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Authors: James L. Rubart

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BOOK: The Five Times I Met Myself
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“Okay.” He considered telling her to be safe, but she’d think it was cliché. “Wake me up when you get home?”

“Sure.”

But he knew she wouldn’t.

Brock slipped into bed early and picked up Morgan’s book. He meant to read just a few chapters but found it impossible to put down till he finished it. Morg was right. Fascinating. Lucid dreaming was a way to control his dreams. Which meant a way to grab hold of the one terrorizing him, wrench it from his subconscious, and destroy it.

He glanced at his watch. Twelve twenty-one. Still no Karissa.
He considered texting her but knew she’d be annoyed. Checking up on her, she’d say. He pushed the worry from his mind and prayed the dream wouldn’t come as sleep carried him away.

Brock slept solid—with no dreams, thank God—till he woke the next morning to the sound of the shower running. He opened his eyes a crack and stared through the half-open bathroom door. He didn’t need to look at the clock on his nightstand. Had to be just after seven.

Same routine Monday through Friday for the past twenty-seven years. Karissa took an eight-minute shower every weekday morning starting at exactly seven a.m. Plus two minutes for her to dry off, which meant he had less than ten minutes to get to the kitchen, make coffee, and have it ready for them to drink a cup together. If she decided she had time.

Five minutes later, Karissa strolled around the corner of the hallway into the kitchen, drying her thick dark-brown hair with a light-green towel. Karissa sauntered up to him, kissed him on the cheek, and sat on the stool beside him.

“Sorry I didn’t let you know I was going out last night.” She gave him her scrunched-up-face grin that never failed to make him smile. At least in action, if not in heart. Could she see through his acting? Maybe the same way he saw through hers.

But it would be okay. They just needed time. He needed things at the company to stop being so volatile. Needed his sparring with Ron to subside. Needed to spend a bit more time with Tyson, which Karissa loved seeing him do.

“Tyson get off to school okay?”

“He was already gone by the time I got up at six.”

“Student council stuff?”

“No. He’s practicing his speech in front of two of the teachers.”
Karissa slid off the stool, scooted over to the refrigerator, and pulled out her caramel macchiato creamer. She called to him over the top of the door. “You didn’t bring over my creamer.”

“It masks the flavor of the coffee.”

How many times had they had this argument?

“It’s the way I like it.” She returned to the stool and shook her head at him.

“What speech?”

“Come on, Brock. How can you not remember? Dinner last week. The only time the three of us sat down together.” She sighed and shifted her body away from him. “You were here for that. Correct?”

“Yes.”

“But you don’t recall him telling us about being voted by all the teachers and the entire senior class to give the commencement speech at graduation?”

“Yes, I do.” Brock closed his eyes for a moment. “A lot going on at work.”

“As there always is, as there always will be.”

“It won’t always be this intense, Karissa.”

“And the sun won’t always rise. But it will for a long time to come.” She slipped off her stool and strolled away. “Are you in the office all day?”

“Yeah. I’m outta here in twenty minutes.”

She waved without turning around. “Hope your day goes well.”

Brock waited till she reached the bottom of the stairs that led to their bedroom. “Have you decided if you’re coming Friday night?”

Karissa stopped but didn’t turn. “Do you want me to come?”

“Like I told you, it’s your choice. Either way is fine.”

“That’s what you said, but you’ll resent it if I don’t.”

“No, I won’t.”

“Yes. You will.” She rotated till she faced him, her face a mask of indifference. “I’ve been to three of your reunions.”

“In other words, you don’t want to go.”

Karissa stared at him, eyes now frosty. “If you want me to come, I will come.”

“Don’t come. I’m completely fine with that. You’d be bored out of your mind.”

“All right. Thank you.” She turned and strode away.

“But if you do end up wanting to come, I’d love to have you there.”

Karissa was already around the corner. If she heard him, she didn’t respond.

