Everything had conspired against him that morning.
First he'd been delayed getting away from home. Rachel had chosen this morning to demand that he talk to her about some domestic issue or another, but he had explained to her that he had to make a flight this morning. She was clearly unhappy, but had accepted that he would sit down with her tonight, after he had returned from the short trip to Chicago to give his presentation.
Well, that, plus the fact that his eight year-old son had come into the room with his clothes put on with such disregard, that Frank was able to skip out while Rachel was trying to get Brent's buttons aligned in the correct holes.
But the delays hadn't stopped then.
He was going to stop at the office for five-minutes to grab a file and be on his way, only to be waylaid by his boss. Scott, the division director, proceeded to use his precious minutes making him go through the schedule for the next month, covering such exciting issues as performance reviews, preparing budget charts for his department, and setting sales goals.
Damn, this morning, when Frank was running behind, just wasn't the time for this rigmarole. He was finally on his way out of the office, only to hear,
"Frank, and one more thing!"
"Yes, Scott," he replied.
"Good luck on the presentation this morning. You close on this account, and we're set for the next quarter!" came his boss Scott's admonition, as if he needed more pressure.
"Give me a call as soon as you're finished to let me know how it went," were Scott's parting words.
Frank decided to answer the first part of the statement, and ignore the second.
"Thanks boss — but luck won't have anything to do with it," he said, as he excited, the double glass doors slowly shutting behind him.
Shit, thought Frank, I'm almost 38 years old, and my boss still wants to control me like I was a 12-year-old.
Frank was already skating on thin ice, time wise.
The road construction on the freeway that led to the airport, which was supposed to be finished a week ago, was the final blow. Frank found himself stuck, unable to move, with no way out for almost 35 minutes, while the four-lanes merged to a single lane.
Frank knew there was no point in getting angry about it — it would just raise his high-blood pressure, which he didn't need. He wanted to be calm and collected for his presentation with the inevitable questions that would come afterwords.
Parking his car in the short-term lot, running to the terminal with his briefcase flailing, going through the automatic check-in for his flight (thank god, there was an open machine), a sprint to the gate, and in the end, it still didn't help. His commuter flight to Chicago had just left the gate, and he wasn't on it.
A few minutes discussion with the gate crew clarified a couple of things: no, the plane would not return to the gate to pick him up; the next flight would be in two-hours, and in practice there was no alternative that would get him to Chicago any sooner; and finally, if Frank Stevens didn't calm down and stop acting in such an aggressive manner, he would find himself under arrest.
Frank finally gave up, apologized to the gate crew, who tried to ease his angst by telling him that they understood his frustration, and in a state of complete hopelessness, went to the airport cafe and ordered a breakfast and some coffee. Frank felt the necessity to give himself time to gather his wits, calm down, and find a solution to his dilemma. He sat down in one of the seats, fixed to the table in such a way as to always be too short for his 5' 10' frame, but was too upset by missing his flight to be irritated as usual by the lack of space for his knees.
His mind was racing at a mile-a-minute.
He probably needed to call the clients and reschedule the meeting. That is, if they were willing to reschedule. There were other firms competing, and his missing the time scheduled for his presentation to upper management would leave an impression, a bad impression, that Frank Stevens wasn't a reliable vendor.
"Shit," he thought, "Someone like that asshole Bud Adams is going to end up getting the business. He does lousy work, but he's going to show up and do his presentation on time." He sat there stewing.
If Frank Stevens was in a state of professional chaos that morning, his wife of 12-years, Rachel, was in an emotional turmoil as bad or worse, with potentially profound implications for their marriage.
As Frank was rushing to catch his flight, she was having a cup of coffee at the kitchen counter with her best friend, and neighbor, Ellen. Ellen, a perky blond who, at 40, was five-years older than Rachel, was a great listener, and usually upbeat. Just talking out her problems to Ellen always seemed to help Rachel.
