Tales of food, sex and friendship




Season 7, Episode 5

August 21, 2012


There was a knock at the front door. “I’ll see you guys in a few hours,” Willow called to the others, receiving a chorus of “goodbyes” and “goodlucks” from towards the back of the house.

She  hummed to herself as she ambled towards the front door, glancing in the mirror on the way through, tucking a stray strand of hair behind her ear and smoothing her silk blouse. It was a big day today and she wanted to look groomed. Professional. Ana had lent Willow a gorgeous navy light woollen suit and had done her hair and makeup. To complete the outfit, Willow had put on a pair of heels for the first time in… she didn’t even know how long. She felt a bit like a little kid playing grown-up – after all, what did she know about the big wide world of commerce? – but she held her head up high as she pulled the door open, a bright smile on her face.

“Wow, you look great,” Fred said. “I should have made more of an effort, huh?”

Willow glanced down at his loose fitting jeans and too-big sweatshirt. Seriously? That was what he was going to wear to a meeting with the bank?

“It’s fine,” she said, trying not to let the disappointment show on her face. She wondered momentarily if he actually owned any other clothes. “I’m probably a bit overdressed.”

“I’ve never been very good at clothes and fashion and stuff,” he said, as Willow closed the door behind her and they walked to his car.

“I’m a bit nervous,” Willow laughed as she did her seat belt up.

“Don’t be,” Fred said with confidence. “The numbers are totally solid. I think we’re in with a really good chance.”

Willow nodded. Fred was right. In fact, he’d been right about a lot of things. Ever since they had met a couple of weeks ago, it had been all systems go for the new business partners. Thanks to Fred’s many years experience working in the hospitality industry, they had drawn up an exceptional budget and business plan. The numbers were good. Even if they did the minimum amount of business that they had anticipated, they would still be able to pay off the loan in a couple of years at the most. And that was worst case scenario.

Willow glanced sideways at Fred’s profile as he drove, wondering again why she hadn’t told him about her inheritance from Robert. If nothing else, it might have saved her mounting stress about their meeting with the bank. Initially, Willow had assumed she would use it to start the business, but then Fred started talking about loans and all kinds of other financial mumbo-jumbo, and Willow realised that she might not need to touch Robert’s money after all. Well, not much of it anyway. She’d need a small amount – about two hundred thousand – to match Fred’s initial startup costs, but the the bank would finance the rest and they’d pay it off over time. It solved the visa issue too, as Fred could sponsor Willow through the business.

“It’s far less risky than investing all the money ourselves,” he said. “Besides, it’s not like either of us have half a million dollars just floating around, is it?”

Willow had laughed, but hadn’t said anything.

***

A woman in about her mid-forties walked into the bank’s customer waiting area.

“Willow? Frederick? I’m Marjorie,” she said, holding out her manicured hand in a limp handshake. Her eyes flickered over Fred’s outfit, her lips pinching slightly in distaste. “If you’d like to come into my office?”

Willow and Fred followed her without a word into the small, airless glass cubicle. She closed the door behind them and offered them a seat.

“Lets have a look at what you’ve got,” she said, holding out a hand for the file Willow was clutching.

She flicked through the spreadsheets, spending no longer than a couple of seconds on each of the pages that Willow and Fred had spent hours and hours preparing. Willow sat in tense silence barely even daring to breathe.

“I’m sorry,” Marjorie said. “But I can’t offer you a loan at this time.”

There was a few seconds of silence.

“Why not?” Willow said eventually.

Marjorie shrugged. “It’s too much of a risk.”

“A risk?” said Willow. “But, the numbers are solid! Just take another look at the…”

“I’ve seen enough.” Marjorie said, cutting her off. She folded her hands over each other and rested them on the desk, her eyes not wavering from Willow’s.

“Isn’t there someone else we could talk to?” Willow said.

“My decision is final.”

“But what about…”

Fred put his had on Willow’s arm. “Let’s go,” he said gently.

Willow stood up and took the folder of papers from Marjorie’s outstretched hand.

