Am I sure I’m Sherrie?

“Do you want to know what I’m thinking?”

“Of course I do.”

“Why?”

It was a trick questions, and I knew it, because we were in the middle of an argument. I guessed he was about to make the point that no, I really didn’t want to know because if I did then I wouldn’t be doing blah-de-blah.

But I was trying to diffuse the situation, for once. I’m not known as the diffuser in this relationship, but every once in awhile I have a good day. So I said ….

“I do want to know, because we are all always changing. If you don’t tell me what you’re thinking, I’ll be loving an outdated version of you, someone who used to exist. I want to love the you who is here now and I can’t do that if you won’t tell me what you’re thinking.”

Oh. We looked at each other and we both realized that, for no apparent reason, I had just spoken a fine truth. I had no idea where it came from. It did kind of diffuse the discussion, though, and we both went on about our day feeling less angry.

Later, as I sat down to work on the novel I am so, so close to finishing, I read the scene I wrote last night before dinner. It was about Zane, the shape-shifting protagonist of y1, the novel that is the basis for this blog. Zane is in my nearly finished book as well, and in this most recent scene he has been forced to assume the appearance of and substitute himself for an older businessman named Warren. Here’s the scene.

Zane woke up Friday morning and he knew that it was show time. The real Warren would be safe somewhere at a location unknown to Zane. Jerry would be in nearby room listening to Zane’s every conversation, making sure Zane behaved…

Warren had a series of appointments that day, starting with the ones that were likely to be quick and easy. First up were the non-telepathic executives who oversaw Accounting, HR, and Legal. Each needed a few minutes of the big boss’s time to approve this and discuss that and be reassured that Warren’s unprecedented absence for the past two weeks had been necessary and that the issues had been resolved. His administrative aide needed time with him as well, and Zane guessed that she would be the toughest one to fool.

But really, what was she going to say. “Are you sure you’re Warren?”

He already knew how he would answer.

“Yes. Are you sure you’re Denise?”

But the conversation would probably never happen. People saw what they expected to see.

I’ve gotten a lot of good things from my obsession with writing novels. I’ve learned facts, met people, experienced a lot of personal satisfaction. But to the best of my knowledge, this is first time part of plot has worked to supply me with the perfect answer to a question.

Am I sure I’m Sherrie? If it’s the April 14, 2017 release you’re asking about, then yes, I’m sure.

(For more short excerpts from my upcoming novel, also see Worry about those you love and write about what you know, Point of View, The Amazing Things I Get to Do, and Cease worrying when you can and write about what you know.)

When is it time for “More”?

I’ve spent the last couple of years downsizing, and trying on the idea that a simpler life can be a happier life for me. I’ve turned to finding small pleasures and treasures to be thankful for, and to not basing my actions on always wanting more. This flies in the face of much of my upbringing and culture, so even with this conscious effort I am still far from ascetic. But in spite of the ways that this change in outlook have challenged me, I have to say it has been a joyful journey.

But is it always bad to want more? How about more love? More kindness? More simple decency? More popcorn?

Image result for more usherI’m in the process of looking at the last song referred to in each of my books. y1 is largely a book about finding joy, and the last song is “More” by Usher Raymond IV, an American singer, songwriter, dancer, and actor. This has got me me thinking about the idea of how “more” relates to happiness, or if it does at all.

Over the past few months I’ve also been writing about a survey of world happiness and my fascination with the fact that six attributes appear to determine how happy a large group of people is, on the average. Groups that are basically healthy, wealthy enough, have social connections, are free to make their own choices, live in a fair society and are surrounded by those who generally behave kindly are — no surprise — happier than those who live in societies that lack one or more of these attributes. Individual mileage does vary; we all know those who can manage misery in the best of circumstances and others who smile through the worst of them.

growing-bolder-10So what about more? In another post I talked about how money only adds joy up to a certain point. After basic needs and some wants are met, more cash has little to no effect on a person’s happiness, no matter how much they think that it will.  One can argue about having too many social connections, or too much individual freedom, I suppose. One can even argue that a society can be too kind. But can you be too healthy? Have a society that is too fair? Is there always a point where enough is enough? The science fiction writer in me is having no trouble at all imaging a world where any one of these “happiness builders” is taken too far.

