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Fire & Ice - Chapter One

Fire & Ice - Chapter One

Reputation is everything, but all work and no play makes for a dull girl.

This is fiction, any resemblance to real persons or institutions is purely coincidental.

Jenna sat in the waiting area of Cox Consulting, she was early. She was always early for appointments. It was part of her success strategy. A strategy that was working for her. She was a highly trained professional. A consultant herself, she smiled inwardly that she was about to become a client to a management consultant, as a paid benefit from her company. Her smile widened as she reflected on her appearance. She was not in her corporate interview power suit, she was in her own, "I can wear what I am most comfortable in" clothes, "as I am the client, not the consultant for this meeting." She did feel empowered, in fact, powerful.

Just a couple of days ago, she was in her power suit, waiting nervously for a meeting with the Corporate Executive Officer of her own consulting firm. His office assistant had reached out to her asking when she might be available to meet with him and she responded asking when his next available opening was. She was ready. She tried to always be prepared for whatever. She had earned that reputation. 'Fire and ice', she liked to call it. Fire to describe her constant energy and motivation, and ice for her calm and cool demeanor, regardless of the stress she may be feeling on the inside. Jenna's red hair helped with that fire reputation as well.

When she met with the CEO, she demonstrated her calm cool demeanor, and sat poised in his office, ready for whatever assignment he may have for her. To her delight, it was not an assignment, it was a promotion. He had initially greeted her from behind his big desk, sitting in his custom made leather chair. After a brief discussion of a couple of current client cases as she sat in a chair facing his big desk, he got up out of his chair and walked over to the private conference section of his office and invited her to move over to visit with him there. She did and then as she was sitting directly across from him with no obstacles between them, he announced the promotion and congratulated her on her many successes in the firm. She was to be an associate partner. She had outperformed all of her colleagues and she had generated more business and clients than any others over the ten years she had been with the firm.

He went on to explain that the board had decided that she retain her current duties with the new title of Associate Partner, and to have additional support staff to supervise with the goal of continuing to expand her client pool. She was to receive a raise in salary, additional benefits, and an increased percentage yearly bonus. One of the new benefits was a stipend for professional and personal consulting services outside of the firm. He explained the purpose for the stipend was to encourage the employee to have independent support to stay healthy, both physically and emotionally. She was also given a full week of administrative time off, to celebrate as well as identify how best to utilize these new benefits and return ready to take on her new title and build her expanded office team the next week.

Jenna was walking on air, feeling more fire than any other time in her life.

She was interrupted from her reflections as she was being paged by the receptionist. She was then ushered into a large office and greeted by an attractive woman in her late forties.

"Hello Ms. Arnott, I'm Cynthia Cox. It's a pleasure to meet you," the woman introduced offering her hand to shake.

"Thank you Ms. Cox, thank you for seeing me on such short notice," Jenna replied.

"My pleasure, please call me Cynthia," she responded with an infectious smile, "I understand you are looking for a management coaching services."

"Yes, I was recently promoted, and one of the perks is a stipend for professional and personal consulting services," Jenna returned.

"Well, thank you for considering Cox Consultants. We do offer professional coaching as part of our services and I would be happy to go through the details of those services. I don't know if you found us through an internet search or from a referral," she said smiling with a question in her voice.

"I did discover you through the internet, and I was impressed with your website. I found it very informative and I'm excited to investigate your services here in person. I did ask specifically to meet with you, Cynthia. Your bio is so impressive and I think we have some common ground," Jenna answered warmly.

"That is very kind of you to say, Ms. Arnott, can you tell me some of the common ground we have?" Cynthia queried.

"Oh, please call me Jenna, and yes, I saw that you are a graduate from William and Mary. I attended as well, with my undergraduate and master's degree from the Mason School of Business. I specialized in marketing. I am an Associate Partner at Barron and Associates here in D.C," Jenna explained.

"Thank you, Jenna, and yes I graduated from William and Mary with my undergraduate and went on to Marshall-Wythe School of Law as well. Absolutely loved it there. I dreamed of returning as a professor but after entering the consulting market, I have changed my dreams and absolutely enjoy the independence of consulting," returned Cynthia.

"Yes, I think we have quickly found our common ground, Cynthia. I also noticed that you are not specializing in government contracts, and that was another thing that drew my interest to your firm." returned Jenna softly.

"Oh? You are not a fan of government and you are working here in D.C.? You are piquing my interest too, Jenna," laughed Cynthia.

"It's not that I am not a fan, it's that I find it exhausting, polarizing, and downright toxic at times," explained Jenna gently.

