I wished the vacation to be over so that I could rest then get back to the grind. My watch buzzed again. Another email. I gripped the steering wheel, resisting the urge to tilt my wrist.
“Driving 90 miles per hour will not make the days go faster, Mr. Jeff Bazoon.” My wife sucked in a breath that could vacuum the dust off I-17.
“Sorry.” I eased off the pedal. “What’s after this Arcosanti stop?”
“An entire week of planning this road trip and you didn’t bother to read the itinerary? I shared it on OneNote.”
Here we go again. My daughters on the back seat stopped singing. The tension in the air was enough to make a crackling noise.
“Could barely get through my work email,” I muttered.
“The merger, the merger. I know.”
“Kate, I sleep five hours a day. Please. It’ll be over soon.”
“I hope, or else—”
“Mom, are you getting a divorce?”
She exhaled. “Annie, not all couples who argue get a divorce.”
“I know. My best friend’s parents didn’t talk to each other for four months and divorced last week.”
I sighed. How did my 12-year-old sound like a grandma overnight? “Annie, I’m just—”
“—stressed to the bones because of work,” my other daughter said. “Aren’t we all? Got my endless homework. We understand, Dad.”
Sarah’s eye-rolling did not escape me from the rearview mirror. “Are you wearing make-up?”
She batted her eyelashes. “Just practicing for the Senior Prom.”
“It’s pretty. You look more like your mother.”
“I don’t wear make-up,” Kate said.
True. Kate’s porcelain Asian skin required no foundation, nor her thick lashes needed the additional weight of mascara, whereas Sarah had my darker tone and mixed Mediterranean-Asian heritage. Sarah used to wish her eyes were more slanted like her mother’s. Now, her eyeliner created the illusion, but the smile in her eyes had vanished. Kate didn’t have to be so harsh on our daughter.
“One mile to the exit for Arcosanti. Keep right.” Kate opened the travel book. “It’s supposed to be some urban lab in the middle of Arizona desert.”
My ears perked up at the word lab. Perhaps I can find some ideas for the prototype. The wheels grated as I exited onto a gravel road. The Italian cypresses surrounding the contemporary structure looked out of place in the middle of the dry, arid land. I steered into the parking lot. "Lab in the desert?"
“It’s an experiment on sustainable living.” Kate attached the zoom lens on her Nikon camera while the girls and I stretched out. I welcomed the cool breeze of spring and donned on my light jacket. We entered a modern hobbit house with circular glass windows and high ceilings. Windbells in greenish hue hung at every corner, the tag prices ranging in the hundreds.
Kate approached the lady at the counter then came back with a frown on her face. "Too bad we missed the tour. They're out for lunch break and won't be back until 1 pm. Let's do a quick walkthrough then hit the road."
Kate gravitated towards the art pieces while I leaned on the bookshelf and checked my phone for emails.
“Jeff.” Kate sneaked from behind me.
I shoved my phone into my pocket.
“You promised. No work.”
“I—was looking at…” I took out a random book from the shelf, “the price of this on Amazon.” “The Mind Garden: Conversations with Paolo Soleri II by Michel Sarda? Really.” She arched her black brow.
“It’s interesting.” I opened a random page. “Paolo said, `Ego and greed make a great entrance: when I become smart enough to know that I can accumulate three days of food instead of my daily portion, the notion of greed develops rapidly.” The words tasted like sand in my mouth.
“So, is Mr. Soleri’s ghost telling you to stop working while vacationing?”
Crap. I fumbled through the next sentence. “No. I agree with this guy Michel who said, ‘You call it greed, I call it planning. To me, looking for a three-day food supply is not greed, it is just considering the fact that in the next two or three days the weather could be too bad to go hunting or fishing’.”
Kate grabbed the book and quoted Paolo's reply. “With this capability to anticipate comes power, and power makes greed to triumph. Paolo wins. C’mon, let’s go if we want to catch the sunset at the Grand Canyon. We still need to pass by Sedona.” She took a coffee table book from the shelf.
“Why don’t you pay for these. No souvenir magnets.” She rubbed her head on my shoulder. “Hope you find the time to read it. Looks interesting. Might give you fresher perspectives. Bring you back to us.”
“I’m here, Kate.” What else does she want? I’ve given her five days of paid-time-off that I could not afford. Who knows what’ll happen in the office while I was gone? Everybody was sacking everybody. Even the big bosses were getting chopped off. The company’s getting rid of expensive redundant roles. Was I redundant?
Kate straightened up. “You’re here but never here.” She regarded our older daughter who was tinkling the wind bells. “Sarah’s heading to college soon. This might be our last chance.”
“Nonsense. Of course, we can always do another trip.”
Or maybe not.
College. My stomach churned.
I rubbed my neck. Was I earning enough?
Kate's fingers ran over my forehead. "You're worried again. If you weren't earning more than $125,000, Sarah wouldn't even need to pay tuition at Stanford. You work too hard!"
“I’m doing it for you, for the girls.” Like she doesn’t know.
“Look, the Lord has provided all these years. Look at the birds, they neither sow nor reap…”
Easy for her to say these things. She doesn't bring home the bread. I bet she won't be as optimistic if her pantry was empty. Her preaching faded into the background as we walked back to the car, the gravel crunching under our feet. We headed to the next destination while Kate rambled with her Sermon on the Mount. Her words entered my right ear and skimmed through my brain to exit to the left ear. The birds did not have to go to college, and the flowers did not shed their petals as often as my fashionista daughters shopped for clothes. It was my fault, as Kate would point out. The more I spent time away from them, the more money I splurged on them, as though it would atone for my guilt. But I liked providing for the family. It gave me a sense of worth. Although, lately, the burden had been back breaking.