But sometimes, we do need more. I’m going to argue that we don’t need more fast food chains, but we could do with more locally grown produce. We don’t need more years added to our lives, but we do need our later years to be more healthy and happy. More fairness and kindness would be wonderful; we’re a long way from overdoing either in our society.

y1 is the only novel that I ended with a song. After all the adventures of the book have concluded and before the epilogue starts, the foursome of main characters gather for one last walk on the beach …. over flaming coals. Yes, that is something this group would do to celebrate.

After an uneventful week and a half at sea, they reached Toby’s island a little after dawn and happily stretched their legs with a long walk on the beach. Toby had decided to keep the place, but he thought it wise to scale back the island’s processes so he did not have to visit so often. Zane, Afi, and Joy spent the day helping him dismantle the hydroponic gardening apparatus and securing the house, and its energy and water gathering capabilities, to better exist without a caretaker for longer periods of time.

As the afternoon wound down, they prepared for a feast out on the sand. The coals glistened while the fish were cleaned and cooked. Wine was poured. A salad was made. Amid stories and jokes, they ate the last of the food.

Then Afi turned on his favorite new RedOne Jimmy Joker remix of Usher’s recent dance floor hit “More.” As the pulsating sounds began to capture the group, Afi gave them a questioning look.

“Like the man suggests, is now the time to bring fire to our dance floor?” he asked.

“Definitely.”

“Of course.”

“Why the hell not?”

A stretch of clouds in the west provided a flame like show of color while Afi arranged the embers carefully into a small orange and grey rectangle in the sand. Then one by one, each member of Miss Demeanor’s crew stood up, improvised a jolly bow to the others, and calmly, yet purposefully, walked over the glowing coals.

For each of the songs I refer to, I seek out a live performance to link to in the electronic version of my novels. This amateur video of “More” shot in Rotterdam in 2011 manages decent audio quality along with a nice mix of close ups of, crowd enthusiasm, and panning out to capture the dancing and gymnastics on stage. Great fun. Enjoy it, and think of the times when we all need more.

(For more posts on the subject of what makes us happy see If you want to be happy move to a cold country?, Happiness fascinates me, None of us are normal if we’re lucky, Four Reasons I Love It When “Love Wins”, Some Kind of Kindness, and The fairest of them all?)

Four Reasons I Love It When “Love Wins”

Reason number one: Love makes us happy, and happiness is wonderful.

Several times now I’ve posted about a report on which countries have the happiest people. I’m intrigued that six attributes account for most of this variation, and I summed them up as health, wealth, freedom, love, fairness and kindness. I’ve already written about the first three and today I’m thinking about love.

life lessons6Now, the people doing this survey were not asking questions about romantic love, wonderful as is it. They used a broader definition, by asking something more like “do you have people in your life that you care about and can depend on?” This careful wording included family members and close friends along with intimate partners, and as far as I’m concerned it covered every type of love inclined to bring one happiness. (Unrequited love for someone who does not know you exist doesn’t exactly bring a lot of smiles. A spirited discussion could be had as to whether it is love at all, but that is outside the scope of this post.) Suffice to say, if you have people, or a person, you care about and who care enough about you back that you feel you can count on them, then you have love. Lucky you.

love wins2. “Love Wins” has become associated with the LGBTQ community’s struggles for marriage equality and other rights. I’m a heterosexual woman with a 34-year traditional marriage, and an avid supporter of equality in every sense for my LGBTQ brothers and sisters. Zane, the main character in y1, is gay, and I did my best to present his love affair with Afi as a beautiful thing to be cheered on by anyone with a heart. In the real world, friends, relatives and co-workers of mine are LGBTQ, and every time “Love Wins” it makes me smile too. Love is funny that way. It likes to see more love.

