Sarah drove home. Geoff was too irate after his meeting with Barry to concentrate on
anything, especially rush-hour traffic.
"I hate this!" Geoffs venomous tone reminded Sarah of the note
in her ex-husbands voice whenever he would try to convince her she had done
something stupid and wrong. "Being insulted by these fascists is -- degrading! Do
they think well just lap up the party line when they throw it at us? Have they
forgotten about the First Amendment?"
Sarah quietly said, "The First Amendment doesnt forgive shouting
Fire! in a crowded theater."
"It does give people the right to know whats going on. Remember
Now Sarah rolled her eyes. "Of course. But Woodward and Bernstein had evidence to
back up their claims -- right now all you have is rumors. And you know how I feel about
rumors." Her hands tightened on the steering wheel at the flash of memories: in those
last months of her marriage, before shed moved out, all sorts of wild fabrications
about her private life had been created by people with nothing better to do than take
pleasure at the pain of others. The first rumor had been that she and Reed were getting a
divorce -- no, they were staying together and planning a second honeymoon to Hawaii -- no,
they had agreed to an open marriage and were both free to see other people. The grapevine
said she was having affairs with at least three different men, one of whom she had never
met. There had even been a rumor she had moved in with Geoffrey; Sarah believed hed
never heard that one, because if he had he would have mentioned it to her and helped
squelch it. Still, that whole period brought Sarah as close to the edge as she ever wanted
to come -- it had been hard enough dealing with all the real issues involved in ending a
marriage without wrestling with phantoms and having her reputation blackened in the eyes
of acquaintances and strangers alike.
Geoff was giving her a cold look. "Are you saying you agree with Barry?"
"Im saying you really, honestly dont know anything is going on. Not
for a fact. But here you are, going around rocking the boat, and now people like Tammi and
Tom Greavy are going to go home tonight and lose sleep worrying about something that may
never happen and what it means to their futures. Its not productive. They have
better things to do, and I think you do, too."
He looked as if he had just been struck. Swinging around to glare out the passenger
window, he muttered, "I cant believe you said that."
"And I cant believe youve lost sight of what matters!" Sarah
said, exasperated. "This job is making you miserable, Geoff -- screw it! It
doesnt matter if WrightTech gets bought, by Brand-MacDougall or by Burger King! Your
writing matters! Thats all, thats your future! Cant you see that?"
Geoffs voice was ice as he said, "All I know is, Im stuck eating what
that miserable son of a bitch dishes out five days a week, because he isnt smart
enough to use me to my demonstrated potential." Geoff was shaking his head now,
bitterness inscribed in every line on his face. "I cant see the future, but I
know the present is chipping away at me. I lie down and take it from Barry day after day
-- I cant lie down on this, too, Sarah, I cant!"
She made a left turn onto her street, glancing in his direction as she accelerated.
"What are you going to do?"
"Next staff meeting is Thursday at one. Lets see how Barry likes having to
answer me point-blank when I ask him about this buy-out thing in front of everybody."
"What if he fires you?"
"Then he fires me! At least I wont be crawling on my belly like Erik
Sarah made one last turn, pulling into her driveway and stopping the car next to
Geoffs blue Taurus. "Youre making a mistake. You need to build something
better, not throw a fit and destroy everything youve worked for, including your
reputation. You need to go home and think, really think, about all this."
As Geoff opened his door he laughed, a sharp, coarse bark. "Funny, thats
just what Barry said."
Geoffreys Tuesday and Wednesday passed in even greater solitude than usual. He
clamped on the headphones of his Walkman and kept the music of David Bowie, the Rolling
Stones, Elvis Costello, and Warren Zevon thumping in his ears throughout the workday; his
constant scowl left no question that he wished to be alone. People gave his office wide
berth and those who had to see him on business-related issues did not linger to chat.
Voice mail recorded two messages from Roger Landry. He left them unanswered, preferring
the company of his own dark thoughts.
Sarah avoided him both in and out of the office, but she was often on his mind. Part of
the time he found himself inwardly raging, How could she say those things? For
Chrissakes, she knows I support every free-speech group going! Now the fight is on my
doorstep and she wants me to knuckle under. Its -- wrong.
