Saturday, July 9, 2016

Chapter 23: Outside Looking In



MORE OF SOMETHING MORE,
a story about a salesman trying to establish himself,
 a CEO scheming to buy out his father's influence
                                                and the woman important to each
                                      

                                                                       23
            
      Atom Green glared at the phone then dropped onto the sofa of his Manhattan Beach condo. Since resigning from Slade, he had not tried for another sales position and was consumed by thoughts of Helen, who had said she wanted to keep on seeing him. Her unwillingness or inability to respond -- he wasn’t sure which-- created a kind of panic, forcing him to confront the fear of being on the outside looking in. His time working in the background at the restaurant compelled him now to seek the main event and the greatest prize. At Slade he enjoyed the status of top salesman, the competitive camaraderie of the agents and the out-sized bonuses. The meta of Helen encompassed them all; she was the greatest prize.
       He changed into slacks, white shirt and blue blazer, then inspected himself in the mirror. He brushed back his quill-like black hair and flashed a smile that competed with the bright shirt and conveyed the electric exuberance that charmed others. Confidence recharged, he left for the drive downtown.
     After parking his Mercedes coupe in a lot a block from the Wayfare, he walked quickly to the hotel and through the lobby to the elevator where he keyed in the code.
     The smell of smoke should have been a warning, as well the dark figure propped at the end of the corridor. Intent on his mission he continued to the door and pressed the buzzer. The figure became animate and approached. “You’re not allowed,” it said and grabbed him by the collar just as the door opened. Helen peeked out. “Bill! What are you doing?” The chauffeur stunned Atom with a rap to the back of the head and dragged him to the elevator. Helen followed, pulling at his black tunic. “Stop!”
      He felt momentary pleasure at seeing Helen amid the distress of being manhandled. Though he was six feet and toned, the other man was larger and apparently used to hauling heavy loads. He twisted and flailed as Bill pressed the button and blocked out Helen. When the elevator opened, he threw him in. “You’re not allowed.” And then the doors closed.                                                     
      Back in the car, his phone lit up and HELEN flashed on the screen accompanied by a chiming bell. She apologized, and said she didn’t know why Bill was in the hall. He insisted that they meet. 
     “There’s something I need to finish first.”
     “The wedding?”
     “Partly. Don’t try to see me until I call you. Promise." 
     The call was as brief as the encounter in the hallway. Thoughts of the wedding filled him with dread. He and Dave Forester traded places at the top of the sales chart and a friendly rivalry had developed, so much so that he was to be in the wedding party. Slade’s hostility quashed that. Dave was embarrassed, but his family was friends with Slade’s family and had the closer bond.
      Having the CEO of the company host your wedding would seem to confer a guarantee of success personally and professionally, and he dreamt of such a benediction. Now all he could think of was Helen with Slade at a wedding. Slade had the power to damn and to bless and held Helen in his thrall. His mind contorted to deny the converging associations. He needed to be present to prevent the unimaginable, but would have to sneak into the Palisades mansion and go undetected.
     He searched his phone for the number of someone who was possibly more excited about the wedding than even the bride or groom. Lola McIntyre picked up on the first ring, and he explained the situation. She was on board, enthusiastically, but he cautioned her. “Don’t tell Slade or anyone close to him. You know who I’m talking about.” She agreed and promised to get back to him. It was a risk he had to take. Lola had helped him connect with Helen the first time and was always ready for a thrill. The hitch was her workplace boyfriend: Bill.

                       

 The next chapter will be posted by August 21..
 The characters and events in this story are fictitious and do not represent any living person or real event.     
    

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Chapter 22: Now You See

MORE OF SOMETHING MORE,
a story about a salesman trying to establish himself,
 a CEO scheming to buy out his father's influence
                                              and the woman important to each 