SPLC3. Love wins every time that hate does not. I’m also an avid supported of the fine work that is done by the SPCL (Southern Poverty Law Center) even though donating to them means that I get a lot of letters from them asking me for more money. It’s okay. I glance through them all and give when I can. Recently I got one such letter that moved me more than usual. It discussed the nine people killed a year ago in the white supremacist attack at Mother Emanuel church in Charleston, and noted that “Hate won’t win” were the brave words Alana Simmons spoke to her grandfather’s killer in Charleston.

Yes,“Hate won’t win” are brave words coming from someone who has been grievously wronged, and the words brought a tear to my eye. I know that love wins every time that hate does not.

cosmic conduit 24. The last reason has to do with music. I’m fixing up the music pages on each of my blogs, and today I was expanding my post about David Guetta and Estelle’s One Love.  As the lyrics to One Love say …. “if we stand together than we’ll be okay.” You know, more love wins kind of stuff… and it’s what got me started on this post.

Think of how many great songs there are about love. Luckily, far more than those about fear, hate and hopelessness, although I will concede that there are a few great songs about those emotions too. Yet in the grand overview of musical topics, love wins and I’m glad.

I’d forgotten about exactly how I’d referred to the song in the book, and when I found the excerpt it made me smile.

Joy felt like she was living two lives at once. In one life, she taught Samoan third graders by day, dressed demurely in lightweight long-sleeved tops and loose colorful skirts to her ankles, and pretended to be Afi’s wife by night. Given the vast number of options open to humanity in 2010, it wasn’t a bad life. She wasn’t hungry, she wasn’t hurting, she had a friend nearby, and she was doing useful work. Life came a lot worse.

In her other life, she sailed the ocean, barefoot in a tank top and gym trunks. Her hair blew free while her body moved softly with the thunk of the boat hitting the waves and with the rhythm of her latest favorite song. For the past few weeks David Guetta and Estelle’s One Love had been about every third selection on her MP3 player, and when she wasn’t listening to it she was generally singing the song in her head while she imagined Toby’s hand on her thigh as he sat at the helm of Miss Demeanor. She would see his hint of a smile as his fingers started to rise higher up her leg and then each time he would turn to her, with his soft brown eyes asking her a question. As the song picked up tempo she felt herself smiling her answer back to him and then he always set the sails and they went below deck where the song was playing loudly and life was very, very good.

Of course, that other life existed only in her mind. But anyone who had ever been in love would know that it was the more important of her two lives.

Ah, yes, that romantic love stuff does bring us joy, even when it is just in our imagination.

I confess to having a weakness for amateur videos that make me feel like I am standing right  at a concert and this simple and seldom viewed video of One Love being performed at Electric Zoo in 2011 took me in with its tag line of “right place right time last song.” I’ve had that feeling and it’s a fine one. Go ahead and sing along with the audience, and enjoy letting love win in one more way.

 

(For more posts on the subject of what makes us happy see If you want to be happy move to a cold country?, Happiness fascinates me, None of us are normal if we’re lucky, Some Kind of Kindness, The fairest of them all?, and When is it time for “More”?)

Are you “performing,” or performing?

I get the idea for this blog post while I’m doing yoga, right when I am instructed to be “totally present in the now.” This is a common prompt for anything involving meditation, but the problem is that the instructor takes it one step further and asks us to reflect on what keeps us from doing so.

“I know, I know” the eager student in my head clamors.  She likes getting answers right. “I replay scenes from the past, and I concentrate on tasks and I worry about the future.” But then another voice in my head speaks up, and it is less anxious to please.

“Just how effective a human being do you think you would be if you didn’t focus on getting something done?” it asks. “Performing the tasks that help you survive is what buys you the freedom to sit around and chant om and do this other shit.”

“Shhhhh!” I hush both voices, and then just when I finally have things under control, the yoga instructor joins in the conversation.

true voice 5In fairness, he is a profound individual, and on occasion he will mix his own insights into the class practice and this always enhances the class for me.  This day, he has an answer for the question he has just asked. And he wants to share that answer with us.

“Performing,” he says. “You can’t be present in the now when you are performing.”

“I got that one!” the eager student yells in my head. “Performing tasks. It is one of the three things I said. You heard me. I got it. And I get extra credit for coming up with two more answers, too.”