But, because it was Sarah, because he trusted her counsel, he could not disregard her
message. There were periods when he thought, Shes right, of course. Its
over for me here, and I have to face that. I cant go back to the good old days, and
Barrys never going to loosen the choke-collar. I need to make a change, Sarah wants
me to make that change. And, lets face it, youre the only one
whos upset -- everyone else is content to cozy up to the weasels and creeps.
By Wednesday night he was staring down a handful of grim truths as he tossed alone,
sleepless in his bed.
The real problem is the way youve let your life get derailed. You bought into the
snake oil WrightTech was selling, and after that you were geared to make good things
happen for the company at the expense of making good things happen for yourself. What do
you have to show for it? Youre thirty-six years old -- no wife, no family, and a
long way from that writing career you keep trying to find time for. Of course, all you
have to do is wave Brand-MacDougall in Barrys face and youll have plenty of
time to write: youll be out of a job.
Youll probably be out of Sarahs life, too. . .
John O. Barry sat at the head of the conference table and droned on about everything
from upcoming contracts WrightTech would bid to the annual United Way charity drive. A
typical boring staff meeting, Sarah thought. And itll stay that way until
Geoff drops his bomb.
Normally Sarah and Geoff sat side-by-side during staff meetings. Today they were on
opposite sides of the table and the looks from a handful of their co-workers indicated the
break in routine had been noticed. Sarah sat almost diagonally across the conference table
from Geoffrey, who was two seats to Barrys left. This was the first time in three
days she had seen him -- they still had not spoken -- and her vantage point made it easy
to glance his way. She tried without success to discern his intentions from the set of his
mouth, the glint in his eyes.
Her attention shifted back to Barry as he said, "Thats all I have.
Lets go around the table and see whats new with you." He turned to Tammi
Torentino, seated immediately to his left. "Tammi?"
"Nothing. In my world, everythings capital." She made the same weak
joke at every meeting and, as usual, it earned the same anemic laughs.
"Geoff?" Barry prompted.
Sarah drew a deep breath. Geoff leaned forward in his chair, then rapped the knuckles
of his left hand on the table twice. "I pass," he said.
"Really?" Barry asked, a smug look on his face.
"Really," Geoff echoed, locking his bosss gaze with his own. "I
have nothing to say."
"Well. . ." Barry seemed at a loss for a moment, a schoolyard bully with no
one to push around. Then he recovered and said, "Well, its a quiet week, I
guess. How about you, Tom. . .?"
Geoff spent the rest of the meeting staring down at the tabletop. As soon as everyone
had had their chance to speak and the meeting was officially adjourned he was out of his
chair, the first one to leave the room. By the time Sarah could get through the door and
reach Geoffs office he was nowhere to be seen. She left a note on his desk -- Dont
leave without coming to see me -- then returned to her desk to wait.
Hours passed and Sarah was unable to get Geoff off her mind. What was he doing? How was
he feeling? One of the biggest differences between the two of them was the way they dealt
with adversity: Geoff wanted to get the bad stuff out on the table for everyone to know
about. Holding back in that meeting must have torn at his insides. Sarah, on the other
hand, had always found it easier to keep things penned up out of sight. During her divorce
it had been especially important to maintain an upbeat pretense, because the moment she
started to let go it she knew it would all come flooding out, taking her self-control with
To his credit, during those hellish days Geoff had respected her need to keep the pain
locked away. He couldnt understand the approach, but he knew it worked for her, so
he had rarely pushed her to talk. On those days when she had felt strong enough to
volunteer information he listened closely, asking enough questions to prove his interest
and show his support. It was only after the decree was final she learned he had bought one
of those Do Your Own Divorce books and hit the library on several occasions to
research the emotional and physical stresses in a divorcees life in order to
understand her situation and help support her.
In a way, she said to herself as she stared absently at her computer screen, Geoffs
going through a divorce of his own. For seven years hes been married to his work,
meeting every crisis, even when hes had to work forty hours without sleep or put in
eighty hour weeks. Its always been a bad marriage for him, but its taken this
current position to make him realize it. He shouldnt try to save it -- he really
doesnt want to -- but that doesnt stop him from a last, desperate attempt to
create a crisis, hoping it shocks the other side to its senses. Thats what this
whole B-M flap is, an attempt to make the company see how Barry is mistreating him. I can
understand that. How many times did I go storming off to spend the night in a hotel,
hoping all the while Id hear "Dont go!" before the door closed
behind me. . .?
