“What do you have to say to your critics?” - Tyler Harrison
I take back just about all of my thoughts about Ophelia being terrible. She’s nothing compared to agents.
As Penelope Ward sashays out of my office, I wonder if they all go to the same school or something, judging from the fact that they are all pretty similar. I get that they all want the best for their clients, and that includes the sweetest contract possible so that their four percent is a grand enough sum, but that doesn’t mean that I have to enjoy anything about them.
In times like these, it’s easy to tell that I’m still new to this. I initially thought that it ended at a set salary, and had no idea about bonuses and so forth. Wes may have mentioned it, but I’ve been a bit overwhelmed as of late and most likely forgot. If he’d have been here, instead of on leave due to illness, he could have gone over it all with me again just before the first agent had arrived.
I skim Ms Ward’s list of demands once more. As impossible as it is to get a clean sheet in quidditch, she still wants a bonus in place in the event that Finn manages one. I suppose that it’s reasonable enough. Anybody who can keep a professional team from scoring deserves it. Even our previous team managed to score at least a goal a game. Though, without Barry, we may have handed plenty of Keepers clean sheets, now that I think about it.
The agent parade, as I’ve come to call it, lasts throughout the week. When I’ve seen the back of the last one (I hope), I slip my aching feet from my shoes and curl my toes into the plush carpet.
Man, has this ever been hectic. And people like Ophelia think being ‘just an owner’ is easy. While I have individuals about to handle almost everything, nothing gets okayed without my consent. I have papers to go over, meetings to lead, notes to dictate, documents to sign off on, and that’s not even the half of it. I’ve become very good at saying the word no too.
I slide a heavy eyelid upward to see Kelice, my assistant, standing behind the desk.
“Mr Harrison has arrived for the interview.”
My brain attempts to make sense of her words. “What interview?”
Kelice blinks behind her wire-framed glasses, then uses her finger to shove them back up the bridge of her nose. She flips a few pages on her clipboard, and taps her banana-yellow quill against the page she’s viewing. Her foot is going a mile a minute as she stands there, something I’ve come to attribute with her being flustered.
“The one with Tyler Harrison from World Quidditch magazine. He owled last week about an interview, and you said that today would be okay. I reminded you about it yesterday.”
I fully open my eyes, lean forward, and place my head in my hands. She had. I’ve become so forgetful as of late that it’s not even amusing anymore.
“Two minutes, and then you can send him in.”
As soon as the door closes behind her, I dig around my handbag for the pocket mirror I’ve begun to carry with me. After a quick check of my appearance to ensure that I look alive, I touch up the colour on my lips and stand.
I really don’t want to do this, but those within the organisation think that interviews are a good idea. The media still doesn’t have a full idea about me and my aims, and the articles are still saturated with what others have to say. Others being mainly Artie Stein, who I’m starting to think has a crush on me. The man doesn’t feel good unless my name is leaving his mouth. I’ve gone from cringing at what he has to say, to slightly flattered that he cares so much. And as Antonin says, he’s keeping the Arrows relevant whether he realises or not.
Tyler Harrison enters looking as if he’s walked off the cover of one of those magazines women read while their items are being rung up. Well dressed in a black suit and matching shoes, he’s wearing this smile that I’m sure makes him a contender for one of Witch Weekly’s awards.
“Ms Collins, it’s a pleasure to finally meet you.”
His voice has my eyes expanding slightly. He sounds like one of those guys that narrates those true crime pieces on Muggle telly. Not at all what I was expecting when he opened his mouth.
I respond in kind and invite him to sit. He does, and I ask if he’d like anything, to which he declines. When I take my place behind the desk, we go through the usual formalities before he begins the questioning.
“It came as a shock to many when you were announced as the new owner of the Arrows. Let’s face it, Ms Collins. You’re young, have no experience, and to many, have no place in this League. What do you have to say to your critics?”
Just jump right in there, Harrison. I twist my fingers beneath the desk. “I’ll see you on game day.”
He smiles. “A very political answer. Some of the other owners haven’t been so kind.”
