The Contest Resolved
Tony, Hugh, and Claude made their way upstairs to the unused top floor of the office building. Tony had made inquiries some time ago with his golfing partner Claude who was the planning officer for the Brownsville Regional Government office about converting it into a large home with balcony looking over the street but found out that would be impossible because of the way the commercial area had been zoned. When they reached the top and turned-on lights Claude studied the layout for a few minutes and then spoke.
“Well, its zoned for what you are proposing but you have some problems to contend with. New buildings or refurbishments would come under new regulations. Fortunately, you would not be held up by environmental issues like an endangered cockroach species or something similar.” Hugh and Tony roared with laughter. When they sobered down, he continued.
“There are new requirements on fire protection and making provision for disabled access. This wouldn’t quality as it stands. You’d need to install an elevator to care for access between basement and upper levels. The extension to provide weather protection over the street needs to fit new regulations. Who will be doing the drawings and engineering plans? The whole of main street will have to pay for standardized awnings so you must do that eventually and the same goes for disabled access so it’s a cost you’d have to bear in future and you’re not going to avoid that so may as well factor it in as a requirement now. City planning for the distant future will slowly move the city center away from present crowded conditions to the higher elevation you are on. The road the current courthouse complex is on just around the corner from you is wider and goes for two kilometers. Housing there is mostly from the 1930’s era and being bought out slowly by businesses to escape the occasional flooding of main street in the valley section. Council planning is rezoning that area to encourage to migrate to the developing suburbs. The burned-out old hotel just across from you the local government acquired from the bankrupt estate, and we will be turning that into a three-level car park with entrances and exits to the next street over and the street facing you. You are well placed here. Good investment.
Hugh turned to Claude in surprise. “How would that have affected me had I decided to stay on where I am now?”
“Those little offices on upper levels would not fit into future planning. That section of main street floods once or twice in a lifetime so it will not qualify for current usage. Businesses will slowly move to the rezoned street above I told you about and present main street will become a back entrance with shops built higher up facing the street presently back and above the rear of present shops to be rezoned as commercial. The level you presently occupy will be a raised parking and delivery area to serve shop levels above them. The old road will be several feet below to bring the proposed road above it higher than flood levels. It’s probably a thirty-year project at least.”
Tony spoke. “I wonder if Clive Benjamin’s law practice is aware of this?”
“He’s on the committee and is buying out old Smythe the lawyer who is your neighbor as he is retiring. It’s another underutilized space in a good location and he’ll be extending the building backwards to plan for an expanding legal practice. The word is spreading and there will soon be a lot of empty buildings on the side of the street closer to the river in lower main street. They are moving away from flooding and that eventually will be an extension of parklands.
Now Hugh was on board with the idea of a merger he was looking forward to getting on with the planning and that was why Claude had been invited in an unofficial way to give advice, so they’d know how to approach the Brownsville Regional Government office for plan clearance and permission to commence work. Now it was up to the architects and a builder who Claude had recommended as the best available. Tony was to be the points man to get that organized and Hugh would give attention to establishing how to deal with the structure of the organization and its branches. He was leaning toward a private company. This could perhaps satisfy the increasing clamor from branch managers who wanted a part of the profits they were generating if they could work out shareholding format within a private company available to qualified CPA’s.
Hugh departed for home to work on some ideas and Claude lingered. “The Colthorp’s are holding their annual party for workers this Sunday and we as relatives closest to them in distance always attend. Old Jack particularly wants you to attend so they can thank you personally for saving their investment and probably their daughter’s life. Anita has messaged you but you’re not responding so old Jack asked me to strong arm you into coming.”
“Claude I’m not ignoring Anita it’s just that we are so busy working on this season’s tax lodgments and with the proposed merger with Hugh’s business I’m hardly getting time to sleep. I’m working weekends.”
“Then you need a break. Besides that, I’m willing to help you fast track your plans for refurbishment here, so you owe me this favor. I’ll pick you up.”
Tony laughed. “That’s called bribery Claude but OK. It just means I’ll have to work half the night to make up time and you’ll be responsible for my breakdown. I’ll drive myself as I know the way now. Bit tricky on those country roads as signage is inadequate to say the least. You need to work on that.”
And so, Tony arrived at the Colthorp’s at 11 am Sunday and was surprised to see a large tent erected and a surprising number of people milling around including a few families of aboriginal people. This time he came dressed appropriately having seen how relaxed farmers were in their safe environments. He looked for old Jack and Mabel to pay his respects and caught sight of Anita and her brother organizing seating in the tent and tables where food was being deposited under fly proof screens by some of the women. Anita caught sight of him and ran to greet him. She kissed him on both cheeks.
