“We are undefeated.”
“Oh, for Pete’s sake. This isn’t a game.”
“More like a championship, and we can’t lose.”
“There’s no way you can keep up this winning streak.”
“Oh no? Want to come watch?”
Some days Callie Nelson absolutely loved her job. Other days… not so much. Today was a good day to be head coach at the high school. If these voluntary pre-season practices were any sign, and she was the type to place bets, she’d wager the farm on her varsity softball team making it all the way to state finals this year. And Deidra was the key to getting them there. All her players were stars in Callie’s eyes, but a few stood out, and Deidra was one of those. For the small mountain high school, this fall would be the season that having so many seniors was going to pay off. The team would take a hit next year when so many of them graduated, but for now, the players were the embodiment of a well-oiled machine.
“You’re looking awfully pleased with yourself.” Callie’s sister Cindy, the elder of the Nelson clan, and veterinarian extraordinaire, came up from behind.
Callie dragged her gaze away from the practice field as Deidra came up to bat and smiled at her sibling. “Well, this is a surprise.”
“Mrs. Brogan’s pet rabbit is under the weather. She says the kids in her summer school class are paying more attention to the sick rabbit than her lessons.”
“No surprise there.” Callie laughed. Not only had Mrs. Brogan taught her and her sisters when they were in high school, she was pretty sure that the older woman had taught Callie’s mom Virginia as well. Heck, she wouldn’t be surprised if the old bat had taught the General and her grandmother. Even back when she was a student, Callie had wanted to give the woman new batteries to speed up her lessons. Mrs. Brogan gave a whole new meaning to monotonous monologue. “If I were still in her class, I’d be paying more attention to the rabbit too.” Callie slipped her fingers in front of her mouth and smiling, glanced at who might be within earshot. “But you didn’t hear me say that.”
“Hear you say what?” Cindy swatted her sister lightly across the shoulder as if she were still the naïve sibling in need of big sister correction and chuckled. “But quit picking on that nice old lady.”
Shaking her head, Callie glanced over to the game and back. “I won’t, but there isn’t a soul who has sat through American history that doesn’t know Mrs. Brogan could lull a whirling dervish to sleep with her stories of LBJ.”
“She did like that man.” Cindy sighed, no doubt remembering her own days in the classroom, waiting for the bell to ring to send her gleefully into biology class. “A little too much if you ask me.”
“I think it was just that he was from Texas. She might have a thing for cowboys.” Callie caught a glimpse of her sister’s crumpled face before her professional smile slid into place. “Okay, maybe I’m grasping at straws. Especially if those stories of intimidation in the bathroom were true.”
“So not going there.” Cindy tipped her chin at the kids playing in the distance just as the bat cracked against the ball and sent it flying over left field. “She really can do it all, can’t she?”
“What?” Cindy snapped her head around.
Callie’s focus had returned to her team. “Deidra’s a smart kid, but she’s having a hard time getting her entrance exam scores high enough for the few colleges who are interested in her.” Her gaze followed the star player who had made it safely to first base and was now inching her way towards second. She was planning to steal and the pitcher had yet to notice. “Excuse me.”
Cindy nodded. “I need to be on my way to Mrs. Brogan’s rabbit anyhow.”
Her sister headed for the school building as Callie marched around the edge of the field till she stood behind the catcher. Her second best pitcher after Deidra stood poised to toss the ball when she noticed Callie barely tip her head toward first base.
By now Deidra had taken a suicide lead-off that had her nearly halfway between first and second. The girl had eyes like an eagle. Callie was pretty sure Deidra would spot her signals before the pitcher did. In a photo op worthy of a national sports channel close up, from the mound, the ball sailed through the air and arrived within the first baseman’s grasp at the same second Deidra dove, hands first, safely back to first base.
Sure enough, the kid had spotted the play coming. It would be a darn shame if Deidra had to give up a scholarship opportunity over a few misplaced geometric angles and miscalculated statistics.
Callie had tapped every math teacher in the small high school for help. All had been willing but none had managed to instill enough understanding to up the athlete’s ACT scores enough to make the grade.
The next slow pitch connected with the bat and the moment it skipped across the field, Deidra took off running for second. By the time the outfielder had the ball securely in glove, Deidra was rounding second and slid into third seconds before the ball made it to the baseman’s glove. If that girl were a boy on the varsity baseball team, with her instincts for the sport, Callie would stake her lifetime savings and reputation that one day Deidra would be playing in the World Series. She let out a deep sigh. Of course, that would only be if they could find a way to fix the math. But how?
A letter. Not even a full page letter. A note, really. Ten years, and no one at the top had the courtesy to sit Zane Crandall down in person to let him know his services were no longer needed. From the sudden blanket of near silence that had descended on the fifteenth floor, Zane guessed a couple dozen of his associates’ services had proven expendable as well.
