Good Man, Dalton
“Chardonnay,” the flight attendant said, setting the glass down in front of Greta and smiling pleasantly.
“Thank you,” Greta whispered, pushing away the urge to ask if it was complimentary. She’d been watching, and thus far no one else had pulled out a credit card, leading her to believe alcoholic beverages were just one of the perks of flying first class.
She crossed her legs and examined the people around her. Many were in business attire, their eyes on their respective devices, as if some major transaction might go through at any moment and they needed to be ready. The couple across the aisle appeared to be married, the woman sporting a huge diamond on the hand she waved to get the flight attendant’s attention while her husband quietly sipped his bourbon.
Greta wasn’t deluding herself. She was aware that normally she’d be back in coach, most likely next to a young mother with a fussy baby. She felt like an imposter, an actor portraying the kind of person comfortable flying in the expensive seats. However, only a half an hour in the air, and she’d already decided that first class was definitely the best way to travel from Wisconsin to New York, especially since someone else was paying for it.
She sipped the wine slowly and shook her head when offered another. She did allow herself a second snack, which she tucked into her purse for later. When the hot towels were delivered, she watched the businessman next to her to see what he’d do, then copied his movements.
“Pretty luxurious,” Greta said to the man as she wiped her hands and wrists. “This is my first trip to Manhattan.”
He was a portly gentleman wearing a button-down shirt and a tie loosened at the neck. He responded after handing the towel back to the waiting attendant. “It’s a great city. It can get expensive, though. If you’re planning on shopping, I hope you brought a platinum card.”
Greta handed her towel back. “I don’t think I’ll have much time for shopping. I landed an internship at the Vanderhaven Corporation, and I’m staying with my cousin’s family.”
The man looked at her with new eyes, surprised. “The Vanderhaven Corporation?” He nodded approvingly. “Good for you, young lady. You’re off to a great start.”
She settled back into her wide, comfortable seat and closed her eyes. She could have told him so much more, but she didn’t want to sound like she was bragging. Besides, would he even believe that she was related to the Vanderhavens and would be staying with them for the summer? She herself found it hard to believe she would soon be living with Cece Vanderhaven.
Cece Vanderhaven. A distant cousin and maybe, very soon, a friend.
The businessman would have heard of Cece, of course. It was likely everyone on the plane knew of her. She was on magazine covers, and her photo was plastered all over the internet. Her social media accounts were called Cece’s World, with no last name required.
Over the years, Greta had kept a watchful eye on Cece’s images online. She knew her fascination bordered on obsession, but there was just something about Cece that kept drawing her back. Part of it was Cece’s beauty. It didn’t matter whether she was climbing out of limos at charity events or leaving a club at three in the morning; she always looked gorgeous. Always. It defied logic that someone could go through life without a hair out of place, her skin glowing and perfect. And if that wasn’t enough, her professional accomplishments were mind blowing. Cece and Greta were the same age, twenty-three, and Cece was already a big-name fashion designer with her own skin care line and signature fragrance. She’d gone to a university for one semester when she’d quit to start her own company: Firstborn Daughter, Inc.
Greta admired Cece’s quirky fashion sense. One time Cece had been photographed at a club with black lacquered chopsticks poking out of her messy bun, and the look had inexplicably started a craze. That summer Greta saw chopsticks in women’s hair seemingly everywhere—the cashier at Walgreens, girls at the mall, a host on the Today show, and models in every fashion magazine. When Cece stopped doing it, everyone else did too, because after that, it just looked passé.
When Cece announced, after a year of living on her own, that she was moving back in with her parents because nothing was more important than family, she spawned a movement of adult children flocking home to their folks. A new hashtag started trending: #FamilyReunited.