Only it turns out, I didn’t get it. My yoga instructor is not concerned with my performing tasks or my living in the past or the future. He seems to think those are pretty trivial problems. He is hoping to help me avoid acting like I am someone who I am not. He believes that you can only be present in the here and now, when you are authentic.

Okay, that’s another idea. Decades ago we told each other not to be fake, but recent years have introduced the similar concept of personal authenticity. I like the nuances of this new word better. Unfortunately, though, the contribution from the instructor gets the various voices of my monkey mind going once again.

“Do you even know what is authentically you?” one asks. “Good student, good mother, good worker, good wife. You’ve played roles all of your life. When didn’t you?”

“Well yes, we all play roles to some extent.” my calmer and wiser monkey mind chines in. “It doesn’t mean those aren’t facets of the real you. They’re just not all there is to you.”

“Go deep beneath your roles and your accomplishments,” the instructor continues. He is managing quite well to be part of this conversation. What the hell. I take a deep breath and try to distance myself, to become the objective observer he is urging me to become. What do I see?

Psychedelic 16I see a soul sitting quietly on a mat. She cares deeply about things, but has learned to muffle the intensity of her emotions as their force often bothers others.  She wishes to be liked, and she knows that people seldom enjoy another who is too passionate. She is a ridiculous goody-two shoes (is that even still an expression?) who hates injustice, despises bullying, and truly believes in living an honorable life. She exaggerates to tell a story but won’t tell lies, and she would rather be by herself than with most people. Finally, she has never felt like she was normal and she thinks people would like her better if she was.  She has no idea how to go about being so.

“That’s it,” the instructor says. “Reach for the authentic you.”  I occasionally wonder if the man is telepathic.

The woman on the mat looks up at me and she smiles.  She is usually happy, but I know that she is happiest when she is writing. When something she writes comes out just the way she wants it to, she wants to stand on top of a table in a crowded place and scream “yes” several times at the top of her lungs, but of course she knows that would make her even less likable. And possibly incarcerated.

We are moving into end-of-class shavasana now, and a quiet corner of my monkey mind points out that I haven’t exactly been silent throughout today’s practice. No I haven’t. I’ve enjoyed this search for the true me, though, and think that it has been as good as enjoying the quiet in my head would have been. Many paths to the top of the mountain and all that. Today, this was my best way to be in this moment. I think that it doesn’t get any more authentic than that.

(As for what my monkey mind had to say about focusing on the past — see my post Bring back the good old days? on my z2 blog. For thoughts about my never ending preoccupation with performing tasks — see my post Frittering life away? on my c3 blog. And for my concerns about planning for the future, see Prepare for the worst? on my d4 blog.)

When I wrote this scene in y1, I was scratching away at the idea of a person’s authenticity being tied into doing the things that they love. Now I’m even more sure that is true. Enjoy this short excerpt.

“What’s this?” he asked Toby, lifting a large bulky paper sack out of the dinghy.

“Tonight’s entertainment,” Toby replied. Afi’s eyes widened as a single, almost forty-inch-long fire knife fell out onto the sand, its regulation fourteen-and-a-half-inch blade glistening. There was a fire wick and a small can of outboard motor fuel.

“It was just sitting there when I walked into the farmers market,” Toby confessed a little sheepishly. “The man was quite happy to sell it to me, and I figured you could use it to at least start getting back in practice.”

fire dancingAfi shook his head in disbelief and Toby thought he saw a hint of tears in Afi’s eyes. “After dinner I want you to show me and our new crew member what you can do with this,” Toby said.

So after food was finished, the knife and wick were prepared, and as the very last glimmer of light vanished off to the west, Afi did a careful hand spin with the burning baton. Then he tried a slow figure eight. Then a cautious toss and catch, followed by a slightly more confident toss and catch behind his back. Then a bolder under-the-leg throw. He was grinning now, and the muscle memory was coming back. Joy and Toby watched in increasing wonder as Afi’s hesitant movements transformed, until he was confidently moving the glowing stick to the beat of drums only he could hear in his head.

