He may not be quite as innocent as he seems!
The flight attendant glided down the aisle, taking drink orders. “Would your wife care for a beverage?” she queried, referring to my seat companion, who was dozing.
“I don’t really know,” I responded. I didn’t correct the stewardess’s incorrect presumption of our marital status. She could be forgiven for not realizing that we were traveling from continent to continent hardly knowing one another. The truth was, I had met Britney only six days before.
I was the director of marketing for one of our country’s largest conglomerates. We had chosen to expand into the cosmetic industry, and we had made a provisional deal to acquire a noted brand name. It was privately owned, available for purchase, and we had leaped at the opportunity. We were entering the final twenty days of our due diligence examination of their company to assure ourselves that there were no unpleasant surprises. Their finances looked solid, and their U.S. operation was fine. I just needed to spend two weeks in Japan, their second-largest market, to ascertain that all was satisfactory there.
Although I was perfectly capable of evaluating the company’s marketing and advertising, I had no competency in judging the quality of their product line. Certainly, there was no one within the conglomerate with that kind of knowledge. It had not been easy to find someone with the cosmetic product expertise who could fly to Japan with me for a couple of weeks.
However, fortuitously, the beauty editor of an international fashion magazine had recently announced her retirement. The publisher had brought in an experienced editor to fill the vacancy, causing Britney, the young, talented associate beauty editor, to resign her position. The timing was perfect for me. Britney was fully knowledgeable about cosmetic and skincare products, and she was available for my two-week assignment.
When I had interviewed Britney the week before, it’d seemed to be an easy decision for each of us. I required her expertise, and she appeared to be interested in the well-paying project. Only at the end of the interview had there been any complication.
“The assignment sounds fascinating.” She had hesitated a moment, and then added, “Do I understand that you and I would be traveling together to Tokyo for two weeks?” She was pleasant, but wary. “Alone?”
I nodded. “Yes. Would that be a problem?”
“I want you to know that I’m engaged,” she said earnestly.
“Well, that makes us even. I’m married, with two darling little daughters.” It was technically correct, although my wife and I had been experiencing major marital problems, and we were planning to separate upon my return from Japan. Still, I figured that I had better not mention any of that if I wanted Britney to accept the assignment. “Britney, please don’t worry. We have an important job to do here. This trip is all about business, and nothing more.”
She paused. “I would like to discuss it with my fiancé. May I give you a final answer tomorrow?”
The following morning, she had accepted. Over the next couple of days, I made arrangements and booked appointments in Japan. Now, we were in the sky, taking the long flight from New York to Tokyo.
“I’d love a Diet Coke,” the sleepy voice next to me spoke. I had ordered a scotch, and we spent the next couple of hours getting to know each other.
Britney had graduated from Vassar with a major in art history. During the ten years since college, she’d worked in product development and product management, first at Estee Lauder, and then at Revlon before joining the magazine staff. She had not traveled since her junior year in college, which she’d spent in Florence, Italy. The opportunity to see Japan was tremendously exciting for her, she told me.
I was incredulous. This extremely attractive, fashionable New Yorker had not traveled at all during the past ten years. She shopped at Bergdorf’s and Henri Bendel, was familiar with the finest restaurants of Manhattan, and knew the city’s museums and galleries intimately. And yet, she really had very little exposure to the world.
“Why have you chosen to stay so close to home?” I asked her.
“Damon doesn’t really enjoy traveling.”
“Damon is your fiancé, I assume? How long have you two been together?”
“We’ve been engaged for eight years.”
I had never heard of an eight-year engagement. I tried not to let my astonishment show. “How does that happen? Do you live together?” I asked gingerly.
“We see each other on weekends. Damon’s a brilliant oncologist. He doesn’t want to get married until he’s fully established. What about you?”
I told her about my career, in which I’d alternated between the advertising agency world and client-side employment at marketing-oriented companies. I was only a few years older than she was, but I’d been married for ten years. Now, the marriage was ending, but I didn’t mention that to Britney. I showed her photographs of my two daughters.
“What’s your wife like?”
I described my wife, a lovely lady, a marvelous mother, and an avid and talented teacher in the suburbs. I commuted from our home in Westchester to work in New York City. I avoided telling Britney about how my wife and I had grown apart. Somehow, I felt that that would have seemed to contradict my original conversation with her. At any rate, perhaps she sensed my marital problems.
“I think loyalty is the most important thing between a man and a woman,” Britney said.
“More important than love?”
“I suspect you would add patience and perseverance to your attribute list,” I rejoined, referring to her lengthy engagement.
She laughed. “Touché.”
