Chapter 21

I walked up to the Old Port offices of Danny’s startup on my first day. I wanted to fit in so I was wearing flip flops, shorts, a checkered shirt, and a backpack. I was excited. I had no idea what I was going to do, but I was going to build something. I, Vince Carnelli, was actually going to contribute to something that would leave a legacy.

I walked up the dark stairs, which were darker than I remembered, and made my way to the converted loft space of Danny’s offices. I opened the door… and the offices were empty. The lights were off.

I checked my phone to make sure it wasn’t a weekend, and I hadn’t come in on the wrong day. It was a Monday. Then, I heard a sound in the far corner, and realized there was one person in the office.

“Hello!” I called.

The person walked towards me, and as she stepped out of the shadows, I realized that it was Andrea.

“Andrea? What are you doing here?” I asked.

“You weren’t returning my texts, so I thought I’d come see you in person.”

“But how did you know where I work? I mean, where I was going to work. Where is everyone?”

Andrea laughed at a joke I didn’t understand. She continued to laugh until it turned into more of a cackle. In all the time I’d known her, I had never known Andrea to cackle.

“This is it,” Andrea said.

“What do you mean?”

“This is everyone.”

“But there’s no one here.”

“Well what did you expect when you decided to go work for a business that couldn’t even come up with a name.”

“Wait, I still don’t understand what you’re doing here.”

“I’m here because you want me here.”

“I do?”

Without warning, Andrea grabbed the hem of her tank top and pulled it over her head.

“Woah! Hey! What are you doing? What if someone walks in?”

“So what? Who cares?”

“Andrea, it’s my first day, I don’t want to get fired for indecency.”

“First, who is going to fire you,” she said as she slipped off her shoes. “Second, isn’t this what you wanted? A chance to do something cool and fun? No responsibility. Just try it out for the hell of it?”

As she kept talking she was slipping her shorts down her legs. Now, she stood in front of me in just underwear.

“No, that’s not what I wanted. I wanted a chance to build something that would last. A legacy.”

“And what kind of legacy are you going to build in a company that probably won’t be around in six months?” Andrea said, with a smirk. Now, she reached behind her back for her bra clasp.

Before she could undo it, I closed the distance between us and grabbed her arm to stop her.

“I thought I could do something interesting. And useful. And that coming to work every morning wouldn’t be a soul sucking experience. But I am taking this seriously. This is my life.”

“Maybe that’s your problem, Vince. You take everything too seriously. You need to relax and just have a little fun.”

With her free hand, she traced a line down my chest. I let go of her and took a step backwards.

“I know how to have fun,” I said.

“Then show me,” Andrea said. This time she stepped towards me and grabbed my head in her hands. She craned her neck up to kiss me, but once again I backed away.

“No. I’m here to work.”

I thought this would upset her, but instead she just started to laugh again.

“Okay, Vince, you want to work. Go for it.” And she pointed me in the direction of a table that had a laptop on it.

“But I don’t know what to do. I don’t even know what my job is.”

“That’s a problem,” Andrea said.

“Where is everyone?”

Andrea shrugged. “Probably out having fun. I think I’ll join them.” Leaving her clothes in a pile on the floor, she walked past me, to the door and went through it.

I was alone in the large office loft space now. Maybe I should wait for someone to show up?

Some time passed, and the emptiness of the large space started to weigh on me, until finally, I couldn’t stand it anymore.

I ran through the same door Andrea had used, down the stairs to the street, out onto it and kept running.

When I finally stopped running, I found myself standing in front of a downtown office building. The offices of BTC.

I made my way up to the ninth floor, where I remembered Mr. Lefebvre’s offices were. It was only once I was in the elevator that I noticed that I was now wearing slacks and a button down shirt, and that my backpack had been replaced by a brief case.

The elevator doors opened and I walked into the busy office. People were sitting at cubicles tapping away at keyboards. Others were walking around, coffee in hand, chatting with colleagues. It was the normal chatter of a normal office.

I remembered the way to Mr. Lefebvre’s office. I passed by his assistant without giving her a second look, and she didn’t try to stop me. The door was open. I walked in.

“Mr. Lefebvre,” I said, “I accept your offer. I’m ready to start right now.”

Lefebvre’s chair was turned away from me, but I could tell someone was sitting in it. At my declaration, the chair swivelled towards me.

When the chair was finally facing me, my jaw dropped. Sitting in the chair was not Mr. Lefebvre, but…

“Tina?”

“Hello, Vince.”

“What… what are you doing here?”

“I could ask you the same thing. I thought you turned down this job offer.”

“No. That was a mistake. I want this.”

“I’m afraid the position you applied for has already been filled.”

“Already? How is that possible? No. Please. I need this. Give me another chance.”

Tina laughed. And she laughed. But it wasn’t the sweet sounding laugh that I had become so enamoured with over the last couple of weeks. This was a deeper laugh. A more… maniacal laughter.

“Please, Tina. Where is Mr. Lefebvre? Can I talk to him? What about Mr. Tremblay? I’ll talk to him if Mr. Lefebvre isn’t available.”

Tina’s laughter cut off abruptly.

“No. You deal with me. You can’t run away from me now, Vince.”

“I… I… never ran away from you.”

“Didn’t you? Didn’t you run away at the first sign that things were getting serious?”

“I… No. Maybe. I don’t know.”

“Poor, Vince. You really are lost. No idea what you want. Okay, fine. The position you applied for has been filled, but there is another position that I think would be a good fit.”

“Great. I’ll take it.”

Tina nodded.

“Have fun,” she said.

I blinked, and I was no longer in Mr. Lefebvre’s office. I was sitting in a cubicle. My hands were on a keyboard, and I was staring at an old windows screen saver. The rest of the cubicle was blank. The walls were too high for me to be able to see anything outside my cubicle.

I tried to get up to see those around me. That’s when I noticed my hands wouldn’t move. Looking down at them, I saw that I was shackled to the desk, with just enough room to move between the mouse and the keyboard.

“Hey. What is this? Hey! Is this some kind of initiation joke? Hello! Anybody!”

My calls got progressively louder, until finally I was screaming in panic. As my voice rose, the lights around my cubicle seemed to dim, until finally, my cubicle appeared to be floating in a sea of blackness, my calls disappearing into the void.

“I don’t want this!”

Then I woke up.


When I woke up, my body and my bedsheets were soaking wet with sweat. I looked at the alarm clock by my bed. It was 3:30 am. I was not going to be able to sleep anymore.

I crossed the couple of feet over to my desk and booted up my laptop. I started typing the first of a few different emails.


On the Monday of the following week, I found myself in front of Mr. Lefebvre’s office, again wearing slacks, a shirt and a briefcase. This time, I greeted his assistant, who indicated that I should go right in.

I knocked on the door frame of the open door.

This time, Mr. Lefebvre was looking at a laptop screen, but facing towards the open door.

“Vince! Great to see you,” he said, as he got up from behind his desk to shake my hand.

“Good to see you, too, Sir.”

“Excited for your first day?”

“I’m definitely ready to go.”

“Excellent. Follow me. I’ll introduce you to your team, and then we can spend a couple of hours together and I can bring you up to speed on some of the projects you’ll be taking on.”

Mr. Lefebvre led me around a corner to a row of cubicles just like any other.

He paused, indicating two pods of four cubicles on his left, the window-side of the building.

“This,” Mr. Lefebvre said, indicating the two pods, “is your Montreal-based team. You also have some team members in Toronto, Vancouver, and a few in San Francisco.”

We walked forward and stopped at the divider between the two pods. From here, I could see into both. In the pod to the right, two of the four desks were occupied. The other two desks had papers, picture frames, and computer peripherals strewn across them. It was clear that they had owners, but that they weren’t at their desks.

The pod to the left only had one vacant desk. It was the one that was facing the window and closest to the corner of the building. It was like the cubicle equivalent of a corner office. Unlike the two empty desks in the other pod, this one had only a laptop and a computer monitor on the desk. The rest of the desk was bare, and the walls of the cubicle were unadorned. I guessed that was to be my desk.

Mr. Lefebvre introduced me to my new team one by one. Out of the five members present, he recalled three names. For the other two, he was forced to ask that they introduce themselves. Four men and one woman. The two oldest men on the team, Serge and Mario, both looked like they were around my father’s age.

The youngest person on the team was Pierre. He occupied the desk kitty corner to the one I assumed was mine. He was bald and had a thick beard, so he actually didn’t look that young, but between the beard, his thick-rimmed glasses and the checkered shirt, I assumed he must be a bit younger than he looked.

The sole woman on the team was Brigitte. Brigitte was maybe ten years older than me, and would have been a very attractive woman if she knew how to smile.

The last person Mr. Lefebvre introduced me to was JF. JF was rail thin, but tall. He had an effeminate look to him, which he overcompensated for when crushing my hand as he shook it.

“Brigitte, where are the others?”

“I saw Seb this morning, he must be getting coffee. Mohamed usually comes in a little later.”

Mr. Lefebvre nodded, and then turned to me.

“We offer flexible hours. You can come in any time between 7:30 am and 9:30 am, so long as you’re getting your work done.”

“That’s good to know,” I said, wondering just how flexible that really was.

“And this,” Mr. Lefebvre said, walking to the corner desk, “is yours. All of our senior managers get window seats.”

He emphasized the word senior as he said this. I wasn’t sure if that was for my benefit, to stroke my ego, or maybe it was for the benefit of those around us, who might be wondering why someone new and younger was getting the prime real estate in the cubicle farm.

I simply nodded my head. I was beginning to imagine a world where every one of my employees was older than me, and resented not just my position, but my window seat.

The others, for their part, had already gone back to their screens and were typing and clicking away as if we weren’t there.

“If you need any help setting up your computer, the phone number for IT is on a sticky note on the laptop. Give them a call and they’ll send someone to get you up and running. Let’s go back to my office, and I’ll give you the rest of the run down.”

I followed Mr. Lefebvre back to his office. He went on about this detail or that detail, or the various perks and benefits of working for BTC. I remembered receiving a similar spiel when I had joined my previous employer, only to never have used any of the aforementioned perks or benefits.

As we settled into Mr. Lefebvre’s office, and I pulled out my notepad to scribble notes, he finished a thought about the employee share purchase plan. He moved on to his next topic.

“Do you have kids?” he asked. The question caught me off guard, and I hesitated. I don’t know if he noticed my hesitation or not, but he continued. “I ask because we also have a daycare on site. There’s a bit of a waiting list, so if you’re interested, I suggest you put your name down right away.”

“Uhh… Thank you. But no kids.”

“Ah. Ok. Married or girlfriend?”

He said it casually and offhand. It was meant as friendly conversation. But, it was a jarring shift away from all the things that were listed on the recruiting poster.

“No, Sir. Not married. No girlfriend,” I said.

As I said it, thoughts of Tina flashed through my mind. I hadn’t heard from her since I’d written her that email a week ago. The email, written at 4 am, was my attempt at explaining why I wasn’t ready for a real relationship. Putting my thoughts into writing had seemed like a good idea at the time. I thought they would be more coherent.

When I had received no response from her for two days, I re-read my email. As I did, I wanted to punch myself. Not only had I failed at being coherent, it also read as completely insensitive. As if I were breaking up with her electronically so as not to have to deal with a real live conversation. I considered writing a follow up email apologizing, but that just seemed worse. Like toying with her emotions.

That led to me chastising myself for being so self-important. I had spent all this time thinking she would be crushed by the email. Maybe she had read the email, shrugged, deleted it, and hadn’t thought of me since? I don’t know if it was my ego or my brain, but for some reason, I wasn’t buying that line of reasoning.

“Vince?” Mr. Lefebvre said.

I snapped out of my daydream. He had carried on briefly about his own kids before jumping into another benefit.

“Sorry,” I said, “Just taking it all in.”

“I completely understand. I’ve thrown a lot at you. You’ll need some time to digest. Why don’t we move on to talking about projects, and if you have questions about any of the benefits, you can chat with one of the girls in HR?”

“Sounds good.”

Mr. Lefebvre spent the next hour giving me the run down of some of the highest profile projects the team was working on. He described every single project as a “top priority” or as “critical” to the success of the company. I had started asking some questions about the details of each, but after the third time I was told that I should probably talk with the team to get the details, I stopped asking.

I walked out of Mr. Lefebvre’s office with notes that were really just project names and questions.

I spent the rest of the morning meeting with the team. I met Seb, who I hadn’t met earlier. He was very pleasant and friendly. After only a couple of minutes of chatting with him, I found out he had three kids. He was a couple of years older than me.

Mohamed, the other employee who hadn’t been present when I was meeting the team that morning, was apparently out sick. Brigitte was the one to tell me, and based on the expression on her face when she delivered the news to me, it was clear that she didn’t really buy it.

I ate lunch at my desk. I received a couple of half-hearted invitations to join other groups, but I politely declined. I wanted to get through some of the piles of documentation I’d been given to read. Or so I claimed.

I spent most of my lunch hour texting the guys. Dev was excited because he was on the verge of closing another deal. Jon was bored. Tom was trying to convince me to go on a double date with him and Jo. Mike had just woken up.

By 2pm, I was already exhausted. I was out of practice working 9 to 5 hours. That’s when my phone rang. A small part of me hoped it was Tina, except that Tina had never called me before, nor did she have any reason to do so now.

It was Mom.

“Hi, Mom,” I said.

“Hi, Sweetie. How’s your day going?”

“Good good.”

“Are you sure? You don’t sound good.”

“Everything’s great. Just trying to soak it all in. First day and all.”

“How’s your team?”

They all hate me, and they’re wondering why someone younger than them who knows nothing about the company was put in charge of them, I thought. I looked around me. Likely everyone could hear my conversation.

“They’re great. Very friendly,” I said.

“That’s good. I don’t want to keep you, I just want to know what time you’re coming home for dinner?”

“Umm… I’m not sure.”

“Five?”

“Mom, the work day ends at five.”

“Five thirty?”

“I don’t know, Mom. It’s my first day. I don’t know what time I’m leaving yet.”

“So, six?”

“I really don’t know.”

“How am I supposed to plan dinner, then?”

“Just eat when you usually eat, and I’ll grab something when I get home.”

“But it’s never as good when it’s warmed up.”

“It’ll be fine, Mom.”

“I don’t understand. Why can’t you just tell me when you’ll be home?”

“Because it’s not that simple.”

“Why not? Just tell your boss you have to leave at five.”

“On my first day?”

“I’m sure he’ll understand. He must have a family too.”

“I don’t think my boss cares what time I leave.”

“Then what’s the problem?”

“I have work to do.”

“On your first day?”

“Mom, I really need to go.”

“Well, do you think you can at least call me when you know that you’ll be leaving?”

“No. I probably won’t know when I’m leaving until I leave.”

“You won’t have any idea before that?”

“I really have to go, Mom.”

“We’ll need to talk about this when you get home, Vince. I don’t want to be in the kitchen until eight o’clock every night.”

“Bye, Mom,” I said.

I hung up, and wondered how much everyone else had heard. No one seemed to be paying attention, but I’m sure it would have been hugely entertaining for them all to witness their boss arguing with his mommy on his first day.

I turned to my computer and opened a web browser. I typed into the search bar, “Apartments for rent in Montreal.”

It was time to start my new life.

The End


Author’s Note

Well, folks, that’s it. The end of the story. Look for a post in the coming weeks about what’s coming next for this site.

Chapter 20

I texted all the guys as soon as I’d left Tina’s place. By some miracle, they were all available to grab brunch. Mike, hadn’t gone to bed yet. Tom, had been up for hours already. The others fell somewhere in between.

We grabbed brunch at a new place that Dev had heard of on the Plateau that involved a 30-minute wait. The wait gave Mike enough time to join us.

By the time we were seated, I had brought all the guys up to speed on the job offers, and then on the Tina situation. I had to repeat a good chunk of the story for Mike’s benefit.

“So, where we left it was that she said that I didn’t need to answer her right away, but that if I wanted to keep seeing her, she needed to know I was serious,” I wrapped up again.

“This is your fault,” Mike said, pointing at Tom.

“What? How is this my fault?” Tom asked.

“Who set him up?”

“No. I mean, why is this anyone’s fault at all? She just wants to know he’s not out banging other girls,” Tom said.

“Exactly!” said Mike, as if that was all that was needed to prove his point.

“Hate to say it, but Mike’s right,” Dev said.

“Of course you would say that,” Tom said.

“What? It’s true. The guy’s fresh out of a long-term, committed relationship, and before the corpse is even cold, you stick him with a girl that wants the exact same thing,” Dev said.

“You still spending a lot of time at the funeral parlour?” I asked.

“Yeah.”

“This is bullshit,” Tom said, “There is nothing wrong with asking the person you just slept with to not sleep with anyone else. Jon, back me up here.”

Jon shrugged.

“Do you want to be in an exclusive relationship?” he asked me.

I could count on Jon to be the one to ask the only relevant question.

“I don’t know,” I said. “I mean, I like Tina. I really do.”

“You see!” Tom said.

“But,” I continued, shooting Tom a dangerous look. I hadn’t forgotten that his girlfriend had told Tina I was a player. “It’s only been a few weeks since things ended with Marta. I feel like I’m supposed to play the field more, or something.”

“Exactly.”

“Yep.”

“Seriously?”

“So, are you willing to risk losing a shot with Tina in order to have that freedom?” Jon asked.

“I don’t know.”

“It sounds to me like that’s the only question you should be answering.”

“How are you still single?” Tom asked Jon.