“I’m not other owners, Mr Harrison. They’re free to say whatever they want while I work at building a team that’s going to rise above theirs during the season.”
“So you think you’ve put together a winning unit?”
“I have no doubt about that,” I say confidently as his quill zooms of it’s own accord across the parchment hovering next to him. “And it helps that I’ve found someone very capable of leading them to victory.”
He nods, and we discuss Oliver and the coaching staff for a few minutes.
“Your past, Ms Collins.” I was wondering if he’d get to that, and lace my fingers atop my thighs. “It’s been heavily examined since you’ve taken up ownership.”
I nod, but say nothing.
“Do you regret it?”
“Not one singular moment.” Well, aside from my marriage, but I’m sure he’s not talking about that.
“Your time spent as Howlmate of the year is a cause for concern of many readers. In fact, some of our readers happen to be Arrows supporters. Many have written to say that they won’t be attending the games because the team’s now being run by someone lacking in taste.” Ouch. “Any thoughts on that?”
“I’m sorry that they feel that way, but I’m hoping that they can eventually look past my modelling days and examine what I’m doing with this franchise. I have the Arrows best interests at heart, and my only concern is seeing this team succeed. Maybe they can remember why they love the Arrows, and why they love this game, and ignore who’s sitting in the front office. At the end of the day, it shouldn’t matter who owns the team, as long as they do the job properly and with honesty.”
Wow, I sound like a politician, but I honestly don’t know what the deal about my previous career is. The spreads were all in good taste, and I’ve never exposed anything or posed for tacky pictures. But I suppose some can’t look past the fact that their husbands keep a copy of the magazine at the bottom of his pants drawer.
We spend the next half hour or so going over my aims and aspirations as far as the team’s concerned, before he wraps up.
“Are you single, Ms Collins?”
I blink. “Excuse me?”
He flashes that smile again. “It’s for the article. A few readers would like to know.”
“Tell those readers to buy a ticket and see if anyone’s holding my hand in the box.”
Blue eyes seem to twinkle at my response, and he packs away the parchment and quill. “Thanks for allowing me to take up a bit of your time.”
I stand as he does. “It wasn’t a problem.”
He hesitates near the door. “We’ll owl you a copy of the magazine that contains this interview sometime within the next week. Good day, Ms Collins.”
“Same to you.”
I lean against the closed door once it’s only me that remains, and close my eyes. Something tells me that Harrison went a bit easy on me, believe it or not. I’ve read a few of his articles, and he’s one of those no-nonsense, hit them where it hurts journalists. In any case, I hope that this whole thing helps in some way. The team shouldn’t suffer for whatever I once did.
Finn Crosby is the first to arrive and scrawl his name on the dotted line. While he travelled without his family, he only plans to use the dwellings we’ve provided until he gets settled and can find a suitable place for them all to live in. And get this. He has six-year-old quintuplets. I’ve always thought that one child, if any child, is enough. I can’t fathom having to care for five kids in one go, but to each their own.
“Can’t wait to work with Wood again,” he says. I detect a slight Australian accent. “He was always my favourite Manager.”
I love his enthusiasm. He started running and flying drills almost immediately, despite the fact that practices hadn’t begun yet. I can tell why Oliver’s his favourite; they’re pretty much two peas in a pod.
Colton and Melina settle in over the next couple of days. Max has been working closely with the latter, who seems excited at the prospect of starting. Apparently, she’d been on a team loaded with stars, so getting her shot wasn’t about to happen in the near future. She has no need to worry about that here. As long as she’s able to run the plays and work out a system of communicating with the others while in the air, there shouldn’t be a problem.
As soon as the team’s together, Oliver gives them a really long speech on what’s expected from them on the pitch, and how they are to conduct themselves off of it. While he understands that they are all adults, he doesn’t want them to appear in the mags for unfavourable actions that has the team looking bad.
“I’m not your Mum,” he says as he paces in front of a board with an animated diagram. “But know your limits. If you show up to practice and can’t perform because of a previous night’s indulgence, you’re risking riding the bench until you can exhibit proper conduct. If you miss a practice without a proper excuse, you’ll be fined. Understood?”
