Six years later.
"Your 4 o'clock is here."
"Thanks Sandy, which room?"
The redhead looked up from her triple array of screens, saved the spreadsheet she was working on, put on her suit jacket and grabbed a leather notebook on her way to the meeting room.
When she came back, she had a thick set of documents that she handed to the blonde woman sitting across from her.
"Another one?" asked the woman known as Sandy.
"Yep. Patrick did a good sales job with the client, no surprise there, they like the product and want to get a line of credit set up immediately. Paperwork's here, could you make sure Compliance and Risk Management get copies so they can start with the due diligence immediately?" instructed the redhead.
"Choo-choo ca-choo, and the Rosenberg engine just keeps a-rolling," Sandy celebrated.
Willow sat there smiling, but the smile never reached her eyes. She continued working on the modeling program she was developing until she was interrupted by her boss.
"Willow, good job on the model and the presentation, the client's very pleased," he praised.
"Thanks Patrick," she said.
"In fact, they're so pleased they invited us out for drinks and a night out. The whole team's going," he added.
Willow frowned. "Patrick, you know I'm not very keen on these marketing events."
"They asked for you specifically, so you probably might want to change your mind. It's good for your career, to establish contacts like these. Most of the rest of the department has marketing budget but I haven't put one in for you, but there's always noises from upstairs ..." he deliberately trailed off to make a point. "It's on Monday night, we're going to a new club in Soho, ok?"
He was walking away before she had a chance to protest.
She knew this was a thinly disguised order, everyone else wined and dined with their clients except her. She didn't even have her own client list; she was an anomaly in her department, her expertise desperately needed, but she never fitted in or behaved like the others.
She was yet again the last person left on the trading floor, sliding her chair expertly back to give the cleaners room, and stripping down to her sleeveless top when the air-conditioning stopped for the night.
Just before leaving for the night, she called to check in with her partner Simon in Tokyo, who took over the desk when the markets opened that side of the world. They had never met face-to-face but he was the person she talked to and emailed the most, in turn he had become the closest thing to a friend she had at work.
"Simon, old boy, how's it looking?" she said, she could never resist doing the British accent with Simon.
"It's gonna be an exciting day, we're getting some 3Q results from the industrials today and they could swing either way, not a day to be betting on the Nikkei. And there's another faux pas committed by those politicians in Hong Kong that's all over the papers, so the HSI is wobbly too. Have you done your appraisal yet?" he said.
"God no. I'm trying to put it off as long as possible," she laughed. "Not until Patrick physically twists my arm."
"Yeah well, you can get away with it. Common and garden small potatoes like us won't get so much slack from the Green Man," Simon whined.
"Says Mr ELD himself," she smiled. Simon virtually ran the Equity Linked Derivatives desk for the Pacific Rim, while Willow looked after the Americas, and another team was based in London. Between them they were responsible for coming up with, and trading, complex financial instruments for their institutional clients. But like Willow, he was too quiet and unassuming to fight for the alpha positions on the trading floor, often letting lesser beings take the spotlight.
"And what about you, Ms Strategic Products?" he bantered.
"Okay, okay. Enough of the mutual back-slapping, you know that's not our style. Hey, onto another subject, how are the kids?" she asked sincerely.
"Benny got himself in the school play, he's playing a tree. And Mia is so talkative now, her favorite phrase nowadays is 'I do this by myself', she tries to eat and go potty by herself now," the proud father's beam could be felt even through the phone line.
"Aww, send me Benny's school play pictures please? I can add them to the website," Willow asked excitedly.
"Willow, don't you have anything better to do after spending the whole day in front of your computer than, well, spend more time in front of your computer?" Simon half-joked.
"I like doing it." To most people that remark would have sounded hypocritical, but Simon knew it was spoken from the heart of the real Willow.
"Just don't exhaust yourself, buddy. You know, if you met my wife, she'll have so much fun nagging you to get a life, including snagging yourself an eligible bachelor," he said.
"I hate to disappoint your wife ..." she replied good naturedly.
"A fella's gotta try. Listen, I have to run, the squawk box's flashing," he said.
By the time she reached home and showered it was nearly midnight. She didn't feel like eating that late, so it was an easy step into the bedroom and she was asleep in seconds.