He began to stomp his feet as he moved, adding head movements in the Kiribati style. Toby and Joy gained a sense of the rhythm to which Afi was moving. Joy began softly clapping with the motion, adding a little percussion. Afi grinned in appreciation and she clapped more forcefully. As his movements sped up, her clapping sped with them, and the two of them were working together now to create the performance. Joy clapped. Afi spun the fire knife. Toby watched in absolute fascination. Finally, by the end of the dance, Afi had become a whirling, glowing swirl of orange flame, powered by Joy’s now jubilant participation and by his own sheer joy in the exhilaration of doing something that he truly loved.

y1: new synopsis and my 3 favorite excerpts

I’m talking a close look at my older blogs, making sure that they are up to date and that they represent my earlier novels well. I’ve added my latest book synopsis and placed a few of my favorite excerpts on a page for permanent reference, and thought I would post these improvements as a blog post as well. Enjoy!

y1 is the second novel in the loosely interrelated collection known as 46. Ascending. Each novel tells the tale of an otherwise normal person coming to terms with having unusual abilities. This page contains a short description of the book y1 followed by three of my favorite excerpts from the first part of the novel. To read more, please purchase y1 at at smashwords.com, at amazon.com, or at Barnes and Noble

Zane swore as a child to protect all the odd people of the world, studying chameleons and muscle groups to teach himself to alter his own appearance. No longer a young boy too smart and too different to fit in, Zane starts his first job at a pharmaceutical company where he uncovers layers of corporate secrets that hide surprisingly vile plans. Once he is sent on a sales trip to the South Pacific, it becomes clear that there are those who would kill to protect the mysteries that the company has worked so hard to keep hidden.

Charged with murder and hunted by an unsavory boot camp manager, he finds himself sailing to remote islands with a shadowy group known as y1. As a young gay man sometimes forced to hide his true nature at home, Zane discovers love with a young man of the Pacific whose past and whose talents are every bit as unusual.

Fantasy, reality and speculative science come together as Zane must find a way to use all of his unique abilities to resist turning from a murder suspect into a murder victim. He still plans to keep his childhood promise, if he can only live long enough to do so.

Excerpt 1:

At the end of February, the television kept talking about a bomb which had gone off in the parking garage of some giant building in New York, killing five people. The man on the TV said the bomb had ended the belief that Americans were safe from attack.

His mom had taken him and Ariel to see Aladdin for a second time at the dollar theater because they had both liked it so much. The movie’s hit song, “A Whole New World,” had just made its way into the number one spot on the charts. Zane sang the title to himself. “A whole new world …” He didn’t sing very well, but Zane had liked the movie. He liked all stories about creatures with special powers, and he thought that the genie was really funny.

Zane was glad that no one else was upstairs with him that day as he sang because after Balthazar gave Zane one of his one-eyed knowing looks, his reptilian skin made its first transition from subtle greens and browns to a spectacular bright orange. Zane grinned. He didn’t know what orange meant with other chameleons, but Zane felt sure that it meant that Balthazar was very happy.

Then Zane took a deep breath. Forcing back his fear, he made himself remember that time last summer. That time he had been so scared. Every so often Zane’s dad made him go outside and play with whoever was around, and he had been playing hide and seek with neighbor boys he didn’t really like because they did more mean things than most. On this day, Zane had taken great pains to conceal himself particularly well because he especially did not like to be “it” with these guys.

As the one boy came close to the bushes in which Zane was so carefully hidden, Zane had noticed his bare foot was still sticking out onto the orange-brown soil. He dare not move it now. So he had thought hard about his foot muscles and did his best to flatten the foot tight against the ground, and to hold it very still. While he did this thing, the skin on his foot had started to burn and itch too. Zane looked at it, alarmed at first, and saw that his foot was blushing. At least, it had turned a shade of red orange brown that mimicked the dirt. And that had been his first inkling that he could do more than make his body’s shape twist and warp a little more than most people could. Zane had watched his orange brown foot in fascination while the neighbor boy ran on by.

Afterwards, Zane worried that he had imagined it. But then every so often after that, Zane’s skin would surprise him, just like his muscles had already sometimes surprised him with what they could do. After awhile, he could feel a color change coming, this kind of burning feeling, and he knew what to expect. So he finally figured that he needed a teacher. A wise teacher. Like Balthazar.

