"Marriage is like a game of chess, except the board is flowing water, the pieces are made of smoke and no move you make will have any effect on the outcome." — Jerry Seinfeld, American comedian
“Thank you for meeting me, Sterling.” I shook his hand and then slid into the seat across from him. He had suggested a bar around the corner from his office. It was deserted but for a lone bartender watching what looked like a bowling tournament on the TV at the far end of the bar.
“I will admit, I was curious why you wanted to meet someplace neither Anna nor Colette would be likely to see us,” Sterling said. “It tells me this isn’t related to Cipher Security.”
“It is not,” I agreed. “Shall I order for you?”
Sterling shook his head. “Fred doesn’t need our business, and he’ll leave us alone unless we need him.”
“Right. Excellent.” I inhaled to continue, then hesitated. This was a surprisingly difficult conversation to have with someone who had once been a client, then an adversary, and then finally a reluctant ally. “I am concerned about Colette.”
Sterling stiffened immediately, which indicated he’d interpreted my statement badly. I tried to explain without digging a deeper hole. “As you may know, Anna and I are getting married on the twenty-first up in Rockport at her parents’ house. It will be an utterly informal affair because Anna planned it that way, and she’s worried that Colette is uncomfortable introducing her family to you under those circumstances.”
I knew I was taking a risk that Colette hadn’t told him about the wedding, but I hoped they were close enough that it had come up between them already. That his shoulders seemed to relax fractionally gave credence to my hope.
“We’ve discussed it,” Sterling said with no elaboration. I struggled with my instinct to dislike the man. Colette seemed to care for him, so I would reserve my own judgment.
I tried for a friendly expression. “Anna and I have discussed it as well. It seems to be important to Colette that there be a more formal occasion during which you and her parents meet. It’s also the kind of event that Colette enjoys planning—she’s actually quite an accomplished party planner, as I’m sure you know.” I thought about the help she’d given me when I planned to ask Anna to be my wife. Colette’s instincts had been perfect.
Sterling seemed somewhat surprised, perhaps that I understood Colette’s talents. He wasn’t inclined to contribute to the conversation, however, so I continued. “Anna and I did not plan to have the sort of formal affair at which Colette excels—honestly, there just aren’t that many people beyond family whom we assumed would want to come. So we thought we’d ask Colette to host a formal dinner for our immediate families, and we wondered whether you might be willing to allow her to host it at Gray Manor?”
My words seemed to die away in the quiet room as Sterling Gray considered me across the table. He finally seemed to come to some sort of decision. “A formal gathering is something you and Anna would appreciate?”
That was an easy question to answer. “Anna thrives on her sister’s happiness, and Colette is happiest when she can do things she loves, like planning elegant affairs. So, yes, we would very much appreciate a formal gathering planned by Colette, because it would make her happy to do it. That your introduction to Sophia and Max Collins would be perhaps more comfortable for Colette if it happened here rather than on their home turf is merely an added bonus.”
He nodded. “I will offer Colette anything at my disposal for whatever type of event she would like to plan.”
I breathed a sigh of relief. “I appreciate your support, Sterling.” I stood and held out my hand to shake his.
He took it, then threw a wave to the bartender as he accompanied me to the door of the dimly-lit, otherwise empty bar. “I appreciate you coming to me, Darius,” he said in a surprisingly friendly tone. “I know that Colette was concerned about introducing me to her parents, and I think you’re right—an event she’s planned will be an excellent showcase not only for her talents, but for her love of Anna. That just might be enough to distract her from my meeting her mother.”
I chuckled and held the door for him to pass through. “Sophia Collins is a remarkable woman. If you like her daughter, she’ll forgive you everything else.”