“You want to date him?” Mike said.

“No. He wants to play matchmaker again,” Dev said.

“Shut up,” Tom said.

“What about the whole job thing? Did you make a decision about that?” Jon asked, ignoring the rest of the guys.

I sighed.

“No. I haven’t even thought about it much. I guess I’ve been too preoccupied with this Tina thing.”

“Man,” Dev said, “I don’t see why this is so complicated. You’re being a big girl about this. You take the job that pays the most money. You tell this Tina chick that you’re just not ready to jump into another committed relationship. If she’s not cool with that, you call up Andrea. Boom. Done. Your life is really fucking simple, man.”

“Hey, when you break up with Tina, can I call her?” Mike asked, as he dumped a fifth pack of sugar into his coffee.

“He’s not dumping her,” Jon said. “Man, if you really like this girl, you can’t just let her go because the timing’s not perfect. You don’t know when another decent girl is going to come along. As for the job thing, you’ve gotta do what you think is going to make you happy. Forget the money. You always said you wanted to build something. Go do that.”

“Jon, what do you think?” I asked.

“Hey! How come you don’t want to know what I think?” Mike asked.

“Okay. Mike, what do you think?”

“You take whichever job where you’ll be able to hire me to be your assistant, so I can show up to work and not do anything, but still collect a paycheck, and then we can grab drinks together every day after work. Then, you tell this Tina chick that you’re okay committing, but you keep seeing that Andrea chick on the side, until you get bored with one of them. In the meantime, you ask both of them if they have any hot friends for me,” Mike said, and then, looking very pleased with himself, took a sip of his ultra-sweet coffee.

“Great. Thanks, Mike. Jon, what do you think?”

Jon shrugged. “I don’t think it matters what I think.”

“Sure it does. I’ve heard everyone else’s opinion. I want to hear yours.”

“It doesn’t matter what anybody thinks,” Jon clarified.

“I get that, on a philosophical level, but I need some help figuring out what to do here, dude.”

“No. That’s not what I mean. What I mean is that none of this is about the job or the girl. It’s never been about the job or the girl.”

“Actually,” Mike said, “I think that’s all I’ve been hearing about for the last few weeks.”

Four sets of eyes shot a look at Mike, and he returned to his sugar-coffee.

“This is about you figuring out what you want in life, Vince. You’ve always just kind of gone with the flow, following whatever path life takes you down, but now you actually have to make a tough decision. You have to decide what it is that you want for once, and it has nothing to do with any job or woman. It has to do with Vince Carnelli. Once you know what you want in life, all these decisions are going to be very easy.”

“So, how do I figure out what I want in life?”

“How should I know? I work in finance. I’m no life coach,” Jon said.

“Money,” said Dev.

“Pussy,” said Mike.

“Idiots,” said Tom.


The guys offered to continue the day with some other activity, probably involving drinks, but after brunch, I instead opted to head back home. By the time I got home, it was late afternoon.

“Hi, Mom,” I said.

“Look who’s home!” she said, as I walked up to her and kissed her on the top of her head. “So, I take it you had a good time last night?”

“Umm… yeah. I had a little too much to drink and didn’t want to drive, so I just crashed on the couch.”

“Sure,” Mom said, turning back to her food prep.

My relationship with Mom was one of willful blindness. We both knew that I hadn’t slept on a couch last night, but we both pretended I had.

“Where’s Dad?” I asked.

“Out. He’ll be home for dinner.”

“Hey, Mom, can I ask you something?”

“We’re having pork chops for dinner.”

“No, not that.”

Mom turned away from her cutting board and looked at me.

“Is everything okay?”

“Yeah. Of course. Everything is fine. I was just wondering. How did you know what you wanted to do in life?”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, how did you decide that you wanted to be a stay-at-home mom?”

“Who said I wanted that?”

“Uhh… what?”

Mom laughed.

“Sweetie, I love you so much. You know that. And I don’t regret anything in my life. But, when I was growing up, I didn’t spend days dreaming of being a housewife.”

“Then why did you leave your job?”

Mom shrugged.

“When I got pregnant, your father and I talked about it, and he was making good enough money to support us, and we decided it was the best thing for the family. That was it. I don’t even know that I ever even considered the alternative.”

“I see.”

“Where is this coming from?”

“Oh it’s nothing. Just curious.”

Mom shot me a suspicious look. I never had been able to lie to her about anything. I just told myself that I could.

“Sweetie, things for you are very different than they were when your father and I were your age. Certain things were expected of us, and so we just did them.”

“So you’re saying I don’t have those same expectations?”

“Maybe you do. I don’t know. I just know that when your father and I were your age it didn’t seem like there were that many choices.”

“That sounds easier.”

Mom smiled at me.

“It probably was. But I don’t know if it was better.”

I nodded my head.

“Is this about that job offer?” Mom asked.

“Kind of.”

“Sweetie, you do whatever is going to make you happy.”

“Really? That’s not what Dad seems to think.”

“Your dad just doesn’t want you to make any mistakes. He remembers what it was like for him. Supporting a family one one paycheque. And he knows how tough that can be. So, he just wants to make sure you’re prepared for that. Sometimes that’s good. Sometimes that’s bad.”

“Yeah, I know. Just sometimes all that talk about responsibility can get a little heavy.”

Mom smiled at me, as if to say, “Welcome to the real world, kid.”

It was then that we heard the door to the house open, and Dad call out, “I’m home,” just as he had every single time he came home since I could remember.

“In the kitchen,” Mom called.

Dad appeared in the kitchen doorway, a hat in his hand, his grey hair askew, looking like he had just spent a day doing vigorous manual labour. On a weekend. Now that he was retired. Where did he find the energy?

“Look who’s home.”

“Hi, Dad.”

“Did you accept that job offer, yet?”

“No. Still haven’t decided.”

Dad shook his head.

“I’m going to take a shower.”

“Okay. Dinner won’t be ready for another half hour,” Mom said.

With that, he disappeared back upstairs.

I shot Mom a look and she just gave me a wry smile this time. My mother could say a lot with her smiles. This one said, “Your father is your father.”


That night, I went to bed at a reasonable hour, still not having made any decisions. I hadn’t gotten any more messages from Tina or Andrea. Nor had I had any word from any of my two potential employers. The latter was expected. The former was also expected, but disappointing.

I lay in my childhood room staring at the ceiling. My body was tired, but my mind would not shut down. I kept weighing my different options. BTC versus the startup with no name. Tina versus Andrea. The same thoughts came through my head. I liked Tina, but wasn’t sure if I wanted to jump into a committed relationship. I liked Andrea as a friend and didn’t want to screw that up by jumping into a non-committed relationship.

BTC was willing to pay me good money to do a job that I was certain I could do, but that I probably wouldn’t enjoy. Danny’s nameless startup was young and interesting, and could potentially lead to me building something really cool, but could also not exist in a month’s time.

I finally drifted off to sleep only to have it disturbed by dreams.


Author’s Notes

 

Happy Holidays to all! I took a week off from posting last week, and considered taking another this week because of New Year’s, but in the end, I decided to hit publish. This is the penultimate chapter of the novel. In other words, in a few weeks’ time, no more First World Problems!
Hopefully that doesn’t make you too sad, because what comes next will be fun. I’m already deep into a second book, which I’ll talk about at some later date, as well as working on some other writing projects. I’ll share details about those with you as they become available.
As always, if you want to have the next chapter delivered straight to your email inbox before it gets published on this site, all you have to is sign up here.

Chapter 19

I picked Tina up from her condo, much as I had the last time. This time, she seemed more surprised to see me than the first time we had met.

“Ohmigod! Vince. Your eye.”

“Yeah. I know. It’s pretty terrible. Hopefully, you can remember what I looked like the first time we went out.”

“Does it hurt?”

“Not really.”

She reached out and gingerly touched my temple above my right eye. I winced.

“It hurts a little,” I said.

“Are you sure you’re up for this?” Tina asked. “We can reschedule. It’s fine. I won’t be upset or anything. I swear.”

“No. No. It’s okay. Really. Unless you touch it, I barely remember it’s there.”

Well apart from the fact that my right eye was still swollen half shut.

“Well, if you say so.”

“I mean, unless you want to postpone? Like, if this makes you uncomfortable or something. I didn’t even think of that. I’m really sorry. You probably don’t want to sit across the table from the creature from the Blue Lagoon.”

“You mean the Black Lagoon?”

“No, I’m pretty sure it’s the Blue Lagoon.”

“Isn’t that the one with Brooke Shields when she was a kid and naked?”

“Yeah. Same movie.”

“There’s no monster in that movie.”

“Are you sure?”

“Pretty sure.”

“I’d Google it, but I just got a new phone, and it’ll probably take me fifteen minutes to figure out how to do that.”

Tina laughed. Wow. She had an amazing laugh.

“Okay, let’s go. You seem fine,” she said.


Dinner was pleasant. Tina was less nervous than the first time. We chatted easily. We laughed. After a little while, I actually did forget about my bruised skull. Dinner came to an end, I insisted on paying the bill again, despite the fact I knew I probably couldn’t afford it.

On the walk to the car, Tina took my hand, which sent an electric shock up my arm and through my entire body.

I opened the passenger door for her, which impressed her almost as much as my paying the bill and then got in on the driver’s side.

“It’s still pretty early. Did you want to catch a late movie? Or we could grab a drink somewhere? Whatever you feel like,” I said.

Tina hesitated, and looked at her hands in her lap. For a brief moment, I panicked. Oh no. She’s not having a good time, I thought. Then I recalled how she’d laughed throughout dinner, taken my hand on the walk to the car, and even flat out told me she was having a good time on multiple occasions. The panic subsided. Mostly.

“Umm… well…” Tina said, “I’m kind of tired.”

The panic immediately returned, accompanied by a tightening of my gut that I recognized all too well.

“Oh. Okay. I can drop you off. No problem. Some other time,” I said, moving to start the engine.

“Nonono,” Tina said, “That’s not what I meant.”

Confusion joined the rest of the emotions dancing around inside me.

“I just meant,” Tina continued, “that maybe, if you wanted to, we could, I don’t know, stay in and… watch a movie at my place?”

A weight lifted. I felt I could float above the clouds.

“Are you inviting me over?” I asked, with a smile.

“Only if you want to come,” she said.

“Well, let’s see. I need to think about it,” I said with a smile that made it clear that I was teasing her.

She punched me in the arm and said, “Oh shut up.”

“Staying in sounds great.”

I started the car and headed back to her apartment.


Tina lived alone. Her apartment was an open concept loft space without a closed bedroom. The place was decorated by someone with obvious taste. It was tidy. Maybe too tidy. The television remote was placed squarely on top of a stack of magazines. The couch pillows were perfectly fluffed and in the exact corners of the couch. All the dishes had been put away. In short, there was no indication that anyone lived in the apartment.

Either Tina could give my mother a run for her money in the tidiness department, or she had been expecting to have someone over. I was hoping for the latter.

“You have a beautiful apartment,” I said.

“Thanks. Make yourself at home. I’ll grab us some wine. Remote’s on the coffee table.”

I grabbed the TV remote, and noticed that Tina didn’t have cable. I started Netflix and started browsing through the hundreds of options. I usually had a hard time picking a movie for myself. Picking a movie for someone I had just started to get to know was nearly impossible. I navigated to the romantic comedies section.

As I flipped through the hundreds of possible options, mentally noting which ones to come back to, Tina returned from the kitchen with two glasses of wine. She handed me one and I sat up a little straighter. It wouldn’t do to spill wine on her couch on my first visit. From her standing position, Tina clinked glasses with me, and we both took a sip.

I couldn’t taste the wine. I was too concerned with how the rest of this evening was meant to unfold. Was “come to my place and watch a movie,” meant to be interpreted literally or liberally? I needed some advice from someone who had been on a date more recently than half a decade ago. Then again, I could guess what each of my friends would tell me to do without asking the question, so I suppose they wouldn’t have been much help.

Tina sat down next to me on the couch, tucking her feet under her, her legs touching mine. The couch was big enough that she could have left space between us, but she had not. Was that a signal?

“What are we watching?” Tina asked.

“What do you want to watch?” I asked.

“Whatever you want. I’m not picky,” she said.

“You’re not, eh?”

“Well, not when it comes to movies.”

“Invasion of the Body Snatchers it is, then,” I said.

Tina looked at me over her glass of wine, paused for a moment, then said, “Sure. If that’s what you want to watch.”

“I was kidding.”

“Oh. Thank god.”

I laughed.

“What kind of movie do you feel like? Comedy, action, drama, thriller?”

“Whatever you want.”

“I think we’ve had this conversation before.”

“I’m just happy to be spending more time with you, I don’t really care what we watch,” Tina said, and at that moment I thought my heart would explode with happiness.

I decided that was as good an opening as any, and I wrapped my right arm around her shoulders. She responded by resting her head on my right shoulder. From this close, I could smell her. I liked her smell. It was fresh. It conjured images of a flowery garden on a cool summer morning, just before the sun has really come up. Of course, I know nothing about flowers, so it would be impossible for me to say what those flowers were in that imaginary garden, but they were beautiful.

After more back and forth, I picked a movie from the comedy section without really knowing which one it was. I think John Cusack may have been in it. Or maybe it was Paul Rudd. As I pretended to watch the movie, I kept sneaking peeks at the beautiful young woman in my arms. I think I was starting to fall for her. I couldn’t decide whether that was a good thing or not.

We finished our first glass of wine, and Tina poured me a second. When she settled back down next to me, she had moved even closer to me. Between the two of us, we now occupied one cushion out of the three on the couch.

Midway through glass of wine number two, I started wondering whether I should kiss her. It wasn’t until I finished the glass, and put it safely on the coffee table that I decided to act. As we were settling back into our seated position, Tina looked up at me with a smile. It was now or never.

I leaned forward and kissed her. It started tender and affectionate. It should have probably stopped there. It didn’t. The kiss turned passionate and hungry, and to my surprise it was me who had to pull back.

“Wow,” I said.

Tina giggled.

“That was… nice.”

Tina looked me straight in the eyes.

“Nice? Was that all?”

I started to stumble for a response before I realized that she was grinning like the cat who caught the canary.

“Yep. That was all. I think we need to try harder next time,” I said, playing along.

“That can be arranged,” Tina said, and this time it was she who leaned forward.

The movie was forgotten, and we spent the rest of the time on the couch making out like a couple of teenagers. I couldn’t remember the last time I had ‘made out’ with someone like that. It was nice in an innocent sort of way.

Unfortunately, we were both well beyond our teenage years, and while we had better control over our hormones (maybe), we didn’t have the patience we had had all those years ago. By the time the credits were rolling, hands had wandered to places that implied baseball analogies.

When we finally came up for air, and saw that the movie was really over, I said, “So, what did you think?”

“Are you really asking me to grade you?”

“I was talking about the movie.”

“Sure you were,” she said with that same mischievous grin.

“Did you want to watch another?” I asked, and we both knew that the second movie would garner even less attention than the first.

“It’s getting kind of late,” Tina said. The smile was gone now, and she seemed a little unsure of herself.

“Oh. Yeah. You’re right. I should probably get going.”

My mother had always taught me never to overstay my welcome. Of course, I don’t think this was what she meant when she had taught me that lesson. Nonetheless, I figured it counted.

“Are you sure?” Tina asked.

The question puzzled me. Hadn’t she just all but asked me to leave?

“Umm… well, you did say it’s getting late. And… uhh… you probably want to get to bed.”

“Yeah… but… you… I mean… are you sure you’re okay to drive?”

“Sure,” I said. Stupidly.

“Really? Because… uhh… you had quite a bit of wine… and it’s late… so maybe you shouldn’t drive…”

“I guess I could take a cab,” I said, continuing my streak of stupidity.

Frustration flashed across Tina’s face for reasons I didn’t understand.

“Or… you could… spend the night here,” Tina said.

It finally clicked what she was asking, and I felt my cheeks flush. I hoped she would believe it was because of the red wine.

“Actually… now that you mention it… maybe I have had a bit too much to drink. I seem to be a little slow.”

Tina’s grin came back, and that put me more at ease.

“Are you tired right now?” she asked.

“Not this second,” I said.

“Okay, then let’s put on another movie.”

I hit play on whatever the next movie in the queue was, without looking. It didn’t really matter what it was, because the moment the remote was out of my hand, Tina was back in my arms.


I awoke the next morning to the smell of coffee. It only took me a moment to remember where I was. I was in Tina’s apartment. I was in her bed.

Tina padded, barefoot from the kitchen over to the bed, two cups of coffee in her hands.

Her apartment was small and apart from a couple of blind corners, you could see the entire apartment from any point. That meant I had a great view of Tina as she approached. She was wearing a large t-shirt, that it took me a moment to realize was mine. One day I will ask a woman why they take so much pleasure in wearing men’s clothing. Or maybe they do it for our benefit?

Despite the fact that I had seen much more of her the night before, this was probably the best look at her that I had ever had. She wasn’t wearing makeup, and aside from my t-shirt, she wore nothing else. This was as close to au naturel as one is likely to get.

I’m not sure how it’s possible, but I thought she might be even more beautiful now than when she was all dolled up.

“Good morning, handsome,” she said to me, handing me the cup of coffee.

I reached for it, making sure to keep the bed sheet where it was. All of a sudden I was bashful.

“Why thank you. This is truly excellent service. I’ll have to stay here again some time.”

“Only if you’re lucky.”