"You just named the primary reasons why I don't specialize in government contracts, Jenna. I do have some clients who are government employees though and get an earful of some of the pain and torture they go through, but I myself am rather insulated from the cold government process of the beltway bandit ilk," responded Cynthia with a slight smirk.

"I think this is going to be the beginning of a beautiful relationship, Cynthia. Please tell me more about what kind of coaching services you offer here," Jenna said with confidence.

After that introduction, Cynthia and Jenna discussed all the services of Cox Consultants and Cynthia closed the deal, taking on Jenna Arnott as her newest client.  

In weekly sessions with Cynthia Cox, Jenna shared with her that she already felt she had a good work life balance, as she was actively involved in yoga and a member of an athletic club. What she felt she may be lacking was a mindset to play. She could not really relax, like take more than a vacation to the beach or a cruise without thinking about work. She seldom even felt playful. She confided to Cynthia, that she had various relationships, including actively dating, but she prioritized to her work and career, and she had never had a long term relationship. With coaxing from Cynthia, Jenna admitted she had trust issues. They both laughed at Cynthia's response: "Don't we all girl, don't we all!"

Cynthia went on to admit that her coaching was best suited for her professional career goals, and encouragement for work life balance. She was also there as her coach to help her stay motivated on seeking and finding what would help her in her personal goals. The actual fulfillment of those goals would be best served by Jenna finding additional consultation independently, maybe in a Life Coach. She then cautiously gave a referral with this disclaimer, "I have not been a client of this person, so I can't speak from first hand knowledge, but I heard of him through personal friends. His reputation is good and that he is very serious about identifying boundaries early and that he reserves the right to drop clients at any time. I know that may be an issue for trust. He also has all clients sign legal documents related to the personal nature of his services. I would best describe it as a non-disclosure agreement. With my legal background, I don't blame him, but again I do not know the specifics and am not formally recommending him. Just a referral, for you to privately research and consider if you find merit or further interest."

Jenna's response to that was complimenting Cynthia on her legal liability and disclaimer skills and she would be happy to accept the unofficial referral with no expectation of further responsibility to her firm. "I'm pretty good at research and judging character, I selected Cox Consulting, didn't I? Look how well this is working out for us!"

When Jenna did her research on Ray Evans, he was only identified as a Life Coach. He did not have a website, and he did not have a very transparent marketing plan. Jenna thought to herself, maybe this Ray character needed her marketing consulting services more than she needed his life coaching services. He did have a phone number and email. Her google image search resulted in way too many possibilities of who he was and what he looked like, although there was one that was a former decorated military guy that just may be her considered life coach. Trust issues and vulnerability exposed, Jenna hit send on an email to him, asking for a potential meeting and description of his coaching services and fees.

At her job at Barron and Associates, Jenna was excelling. She was very happy with her newest team members, and life was good. All feedback from the CEO and board two months later was positive with continued applause for her successes and increased client base. She had considered taking a vacation, but knew that her leadership was needed through this expansion phase, so fun would have to wait. Meanwhile, she continued her yoga classes and was recently complimented by her trainer on her Warrior One pose and fitness level. She was a force to be reckoned with.

When she did not receive an immediate email response from Ray Evans, she was not impressed and thought that would be the end of his chances for her as his client. First impressions are vital to survival, as she liked to say to her subordinates. But when his reply did come, she reconsidered. It did not come with an apology, it came with an invitation to meet in person if she was still interested in his life coach services. That was it. Normally, that would have been it, and she would have rejected his offer politely, but she did not. She accepted. "After all," she thought, "I can always reject him or even fire him, I'm the client."

Why was she feeling butterflies in her stomach waiting at Bread & Chocolate on M Street NW for this mysterious Ray Evans? Why did he choose to meet at breakfast time instead of evening? Why did she accept this in-person meeting without more details on this Ray guy and his coaching skills? All these questions were in her mind as she was early again for this appointment. Ray was not. He was right on time and he picked Jenna out in time to not be considered late.

"Good morning Ms. Arnott. It's a pleasure to meet you, I am Ray Evans. Thank you so much for agreeing to meet me here today, and matching your excellent description" Ray said confidently.

"Good morning Mr. Evans, the pleasure is mine," Jenna returned politely.

Smiling with his blue eyes, Ray continued, "Mind if I join you here at your table?"

"Of course, please don't sit with anyone else," smiled Jenna back to him.

"Thank you. Have you ordered already?" Ray asked.

"No, just this orange juice. I was waiting to see if you were going to show up. This kind of has more of a feeling of a blind date than a job interview." Jenna replied jokingly.

"Blind date? Would that be good or bad Ms. Arnott?" Ray returned cautiously.

