THROUGHOUT FOUR WEEKS… EXCITEMENT arranged four interactions.
So far, meeting all expectations.
In one, she walked Popper in the neighborhood when a gentleman commented on her dog’s behavior and striking appearance… initiating conversation about her love of animals and opinions on proper dog training techniques.
Since she instructed the majority of Popper’s training herself, what better compliment than someone asking how she did it?
The discussion gave opportunity to explain her views on positive and alpha-dog training techniques, using Popper as proof of results.
Another interaction occurred while approaching ADKARs San Francisco office. A stranger appeared and asked if she worked as a personal trainer.
Commenting on her stately posture and appearance, and inquiring about exercises she might recommend.
Since initiating her Excitement engagement, she exercised with renewed enthusiasm and took advantage of ADKARs free workout facilities five days a week. Watching online exercise videos and learning new techniques for toning and firming problematic areas.
It was nice to enjoy the brief compliment received from a stranger.
The result, fueled her training regimen.
During these weeks, she abandoned inclinations to wear muted, dark colored clothes.
Rummaging through her closet, she found a bevy of bright – warm hues and purchased new accentuating apparel.
One-piece summer dresses.
Tight leggings and low-cut halter tops.
Though the burden of weekday exercise was tedious, she adored the results and her improved appearance prompted accolades from Rebecca, Monica, and others.
Each praise, reinforcing the reasons for her Excitement engagement.
With a renewed sense of esteem, she seized empowerment by the horns.
Entertaining desires and ignoring Drew’s argumentative provocations.
Rekindling the sex life she previously enjoyed with him.
Despite the fact she couldn’t openly communicate with him, barring the fear of belittlement… she found ways to redirect his passive-aggressive tendencies and acquire what she wanted.
Passion and fulfillment.
But admittedly… something else manifested itself over the past few weeks.
Something dangerous and intense.
Her initial emails with Michael which began over a shared appreciation of music… had expanded into discussions about their circle of friends.
Why they appreciated some and despised others.
They’d drifted into admissions about work-related stress.
How overwhelming responsibilities and lack of control, burdened everyday life.
And they’d wandered into explorations of family, as both reflected on marriage and the personal sacrifices required to maintain any semblance of bliss.
What started as one email a day… increased to two.
Mag checked her phone constantly, seeking responses from him.
They graduated to four and five emails as both checked their inboxes, looking for messages from each other.
Neither was sure who initiated the first mobile instant message. But it seemed a natural progression.
Mag responded to each note hurriedly, and Michael’s responses arrived with similar urgency.
During ensuing conversations, he learned of Mag’s disdain for her boss and friendship with Rebecca.
Her guarded acquaintanceship with Monica and strained relationship with Drew.
She divulged… having no one to confide in.
Nobody who understood her stress.
In turn, Michael discussed his marital issues.
Meeting his wife Nancy through a mutual acquaintance.
Sharing love for live music and belonging to the same group of friends.
They attended Burning Man as a ritual event.
Afterwards… confiding a desire to live outside the mainstream with no reliance on corporate America for income.
But after marriage… pragmatism took hold and his attempts to maintain an income free of corporations, became less important.
Realizing the fact, his dream of working as an independent music producer… couldn’t support the life his family desired.
MAKING ARRANGEMENTS TO MEET AFTER WORK. Michael driving to ADKAR’s main campus. Following Mag’s instructions to a walking trail.
Upon arrival, she stood next to a shaded table. Wiping blonde locks from her cheeks. Hair fluttering in the Mountain View breeze as she monitored Popper from a distance.
The dog walked off leash and wandered near a dry pond. Sniffing the surrounding lawn and following scents. Though Michael heard stories of how well behaved and intelligent the canine was, it was his first time meeting Popper in the flesh.
Parking his car… he admired Mag’s appearance.
Tight gray leggings accentuated hourglass curves and a half-zipped pink sport-top hugged her upper body. Apexing a heart-shaped face.
Pinkish hued cheeks.
He sighed… she’s beautiful.
Exiting his vehicle and approaching. She smiled,
“I’m so excited you get to meet Popper! You’ll like him. He’s super smart.”
“I’m sure I will.” He pointed in Popper’s direction,
“Looks like he found amazing smells over there.”
Mag yelled, “Popper!? Come here! Come here boy.”
Glancing up and down. The dog sniffed… in the midst of odorific orgasm and Michael joined the call, “Hey, Popper! Come here boy!”
Suspending the joy at hand, he scampered to Mag.