Chapter 3

R
emember,” Lennie said, “you have to give a speech at the reunion. Darby isn’t coming and you were class VP, so you have to do it.”

Brock laughed into his Bluetooth. He sat at his desk on the seventeenth floor of the Lincoln Tower One building in downtown Bellevue on Monday afternoon and stared at the floating span of concrete that bridged the eastside to Seattle. “Uh, no. No one wants to hear me talk.”

“Yeah they do. At least I do, and since I planned this thing, I left a spot in the program for you.”

“You’d be so much better than me. I’m not a good speaker.”

“Are you kidding? You speak all the time for Black Fedora. TV, interviews, ads—”

“That’s to a camera, or one reporter, and it’s short sound bites—”

“You give talks to crowds—”

“Only when there’s no way to get out of it. Gotta go, Lennie. I’ll see you Friday night.”

“But—”

Brock ended the call, pulled off his Bluetooth, and set it on his desk next to his Mac Pro. He refocused on an e-mail from a client wanting to develop a promotional video for their new set of stores. He hit reply to craft a response, but before he could type a word his intercom buzzed. Brock pushed the button.

“Hey, Michelle.”

“Want to take a wild guess what I’m going to tell you?” Bright voice as always. Nothing ever seemed to bring his executive assistant down.

“Your husband just scored a six-album deal with Sony Music, they’re giving him millions, and you’re leaving me high and dry for the Bahamas tomorrow morning.”

“Ehh! Wrong answer. Want to play again, double or nothing?”

“Someone should give him that deal. He’s supremely talented.”

“Thank you for coming all the way up to Arlington see him.” Brock heard a smile in Michelle’s voice. “You don’t know what that meant for his confidence.”

“I’m just glad they let a middle-aged guy in the door.”

“You don’t look middle-aged.”

“But you’re admitting I am.”

“By the calendar only.” Michelle laughed. “Back to my question . . .”

“You want to let me know I have a meeting with Ron coming up in three minutes, and if I want to get there on time I should probably get going.”

“Now you’re a winner.”

“What if I don’t want to be on time? What if I don’t want to go at all?” Brock released the button, stood, strode over to his office door, and opened it. “What do you think about you going for me?”

Michelle smiled and her eyes disappeared into her dark skin. Only twenty-six, but already the most accomplished assistant Brock had ever worked with. She shifted on her chair and waved fingers with bright blue nail polish through the air.

“You know how much I’d love to, but I would never consider depriving you of the chance to spend time with your favorite brother.”

“At times your kindness astounds me.”

“I try.” Michelle bowed her head.

Brock loped toward Ron’s office with a goal of finishing their talk in under ten minutes. He would be shocked if the meeting wasn’t completely unnecessary. When he reached his brother’s open door, he knocked on the door frame once, then stepped inside.

Ron Matthews stood at the far end of his office with his back to Brock. At his feet were six or seven golf balls, TaylorMade Tour Preferred X most likely. Brock couldn’t see it, but there was of course a putter in his brother’s hands. Either a Scotty Cameron hand-milled Fastback or a replica of Calamity Jane, Bobby Jones’s putter. Bobby Jones, the greatest amateur golfer who ever lived, and Ron’s hero.

Their CFO, Richard, stood fifteen or so feet to the left, both arms wrapped around a thick binder. Beside his shoes was a brass putting cup.

Ron glanced at the CFO before lining up one of his golf balls. “Anything else you need from me?”

“No, I’m fully prepared.” He sniffed. “I’ll implement the changes right away.”

Ron drew the putter back and sent the pristine ball toward the cup. The ball slowed, crawled up the short ramp, and dropped into the center.

“Thank you, Richard.”

“Of course.”

Their CFO turned like a marionette on strings, then waddled toward the door. When he was within a few feet of Brock, he nodded but didn’t look into Brock’s eyes.

“Brock.”

“Richard.”

As soon as the CFO stepped into the hallway and closed the door behind him, Brock strode toward Ron. “What changes?”