 
                                                                      22


      Chairman Graham Slade sat hunched behind the desk in his home office, phone to his ear, listening to the man he engaged to infiltrate the company.
      The spy had seemed younger than graying hair and experience should allow due to a marathon runner physique. His thick glasses, though, spoke to years of parsing contractual fine print, determining intent and crafting solutions. The chairman had not warmed to his impish grin, which served to invite intimate conversation from people shouldering lesser burdens. Clayton Clamp had the requisite skills, and now was delivering the goods. He reported that the CEO had amassed a bloc of new investors, which he’d spring on the board of directors and then demand its expansion. With new allies in place, he’d pursue a unitary leadership.
     The chairman couldn’t blame a CEO for wanting what he himself had for thirty years. He could fault him for treating employees like fungible items on a spreadsheet to shuffle or fire without regard for the impact. The intelligence, though, was stale.
     “I need something to derail him.” As Graham listened to the response, Rhea came through the door carrying a silver tray with coffee and toast and a red rose in a pewter vessel. “Make it concrete.”  He hung up and ran a hand over his crew cut hair, then joined her at the table beside the window that overlooked a lagoon.
     “Are we getting a new patio?”
     “Board business.”
     “Stephen?”
     “The company and CEO are board business.”
     “Family business, too. He’s your son.”
       He bit into the toast and sipped his coffee, gazing at his companion who looked smart in a ribbed white turtleneck sweater that contrasted with steely gray hair. She made him feel young. Her hazel eyes met his blue ones.
     “Don’t harm his future.”
     “He can float away under a golden parachute, and take his contacts and pedigree—my contribution—elsewhere. Or, he can find a dark corner and suck his thumb.”
     “If it’s hard on him, it will affect Delfina and the boys.”
     “He’ll land on his feet and walk away.”
    “We might lose them forever.” She looked out the window on the sunny Southern California day. He searched for the right words.
     “There’s a woman fairly new to the company, his assistant who works very closely. I can guess at her game.”
      She stiffened. “Delfina complains he doesn’t spend enough time with them. I pray it’s not true.”
     “Now you see.”
     “I can’t bear them knowing.” She reached her hand across the table to touch his.
     “Tell her not to bring them to the wedding.”
     “What a shame. I remember Stephen watching you address an audience. It captured his complete attention, and made him wonder how his father, who tells him to stand up straight, could speak to hundreds of people who actually listen. They have some understanding what it means to be CEO, but a ceremony demonstrates the reality.”
     He drew back his hand. She held on. “What are we going to do?”
     “He needs to be made so toxic the board has to let him go.”
     “The assistant?”
      “He could be in violation of SEC rules, but that lacks punch. Sex, on the other hand, captures the imagination.”
      She pleaded. “Graham, the family.”
      “There are ways to keep things quiet, dependant on what he does. He sets his own direction, which will suggest the remedy.”
     She released him and her eyes expanded as if to encompass their lives. “I used to be so proud, too, watching you speak and everyone together and their growing families. I don’t understand why it’s different now.”
     “We were all on the same page. Nowadays, we’re presented with a slew of options and are scattershot pursing them. Stephen’s mistake is to want it all for himself, to make himself the big man. He acts like a guy on the street big-talking his way into the confidence of others, the kind of guy who boasts about his gambling wins and hides his losses. Huge, he says, but subtract his losers and I guarantee they’re much smaller.”
      “That’s not Stephen! You’re talking about someone else.”
      “He can charm in person, but sometimes a salesman starts believing his pitch, and does anything to close the deal. He thinks he’s coming out ahead but bleeds red. In time, Stephen will realize the image he projects.”
      She went over to hug him from behind. “You better be right.”


The next chapter will be posted by July 17..
 The characters and events in this story are fictitious and do not represent any living person or real event.     
            