"Bad actually, as I don't usually pay for a blind date and I am considering being your employer, not your girlfriend," Jenna returned boldly.

"I see. Yes, I am not here for a blind date either, although I can understand the reference as I have not provided you a lot of details of my coaching services," replied Ray as business like as he could.

"No, you are somewhat of a mystery man, Mr. Evans," Jenna ventured.

"I like that, although I prefer an international man of mystery," replied Ray with a smirk.

"International? Are you that Mr. Evans?" responded Jenna innocently.

"If you check your email, I sent my resume for your review," said Ray pointing toward the phone in her hand.

"You did? I did not see it when I checked just a few minutes ago," replied Jenna hesitantly.

"Please check again Ms. Arnott," Ray asserted.

Jenna quickly pulled up her email and was silent for a few minutes. Ray sat quietly waiting for her and studied her reactions to what she was reading. Jenna looked up and responded, "Yes it does look like, from your resume, that you are internationally qualified, although I don't know that I need an international man of mystery as a life coach.  I stay mostly state side, except for a vacation now and then. My work keeps me pretty busy here in D.C., especially lately."

"Congratulations on your recent promotion. Barron and Associates is very proud of you, they even made a press release announcing it," returned Ray keeping eye contact with her.

"Yes they did Mr. Evans, my specialty is marketing, I hope you don't think I am too pompous, but the press release was my idea. It's good for not only my reputation, but for generating business. Clients like promoted consultants, they like being part of success. And apparently, so do potential stalkers," Jenna said breaking eye contact.

"Yes, I imagine that is true, and I am sincere in my congratulations, I would like to be part of your success too. If you are still interested in a life coach," continued Ray.

"I am still researching you Mr. Evans, and sharing your resume is a better start than just the blind meeting here at this Cafe," retorted Jenna not looking up from her phone, looking again at her emails.

"If you have not had the breakfast here Ms. Arnott, you are in for a treat, truly one of the best in the city," returned Ray casually.

"This will be my first breakfast at Bread & Chocolate Mr. Evans, thank you for this opportunity," replied Jenna, still not looking up from her phone.

"My pleasure Ms. Arnott, I am hesitant to suggest it now, but it was my intention to offer to pay for breakfast this morning," Ray said, hoping to get Jenna to look up at him again.

"You were? Why are you thinking of backing out of it then?" Jenna said as she did look up at him.

"Well, because of your comment of this feeling more like a blind date than a job interview, and you then made the statement that you are not used to paying for your blind dates. I'm thinking I may be in quicksand here, offering to pay." Ray ventured cautiously.

"Quicksand? Yes, I can see that Mr. Evans, and I do think you are, and sinking rapidly. Shall I offer you a vine to rescue you?" Jenna queried with a wide smile.

"A vine, yes please, that would be wonderful. That way you can swing it over to me and watch me climb out and not be in any danger of sinking in this yourself," returned Ray, not losing eye contact.

"I do try to stay away from quicksand Mr. Evans, it is not good for business, nor for job interviews," replied Jenna breaking eye contact again and returning to her phone and emails.

"I am sure you are right Ms. Arnott, although the vine is still appreciated. I accept full responsibility for getting myself in this quicksand. Totally my fault," replied Ray, still confident.

Jenna was then silent after that remark, and with her eyes searched for a server. Catching her eye, she motioned for her to come to the table.

"Good morning, can we have a second menu please?" Jenna asked.

"Certainly ma'am, before I go, Sir, do you want coffee or something to drink?" offered the server.

"Yes please, I'd like an orange juice," said Ray smiling at the server.

As the server walked away, Jenna looked intently at Ray, "You can pay if you want, it was your idea to meet here and I like the idea from your word that I am going to enjoy the breakfast. If it does suck, it seems only right that you pay."

"Thank you Ms. Arnott, it would be my pleasure, and I recommend the Shakshuka & Mediterranean omelette. Although anything you choose, should be delightful, I have yet to be disappointed here," returned Ray smiling through his eyes again.

"That even sounds like a recommendation from an international man of mystery. So what kind of coaching services do you offer as a life coach?" smiled Jenna with her voice in a question.

"You mean beyond breakfast recommendations? I like to customize to the needs of the client," returned Ray.

"You mean like anything I want?" laughed Jenna.

Ray smiled but stayed silent for a moment, as he looked around the cafe and then back at Jenna, "I like to think, more what you may need. From the public image of Barron and Associates, you are on top of the world, and it is your oyster. What are you looking for in a life coach?"