“And I would be,” I said, as I took a sip of coffee. It felt good. I was still tired. I wasn’t sure what time it was, but I knew we hadn’t slept all that much.

“So, what are your plans for the day?” Tina asked.

“Honestly, nothing. I was just going to lock myself in a room and not let myself out until I made a decision.”

“A decision about what?”

It was easy to forget that Tina and I hadn’t known each other for all that long. In that short period, I hadn’t gotten into the details of the job search. First, because I didn’t think it was all that interesting, and I didn’t want to bore her with my life story. Second, because we just hadn’t had time to get to it.

I gave her the abbreviated version of my job hunt, finishing with my two offers and where I stood on them now.

“So you’ve got two great, but very different job offers, and you have to choose between them by tomorrow?” she said.

“That about sums it up.”

“Need any help?”

“You going to toss the coin?”

Tina shrugged. “If it’s really a coin toss, then it sounds like it doesn’t really matter which one you pick. But somehow I doubt that’s the case.”

“You’re right. It’s not.”

We had settled back into her bed, sipping on coffee and chatting. I thought back to my relationship with Marta, and tried to remember how long it had taken us to get to this point. I couldn’t remember, but I knew it was longer than a week.

“You could make a list of pros and cons,” Tina said.

“I could.”

“But then you’d just end up throwing it out.”

“I would?”

“Of course. You’re not going to decide on the rest of your life based on how creative you can be filling up two columns. Deep down in your gut, you know what the right choice is, you just have to listen to it.”

“I don’t think I realized just how smart you are,” I said.

“So does that mean you’re just with me for my looks?” she said, that now familiar smile on her face.

“Am I ‘with’ you now?” I asked, trying to be playful. The smile faltered from her lips, though, and I realized that I had misstepped. I didn’t know how to fix the situation without getting into uncomfortable territory so I changed the topic.

“Anyway, no matter what I decide, I get the feeling I’m going to need pants to do it,” I said, as I scanned the room for discarded articles of clothing.

I heard a phone buzz, and Tina reached over to the nightstand, where my phone lay, and handed it to me.

“Thanks,” I said.

“Who’s Andrea?” she asked.

The question took me by surprise, until I looked at the screen of my phone, and I saw a text message from Andrea displayed right there.

Andrea: Hey handsome. Remember me? Wanna hang out today?

The message itself was innocent enough, if you knew Andrea. However, given the recent ambiguity of our friendship (at least it was ambiguous to me) I wondered just how innocent it really was. I tried to think of what this would look like to someone in Tina’s situation, but the thought exercise was taking too long, and I looked like I was just stalling for time.

“She’s just a friend from university that I reconnected with recently.”

Tina nodded thoughtfully over her cup of coffee. All traces of that lovely smile were now gone. How had this morning taken such a sharp left turn?

I located my clothing, which had been folded and set atop the couch. Tina offered me her shower, and I gratefully accepted.

When I got out, the bed had been made, and Tina was sitting, fully dressed at the kitchen counter, a pensive look on her face.

“Great water pressure,” I said, not knowing what else to say.

Tina looked up, registered my statement, and gave a quick nod.

“Vince, I want you to know that I had a really good time last night,” she said.

The odd timing of the sentence, plus the look on her face told me that there was more to the statement.

“But…” I continued for her.

“But I also want you to know that I’m not in the habit of sleeping with random men.”

“I didn’t realize I was ‘random men,’” I said.

“You’re not, but we’ve only been out together twice. I guess what I’m trying to say is that I like you a lot. I have fun when we’re together. But I’m not the kind of girl who just ‘has fun.’ Ugh. That sounds terrible. Do you know what I’m trying to say?”

“Not really,” I said, although I was beginning to understand.

“I know that what I’m saying isn’t fair. You barely know me. But at the same time, I’m not the kind of girl, who does casual flings. I like being with you, but if I’m going to be with you, I want to know you’re with me, too.”

“Tina, if this is about that text you saw, it really is nothing,” I said, not sure whether I was lying or not.

“It’s not just that. Jo warned me that you were coming off a relationship, and that I should be careful, because you were a bit of a player. I thought I’d be okay with that, but the truth is, I’m not.”

“Jo said I’m a player?” I said, stunned. “Tina, you said yourself I was just in a relationship. It was five years long. How could I be a player? Besides, I’m not trying to play you. I like you. I really do.”

“So you’re not seeing anyone else?” Tina asked.

“No. Well, not really.”

“That’s a strange answer.”

“I wasn’t prepared for the question.”

“Vince, I don’t need you to say anything right this second. And I’m not asking you to commit to me for life. But if we’re going to keep seeing each other, I want to know that you’re serious about it. If not, that’s fine. We had a good time. And I know it’s not fair to ask you this, but like I said, that’s just the kind of girl I am.”

I left Tina’s apartment a few minutes later, my head swimming (and still slightly throbbing). I wasn’t about to lock myself in a room and make important decisions.


Author’s Note

 

Sometimes, I think Vince is a real idiot. I mean, any fool can see that Tina is the right girl for him, and yet, he continues to be his own worst enemy. What is wrong with this guy?

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Chapter 18

Before long, the sun was up. I found my way back to where my car was parked and drove back to my parents’ place. I had long since sobered up. I snuck up to my room so as not have to answer their questions about my whereabouts. I crawled into my bed and fell asleep.

When I woke up in mid-afternoon, my head was splitting. I couldn’t tell if it was from a hangover, or from my semi-successful head butt.

I rolled out of bed and into the washroom. When I looked into the mirror, I jumped. Everything from my right eye to my hairline was a shiny purple colour. I tried to touch it and immediately regretted that decision. Despite the pain and the hideous black eye, what I dreaded most was having to explain to Mom what had happened.

After showering, I took a deep breath, steeled myself and headed downstairs.

Sure enough, as soon as Mom saw me, she gasped.

“Ohmigod! What happened!?”

I had considered coming up with a lie, but in the end, I figured nothing I said would make any sense, so instead I told the truth.

“I got mugged last night.”

“Why didn’t you call us?”

“What good would that have done, Mom?”

“At least I would have known where you were. Did you go to the police? What about the hospital?”

“No.”

“Why not?”

“It was a crazy homeless guy and he didn’t get anything. The cops couldn’t have done anything. And my head’s not as bad as it looks.”

Mom was having none of it, she sat me down and checked me from all angles. She gave me ice, Tylenol, and gave me specific instructions as to how to apply the ice. Until that moment, I hadn’t realized it was possible to apply ice incorrectly.

Finally, after she had fussed over me for nearly a half hour, I extricated myself.

My next mission was to assess the damage to my phone. The assessment was pretty clear: my phone was well and truly broken. I didn’t have money to buy a new phone. I was waiting for calls from two prospective employers and I had been in the middle of ill-advised conversations with two attractive women. The timing was not good.

I booted up my laptop, and got the first piece of encouraging news in days. I had an email waiting for me from BTC.

The email read:

Dear Mr. Carnelli

Please find attached an offer letter stating your conditions of employment. Please sign and return the attached letter by Monday at the latest.

Sincerely,

Your BTC Human Resources Representative

Attached to the email was an offer letter. I double clicked the attachment.

It took me a moment to process. Possibly because the ice was slowing down my brain. Or maybe because I was recovering from a concussion. Either way, when the information finally registered, I yelled.

Mom came rushing into the room.

“What’s wrong? Are you okay? Do I need to call your father?”

“No no. I’m fine. I just got the offer from BTC. I can afford to buy a new phone.”

“What?”

“Nothing. Don’t worry about it, Mom. Point is, I got a really good offer.”

“That’s good. I’m happy for you, honey. Be careful how you hold the ice,” Mom said and walked away.

Feeling on top of the world, I logged into Facebook and sent Andrea a message explaining why I never answered her text message. I sent Tina a similar message. In both cases, I left out most of the details, but did mention the mugging. That should get me some sympathy and maybe even forgiveness, I thought.

Once those messages were sent, I went back to my email and sent an email to Danny Lemieux. I informed him that I was without a phone for a couple of days, but that I could be reached by email. I also asked him how that offer was coming along.

By the time that was all done, Dad had come home from whatever errand he’d been running and he and Mom were preparing for dinner. When Dad saw me, he said, “Have you been putting ice on it?”

I told him about the offer from BTC.

He nodded and asked, “When do you start?”

“Well, I haven’t accepted yet.”

“Why not?”

“I’m still waiting to see what the offer is.”

Dad shook his head. “Don’t wait too long,” he said and then turned his attention to his meal.

After dinner, I headed back to my room and logged back onto Facebook.

I had responses from both Andrea and Tina. They were very similar. They both went something along the lines of, “Oh no! I hope you’re okay. Is there anything I can do?” Tina’s response also included the question, “Do you still want to go out tomorrow night? If not, I completely understand.”

I considered the question for only a moment before answering. On the one hand, the bruise above my right eye was nasty looking, and it likely wasn’t going to heal by tomorrow. On the other hand, I thought that maybe it would work in my favour and either earn me sympathy, or show how tough I was. The former I did not deserve. The latter was a lie.

I answered Tina that tomorrow night’s date was something to look forward to, and so I wasn’t about to miss it.

I sent a few more Facebook messages. This time, it was to the guys explaining what had happened the previous night, and why I was unreachable until I either got my phone fixed, or got a new one. It was Friday night, and normally I would be going out, but my head was still ringing from a combination of alcohol and head butting.

I shut down my computer, and after saying goodnight to my parents, I went to bed early.


Saturday morning, my headache was gone, but the area around my eye was still tender. The bruise was starting to change colours now. In some places, it was eggplant purple, but as you got around the edges, the purple faded into an iodine brown, until finally, the whole ring around the bruise was a sickly yellowish tint.

Before heading downstairs for breakfast, I booted up my computer, hoping to find a reply from Danny Lemieux. No such luck.

I had a day to kill before I met up with Tina, so I headed to Best Buy to see if they could fix my phone.

As I walked into the store, I was hit by that Best Buy smell. I had no idea what that odour was, but it was unique to Best Buy, and it was present in every Best Buy I had ever walked into, anywhere in the world.

I made a beeline for their service counter. Two employees were standing behind the counter having a conversation. Both were male, and both looked like they had only recently hit puberty. I was not optimistic.

“Hi,” I said, interrupting their conversation, because neither bothered to greet me.

The two exchanged a glance as if trying to decide who should have to serve me. Eventually, one of them must have lost the staring competition, because he walked towards me.

“What’s up?” he asked. To myself, I wondered when “Hi. How may I help you?” died. It might have been before my time.

I pulled the phone from my pocket.

“I need to get this fixed,” I said.

The kid picked up the phone and looked at it for about about 30 seconds. He did not press any buttons or remove any part of it. He just observed the rectangular object as it was. Finally, he said, “The screen is cracked.”

“Yes. Yes, it is. Also, the phone won’t turn on, even if I charge it.”

“How did you crack the screen?” the kid asked. It wasn’t clear whether he had registered my previous statement.

“I was attacked by a hobo, and it fell,” I said.

“So you dropped  it?”

“It fell.”

“If you dropped it, then the warranty won’t cover the crack in the screen.”

“I don’t care about the warranty. Frankly, I don’t even care about the crack in the screen. I just need to be able to turn the phone on.”

“We can send it in, but I’m pretty sure they won’t do anything because it was dropped and that voids the warranty.”

“No. I don’t want you to send it to the manufacturer. I want to know if you can fix it.”

The kid looked at me is if I were stupid. “We can’t fix it if it’s not under warranty.”

“Maybe I’m not making myself clear. I will pay to have it fixed. I don’t care if it’s not under warranty. I will pay you to fix it.”

“But we can’t fix it, if it’s not under warranty,” the kid said, sounding as annoyed as I felt.

“Okay. Let’s try this a different way. Let’s assume that the warranty did apply, would you be able to fix the phone?”

“But it doesn’t.”

“I know that. I’m asking a hypothetical.”

“I don’t know. We’d have to send it to the manufacturer.”

“So you can’t fix any phones here?”

“Not if it’s not under warranty.”

“Can the manufacturer fix a phone if it’s not under warranty?”

“No.”

“So, who the hell can I pay to fix my phone?”

“Sir. Please calm down. It’s not my fault you dropped your phone.”

It took every ounce of my willpower not to reach over the counter and shake the living hell out of this kid.

“Can I please speak to the manager,” I said, through gritted teeth.

The kid looked at the other kid, and then back to me. Then he walked towards the other kid, whispered something to him, and the other kid approached the counter.

“What’s up?” the second kid asked.

“You’re the manager?” I said.

“Yep.”

“I don’t believe you.”

“I am.”

“Fine. Whatever. Listen. I have this phone that’s been dropped. Before you say anything, I know the warranty won’t cover anything. I am willing to pay to have it fixed. I need to know if you can fix it.”

I handed the new kid the phone.

He inspected the phone, much like the first kid. This one tried pressing the power button along the edge and nothing happened.

“Screen is cracked,” he said.

“Noticed that, did you?”

“And it’s dead.”

“That’s why I’m here.”

“Have you tried charging it?”

“Yes.”

“I’m sorry, Sir, but we can’t do anything for you.”

“Why not?”

“Because that phone was dropped.”

“Yes. And?”

“We can’t fix a phone that’s been dropped. That’s why the warranty doesn’t cover it.”

I squeezed my eyes shut hoping this was a bad dream. This caused the bruise over my right eye to throb. I hoped that when I opened them again, Dumb and Dumber would be replaced by semi-intelligent employees. No such luck.

“Okay. Do you know what a warranty is?” I asked.

The kid looked at me for a long moment before answering. Perhaps he was just now noticing that a man with an angry looking bruise on his face was losing his temper, and that maybe that wasn’t a good thing.

“Of course I do.”

“Explain it to me.”

“It’s the protection plan we sell with the phone.”

“Right. And what happens when someone doesn’t buy the warranty?”

“They take the risk if something happens to their phone.”

“Right. And by taking the risk, you mean they have to pay to get it fixed? Right?”

“I’m sorry. I don’t understand.”

“How does a person with no warranty get their phone fixed?”

“That’s why you should always take the warranty.”

I slapped my forehead, which was a terrible idea.

“Have you ever fixed a phone? Or are you guys part of some hidden camera type show thing?”

“Excuse me?”

“Have you ever fixed a phone?”

“We have a lot of customers, whose phones are under warranty who get replaced free of charge.”

“So you’ve never actually fixed a phone, have you?”

“Well, no, not personally.”

“So, what the hell makes you the Geek Squad apart from wearing a uniform and driving an ugly car?”

“We don’t actually drive the car, sir.”

“Fuck it. Just give me a new phone. I will buy a new fucking phone.”

“Okay. You’ll need to talk to one of the sales associates in the Mobile Phone department.”

“I can’t just buy it here.”

“No, Sir.”

I grabbed the phone out of the kid’s hands and stormed out of the Best Buy. I imagined dark clouds thundering over me like in a cartoon.

I drove across the parking lot to a boutique electronics retailer.

“Hi. Can you fix this phone?” I asked the first employee I saw.

“Umm… We don’t really fix phones here, sir. Did you buy it here?”

“No. I bought it at Best Buy.”

“Have you tried going there?”

“Yes. They’re morons.”

“Uhhh… ok. I’m sorry, sir. There’s not much I can do for you.”

“Can you sell me a new phone?”

“Of course. We have a wide range of…”

“Give me the cheapest piece of shit that you have that will work with my cell carrier and where there might be a hope in hell of me recovering what was on this phone.”

“Uhhh… ok.”

Within fifteen minutes, the store clerk had activated my new phone, succeeded in transferring over a portion of the data from my previous phone, and had rung me up. Another $450 hit to my credit card that I couldn’t afford.

I thanked the clerk for taking my money, and for being so efficient about it.

I turned on my new phone, and found that this new phone had a completely different layout than my old one.

“How the hell do I get to my email?” I asked more to myself than to the sales person.

The guy, to his credit, had already made his sales commission, and could have just walked away from his surly customer, but instead, he showed me a series of swipes and taps that launched a prompt for a password. I knew for sure that I would not remember how to do that later, so I entered my password then and there and checked my email on the spot.

I had a new message waiting for me from Danny.

Vincent, Sorry about the delay. Things are crazy around here. Moving so quickly. I chatted it over with the board, and I’m prepared to make you an offer.

The email went on to describe the terms of the offer.

On the one hand, I was happy that I had received the offer. On the other hand, the number was about 30% less than what BTC was offering me, with significantly fewer benefits. This should not have surprised me. I had known a startup would not be able to match the offer of a giant multinational. And yet, there was a vague feeling of… uneasiness.

After days and weeks of chasing opportunities and wondering what would become available, I finally had all the pieces of the puzzle to make a decision. Which meant, I no longer had any excuse to put off making it. The time was now.

“Sir, is there anything else we can help you with?” the salesperson asked.

I looked up from my screen, and realized that I was standing square in the middle of the small store, creating a virtual obstacle for all of their customers.

“Nope. All good. Thanks. By the way, if anyone from the Geek Squad ever applies to work here, don’t hire them. They’re morons. All of them.”

“Thank you for that tip, sir.”

I nodded and walked out of the store. I had to prepare for my date with Tina.


Author’s Notes

Today’s chapter reflects what I feel every time I walk into a retail store. In the days before you could whip out your phone and get an answer from Google in seconds, it was easy for poorly informed teenagers to give you “advice” on what to buy. But now?

