Sharon, for her part, didn’t really have that much time to think about the upcoming intervention. On Sunday, the president and his staff left for Tokyo, Japan. The day and a half of talks there were followed by two full and difficult days in Beijing, China, a day in Shanghai, then the party landed in New Delhi, India. While Mark did have a few meetings scheduled in New Delhi, the focus of the trip was the World Conference of Women being held that weekend. June had been scheduled to deliver the keynote speech on that Saturday morning, and Sharon was happy to see that June had already checked into the hotel when the President and his party arrived.
Still, there were several morning meetings with the Indian prime minister. Mark couldn’t help but notice as Sharon and a small Indian woman with a full round figure winked at each other during an early meeting with the prime minister and his full cabinet.
The actual reunion, however, happened in the hotel lobby where the president and his staff were staying. Mark saw Sharon slipping away from the entourage toward the same round-ish woman, and the next thing he heard was the quiet, but distinct squeals of two women greeting each other.
Sharon and the other woman finally finished hugging each other, then Sharon brought her friend over to Mark.
“Sir,” Sharon said, happily. “I would like to introduce to you one of my dearest friends in all the world, Niecy Bagdha. She was in our meetings earlier because she is the Assistant Minister of Education for the country.”
Niecy was dressed in a red sari, flecked with tiny streaks of saffron, but Mark noticed that her forehead was clear and unmarked. She pressed her palms together and bowed slightly.
“Namaste, Mr. President,” she said politely. But Mark noticed a rather irreverent gleam in her eyes.
He pressed his palms together. “Namaste, and it’s a pleasure to meet you.”
“Likewise,” Bagdha replied.
“Niecy and I went to secondary school together,” Sharon explained.
She was about to say more when Mark’s attention was pulled away by Deputy Chief of Staff Terry Barker, whose size alone made him hard to ignore. By the time Mark turned back, Sharon had pulled her friend away.
“So that’s him,” Niecy was saying to Sharon as Sharon pulled her toward the elevators.
“Don’t say it,” Sharon said.
“You’re right. He’s even more handsome in person,” Niecy said, nonetheless.
Sharon groaned. “Niece, please let’s not talk about it.”
“Why not? He’s a beautiful man. He seems very nice. And I did catch him looking your way more than once during the meeting. And it wasn’t about translating.”
Sharon glared down at her friend. “It’s not going to happen. Period. Neither of us can afford to be in a relationship now. He’s got an entire country to run.”
“And you?” Niecy’s eyes twinkled with mischief.
“Um, Niecy, he’s my boss. Can you point to where in the employee manual that it says falling in love with your boss is a good idea? I don’t think you can because we both know it’s a lousy idea. It’s a terrible idea. It’s a world-class stupid idea.”
“And methinks you doth protest too much,” Niecy giggled. She held up her hand. “But we’ll leave it there.” An elevator door opened and Niecy gently tugged Sharon on board. “Carla arrived last night and said I should bring you up soon as I could get away.”
Sharon sighed. “She’s not happy about this, is she?”
“She has conceded that she only knows your friend June by reputation.” Niecy paused. “And she said the whole intervention thing may be bringing up some past pain.”
“I’d be surprised if it didn’t,” Sharon grumbled, looking up at the display counting off the floors as they passed them.
“I’d be worried if she didn’t say so,” Niecy said. “But she’s talking about it, which is the best sign. Oh, did I tell you about our lunch together last month? We had the best time. But the poor thing, she still can’t eat even the mildest of spices.”
“Niecy, given your asbestos mouth, that’s not saying much. Even I can’t eat half the things you call mild,” Sharon snorted.
Niecy let out a small, high-pitched sound that in anyone else would qualify as a snort. The elevator doors opened at just that moment and Niecy led the way out and down the hall.
The room door was opened by a tall, slender woman, of mixed-race origins. Her hair was full and long and slightly kinky, but just a shade off of dark black. Her skin was the color of caramel and her eyes were a striking blue.
“Well, if it isn’t my tenant,” she exclaimed, then reached forward and warmly hugged Sharon.
Carla Danford was the daughter of a well-placed Connecticut lawyer and the over-achieving daughter of an Atlanta city politician. Carla’s parents had met in law school and against all odds had married, kept a solid relationship and highly successful careers, not to mention maintaining their respective social statuses among their own.
Unlike Niecy, who as the daughter of a high-ranking official in the Indian government was also a child of privilege, Carla had found her social status uncomfortable and hadn’t really seemed to come to terms with it. She and Sharon had met when the two were doing graduate work at UCLA in International Marketing. Carla had already tried medical school and law school. She stayed with International Marketing just long enough to get her degree, then threw herself into philanthropic work with a variety of Non-Governmental Organizations. Her current job was setting up a micro-loan program in Nigeria for the women in the bush areas, which was why Sharon was living in Carla’s Georgetown townhouse.
“It’s so good to see you, Carla,” Sharon said.
“And how is my place?”
“Pretty much the same as you left it,” Sharon replied. “I did add some cookware.”
“You mean the kitchen is actually getting some use?” Carla laughed. “We’d better not tell my mother. She’ll have a heart attack from the shock.”
Niecy let out a high-pitched almost snort. “You could just hire a cook, you know.”
Sharon’s phone buzzed and she looked at it. “That’s Karen. She and June are all checked in.”
“So when is this all supposed to go down?” Carla said with a deep sigh.
“We can bring up dinner at any time,” Sharon said. “Karen’s picked a movie from the hotel’s list, so we can relax first and get to know each other. Then we’ll find a way to ease into the conversation.”