But most intriguing were Cece’s two best friends: Vance, whom she called her gay boyfriend, and Katrina, known as the girl with the megawatt smile. Katrina was also famous for her comical facial expressions and ability to find the levity in every situation. The three of them went everywhere together. The way Vance and Katrina formed a protective circle around Cece was incredible. No one got through them. Greta envied their bond. She had her own friends, of course, but not the kind who wanted to spend every waking moment with her. Those three were so close that Katrina and Vance even lived in an apartment in Cece’s building, just five floors down. “I don’t do anything without them,” Cece once said, her gaze focused off in the distance.
When Cece did speak in public, Greta noticed that her answers were cryptic. For a while, her catchphrase was “Let me in,” accompanied by a dreamy, searching sort of look. When she first started saying it, the Twitterverse went crazy. Was it sexual innuendo? A secret message to one of her many male admirers? The password to one of the clubs she frequented? Let me in. Three simple words that had everyone buzzing. As it turned out, it was the slogan for her new perfume. When the ad came out, the video went viral as everyone had an aha moment.
Greta knew there was no middle ground when it came to Cece. People either seemed to love her or hate her. Most found her endlessly fascinating. She’d mastered the art of looking dreamily mysterious.
For years, Greta’s family had received the Vanderhaven Christmas card, but it wasn’t until she was eight years old that she’d found out they were related. That year the Vanderhavens were photographed at a circus, with Cece in tights and a spangled bodysuit perched up on the trapeze, and her mother and father below, posing with clowns, a fire-eater, and a juggler. Elephants raised on hind legs framed the gathering on either side. This was before Cece’s sister, Brenna, was born, so it had been just the three of them. Greta had picked up the photo from the kitchen table and practically pressed her nose to it, staring at the glamorous little girl in the picture.
“That poor child,” her mother said, observing her interest. She was at the kitchen island, chopping vegetables for pasta primavera.
“Who?” Greta still had her eyes on the card, wondering how it would feel to be dressed in such shimmering glory, high up on the trapeze. It had to be wonderful.
“That little girl. Cece. Her mom said they’re sending her to boarding school next year because it’s just too much trouble to transport her to and from school. Security issues. I can’t even imagine.” She picked up the cutting board and slid the vegetables into a bowl. “I don’t know how a mother could do that. If you went to boarding school next year, I would miss you so much, Greta. I wouldn’t be able to stand it.”
“You know her mom?” Greta had asked incredulously.
She nodded. “Of course I know her. Deborah is my cousin.”
The story that came out was that Cece’s mom and Greta’s mom were close growing up, but then Deborah left Wisconsin and went off to New York to be a model. Within a few weeks, she’d met the extremely wealthy Harry Vanderhaven. They’d seemed like an unlikely couple: she, a young Midwestern girl; he, a ruthless businessman known to crush anyone in his path, but something clicked. They had a whirlwind romance and quickly married.
Deborah didn’t even get a chance to do much modeling, and she never returned to Wisconsin. Greta’s mom had tried to keep in touch with her, but after a while, the yearly Christmas cards were their only contact. Greta came to look forward to them every Christmas season. After Cece’s younger sister, Brenna, was born, there were four family members, of course, but the cards were just as fantastic. When Brenna was a baby, the scene showed the family unwrapping gifts, opening a box to find Brenna. Another time the family members were depicted in Santa’s workshop, helping the elves make toys. One year they all posed in formal wear, Deborah and the girls in flowing red ball gowns, the father in a tux.
When she was young, Greta had mentally inserted herself into each annual photo, trying to imagine what it would be like to live that way. She couldn’t even imagine having a life that glamorous.
After the holidays were over, Greta always asked if she could keep the card, and her mom would shrug and say yes. Her mother didn’t understand her interest. One year she’d pointed to Brenna and said, “That little girl always has such a sad-puppy look, poor thing.” Greta had been too busy looking at Cece to notice, but now that it had been pointed out, she could see that Brenna didn’t appear nearly as thrilled as her big sister. Cece gazed adoringly at the camera while Brenna’s eyes were shifted to one side, as if looking for someone in a crowd. Or searching for a way out.