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Parby G


    The One California pulled away to cross Presidio towards the Embarcadero as we settled into our seats and took the measure of our neighbors. I was in the last row beside the window, a vacant seat away from a younger, smaller man. A vacant seat past him sat a middle-aged woman. Asian riders dominated.
    Across the aisle a woman with severe bangs faced backwards. Age spots belied the bangs and her timid cheerful smile. On this side sat a girl with long black hair. Between us in one of two forward-facing seats a young man wore a gray watch cap and white ear buds. 
     Conversations buzzed but did not attract particular attention. Passing sights beneath the overcast sky measured our progress. An old man boarded wearing a brown jacket and white cap with corporate logo. Eyes within his jowly face conveyed energetic curiosity. He sat beside Watch Cap.
     More riders boarded, the last having to stand, including a blonde in blue hospital scrubs and sneakers. Her employee pass read “Parby, G.” Old Man caught her eye then rose into a crouch, twisting back as if to move to my row. He stopped and looked to Parby who turned away.
     When the gallant stood anyway and she took his seat the middle-aged woman let loose a volley of Chinese. Monosyllables rolled through the bus, twisting, turning accusations that ended in English: “Molest me.” Her rant did not dislodge anyone. Smiling Woman retained her smile. Girl tried not to look. Watch Cap took out a bud and said, “You should have these.” Parby nodded.
     Old Man confirmed himself the target, directing a torrent of Chinese back at Angry Woman, his words a toothless bark with English of his own: “Sexual harassment.” I did not comprehend. Her rant was continuous. He let off then began again: “You don’t know. I have a million dollars in the bank.” Heads turned.
     “Why don’t you take a taxi then!”
     Old Man, standing near the middle exit, produced a wallet and extracted ten and twenty. He waved them. “You don’t know.”
    They traded words as the One snaked across the hills: climbing to Lafayette Park, turning onto Clay, descending to Van Ness, climbing Russian Hill then dipping down to Chinatown.
     Old Man kept his distance as Angry Woman got off at Stockton, still spewing heated words, at which point the younger, smaller man extended his middle finger and stabbed in Parby’s direction. The gesture attracted eyes. She noticed and leapt up to stand by the middle exit. Then at Grant, the rest got off: Old Man, Smiling Woman, the Girl, Watch Cap and Gesturing Man. Parby took a seat in peace, while I was like the audience in a theatre where the curtain had dropped. I got off the end of the line.  
      

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Chapter 21: Even After

MORE OF SOMETHING MORE,
a story about a salesman trying to establish himself,
 a CEO scheming to buy out his father's influence
                                              and the woman important to each 


 
                                                                      21
 
 
           Helen Roy sat gazing at dusk through the panoramic windows while waiting on Stephen. He stopped off at home and was someplace in the city whose lights were flickering on, a view she had appreciated when starting work there. Then when she moved in --and tried to hide the fact-- she stayed mostly in the bedroom. Now that he knew and seemed all right with it, she spent lots of time looking out. No longer did she go to auditions, the gym, or meet friends. The condo had become her refuge, Stephen her benefactor, investor parties her society and window gazing an occupation. 
          The condo was hers in a way, for having planned the redecoration and she was content amid her creation: stark black-and-white color scheme; leather armchairs of opposing colors with corresponding banquettes and stools; aquarium angelfish her allies now, and the painting of a peaceful beach under threat of a wave.
          Hearing Stephen at the door, she scrambled to meet him and display her tight yellow dress with V-neckline and silky white hose. Her auburn hair was tugged back into a squirrel tail exposing golden oval earrings. A lightly powdered face, carmine red lipstick, and seductive jasmine scent completed her presentation.
          Though his jaw remained set within an angular face, his eyes softened which was encouragement enough. Eyebrows arching with delight, she reached up to peck his cheek then pull him into the front and the black leather armchair. She rushed to bring his drink, ice cubes chiming in the glass a contrast to his silence. Attired in gray suit and red tie, he stared straight ahead at everything and at nothing.
          She sat by his knees, and he stroked her cheek with his right hand. “That damn woman. She doesn’t even want to go, I can tell, but he puts her up to it. I can hear him saying, ‘When I was CEO my wife was beside me.’ She’ll be at the wedding, but I want you at my side.” He lifted her face and looked her in the eyes. “You represent the company: fresh, sleek, agile.”
           She rocked back on her heels. “She’ll know, and hate me.”
           “She knows what I want her to know. This is business and you’re my assistant.”
           “Your father will hate me, and your mother, and everybody else. What won’t they think?” Her voice trailed away, and then she jumped up. “Let’s have a reception here! I can stay and prepare like I always do.”
             He shook his head. “The mansion’s huge and overlooks a lawn that goes down to the ocean. It has two wings: one designated for investors, the other for everyone else. The ceremony takes place outside and the reception’s split, outside and in. Before the priest conducts the wedding, I’ll approve the union with a speech. They’ll see I command on a grand scale and that he’s irrelevant. You’ll be near me for the ceremony, and then spend the rest of the time with the investors. Don’t worry about anyone else.”
            She paced to the window, then spun around, head lowered and hands at her sides. “I won’t damage something whole.”
           He approached and took her hands. “We’re building something. Slade is on the verge of greatness and soon, very soon, we’re going to make the investors very happy.” 
           “You set a date!”
           A grin etched his lips. “Soon. No one else needs to know. My advisers are getting ready.”
          “After the launch, our work is done.”
          “Only just beginning. Value shouldn’t vanish. We need to build on this and grow.”
           She pulled away to sit on the banquette beneath the painting and spoke slowly, as if trying to maintain her balance. “I’m afraid of going out, and afraid that if I don’t… I’ll fade away. I always thought that afterwards I could restore meaning to my life.” 
           “You’re meaningful here.”
           “You want me here, even after?”
           “Even after.”
         He pointed to the painting. “I accept that because I see myself as that rising wave ready to slam onshore and wash the old out to sea. Then the new can thrive. You represent the new.”
           “Outside, maybe I can feel again.”
          His eyes flashed. “What’s this then?”  He gestured, indicating the condo, them and all. “It’s that salesman, isn’t it?”
          “No.”
          “Admit it! No? I forbid you to have anything to do with him.”
         His anger rebuked her and, as if resetting a slipped mask, Helen endeavored to please. She stroked his arms to calm him, reinforced his thoughts by nodding assent, shielded his emotions with hugs and agreed that the course he charted was best; the while, her shadow mind contrived how to proceed, knowledge of the impending IPO having demarked an end to a stage of her life when she could leave guilt-free and confront or outdistance whatever threat was out there.