Zane watched the chameleon’s orange skin with fascination.

“Can I learn to do that when I want to, wise one?” he asked.

He tried hard to make the feeling inside that he felt when his skin did this all by itself. He concentrated hard on his arm. At first nothing happened. Then, yes. He felt the feeling. He made the feeling. His skin on his arm went from its normal light tan to a tan orange.

“You and I are going to be great friends,” Zane told the chameleon quietly. “You are going to help teach me ways to fight the bullies in this world. And you are the only one who is going to get to know just how really strange I am.”

Zane could have sworn that Balthazar turned even brighter in delight.

Excerpt 2:

Toby was considering whether he should buy more pineapples. Samoan pineapples were consistently tasty and he loved them, but he didn’t want to buy more than he could eat before they spoiled. He was also concerned he had bought more fish than he could eat, but it was too late to remedy that.

He looked behind him and saw a young man with unusually straight jet-black hair and a Polynesian’s round face that held East Asian eyes. A genetic blend of the Pacific Rim, the young man was wandering along the dock near the back of his boat. He was thin and wiry for a local, and looked harmless as he took off his shirt and shoes as though he were thinking of jumping into the water. Toby glanced away, giving himself one last minute to enjoy the sight of the pretty harbor with the older wooden houses and shops framed by the fast-rising hills and dense trees.

He smiled at Aggie Grey’s famous hotel, where yesterday he had been pleased to enjoy essentially the same hamburger as those that the legendary lady had served to America’s servicemen in World War II. You had to appreciate a tourist place that served such good food and had such a fine story to tell. And you had to appreciate a harbor town that in today’s world had maintained a feeling of existing somewhere between the 1800s and the 1950s.

As he nodded to the stately twin spires of the Roman Catholic Cathedral that had guided him in safely between Apia Harbor’s two reefs at least a dozen times over the last few years, he heard a splash that he assumed had been made by the young man going for his swim. He turned and focused on getting the rest of his gear aboard and heading out.

He was just starting his engine, always preferring to use it to get easily in and out of a harbor, when he noticed three stout Samoan men wearing the traditional wrap around lava-lavas marching out towards his boat as though they had just made a decision.

The oldest of the three waved at him and shouted. “Stop your engines. We need to check your boat for a missing boy. We saw him heading out onto this dock.”

“Oh, sure, I saw him,” Toby yelled back as he waved a hand agreeably, pointing towards a shirt lying on the wooden pier. “He jumped in the water here. A little odd, but no harm done. He didn’t bother me.”

“We’d like to make sure he’s not on your boat,” the Samoan persisted as the three men approached the craft. Toby shrugged. “Look for yourself.”

Toby thought, I wonder what happened to the boy’s shoes?

There wasn’t that much looking to do on his vessel. There was seating for up to six above deck, and a cabin with a head and separate shower, a compact galley area and sleeping arrangements for up to five, depending on what was raised or lowered and how. The men boarded without further courtesy, which irked Toby a little. He was sensitive to people walking into his home. One man methodically began opening each of his storage areas above deck, while another descended below and opened the door to the head to reveal a small toilet seat with no one on it.

“I’ve been right here. I promise you he is not onboard,” Toby added with growing irritation, not so anxious to have this bunch of strangers pawing through all his possessions, legal though they were. “Please gentleman, I would like to be on my way.”

The man who had opened the door to the head ignored him, opening the larger storage areas located below deck, starting with those beneath his sleeping and sitting areas. One was filled with kitchen supplies, another held clothes and toiletries, yet another lifejackets. He shrugged to his cohorts.

“We guess he jumped in the water then. Let us know if you see him. He could be dangerous.”

Toby’s dark brown eyes widened. “What’s he done?”

“We don’t know details. He’s one of the young men being kept at one of those special schools for troubled teens here on the island. We have a few of them. These kids are lavished with good care and opportunities to grow into decent adults, but sometimes they don’t realize what they’ve been given, and they try to escape so that they can return to their old and troubled ways. We help the school by returning the misguided ones. He’s better off at this school, believe me. So if he does turn up, do him a favor and let us know.”