“Popper… This is Michael.”
Squatting. Michael rubbed the dogs fur with both hands,
“Hi, Popper. How are you?”
His tongue dangled to the side. Tail whipping and body spinning in circles.
Michael’s fingers, disappeared in the dog’s coat,
“What breed is he again?”
“Yes. And he’s just like a person. Sometimes I feel like he knows what I’m thinking. It’s hard to describe. But I swear, I’ll look at him and his expression is human.”
“Yeah. It’s cool how some dogs have the ability to behave like people. Then there are other dogs. Like yappy poodles and annoying chihuahuas. I hate those things. They bark all the time and if they have any personality, you never know it. Because they’re disturbing as hell.”
“One of my neighbors has a dog like that. I think it’s a chihuahua. Whenever it sees Popper, the thing barks like crazy and Popper doesn’t do anything. He just stares at it like… ‘Are you kidding me? What’s your problem dude?’”
Michael smiled, “I like that. He could eat that chihuahua for breakfast. But instead… Popper takes the high road.” Pursing his lips, he nodded, “You’re a first class dude.”
Extending her arm. Mag pointed to the opposite side of the road, “There’s a trail across the street. I walk Popper there all the time.”
The campus was sparsely populated and few employees milled about.
Walking to cars, heading home for the evening.
They approached a dirt path…
Blanketed by a layer of rust-colored leaves.
Thickets of shrubs and brush lined both sides of the walkway and Popper scampered ahead of them, sniffing the edge of the trail along the way.
She nodded in his direction,
“I have to be careful with him out here.”
“Yeah. I was walking with him about a year ago and he spotted a squirrel. Locked onto it and wouldn’t stop chasing. Normally he comes to me when I call him, but not that day. The squirrel ran to the side into a ravine, and Popper followed it. But he went too far and got stuck. Then he barked for help. Some people stopped and gave me a hand. It took ten minutes to get him out.”
“Was he okay?”
“Yeah. But later I noticed two ticks on him. He didn’t have ‘em earlier. So, they must’ve attached in the ravine.”
“My family had dogs when I was little. Whenever they got ticks, we burned ’em off with a match. It’s a pain in the butt.”
Mag shook her head, “Drew and I didn’t wanna do that. We read online you’re supposed to use tweezers to pull ‘em out. But if you squeeze too hard, the ticks squirt gunk into the dog. It’s gross. So we took him to the vet and she removed the ticks. I don’t wanna deal with that again.”
Michael nodded and glanced around, “I’m with ya. I’ll keep an eye out for rogue troublemaking squirrels… Sneaky bastards.”
Walking silently for seconds, he tensed.
There was possibility one of Mag’s co-workers might spot them. What if they questioned the relationship and wondered… why is she with him?
“Do you know anyone on this campus?” he asked.
“I used to… My office was really close.” She pointed across the trailside,
“My building was a few blocks over there. But my manager agreed to move our department to Tech Village… five miles from here. Everyone in finance moved there. I don’t know anyone on this campus anymore.”
“That’s probably a good thing. I’d hate to have to explain who I am.”
“I was thinking about that too. But we’re just talking and walking. It’s not like we’re French Kissing in the bushes.”
“If anyone asks, I’ll tell them you’re a friend, visiting.”
“That seems right.” Michael smiled, “It’s actually the truth.”
Walking… absorbing the sounds of wind rustling through leaves and birds chirping in trees above.
Conversation ceased as a stranger approached from the opposite direction…
They said, “Hi.”
Continuing in silence, Mag broke the void,
“When you were telling me about Nancy. And how she wanted non-corporate jobs for you both… it reminded me of Drew.”
“Drew always wanted his own business. He has a Limited Liability Company. But doesn’t make any money from it. He created it for a bunch of business ideas that failed.”
“I created an LLC too. But shut it down a long time ago. I couldn’t figure out how to make a good living promoting music. It’s a shame because I loved promoting. It’s the only thing I’ve ever done that doesn’t seem like actual work. It was just fun.”
Mag spoke somberly, “I’ve never had anything like that.”
“It was great. After I graduated college, another friend and I created an LLC. We promoted downtempo disc jockeys in the Bay Area. Arranging outdoor concerts and indoor events in San Francisco clubs. We made flyers. Booked locations and sold loads of tickets. Nancy designed our party themes. We both loved it. Plus, at the time I was deejaying too.
“I didn’t know you deejayed.”
Positioning his arms above imaginary turntables, his hands moved back-and-forth, scratching invisible records,
“I was the best DJ ever!
