Smile Upon Me...
"A biggie?" Nate asked, raising his eyebrows. "All right, shoot."
"I like my work, I really do." I ignored his possible innuendo, sitting up so we could look each other in the eyes. "We don't just design commercials, but entire campaigns. It's quite stimulating."
"So? You're thinking of quitting?" He looked puzzled. "I thought you said you were up to something big."
"Well yeah, mobile phones. The campaign will be nation-wide."
"I don't know. Just a feeling I have, that we're putting all our eggs in just a couple of baskets. We're heavily involved with a couple of huge companies, planning major things in super-hot businesses."
"That doesn't sound too bad," Nate tried, but I could tell that he had no idea where I was going. "Get to the point, Chris, or you'll have to jog to work."
"My point is, I've invested a lot of time in that company, and I do own quite a lot of shares. If I sold them now, I'd be quite rich."
"Still no point."
"I'm going to quit, Nate. It's been brewing for a while. There's something else I want to try."
"What?" He moved closer to me. "Tell me."
"Internet. Not programming or designing, but doing commercials."
"Commercials on the web?"
"Yeah. Banners, links and such. I think that market is hugely underestimated. While I'm afraid micro-technology is overrated. The company I work for are betting heavily on a couple of stock rockets, not knowing if they'll crash or rise."
"But if they rise, so would your shares."
"Yes, and if they fall, I might be out of job, with a bunch of shares not even usable as toilet paper."
"Point. What about software, stock market guru, will my company make it?"
"Depends. How long can you fight the big ones? Even their shares are levelling out."
"Big point. If Seattle drops, Chicago will crumble." He laughed. "Are you trying to talk me into business with you?"
"I'm suggesting it. What do you say? Small-scale. You're a programmer, I'm a designer. Nothing big, just enough to get by." I kissed his cheek. "I'm going to do it, Nate. I'm stepping out of hi-tech before it falls."
"You're that sure technology is bound to fail?"
"Gut feeling, Nate. Besides, I'm getting tired of it. If I skip out now, I'll end up with almost two million dollars on the bank, more than enough to start up a small-scale company. I'll be able to live well, too."
"Hmm. I'll have to think about it."
"I thought you already had. You said you wished you hadn't started your company."
"I sometimes do. Suppose, just suppose we do it, start our own company, what will we do if we hit it big? The internet isn't that big for commercial interests, but say you're right! Then I'd just jumped from one stress-inducing hot-shot company to another."
"We could decide to keep it small. Exclusive services, maybe. If we get high in demand, we can charge top prices."
"Damn, Chris," he sighed. "This is too much for my old head to take in right away. And by the way, we've got to get you ready for the day. Hit the showers, baby!"
"But I'll hurt my hand..."
"Same place as yesterday. I'll get us a table." I hugged him, then headed for the bathroom. "I really think this is the way to go, Nate."
"So you said. But you did interrupt something really nice."
"Well, a raincheck for you. Come on over tonight, and you can cash it in."
"Oh, good. Don't use up all the hot water."
Work seemed bleak that day. Maybe it was because I had already decided to quit, or maybe it had always been that way, and I just hadn't been alive enough to know how boring it really was. I spent more time talking to my workmates than I actually did working, and to my surprise I found that I wouldn't really miss many of them. One of these was Carl. Before promotions had separated us, we had slavered together as mere designer assistants. Many long nights, and many, many thermosfuls of coffee had passed between us. He stopped over to hand me a bunch of papers I'd asked for the other day, and as he went on about the weekend basketball scores, I paused to take a look at him. I guess you could call him good looking; he had an excellent physique, being a college basket player, and he had a boyish, handsome look to his face. Yet I felt nothing. Whatever Nate had stirred in me, it had awoken just for him. I hadn't thought of Carl in a sexual way before, and I didn't, now. Something told me I had some thorough soul-searching on the schedule for the next couple of weeks. I was so caught up in my thoughts that I hardly noticed when Carl tapped my shoulder.
"Miles away, buddy." He grinned. "Call me Sherlock, but I'd say you had a rather good weekend, no?"
"Well..." I blushed. "It was fairly okay, I guess."
"Thought so. You've got that just-scored look plastered all over your face. A cutie?"
"Very. Cute, charming and sexy, and soo in love with me."
"No shit? Serious this time?"
"I really think so. Last night was an... eye-opener."
"Good for ya, man! You really do look happier than ever. I was beginning to think I'd have to take you out, myself."
"What?" I couldn't believe he just said that! Was it so obvious? "You?"
"Hey, don't worry, I'm not gay or anything. Take you out club-hopping, I mean. Speaking of which, you have to introduce us some time."
"Maybe I will." An evil smile crept onto my lips. That might be fun. "Maybe I will."
"So what's wrong then?"
"Nothing's wrong, why?"
"Don't try, Chris." He laid a hand on my shoulder. "I've known you too long."
"I'm quitting, Carl."
"What!? Quitting the firm?" I nodded. "Why? Is it because of your latest fling?"
"Sped things up, maybe. But it has been brewing for a while. I need something new."
"You feel it too, eh?"
"The taste on the wind. The dark clouds up ahead. The times they are a-changin', you know."
"Carl, I thought I'd told you to crack a window when you use your marker pens."
"Seriously, we're fucked, aren't we? The whole business, I mean. Last week, I heard a couple of guys from down the hall talking about skipping out of the tech-business, and now you. What is it you know?"