Ron rubbed his thick, short dark hair, then pulled another ball in front of him. His trademark business attire was black slacks, black shoes, and long-sleeved business shirts that were some variation of blue. Light blue, dark blue, checkered blue, blue stripes. At least he didn’t wear ties.

Brock would come to work in nicely pressed jeans and T-shirts if he could get away with it. But his brother didn’t embrace the casual look, so Brock donned the proper clothes when he was in the office. But on his frequent trips along the equator—visiting the coffee farms where Black Fedora’s beans came from—his myriad T-shirts reigned supreme. Maybe he’d start dressing up someday. But at fifty-three, he didn’t think the dog would be learning any new tricks.

“What changes, Ron?”

Ron sent the ball at his feet toward the brass ring. He missed left.

Brock’s brother sighed and set the putter against the back wall. “Saving eight million dollars a year.”

“By doing what?”

“We’re going to change our buying patterns for a few cycles.”

“You can’t be serious.” Brock held out his hands and shook his
head. “You mean we’re going to start buying beans from companies that employ slave labor to harvest their crop.”

“Let me explain.”

Heat rose in Brock, but he forced his voice to stay calm. “By purchasing our coffee from independent, worker-owned fields, we give them freedom. Their prices are five percent higher than what we would pay from other suppliers, but the extra money allows them to purchase land and change their lives. Radically.”

“I know what the program does.”

Brock ignored him. “The average yearly take-home wage for a worker harvesting beans is $1,200. But once they own just fifty acres, their yearly take-home jumps to $9,500.”

“Brock? I was there when you set up the program.”

Brock snapped his fingers. “Just like that they jump off the treadmill of barely making enough to survive. They make enough to save, to buy a small home, to send their children to school.”

“Let me repeat: I know what the program does.”

“I don’t think you do. If you did, you wouldn’t be suggesting we scrap it for even one day. What we do for the people down there is one of the foundational values of this company.”

“We don’t have a choice.”

“What?”

“We need to switch. Just for a few cycles. Then we’ll get back to—”

“Are we in trouble?” A chill wound through Brock.

“Nah, not bad. Things are thin, yes, but just because of our recent expansions.” He walked toward Brock.

“Don’t mess with me, Ron. What’s going on?”

“Brock. Relax.” Ron opened his hands. “Things are fine. But we just laid out six million for expansion into the Philippines
,
and
another eight for Japan. Return on those investments will be substantial, but they won’t start to trickle in for five, maybe even six quarters. And I am not one to let this company skate along on anything less than five hundred thousand in reserves. It’s the way Dad always did it, it’s the way we’ll always do it. That way we avoid the places where the ice gets dangerously thin.”

“Turning our back on the heart of this company isn’t who we are.”

“A few cycles, Brock. That’s all.”

“What about the workers down there who can’t wait a few cycles?”

“They can wait.”

“No, they can’t.”

They stood and stared at each other just like they had from the time Ron was old enough to stand. Both of them absolutely determined to win. When they were little they proved themselves with fists, then sports, and now the corporate arena. After thirty seconds, Ron broke the silence.

“We are making this
temporary
change, Brock.” Ron glared at him. “I asked you for this meeting to inform you, not to ask your permission.”

His brother turned and strolled back toward his putter.

After a late dinner and an even later cup of coffee, Brock went to bed ready to try lucid dreaming. It was a great excuse to get his mind off his meeting with Ron, and he wanted to be ready the next time his dad showed up in his dreams. Throughout the day he’d practiced the conscious techniques that should give
him control of his subconscious world. Time to see if they would work.

Sleep came quickly and so did a dream. He sat in his kitchen, but it wasn’t the right color. The beige was too dark, and the chair he sat in was a recliner, not a table chair. What had the book said? Right. Look at a tangible object, like a clock. He did, and the one on the wall shimmered, then faded, then vanished.

BOOK: The Five Times I Met Myself
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