By the time we landed in Tokyo, we’d discussed our upcoming schedules for the next two weeks. Britney would be visiting the cosmetic company’s Japanese manufacturing operation; she would be conducting store checks at the retailers that stocked their products; and she would be interviewing Japanese consumers to the extent that language permitted. I would be spending my time at the company’s offices, and at their distributors and advertising agencies. We would each have full schedules.
Our plane touched down at Narita Airport. Britney and I were tired, well-fed, and now good friends. The cosmetics company had sent two people to collect us and our bags, and to escort us to our hotel. For the first time, it occurred to me how much they were determined that I enjoy this trip; the acquisition was very important to them.
We checked into the Hotel Okura. As I signed the registration form for our two rooms, the man behind the counter glanced quickly at Britney, then turned to me and said in a soft-spoken, dignified manner, “Perhaps you would prefer a larger, double room, sir.”
I may have hesitated imperceptibly, but I remembered well what I had committed to Britney at our very first meeting. “No, thank you. Separate rooms, please.”
Our rooms were next to one another. We each unpacked, showered, changed, and then met to explore the hotel. This would be our home for the next two weeks, and we walked a bit outside to get some fresh air and to become oriented to the Roppongi district in which the hotel was located. It wasn’t until we returned to our rooms that we discovered that there was a connecting door between them.
“I thought that registration clerk had a gleam in his eye,” Britney mused. By now, we were comfortable enough with one another to laugh at that unintended feature of our accommodations.
Exhausted, we were ready for sleep. We had appointments the next morning, Britney at the company’s manufacturing facility, and I at their business offices. So we made arrangements to have an early room service breakfast in my room, and then I wished her good night at her door.
“You could stay with me tonight, if you’d like,” I said, jokingly.
“This trip is all about business,” she reminded me. We shared a friendly hug.
At breakfast the next morning, we made plans to meet for dinner that night. Then we caught taxis for our respective destinations.
During the next few days, I had one meeting after another. As was typical of so many international companies in Japan, Japanese executives filled the cosmetics company’s senior positions, and the middle-management people were generally Americans. I spent time with each of them. I met also with the owners of the five distributor firms that were responsible for selling the company’s products in Japan. This particular company is truly an anomaly in Japan, since it is one of only a few U.S. companies that were introduced into the country prior to World War II. As a result, it is a fixture in Japanese culture, more similar to Japanese beauty brands, such as Shiseido and Kao, than to more recent American arrivals, such as Revlon.
Britney was fully occupied, as well. She spent her days talking to the production people, observing the manufacturing process, and reviewing samples of the company’s products, as well as those of their competitors.
There was one major unforeseen circumstance. Each of the company executives expected to entertain me during my stay. In their male-oriented business society, that meant that I was required to spend every night socializing with men without their wives. When I once suggested that Britney join us, the social rules of the Japanese business environment were explained to me: Britney was no welcomer than were my hosts’ wives.
To adjust to this situation, I developed an unusual schedule for each day. Britney and I would begin the mornings with room service breakfast in my room. Then we would depart for our business agendas. She and I would reconvene in the early evenings and have dinner together in one of the Roppongi restaurants. I would usually begin with a scotch, and Britney, always the nondrinker, would order a Coca Cola. We would share stories from our respective workdays over robatayaki or kaiseki or sushi, finishing with the omnipresent green-tea ice cream. We always ended with her admonition to me to behave myself in the wicked city, as I kissed her good night at the door of her hotel room.
I wasn’t pleased about indulging in two dinners each day, but I had little choice. Britney needed to be fed, and I couldn’t insult my Japanese hosts by declining their invitations. After leaving Britney, I would proceed to the lobby, meet my evening’s host, and begin that night’s socializing. We would inevitably dine at a fancy restaurant and follow with the customary drinking at a hostess bar, or, one time, at a fabled geisha bar. After a particularly heavy round of drinking one night, I was taken to a sento, a public bath, for what my host assured me was the perfect antidote to any potential hangover—a bath administered by an attractive young lady, culminating in her blow-drying and styling my hair while I was still in the tub!
Each morning, I would describe the previous night’s activities to Britney over breakfast. She usually entered my room through the interior door, and most often, her breakfast attire was the hotel-supplied, white, terrycloth robe, wrapped tightly around her. Our relationship had evolved to the point where seeing one another at breakfast and dinner was the best part of our days. However, the ground rules had been established, and morning and evening hugs and kisses were the extent of our physical relationship.
At the end of the first week, I had planned a surprise for Britney. Since we had no business scheduled over the weekend, I had arranged a three-day sightseeing trip. Late Friday afternoon, we boarded the bullet train from Tokyo to Kyoto. The train rushed through the Japanese countryside, allowing us a glimpse of majestic Mt. Fuji in the distance.