Just this past week, I walked into Best Buy to buy a new computer. The kid who served me asked me what I was looking for. I told him specifically the model I wanted. He proceeded to show me a completely different model and explain to me it was much better because it had an “i7 processor.” I asked him if he knew what that meant and the ensuing conversation looked a lot like the one in the above chapter.

No wonder Amazon is taking over the world.

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Chapter 17

Four hours later, my three friends with jobs had made their way home, leaving me alone at the Lion with Mike.

Sweetheart walked up to our table, with three shots of golden brown liquid.

“Well, boys, I don’t know about the occasion, but you seem to be on a mission, so here’s a round on me.”

“Thanks, Sweetheart,” Mike and I both said in unison.

We each grabbed a shot glass and raised them.

“To decisions,” I said.

“Cheers.”

We took the shot. Jameson’s Irish Whisky. Normally, it burned, but after enough beers and other substances, you could drink anything.

“So, what are these decisions you need to make?” Sweetheart asked.

The bar had more or less emptied out. Sweetheart had maybe one or two other tables, but she wasn’t needed. She should have been closing out her cash. Instead she made small talk with us.

Mike opened his mouth to reply for me, but I shot him a sideways glance, and he went back to his pint of beer. His eyes were glazed over and looked a little crossed. I wondered what I looked like.

“I’m kind of at a crossroads. I need to make some choices that are probably going to impact the rest of my life.” As I said it, I wondered if that sounded too dramatic.

It was enough to pique Sweetheart’s interest.

“Hold that thought,” she disappeared for momentarily, and came back with another three shots, as well as a fresh pint for myself and for Mike.

After having distributed the drinks, she took a seat at our table. It must have been a very slow night.

“Now, tell me about these decisions.”

Maybe it was the alcohol. Maybe it was the other stuff. But I told Sweetheart everything that had happened in the last several weeks. Occasionally, Mike interjected to add in a detail that he thought was important (normally, it wasn’t), or to express his surprise that there were details that he was unaware of.

“So that’s the story,” I said once I had come to the end.

Mike looked as if he was about to pass out right there. I kicked him under the table, and he popped up with a jump.

“What did I miss?” he said. I ignored him. Sweetheart just smiled at him. She knew us too well.

“What do you think?” I asked Sweetheart.

She looked at me with the same smile she had given Mike.

“That’s tough,” she said.

“I know, right?”

She laughed.

“What?”

“Vince, you know I love you guys, but you do realize that you’ve got a serious case of first world problems, right?”

“Excuse me?”

“Vince, your biggest problems in life right now are picking between two jobs that most people would kill to have, so that you can move out of your parents’ house, who are happy to have you. And picking between two women, who frankly, both sound too good for you.”

Mike laughed.

“Ouch,” I said. This was above and beyond Sweetheart’s usual teasing.

“Sorry, the truth hurts. I got kicked out of my dad’s house when I was sixteen. My mom left us when I was a kid. I’ve been working as a waitress ever since. For most of my teens and early twenties I had to bounce from place to place because I kept getting evicted. I haven’t dated a single decent guy… ever. I’m not telling you any of this to make you feel sorry for me. In fact, if you feel sorry for me, I may just kick you in the teeth. My point is that right now, I’m fine with my life. You might even say I’m happy. I know it’s not perfect, but I know it’s a hell of a lot better than a lot of other people’s lives. I have a roof over my head, food in my belly, and friends. Sometimes this job blows and sometimes it’s great. But it’s a job. Your girlfriend dumped you, and you lost your job. Those are bumps in the road, Vince. Without those, life would just be a straight march form birth to death. My point is, you need to stop feeling so fucking sorry for yourself and realize how lucky you are. Plus, no one likes a whiny bitch.”

I felt very sober at that moment.

“When did you become so wise?”

“I’ve always been wise. You’ve just been too busy trying to sneak peaks at my ass to notice.” There wasn’t a trace of malice in her words.

Mike snorted a laugh. Sweetheart shot him a glance that maybe had a bit of malice in it.

“You’re right. Maybe I am being a whiny little bitch. So, just tell me what to do, I’ll do it, and then I can shut the fuck up and realize how lucky I am,” I said.

It was Sweetheart’s turn to laugh.

“Sorry, pal, but it doesn’t work that way. It’s your life. You have to make the choices.”

“But I can’t.”

“Whiny bitch is back.”

“Sorry. I just mean that I really, seriously, have no fucking clue.”

“Well, then flip a coin. The way I see it, there’s no real bad ending for you here.”

“I don’t know. I have a tendency to fuck these things up.”

“That’s what makes life fun,” Sweetheart said. With that, she grabbed her whisky, took it in one shot and got to her feet. “Well, boys, it was good chatting, but I need to finish closing up. Should I bring you one last round before closing?”

“No,” I said, as Mike said, “Yes.”

“Right,” Sweetheart said, and walked off. She did end up bringing us a final round.

I turned to Mike. “Am I really a whiny bitch?”

“Yes,” he said, as if the answer was the most obvious thing in the world.


We were the last patrons to leave the Lion. I was drunk enough to realize I was too drunk to drive, so Mike and I decided to find some late night food. We walked down the street to a 24-hour diner. We both ordered poutine. Halfway through our meal of greasy french fries, fatty gravy and squeaky cheese, Mike got up to go to the bathroom, and never came back.

Had it been anyone else, I would have been concerned. But it was Mike. He had a habit of wandering off when he was drunk, but like a puppy, he always somehow found his way home. I was, however, a little annoyed that he had stuck me with the bill again. In the recesses of my drunk brain it occurred to me that I was going to need to either start a new job soon, or get new friends. My current set of friends were too expensive for me to stay unemployed.

By the time I was sitting alone in the diner with two half-eaten bowls of soggy poutine, it must have been 4 am. The heavy meal had helped to absorb some of the alcohol, but I was still clearly drunk. So, I did what any good drunk with a penchant for screwing up his life does. I pulled out my phone and began sending text messages.

My first message was to Andrea.

Me: Hey, I miss you. Where the hell have you been?

My second message was to Tina.

Me: I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this before, but I really like you. I think you’re great.

I put down the phone and started fumbling through my pockets for cash. I rarely used cash, but this place didn’t accept plastic. I scrounged up about 15 dollars. It was enough to cover my food, but not Mike’s. The repercussions of this had not yet struck me when my phone buzzed.

To my surprise, both Tina and Andrea had replied, and to my greater surprise, their answers were nearly identical.

Both of them: LOL. Are you drunk?

I considered the possibility that they were both together at this very moment, playing an elaborate trick on me. They would both string me along, all the while knowing full well about each other, and feeding each other information to keep me off balance.

The reasoning almost made sense, except that Tina and Andrea had never met. The only tenuous connection to both of them I could make was through Tom’s girlfriend, Jo, and if there had been any chance that the two of them knew each other, it would have been in her interest to tell me. Right?

The waitress, a woman in her fifties, who was wearing an outfit that looked pulled out of the fifties, passed by the table, and put the bill face down in front of me without ever looking in my direction.

I grabbed the bill and flipped it over. Just as I had suspected. One bill, two poutines, $28 dollars after tax. I looked back down at my $15 spread over the table, and then back at the bill.

Then I turned my attention back to the phone.

I wrote the same message to both of them.

Me: No. Maybe a little bit tipsy.

After hitting send on the second message I returned to the bill and cash dilemma. It did not occur to me to ask the waitress if there was an ATM nearby. Nor did it occur to me to explain the situation to her. In fact, my mind was solely focused on a single solution: run.

In hindsight, there were hundreds of better solutions available to me, but at that moment, it was the only one that presented itself.

My phone buzzed again.

Andrea: LOL. I’m off tomorrow. You want to come over?

My mind was no longer on the bill. I knew what the right answer was, but I was drunk, and confused. Before I could answer, my phone buzzed again.

Tina: Riiiight. Well, they say drunk men tell no lies. I’ll tell you a secret. I like you, too. I’m really looking forward to seeing you tomorrow.

I was incapable of handling this situation when I was in total control of my faculties. At 4 am, after innumerable drinks, and still feeling some lingering effects from the smoke from earlier in the evening, the prospect of responding to these texts was as daunting as stepping into a wrestling ring with a grizzly bear. At the time, the realization that I was the one who had initiated the conversation did not occur to me.

I pulled my attention back to the bill. This, suddenly, seemed like the simpler of my two problems to solve. I gathered up my 15 dollars in change, and put the bill on top of it, face down, and pushed it to the middle of the table. Then, I got up slowly, and walked to the door as nonchalantly as possible. As I walked, I passed the waitress, and gave her a kurt nod, hoping this would satisfy her that the money had indeed been left where it should have been.

It must have had the opposite effect, because the waitress looked at me suspiciously. She made a beeline for my table. I quickened my pace until I was walking as quickly as I could without jogging. She flipped the bill over, and did some very quick mental math. I was at the door, maybe 15 feet away when I heard her yell, “Hey! You! Tabarnac!

I swung the door open and then ran flat out in a dead sprint. I could hear the angry waitress’ voice behind me. Or at least I thought I could. I kept running. And running. I didn’t have a direction in mind. Only to put as much distance between me and the diner as possible. At this hour, there were no cars on the road, and so I ran through traffic lights and stop signs and just kept going. Finally, I stopped because I was feeling a pain in my right side. I had no idea how long I had been running for, but I did know that I had not run like that for a long time.

I also had no idea where I was. I had been running in a vaguely southern direction, and I didn’t remember making many turns, so I guessed I was somewhere near the canal, but the only buildings around me were old industrial buildings, which I assumed were empty and were just waiting their turn to be converted into cookie cutter condo complexes.

After making sure that no one was chasing me (either a very sprite fifty-something waitress, or the police), I leaned against the side of a building to catch my breath. I was panting heavily. The heavy poutine, and all the liquid in my stomach were not sitting very well after that intense sprint, but I willed myself not to vomit.

I took another look at my surroundings and there was a glimmer of recognition. Had I been here before? The night with Pirate Girl came back to me.

I heard a noise, and turned my head quickly, half expecting to see a girl dressed in a black and white striped shirt standing there. It was a squirrel.

The temperature had fallen overnight, and I was wearing a t-shirt. I started to think about heading back home. I pulled out my phone to get directions back to a place where I could hail a cab, or at least to a neighbourhood where a cab would stop.

Another noise. I looked up, this time expecting to see the squirrel again. Instead, there was a man walking towards me. The sun would be coming up in about an hour, but for now, it was still dark. The man was tall and slim, and had a beard. He was walking with a limp. I could not make out his features from the combined light of the overcast moon and the distant street lamps.

The man said something. It was so slurred, that I couldn’t tell if he was speaking English or French. I considered running again, but I was still panting, and besides, the man might be in trouble.

“Excuse me?” I asked.

The man repeated himself, only this time, he was a bit closer and I was listening a little more closely. I still couldn’t fully understand him, but I was pretty sure he was saying, “Can you spare some change,” in French.

I raised my hands and shrugged, in the universal signal for, “sorry, no money on me.” In my case, it was true, I had given my last cent to the waitress just before running away from the other half of the bill.

Undeterred, the man kept shuffling towards me, and repeated his mumbled plea. The closer he got, the clearer it was that the man was homeless. His skin was dark with grime. His beard and hair were wild. And I began to wonder if his limping wasn’t just drunken stumbling. Also, as he got closer, the little light in the area reflected off his eyes, giving them a gleam that made him look insane.

Maybe it wasn’t just the light that made him look crazy.

He repeated the mumbled phrase, and this time I wondered if he was asking for money, or telling me to give him money. His hands were buried in the pockets of his denim jacket. Just as I noticed this, he removed his hands, and for the first time in the last few minutes, what I saw was what I had expected. He was holding a knife.

I backed away from the man, slowly, my hands still raised in the air. I repeated that I truly did not have any money. The man lunged towards me. I was not quick, but he was slower, I managed to avoid his clumsy lunge, but in the process I dropped my phone.

I considered whether I should run away, but that would mean leaving my phone behind, and besides, I was starting to get angry. The crazy homeless man’s knife, was only a few inches long, and I doubted its sharpness.

“Listen, dude, if you walk away right now, I’ll forget this ever happened.”

The man had regained his balance, and now he just grunted one word at me: “Money!”

I understood it clearly enough.

“I told you. I don’t have any fucking money.”

I pulled out my front pockets, as if this were proof.

The hobo lunged at me again, and again I stepped aside, but this time I pushed him hard against the wall. This only served to make him angry. He lunged at me again. Because he had been stopped by the wall, he actually had very little distance to cover. This time I couldn’t get out of the way.

I focused on stopping the knife from cutting me. I grabbed the man’s right arm with both hands, but his weight knocked us both off our feet. We went down in a tangle, him trying very hard to cut me, me trying very hard to stop him.

He was surprisingly strong for someone so scrawny. As I tried to pry the knife out of his hand, he scratched me with his other hand.

“Motherfucker,” I screamed, and head butted him.

Whenever you see a head butt in the movies, the guy on the receiving end always gets hurt while the guy dishing it out looks fine. Apparently, I don’t know how to give a head butt. The homeless guy dropped the knife to hold his head, but I also dropped his arm to hold mine. My head was ringing like a bell.

Eventually I scrambled to my feet and had just enough presence of mine to kick the knife away. At least I thought I kicked the knife away. I had actually just kicked my phone across the street.

“Fuck,” I yelled again. The hobo showed no signs of getting up. He was now just lying on the floor holding his head. I ran over to grab my phone, shoved it in my pocket and ran back in the direction I had come from.

My side was still hurting, and now my head was killing me, and I was sure I was going to end up with either a lump or a bruise. Probably both.

Finally, I hit a main street with proper lighting. I looked around but there were no cabs. I looked to my phone, but the screen was cracked and the phone looked dead.

“Son of a bitch.”


Author’s Notes

There are a lot of people in the United States who are very unhappy right now. In theory, there are even more people who are happy. But there’s also a third group, who may also overlap with the first or the second group, but is a group that has absolutely no right to be either.

I’m talking about the group of people who didn’t vote. Those people will still complain that the government failed them, and that they pay too many taxes and so many other things. And  yet, they complain without taking the simplest of actions to make things better.

That is the definition of a first world problem. Whether or not you’re happy with your President, at least you had a chance to vote for him.

/end political rant

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Chapter 16

After my interview at BTC, I decided to stop at a cafe before heading back to my parents’ house.

I was disoriented. I hadn’t expected that to go so… well?

My mind raced thinking through the pros and cons of two potential job offers. One from an interesting and quirky startup team. The other from a Fortune 500 company with enough employees to form its own city.

As my mind raced back and forth between the two, I bumped into multiple people while walking to the cafe.

I made the queue to get my overpriced hot water, dripped through the ground remains of a tropical seed.

The girl who was taking the orders behind the counter reminded me of the girl I had met when I first visited Danny’s office. She was in her early twenties. Under her uniform of apron and cap, she did everything possible to stand out. She wore thick horn rimmed glasses. Her hair was a pale straw colour, with neon pink at the tips. A nose-ring pierced one nostril. Tattoos peaked out from under the sleeves of her long sleeve shirt. Given the temperature today, I had to assume the long sleeves were required to cover said tattoos.

She wore a simple smile while greeting patrons, which disappeared the moment she was not looking at them anymore. She took their order with practiced efficiency, hitting keys on a touchscreen, repeating the order back, offering the total, accepting payment, and returning change when necessary only to move on to the next person. Meanwhile, behind her, other misfits who had been shaped to fit the mould practiced similar but different jobs that culminated with one of dozens of different types of beverages being produced at the end of the counter.

I wondered what the girl at the cash’s story was. Was she in school? Was this a summer job during her break? Had she never gone to university, and this was the only job she could get? Had she gone to university and passed a program not dissimilar to mine, and still, this was the only job she could get?

Maybe she had been forced to work whatever job she could find, because she’d gotten pregnant at a young age and had a young child at home. This “home” wouldn’t be with her parents, because her parents would have kicked her out for being such a rebel.

I interrupted the story I was writing about this girl’s personal life to consider how similar we really were. I could just as easily have ended up behind the counter in a food services job. Would that have been so bad? It was an honest living. Sure, I wouldn’t make the salary I was about to be offered, but so what? What did I spend my money on anyways? Booze and fancy food? Millions of people got by on a lot less and seemed perfectly happy.

Was this barista happy?

“Next,” she called.

It took me a moment to realize that I was “Next.”

“Hi,” I said.

She didn’t respond, just gave me the same practiced smile she’d given every other person in line. She had practiced it so much, it looked genuine.

“Umm…” amidst all my reveries, I had not taken time to decide what I wanted. “What do you recommend?” I asked, more as a way to buy time than by genuine curiosity.

The question threw my barista for a loop. She was used to the familiar ritual of communicating solely in foreign drink names. Having an opinion was outside of her job description. The smile disappeared. She blinked. Her mouth opened and closed several times.

“Uhh… a lot of people get the Latte… I guess.”

I nodded as if taking recommendations at a coffeehouse chain were perfectly normal. Yes, the Latte. That iconic beverage that was nothing more than warm milk with an ounce of copy dripped into it. Throngs of yuppies had flocked to it. It was the one vestige of the previous generation, that my generation had not yet been able to destroy. We had adopted Latte culture just as surely as we had rejected every other aspect of Generation X. Maybe coffeehouses were tying us together.

“Yes. Ok. I’ll have one.”

“What size?”

“Medium.”

“You mean grande?”

“Isn’t that large?”

“No. That’s medium. Venti is large.”

