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From Here to There: The Story of America's Future

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Chapter 1

The Year 2020

Three years later

The weekday morning rush was in full throttle as Steve’s five-year old and very precocious daughter, Mariah, sat quietly coloring at the dining room table. Steve was rushing around getting ready for work. Ernestine, who joined the family three years ago shortly after Susan left, was busy in the kitchen putting the final touches on breakfast. Ernie, as they called her, held the family roles of Mariah’s live-in nanny, cook and house manager.

Ernie placed the breakfast dishes onto a large tray while Steve - multi tasking as usual - straightened his tie, rummaged through piles of papers covering every inch of his desk, and listened to the large wall-mounted video screen streaming nonstop news about the weather and traffic.

The screen was filled with a close-up of a statuesque blond announcer with perfect skin and unnaturally white teeth. As she began her report, Steve turned up the volume.

“Looks like we’re headed for another record day. Temperatures in the metro area are expected to top 100 degrees for the fifteenth day in a row. Today’s UV Index is eleven. If you have to go outside, cover up, wear your glasses, and pile on the sunscreen. Yesterday, 17 people, mostly elderly, died of heat stroke…"

Steve lowered the sound on the television, not wanting Mariah to hear that more people had died from the soaring temperatures.

“Now Mr. Rubik, you come on over to the table and sit yourself down,” said Ernie with her Southern accent. She stood with her hands on her ample hips and saw that Steve barely heard her words. She spoke again, this time with her authoritative ‘don’t mess with me’ retired schoolteacher voice, the one she had used when addressing an unruly sixth grade class.

“Breakfast is now being served. Everyone to the table,” she said with a smile on her chocolate brown face.

She placed two steaming plates of scrambled eggs with crispy hash brown potatoes, two glasses of freshly squeezed orange juice, and a basket of homemade baked muffins onto a large tray and carried it to the table.

“Okay Miss Rubik, time to stop your drawing and have breakfast,” she instructed Mariah, who was intently adding stars to a sky.

“I want to be served by Chef Pierre!” Mariah blurted out, as Ernie moved aside her crayons and artwork to make room for her plate.

Hearing Mariah’s request, Steve looked up from his desk with sudden rapt attention. He stopped everything, like a man transformed. He quickly walked over to the breakfast table, deftly picked up one of the napkins, folded it over his arm and assumed his ‘Chef Pierre’ persona. He scooped up one of the plates from the serving tray and turned towards the now beaming little girl. With a much-practiced French accent, Steve politely addressed Mariah.

“Ahhh, Mademoiselle, did you have zee lightly scrambled oeufs et pommes de terre rissolées?”

“Oui monsieur,” Mariah responded in her best French accent.

He skillfully set the plate of steaming eggs and potatoes in front of Mariah, lifted her cloth napkin and placed it upon her lap. He took the second plate off the tray, set it down across from his daughter, and sat down. They both bowed their heads for a moment of silence before they dug into their breakfasts.

“So, sweet pea, what are you doing today?” he asked, no longer the French chef.

Mariah considered carefully before responding.

“I’m going to learn about bugs.”

“Bugs? You have bugs in your camp?”

“No silly, we are going to the park!”

“That sounds like fun. Just be careful about the sun outside and make sure you put on your sunscreen.”

While they spoke, Ernie returned to the kitchen to answer the videophone embedded in the refrigerator door. Dancing colors bounced across the shiny screen to the ‘Chimney Sweep’ song from ‘Mary Poppins.’ Ernie touched the glass surface and a young man in a valet uniform appeared.

“Morning Ernie,” said the young man, “Mr. Rubik's car is ready.”

“Oh thank you, Patrick. I'll let him know.”

“Feels like another hot one.”

“Summer’s are feelin’ hotter every year. You stay cool Patrick.”

“Thank you Ma’am.”

She touched the screen again and the picture faded to black.

Steve picked up the pace of his eating. He looked at Mariah.

“Sorry baby, but you know what that means,” he said.

Their eyes locked and in perfect unison as they recited their ritual morning phrase,

“Time tooo goooooo!”

Reaching across the table, they clinked their forks in a pretend workday starting ‘bell.’ He quickly gobbled down the last bites of his food, stood up and walked to the door where he slipped on his office jacket. He returned to the table to give Mariah a parting kiss on her forehead.

“See you tonight, sweet pea.”

“Bye daddy. I love you.”

“I love you too, sweetie. Bye Ernie. I’m planning to be home about six.”

He grabbed his briefcase from his desk, his well-worn Miami Marlins cap and headed for the front door. Already his mind had shifted to the demanding day ahead of him.

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