“Well, maybe not the best. But pretty close.”
“Why’d you stop?”
“A couple of reasons. But mainly, the money wasn’t reliable. By the time we settled all debts; I’d pocket about a thousand bucks per event. At that rate, we had to book multiple gigs per week. Or promote bigger auditorium events. But doing larger events meant implementing more music genres, outside of our expertise. Like Deep House, Trance, and Minimalist stuff. It’s a lot of work. Plus, dealing with club owners was exhausting. Most of them are scumbags. They don’t care about the spirit of the events. They care about making cash. They lied and short-changed us over made-up technicalities. It was expensive to fight them and almost impossible to prove they were wrong,”
“How did they lie?”
Michael sighed, “We did a show at this place called Club Moxie. It was a huge venue in the city. The event was awesome, completely sold out. Afterwards, the club owner complained their bathroom plumbing was backed up and he blamed us. Their pipes were already congested before we got there, but he charged us five-thousand bucks to repair appliances and clear the sewer lines. After a few shows like that, I got sick of it. I love promoting. But dealing with sleazy people in the business turned something that used to be fun into actual work. It stopped being enjoyable.”
“Couldn’t you sue the club owners?”
He shrugged, “Sure. But suing people isn’t free. You have to pay retainer fees to keep lawyers on standby. Plus, club owners have attorneys too and they’re more sleazy than the owners! They don’t care who’s right or wrong as long as their billable-hours keep rolling. The longer their cases drag out, the richer they get and the poorer you become.”
“I’m glad I never had to deal with lawyers. I only hear bad things about them.”
“That’s because there’s nothing good about them. Anyway, it all came down to cash. I couldn’t make enough of it. And to make more, I’d have to start doing things that took the fun out of what I was doing. So I had to stop. I shut the LLC down and went back to school. After that, I got a full-time job. Seriously, if I lived someplace like…”
“What city is Drew from?”
“If I lived someplace like Pittsburgh, I’d probably still promote events. A modest five-digit yearly salary in Pittsburgh buys a nice suburban mansion. But in San Francisco, a high six digit income barely covers rent for a decent two bedroom apartment. It’s a different world.”
Mag lamented, “I know. My apartment’s rent-controlled, so we pay a lot less than new renters. But sometimes Drew and I browse new apartments at current market rates. It’s ridiculously expensive.”
“Yeah, it’s crazy. There’s no surplus of affordable apartments in the city. Anyway, long story short…” He chuckled, “Oh my Gosh. That story was much longer than I intended.”
Laughing momentarily, they smiled,
“Short story short… The business didn’t pay enough and that’s the end.”
“I like the long version better.” Mag grinned, “I don’t blame you for giving up the business though.”
“I had no choice. The crappy thing is, after I closed the business, Nancy changed.” Slowing his speech… Michael’s tone lowered,
“At least, it seems that way to me. It didn’t happen right away either. But over time I could tell. It was like, she felt I quit the dream or something. And if that’s the case, she’s right. I did quit. But for the right reasons. For financial leverage. The only reason we own a home is because I quit promoting back then and got a corporate job. I’m not even being boastful. It’s just a fact. If I kept promoting instead of going back to school and getting a corporate job. We’d be renting some shoebox apartment in God knows where with no space to live. We probably wouldn’t have Emma.”
“How old is she again?”
“Emma? She’s four.”
“I love her name. It’s unique. Have you ever talked to Nancy about this?”
“Yeah.” He scoffed, “But it didn’t go well.”
“I’m sorry. You don’t have to tell me if you don’t want.”
“No. It’s fine. You told me about Drew and I appreciate what you said. Besides, I have no one else to talk to about this stuff either. No one cares, except you.”
Tilting his head up, he stared into her eyes and their bodies swayed closer. Fingers extended…
Their hands touched briefly, swaying past each other.
Desiring prolonged connection, they realized…
Mag’s gaze shifted ahead, “Where’s Popper?” Turning forward, Michael looked for the dog, “I don’t know.” She jogged and he followed behind, shouting, “Popper! Hey Popper!” Rounding a bend in the trail… she spotted him, standing next to another canine.
A leashed Labrador.
Both animals, acquainting themselves in that special way dogs do.
The Labradors owner stood guard, scowling at Mag,
“Is this your dog?”
“Yes. Don’t worry. He’s super friendly.”
“I can see that. He’s supposed to be on a leash.”
Michael stopped jogging and stood behind Mag.