“I know my Italian is really rusty, but I’m pretty sure grande means large.”

All traces of smile were now gone from the barista’s face. She said nothing, but had a look that said, ‘C’mon man, I don’t name the fucking drinks.’

Grande is fine, thanks,” I said before annoying this poor girl too much more, and pulled out my credit card to pay for my coffee. I didn’t carry cash, and the girl behind the counter hadn’t expected me to. She indicated a keypad that I slid my card into and punched a pin number into.

While the card processed, I stared at the keypad intently, not wanting to make eye contact with the barista. That would have been awkward.

The “Approved” message appeared on the screen, and I removed my card and stowed it. Two receipts printed behind the counter, and I was handed both. I crumpled them up and threw them in the garbage.

“Right down at the end, they’ll call you when it’s ready.”

I plodded over. I took my place amidst the other patrons who were waiting for their legalized drug to be prepared. Every person waiting at the counter had their nose buried in their phone. A group of people stood inches apart from each other, without acknowledging one another.

Finally, despite my attempt to resist, I too pulled the device out of my pocket to save me from the horrors of having to consider my own thoughts too deeply, or worse, having to communicate with someone else.

I flipped through the text messages from Tina and Andrea, and back again. There were new messages from Tina, but not from Andrea. I was relieved. This made my decision of who to respond to easier. Finally, someone called out my drink order. At first I didn’t remember it was my order, and for a moment, I was annoyed with the person who was holding up this beautifully efficient process. Then, I realized that the person was me.

I made my way to the counter as if nothing had happened, and thanked the young man who handed me my coffee. He could have been the first girl’s brother.

I headed over to a side table, to sip on my over-priced warm milk and consider my response to Tina’s message.

Tina: Make sure to let me know how the interview goes.

It was a short, sweet and thoughtful message. I took a deep breath, followed by a long sip of coffee and typed my reply.

Me: Interview went well. Very well, I think. To celebrate, I’d like to take you out again. Let me know when you’re free.

The answer came almost immediately.

Tina: Friday?

Me: It’s a second date.


I got home a few hours later. Mom was preparing dinner, and Dad was off doing something or other in his workshop.

“Hi Honey. How did the interview go?” Mom asked.

“Good. I’ll tell you about it at dinner. I just want to jump in the shower really quick,” I said.

I headed upstairs, and shook out of my slacks and collared shirt as if the clothes were looking to attack me. I wondered how I would feel coming home every night and having the feeling that I needed to get out of my work clothes as quickly as possible.

I jumped in the shower, and just let the water run over me for about ten minutes. I did my best thinking in the shower, away from all other distractions, notifications, beeps and boops.

In this case, there was not much thinking to be done. I was in a holding pattern. I was waiting for the offer from BTC. I was waiting for an offer from Danny. I was waiting for Andrea to call me back.

For the first time, it occurred to me that I was on the verge of getting my old life back again. Soon, regardless of what I decided, I would be working again, which would then allow me to move out of my parents’ house. Again. Depending on how I played my cards, it looked like I was beginning a new relationship, and it had been some time since I had thought about Marta.

Things were going back to the way they were.

As I stood there in the shower, water washing over me, I wondered whether that was what I actually wanted. Since Marta had dumped me, and I’d quit my job, I had told everyone else it was no big deal because it was a chance for a fresh start. Sure, it was a front, but there was an element of truth there. I did have a chance to start over. Had I just used that chance to rebuild the exact same life I had had before? And if so, was that a good thing or a bad thing?

Eventually, I decided I had wasted enough water, and finished washing myself. I stepped out of the shower, dried myself off and stepped into the clothes I had brought into the bathroom with me. When I’d been living alone, I had never had to remember to bring my clothes into the bathroom with me. It would be good to have that freedom again.

I made my way downstairs. Dad had appeared and was sitting at the kitchen table. He was watching the news on the small television in the dining room. The 24-hour news cycle had had the unintended benefit for baby boomers that they could now eat dinner as early as they pleased, and still have the background noise of news bulletins in the background.

“Hi Dad,” I said.

“How did it go?” he asked, skipping all greetings.

“Pretty good.”

“Are there any more interviews?”

“I don’t think so. I think they’re going to make me an offer.”

“How soon will you know?”

“They told me to expect something by the end of this week.”

“So, they told you that you’re getting an offer for sure?”

“Pretty much.”

“Congratulations.”

It was the least emotional congratulations in the history of congratulations.

“On top of that, they’re looking to offer me a senior manager job.”

At that moment, Mom came in from the kitchen to drop a bread basket and a salad on the table.

“Honey, that’s great!” she said.

“They just offered it to you like that?” Dad asked.

“Apparently there’s been a little bit of miscommunication from the get go. They had their eye on me for this position, but it was never posted, so I just assumed I was applying for a regular BA role.”

“Well, I guess that makes your decision easy,” Dad said.

“What do you mean?”

“Aren’t you still waiting for an offer from that other place?”

“Yes.”

“Well, if BTC is offering you such a senior position, it’s a pretty easy decision to make.”

“Why do you say that?”

Dad looked at me like I had just landed from outer space.

“Are you saying you’re still considering the other job?”

“I haven’t made my decision yet.”

“Vince, think about this for a moment. BTC’s a big company that’s been around for a long time. They offer good benefits and they pay well. They’re offering you a good position, and it’s the kind of place that you can still climb the ladder. The other place might not even exist in six months, and then, who knows if this opportunity will still be around.”

Mom had disappeared again, and was now coming into the room with pasta bowls, which she dropped in front of me and Dad.

“Start eating before it gets cold,” she said just before disappearing into the kitchen again.

I stared at my pasta bowl as I considered how to answer my father.

“But if this idea of Danny’s takes off, I’ll be in on the ground floor. I’ll be there helping to build something brand new. I’ll own a part of that.”

Dad shook his head ever so slightly, before plunging a fork into the bowl of pasta that had been set down in front of him.

“At the end of the day, it’s your call, Vince, I’m just telling you how I see things. Maybe I’m old fashioned.”

Mom came back into the dining room holding parmesan cheese in one hand and a jug of water in the other. She deposited both on the table.

“Vince, your food’s getting cold. Eat. Do you want me to warm it up?”

“It’s okay, Mom. Sit down. It’s fine.”

She sat down, almost reluctantly.

Dad was almost halfway through his bowl of pasta, and his eyes were once again locked on the television screen. I snuck a look at my watch.

It was just past five pm. There was still a lot of thinking to do.


It was Thursday night, and I was standing on the balcony of Jon’s skyrise condo building. Dev and Mike were with me. Tom and Jon were still inside.

Mike took a long drag on the flaming cylinder in his hand, and passed it to his left, to Dev.

“So, I got the offer from BTC today,” I said.

Mike calmly exhaled, but Dev choked on smoke as the statement took him off guard.

“And?” Mike asked before Dev could get his coughing under control.

“It’s… impressive.”

“So, does that mean you’re going to be Jon’s neighbour?”

“Not that impressive, but almost.”

“Awesome, man. Sounds like we need to celebrate.”

“We’re not going to a strip club.”

“I didn’t say that,” Mike said, but the way his shoulders slumped told me that he was going to.

“What did you tell them?” Dev said, having finally regained control of his breathing.

“I told them I would get back to them soon.”

“Negotiating. I like it,” Dev said.

“Maybe, but that wasn’t really my intention. I want to see what the offer from the other place is going to be like. I talked to Danny today. He told me he’d have something to me by tomorrow.”

“So you still haven’t made up your mind, yet?”

“Nope. I just feel like taking the job at BTC is the same as going back to exactly what I was doing before.”

“But with way more money…” Mike said.

“True. But so what? What do I need more money for? Jon has way more money than the three of us combined. Is he any happier?”

“I don’t know. Maybe you should ask him,” Mike said.

Dev took another puff and passed to me. This time, he didn’t cough.

I felt the heat in my fingertips, and smelled the burning leaves.

“I already have. He’s not. It’s not about money, dude. It’s about figuring out what makes you happy,” I said, and took a puff.

“Yeah, but money doesn’t hurt,” Dev said, smiling, while Mike scratched his head. Mike was the closest thing to a struggling artist I knew, and I was curious to see his reaction.

“Vince is right,” he said, “There’s more to life than money. But then again, if you don’t know what else to do with your life, making a choice based on what’s going to make you the most money isn’t the worst way to go.”

“That actually sounds sane,” Dev said to Mike.

“Plus,” Mike continued, “Mo’ money, mo’ bitches.”

Dev shook his head. “You’re an idiot.”

“What? Isn’t that why you’ve got your fancy job and your fancy car?”

Dev just continued to shake his head.

“Speaking of the ladies, how’s it going with whatsherface?” Dev said, changing the subject.

I passed to Mike and exhaled at the same time. The street below seemed closer than before. I felt more relaxed about being this high up. I had wanted to stay on the topic of the job for a while longer. I needed help making up my mind.

“Who’s whatsherface?” I asked.

“You know. The chick you’ve been seeing.”

“Tina?”

“No, the other one.”

“Andrea?”

It was Mike’s turn to choke. He recovered quickly.

“What? You’ve been seeing two different girls? Last time I saw you, you were all fucking depressed over Marta, and now you’re dating two girls at once? What the fuck, man?”

“I’m not dating two girls at once. I went on one date with Tina, and Andrea is just a friend.”

“A friend that you banged,” Dev interjected.

“That’s it, we’re celebrating something tonight. I don’t care what. But we’re going out,” Mike declared.

“That was an… accident,” I said to Dev, ignoring Mike.

“An accident!” Mike said. “How do you accidentally bang someone? No, please tell me, because I would really like to master this form of accident.”

“We were drunk, we were at a party, one thing led to another, and whatever. Point is, she just wants to be friends. I think.”

“What do you mean, you think?” Dev asked.

“I don’t know. Her texts are all weird. Sometimes I think she’s flirting with me. Sometimes I think she’s pissed at me. Sometimes she just doesn’t answer me.”

“Sounds like a relationship to me,” Mike said.

“Ah well, move on,” Dev said.

“I would, but I can’t. Andrea really is a friend. Not like you guys, but still…”

“I’ve got it,” Mike said, “the solution to all of your problems.”

“What?”

“You tell them to give me the high paying job so you don’t need to worry about making up your mind, and you hand off the hot chick you’ve been banging to me as well. Now, your life is simpler.”

“Idiot,” Dev said under his breath.

“Who said she’s hot?” I asked.

“Is she?”

“Yes,” I admitted.

We did two more circles. The whole time, all I could think of was how to make up my mind between selling my soul and taking a gamble on the job front, and starting something with a nice girl even if I may not be ready for a relationship or risking ruining a friendship on the relationship front. Mike and Dev continued to banter back and forth, but their voices seemed distant.

“Okay. Let’s go in,” Dev said.

I followed him and Mike. Jon and Tom were on the couch, each with a drink in their hand, a movie we’d all seen dozens of times played in the background for background noise, while Jon and Tom chatted.

“What did we miss?” Mike asked.

“Fuck all,” Tom said. “How about you guys? Anything interesting happen on that balcony?”

“Did any of the neighbours see you?” Jon asked.

“Don’t worry no one saw us,” Dev said.

“Guys, we have a serious problem,” Mike announced.

No one even bothered to pretend to be concerned. Mike had used up all his credibility long ago.

“What’s up?” Tom asked.

“It’s Vince,” Mike said, pointing at me. “He’s having a crisis. He’s got two monster job offers to choose from, and can’t decide. PLUS, he’s got two hot ladies that are fighting over him, and he doesn’t know how to let one of them down easy. Our boy is torn!”

Tom and Jon both laughed. I ignored Mike’s needling and dropped onto the couch like a sack of potatoes. For some reason, my problems seemed less important right then. Even Mike’s teasing was no big deal.

“So, you seriously don’t know which job you’re leaning towards?” Jon asked.

“Wait,” Tom said, “Are you going to dump Tina? Man, you can’t do that. Jo will be pissed. And she won’t kill you. She’ll kill me.”

I looked from Jon to Tom. I chose to ignore Tom. This situation was partly of his own making, so my sympathy was limited.

“I think I’m leaning towards the startup gig,” I said.

“Wait. What?” Dev said.

“Yeah. I told you. I want to build something. I want to be part of something. I don’t think I’m going to get that with a job at a big company.”

“But what about all the money?”

“What about it?”

“Think about how much happiness you can buy with that much money.”

“You can’t buy happiness.”

“How would you know,” Mike said. “Have you ever tried?”

“Can we go back to talking about Tina?” Tom interjected.

“Enough,” I said. In my head, it was a forceful scream. It came out as a relaxed statement. Bizarrely, the even tone might have worked better, because everyone stopped talking and waited.

“I haven’t slept properly in a week. All of these different decisions keep bouncing back and forth in my head. I know this may not seem like a big deal to you guys, but I’m talking about the path forward for the rest of my life here.”

“Sorry, man,” Tom said.

“There really is only one solution to all of this,” Mike said.

Jon regarded him with a suspicious stare. “And what would that be, Mike?”

“I think we need to get wasted.”

“Awww, man. I need to work tomorrow,” Tom complained.

“So what. We all are,” Dev said. Then he looked at Mike, and finally at me. “Well, most of us are. It wouldn’t be the first time we got drunk on a Thursday.”

“Jo is going to kill me,” Tom said. Which meant that he had already caved.


Author’s Notes

 

As I was putting this post here, it struck me that this is Chapter 16 of a 20 page novel. We’re about 80% of the way through this story. That’s kind of crazy to me. When I started this thing, it was on a lark, now I see the end in sight, and it’s like, “woah, that’s a year of work.” So, thanks to any and all who took the time to read, and I hope I managed to bring a little bit of entertainment to your life.

If you want to have the next chapter delivered straight to your email inbox before it even goes live here, all you have to is sign up here.

Chapter 15

On the bus ride home, I checked my phone. Notifications and messages cluttered the screen. That was normal.

I flicked through them all.

I had a message from Tina.

Tina: How did the interview go?

I had mentioned in passing during our date that I had an interview Monday morning, but amidst all the information shared on a first date, I was surprised that she had remembered. She was a very thoughtful girl. I smiled.

I kept flicking through the notifications. One text was from Mike with a link to a video that I probably didn’t want to see. I dismissed it and carried on.

The last notification on the screen informed me that I had a text message from Andrea. I like to believe I opened it the same way I opened the others, but it was probably a little faster.

Andrea: I guess I do have to do all the work in this friendship. 😉 When are we meeting up next? I had fun last time.

I was about to reply to Andrea, but something held my thumbs back, and it wasn’t the desire to watch Mike’s video. I switched back to Tina’s message and re-read it. Then I switched back once more to Andrea’s. I switched between the two multiple more times. Which one I answered first didn’t matter, but it felt like it did. As if choosing which girl to reply to was a sign of something. An indication that I had chosen one over the other. As if I had any right to choose in the first place.

I was flicking between the two when my phone buzzed in my hand. The buzz surprised me, and I fumbled with the phone, nearly dropping it before getting a grip. The buzzing continued, and a phone number took over the screen. I didn’t recognize it, but it was a Montreal number, not a long distance number belonging to someone trying to sell me pet insurance. I answered.

“Vince,” I said. I don’t know where I picked up the habit of answering the phone with my own name, but I had. I vacillated between thinking it was cool and thinking it was douche-y.

“Vince! Glad I caught you. This is Mr. Lefebvre from BTC. How are you?”

It took me a moment to place the name. When I finally did, I wondered how many more surprises I was going to get on this bus ride.

“Good good. Thank you, sir. How are you doing?”

“Very well. Thanks. I’m sorry it’s taken me so long to get back to you. Our HR team is swamped and I have to go through them to move a candidate to the next round of interviews.”

“Next round?”

“Yes. I’d like you to meet our Vice-President of Operations this week. Are you free?”

“Um. Yeah. Sure. I mean, let me check my schedule, but I should be able to make it work.”

“Fantastic. I really enjoyed the conversation we had. It was refreshing. I think you could do great things here. Mr. Tremblay is looking forward to meeting you.”

“I look forward to meeting him too.”

“Good. I’ll email you a few times that work, and if you could get back to me today, that would be helpful.”

“No problem.”

“Excellent, have a nice day.”

There was a click, and the call ended. I stared at my phone. They wanted me back for a second interview? What the hell was going on? And who the hell was I supposed to text back first? Andrea or Tina? And how was I supposed to juggle a job offer with a potential other job offer, but that hadn’t come through yet?

I was busy asking myself these questions and staring at the black screen of my phone as the stop for my parents’ house came and went.

“So, how did the interview go?” Dad asked as I pulled out my chair to sit down to dinner with him and Mom.

“Good. I think.”

“You think?”

“Well, I think they offered me the job.”

“Honey! That’s great!” Mom exclaimed.

Dad was more measured. “What do you mean you think they offered you the job.”

“They said they were going to send me an offer this week. I haven’t actually seen it yet.”

“That’s really great, honey,” Mom repeated.

“What would you be doing?” Dad asked.

“Umm… that’s the thing. I’m not totally sure. The company is great. They’re new, they’re young, and they’re trying to build something. The founder, Danny, seems like a really smart guy. But he’s not a business guy, so things seem a little disorganized. I think that’s why they want to hire me. To organize things. It kind of seems like what they’re looking for is adult supervision.”

Dad nodded. “Well, a job is a job.”

“Don’t get me wrong, I really do think it’s cool. I’ve just never worked for such a small company before. It seems really exciting and I’d get to help build something from the ground up, but at the same time, I’m a little scared, you know.”