The next chapter will be posted by October 25..
 The characters and events in this story are fictitious and do not represent any living person or real event.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Chapter 20: Lunchtime

MORE OF SOMETHING MORE,
a story about a salesman trying to establish himself,
 a CEO scheming to buy out his father's influence
                                              and the woman important to each 


 
                                                                      20



          Lola McIntyre sat at the usual table waiting on the others as workers took their spots in the break room to empty paper bags and unseal plastic containers. She had observed the night-before preparation ritual in advance of a long morning commute, but the ham-and-cheese-on-white stayed in her oversized purse despite her growling stomach.
          Once, at the point of reaching in, Bill had stepped inside the door and stood there in the black broad-shouldered tunic that sent a charge through her. He jerked his head and she excused herself to follow him. Though lunch turned out to be fast food eaten in the limo, it was the most romantic noontime she could remember since high school. In hope of prompting another lunchtime summons, she waited as long as possible.
          Mailroom Joe dropped a wrinkled brown bag on the table and took a seat. His white ear buds were in place under stringy brown hair that touched his shoulders. Then Stockroom Bob came in, looking neat in checkered short-sleeved shirt that showed off his muscles. A Tupperware man, he placed a rectangular container and two small round ones before him, then nudged one into alignment. “Aren’t you eating?” he teased. She nodded, eyes fixed on the door. Then Bill entered and went over to sit.
          “Driving Slade to the Palisades. Not much time.” He pulled an apple from his pocket and bit in. The statement from the tight-lipped chauffeur triggered questions and conversation about the CEO who was going to tour the mansion owned by an ally, where Dave Forester’s wedding would take place the following month. Joe mentioned the fancy hand-lettered envelopes that had passed through the mailroom. Lola averred they were the invitations then expressed excitement over who’d receive them, followed by depression for being excluded. “It’s a big event in the company. It's not right we don’t get to go.” She tossed her head and the charms on her bracelet jingled, though the blonde wave plastered to her face did not move.
          “I’m going,” said the chauffeur who wasn’t the kind of guy to boast of such things. Lola blinked rapidly then began to plead. Joe seemed to wake from a slumber to watch something happen. Even Bob, who liked things and people in their proper place, displayed a kind of expectation. “You want to go? You’ll have to work.” He looked around the table. They were unanimous. “I’ll tell the caterer.” Lola shouted “Hooray!” to smiles all around.
          Bill headed for the door, and she hurried after to push him into the hallway. She whispered, “I want to tell you: I’ve been to the condo.” She paused for effect but the face beneath the shaved head did not crack. “Helen asked me. It’s lovely! The view! The furniture! You should have taken me. Listen. Let’s go together. What do you say?”
          “Helen lives there.” Before she could object, he added, “After work she doesn’t go to an apartment or anyplace else. She stays. When she goes out, she comes back.”
          “You followed her?”
          “I got to go.” He left her staring with mouth wide open like a dummy. She had thought to zing him; instead her mind raced to catch up: Slade buys the condo, transfers Helen. She must be---. She dates Atom, then he leaves because---. Bill is following so---.
          As a storyteller, Lola strived for certain effects but right then wasn’t sure of the gist. Delighted to deliver pithy comments to elicit laughs, her subjects often were the same as on TV comedies. She favored stories that ended happy after frustrated desire, but wasn’t good at drama. With something of graver import, her voice croaked to a halt mid-sentence, forcing her audience to complete the thought. They believed she knew more than she was willing to say and she encouraged that belief.
          Her mind drifted. A zero-minute commute, nice! Helen dreaded transferring to the condo, and now lives there. Funny, yes? Wanting to laugh, she felt something crawling up her back that she couldn’t quite scratch. She headed to her workstation. Good stories start as first drafts. She was wont to try hers out on Mimosa Liang, the co-worker in the next cubicle. Her recommendations were that they didn’t share the same friends, she tended to hone in on the consequences of things and had an easy-to-read face.
          Petite with long black hair and dark eyes, Mimosa liked living on the happy side, so seeing Lola approach evoked a frown, and then as she listened her face expressed a holy sorrow. “The poor wife!” She wrung her hands as Lola hovered above her chair.
          “At home with the kids, while he spends time with the other woman. That’s humiliating! No wonder we never see her, or else he keeps her away so she doesn’t find out. What would she do? The kids have priority, sure. I liked Helen but didn’t think she was that way. She’s too na├»ve, but he isn’t so sure about her if he’s having her followed. I could see her liking Atom. He must have been a threat. I don’t like this. It’s not pleasant. Somebody’s going to pay. Why are you telling me this?”
          Signaling confidentiality with a finger to the lips, Lola retreated into her own cubicle with a better sense of inevitable crash and injury. She blushed thinking about workplace romances and her flirtation with Bill, but was thrilled more than cautioned, certain of being beyond the flack zone where she could watch harm-free.  