A cat, chasing after its tail. Me. In a nutshell.
“—cat.” The air-conditioner hummed after Kate’s last word.
“Huh? What were you saying?”
“Not sure when your mind trailed off, so I don't know." Kate studied the mountain ranges and checked on the girls. “Asleep. I’m talking to myself again.”
I grasped her hand and squeezed it.
She smiled with tight lips.
“I’m sorry,” I said.
“I feel like a priest in a confessional with the sorries I’m getting from you.”
She raised her palm, and I recoiled.
"Oh, Jeff." She stroked my cheeks. "You've been jittery. Look, if you're that worried about the money, I can go back to work. I've kept my nursing license active. To heck with this dream of becoming a photographer if the single income is driving you nuts."
“No, you deserve it. You’ve given me my chance to pursue my dream. And I failed. Who knows, you may have better luck.”
“It’s not just luck.” She poked a finger at my chest. “You have to believe in the destiny written in your heart.”
“Well, I can’t afford to pursue that dream right now. You do it. You, and the girls.”
“Sarah is having second thoughts about accepting Harvard’s offer. She wants to wait on Stanford. I have to check their program. Which would best prepare her for medical school.”
“She got accepted?”
“Jeff, she told you last week. That’s why you agreed to take a week off for the spring vacation, remember? Where have you been? Oh, my goose. Are you alright? Should I make an appointment with your doctor? This is crazy.”
Sarah got accepted? Wow. How did I miss on that news? This was serious. I did need a break from work. I stole a glance at Sarah. She was sleeping, with her face tilted up and her mouth open. Just like when she was nine. Where did the years go? And now, she was heading to college. Harvard. “It must have been that night when the company offered me the package.” I was stomped that day and had driven from work like a zombie.
“Didn’t I tell you to take it? That was a generous one. Why are you holding on so tight to this company? This will give you a clean break, start anew. Pursue your dreams—”
“I’ve worked so hard these five years to get to where I am. This new prototype we’re working on will ensure me five years of security if I could pull this negotiation with Sparker Biotech.”
"Is that the giant, chomping your company and spitting out the bones? That's what they do with acquisitions."
“It’s a merger, Kate, not an acquisition.”
"Says you." She took out her phone and sped-typed. "Merger vs. acquisition,” she mumbled. After a moment of silence, she said, "You want to hear the sad truth? In a nutshell, you’ll know it’s an acquisition when one kicks another's behind, a giant rules and dictates on the dwarf, and more heads are rolling off from one company than the other."
“Merger or not, I’m not about to be kicked out along with the middle-aged white Americans, and highly-paid expendable executives.” That was the latest trend in the corporate world. Not certain if it was true.
“Which you are neither, but they still offered you the severance package anyway. Stats show, it's the redundant positions that get chopped. Are you redundant? If so, then you've not found your niche. You're just a shadow of someone, the sagging superfluous middle that can be trimmed off."
I flinched. Truth hurts especially coming from a catty wife who would not mince her words. "Well, I don't want to be chopped."
“Sometimes disasters are there to reroute you to a better course. That’s what Sam said.”
There she was again, quoting this new friend of hers. If I didn’t know her any better, I’d think she was having an affair with this Samuel guy. But her lofty morals would not stoop to that level. Her weekly meeting with him this past month could be another thing. Was he brainwashing her?
"Why the knot on the forehead? Is this about Sam again? Look, you spend more time with that woman co-worker, whats-her-name—Amanda. Can't I have one friend at least? It's tough having to talk to the dishwasher, washing machine and dryer all week."
“It was your choice. You could work on weekends and have your dose of adult companionship.”
“No, I’m good.”
“And for the record, Amanda knows more about the prototype designs than anyone in the company.” An affair with another woman? I could barely handle all the hormonal drama in my yard. "Besides, she'd be the last person who'd have an affair in the office, the way she and her husband had been inviting us to attend the Renew Your Vows From Your Kitchen Ministry—"
“They invited us?”
I groaned inside. Me and my big mouth. Why did I have to dig my hole, knowing Kate's inclination for the religious? "Why…did you want to go?"
She shook her head so hard, I was afraid she’d break her neck. “That kind of meeting gives me the hives. You don’t want to be absent for fear of being the next topic of gossip. I think they enjoy the wining and dining more than each other’s company. Nope. I’m happy with my simple life.”
Did I hear her right? I had to admit she’d been less nagging and more at peace these past weeks. Was it because of this Sam? Perhaps I was missing a lot in the homestead.
“Look at those grazing black cows,” Kate said. “They’re like toy figures.” She snapped a shot from her iPhone.
Grazing. More like lazing under the sun. I envied them for a moment.
“Dad, can we pull over at the next rest stop?”
“Why dear?” Kate turned towards Annie.
“I have to check…you know.” Her whisper to Kate did not escape my ears.
"Didn't you change at the hotel in Phoenix?"
Annie groaned at Kate’s broadcasting volume.
“That was two hours ago, mom. I need to—you know...”
“Check what?” I said.
Annie blushed and ducked from my mirror view.
“She has her period,” Kate whispered.
"What?" I swerved into the center lane then back. "Since when?"
“Jeff! Oh— my— gooseneck!" Kate resorted to her favorite expression in her thick Asian accent. "You are killing me. Didn't I tell you? Since last month.”
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