Geoff was there through it all. Hell always be there for me. What can I do to
help him through this?
The answer, she realized, was at the other end of the phone.
"I got your note. You wanted to talk?"
It was after 4:30 PM when Geoff showed up at Sarahs desk. He looked pale, tense
and stiff and edgy. Sarah gave him a warm grin, telling him, "I came looking for you
after staff, but you werent in your office."
"I needed a walk," he said, forcing a thin smile of his own. "Think of
it as a late lunch."
"I wanted you to know I was proud of you in there. You did the right thing."
Suddenly he couldnt meet her eyes. "Im right, Sarah." He worried
his lower lip between his teeth for a long moment, fighting for composure. "You know,
we say Americans would never tolerate oppressors like Nazis or the Chinese Communists, but
were kidding ourselves. Man, we live with little oppressions every day, and
wed cave in to the big ones the first time the going got rough. Goons like Barry
have this Thought Police attitude, and it -- it frightens me. The only thing
scarier is people like Erik, the ones who are willing to live on their knees, ready to
justify themselves from now til Doomsday. I dont want to be one of those
"What makes it tough is that I know youre right, too. Im
wasting my time here, and Im throwing good energy after bad if I keep pressing the
B-M issue. Free speech isnt important to Tom and Tammi and the rest, all they care
about is keeping the gravy train chugging until they pay off that mortgage, or the car
loans, or get enough money into the kids college fund. If this is a battle I have to
fight, my best line of attack is to put what I have to say into a story."
"Or a novel," said Sarah.
"Yeah. As I drove in this morning I knew I was going to keep my lip buttoned, but
I also realized I have some vacation time left this year, and I think Ill use it to
get the first four chapters of my book written." He took a deep breath before
continuing. "It scares the bejeezus out of me to say this, but Im going to be
out of this company for good by the end of the year."
Then he took her right hand in both of his and the words were chasing each other out of
his mouth. "But none of it will mean anything without you, Sarah. I love you, and I
want you in my life more than Ive ever wanted anyone and I dont want this to
come between us. Id give anything to go back to Monday and change it so all this
never happened. . ."
She put the fingers of her free hand to his lips, quieting him. "Dont say
that, baby," she whispered. "Its important for you to go through this.
Its hurt to get yourself to this point, I know, but if theres one thing
Ive learned its that you have to hurt before you can heal. Thats part of
"Better to feel bad than not feel anything at all?"
"Something like that, yeah." She leaned over to kiss him, her tongue parting
his lips with an urgency that took him by surprise. When he responded she quickly drew
back, pulling away and looking serious. "I still have about an hours worth of
work ahead of me, but I want to be out of here before six. Can you hang around and come
home with me?"
He nodded, releasing her hand as she gently pulled it free and made a shooing motion.
"Then scoot and let me finish up here. Ill come down and get you when
Im ready to go."
Sarah showed up in Geoffreys office a few minutes before six. She could see he
was still wrestling with the emotions jumbled inside him and wasted no time hurrying him
out of his office and down the Admin building stairs.
"Just like a woman," he scoffed, trying to keep the mood light despite his
own inner turmoil. "You keep me cooling my heels for an hour, then rush me out the
door as if youve been waiting for me all this time!"
As they stepped into the production area Sarah pointed at the electronic billboard.
"I talked to Wally this afternoon and I think theres something on here you need
"I cant imagine what that could be," Geoff grumbled, watching as a
notice from the company safety committee scrolled past.
"Humor me and keep watching." Sarah dug a playful forefinger into his ribs.
"All right! I promise, I promise!"
They walked over to the board, looking up as a message from the United Way appeared
briefly, followed by a promotion for WrightTechs recreation association. Then it
flashed into life, in the biggest green letters Wally had been able to program onto the
The more prosaic bulletins resumed their crawl while Sarah said, "See, I was right
about all this -- but you were right, too. And this was the best way I could find
to tell you that."
Then she was in his arms and they were kissing, and then the kisses mixed with
laughter, and with salty tears that trickled into the corners of their mouths.
And Geoff knew he had found a future worth embracing.