“Dad will be so glad you accepted his invitation. Why have you been ignoring me? Were you frightened I’d pick you up in the Porsche or that I’d sleep at your apartment and embarrass you again? You don’t have to worry I sold the Porsche and bought a jeep. Much more practical for work here.”
Tony blushed. “I haven’t been ignoring you Anita, but you have no idea how busy things are at this time of year. I have practically no time to myself at all and will have to work through the night to catch up.”
“I know, Uncle Claude told me already I was just giving you a bad time. Come and greet dad so he knows you are here. After this fuss is over, I want you for the rest of the afternoon as I have something urgent to discuss.”
After everyone had eaten and Jack had shaken Tony’s hand multiple times Anita steered him toward the stables.
“How did your backside deal with the last horse ride you had here, have you recovered yet?”
Tony laughed. “I was sore for a few days afterward.
“Then you have something to remember about this day for a while.”
They mounted the already saddled horses and took off in a different direction than that taken last visit. They went through woodlands bordering feed crops covering a large distance with sounds of the river close by. Eventually they emerged overlooking the river and Anita got down to open a gate leading her horse through while Tony followed. It was the end of Colthorp property and entrance to government property around the river. Close by they saw a temporary camp of Aboriginals. She rode up to them and dismounted. A girl approached and the two women embraced. Anita turned to Tony holding the hand of the girl.
Tony this is Therese. Well, that’s not her real name but that’s the English name she’s been given. She works as my chief accountant in the office and she’s my dear friend from childhood. We grew up together. Dad put her through college, and she has a BA in Business Administration. She did that despite many difficulties she experienced in those boarding years. I particularly wanted you to meet her today.”
She gave the girl a hug and indicated they should walk to the river while the girl followed. The women chatted in the local aboriginal dialect. Tony marveled at the close relationship they enjoyed.
Anita removed her boots and waded into the river selecting a rock which she sat on dangling her bare feet in the waters and watching intently. Therese moved close and stood in the water waiting while Tony followed. Anita motioned he should sit beside her. Therese spoke in her language, but she was quite competent in English. Anita laughed and said something in the aboriginal dialect.
Tony was intrigued. “What’s the joke”
“Therese would be embarrassed if I answered that question. Now no one speak.” They waited in silence. Suddenly Anita’s hand flashed toward her feet and extracted a yabby exploring her toes. Yabbies are a small freshwater crayfish. She tossed it to Therese who caught it expertly. More silence and more yabbies were collected. Anita stood. “Enough play we need to get back to business, I really wanted you to meet Therese but got tempted by memories of the game Therese and I have played since childhood. The yabbies will go into their cooking pot.”
Anita paused to pay respects to the elders gathered around watching and introduced Tony to them in their language. The Elders smiled.
Then they mounted their horses and retraced their steps back toward the homestead turning off on the trail up the mountain they’d visited previously. When they reached her favorite spot, they dismounted and sat looking out over the vast farmlands and cluster of sheds making up their two industries. Anita sighed.
‘This is the homeland of those representatives of the tribe you met down by the river on government territory. They don’t live there. My great grandfather protected them when they were driven off farms carved out when the colonialists moved in. They retreated to his holding and used it as their base but over time the young ones moved on some to the cities where they didn’t fit in and others to places out west relatively untouched. Up above us on this mountain are sacred caves with carvings and paintings they come back periodically to worship there. We respect those places and keep clear of them which they appreciate. This is as far as I go up the mountain now, but Therese sneaked me up there to see the caves when we were small and that got her into big trouble. Some of the tribe settled and have been our workers over generations. You saw some of the families at our celebration today. They are wonders with horses but for some reason won’t work with the pedigree cattle. They live in houses provided but when other tribal family visit for ceremonies they join in leaving their houses to revert to their chosen ways. Then the rest of the tribe disappear, and our workers return to homes provided. It’s their way.”
Anita turned to face Tony.” I’m so glad you came today as I need to get something off my mind but firstly business. The shock from the nearly successful takeover of our business has impacted on dad’s health and I’m worried about him. My guess is that within a couple of years he won’t be able to take an active part in the day by day running of the businesses. It’s a family business so I’ll have to step in and take part in the frontline industry management. Therese has the capacity to do the business side and takes a heavy load in that now. She’s very bright. Could you do us the favor of giving her further practical training in your office. She is more than capable of doing the entry level data processing your staff do and will pick up a lot of knowledge apart from that working for two years. Then I’ll take on an equal load with my brother and let dad retire. It will be hard to get him to do that as farmers die with their boots on but at least we can take a heavy load off him.”
