head. I glanced up and down the street, unsure which way to go. Clay’s black Escalade sat at the end of the block. I walked that way.
I hopped into the back.
“Miss Hathaway. Would you like me to take you home?”
“No, not yet. Would you mind driving me to Harvard?”
“Of course not.”
The financial district disappeared as we made our way to the other side of the city. We crossed the river and wove through the tight streets that surrounded Harvard’s historic campus.
“Here is fine, Clay,” I said, when we were stopped at a light in an area I knew well.
“Where would you like me to pick you up?”
“I’ll give you a ring.”
“I’ll be okay, I promise. I’m just taking a walk around campus. I won’t wander far.” I gave him a crooked smile. He had already taken a lot of grief from Blake for letting me disappear before on his watch. Still, I think Clay sympathized with me a little bit. His presence gave me comfort, but I had to spread my wings from time to time.
“What should I tell Mr. Landon if he asks for you?”
I sighed. “Tell him I went for a walk, and if he’s worried, he can call me. I have my phone.”
He nodded, and I took that as good enough to leave the car. I wove through the afternoon crowd, a mix of students and tourists. For having only been away a few months, I was surprised I didn’t recognize anyone. Harvard was officially in the past, and my, how life had changed.
I walked through the gates that led into the campus. The air changed, and memories of my old life here settled over me. I smiled, grateful that I’d been able to make so many memories here. I walked until my legs started to tire. I found an unoccupied bench under a tree nestled in a fairly quiet courtyard.
People walked, engrossed in their own conversations. The breeze filtered through the old trees overhead. The buildings of brick and stone stood silent and imposing. The faint murmur of the city streets beyond the campus boundaries hummed in the distance.
Everything felt different. The ground under my feet, the air around me, and now too, this place from my past. Had it been the conversation with Alex? I was used to seeing my world turn upside down with Blake in my life, but this was different. This was my business.
The prospect of selling to Alex thrilled me. And terrified me. A part of me was ready to burst with the promise of going through with it, of being able to say that I did it. After all our struggles trying to stay above water, I could walk away knowing I’d made it a success. I had no idea how much Alex would offer, but based on the already hefty checks his business was paying out to us, I imagined it would be impressive. Blake wouldn’t let me accept anything that wasn’t more than fair, and Alex had promised just as much.
My mind ran away with the possibilities. Freedom from the daily grind, the kind of freedom that Blake enjoyed being able to pick and choose his projects. Whatever I walked away with from a sale wouldn’t come close to Blake’s wealth, but I could pay him back and have a little nest egg of my own that I could say I earned. Maybe it would be enough to invest in Geoff’s project independently too.
I had worried about how I would make time for his project, with everything else going on. This could be the perfect time to make a change. Troubling little pangs of worry tempered my giddiness. What if life changed more than I wanted it to? The beautiful office Blake had renovated for me, the team with whom I’d grown so close, and the daily routine that drove me forward. None of that would be guaranteed for long once I gave up ownership.
My mind swam back and forth, through every possibility, until my earlier excitement bordered on anxiety at the prospect of making the wrong decision. My phone rang. It was Alli.
“Hey, is everything all right? You were gone for a while and I didn’t see you downstairs.”
I sighed, grateful to hear her voice. “I’m fine. I decided to take a walk after meeting with Alex.”
“Is everything okay?” Her voice softened with concern.
I closed my eyes. I needed her advice now more than ever. “Everything is fine. I just needed some air. Do you have any plans tonight though? I want to run some things by you.”
“Um, sure. Girls’ night, or should we invite Heath and Blake?”
Blake would no doubt have an opinion about Alex’s proposition, and I valued his opinion more than anyone’s. He had more experience than all of us combined, and I had faith that he’d never steer me wrong.
Whether he’d give me enough space to negotiate the deal on my own was another question.
“Sure,” I said hesitantly. “Just text me where you want to meet up.”
“Okay, will do.”
* * *
We had just ordered enough sushi to fill a sizable boat when Alli started in.
“So what happened with Alex?”
Her eyes were focused on me expectantly. Blake and Heath followed suit.
I swallowed over the knot in my throat. Here goes nothing. “He wants to buy Clozpin.”
Alli almost choked on her mai tai, her eyes impossibly wide. “What?”
“He wants to take the site to the next level, but he doesn’t want to make that investment without ownership.”
“What did you tell him?” Heath asked.
I looked to Blake, whose expression held no indication of surprise or disapproval. “I told him I’d think about it. He said he could make an offer if I sent him some financials.”
“But we’re finally starting to get ahead,” Alli said, her lower lip pouting a little. The rush of emotions that I’d experienced earlier playing out in her features. Shock, excitement, sadness, and worry. “Don’t you want to see how far we can take it first?”
“We’ve made some great headway lately, but mostly because of this partnership with Alex,” I explained. “The referral commissions we’re getting are substantial. Think of how that might translate into a sale for us.”