brown wooden bench on green grass field near brown trees during daytime

“You ever think about just leaving?” Doug’s eyes squinted against the hot midday sun.

“And go where?” Michael’s face was in deep shadow from his sweat-stained Bruins cap.

“I don’t know… Montana maybe?” Doug was trying to look far into the distance through his scrunched up face. “Taiwan?”

brown wooden bench on green grass field near brown trees during daytime
Photo by Dan Visan on Unsplash

“Taiwan?!” Michael turned to look at his long-time friend. “Are you okay? Taiwan. Right.” Doug turned toward him and even in the shadows, Doug could see him roll his eyes.

“It doesn’t matter is my point. It doesn’t have to be Taiwan — I wouldn’t pick Taiwan anyway — I’m just saying drop everything and go… somewhere.”

“You having a mid-life crisis, pal? Isn’t it early for that?”

“No. I mean yes, it would be early, but that’s not what’s happening. It’s got nothing to do with the question.” Doug closed his eyes and tilted his head back to soak in all the sun he could before going back inside. “Maybe somewhere really sunny like Cancun. I hear there’s ex-pats there running businesses in paradise.”

Michael shook his head. “What about everything here? What would you do with your stuff? What about your friends? Who would I rub all the Bruins wins in their face? Especially the Rangers. Did you think about all that?”

Doug didn’t respond. He tried to think about all the things that would fall away, and what would happen to them. He thought of the tree that fell in the forest. Somebody would find it and assume it made a sound. Would he have made a sound? He couldn’t be sure. “Do I even matter, Mike?”

“Jesus, Doug!” Michael turned to face him. “That the hell is wrong with you, anyway?” He stared at his friend who sat with total serenity, feet stretched away from him, crossed. His face was still and his eyes closed.

“The staring is creepy. You need to stop staring at me.”

“How did y — “

“I’m fine. I am actually great.”

Michael turned back to face the trees that made a semi-circle around the courtyard at the company headquarters. “So if you’re not at work tomorrow there won’t be a lamp cord around your neck and a horrible note to torture everyone with?”

Doug laughed out loud.

Michael rushed into making sure. “Seriously. You’re gonna be on a beach in Tahiti, not dangling from the rafters of your garage, right?”

“Man. You worry about all this stuff too much.”

A younger woman walked up, her heels clicking on the pavement. “Excuse me, Mr. Jones. Your one-o’clock is here now. Should I have them wait a little more?”

woman in gray zip-up jacket
Photo by Dei R. on Unsplash

“I’ll be up in five.” Doug didn’t open his eyes.

“Also, all the arrangements are made. The papers are in your drawer for you to sign.” The sun lit up her hot-pink hair, making it nearly impossible for Michael to look directly at her.

“Thank you, Mary-Lynne. You’re exceptional.”

“Thank you, Doug. You too.” She turned and walked away, and Doug waited to speak again until she was out of earshot.

“Michael. We’ve been partners in this business for how long?”

“You’re freaking me out right now, Doug.”

“Relax. How long?”

“I think it’s been twelve years. Thirteen next month.”

“I’m serious now. You need to worry less. We have put together a fantastic team. They could run this without us, and you still come in at dawn. What are you so worried about?” He didn’t wait for a response. “And Mary-Lynn is a rock star who doesn’t know it yet. You need to take care of her. Make her your most important work project and she’ll make us all proud. She’s better than me at almost everything. Give her respect because she deserves it. If you forget that one, do it because I said so. I gotta go. My one-o’clock is waiting.”

“You’re a head-case, Doug. See ya.”

“You feel me?” Doug stood and looked down at the bench with his friend on it.

“Felt. Get outta here before you actually get sun-stroke.”

“Gone.”

Michael arrived at his usual six o’clock time and strode purposefully through the garage. The sun was already up, but the garage was always empty at that hour. Out of the corner of his eye Michael caught Doug’s car. He already couldn’t shake the weird conversation with Doug the day before, but this made one too many weird things. He had a long list of things to do, but he couldn’t put his mind squarely on them.

The elevator opened on the fourth floor of the sprawling glass-clad office building. Michael realized he hadn’t noticed anything since he saw Doug’s Mercedes in the lot. He turned left and headed directly to Doug’s office. Each step seemed to take longer than the last as he dreaded what he would find. Every step made his legs feel more like lead stuck in mud.

Michael walked past the admin desk in front of Doug’s office and couldn’t make it register in his mind, as if it was a blind spot. He shrugged it off and walked through the half-opened door of the corner office.

“So what’s on the agenda today?” Mary-Lynn was seated at the desk reading through a file that was open on her desk. She didn’t look up.

“Um. It’s a busy one.” He stood still, dumbfounded. “Where’s Doug? I saw his car.”

“The Mercedes? That’s still mine. You’re looking snappy today, but you still should leave that old hat in the car, partner.”

“Right. You’re right. It’s so comfortable it’s hard to stop.”

“I get that. So, what’s the situation on the Cargrove deal?”

“It’s a go. Where is Doug?”

“You ask me that every day. I’m beginning to worry about you, Mike. You’ve got to free your mind so you can be all in on this with me—in the moment we’re in now.”

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