“In other news, the market continues to see dramatic upsets and unpredictability from several sectors. Most notably, Greene United Motors crippled its shareholders with a series of recalls of nearly every product in their line. Most surprising, their newest line of Greene “Flight” sedans. It was reported to, and I quote, “be associated with unacceptably high levels of mortality and pose a danger to the community…”
Despite this economic downturn, ‘Dawson’s Oil’ continues to see widespread growth and eager acceptance worldwide.”
Brian Mitchell paused, while ironing his shirt, to turn up the volume of his television. His cloudy mind perked up at the words “recall,” “Greene Flight,” and “high levels of mortality.” He walked over to the front window to peer through the blinds. He blearily stared at his brand new Greene sedan, now recalled, parked in the morning dusk. He felt his blood pressure rising in his head. He was already behind schedule to get ready for work. Brian had forgotten to prepare the night before and had just dug his dress shirt out of the laundry.
The shirt! Brian rushed over to find smoke rising from the hot iron eagerly burning a hole through his dress shirt. He unplugged the iron, hurried to the kitchen, and threw his ruined shirt into the sink. He turned the water on to stop the burning. His head ached, begging for some coffee.
Brian slouched onto his couch and weighed his final option very carefully. Must get to work… Out of sheer desperation, he called Dean Purcell, who lived a couple of miles away. No answer. He called again, placing the phone on speaker mode. Meanwhile, he searched for another shirt in a futile attempt to look halfway presentable.
“Hello?” A deep, groggy voice said slowly through the speaker.
“Dean? Hey, man!” Brian yelled, pulling his shirt over his head and picking up the phone, “This is Brian! Thank you for answering! I know this is a bad time for you, but I was wondering if maybe you could come by and drive me to work. My car got recalled today in all this madness…”
Brian went on, “I’ll buy you a six pack tonight when I get home!”
A pause. “Who is this…? It’s too early…” Then… a distant snoring noise.
Brian’s day was unraveling quickly. He called again.
“Stop calling me!”
“DEAN!! This is Brian. Get dressed. I’m coming over. I need you to drive me to work!” He hung up. Dean better be ready when I get there.
Brian phoned the office to leave a message with his manager’s secretary, Maria, of his tardiness. He hurriedly finished getting dressed, hopped on his old bicycle, racing to Dean’s apartment. He cursed his new car as he left it behind in the driveway. You better not cost me my promotion. It was supposed to pay for you. In doing so, he narrowly avoided striking his head on his neighbor’s ‘For Sale’ sign overhanging the sidewalk. He huffed and hastily rode on.
Brian pounded on Dean’s door. The frosty morning air had cleared his mind of its Monday fog.
“DEAN!!” Brian yelled. He heard shuffling and stumbling over things from within. The door creaked opened to reveal his tall, slightly overweight friend, Dean Purcell, with his corny mustache. He was disheveled and wearing boxers.
Shielding his eyes from the glare of the morning light, Dean said, “Brian…? Hey man... What are you doing here? I haven’t been up this early in my life… Geez it’s cold out here!”
“It’s a long story. But I need you to drive me to work. I will totally repay you.” Brian said, relieved to see Dean had at least gotten out of bed.
“All right, let me get dressed and grab a cup of coffee… Come on in, dude. I’ll be ready in a few.”
Dean walked toward the kitchen and Brian could hear him fumbling with the coffee maker. Brian sat tensely on the couch, eager to get going to work. He retreated into his thoughts, waiting for Dean to return.
I’ve been working toward this promotion for too long, under the thumb of my pedantic manager. God, I hate that guy. Brian envisioned his manager, Mr. Packer, tapping at his watch as Brian walked in late today. “Time is Money,” Packer would say, citing his worn-out mantra. Another reminder of how badly Brian needed Packer. But, Packer didn’t need Brian. He just needed a person with, or without, a pulse to meet his ridiculous deadlines he doled out every day. Brian looked at his wrist to check the time, but had forgotten his watch. He had to get to work.