Tony thought about that for a few minutes. “One of our girls is getting married to an intern who will be leaving us soon. I’d need to interview her to see if she could handle what we put through that job. Send her to me for an interview. We are going to be in a bit of a mess for a while as the office is expanded and personnel are changing.”
“That’s wonderful of you to consider that Tony. Aboriginals had been horribly discriminated against in the past and I’m glad you’re not of that ilk.”
“Now to something more personal. Could you stand up please.”
She folded her arms around him and kissed him. Tony didn’t resist. A fire went through him, and he remembered Stella doing that when he’d had a melt down weeks back. He luxuriated in the feeling and suddenly felt a need for someone to share his life with. He held that position without moving and enjoyed just being in such a beautiful place with someone he’d learned to care for deeply. Finally, Anita drew away and sat down. Tony sat beside her with his arm around her waiting for her to clarify what she’d done and understand his own feelings. Finally, she spoke.
“Tony I’m at the age when I want to settle down and have children. Lately I’ve been dreaming about a woman called Anita Edwards but can never seem to reach the end of that dream by the time I wake up. Then through the day I think of this woman and ask myself some questions. Would this Mr. Edwards forsake all he been trained for and come live with this woman on a farm industrial complex he was not familiar with or interested in? Would this woman be happy to leave what she was trained for and had responsibilities to the family and come to live in the city? My conclusion was the couple were hugely compatible and would have a deep and abiding love for each other if these real issues were not a factor. But the factors remain. So, Anita Edwards sorrowfully has to revert to Anita Colthorp in my dreams from now on.”
Tony reached over and embraced her again and once more they locked in a kiss and time seemed to stand still. Then Anita pulled away again.
“Anita it was cruel of you to waken my latent feelings for you this way and then turn me off. Why? Shouldn’t we wait and think this thing through?”
“Because I’m selfish. There will never be an Anita Edwards as it would not work out for us sadly, but this experience will never leave my memory and you will have my love for the rest of my life. But we will not see each other again outside of audits or tax time in a professional setting and I hope you don’t share these details of these moments we’ve had together with anyone else ever. Promise me!”
Anita wavered as she saw the tears in Tony’s eyes, but firmly resisted the impulse to give a relationship between them a try. She was a very practical woman.
One of our workers Kevin has been trying to get my attention for years. He loves my parents and is extremely loyal to the Colthorp brand and a reliable and stable person. I don’t love him, but I’d like children and maybe I’ll give that some consideration. Uncle Claude and Aunt Mabel have been singing your praises so that has fueled my infatuation with you too. They will be disappointed, and I think my mother will be most disappointed as she’s continually mentioning you to me. That’s life, your future happiness is important to me.” Anita teared up as she finished speaking. She stood and moved toward the horses. They rode in silence back to the homestead.
Mabel Colthorp brightened as she saw both approaching the house with Anita’s hand on Tony’s arm. It was time for her daughter to take a husband and she liked this man. Tony wished the Colthorp’s goodbye and Anita walked him to the car. She kissed him on both cheeks as he settled into his car for the trip home.
“I have one final request Tony. You need a soul mate to share your life with and I know who that should be. She hates me and for good reason as I’d steal you from her if it meant you and I could be happy together. But I want you to go and visit Stella as soon as you get back to the city. I want you to propose to her as she loves you and both of you would make a happy marriage and complement each other with your skills. I want you to tell her I urged you to do this, so she doesn’t hate me anymore as I’d like to have a good relationship with her when I visit your office next. You need a wife to help you through the enormous stress you’ll have in reorganizing your office and she should be by your side twenty-four seven. Will you do that for me? And don’t forget your promise about Therese.” She patted him on the arm as he headed for the gate while Mabel watched hopefully from her window.
Tony proceeded slowly to the city as he processed the afternoon surprises. He searched deep inside his emotions as he drove. He’d described Stella as his rock and that was true. She was always there propping him up by taking the load when needed or helping him when he was depressed with stress. Anita was right. They were the ideal partnership and this afternoon experience showed him that intimacy was an important part of mental health. It was wonderful to feel needed. What support had he given to his faithful secretary in return? It was time he set that right. He pulled in at the river park where they’d spent a couple of evenings sharing takeaway, sat reflecting for a few minutes then picked up his cell phone and punched in the number.
“Stella are you at home?”
“Oh, you actually thought to call me after an afternoon with the Colthorp girl. Must be business and not pleasure then.”
“You may be wrong. Can I pay you a visit?”
“I suppose so.” He shut the phone and headed to the street that looked down toward the river. He was soon parked outside her place and wearily got out locking the door. Then turned and walked up the path, upstairs and knocked on the door.