“Oh! I have it here.” Extending her arm, she held a green braided leash and the stranger sneered, “All dogs on campus must be leashed.”
“Sorry, he’s a really good dog. I’ll put the leash on now.”
“That’s the rule.”
Leaning down, she attached the leash to Popper’s collar and the stranger tugged her Labrador gently.
Afterwards, Michael spoke softly,
“Are all dogs supposed to be leashed here?”
“Yeah, it’s a stupid rule. Popper hates the leash. Whenever I put it on, he stares at it wondering… why is this thing on? So I keep it off. That lady didn’t have to be so snobby about it.”
“Yeah. She seemed overly annoyed. But I guess that’s the rule, right?”
“I’ll take it off in a bit.” She looked at Popper, “We don’t like the leash do we?”
Entertained by his antics for the remainder of the walk… they returned to the parking area. Sitting in the front of Mag’s car while Popper spread across the rear seat, chewing a tennis ball.
“I feel like that arrogant lady threw off our conversation earlier,” said Mag.
“What did Nancy say when you spoke with her?”
“About me quitting the LLC?”
Turning… He faced her and sighed, “Before I talked with her about it, I could tell something was up because ever since I started working at Methodis, She bad mouthed the company, like Methodis did something wrong. It’s hard to describe.”
His eyes shifted ahead… glaring out the windshield in a daze, “I like working at Methodis. But it’s not a perfect company. They have issues just like anyplace else, but our streaming service does really well, and we provide a good alternative to cable television. Over the past few years we’ve developed our own programming and some of the shows are great.”
“I read about some of Methodis’ custom shows. I haven’t watched any of them. But I know they’re winning awards.”
He faced her again, quickening his speech, “Nancy calls my income, criminal cash, and says antagonizing stuff like… ‘Did your fraudulent funds get deposited yet?’ She thinks it’s a joke, but it irritates the hell out of me and she knows it.”
“She doesn’t say it all the time. But she says it a lot. And she knows it bugs me… but she still does it.”
“I know that feeling. Drew says passive aggressive stuff like that to me all the time.”
He glanced down,
“Nancy says other things too. She tells Emma… ‘Daddy sold out. He works for the man. He’s on the corporate clock.’”
Angling his body towards Mag, he slouched, “Emma has no clue what her mom’s talking about. Why say that stuff to your child? Eventually, she’ll figure out what ‘sold out’ and ‘working for the man’ means. What if she resents me for it? I never say bad things about Nancy’s work. She’s an artist who barely sells art. But I know she loves it and I’ll never talk crap about something she loves. Could you imagine if I told Emma some garbage like… ‘Everybody hates Mommy’s art. Nobody buys it because it stinks!’”
Jabbing his finger into his chest, he scrunched his brow, “I’d be a chauvinist pig if I said that. So why is it okay for her to talk crap about what I do!?”
“It shouldn’t be,” said Mag sympathetically.
Slumping his shoulders, Michael’s palms slapped his legs and rubbed his thighs, “Nancy started homeschooling Emma two years ago. I think it’s amazing she’s able to do it and it’s wonderful for Emma to learn from her mom. She’s already smarter than I was at her age.”
“I don’t think I’d have the patience to homeschool.”
“Me neither,” He looked into her eyes,
“I’ve never told anyone this. But I have no idea what other stuff Nancy tells Emma about me and my work. Part of me is afraid she’s conditioning Emma to be like her. Like Nancy’s teaching Emma to think the way Nancy thinks… training my daughter to despise me.”
“I tried to talk with Nancy about it a few times. Asked her if she resented me for working at Methodis and for quitting the LLC. But she made it seem like I was attacking her.”
“She asked if I was accusing her of something and I said no, ‘I’m just wondering why you say comments that belittle my job.’ Then she flipped-out and yelled at me. Asking if I thought everything was her fault.”
His eyes welling, he opened them wide and blinked incessantly,
“I don’t know what she meant. I never blamed her for any of this. Then she asked if I ever thought of looking at myself to see what I might be doing wrong. She asked if I thought I was perfect.”
“I had no clue what was happening. I told her… ‘I don’t think I’m perfect.’ And she said… ‘Why are you accusing me, then!?’”
“What did you do?”
“I didn’t know what to do. She was crying and yelling at the same time. I just apologized. I didn’t know what else to do.”
“Did she stop?”
“After a while… But that’s not the first time I tried to talk with her about it. It’s the last time though. I’m not doing it again.”
