Julie set down the Portobellos and the salmon with her usual delicacy. Clearly, she enjoyed presentation. There were nights where Julie was in and out of Tyler’s condo without his hearing her entrance or departure. He could be in the shower and when he stepped into his dining room, there would be one of Julie’s creations on the dining room table, lit by a candle. Sometimes she even poured a glass of wine.
Tonight she registered the look of confusion on Tyler’s face as he held a single shoe and watched her prepare the table.
“Ever think,” he asked, “you’re losing your mind?”
“Only every day,” she said.
“It’s just that I never move those things.”
“Never mind,” Tyler said. “It’s stupid. Toenail clippers. Stupid, damn toenail clippers missing.”
“I misplace that kind of stuff all the time,” Julie said.
“But I don’t,” Tyler said. “That’s just it.”
“Oh, C’mon, Ty. Everybody does. You start in on your toes and someone calls and you get caught up on the phone and you drop it near the headboard of your bed and it gets stuck in the frame and they re-appear twelve years later when you change out the box springs..”
“Maybe,” Tyler said. “Maybe, but it’s been happening a lot lately. I have this Newton’s Cradle at work — one of those little toys with five, like steel balls on strings. You swing one and they click-click for a few minutes.”
“Yes?” Julie asked, registering Tyler’s pause.
“Well, it’s always out, on the credenza behind me. But the other day, it was in an empty file drawer.”
“Maybe the cleaning service?”
“No, not possible. We had a big issue about that. One of the cleaners was dusting Lattimore’s desk and they moved a file and didn’t put it back in the same place. It was a huge fiasco. It made him late for a legal meeting. He went full-throttle, red-faced, demon on them. Those people are under strict orders not to move anything. Certainly not to put something away in a drawer.”
“Weird,” Julie agreed.
“My Desri Awards got all re-arranged.”
Julie laughed. “That sounds like something Nathan would do.”
“It does, I agree. But he said he had nothing to do with it, and he made me feel like an idiot for mentioning the arrangement of my Desri Awards.”
The image of Tyler worried about the way his industry performance trophies were arranged on the bookcase near his desk hung in the air a little awkwardly for a second or two. Julie laughed. Tyler laughed.
“Okay, okay,” Tyler said, “I know it sounds weird, but I am just sorta — you know — squared away on this stuff. It’s one of my strengths. It makes me think I’m having some sorta –”
“Stop,” Julie said. “It’s the responsibility. You practically run the place. Nathan says that when they calculate their bonus checks, they actually say stuff like, ‘well if Ty is on his game this quarter.’ Those guys all see YOU as the company.”
Tyler took a breath. Julie pulled a chair out for him. “Now, you eat your dinner and I’ll clean up the breakfast stuff.”
“You don’t have to do that.”
“No, I run a full service operation. You have more important things to think about.”
Tyler gulped. That was absolutely true. There were times, considering his advancing salary and responsibilities that he really longed to just being doing the dishes again, to be doing something physical, to just clock in and clock out, to let someone else worry about who was performing up to speed and who wasn’t. It made him feel strange that there was a kind of hierarchy in life, that our economy rewards people who think, and think well, more than those who clean up dinner scraps. Ponder this, he told himself: when you look at a messy table, you can clean it up in a few minutes and you absolutely know you have served the world for the better. When you pick one segment of a market over another, and you take a risk, and you hire ten people to code the beast and its many platforms, there’s really no guarantee the table will be cleaned up at the end of the whole process.
Had he just been lucky so far? The thought made him panic a little. Maybe he really wasn’t particularly suited for this work, at this level. He always knew he was no genius. He knew he was a grind, but maybe the stone wasn’t up to this kind of steel?
Julie squeezed his shoulder on the way out. “Keep your chin up, champ.”
The salmon was excellent, but his self-doubt made him think of it all as false luxury. His mother was the sort who would forget the power bill, plan a trip, and leave him with his aunt — only to return to an apartment with no electricity and one of his fish dead in an unfiltered aquarium. He sensed something shameful in this, registering the way his mother begged Edison for restoration. Over time, he took to organizing his mother’s mail, ordering the important bills, and by the time he was sixteen, he was telling her what she could and couldn’t buy.
The next day, at work, he threw a workout bag on the couch next to his desk. There was a company 10k run that afternoon, and it all felt like a free day. Nathan and the twins were making some progress on porting Jensen’s code and Tyler’s superior asked him to come upstairs for a brief meeting. Surprise meetings weren’t the norm around here, so when he walked into Lattimore’s office, he wasn’t sure what to expect.
“Close the door,” Phil said.
Tyler complied and took the seat he was offered.
“This is weird,” Phil said, “but I can’t say it’s unexpected.”
“What’s up?” Tyler asked.
“Well what’s up? What’s up, young man, is that you’re basically moving up ahead of me. I’m going to be answering to you. I can’t give you all the details, but a little bird told me the announcement will be next Monday. They are moving you up to head all consumer products.”
“I don’t know what to say.”
“Don’t say anything,” Phil said. “No one’s supposed to know.”
“Why are you telling me then?”
“Favor in the bank,” I guess. “When they give you the big palatial office on the tech campus, as opposed to this little desk here in the sticks, I want you to remember your old boss fondly.”
Tyler raised his eyebrows and breathed out heavily.
“I have to be a good loser about this,” Phil said. “I was up for it too.”
The two men fell silent, and gave each other a good-natured frown.
“Life in the jungle,” Tyler offered.
“Damn straight, kid. Damn straight.”
When Tyler walked back to his office, trying to keep the spring from his step, the first thing he noticed was the missing workout bag. Nathan and the twins walked by in the hallway and Tyler held them up.
“Did you guys see my workout bag? It was there on the couch.”
The three of them shrugged.
“You keep your stuff at the gym anyway,” Nathan said.
“But the 10k,” Tyler said. “I was going to change here at work. You guys are going, right?”
“Sure we are,” one of the twins said.
“Next week,” volunteered the other.
“Next week?” Tyler asked, his voice rising. “It’s today.”
Nathan gave Tyler an extremely sidelong look. “Tyler, are you playing tricks again? Are you doing the funny forgetful man thing again?”
One of the twins snapped a flyer off the cubicle next to him, and began reading it. “Wexilient 10k Run for MS, June 17.”
“June 17?” Tyler said.
“17 minus 10,” David said, his voice trailing off.
“..is seven,” Derek volunteered.
Tyler grabbed the flyer.
“Today,” Nathan said, leaning in very close to Tyler. “Is the 10th.”
Tyler shook his head, reading and re-reading the event date.
“But,” Nathan said, “you could run it by yourself today if you want to practice, but there wont’ be any finish tape and all the fun stuff.”