Jenna returned the temporary silence as she looked around the cafe, then back at Ray. "I'm not sure what I need, or even what I want for that matter. I received a stipend when I got promoted for professional and personal consulting services. With the intent that I will be physically, mentally, and emotionally healthy. I imagine, so I can continue to bring in an increased profit for Barron and Associates. Which I am very committed to do by the way. That is why I am here at eight in the morning, on an approved delayed arrival work day," After a pause she added, "I approved it."

The server returned with the menu. Ray said he already knew what he wanted to order, the Mediterranean Omelet, and Jenna, added she would like the same, and another orange juice.

After the server left again, Ray continued, "A stipend? Wow, that's a nice perk. Does Barron and Associates have any job openings for a guy with international experience?" responded Ray with interest.

"I am here representing myself, not Barron and Associates, if I do take you on as a life coach, you would be working independently for me, getting some potential payment from a portion of my stipend. What do you charge by the way?" asked Jenna, in a very business tone.

"I don't mean to sound cliche, but it depends on the client. I tend to be flexible. I care more about who I work for and what that individual client needs. Like you said, I'm like the rest of the people out there - who want to be part of success," answered Ray with a wider smile, that may have looked like a smirk.

"I think I told you my specialty is marketing, and I'm afraid Mr. Evans, you are maybe in need of a marketing coach to keep your business alive. You don't even appear to have a marketing outreach plan. How do your potential clients even know where to find you?"

"Is that like a quid pro quo offer of an exchange for each other's services? I kind of like that. It's true I could use some help in the marketing department, although I am the only employee in my company, and I have a nice retirement annuity to keep me afloat during dry spells," Ray returned in his business tone.

"Hmm, I don't know that I was necessarily offering an exchange of services, but I too kind of like the idea of that. Sounds more team oriented," responded Jenna, looking inquisitively at Ray.

"You are good with words Ms. Arnott, I noticed your use of the word team instead of partnership, but I like the idea too," returned Ray holding eye contact. He continued, "If you are willing, I offer the first month of weekly consultations at no financial cost with your return after that month of consultations, a one time marketing consultation for me. Kind of like four consultations for one. Would you agree to that?"

Jenna was quiet again, and then she reviewed her email on her phone again before responding. "I thought so, I just looked at your resume again and you do not have any real business or entrepreneur experience, its all mostly negotiations, security, and international relations. Do you even keep a ledger of expenses and pay your taxes on time?"

"Taxes?" Ray smiled through his eyes again, penetrating into Jenna's eyes. "I actually do pay taxes and have an accountant, I use a credit card for all expenses and the same bank account for any deposits and my accountant pays the taxes and keeps the ledger. I trust him and he has full access to all my business finances. I do keep a completely separate personal account with my savings and other income. It's not that big of a risk trusting him. We meet weekly to review all transactions - sometimes through the phone, and sometimes in person if I need to sign things. As far as I know I am not in the red and my business is solvent at the moment."

"A fly by the seat of his pants, international man of mystery," returned Jenna, holding his look.

"Like I said Ms. Arnott, you are good with words," Ray responded looking away from her and for the server.

"I accept," Jenny said resolutely and without further pause.

"What do you accept Ms. Arnott?" asked Ray looking back at Jenna.

"Mr. Evans, I accept receiving one consulting session a week for one month with my return obligation to provide a one-time marketing consulting session at the end of the month. I also accept you for now as my life coach, with the potential to renew negotiations for a financial agreement after that first month of services," Jenna said confidently in her closer tone.

"Agreed. I will email you a contract to review and sign to make this official," returned Ray in his closing tone.

"You know this deal can be legally off the books, and you would not even have to pay taxes if we do it that way. Just an exchange of services for that temporary time period."

"You know Ms. Arnott, I can tell you are very good at what you do. It would be my pleasure being part of your team for this initial one month trial period with a signed contract of what we have just agreed. I wish us both mutual success and a productive business relationship beyond your initial concern of a blind date. I do have a strict policy of no sexual relations with my clients, so I hope that disqualifies this breakfast from being a date. I also happily pay taxes and have no problem having our agreement legal on the books."

"You are in quicksand again Mr. Evans, but I agree to all your terms, and also agree this is not a date, blind or otherwise. Please call me Jenna from now forward," she said with a warm smile.

"Thank you, Jenna, you can call me Mr. Evans if you really want to, but you are always welcome to call me Ray.  We are going to make a good team Jenna, look how far we got before breakfast. Here comes our server with our omelets, trust me, you are going to love it," Ray said as he and Jenna accepted their breakfast at their table.



This story is protected by International Copyright Law, by the author, all rights reserved. If found posted anywhere other than with this note attached, it has been posted without my permission.

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