Britney was thrilled by the train trip. She had enjoyed Tokyo, despite the obligatory early endings to her evenings. Now, she was traveling through Japan to Kyoto, the country’s greatest treasure.
“This is extraordinary; I’ve never known anything like it, you know,” Britney said as we pulled into the Shin-Osaka station, a twenty-minute taxi ride from Kyoto.
“I’m glad.” I’d been feeling guilty all week about my socializing while she was confined to her hotel room. I wanted desperately to please this lovely, attractive woman.
As the taxi arrived at our hotel, I turned to Britney. “I suppose you would like us to have separate rooms here, too.” I had booked two rooms, but I had not mentioned that to her.
Her voice was soft. “I really think we should. It’s what loyalty and commitment are all about.”
For the next three days, we filled every available hour with viewing the attractions of the area: the stunning Kiyomizu and Heian Shrines, the glorious Kinkakuji and Ryoanji Temples, Kyoto’s Imperial Palace, the Nijo Castle, and a side trip to Nara, where we strolled through Nara Park and fed the deer. During the evenings, we dined leisurely, free from our weekday constraints of early, rushed dinners. We had experienced Kyoto’s beautiful sights, breathtaking architecture and gardens, and absorbed so much Japanese history, culture, and tradition.
Our train carried us back to Tokyo late Monday afternoon. “I never thought I would love a place as much as I loved Florence,” Britney said. She sipped her Coca Cola and turned to me. “You really know how to make a lady happy.”
“It’s not me; it’s the Coke,” I teased. I was feeling pretty pleased, too.
We had four more days of intensive work in Tokyo. Britney spent much of her time in the city’s enormous department stores: Isetan, Matsuya, Tobu, and Seibu. She interviewed the incredibly polite women and girls who were customers in the stores about their opinions of the cosmetic company’s cosmetic and skincare products. I visited the company’s advertising agencies. I met also with the people at the research and retail audit company, to confirm the company’s market share.
By the following Friday, we had completed our work. It had been an intense and thorough analysis. At the end of the day, Britney and I said our final farewells to our respective company contacts, as the hotel’s secretarial staff typed up Britney’s report to me.
On Saturday, I packed my things, including the silk kimonos I had purchased for my wife and daughters. Britney and I taxied to the airport, boarded our plane, and flew toward home.
Seated on the plane, we discussed our enthusiasm for the company’s Japanese operation. There could be no doubt that it would be a valuable part of the conglomerate. For some reason, the flight of more than twelve hours seemed particularly short upon our return. Perhaps it was our gaining the extra day; flying over, we had lost a day to the International Date Line, and now, we were given it back. More likely, though, it was the ease with which Britney and I related. This woman, to whom I’d been so attracted for two weeks, was now my friend. She had not only done an outstanding job on the business assignment, but she’d taught me so much about loyalty and commitment. Indeed, I realized, suddenly, that I would give my marriage another fervent try.
I reached into my briefcase and extracted the souvenir I’d intended for Britney. I gave her the Coke bottle I’d been carrying; it was covered with Japanese characters.
“Just one of a hundred you emptied,” I told her, grinning.
As we landed, she handed me a wrapped gift. After unwrapping it, I found an art book entitled: Japanese Erotic Prints Through The Centuries. The enclosed card was inscribed to me: The one area NOT covered on this trip!
Britney touched my arm. “Thank you for the experience of my life. Let me know what happens with the company.”
I assured her that I would.
I caught only a glimpse of Damon’s back at the airport before I met my wife with an embrace. That night, I told her that I thought we should give our marriage another chance. We had made a commitment to one another, I said, and we should find a way to make it work.
The middle of the next week, the president of the conglomerate, the director of finance, and I presented our purchase recommendation to the board of directors. The Board approved it, and a month later, the cosmetics company became a new division of our conglomerate.
After the Board presentation, I wandered back to my office, and, as I accessed my voicemail messages in habitual fashion, I heard the familiar voice: Britney. I listened carefully.
“It was an incredible trip. I learned so much from you—most importantly, about myself. I broke up last night with Damon, something I should’ve done long ago. I hope you call me, but, please—call only if you’re interested in a serious relationship with me.”
I took a deep breath as I looked toward the telephone. I sat for a couple of minutes. Then I headed out the door of my office and made my way to the commuter train. My wife and I were to have dinner that night, as we began our reconciliation effort.
New York is a big city, and I lost track of what happened to Britney.
That doesn’t mean I never wondered.
Taken from the September 2003 Issue of True Love Magazine