“Anything I can do to help us get out the door, Dean?” Brian realized he had not heard any noises coming from the bedroom for a few minutes.
“Dean?” Brian asked, knocking on the door.
Still, no answer. Brian eased the door open. In the darkness beyond, he could see Dean snoozing on his bed, pants pulled halfway up one leg.
“Dean! I have to get to work. Come on, man!”
Frustrated, but relying on Dean’s good will, Brian carefully contained his tone and urged his friend out of bed. Dean pulled on a tattered shirt and followed Brian’s lead from the room. He pulled a deep draw from his cigarette which must have been alight in the ash tray next to his bed. Brian wondered how Dean had not burned down his apartment building yet. Dean grabbed his cup of coffee, his keys, and followed Brian out to the car.
The two were soon on the highway, cruising in moderate morning traffic. They finally reached a compromise with Dean’s music, settling around seventy-five percent of its original blasting, but it was progress. At least Brian could now think clearly, free to dread the rest of his day at work-
“What are you doing!” he yelled.
Dean straightened in his seat and lifted his nodding head. He corrected the car from drifting into a semi alongside them. The driver blared his horn in anger. Dean casually took a long sip from his coffee.
Brian gripped the overhead handle tightly, “What was that?!”
“What’s the big deal, man? I’m just trying to get you to work.” He waved vaguely at Brian with his coffee cup. “Why are you yelling at me? I should be yelling at you for getting me out of bed so early. I was just trying to sleep off the craziest night I’ve managed in a long time… we got a donkey drunk, and then…” He chuckled aloud, paused, thought twice about the rest of the story and drew another long drink from his coffee.
“Were you just falling asleep?” Brian asked in disbelief.
Dean glanced at Brian, and set his cup in the center console.
“Nope, not with my big cup of Joe here,” he said tapping the old red mug, his tongue slurred.
Brian picked up the mug and sniffed at it. “This isn’t just coffee, is it? Dean! This has so much liquor in it; I’m surprised you’d call it coffee at all!”
“Stop yelling at me.” Dean shrugged, “It’s just a little nip to warm me up on this cold, dreary morning.”
Heroically containing his tone, so as to preserve their lives, Brian said, “Dean. I’m not yelling at you. I’m shouting over your damned music! You need to pull over right now. I’m driving.”
“NO! I’m fine. This is my car, and I’m doing you the favor anyway. Give me my cup back!” He reached across to grab at the cup. Brian jerked the cup, spilling it over his hand and shirt. He gasped, gripping the handle more tightly. The steaming concoction burned his side and hand; Dean’s music blared too loud on his ears. Brian neared losing control.
“Dean, please. Just get to the side of the road, and I’ll drive you. Then you can have your cup back.”
Dean eyed Brian suspiciously through his stupid dark glasses.
By the time they pulled over, Brian was fuming. He got out, and Dean pulled forward immediately. Brian could hear him cackling through the open passenger door.
I am going to run you over! Brian muttered as Dean stopped and got out of the car. Dean walked around the front of the car, to keep his distance from Brian who approached the driver’s side from behind.
Brian threw the cup of ‘coffee’ off into the distance.
“This is not happening to me.” Brian muttered to himself, buckling into the driver’s seat.
“This is not happening to me.” Dean whined, lamenting the loss of his beverage.
Brian punched the Power button on the tape deck. The two sat in silence. Livid, his hair disheveled, Brian clenched the steering wheel to keep from hitting Dean.
“That was my favorite mug, Brian. My mother gave it to me before she died.” Dean glared at Brian, with arms crossed.
Brian felt a momentary stab of guilt through his burning fury. He did not know how much of Dean’s statement was true, so he chose to ignore it.
“Death in my own, recalled car is sounding like a much more tempting alternative than what I’m doing right now, Dean. I’m sorry for your mug, but I do actually have to go to work today.”
Dean huffed and reclined his seat. He was asleep within five minutes. Brian drove the remaining distance in silent anxiety of what more the day could bring.