Occasionally she even gave herself whole weekends off. Saturday she visited Union Square Market to catch the fresh food vendors, inwardly groaning at the prices, then headed down to Chinatown for her foot reflexology, or as she called it, pay-money-for-your-own-pain, session.
Two hours of silent screaming but with much lighter feet later, she hopped into a cab and headed home.
Years of living on her own had imbued an appreciation for well prepared food, she amassed a library of recipes suited for quick, single dish dining. When she had time, such as this Saturday, she would make a big pot of stew and freeze the reminder.
She alternated her weekend between working on her laptop and curling up in front of the TV, her trusted glass always within easy reach, she had plenty of ice in the freezer and her secret cabinet was well stocked. No one called, and didn't talk to anyone, it was just her, her apartment and its four walls.
It had been her way of life for several years now, if she felt any loneliness she had long ago buried it deep inside her.
She exited the cab with the others in front of a bright neon-lit club. The golden doors, the sparkly decoration, even the bouncers in immaculate tuxedos screamed glitz and glamour. The faint beat of dance music could be heard from inside.
"Welcome to the highlife, here I come," one of her team members exclaimed.
The inside of the club was equally splendiferous. Horseshoe booths of the plushest velvet in the deepest red, mahogany tables covered with leather, it seemed like the walls were covered in gold dust.
Their client greeted them and led them to seats with direct view of the multi-leveled dance floor, full of hotbodies swaying and meshing to the heavy beat. Willow managed to stay in the sidelines and away from the conversation flying around her.
She toyed with the cocktail menu and flagged down a passing waitress to make her order. What it was that she ordered exactly, she had no idea, she had merely pointed at the most colorful concoction on the page. It didn't matter, it was sure to have alcohol, and that was what she was after.
She lost count after 4 or 5, but she was feeling a little more relaxed and occasionally joined in the talk, though she stopped short of taking part in the spot-the-tittiest-tit contest that the others at her table were enthusiastically engaging in. She checked out most of the titty tits as soon as she sat down already, but none of them stirred even a modicum of interest in her. They were all the wrong shape, or size, and those that vaguely fit the bill were attached to the wrong head and body. None of them come even close to - god when will you stop.
The client returned again, bringing with him an ever cheerful man in a shiny suit and a flashy smile whom he introduced as the club owner.
"Hope you good folks are having a good time, we pride ourselves in knowing what our patrons are looking for in an establishment such as ours," said the owner. Willow blinked a few times when he was introduced, and at the sound of his voice, her suspicion grew. This guy resembled the mayor of Sunnydale way too much.
The group at the table whooped and waited eagerly for the not-so-subtle hint of what was on offer.
"First of all, you have to be prepared to squeeze yourselves in a little, because it will get somewhat cramped, that's right," he laughed as the occupants of the stalls shifted. Then with a wave of his hand he ushered in half a dozen ladies in revealing outfits and stiletto heels. "I'll leave you with your hostesses for the night. Enjoy!"
She was the only female at her table, so it wasn't surprising that she was left alone. Until one of the women gave her a friendly smile.
"Are you okay over there?" she said as she moved to the seat next to Willow.
"Oh, um, yeah," Willow stammered, trying not to squirm away.
"Sorry, the boss doesn't see past the testosterone-induced haze. Do you, like, want me to get you one of the hosts instead? We have mostly girls here, but there are boys too, they have great gym bodies, I'm sure you don't be disappointed. And lucky you, you won't need to share," she offered.
Willow wished there was a fairly large hole nearby she could disappear into. "Um, no, no thanks," she smiled weakly. "Tastes don't run in that, um, area."
The hostess was smart, she wouldn't be working there if she wasn't. "Ah. I get it. Then you need Tiesha, she's, well, let's just say you'll be satisfied with her services," she said as she attracted the attention of someone behind them.
"Listen, it's fine. I'm fine. Just on my own. Thanks," Willow squirmed at the prospect of being 'serviced'. What kind of name was Tiesha anyway? She gripped her cocktail glass more firmly, trying to hide behind it.
"Tiesha, honey. Our friend here is a wee bit lonely, perhaps you can put a smile on her face?" the ever helpful hostess said to the newcomer, who sat down on Willow's other side.
Willow gave an exasperated glare at the girl then turned to her new companion. May be if I told her politely and gave her a nice tip she'll leave me alone.
"I'm sorry, I didn't - ahhh-T -" she stopped mid-sentence.
And dropped her glass.