***

“She was a total bitch!” Willow said angrily as soon as they were outside.

“She was just doing her job,” Fred said gently. He steered Willow into a cafe that was next to the bank.

“She didn’t even look at the work that we did,” Willow exclaimed in disgust. “She didn’t read any of this.” She dumped the folder containing the precious paperwork on a table and collapsed into the chair, folding her arms across her chest.

“I guess she knows what she’s looking for,” Fred said. “And we weren’t it.”

“I just can’t believe there was no one else we could speak to about it,” said Willow.

“That’s the way the banks work over here, I’m afraid.”

Willow exhaled loudly. “We could have fought for it a bit more.”

“We don’t want to burn our bridges though. What if we need them further down the track?”

“Couldn’t we try another bank?” said Willow suddenly.

“They’ll all say the same thing,” Frank said. “Everyone is being cautious. What with the way the economy has been, the sub-prime crisis, unemployment. No one wants to back a losing horse.”

Willow sighed. He was probably right. She’d read similar things in the paper. “But we’re a winning horse,” she mumbled, crossly.

Fred smiled sadly. “That we are. Now, can I get you a cup of tea?”

Willow watched Fred as he stood at the counter, shoulders hunched. She felt so sorry for the guy. This was the last thing he needed, after his wife leaving him for his best friend. Like Willow, he’d come to San Francisco for a fresh start, but he’d seemed to have setback after setback. Perhaps it’s time I came clean, Willow thought. Do us both a favour.

“I guess it’s back to the drawing board,” Fred said sadly when he reappeared with the tea. “We’ll have to start looking at private investors.”

Willow took a deep breath. “Not necessarily,” she said.

“Oh?” Fred looked puzzled.

“I haven’t been exactly forthcoming with you,” Willow said. She took a deep breath. “The thing is Fred, I have money.”

Fred still looked puzzled. “I know. We discussed this. We both have the initial startup investment. But we are going to need close to a million dollars to really get this thing rolling.”

Willow shook her head. “No, I mean, I have enough money to finance the whole thing.”

Fred’s eyes opened wide in surprise. “To finance the whole thing?”

“I’m sorry I didn’t tell you,” Willow said. “I’m not sure why I didn’t.”

“You didn’t know me at all,” Fred said. “You didn’t know if you could trust me, I suppose.”

Willow nodded slowly. She tried to gauge Fred’s response, to see if he was angry or upset, but he didn’t seem to be at all.

“I know I can trust you now,” she said. “So I’d like to invest the full amount of money to get us going.”

“Well, hang on,” Fred said, looking slightly panicked. “I mean, don’t you want to think about this? This isn’t a decision you just… rush into. There are still other options we haven’t tried.”

“I have thought about it,” Willow said. “And like you said, people are being very cautious about what they invest in. It might be months before we get an investor interested.”

“Shouldn’t you talk to your friends about it? I wouldn’t want them thinking that I was taking you for a ride, or something,” he said anxiously.

Willow laughed. “I’m the one who suggested it. Besides, no one could think that about you, Fred.”

Fred shrugged. “Still, it would make me feel better about it.” He picked up his mug and blew across the top before he took a sip of tea. “But I still think we should exhaust our other options. This is a business. Fifty-fifty is what we agreed on.”

Willow nodded, amused. “If it would make you more comfortable I’ll sleep on it and talk to my friends.”

A look of relief crossed his face. Willow shook her head and smiled as she watched him take another sip of his tea, lost in thought. He was such a funny man. Earnest,  hardworking and honest; the type of guy that you’d call on if you ever needed help. She liked him a lot – not in a romantic way; she just knew that he was one of the good people.

“Can I ask you something?” he said tentatively, looking up from his tea.

“Of course.”

“I don’t mean to pry, but …” he paused. “How do you have that much money?”

Willow smiled slightly. It was time to tell him. She leaned forward and recounted the whole story, managing to hold back the tears. She knew deep down that Robert would have liked this funny man. She knew that Robert would have supported her decision unequivocally. Like her, he would have trusted Fred with everything.

***