 The next chapter will be posted by September 4..
 The characters and events in this story are fictitious and do not represent any living person or real event.


Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Chapter 19: Take Down

MORE OF SOMETHING MORE,
a story about a salesman trying to establish himself,
 a CEO scheming to buy out his father's influence
                                              and the woman important to each 


 
                                                                      19


          Atom watched her car until it vanished around the corner and then recovered awareness of his own circumstance: standing alone before a clothing boutique that had long since closed. The street that was busy during the day slumbered after Friday rush hour. Half a block back was the Dedalus Bar and Restaurant, distinguished by the bright lights that splashed onto the pavement. His car was parked a few blocks away on a residential street.
           While walking, he thought about the evening with Helen and his frustrated effort to get a commitment. Then she sprang that stalker stuff on him without giving him the chance to frame himself as part of the solution. Nothing was going as he had hoped. 
          He turned the corner onto the street and it was like the lights had gone off. The house fronts, lawns and cars were bland and colorless, and the air cool with the exhalation of plants and grasses. His footsteps scraped the sidewalk as he approached his Mercedes coupe. He reached into his pocket when something wrapped around him and pushed him to the ground.
          With the imprint of asphalt on his cheek, he smelled oil, gasoline and worn rubber. A considerable weight held him down as his arms were wrenched behind him. Then a knee pinned the small of his back and his head took a hard punch. A voice growled. “Head down.” His attacker grabbed his wallet and phone. Something skittered across the pavement. “Count to a hundred. Don’t look up.”
          The pressure let up but he sensed the presence was waiting to smack him. He began to count before realizing he had and cursed his helplessness. At twenty-five, he turned on his side then sprang to a crouch to peek around a car. When he stood up he was the only one on the street. “So much for going to the gym,” he muttered, feeling ridiculous about wanting to protect Helen when a mugger could so easily take him down.
          He had no phone to report the assault and no access to his car just a few feet away, but then recalled the skittering sound. He stooped to search the adjacent area and covered the same ground again and again, growing self-conscious about how it looked and wary of houselights going on or someone walking up. Finally he found the key fob under a bush, and then ventured to the end of the block to search for his cell and wallet.
          With the aid of GPS, he found the local police substation, a sedate affair with an open counter and small bank of cubicles to one side. The sole attending officer listened skeptically before posing a few questions. Atom answered that he didn’t see a weapon and that he couldn’t describe his attacker. He admitted to drinking a little.
          The officer pointed to one of the cubicles and told him to use the computer to file a report, which he later reviewed. He advised him to cancel his credit cards and lock down his phone. “You were lucky.”
          Atom drove home not feeling lucky at all.                   

 



   The next chapter will be posted by August 23.
 The characters and events in this story are fictitious and do not represent any living person or real event.
  