"A gut feeling. Like you said, a taste on the wind. I'm thinking the internet, Carl. That'll be the next big thing."
"Maybe. So you do say hardware is screwed?"
"Not entirely, I mean, people still need new stuff, but the hype will die down, you know."
"I guess. There's food for the mind, Chris. I mean, I do hold a lot of stocks, maybe it's time to sell some off."
"So, how about lunch with you soon-to-be ex-co-worker?"
"Not today, bud. I've got an... appointment."
"Ooh, hesitation! Lucky devil. Tomorrow, then? Or are you leaving sooner than that?"
"No, tomorrow's fine, Carl. See ya later."
"Yeah. Hopefully." He winked at me. "If you're still able to walk."
The restaurant wasn't too busy that day, and as I got to our table, I found that Nate was already there. He smiled warmly at me when he saw me, and I felt my heart skip a beat. That smile had quickly become something I could die for. Or rather, live for. Not caring in the least who might be watching, I kissed his cheek before I sat down. He was positively beaming, and a slight blush had spread across his cheeks. We sat there watching each other for a minute or two, a silence golden rather than awkward.
"Did you order?"
"Nope. Good to see you, Chris."
"Heh. You saw me just this morning, didn't you?"
"Yeah, I know, but I think I'm getting addicted. It was a long morning."
"Yes. I felt that, too, Nate. I felt that, too."
"Really?" His eyes lit up, and he smiled again. "I thought I was just being silly, but I felt sort of... I don't know, lost?"
"Amputated? Like something vital was missing?" His smile faded, but the radiance in his eyes grew stronger. Again, I felt as if I could drown in them. "Like last night wasn't a peak, but just a beginning."
"Yes," he whispered. "Chris, I really do love you, I can't deny that."
"Then don't." The smile returned. "I felt that way, too. Whatever I thought I knew about myself doesn't matter. I love you, Nate. I'm not even afraid to say it anymore."
"Good. Chris, I'm going to do it."
"What? Here? We'll get arrested for sure."
"No, you silly..." He failed to suppress a giggly laughter, and I could feel heads turn towards us. "I mean, I'm going to sell my share in the company. I called my stock broker, guess what it's worth?"
"I'll get around two millions for my shares," I thought out loud, sucking my lower lip as I tried to add up numbers. "You own a third, right?"
"Of a hotshot software company. Eight?"
"And then some. Chris, I'll be good for roundabout seventy million dollars. Is that enough to start your company?"
I leaned back in my chair, trying to get some reality grip to seventy million dollars. I couldn't. It was just too much money to comprehend. Nate kept on grinning, as if it was all just a joke to him. Maybe it was. I just shook my head, my eyes sort of losing their focus. The waiter arrived to take our orders, and I just barely managed to make mine a spaghetti carbonara. I never even heard what Nate ordered. A couple more minutes passed, feeling like half an eternity, until Nate reached over to stroke my hand.
"I'm sorry, Nate, I think my brain just made a dash for the emergency exit. Seventy?"
"Current market value. But it's still rising. My broker all but ordered me to hang on to every share. Are you really sure it'll level out?"
"Pretty much. Why, seventy not enough for you?"
"You tell me, Mr Start-a-New-Company. Is it enough?"
"Nate, enough!? I had thought to invest my two, then maybe the same amount from you! Hardware, an office, advertising, I figured four would do the trick."
"Four million? Oh hell..."
"So keep your shares, buddy." I patted his hand. "Keep'em for as long as you want."
"Maybe you should have said that sooner..."
"Nate, did you...?"
"Sold it. I think the money's already in my bank account. Like I said, my stock broker just about broke down." He laughed. "Broker broke down, get it?"
"Yeah, I got it." I couldn't help but join in the laughter, trying my best to keep it low. "You sold it all?"
"I've still got a couple of jobs to finish, but I'll be out of work by the end of the month."
"You quit, too?"
"I thought that was the idea! Don't tell me you're backing out, Chris."
"I'm not." I tried to keep my voice steady. "I just hadn't thought to make such a quick move."
"Why? Because I'm a rational creature, my thought process is slow but careful. I don't just act on impulse."
"Like when you proclaimed your love for me?"
"All right, that was an exception. But..."
"No but, my love. Take your time. I'm sure we'll manage a while even if I don't work."
Our food arrived, and I started eating automatically, as if my reflexes didn't trust my brain to figure out how to operate a fork and a spoon. Nate had the same as I, and he kept the smile on his lips as we slowly ate. Once we were finished, I paid the bill, and we got up to leave. If we said anything else, it slipped right out of my memory. All I could think of were a few words he'd said. Outside the restaurant, we kissed good bye, and he promised to come over to my place as soon as he got off work. I grinned back at him, then slowly started my walk back to the office. Before I got there, I made a couple of stops, stocking up with foodstuff for the evening, even buying a bottle of low-alcohol wine. As I loaded all that into my car, another idea hit me. So he wanted impulse? I could do impulse! The last stop before I would grace the office with one of my very last visits was a short one, but it still made me feel exhausted as I left the store. That was it, no return. Tomorrow morning, if tonight went well, I would finish up at the office, and then the adventure was on. I had to force myself not to sing and dance like a modern day Fred Astaire on my way from the parking lot. And all the while, those words kept playing inside my mind. `I'm sure we'll manage...'
Shorter chapter this time. Slowly but surely, the end is approaching. A couple more chapters, then this story will be finished. As always, thoughts and comments are most welcome to firstname.lastname@example.org.