There’s a general murmuring, to which Oliver nods. I tune him out as he continues, and it appears that a couple people are doing the same. Colton’s tracking the path of a fly on the wall, Genevieve has her elbows propped on her knees as she stares at Oliver intently and soaks up every word, while Finn is over in the corner, leaning against the wall with a grin on his face. It’s one of those expressions that seem to say ‘Same old Oliver’.
Oliver claps his hands, and everyone piles out onto the pitch. Surprisingly, he sets them laps. Melina turns to Max and says something very quickly in the tongue she’s most accustomed to. Max answers, to which Melina shrugs and joins the others as they track the perimeter.
“Why does he have them running?” I question.
Quidditch is played up in the air, and you don’t really need your legs aside from being able to stay on the broom. I’ve heard that Beaters need strong legs because they sometimes have to remove their hands from the broom altogether, but I don’t see why this is necessary for the others.
“Oliver says it’s to build endurance,” Max says, as she begins jogging backwards. “I say that it improves character and keeps them humble.”
I watch as she sets off around the pitch after the players. Oliver is right there along with them, nearer to Finn who is at the front of the pack. Melina lags behind, and soon enough, she’s got her hands planted on her knees and is taking deep breaths. She hasn’t even made it halfway around, so maybe there is something to this whole endurance thing.
I never exercise. Aside from all the walking I do, I’ve never done anything really heavy duty, so I can only imagine what it must feel like. I’d probably be right there alongside her. Only I’d be collapsed on the dirt and in need of a mediwitch.
Once the laps are complete (Melina never finished, but Max says that with frequent practices, she’ll get there eventually), Oliver has them rise up into the air where he tests their reaction times by passing the quaffle around. Melina drops the quaffle a few times, but eventually she gets the hang of it. I wonder if it’s the language barrier, her not playing much, or a combination of both. All that time on the bench would definitely make a person rusty.
After a few more tests, Oliver calls it a day and sets the team individual exercises based on their performances that day. He sets a day next week for the first official practice, but he plans to meet with each of them over the next few days.
I honestly can’t wait for practice. I really want to see how these guys play together, especially if there’s a chance that I’ll need to acquire someone else. The window isn’t endless, and I don’t want to encounter problems because we waited too long.
Practice doesn’t go as well as I had hoped.
As soon as it gets underway, I realise that Oliver really has his work cut out for him. I can’t see his face, but it probably mirrors mine. While the Beaters are working well together, the Keeper’s on point, and Genevieve is being Genevieve, the Chasers are out of sync. Melina is constantly confused, and Colton keeps hogging the quaffle. I get it. He’s worth a lot for his age, and knows how to score consistently. This isn’t a one man sport though, and he’ll get into trouble when opposing Beaters aim a bludger good and proper at him. Our Beaters won’t be able to bat away every ball that comes his way, no matter their want to.
“Barry’s open. Pass it!”
Max’s voice sounds all the way over here, and it’s one laced with frustration. I can tell that she wants to bat a bludger his way just for the hell of it. Instead of passing as instructed though, he tries to score himself, only to be blocked out by Finn.
“Levesque! Get over here.”
The cocky Chaser floats carelessly Oliver’s way. I can’t hear what he’s telling him, but if Oliver’s hand motions are any indication, he’s properly laying into him.
It doesn’t help, and Max becomes so annoyed that she sends him to run laps and subs in Henderson. His attitude better get sorted out quick, I think, as I watch him chuck his broom and head toward the tunnel. These players weren’t submitted to trials (even then he may have cooperated to look good), and are already signed to contracts. His is the biggest of the main seven, and I won’t have him sitting around doing nothing aside from breathing and being a diva while still earning.
You’d think some people would love nothing more than making a good impression. No one likes a player who is difficult to work with, but he’s apparently missing the plot.
The practice disintegrates shortly after. As everyone heads to the showers, Max joins me in the stands.
“I think Levesque’s not too pleased to be here,” she says, chin on her fist.
“Think that’s the reason he’s being so difficult?”
“Could be,” Max says slowly. “I’ve seen him play before. He’s not usually so stingy.”