Brian eventually found an open parking spot on the top floor of the garage. Standing beside the car, he stretched, taking stock of his appearance. His hair was a mess, and coffee stained his wrinkled shirt.
Maybe Packer will just forget this day happened.
Dean roused, groggy, and apparently unaware of the morning’s events, saying, “Why did you drive me to your job in my car?”
“Never mind, Dean. I appreciate your willingness to help me, although your ability to actually do so was lacking.”
“Any time, Brian... Well…” Dean stretched out as he stood beside the car. “Just toss me the keys, and I’ll head home. Maybe you can just catch a ride home from that cute secretary. You know she digs me.”
“Maria? She despises you. You burned her pretty badly… You should just stay away from her. She must not have appreciated you leaving her out in the rain... Go figure…” Brian said with a shrug. “Anyway, I’m keeping your keys. There’s no way I can let you drive home in your condition. I still don’t understand how you have a license.”
“The rain was the point of the date. It was supposed to be romantic! I can’t be blamed for mistaking what she meant by ‘next’ week. This week? Next week? I still don’t really know when she meant. Whatever, I thought I had another seven days before our date. A simple misunderstanding, man. Anyway, don’t be ridiculous. Give me my keys! I’m not going to just sit out here in my hot car all day.”
“You can’t even stand up straight. I guess…” He hesitated at the terrible realization. “I guess you will have to stay here at work with me.” Brian looked up to the sky and exhaled in resignation.
Dean paused and pondered the thought. “Well, okay… for Maria’s sake.” He smirked, pleased with himself.
Brian looked Dean over and regretted today even more. Unshaven, with his stupid dead caterpillar mustache. Shirt inside out, reeking of smoke and liquor. I have got to find something for him to do. Dean had zero inclination to resolve this situation on his own. He was content to antagonize Brian all day. After all, he had driven Brian to work.
“You have any money? I’m starving. Haven’t eaten anything since the party last night.”
“You have your own money, Dean. Don’t you?”
“Funny you mentioned my license. That reminded me- I guess I left my wallet at that party...” He said, patting his pockets as if to check for a wallet.
“I’m late. Let me get started at work. I’ll give you some cash for the vending machines in the break room.”
With that, Brian entered the office building to find utter chaos.
Every phone rang simultaneously across the sea of cubicles.
Bewildered, Brian walked past Maria’s desk. She placed her call on hold as she glanced up from her uncharacteristically tidy desk, “Brian! Hey! I haven’t seen you all day. Have you been in your office? All this is pretty wild, isn’t it?” Maria then noticed the state of his appearance for the first time.
“Oh, yeah... I remember your message. I hadn’t even had a chance to tell Packer, and your message got buried with everything else. I haven’t set the phone down all morning. I heard Packer was called into an emergency meeting with upper management. He must be pretty over his head since being out of the office on sick leave last week. Rumor is, he started taking Dawson’s Oil …” Maria said the last conspiratorially, adding, “There are rumors of job cuts... But no one really knows what’s going on.”
She shrugged, tapping her notepad absently. She appeared to have given up on her usual disorganized sticky note approach. She had instead resorted to a fastidious legal pad with small sticky notes throughout. The hectic nature of the day seemed to have somehow motivated her to become completely organized.
She pushed away the notepad and sat back in her chair, running her hands through her long dark hair, yawning. She watched the lines blinking on her desk phone. “The situation is pretty fluid today. Let’s just hope this all washes out well. I know you were pretty excited about your performance review today…” Her expression soured. Brian followed her gaze to see Dean walk around the corner. He chomped a mouthful of potato chips with glee.
“Hey there, sweetie. Have you lost weight?” Dean said with a wink. “You haven’t been trying that fancy new health craze have you?” Then, in consternation, “A lot of my old friends got hooked on the nasty stuff. I say ‘old’ because my parties have gotten super boring with everyone getting in on that grown up crap.” He said with a vague wave in Brian’s direction.