"Ellen, I just feel so, well, unsatisfied and alone. It's like there is this hollow place inside of me that I just can't fill alone. And Frank doesn't seem anxious to fill it," she explained.
"Rach, all marriages go through periods like that. You need to sit down with Frank and let him know how you feel," Ellen said, suddenly laughing as the thought struck her,
"Naturally, you'll have to fit this conversation in between doing the wash, making dinner, getting the kid to do their homework and putting them to bed." Ellen made an obvious tongue-in-cheek.
Rachel laughed at that as well.
"Yeah, isn't that the truth. But I really worry about it," she continued, "I tried to get Frank to talk about it this morning, but it was the same as always: 'I'm late, got to catch a plane; maybe we can talk about it tonight.' He didn't even actually commit to that; it was more of a 'let's see if we can get around to it' sort of thing." Rachel shook her head back and forth, looking into her cup of coffee as if she could read the future in the grounds at the bottom.
What she didn't tell Ellen was how upset she was that Frank had quietly left while she was re-buttoning Brent's shirt (why couldn't Brent understand which button went into which hole, he was eight-years-old already, he should know) and had been in such a rush that they hadn't kissed, or even said good-bye. She could almost feel the tears coming to her eyes as she thought about it.
Ellen stood up,
"Well, I have to get motivated here. Your coffee is better than what I get at work, but damn it, they pay me more when I show up!" Ellen laughed again as she said it, but was already on her way out the door.
"Rachel, if you're feeling too down, call me this afternoon," she added, "We could take the kids out to the park or something." Ellen was glad that she only worked part-time, in the mornings, to fit around her children's schedule. But it allowed her the freedom to do things with Rachel and their children in the afternoons.
"Bye, see ya later," came her parting words.
Rachel continued to sit at the table thinking.
She picked up the phone to call her friend, Richard. If she saw Richard this morning, it would almost certainly make her feel better.
Rachel had met Richard about six-months earlier, just a casual thing, at a bookstore of all places.
Rachel had been looking for a book to read to her's and Frank's eleven-year-old daughter, Sylvia — "Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass," and had one of those momentary lapses of memory when she was about to type in the author's name, to find the exact location on the shelves to look.
She must have been talking to herself, muttering aloud the title, because a handsome man suddenly spoke to her.
"His pen name was 'Lewis Carroll' and his real name was 'Charles Dodgsen, '" the man told her.
"Pardon?" Rachel asked, somewhat taken aback.
"The name of the author of 'Alice in Wonderland, '" he replied, "That was what you were asking, wasn't it?" He was looking at her rather curiously as he said it.
"Oh, I'm sorry," explained a completely embarrassed Rachel, "I didn't realize that I have spoken out loud!"
The man laughed, a gentle and melodious sound, and looked at her again.
He saw a petite woman, maybe 5' 2", with brown hair that was somewhere between wavy and curly. She had a lovely face, with brown eyes that were as deep as pools that a man could fall into. Her breasts weren't overly large, they were proportionate with her body size, and were a perfect offset to a narrow waist and the hips that expanded enough to emphasize her waist, but still fitting with her slender frame.
"According to legend," he continued to speak to her, "Queen Victoria read 'Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, ' and instructed her staff to acquire all of Dodgson's books. One can only wonder what she thought of 'Euclid and his Modern Rivals, ' or 'Symbolic Logic'" He chuckled, almost to himself.
"Now I'm very confused," Rachel said, quite unsure of what the man was talking about.
"Well, Dodgeson was a mathematician, so Victoria probably expected more delightful children's literature, and got mathematical treatises instead," he explained.
Somehow that conversation ended with Rachel and Richard sitting in a coffee shop chatting about books, history, their favorite movies, and their favorite and least favored books. Rachel had enjoyed herself immensely; they traded vital information — cell phone numbers and email addresses, and she found herself meeting Richard for coffee or lunch about once a week.
.... There is more of this story ...