                                                     
                                                        

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Chapter 18: Over My Shoulder



MORE OF SOMETHING MORE,
a story about a salesman trying to establish himself,
 a CEO scheming to buy out his father's influence
                                              and the woman important to each 


                                                                          18
                        

          Outside the bar, Helen spilled her story, which, given her earlier reluctance to talk, took Atom by surprise. He was speechless.
          “I’m not a girl who’s afraid of odd noises or tricks of light, but lately I can’t help looking over my shoulder. Which came first, the looking or the note, I can’t remember. I’d driven to Melrose for some shopping, and was going back to the car. It was starting to get dark, and my yellow Beetle stood out like a highlighter. I was swinging my arms like a little girl, when I see something on my windshield. A ticket! The blood rushes to my head. I paid the meter and wasn’t gone that long. So unjust! Walking faster, I focus on the windshield, but when I get there it’s a piece of paper folded in half. Relieved, I set down my bags and open it. Written in block letters: I’M WATCHING YOU.
          “Such a sick joke! My stupid friends, I think, and look around, but I don’t see anyone I know, just strangers passing and wondering what’s going on. My anger turns to fear and my body goes rigid. I drop it and rush inside. After making sure the doors are locked, I stare through the windshield, then the rearview and side mirrors. No one seems to be paying attention. I drive away and watch for anyone following. I’m not sure there was, and not certain there wasn’t.
          “Ever since, I’ve been trying to come up with who. A stranger, someone I know, an enemy? I’m sorry to say I thought of you then struck you off. You’ve always been straightforward, even if your advances were ahead of my timetable. I thought of Kelly but that doesn’t make sense. He’s the one that drifted from me, and we’ve known each other too long. Then there are the investors. Stephen has always warned me not to get too close. I thought it was jealousy, and cute. Now I think he was right. Dress up, smile and be pleasant, he says. If one tries to be too intimate, excuse yourself to go make drinks or something. Unnecessary, I thought, but he was right. They had more in mind than investing in Slade.
          “I put them into categories and worked from that. Strike off the young to begin. Not many and more likely to spend time with someone willing than to waste it changing her mind. Next came the sophisticates who size up the scenario right away. In public, they’re pleasant and engaging then retreat into private space to scratch their itch. They saw I wasn’t going to follow. Strike them off.
          “That left the super-rationalists who think that because they have money they can buy anything. It’s the largest category, and Stephen’s target: men with disposable cash who want to leverage it into more wealth. I can’t remember all the things they offered: weekend trips, vacations, cars, jewelry, clothes. My problem was how to decline without saying no. Stephen taught me about getting the client to nod yes when closing the deal. So he’s trying to get them to yes-nod and I’m trying to avoid saying no or shaking my head. Sometimes I was afraid to breathe and feel partially to blame if someone got the wrong impression.
          “One guy stood out. Stephen was making introductions and I shook hands with everyone. His were dry and bony and a shock to feel. I went to get the drinks and didn’t think more about it. Later, I feel my skin crawl. He’s nearby and watching. He wasn’t typical of the others. He’s stick thin with gray hair crawling around his neck and ears. His skin’s red, like he’s outside a lot. His clothes are out-of-fashion: a too-large green plaid sports coat and brown slacks. His glasses are thick like bottle bottoms and his crazy green eyes are rimmed with red. He’s frightful, and I didn’t understand why Stephen would allow him there. I excuse myself but feel his eyes as I escape to the bedroom. I stayed so long Stephen came looking, and when he knocked I imagine those bony hands scraping the door. I can’t forget him so he’s on the list even though there’s no proof.
          “I tried talking to Lola about things and had her up, but she was so excited about being at the condo, she didn’t pay much attention. That’s good in one respect. It’s a relief to talk someone else. You can see I’m going a bit crazy. I’m flattered you want me to go with you, but I don’t want to make any big decisions right now, not until I get my head straight. Then there’s Stephen’s project. I’d like to see it to its conclusion. Things might be clearer then.
          “I don’t feel comfortable outside. I need to get back. Sorry I can’t invite you over. Can I drive you to your car? No? Good night then.” 
          Helen climbed into her car, started the motor and drove away, leaving Atom alone and confounded about whether to leave Slade as planned, or wait until more certain of her affections. 
         



The next chapter will be posted by July 26.
 The characters and events in this story are fictitious and do not represent any living person or real event.