“There’s no such thing as a perfect job,” Dad said.

Thanks for that pearl of wisdom, Dad, I thought.

“I also got a call from BTC while I was on my way home.”

“Isn’t that the place you had an interview with last week?” Mom asked.

“Yeah. That’s the one. They want me to come in for a second interview.”

“Big day for you,” Dad said. “Well, that’s great. Hopefully you get that job, and you can have this startup thing as your plan B.”

“What makes you so sure the startup thing would be plan B?” I asked.

“You just said that they’re disorganized.”

“Yeah, but big companies can be just as disorganized.”

“Maybe, but don’t you think it would be less risky to take a job with a company that’s been around for a while than to join a group with no clear business plan?”

“Sure, but that’s how all great businesses start out.”

“That’s also how most businesses fail.”

“So you don’t think I should take the startup job?”

“What’s the company called?”

“Uhhh… I’m not sure they’ve settled on a name yet.”

“Right. Vince, I’m not saying you shouldn’t take the job, I’m just saying that if you have a choice, you should take the one that’s going to let you build your career instead of a job where you’re probably going to end up hunting for another job in a few months.”

“But what about the prospect of building something from the ground up? Being there at the beginning?”

“What does it pay?”

“I’m not sure, yet. I guess I’ll find out when I get the offer later this week.”

“If you had to guess, which one do you think pays more?”

“Well, BTC. But with a startup you get equity, and that can turn into a lot more money later.”

“Or it could be worthless.”

“Well, yes.”

Dad nodded his head as if the conversation was over, and sure enough, he turned to his food and didn’t say anything else on the topic.

My problem was that I couldn’t figure out whether I was frustrated with his stubbornness, or whether I was frustrated with the thought that I might agree with him.


Wednesday saw me taking the bus downtown yet again. This time, I had made sure that the interview would be scheduled after 9 pm, so I didn’t run into the same issues as last time.

I also considered my wardrobe selection a little more carefully. There had been a brief moment of thinking that if the way I was dressed had gotten me to a second interview, then maybe I shouldn’t change anything. But then I remembered the feeling I had when I had walked into the BTC offices to see that every single person—from the highest exec, to the lowest file clerk—was better dressed than me, and decided maybe a little more care was warranted.

I didn’t go as far as wearing a suit and tie, but I did swap jeans for slacks, sneakers for loafers, and the rumpled plaid shirt for a proper button down. On the bus ride into the interview, I felt more nervous than I had the first time, but that might only have been because I was more awake this time around. I kept myself preoccupied by staring at my phone. It was two days later, and I still hadn’t responded to either Tina or Andrea’s texts. This had long ago crossed into the camp of just plain rude.

I had mental images of both women standing, arms crossed, fuming while waiting for a text to appear on their phones. That mental image was followed by my internal monologue chastising me for thinking either of them cared that much.

Finally, I took a deep breath and before I could change my mind, replied to Tina.

Me: Interview went well. I think I might be getting an offer. Also heading into a second interview for a different place now. Up to anything this weekend?

I had considered apologizing for the delay in response, but I thought that maybe if I just avoided the topic, it wouldn’t register.

I then flicked over to the message from Andrea.

Me: Hey. Been crazy busy with all these interviews! How are you doing?

I still had no idea where I stood with her, so I figured a casual friendly tone was the way to go. Based on the contents of those two messages, it may have seemed like I had made up my mind which of the two girls I was looking to pursue, but in reality, I still had no idea.

The bus pulled into my stop, and I got out.

Summer was getting into full swing, and it was humid even before noon. The air was thick. My shirt stuck to my back. Walking the few blocks to the BTC offices was unpleasant. I pined for my T-shirt.

Walking into the tower that hosted the BTC offices, I was greeted by a cold blast of air conditioning. With my damp shirt clinging to me, the cold air quickly went from a relief, to unwelcome discomfort. In the elevator, I shivered.

The elevators opened onto a floor identical to the one that I had visited the last time I had been here, despite the fact that I was two floors higher. This time, on the other side of one of the doors, there was a woman behind a reception desk. I walked in, and she offered me a seat in a waiting area that was much more comfortable than the floor.

Several minutes ticked away before I heard someone call my name.

“Vince! Good to see you.”

Mr. Lefebvre walked towards me, hand outstretched. His perfect smile and well groomed appearance looked out of a toothpaste commercial. I wondered what I looked like after having wandered through four micro-climates on the way in.

“Good to see you, too, Sir.”

“Thanks for accepting to come in on such short notice. Like I told you over the phone, I’m very eager to move this process along, but sometimes we need to compromise with other departments,” he said, flashing me a smile that said I knew exactly what he was talking about. I didn’t. I nodded anyway.

“Mr. Tremblay’s office is right down here. I’ll start the interview with both of you, but I may have to jump out halfway through. I’m sorry about that, but the important thing is that you get some time to talk with him.”

Arriving at Mr. Tremblay’s office, we were greeted by an executive assistant who insisted on getting up and announcing our presence, even though the door was open. She then ushered us in.

Walking into the office, I had expected something roughly the size of what I’d seen when I had interviewed with Mr. Lefebvre a few weeks earlier. Instead, the room I walked into was about four times bigger. A large L-shaped desk took up one corner. A couch took up another corner. A small conference table with six chairs and a handsfree conference bridge took up the larger part of what was left. In between each area was enough space to pace easily.

Mr. Tremblay was seated at the desk when we walked in, but got up to meet me and shake my hand. He was tall, slim, blonde and clean cut. He was middle aged, but had a face that could have been 40 just as easily as it could have been 55. Mr. Tremblay was dressed similar to myself, but I noted a jacket slung over a chair in one corner. Also, despite his tall, thin frame, his clothes seemed to fit him just right, suggesting to me that a tailor had been involved at some point.

“Vince. Pleasure to meet you,” he said, flashing me a smile that looked eerily similar to the one Mr. Lefebvre had shot me earlier, and extending his hand for a handshake. “I have heard a lot about you.”

“All good, I hope,” I said, returning the handshake. Mr. Tremblay’s handshake was the perfect balance of firmness without gripping too tight. There must be an executive training program where they teach that handshake.

“Of course, of course. Did you want anything to drink before we get started?” he asked.

“I’ll have whatever you’re having.”

Mr. Tremblay nodded, and without saying a word to Mr. Lefebvre called out his door, “Natalie, can you please get us three coffees. Thanks.”

Mr. Tremblay indicated for me to take a seat at the 6-person conference table, and he and Mr. Tremblay took seats on the opposite side, but far enough apart that it only felt a little bit like an interrogation.

“So, Mr. Carnelli. Please tell me a bit about your experience.”

I launched into my well-rehearsed spiel about my career path. I spent progressively more time on each position I had held. On my previous job, I spent the most time, making sure to highlight the particular responsibilities that made me well suited to a job at BTC. My university career counsellor would have been proud.

Mr. Tremblay interrupted occasionally to ask a clarifying question, but otherwise just regarded me over steepled fingers and nodded occasionally. He was just attentive enough to look interested, but not so attentive as to seem intimidating. Mr. Tremblay was either extremely gifted at finding the perfect balance for a situation, or he was very practiced at it. Either way, it gave the impression of talking to someone whose reactions were so perfect, that they were not quite human.

The assistant entered and delivered the coffees just as I was drawing to the close of my answer, her timing perfect.

Several more questions followed the initial question about my experience that were standard fare. What did I think I could bring to the position? What areas did I feel I could improve on? Why did I want to work for BTC? I answered each in a perfectly measured, well-rehearsed fashion. It was the interview that I should have had with Mr. Lefebvre.

After about thirty minutes, Mr. Lefebvre got up and excused himself, bringing up the conflict he had warned me about earlier.

I continued alone with Mr. Tremblay. It felt as though we were following a script. He asked a standard form question, I gave a standard form answer. On the one hand, it was as smooth an interview as any I had ever had. On the other hand, I wondered if there was anything in what I was saying that would allow me to stand apart from any other candidate that he had interviewed.

Forty-five minutes into the interview, Mr. Tremblay said, “Vincent… may I call you Vincent?”

“Most people call me Vince.”

“Vince, you’re obviously a bright man. I think you would do a fine job in the position that you applied for. However, I will be honest with you. Mr. Lefebvre told me to expect an ‘unusual’ interview, and I’m still waiting to see what he was referring to.”

The rest of the interview had been so on-script that the directness of the statement took me off guard.

“Uhh… well… I suppose I was a little more… passionate in my interview with Mr. Lefebvre.”

“And where has that passion gone?”

“Nowhere. I still strongly believe I can make a contribution here. And I still firmly believe that BTC has a bright future if it can adapt to changing times. I guess I’m just a little bit more… controlled… today.”

“Do you often lose control?”

Yes.

“No, no. Of course not. I suppose my conversation with Mr. Lefebvre just took a turn and something lit a spark. I’m afraid I can’t explain it.”

Mr. Tremblay nodded.

“Well, I’m not sure what that was all about, but I have a lot of faith in Mr. Lefebvre’s judgment, and I like you. Like I said, you seem like a very intelligent young man. I think you would fit in well here. Now, do you have any questions for me?”

“Well, frankly, I think Mr. Lefebvre answered most of my questions, so I suppose the only question I have left is around compensation,” I said.

It was an uncomfortable question to ask, but if this really was going as well as it seemed, it looked as though I would have to make a decision soon between BTC and Danny Lemieux’s startup. I needed data to make that decision.

“You’ll get something more formal after we’ve completed a background and reference checks, but I think if you ask around you’ll see that BTC pays top of the ladder salaries. We believe that to attract the best people, you need to compensate them accordingly.”

I wondered what Danny would have said to that. He, obviously, couldn’t afford to pay top of the market salaries. He would probably say that to attract the best talent you need to find people who are passionate about building something or passionate about a cause.

Could I even describe what it was that BTC built? Could Mr. Tremblay?

“In that case,” I said, “I suppose there’s no need for me to take up much more of your time.”

Mr. Tremblay smiled.

“There is a question that I am surprised you didn’t ask, and that was about what your day-to-day responsibilities would be,” he said.

I shrugged, “Sir, I don’t want this to sound coy or disrespectful, but I have essentially been doing this same job elsewhere for years now. I think that I probably know the job better than you do.”

Mr. Tremblay raised an eyebrow. Oops. Maybe I’d pissed him off.

“Vince, what job do you think you’re interviewing for?”

“The Business Analyst position,” I said, confused that this question would come up at the end of a second interview.

Mr. Tremblay chuckled. My confusion grew.

“Vince, do you really think that I take time to interview every candidate for a BA position?”

“I assumed only the candidates who made it to the final step.”

“Vince, even if I only interviewed the last man standing, we have hundreds of BA’s in this company. If I met with all of them, I wouldn’t have time to get any work done.”

I had always assumed that at the Vice President level, that was your work.

“So, then, forgive me for my confusion, but if this meeting isn’t for a BA position, what is it for?”

“It’s for the Senior Manager role that manages all the BA’s in our Enterprise Technology division. You would be reporting directly to Mr. Lefebvre, and you would have a team of 15-25 people.”

My jaw dropped. I clicked it shut quickly, hoping Mr. Tremblay wouldn’t notice, but in doing so, I snapped my teeth together so hard, they made an audible “clack.”

Mr. Tremblay laughed.

“Obviously, Mr. Lefebvre and HR left some things out when you spoke with them.”

“I never spoke with HR,” I said, never considering that the admission wouldn’t be a good idea.

“Well, I won’t tell anyone if you don’t,” Mr. Tremblay said.

We were now co-conspirators in a plot that I was neither aware of, nor understood.

“Are you still interested?” Mr. Tremblay said.

“Of course!”

“Good. In that case, I think you should expect a formal offer very shortly.”

Mr. Tremblay rose and extended a hand to me.

I took it and was once again treated to the perfect handshake. Maybe they would teach that in the onboarding.


Author’s Notes:

If you’ve ever felt like you live in two different worlds, then you know what Vince is feeling in this chapter. It’s very strange how there are groups of people we cross in our lives that barely seem to acknowledge the existence of other groups, despite the fact that they share the same physical space. I suppose that’s always existed with class systems, but now our class systems seem to be so tiered that we have classes within classes.

Why am I telling you this? I’m not sure. Because I felt like I needed to put something here probably.

As always, if you want to have the next chapter delivered straight to your email inbox before it even goes live here, all you have to is sign up here.

Chapter 14

I dragged myself out of bed bright and early, and put on the same clothes I would have worn if it were any other Monday. Danny Lemieux’s offices were in the Old Port. I had always thought of the Old Port as the pretty part of Montreal that all the locals had abandoned to the hordes of tourists. To my surprise, there were a number of small businesses in the area, primarily in the technology industry.

I disembarked from the Metro at Square Victoria and walked the few blocks south towards the port. The weather was warming up, and Montrealers were gearing up for the two months of intense summer. People were out and about in shorts, while others contented themselves with sunglasses and short sleeved shirts. In this part of town, there were none of the business suits that I would see if I went about ten blocks northwest in the downtown core.

I found the address of the building where I was supposed to meet Danny, and realized I had probably walked by it 100 times. It was on one of the main tourist drags. The first floor was an art gallery. I had never paused to think what might be on the higher floors. Next to the door to the art gallery was a subdued-looking door, unremarkable in every way. I rang the buzzer by the door, and the door unlocked instantly.

There was no lobby or entrance on the other side. Instead, the stairs to the higher floors started immediately. The stairwell was poorly lit, and dark. The air smelled musty. If there were more light, I probably would have seen a lot of dust floating through the air.

I made my way to the second landing, and silently thanked my lucky stars that the office wasn’t on one of the higher floors. The stairwell wasn’t climate controlled, and if I had to walk up to the fourth floor, I probably would have arrived to meet Danny with sweat staining my shirt.

I tried the unmarked door, and it opened easily.

The other side of the door was a stark contrast to the stairwell.

A brightly lit loft space took up the entire floor. Windows lined both the front and back of the space. The side walls were exposed brick and the floor was a light coloured hardwood.

Spread across the large surface area were tables and people with laptops. There were also couches spread across the room. In total, there were maybe 20 people in the large open space. They were all dressed as casually as me, if not moreso. I noticed a few guys in shorts. A girl with a nose ring, lime green hair and exposed tattoos walked up to me.

Bonjour. Est-ce que je peux vous aider?

She must have just come out of university.

“Hi. I’m Vince. I’m supposed to be meeting Danny.”

“Cool. Danny!” she shouted from where she stood.

“On the other side of the room, a guy wearing a plaid shirt, thick rimmed glasses and an un-ironic moustache looked up from over someone’s shoulder. I recognized Danny Lemieux from his online profile. He waved and then held up a finger to indicate he needed just a minute.

“Grab a seat on one of the couches, he’ll be with you in just a second,” she said, and walked back to whatever it was that she had been doing when I arrived.

I sat down on the nearest couch and waited. Despite the open area, no one gave me a second look. Having a stranger plopped down in the middle of their work area didn’t seem to phase them.

After not too long, Danny approached.

Despite his hipster appearance, Danny looked to be in his forties. There were signs of grey peppering the temples of his close-cropped haircut, and a few strays in that bushy moustache as well.

“Vince!” he said, as though we were long lost friends, “It’s a pleasure to finally meet you.”

“Hi Mr. Lemieux. It’s a pleasure to meet you, too,” I said. I stuck out a hand, and after a moment’s hesitation, as if he wasn’t sure what to do with it, he shook it. His grip was unnecessarily firm.

“Call me, Danny. Everyone calls me, Danny.”

“Okay. Good to meet you, Danny.”

“Did you want something to drink? Water? Coffee?”

“Are you taking anything?”

“I’m going to grab a coffee.”

“Then I’ll have one, too.”

“Great. Let’s go.”

To my surprise, we exited the offices and made our way back down to the street.

As we walked along the busy streets of Old Montreal, Danny skipped small talk and launched directly into the interview, or whatever this was.

“So, how much did Chris tell you about what we’re trying to do here?”

“Just enough to get me curious, not enough for me to say that I fully understand the vision.”

“Perfect. Isn’t she great, by the way?”

“Yeah. She seems to be really good at her job.”

Danny gave a quick nod, as if that was not at all what he meant, but kept going. He had no time to lose on such small details.

“So, let me start by explaining my vision to you. I believe that media is constantly changing. I have a lot of former colleagues in the newspaper space that like to go on and on about how when they started, people respected the news. That everyone went to the newspaper, and it was a golden age. Then the internet came along and fucked everything up. That’s bullshit. When I started off as a newspaper reporter twenty years ago, newspapers were already something completely different from what they had been twenty years before that. The newspaper was where you went to get in depth coverage of something. You had the radio for quick soundbites. You had the 6 o’clock news, which was how most people were consuming their news. And 24-hour news channels were just starting out, and that’s where you went for a lot of opinion and what they call analysis. We all know that’s bullshit, but that’s what people went there for. Long story short, the newspaper industry had already had to adapt to a lot of competition before the Internet was a thing.

“In today’s world, the difference is that all those news sources still exist, but you can also access all of them in your pocket through this thing.” As he said that, he pulled an iPhone out of his pocket and started waving it around. “The problem is that when all of the different formats are coming through the same medium, people get confused about what type of information they should be getting from where. There’s still room for the quick soundbite, the hours of opinions and the in-depth reporting. Unfortunately, the media, we fucking contributed to our own demise by making it sound like all of these things are one and the same, and that all of those things were getting replaced by Twitter or blogs or whatever the fuck else is out there. It’s as if twenty years ago people only got their news in the 5 minute new segments at the top of every hour on the radio.