The door opened, “Have a seat in the lounge. I was in the shower when you called and had to put on a bath robe to open the door. Sorry I look like a mess I’ll do a quick change.” She turned quickly to head for her bedroom.
“Stella, wait!” She turned in surprise and he moved forward and swept her into his arms
She gasped in surprise. “Tony what are you doing, you’ll get wet and I’m not decent.”
“Will you marry me, Stella.”
Stella jumped back. “Are you sure you have the right girl? I thought you’d be asking that question of Anita Colthorp.”
“Actually, it was Anita Colthorp who has spent the afternoon pushing me into asking you to marry me as she says the both of us were created for each other and she couldn’t understand what was holding me back from asking. She gave me quite a talking to and I thought about it on the way home and must agree she gave me good advice. Will you marry me, Stella?”
Stella studied his face. Was he serious? She’d dreamed about this for years but had recently given up hope. He hadn’t responded when she confessed her love for him on that night, he had a meltdown. But it didn’t look like a sick joke he was playing on her. She returned to his embrace and burst into tears resting her head on his shoulders.
“You ask me that after seeing what I look like without all that finery you see on me at work? I’m going to say yes, and you are not leaving this house tonight. Tomorrow you can get the marriage license as I don’t want the fuss of a wedding with all that foolishness and expense. Consider yourself married Tony. In that you’re going to see me like this often in marriage I’m not going to get out of this robe as that’s what I wear around the home when no one is coming for a visit.”
“Stella, I want you to get dressed! I’m sure Robinson the jeweler will open for us on a Sunday as he owes me a favor. We will go select an engagement and wedding ring. I’ll give him a call now.”
“Then I’ll get dressed, but you’ve not out of my sight from now on unless you’re travelling on business.” She rushed off to her bedroom and changed then sat at the bathroom mirror blow drying her wet hair.” Tony punched in Robinson’s number and hearing the news he was happy to accommodate them. A half hour later they were at the jewelers and locked inside while being shown rings. It didn’t take long for Stella to make her choices. She put them on carefully while Tony paid the bill with his credit card. They departed the store while Stella studied her new rings.
“So nice to be married and I’m indebted to Anita after all the bad thoughts I’ve harbored against her. She’s no longer that client, she’s my best friend.”
Tony laughed. “I’m taking you home and then I go to my apartment as my clothes for tomorrow are there and we are not going to live together until I have the marriage license. Stella protested but Tony was firm. But he did allow her to persuade him to spend the rest of the evening with her before returning home happy and exhausted.
Forty-five years had passed since Tony and Stella married. The merger had been concluded successfully a year after that marriage and within ten years Hugh had bowed out as senior partner leaving Tony as senior. There were multiple partners looking after a constantly expanding business empire straddling many country centers renamed Professional Accountancy and Consultancy and Ben in line as the next senior in waiting. Stella had died in their fortieth year of marriage from cancer with her firm friend Anita at her side along with her husband Tony. They had no children. After two miscarriages doctors declared there’d be no point in hoping for any so there was no immediate relative to pass their accumulated wealth on to when Tony passed on.
Anita finally decided not to marry and spent her years caring for her share of the business and her parents in their old age until they passed on. Therese took over the business side after her internship with the accountancy practice and return to the Colthorp business empire. Anita’s brother married and had several children. These children were now taking the major responsibilities running the business as their father and aunt slowed down. The aboriginal tribe rarely visited now as elders passed on and their children became used to city life.
Tony and Anita had remained friends over the years now the two women had been reconciled. Their interactions were strictly professional. As Tony looked forward to his retirement, he thought of relocating to the coast where they had over fifties living facilities and excellent services. He’d felt lonely since Stella’s death and sought Anita’s company as often as he could. When he shared his thinking about moving on retirement with Anita, he saw tears come to her eyes. She was largely out of the loop with management of the business now and feeling lonely herself. Tony was her best friend and she’d loved him all these years but kept a proper distance between them as she respected Stella’s right as a wife. The dreams of a woman called Anita Edwards had recurred over the years but been firmly relegated to the background.
Tony paused as he saw his friend’s reaction to plans on his retirement and memories of that time on the mountain came back to his mind. He wondered if she remembered after all these years and asked her. Her reply gave him courage. She’d never forgotten that day and treasured it in her mind still. So, he plucked up courage.
“Would you come with me if I retire on the coast Anita?”
“I was hoping you’d ask me Tony.”
They were married next day. Anita’s dreams had come true at last, and the client Ms. Colthorp became Tony’s wife Anita Edwards.
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