“I don’t think I’d bring it up either. Not after that.”
He chuckled exhaustedly,
“I feel like all my stories get worse and worse.”
Wiping a tear from his cheek, he sighed, “When Nancy yells, Emma hears her. And Emma thinks Mommy’s yelling because Daddy’s physically hurting Mommy. But that’s not what’s happening. All I can do is calm the situation before it gets out of hand.”
“I never thought of that. Hopefully, Emma won’t remember when she gets older. It’s really smart of you to cut the argument short though.”
“It’s the only thing I can do.”
“Did Emma ever mention hearing you guys argue?”
His head shook, “Yeah. It was the worst day of my life. During our last argument, Emma came into the kitchen when Nancy and I were arguing. At the time, Nancy was crying and Emma rushed in, crying too. Then she said… ‘Daddy! Stop making Mommy cry!’ While she said it, she hit me as hard as she could with her little balled-up fists. I felt like a failure as a father. But I’m not the one who did anything wrong! All I did was ask Nancy a question.”
Mag’s emotions sank.
Pausing… she absorbed the totality of his story,
“I don’t know what to say.”
“Don’t worry about it. I shouldn’t be bothering you with this anyway. It’s too much stuff.”
“Have you guys ever gone to counseling?”
“I tried bringing that up, but it resulted in the same type of argument. Nancy told me I could go if I want. But she’s not going.”
“The reason I ask is because Drew and I went to weekly counseling sessions. I thought it was a waste of time. The counselor made us go through exercises where one person talks and the other one listens without speaking. And he gave us homework assignments. We had to write essays about what happened to us during the previous week. I didn’t learn anything about our relationship. But the sessions were super expensive. The only thing I learned is counselors make a lot of money.”
“I’d be willing to try that. I’ll try anything that might help. But Nancy is not into it. She’s was pretty clear about that.”
“No. I’m sorry! Sorry for making you listen to that sad story.”
Leaning towards her, he put his hand on her thigh, “Next time we meet-up, let’s go to a bar or something. Alcohol makes me happier. It’ll make my conversation less depressing.
Mag smirked, “Sure.”
“Have you ever been to Shadrack’s in Sunnyvale? It’s a dive bar, but they serve decent food and have Methodis’ mobile application integrated into their jukebox. We can request songs, using our phones.”
“Maybe this Friday we can go. Let’s figure it out during the week.”
Falling silent and staring into each other’s eyes… Michael’s breathe shuddered, “I wanna hug you. Is that okay? Friends hug, right?”
Separated by the center console, they angled towards each other and embraced platonically.
“I have an hour drive home,” said Mag. “How long is yours?”
“About twenty minutes.”
“I’ll call you when you get in your car and we can talk while driving.”
Three minutes later.
Michael drove on the freeway and his phone rang,
“Hey you. I’m listening to a new R&B artist named Flight. Do you know him?”
“Yup. He’s not new. That guy’s been making music for like five years.”
“I had no idea. I think this song is new though. Can you hear it?”
She amplified her stereo’s volume and Michael raised the volume on his Bluetooth… straining to decipher the song,
“Yeah. It is new. I like this song.”
“Have you ever gone to an R&B concert?”
“Yeah, a long time ago in Brisbane. Some friends and I went to see… ugh... It was so long ago. We went to a concert that had a bunch of artists touring together. I think it was Carl Kane and Eclipse. They were the headliners.”
“That’s funny. I went to that show too. But I saw it in Oakland. Maybe fifteen years ago? Eww, you’re right. It was a long time ago.”
“Really? You saw that show too?”
“Yeah, I was dating this girl who loved R&B. I didn’t really listen to R&B until she asked me to go with her. Lord… I would’ve listened to the sound of dying angels for that girl; I was so in love with her. Eventually, she turned out to be insane, but I was a royal screw–up too.”
“I barely remember going to that show.”
“Wanna hear something gross?” said Michael.
“I saw that show at the Coliseum. The inside is huge. But it was only three-quarters full, so there were empty rows of seats in the upper decks. Halfway through the concert, my girlfriend and I climbed to the top of the bleachers where all the lights were out, and started making-out. We stayed up there for the entire second half of the show. It was the first and only time I had sex in public.”
“The crazy thing is, there were other people up there too. Every few rows, couples were having sex. It was an orgy of idiots.”
“Did you ever have sex in public?”
“No. But when I was a teenager, my cousin had sex with her boyfriend while I was in the same room.”
“What!?” Michael blurted,
“How did that happen?”