“People had that option twenty years ago, and they didn’t take it. So why would they take it now? The answer is because while we’ve made that soundbite format easier to consume we haven’t done the same thing with longer form reporting.”

He paused to take a breath, and I decided it would be a good time to interject. After all, I was pretty sure I was the one who was supposed to be auditioning for the job.

“So, you don’t believe that people’s attention spans have disappeared?”

“Not for a second. I think they just don’t have the right format. When was the last time you rode the metro and you saw someone holding a folded newspaper? Sure, you see it from time to time, and yes, I can get nostalgic about it, but the reality is that the newspaper is a pretty fucking stupid format. To read anything while on the go you need to fold it up in four, then, you need to unfold, flip to a completely different section of the damn thing, refold it, and if you’re lucky enough that you didn’t lose pages in that process, then you’re almost certain to have ink all over your fingers by the time you’re done. And online newspaper formats are almost as fucking bad. It’s like they took all the pain of reading a physical newspaper and said, ‘how can we make this suck just as much in digital form?’”

“So, what you’re saying is that there’s no problem with the content, the problem is with the form?” I asked. Still trying to reorient myself.

“Exactly!”

We were still walking and I wondered if we were ever actually going to get this promised coffee.

“That makes sense, but — and forgive me if I’m a little slow — how do you fix the form? Newspapers went digital a long time ago. Also, isn’t there the problem with the economics of the newspaper industry? You can’t support a large editorial staff on advertising alone.”

“You’re asking all of the right questions, Vince! My theory is that the reason newspapers are dying is because they’re trying to do two things at once. They’re trying to produce the content, which is what they’re good at, and they’re also trying to be media organizations, which is what they’re bad at. What if we created a media that newspapers could sell their stories to? A media that’s not limited to a single newspaper. The problem with the newspaper sites is that unless you’re the New York Times, no one is visiting your website. Have you ever been to the Montreal Gazette’s website? Probably not. It fucking sucks. It’s impossible to find anything. That’s because they don’t know what the fuck they’re doing, and no one is willing to put up with that shit for that level of reporting.”

“So a better publishing platform that all newspapers can publish to?” I asked.

“Not better. The best.” Danny finally flicked on the iPhone, launched an app, and showed me the screen.

We stopped in the middle of sidewalk and a few people had to walk around us, which earned us some dirty looks. Danny didn’t seem to notice.

He showed me what looked like a half-finished application. He tapped around to a settings page that allowed users to set their preferences and filter appropriately. The interface was buggy, but I got the general gist of what he was trying to do.

“I’m still not sure I see how this solves the profitability problem.”

“The content providers will get paid proportionally to the views of the page by the reader and they’ll also be able to charge premiums on an article-by-article basis. If you do a feature-length weekend piece, people are going to be willing to pay for that.”

I nodded, not completely convinced.

“We can also allow the journalists to promote their other work. Almost every journalist under the sun has written a book. Well, if that book is worthy of being published and is related to the topic the reader is reading about, the journalist can promote and sell it through the app!”

I nodded some more.

“So, what do you think?” Danny asked.

“It looks very interesting, and for sure someone needs to be thinking of these things. But I guess I would need to look into the industry a bit more to really be convinced that people will actually pay for this and that the newspapers will come out winning,” I said, trying to walk a balance between being honest and not killing any chances of getting this job.

“You’re sceptical, and I love that!” Danny said. “I think you should come back to the office and I can introduce you to some of the rest of the team. They’ll be able to share some more with you.”

It was suddenly clear to me that I wasn’t being interviewed at all. I was being pitched.

“Danny, maybe before we do that you can help me understand one other thing: what exactly do you want me to do here?”

“Of course. That would be helpful wouldn’t it? I want you to make us run like a company. I want you to give us some structure. We’ve got a great team of creative individuals and so many good ideas, but I need someone who understands the structure of a company and how to make it run to organize us to be more effective at getting things done. I recognize that’s not one of my strengths.”

“I see.” My instinct was to ask why he thought I would be good at that, but I decided against it. “So, why do you think I should come work for you instead of accepting another offer?” I asked instead.

“I think you’re a guy who wants to build something, Vince. I think you need a team of super motivated creative individuals around you! We can give you that. We’ve got a fantastic team. You’ll absolutely love working here. And you’ll be part of something. Something that could become huge. Not only that, when we succeed, it’ll be a success story that will shine brightly on all of Montreal!”

Danny’s enthusiasm was contagious. I could feel myself getting excited about this, even if I wasn’t fully convinced it would work. One thing was for sure, it was very different from my cubicle job.

“So, c’mon, let’s get you to meet the rest of the team,” Danny said, and he began walking back towards the office.

We never got that coffee.


I spent the rest of the morning talking with various members of Danny’s team. Danny’s enthusiasm was shared by every person I talked to. If I took this job, I would be surrounded by people that were happier and more optimistic than myself. I wasn’t sure how I felt about that at first. As the morning wore on, I started to become infected by their optimism.

Developers were excited to show me the cool new features they were working on. Designers had designs that they were eager to show off. In most cases, I couldn’t figure out how the designs went together with the features, but it didn’t matter because everyone was so excited.

I spoke to eight other people that morning. Every single one talked about how much fun it was to work for Danny. The majority appeared to be younger than me. No one ever mentioned to me words like efficiency, productivity, profitability or any of those ugly business words. Instead I was treated to a constant stream of tech and design jargon, a good portion of which was over my head.

One developer said, “We’re building the media company of the future. In a few years, people will know that it was this group from Montreal that figured out how to bring the media industry to the next generation. We’re doing something important here. And, as a bonus, we’ll all be rich.”

There was no irony in it. It wasn’t even aspirational. It was a certainty. It was said with a conviction that I couldn’t even muster when talking about what I’d eaten for breakfast.

It was refreshing. The energy and the enthusiasm reminded me of the early days of university when all the students thought they were embarking on something wonderful, before the boredom and workloads crushed all those dreams for the majority.

It was almost time for lunch when I was preparing to leave the Old Port loft office.

Danny returned to see me out.

“Vince, it was great to have you here. I can already tell you that everyone you’ve spoken to really likes you.” That was interesting, because I hadn’t said anything. “Sorry, but if I were a little more organized, I’d be able to take you to lunch and we could continue our conversation, but unfortunately, I already have a lunch meeting. Take a rain check?”

I shrugged. “Sure. Why not?”

Danny smiled broadly. “Great! I have your number. Let me review some details with my investors and I’ll get back to you with an offer this week.”

I was staring straight at Danny, and yet I still managed to do a double take.

“Sorry. Did you say this week?”

“Yeah. Is that too late? Are you already considering a different offer? I can see if I can speed things up.”

“No. I mean, it’s fine. Don’t worry about it. This week is more than okay.”

“Fantastic. Talk soon,” he said, and without shaking my hand, he turned around and rushed off to do something else.

Head spinning, I made my way down the dark stairwell and out to the street. The street was busy with people looking to get lunch. I decided to do the same, and maybe get a coffee.


Author’s Note

I used to drink multiple cups of coffee a day. Now, I’ve cut down to 1-2. The impact is that coffee actually does something for me again. The down side, however is that if I drink it past 6 pm, I end up staying awake at night, and the needing an extra cup of coffee to jump start my day the next day.

Why am I telling you all this? Because I want you to know that caffeine is the devil. Also, it’s Pumpkin Spice Latte season at Starbucks… and I want one.

As always, if you want to have the next chapter delivered straight to your email inbox before it even goes live here, all you have to is sign up here.

Chapter 13

I got back home around 3pm. Mom was already cooking. She was upset that I had stayed out all night without calling, but she quickly forgot about it when I told her that I had just come from a meeting with a recruiter, and that I was going to be meeting the CEO of a company for a job interview.

The smell of beer on my breath made her a bit suspicious, but I convinced her that it was perfectly normal to have a beer during a meeting with a recruiter. Whether or not that was true, I do not know.

I headed up to my bedroom to kill time until dinner, and that was when I started thinking about Andrea again. I had left that morning in a bit of a hurry, and we hadn’t really settled on what came next. Did anything come next? I was confused.

Should I text her?

As I pulled out my phone to ponder the question it buzzed. For a moment, my heart beat a little faster with the anticipation that it might be a message from her. It wasn’t. The message was from Tom.

Tom: u free tomorrow night?

Me: Sure.

Tom: Good. Pick a restaurant. ur picking Tina up at 7.

Me: ???

Tom: Jo’s friend that u agreed to go on a date w. I know u weren’t that drunk. ur not getting out of this.

Tom was right. I hadn’t been that drunk, but I had completely forgotten that I had agreed to the stupid blind date. I briefly considered trying to come up with an excuse to get out of it. Maybe if I told Tom about what happened with Andrea? I wasn’t sure I wanted to do that just yet. After a few minutes of pondering the question, I came to conclusion that the easiest thing to do would probably be to bite the bullet, go on the date, and simply end it there. If I didn’t go on the date, Tom would continue to pester me until I did (because Jo would be pestering him). If I went and said there was no chemistry, then I would buy myself at least a few months of peace on the topic.

Me: Fine. Text me her address… and a pic.

After a moment, I sent another message.

Me: I hate you.

Tom: I know its all love, bro. U’ll see, she’s great.

I switched screens and started looking for restaurants that would have a table available on a Saturday night on a day’s notice until Mom called me for dinner. I wasn’t hungry, but again, it would be easier to bite the bullet than to argue. I seemed to be doing a lot of that lately.

I considered texting Andrea before heading down for dinner. Finally, I decided I wouldn’t.

I ended up turning in early that night. I was exhausted from the last 24 hours. I woke up no earlier on Saturday morning, and when I did, there was an email from Chris waiting for me.

Talked to Danny. He’s looking forward to meeting you. He’s got time Monday at 6pm. Let me know if that works for you.

Cheers,

Chris

PS: It’s a tech startup, don’t wear a monkey suit.

If she only knew how unlikely that was to happen.

I helped Dad move some wood, and then proceed to “get ready” for my date. Getting ready comprised of showering, shaving, and putting on a clean shirt.

Intuitively, I knew that this date would go much better if I had the slightest bit of enthusiasm about it, and yet, I couldn’t seem to find it. My mind was clouded with questions about Andrea. She still hadn’t texted me, and I was still avoiding texting her. When my brain wasn’t concerned with what to do about Andrea, it was thinking about this job interview on Monday.

I had taken some time to read about Danny Lemieux and his new company. There wasn’t a whole lot publicly available. Sure, Danny had a ton of work published from being a journalist, but there was little in the way of information about his company available online aside from a short feature piece that one of his old colleagues at La Presse had done about him.

So, as I drove up to Tina’s apartment on Monkland, I had not given any real thought to the date I was about to go on.

I parked illegally at the corner of the street, and texted the number that Tom had given me. As I waited for Tina to come down from her apartment, I steeled myself for an unpleasant evening. What was wrong with this girl that she needed her friends to push so hard for a blind date?

I was in the middle of this thought, when a tap came at the passenger side window that made me jump. I reached over and unlocked the door and Tina sat down.

“Hi,” she said, half-extending a hand.

“Hi,” I said, taking her hand and shaking it.

“I’m Tina.”

“I’m Vince.”

“Nice to meet you.”

“Likewise.”

“So…”

For the first time, it occurred to me that this might be as awkward for Tina as it was for me. Also, for the first time, I really looked at the girl sitting in my car. The picture that Tom had sent me was a good picture, but I had outright dismissed it. Everyone looked good in pictures on the Internet. If they didn’t, they would never use them. If you wanted to see what someone really looked like, you needed to find a picture of them that someone else had posted online. That was my theory.

Tina, however, was actually prettier than her photo. She had long dark hair, bright hazel eyes, and a shy smile that was completely endearing.

“So, are you ready for one of the most awkward evenings of your life,” I said as an ice breaker.

She laughed and broke out into a full smile. She really did have one of the most beautiful smiles I had ever seen.

“Thank you so much for saying that,” she said. “This is awkward, isn’t it?”

“So, I take it you don’t go on a lot of blind dates?” I asked.

“Never.”

“Well, me neither. So, let’s just acknowledge the elephant in the room instead of trying to ignore it. Who knows, we might actually end up enjoying ourselves.”

As I said it, I wondered if it could actually be true.

The restaurant was a new French bistro that I had been wanting to try. The chef had been the sous-chef at some other Montreal establishment and had decided to spread his wings and start his own thing. The new place had gotten good press. It was a little pricey for a first date, but I had wanted to try the place anyway, so I figured why not. Even if the date was a disaster, at least I would have been able to cross a restaurant off my list.

I opened the front door and did my best impression of a hotel valet inviting a guest in. Tina smiled graciously and walked in. I followed her, the door closing behind me. The entrance of the restaurant was covered in thick black velvet curtains. This was not uncommon in a city like Montreal where opening the door to a restaurant could freeze everyone inside during the winter months.

Tina made a move to part the curtains and then walked straight forward. Unfortunately, behind the black curtains was a pane of glass. I heard a “thunk,” and she stopped abruptly in front of me. At first, I didn’t understand what had happened, but then I noticed that she was rubbing the top of her head.

“Ohmigod,” she said, “I can’t believe I just did that.”

“Are you okay?” I asked.

She wouldn’t meet my eyes as she said, “Yeah. I feel like an idiot, but otherwise, I’m great.”

I laughed, which I thought might not be the best thing to do in the circumstances, but then she started laughing as well.

I turned 90 degrees to the left and reached for the curtain to part it. Behind this part of the curtain, there was no glass pane, just the entrance to the restaurant.

Tina still couldn’t meet my eyes, she simply walked past me and into the correct opening.

We got settled at our table, and the waiter brought over the drink and food menus. After a few minutes of awkward silence, the waiter returned.

“To drink, sir?” the waiter asked.

“Would you like wine?” I asked Tina.

“I’ll drink whatever you’re drinking.”

“I don’t think you want to do that. Left to my own devices, I’ll probably end up ordering double gin and tonics.”

“I love gin.”

I raised an eyebrow, then shrugged.

“I will have a double gin and tonic,” I said to the waiter.

“And the same for me,” Tina said, sporting her bright smile once again.

The waiter nodded and took the wine list and disappeared once more.

“Gin, huh?”

“Maybe it’ll make me forget what a fool I made of myself.”

“Oh, don’t worry about it. That could have happened to anyone.”

Tina fixed me with a half smile and eyebrows raised.

“Okay, maybe not anyone, but I’m sure it’s happened before!”

She laughed. It was a genuine laugh, loud and infectious. It would have been right at home in a crowded bar. In a quiet French bistro, it stood out. At that moment, I couldn’t care less, and apparently neither did she.

Tina reached for her napkin, and in the process dropped her cutlery to the floor.

“Ohmigod, I’m so sorry. I swear I’m not usually this clumsy.” As she said this, she quickly reached down and scooped up the knife and fork, her motions quick and jerky.

When she was sitting upright once more, cutlery in her left hand, not quite sure what to do with it, I realized that Tina was more nervous than I had originally thought.

It was strangely liberating to be on a date and to be the one with no expectations. I felt in control. I felt the complete opposite of how I had felt with Andrea. With my newfound confidence, I reached across the table and put a hand over hers.

The move took her by surprise. Her eyes darted from the cutlery to my hand, which was now covering hers, and then up to my eyes.

“Take a deep breath. We’re just two people looking to have a nice dinner. There’s no reason to be nervous. I don’t know what you’ve been told, but I don’t bite. Let’s just take it one step at a time and enjoy a meal. After that, we can figure out if there was anything worth being nervous about,” I said. As the words escaped my lips, I wondered where they were coming from. They sounded far more confident than I had ever felt around women.

They must have resonated. Tina let out a breath that neither of us realized she’d been holding, and her shoulders dropped a couple of inches.

“You’re right. I’m sorry. I don’t know why I’m so nervous. I guess I’m just not used to this whole blind date thing. I didn’t know what to expect. I half expected you not to show up.”

“Why would I do that?”

“Because I almost didn’t?”

“Ouch.”

“It’s nothing personal. Really. It’s just that I wasn’t 100% convinced I wanted to be on a date with anyone right now.”

I did not pry. I assumed a breakup, but that was her business.

“I completely understand. If we’re being honest, the only reason I’m here is because Tom twisted my arm.” Her smile dimmed. “But now that I’m here, I’m kind of glad he did.” The brightness returned.

“I’m glad he did, too.”

The waiter returned with the gin and tonics.

“May I tell you about our specials?” he asked.

The evening continued without any other displays of nerves. Although the three double gin and tonics might have helped with that.

Our desserts had just arrived, a creme brûlée and a chocolate mousse that were to be shared, despite the fact that I was no big fan of chocolate.

“So, are you nervous for this interview on Monday?”

“Not really. I mean, I have no idea what to expect, and I have no idea if I would even be any good at the job. Or if I really understand what the job is. I guess, in a way, the uncertainty and ambiguity are making it very difficult for me to be stressed out.”

Tina nodded. “That makes sense.”

“Does it?”

“It does to me.”

“What about you? Are you happy doing what you’re doing?”

Tina shrugged. “I guess.”

“You guess?”

“Yeah. There’s nothing wrong with my job. I make decent money. Hours are flexible. Sometimes, I wonder if that’s all there is, though. Does that make sense?”