Greta’s family had a Christmas card photo of their own, but it was not nearly as impressive. It was always a picture of the four of them in front of their decorated artificial tree, a glowing star up top. Her dad had started a tradition where she and her brother, Travis, each held up a sign. Greta’s always said, “We’re still the Hansens,” and her little brother’s said, “Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.” Friends and family who got their cards seemed to find the signs amusing, so every year, even though Greta thought it was somewhat lame, she played along and held up the sign. It made her father happy.
The internship with the Vanderhavens came about at the suggestion of her university adviser, Mr. Kurtz, who’d recommended a summer internship after graduation. He said, “In some job markets, a business degree from a state university won’t get you too far. The experience gained as an intern would set you apart.”
“I was going to just look for a job,” she said.
He shook his head, regarding Greta sadly. “It’s competitive out there. Doing an internship first will give you an edge and might even lead to a job, a better one than you’d get otherwise.”
“What area of business were you leaning toward?”
She shook her head. “I’m sort of keeping my options open at this point. All I know for sure is that I’d like to do something that makes the world a better place. You know, not just sales or advertising. And not retail or manufacturing or anything like that.” Greta sensed she was losing him, so she spoke more quickly. “Something that helps people. I’d like to make a difference, you know? Maybe work for a nonprofit or something . . .” Her voice trailed off as his expression deepened in disapproval.
“Right out of the gate, you might not be able to be so idealistic, especially when applying for an internship,” he said. “The important thing is to get out there and show them what you’re made of. Take some initiative, give them your ideas, do something impressive. This is the time to get yourself noticed.”
She knew he meant well, but what he didn’t know was that Greta wasn’t usually the taking-initiative type. She had opinions, of course, but found it hard to assert herself. The one exception concerned team projects at school. When a grade was on the line, she found it easy to take charge, breaking the project into parts, assigning each student a job, and checking back with each of them to make sure they had completed their tasks. In other areas of life, though, she found herself falling back and letting others take the lead. But she knew Mr. Kurtz was right. She’d never get ahead in the business world by standing back in the shadows. She mentally vowed to be less shy and more bold going forward.
“Now is the time to capitalize on your contacts,” he said, his face serious.
“My contacts?” she asked.
“Yes, Greta, contacts,” he repeated. “You know, influential people in business or leaders of charitable organizations. Surely you’ve encountered some important people in past jobs, or maybe during your volunteer work?”
She shook her head. Her volunteer work had been at an animal shelter, cleaning cages and walking dogs. Her past jobs had included a brief stint at the front desk of a local Motel 6 and, after that, working the cash register at Kohl’s department store. The discount was awesome, but she’d never met anyone noteworthy.
He said, “Surely your parents must have some contacts?”
She reflected and came up with nothing. Greta’s mother was a dental hygienist, and her dad taught eighth grade. They came home with lots of interesting stories to tell over the dinner table, but that was about it. “Not so much,” she admitted.
“Any friends of the family that could help you out?”
Mr. Kurtz glanced over her head at the clock that hung above the doorway. He tried again, this time halfheartedly, like he already knew she wouldn’t have a good answer. “Any relatives in business?”
And then, Greta remembered. “I’m related to Deborah Vanderhaven on my mother’s side.”
He perked up then and leaned forward, his eyes bright. “Deborah Vanderhaven? The wife of Harry Vanderhaven, the owner of the Vanderhaven Corporation?”
She nodded. “That’s the one.”
“Well.” He folded his arms, looking pleased. “Why didn’t you say that in the first place? Being related to the Vanderhavens is the very definition of having great contacts. Get your mother to put in a good word for you, and set something up for the summer.” He grinned. “I would say my work here is done. You’re good to go.” He beckoned toward the partially open door, and she turned to see another girl waiting in the hallway. She knew then that she’d been dismissed.
It wasn’t that easy, though. When she called home and asked for Deborah’s contact information, her mother sighed. “Why do you want it?”