I twist my hair with both hands and think over her words. Lack of interest with being on the team could be the reason for his poor behaviour, but that doesn’t exactly make it excusable. Even if the Arrows aren’t a person’s first choice, taking the team to the top should be their number one priority. Don’t want to play for a losing team? Then do your best to make it a winning team. That should be simple enough.
I let Max know that I’ll talk to him. I aim to make this transition as smooth as possible, and plan to give him a little bit of time to sort himself out mentally. If there isn’t improvement... Well, I’ll just as well not think of that.
It’s not easy, and it doesn’t happen overnight, but I manage to get to the root of the problem where Levesque is concerned. Almost immediately after he told his longterm girlfriend that he was being transferred, she broke up with him. She had no plans to leave Winnipeg, and also had no want to have a long distance relationship. She was the one, according to him, so it’s hitting him pretty hard.
As much as I want him to push the issue aside and just do what he’s being paid for, I can understand what he’s going through. New country, new teammates, no family and no friends nearby. It’s the ugly aspect of the game, being transferred. Some are lucky enough to have a support system, while some aren’t as affected due to an ability to separate personal from professional.
I find myself in a bit of a pickle as I try to decide what to do. Should I be compassionate and let him work this out? Or should I consider what I have to lose if I don’t get a proper team together. We have six preseason matches to be ready for, and the first is scheduled for mid-July, which is just a few weeks from now. While Oliver doesn’t plan to play the full team in all of them, one never knows what will happen in a moment’s notice. So there’s no better thing than being prepared.
“Bench him if he can’t push his personal problems aside,” Max says when I consult her about the problem. She pauses in a sit-up, arms crossed in front of her, and looks me right in the eye. “It may sound cold, but you’re the owner, not a bloody counselor. And my shoulders are not for crying on, unfortunately.”
She may be right.
“I can always start Henderson,” says Oliver as he plants a leg on a nearby bench. He’s shirtless after his run, and I can’t believe how in shape he is for someone over fifty. It almost has me regretting that extra deep-fried doughnut I had with dinner the night before. Almost. “He’s not as ready as I’d like, and he has a few problems with dodging bludgers, but...”
But despite us possibly having to work on if-push-comes-to-shove mode, it would still be better to have Levesque. I run my hands through my hair in frustration. I wish I had a fairy godmother who could make this situation all better. I learned a long time ago to pull on my big girl knickers and deal with the situations that land on my lap though, so this shouldn’t be any different.
When I call him into my office a couple days later, I’m still uncertain about what I should do. He walks in looking all dejected, but I straighten my backbone and try to a channel a bit of Artie Stein. If I’m too sympathetic, they’ll walk all over me, and I can’t have that.
“Do you want to play?” I start off with.
He drags his fingernails across his stubbled cheek. “I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t want to.”
“Will you be able to leave your problems at the door?”
The hand that had come to a rest near his ear, now crawls to the back of his head as he takes a deep breath. “I’ll try my best.”
“Good.” I pause. “Can I be frank with you, Levesque?”
He seems hesitant, but then nods.
“She’s a bit of an idiot.” He frowns at my words, but I go on anyway. “If she can give you up just because she doesn’t want to relocate, she’ll have given you up for lesser reasons. I know it’s hard not to beat yourself up when you feel like you lost someone you really cared about through a fault of your own, but you have to look on the brightside. You have your health, you have your career, and there’s an ocean of women more deserving of a guy like yourself. She did you a favour by allowing you to find the right one.”
Check me out giving advice as if I’ve had success in the romance department.
He says nothing, but I can tell that he’s doubtful.
“You can leave.” He stands, but before he can exit, I add, “But, Levesque. If there’s no improvement, I’ll be forced to have Oliver bench you. And I'm sure you don't want a reputation around the League of being difficult to work it.”
He nods and walks through the door. Once it’s closed behind him, I drop my head onto the desk. Each day this job gets more tedious, and that’s with the season having not even started yet. I shudder to think about just what lays ahead.
Hello. In the next chapter, there'll be a dash of Ophelia, a sprinkle of Roxanne, and hopefully a double shot of twins.
Thanks for reading!