“Absolutely. I’ve had that conversation with myself about a million times.”

“And?”

“And the jury’s still out. I need to get back to you.”

“At the same time, I don’t know what else I would do.”

“I hear you. You go to work. You come home. You hang out with friends every once in a while. You repeat this forever. And then one day you ask yourself, is this it?”

“Right. Like, shouldn’t there be a higher purpose somewhere?”

“My dad actually said something not too long ago that made a bit of sense.”

“What did he say?”

“He said that the purpose of work wasn’t to achieve a higher purpose. The purpose of work was to pay the bills. He said that if you want fulfillment and all that other stuff, find a different way to get it.”

“That’s an interesting way to look at it,” Tina said.

“Do you think he might be right?”

“Maybe. He does have a lot more life experience. He might just know what he’s talking about it.”

I had never really stopped to consider the possibility that Mom and Dad knew what they were talking about.

“What makes you happy?” Tina asked.

“That’s a very broad question.”

“So give a broad answer.”

“Hanging out with friends. Good food makes me happy. Spending time with family, even when they’re on my case… a couple of other things.”

Out of force of habit, I had almost mentioned Marta. That would have been bad, but at the same time, I realized that my near slip of the tongue had really been a slip of the tongue. I hadn’t thought of Marta in a while. I was actually enjoying my time with Tina and before that, I had been enjoying my time with Andrea. Was it possible that I was actually over Marta?

“You didn’t mention work in that list,” Tina said.

“Maybe because I don’t work,” I said it as a joke. “Or maybe it’s because work has never really been a thing that makes me happy.”

“And are you happy? Like, in general?”

“I guess? I don’t know. What does that even mean.”

Tina laughed her infectious laugh. “I have no idea, but it feels like a question you should have the answer to.”

“Are you happy?”

“Overall? I think so. There are areas of my life that could be better, but in general, yeah, I think I’m happy.”

“Are you happy right now?” I asked.

Tina blushed. “Yes. Yes, I am,” she said.

“Me too.”

We finished our desserts and the waiter brought over the bill. I insisted on paying the whole bill and not splitting it. That hadn’t been my intention at the beginning of the evening, but either the gin and tonics were making me generous, or I was genuinely enjoying my evening much more than I had expected. Most likely, it was a combination of the two.

I walked with Tina back to the car. As we walked, she took my hand. The move surprised me, but pleasantly so. I opened the passenger door for her, and she ducked in. We made our way back to her apartment. Along the way, we talked about this and that. The awkwardness from the beginning of the evening hadn’t evaporated completely, but it was now a lingering dew as opposed to the thing that had permeated everything.

I pulled up in front of the same apartment building that I had picked her up from three and a half hours earlier. The night was still young, but the plan had only been for dinner. I wondered whether I should have made other plans as well. Maybe I should make plans now?

I put the car in park, and turned to Tina.

“Well, this is you,” I said.

“Yes. Yes, it is.”

The awkwardness seemed to have returned.

“Don’t take this the wrong way,” I began, and could see disappointment starting to appear on her face, “but I had a much better time than I was expecting to.”

The bright smile reappeared, and a palpable sense of relief came from her. She fidgeted with the hem of her dress.

“I did, too. I guess I don’t need to kill Jo after all.”

“I have a hard time picturing you killing anyone.”

“You don’t know me well enough, yet. You haven’t seen me angry.”

“I’d like to.”

“See me angry?”

“Get to know you better.”

“Are you asking me on a second date?”

“If you’re willing.”

“I think I would like that.”

“Good. Then I don’t have to kill Tom, either.”

She laughed. “Somehow, I don’t have a hard time picturing you killing someone. Wait. That’s not what I mean. Not in, like, a violent way or anything. But like, I can see you getting angry at someone. Not that you seem like you have a bad temper or anything.”

Tina took a deep breath and it was my turn to laugh.

“It’s okay, I get it.”

“So. Goodnight?”

“Goodnight and I will be in touch.”

I leaned towards her in my seat. When I did, I didn’t know whether I was aiming to kiss her on the cheek or on the lips. The decision was made for me, as Tina leaned forward as well and our lips met.

For the second time in three days, I got dizzy and fireworks exploded in my head as I felt a thrill that I had not felt in years.

After a period of time that could have been anywhere from two seconds to two minutes, we both leaned back in our chairs. I took a deep breath, realizing that I hadn’t been breathing during the kiss.

Tina dropped her eyes, as if she were embarrassed by what she had just done. Or maybe she regretted it, I wondered?

“Umm… so… I don’t know if… maybe… did you want to come up… for coffee?” she asked.

Every part of my body was screaming “YES,” but the small part of my brain that makes rational decisions, pointed out that I actually liked this girl, and that going up to her apartment would likely put me in the exact same position I had put myself in with Andrea two nights earlier. The part of my brain that didn’t like rational thought cursed the other part.

“I would love to. I really, really would. But not tonight. Let’s save that for next time.”

“So there will be a next time?” Tina asked.

“I thought we agreed to that already.”

“You do realize that that’s something that all guys say, right?”

“No. I didn’t realize that. But regardless, in this case, I mean it. Besides, after that goodnight kiss, who the hell wouldn’t call you back!”

Tina flashed me another of her smiles. I was coming to really like those smiles, and I wondered if she dealt them out so freely for everyone or if I was getting more of them than usual.

“Goodnight, Vince. Thank you for a really nice evening,” Tina said. She leaned forward quickly, and this time gave me a small peck on the cheek, and was out the car door before I could even respond.

I watched as she made it to her front door and waved. I waved back.

As she disappeared into the building, I leaned back and let out a long sigh.

“Dammit,” I said out loud. “Tom is never going to let me hear the end of this.”


Author’s Notes

After the much shorter chapter 12, we have another relatively short chapter, but one with a lot going on. Vince is surprised that his prejudices didn’t pan out, but can he stay out of his own way and keep a good thing going? Knowing him, it’s unlikely, but maybe he’ll surprise us.

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Chapter 12

I got downtown a bit early, and killed time by walking up and down Sainte Catherine, looking at the busy retail shops on the north side of the street, and the slumbering strip clubs on the south. As I walked, I tried to make sense of the episode with Andrea. It wasn’t working. I was not a “friends-with-benefits” kind of guy, but from what I could figure out, that was precisely what Andrea was proposing.

Around 12:10, I made my way to the southwest corner of Sainte Catherine and Peel and waited. If Chris knew about me, I assumed she knew what I looked like as well. I was correct.

A couple of minutes later, I heard a voice from behind say, “Vincent Carnelli?”

I turned and came face to face with a statuesque woman. She wore a pencil skirt and a blouse with high heel shoes, a briefcase in one hand, a handbag slung over a shoulder. With her heels on, she was taller than me. She was blonde and strong featured, and I placed her age somewhere in the thirties. She looked the way I pictured a female headhunter would. Whether that said more about her or me, I couldn’t say.

“Chris?” I said, extending my hand.

“That’s me. I’m happy I recognized you. You look different in your LinkedIn profile picture.”

“Yeah. That picture is a bit dated.” It had been taken at the end of high school.

“Free piece of advice: update it. No employer is ever going to admit that they look at the pictures of candidates, but they all do. You look too young in that photo.”

“Thanks for the tip,” I said. I had never really considered that an employer would look at my online profile in the first place.”

“Shall we grab lunch?” she asked.

“Please.”

“Any preferences?”

“I’m easy.”

“Great. Follow me.”

In the heart of downtown Montreal, there were dozens of restaurants to choose from for lunch. None were particularly memorable compared to some of the establishments in the other areas of the city, but there was choice aplenty. Which is why I was surprised when we walked less than a block to an Irish pub on Peel street.

I’d been to this pub before. It was the kind of place that would serve you a “giraffe of beer.” A giraffe is a very tall pitcher with a tap at the bottom that holds ten litres of beer. I assumed Chris and I would not be having a giraffe at lunch.

We sat down. Chris knew the waitress, and ordered herself a pint of beer. It was no giraffe, but it was a surprise. I followed her lead, and ordered whatever lager they had on tap.

The first few minutes of our conversation were small talk. The weather, sports, traffic, the job market. The usual topics of conversation Montrealers defaulted to when they met someone new.

Finally, as our second beers and our food orders arrived, Chris started orienting the conversation to business.

“So, Vince, tell me what you’re looking for in life.”

The question took me off guard. For one, Chris was so laid back, I had forgotten this person was here to see if I was a good fit for a job. For two, even though I had been job hunting for weeks now, the questions I was used to answering were about specific jobs. Not about my personal preferences on life. It seemed that interviewing with a headhunter was different. If this was an interview at all. It felt more like a blind date.

“Well, it’s a great question. When I left my last job, I assumed I would move into a similar position at another company, only in New York. When I decided to stay in Montreal — that’s a long story — I started to reevaluate, and I’ve kind of been all over the place looking for the next challenge.”

“That’s not the kind of answer I’m used to hearing.”

“Yeah. Well, I’ll be honest, I’ve never interviewed with a headhunter before. And I don’t even know what job you’re recruiting for, so I don’t know how to tell you what you want to hear, which is what I would usually be doing in this situation.”

Chris smiled and raised her beer for a cheers.

“Don’t think of this as an interview. Think of this as me trying to get to know you. My goal is to see if you would be a good fit for my client. And if not, well, then maybe I know of someone else you would be a good fit for. I’m a matchmaker.”

“Okay. Well, maybe you can help me out and explain to me how you found me in the first place. Do you really comb through thousands of profiles on LinkedIn and reach out to people?”

“God no. That would be a huge waste of time. Besides, no offence, but if I went by your LinkedIn profile, Vince, we wouldn’t be talking.”

“Fair enough.”

“I found you through your writing.”

“My writing?”

“Yeah, your articles about the importance of legacy industries adopting new technologies.”

“You read those?”

“All the ones I could find.”

“I didn’t think anyone would ever read them.”

“Well, I did, and I was impressed. You seem to have a really good grasp of what companies need to do to innovate and stay competitive.”

I shrugged. “It just seems like common sense.”

“It’s a good thing this isn’t an interview, because that’s not something you should ever say in an interview. You need to take a bit more credit.”

“Right. Thanks.”

“Don’t mention it. Now, back to my question, what is it you really want to do?”

“I guess I want to be part of something. I want to build something, or help something to grow. I don’t want to be stuck behind a desk thinking that what I’m doing doesn’t matter in the slightest.”

As I said the words, I realized it was the first time I had ever come to that conclusion. I wondered if it was accurate, or if by dinner time, I would have a different answer to the question.

“Interesting answer,” Chris said, as she took a long slow pull from her beer. As she did this, she kept her eyes locked on me. It was either the look of a hunter stalking prey, or of a scientist examining a new specimen. I don’t know which of the two would have been more comforting.

Chris put her beer down.

“Let’s try a little thought experiment. Let’s assume I was recruiting for a big company. Great benefits. Solid earnings. Good growth path within the company. Now, let’s assume the job I were recruiting for was exactly the job you used to have, just at a ‘better’ company. Would you take it?”

“Sure.”

“Why?”

“For all the reasons you just listed.”

“But, it seems to me that if you truly want to build something great, as you said, you don’t do that at a big company. If you want a ‘safe’ paycheque and an easy 9-5, then a big company is the way to go. But if you want to build something great, it seems to me that you need to take some risks.”

“That makes sense.”

“So, let me ask you again, why would you take that big company job?”

Because I needed a job?

“I guess taking that job would be a mistake. I would accept thinking things would be better, and in a few months, I’d probably realize that I was just as unhappy as I had been previously.”

Chris nodded slowly.

“Vince, can I be honest with you?” she asked.

“You mean you haven’t been up until now?”

She laughed. It was a very feminine laugh.

“Good point. I’m sorry. I realize we just met, so you don’t know me, but I like to cut straight to the point. I think that’s why I like you so much, Vince. You’re a smart guy. I can tell that by reading what you’ve written, and it’s clear from just a couple of minutes of conversation. And you’re a straight shooter. No bullshit. I really respect that. But you have one big problem. You have no idea what you want.”

“Are you sure you’re not a psychologist?”

She laughed again.

“You’re funny too. And cute. You’ve got a lot going for you. You just need to figure out what the hell you want to do in life. You’re too old to go to a guidance counsellor.”

Well, that was that.

“Chris, listen, I appreciate you taking the time to meet me. It was great to meet you. It’s been really refreshing talking to you. I’m sorry if I wasted your time.”

“Wasted my time?”

“Yeah. I’m sure you’re a busy woman, and there must be a dozen other candidates out there that you could be having lunch with that actually know what they’re looking for.”

“I am definitely going to have to find a way to beat that self-deprecating streak out of you. Vince, I want you to meet my client.”

“Wait. What? You do? But what about the whole, not knowing what the hell I want thing?”

“Vince, let me tell you a little secret. About 90% of the world doesn’t know what the hell they want. But the reality is, it doesn’t matter, because even if they did, they wouldn’t be able to get it. You, on the other hand, have everything going for you so that you could get it. Everything I said about figuring out what you want was friendly advice.”

“So… I passed?”

Chris laughed again. “I told you, this isn’t an interview. I just needed to meet you to make sure you weren’t a psycho, so I didn’t look like a fool when I presented you to Danny. You had ‘passed’ as soon as you got the phone call from me.”

“Thanks. I think. So, then, who’s this Danny guy?”

“Right. Let’s move on to part 2 of this meeting,” Chris said, in mock seriousness. “You know how a recruiter gets paid, right?”

“You get paid by a company to find the right candidate.”

“Right. More precisely, my fee is calculated as a percentage of the candidate’s first year salary.”

“So, it’s in your best interest for me to make the most money possible. Isn’t that a conflict with what your client wants?”

“Only if you think that what my client wants is to pay as little as possible.”

“Isn’t that what everyone wants?”

“Vince, if you hire someone like me, it’s because you’re looking for the best, and you recognize that the best don’t come cheap. Plus, the client makes the final call as to whether or not you get hired and how much you get paid, so it’s not like I’m making the offer.”

“Right.”

“You don’t look convinced.”

“I’m not.”

“That’s okay. Frankly, neither am I. I’m just happy no one else has figured it out yet.” She flashed me a pretty smile.

“Fair enough.”

“Right, so the next part of this is me getting you ready so you can go into this interview and impress the fuck out of this CEO.”

“Sounds good to me.”

“My client is Danny Lemieux. Ever hear of him?”

“Sorry to say I haven’t. Should I have?”

“He was a journalist for the last fifteen years for La Presse.”

“Ah. I don’t really read the French media.”

“That’s okay. Neither does he. He left the paper last year to start an internet company that’s trying to change the way the world reads. His theory is that people don’t read anymore because of the way technology has evolved, and the newspaper industry and the publishing industry haven’t adapted. He started a publishing company that looks to make publishing to smart phones and to tablets the default. Basically, instead of fighting against the micro-information movement, he wants to embrace it, but make sure people are reading the right stuff, and not crap.”

I was nodding along the entire time.

“What do you think?”

“I think it makes a ton of sense. People don’t read anymore. It’s a sad phenomenon. If anyone can fix that, I’m all for it. I just happen to be part of a minority of people who still like to read paper books.”

“That’s okay. You don’t need to be the target audience. But you do need to believe that there is an audience.”

“I definitely do. I’m just not sure what Danny wants with me.”

“Really? You can’t see the connection? Maybe you’re not as smart as I thought.”

“Ouch.”

“I’m kidding. I keep forgetting that you don’t know my sense of humour.”

“Don’t you do this for a living?”

“Who’s throwing punches now, kiddo?”

“Don’t dish it if you can’t take it!”

“I knew I liked you for a reason. Anyway, you’re a smart guy, who obviously has a passion for writing, and who understands the importance of traditional industries adapting to the new world. You’ve made compelling arguments in the past, and you have experience in a big company. Stop me if I’m wrong about any of this.”

“Nope. That’s pretty much the best bio I’ve never written about myself. But what’s the job?”

“Danny’s getting ready to launch his service to the public. He just raised a few million dollars in venture capital. He’s got a skeleton team in place, but he needs someone to come in and build a real company. He’s a journalist. He realizes he doesn’t know anything about how a technology company should be structured. So, he wants someone who understands how to organize a company, but also who understands the importance of what he’s doing.”

“What’s the job title?”

“There isn’t really one. It has made recruiting for this job… difficult. It’s kind of a hybrid operations manager and head of HR.”

“I have no experience in either of those areas.”

“Have you been listening to anything I’ve been saying? Forget about org charts and everything you knew in your past life. This is a technology startup. No one has a title that makes sense. And if this works out, you could be rich.”

“I’m still not sure I understand what the job is.”

“In fairness, I don’t think Danny does either. But what I want you to do is meet with him, and talk about it, and help him figure out what the job should be. What I want you to bring to the interview is your passion for evolving old industries, and your background in making things run efficiently. That’s all. The rest will come as long as you focus on those two points. Do you think you can do that?”

“I guess so.”

“You’re not the emotional type are you?”

“How could you tell?”

“That’s fine. Just look a little more excited when you meet Danny.”

I put on my best fake smile. “No problem.”

“On second thought, maybe just be yourself.”

“That could be a problem.”

Chris sighed. “I have another meeting in 30 minutes. Do you want another beer?”

“I will never turn down a beer.”

“I think you’re going to do alright.”


Author’s Notes

 

We’re more than halfway through Vince’s story. Hopefully you’re enjoying it until now, but only now are things really going to start getting complicated in his life. Well, kind of complicated.

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