Rumors had been flying for weeks that the upcoming sale to some offshore conglomerate was going to cost a lot more jobs than the sunny speeches had implied. The same rumors had flown every time a shift in direction, or executives, had taken place in the past, and like the time before and the time before that, he and his comrades had weathered the storm, their jobs intact.
Today, that would not be the case. He stared at the stupid paper again. At least they’d offered an interesting severance package.
“You too?” Craig, his friend and cubicle neighbor, stood at the entry.
Zane nodded. “Any idea how many?”
“Too many.” The lanky database specialist shrugged. “I seriously did not see this coming.”
“I hear you.” Zane leaned back in his seat and took a deep breath. Considering the chunk of change the company had spent for him to get his masters, he clearly had on rose colored glasses. The surprise was fading and his mind was now spinning with possibilities. “You know…”
His buddy crossed his ankles and leaned against the narrow wall.
“Maybe this isn’t such a bad thing,” Zane continued.
Craig straightened. “Said like a single man without children.”
Zane raised a finger at his coworker. “No, hear me out.”
“Okay.” The man leaned against the wall again.
“How many of us have at one time or other talked about going out on our own? Doing things our way without input from the suits?”
“A lot.” Craig chuckled. “I’d just like the idea better if it had come after my kids graduated high school, maybe college, and if there weren’t so many of us out in the wilds of the unemployed all at the same time.”
Zane knew exactly what Craig meant—at least the last part. With so many companies outsourcing anything and everything they could, short of the HVAC maintenance and janitorial, too many of them were going to be looking for work longer than they’d like. Plenty of others were about to find themselves foraging for a new career.
“You two commiserating or picking where to go for happy hour?” Another buddy came up. Over the next thirty minutes, Zane’s oversized cubicle filled to capacity, reminding him of a packed can of sardines. Both those who’d been notified the upcoming changes were eliminating their jobs, and those who were informed they’d be doing more work indefinitely, were all chattering so fast and loud Zane was surprised the brass hadn’t come down from the upper floors and tossed them all out on the spot.
According to his notice, he had seven days to wrap up his projects and hand them off. The thought made him dizzy. Especially since he liked the people who were getting dumped on to do their job and his. After hearing what the company had in mind, he was actually glad he was on the expendable list and not the still employed list.
“All right.” Craig tapped his wedding ring on the wall’s metal edging. “You joining us at the Social House or heading home?”
“I’m joining you.” Who knew what kind of people he’d wind up working with next. He might as well enjoy what time he had left with folks he actually liked. “I just need to make one call and then I’ll catch up with you all.”
Craig nodded and headed down the hall. Zane could hear the voices fading in and out as folks closed down and made their way to the favorite after work watering hole.
Phone in hand, Zane tapped at the screen and waited for the familiar voice on the other end. “Hey Gramps.”
Even though he’d been blessed to have four grandparents alive and well, Zane had always been closest to his mom’s father. Most people were intimidated by the former military man, but once people got to know his grandfather, they discovered the loveable side that reminded Zane of the Pillsbury Doughboy.
“Well, isn’t this a nice surprise this time of day.” Zane could almost hear the frown descend on his grandfather’s face. “Or is something wrong?”
“Depends on how you look at it. Some people might say things could be better.”
“But, the more I think about it, I believe things will be better.”
“Better than what?” the old man groused.
“The company sale has eliminated my job.” No point mentioning there were over thirty people in his department who had been eliminated with the brush of printer’s ink. “So I’ve got some decisions to make.”
His gramps cleared his throat. “You got options already?”
“More like ideas.”
“When’s your last day?”
“They’ve got me for seven more days, one hour, and,” he flipped his wrist to look at his fancy computerized watch, “twelve minutes.”
A bark of laughter bellowed through the air waves. He knew talking to his grandfather would lift his spirits. The man might be old, and occasionally gruff, but since retiring, he’d become optimistic and almost downright entertaining. “I have an idea. In a few weeks, I’m heading up to Lake Lawford to visit my old friend, the General. If something hasn’t come up by then, why don’t you join us?”
“At the lake?” Time with his grandfather didn’t sound like a bad idea, but he wasn’t so sure about a crusty old general.
“It’s just lovely this time of year.”
Zane considered his options. A few days at a peaceful lake with his grandfather, old general included or not, might be the perfect tonic for what ailed him. On the other hand, he had plenty of work to deal with right here in Boston.
“Best decisions are made with a clear head,” his grandfather added, “and I can’t think of a better place to clear your head.”
There wasn’t a single reason he could think of to say no to his grandfather. Besides, the man was probably right—a few days at the peaceful lake was just the sort of medicine the doctor would order. That is, if unemployment could be medicated.
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