“I will. Thanks for telling me.”

Well that was a new one, Toby thought. Maybe these men had a point. He didn’t even realize that there were schools for, what, misguided youth on Samoa? Go figure.

He had just gotten safely past both reefs and was tacking slightly under a nice slow breeze, heading northwest on a course for Funafuti, when he decided to go below and grab some water. A movement caught his eye. The lid to one of the smaller storage areas tucked around in the back of the cabin was opening slowly. Surely a person could not have fit into that space? Toby felt a surge of fear, and looked around for something that might do as a weapon.

He grabbed a knife as the stowaway tumbled to the floor in a mess of ropes. The small young man in the briefest of underwear rose slowly, shook himself as he stood, then turned around, with apology in his eyes, to face Toby.

“I am so sorry about this. And I am so sorry about no clothes. Please do not hurt me. Please.”

Toby took a deep breath and decided to hear the other side to the story.

Excerpt 3:

It was hard not to like Peter Hulson when one actually talked to him in person. In spite of his age he had a liveliness about him, and his still sharp, bright blue eyes were probing but not unfriendly. He shook Zane’s hand warmly, gestured him onto a soft green velvet-covered settee and offered Zane water or coffee. Zane passed, although he wasn’t sure if it was more rude to accept or to decline. He allowed himself an appreciative peek at the surprisingly unobstructed view of Lake Michigan that the top floor provided.

“I’ll get right to the point, young man,” Peter began, drawing his attention back. “It’s well known that I am always seeking bright new young people here, and that I like to mentor them myself. I get a fair amount of grief from my VPs about it being beneath my pay grade, but the fact is that I want my company to not just exist but to thrive for a very long time. The way I see it, that only happens if I can hand the reins over to not one but at least two more generations of focused, brilliant, committed successors.”

A swirl of sorrow came and went from his face so quickly that Zane thought that he might have imagined it. The older man kept talking.

“I’m finding that these brilliant, committed successors are a bit in short supply. But, you’ve landed on our doorstep with excellent grades from an excellent school—did you know that Penthes sponsors a neuroscience scholarship at your alma mater?—and managed to get yourself in a position reporting directly to my director of sales and marketing. Word is that she thinks that you have excellent potential.”

Zane tried to smile appreciatively.

“Excellent potential.” Peter repeated the words for emphasis. “I don’t think there are two finer words in the English language, young man, than ‘excellent potential.’ So I’d like to personally do what I can to, well, encourage you.”

Zane tried to make the smile even more appreciative because he just didn’t know what to say.

“Would you consider a trip to Fiji to be encouragement?”

Okay, he could answer this one.

“Yes. I think most people would.”

The older man chuckled. “Good, good. Brenda and Gil are in the process of putting together a very important conference for us. I have told them to spare no expense. Raju has assured me that we are near approval for our latest R&D endeavor, a specific cocktail of some of our older drugs, designed in such a way as to particularly target the problems of anger and rebellion sometimes found in older children and younger teenagers. We believe that we could save untold numbers of families huge amounts of grief if instead of hostility and even illegal behavior in this age group we could provide a treatment which would result in more mature and acceptable choices being made by these young people. Mind you, the drugs aren’t new, but the combination and the approach are. And this conference in Fiji is designed to introduce our new product in the most favorable light possible. The success of this conference is important to the future of this company.

“So, I’ve okayed sending Brenda to Fiji late this month to do a recon. In spite of you being new, I want you to go with her. Help her with travel and logistics, but also keep your eyes open and your brain on and to help us to find ways to make this little symposium a huge success. Have ideas for us, Zane. Think for us. Will you do that?”

Of course Zane said yes. He said it sincerely and shook the man’s hand and thanked him. Because Zane wasn’t an idiot.

But on the ride back down on the elevator, Zane kept seeing his fourteen-year-old sister Teddie’s face. She had anger. She had issues. More than he had at that age, for sure. But she also had a huge heart and a creative streak a mile wide and Zane really wondered if both Teddie and the world would be better off if some doctor was totally convinced that she should be medicated.