Maria answered with a wry smile, “I can only assume you mean Dawson’s Oil, and, yes, actually… I did sign my own Contract. Thanks for noticing… I just got back to work a couple days ago. I was out sick last week while I was acclimating to the Oil’s regimen. But now I feel amazing! And…” She paused, looking down at her desk, seemingly gathering her courage. “I’ve actually forgiven you for the other night.” She said with a blush.
Even Brian was surprised at her answer.
Dean’s smug expression sobered at her reply. “…Really?” His voice cracked, and he cleared his throat. “Well, uh… I really am sorry about that night. I can explain…” His voice trailed off into awkward silence, setting his bag of chips down on the desk and taking off his sunglasses.
She dismissed his expressions with a quick wave of her hand, “You don’t have to. While I was ill last week, I thought about a lot of things. I like you a lot. I think you are a nice guy. The Contract gave me an idea. What if you signed your own? If you could show me you were serious about taking this, you could be serious about me. And if you need somebody during the ‘Malaise’ maybe I could help you through it?” Her face gleamed with optimism.
Brian smiled as he walked away, leaving them to their conversation. He was both surprised and pleased with the direction of their conversation. Good for Dean. He turned a corner and walked directly into somebody, spilling coffee onto on his shirt. Brian braced, realizing who it was. What followed was the most unsettlingly, atypical, conversation he had ever had with Chuck Packer.
Packer started, “Mr. Brian Mitchell! I’m so sorry! I just ruined your shirt! Don’t worry about the coffee.” He said, placing the paper coffee cup on a nearby table cluttered with office supplies. Brian thought he glimpsed Packer’s wrist absent of any watch. “It wasn’t for me anyway. It’s for Jake. For such an up-tight guy, he just excitedly announced he’s going to be a father! I guess the birth control they were using got recalled last week. Some timing, huh?”
Brian stood frozen, dumbfounded at the conversation. Packer was looking at Brian’s shirt intently. Brian looked down to find the new coffee had poured over Dean’s mess from earlier.
Quickly Packer interjected, “Hey! I usually have an extra shirt in my office for emergencies. Let me see what I’ve got. Come with me.”
Brian followed Packer’s lead in a daze. They walked past cubicle after cubicle of worried faces and hushed phone conversations. Sensing his concern, Packer turned to address Brian directly, in the middle of the hallway.
“Don’t worry about all the changes to come. The future will care for itself. Actually, I just remembered- you are due for your performance review. Why don’t we just do it right now? Sorry to neglect it, I’ve been busy with meetings all day. We’re refocusing the efforts of our department to better serve our community’s needs. We’re just getting back to the basics. Since marketability and cost concerns are no longer in the equation, we can deal with real issues. Brian, we are going to need the right people to head up the efforts. You’ve turned in high quality work consistently for a long time. I appreciate that. You are long overdue a promotion. I’d give you back pay, but we’re going into a moneyless world now. So, how about a firm hand shake, with a personal commitment from me to you, Brian Mitchel- that I will work every day to make this world a better place alongside you.” He smiled contentedly as he looked Brian in the eye, firmly shaking his hand.
He was just so eager.
Brian absently returned the smile, confused, in optimistic wonder.
Where am I?
Maria wiped the sweat from Dean’s brow. “There, there. I’m here. You only have a day or so left of this. Then we can swim around the island together.”
“Sorry about this first official date. I feel miserable.” He said weakly. Their small sailboat rocked gently in the waves alongside the small uninhabited island a short distance from the mainland.
“I told you the Soil’s Malaise was not very fun. And I’m sure there’s a little bit of extra detox happening on top of that for you, too.” She sighed with a relaxed chuckle. “But it’s almost over. This is, by far, the most romantic date I have ever been on. Thank you for letting me see you at your worst. I’m looking forward to many more dates to come. I love the ocean. And I’m looking forward to loving you.” Her eyes alight with excitement and delight.
Dean smiled genuinely, and promptly fell back asleep, weak from the fever and the rigors.