Greta explained about the meeting with Mr. Kurtz, making sure to stress the importance of an outstanding internship for securing future postgraduate employment. When she’d finished, there was silence on the other end of the phone. “Mom?”
“Yes, I’m here, honey.”
“Do you think this is a bad idea?”
“No, it’s fine. I just don’t want you to get your hopes up. Deborah and I used to be as close as sisters, but then we drifted apart. I tried to keep in touch, but over the years, her end of it got to be less and less. I have an email address for her, but I haven’t used it in ages. I don’t know if it’s still good.”
“Or I could mail my résumé to her,” Greta said. “We have their address from the Christmas cards, right?”
Another pause. “The cards have a return address, but it’s not where they live,” her mother told her. “It’s the address to their attorney’s office. I guess it’s for security reasons.”
She continued. “And even if I knew their actual address, they don’t get mail delivery to their building.”
That was weird. “How do they get their mail?”
“From what I understand, they have a post office box. An assistant from the office picks it up, sorts it, and delivers the personal mail to their apartment.”
“Would my cover letter and résumé get through?
“I don’t know, Greta. But you know, life is short. You might as well go for it.”
“So you think I have a shot?”
“Honey, you always have a shot, but why don’t you try the email first?”
With those words in mind, Greta sent an email of inquiry along with her phone number.
Two hours later, her cell phone rang. She answered it to hear the voice of a very excited Deborah Vanderhaven.
“Little Greta Hansen!” She said this over and over again. “I was so excited to hear from you! Your email was an answer to my prayers! Of course we have an internship for you!”
“I’m so glad to hear that,” Greta said, trying to sound professional, even as part of her was reeling from disbelief. She took a deep breath and continued. “I know a lot of the summer intern positions have been filled already . . . ”
“Nonsense! You’re family! We wouldn’t dream of turning you down!”
Greta had always thought Deborah Vanderhaven seemed serious and unapproachable. In photos, Deborah looked stunning for a woman her age, but something about her public image was flat, lacking in personality. It was hard to reconcile that impression with the enthusiastic voice on the phone.
She said, “I appreciate it, Mrs. Vanderhaven—”
“No, no!” she protested. “Not Mrs. Vanderhaven. Call me Deborah! Or is it Aunt Deborah?” Before Greta could answer, she solved the problem herself. “No, we’re cousins, so I guess it’s just Deborah.”
“Thank you, Deborah.”
She rattled on some more about how the Vanderhaven Corporation would take good care of Greta, and of course, she would stay at their apartment. “We’ll make sure to give you an excellent letter of recommendation too!
“Just what you’d do for anyone else,” Greta said. “I don’t need preferential treatment.”
Deborah said to give her regards to Greta’s mother. “I hope you realize what a special person she is.”
“Believe me, I do. She’s the best,” Greta said sincerely.
“I hope you tell her that.”
“I do. All the time.”
Then Deborah said she had to wrap up the conversation, but not before she informed Greta that her assistant would be in touch to make all the arrangements. As promised, the assistant, Lexie, called Greta shortly thereafter and set up everything—the date of departure, the ride to the airport, the plane tickets.
“Do you know what I’ll be doing?” Greta asked.
“Doing?” Lexie sounded puzzled.
“For my internship. Which area of the company will I be working in?”
Lexie laughed. “I haven’t a clue, Greta. No one told me.”
“I guess I’ll find out when I get there,” she said.
“I guess so.” Lexie got right back to business. “Michael, the family driver, will be picking you up at the airport,” she said. “Look for a dark-haired gentleman holding a sign with your name on it near the baggage claim.”
“It won’t be Cece and her friends coming to get me?” Greta asked, half hoping.
“Oh, no,” Lexie said with a low chuckle. “You don’t want Cece picking you up. There would be a stampede.”
Greta knew that expecting Cece Vanderhaven to pick her up from the airport was unrealistic, but she had to ask. At least they’d be living together for the summer. It was going to be like a dream come true.