In this installment, Joe finds himself in a conundrum. His experimentation with changing the present by travelling to the past has had mixed results thus far. This latest chapter finds him wrestling with how much change is good enough. Should he be happy with what he has achieved or try to have it all?
You can be the judge as you read this latest installment.
If you want to catch up on the previous installments of this serial, you can click on these links:
Joe decided to take a shower and get some breakfast before he got too involved in doing some research. That way he wouldn’t lose track of time and leave himself without time to get ready for lunch. As he entered his master bathroom, he couldn’t get over the level of luxury and function that the room held. As he turned on the multi-head shower, he realized that that the tiled shower stall was big enough to hold several people. The four shower heads were placed strategically so that every inch of his body would be sprayed.
As he waited for the shower to heat up and stripped off his pajamas, he noted that this was not the body he recognized. He was in great shape. His lean torso was toned and he actually saw the outline of ab muscles. He surmised that he must have a better diet and workout regimen in this alternate timeline. He enjoyed his luxurious shower and put on the expensive silk robe that was hanging in the bathroom. After a shave he went to his bedroom closet and selected a pair of khaki dress pants and a light blue dress shirt. His clothes were certainly a higher quality than anything he ever owned previously. As he finished dressing and caught a glimpse of himself in the full-length mirror, he was somewhat surprised at how good he looked. Gone was the middle-age paunch and sallow complexion that he was used to seeing every day. So far, this alternate timeline seemed to be good to him personally.
Joe finished getting ready and went to the kitchen to find some breakfast. He wanted to get to his research so he wanted something quick like cereal or a bagel. What he found was healthy food. Apparently he had changed his diet. He grabbed a container of Greek yogurt, something he had never eaten in his previous life, and a cup of coffee and went back to his office. As he sat down at his computer, he wasn’t sure where to start, yet the organization of files on the machine seemed vaguely familiar. He supposed that, even though much of his life was foreign to him, certain habits and practices that he adopted in his previous live should be similar. He decided to start in the obvious way and this worked. He found a folder branched off of his ‘Documents’ folder called ‘Merger’ and when he double clicked it, several documents came up.
Apparently, McClean and Associates was an L.L.C. incorporated in Delaware. The reason for this was not mystery to Joe. He knew that Delaware and Nevada were very popular states for forming and L.L.C. due to the favorability of their laws. As an L.L.C, he also knew that the finances of the company were intertwined with his own despite the limitation of certain liabilities.
Most of the folder contained the typical due diligence documents that would be produced in anticipation of a merger. The financial statements portrayed McClean and Associates as a very healthy company. Joe did a quick computation of the standard accounting ratios and found them to be very much in line with a successful going concern. Why then was the company entering a merger and with whom?
He soon had his answer. The firm that his company was merging with was a large New York City accounting firm named Filbright, O’Hara and McInerny. F, O and M was a well-known firm for a couple of reasons. It was the largest specialized accounting firm in the state with over 500 employees and a prestigious office in the banking district in downtown Manhattan near Wall Street. Second, F, O and M was known for handling the finances of several sports teams and their players. Among them was the New York Yankees.
From what he could glean from the files and associated emails, Joe’s company had been approached by the larger New York firm with a very attractive offer. According to the terms of the merger, Joe would retain autonomy over his company for five years remaining as the CEO. At the end of five years, he had the option to continue on working for F, O and M or he could take a sizable cash out offer. It appeared that all of his employees were guaranteed to keep their positions for at least five years and the principals of the company would also have the same option of a cash out at the end of that period. So far, the merger appeared to be favorable and Joe might get the chance to mingle with some sports legends.
As Joe continued to pour over the information, he realized it was time to meet his brother Mike for lunch. He descended the stairs and went out to his garage. The three-car garage had two spaces filled. One had a late model BMW SUV. The other had a car that was beneath a cover and was attached to an electronic device in the wall. Upon further inspection, Joe realized that he owned a Tesla Model S electronic automobile. He wasn’t sure he would feel comfortable driving the $150,000 automobile without some practice. He found the keys to the SUV on a pegboard near the garage door, climbed inside and opened the overhead door. As he exited the garage into the uncharacteristic Langerton bright sunshine, he found a pair of Ray Ban sunglasses in the compartment of the BMW’s roof and put them on.
Joe maneuvered the streets of his hometown toward Carlucci’s Restaurant. This was a place that he was very familiar with. It was a family style Italian restaurant that was a fixture in Langerton for over 50 years. As Joe pulled into the parking lot, he found that the restaurant was much the same as it was in his original time period. As Joe parked he had a feeling of nervousness pass over him. It was strange. He had lunch with his brother thousands of times during his lifetime, but this was the first time he would dine with him as the CEO of a company in which his brother was also an executive. Would he see a change in their relationship?
He entered and found the hostess station next to the case that held the many Italian pastries just as it always was with the ageless Maria Carlucci standing behind the podium. She appeared to be the same indeterminant age as she was when he was a kid coming here to eat with his parents. In his past life, Maria knew who he was in terms of recognizing a familiar face among the many regulars at the restaurant. Joe ate here an average of once per month in that timeline. Her reaction to him in this iteration of his life was surprising.
“Ah, Mr. McClean. Your brother is already here. He’s at your regular table waiting for you.”
“Great,” Joe thought. “I have a regular table. I wish I knew where it was.”
Maria must have sensed his confusion and she motioned to him to follow her. He had heard that Carlucci’s had a private room. The Provenza family occasionally used it to entertain high-profile clients or for private family luncheons. He had never actually been in it, however, and it appeared that he was about to experience it. The room’s decor was a few levels above the public dining area. It was paneled in dark wood that had earned a rich patina over the years. There was one long table and Mike was its sole occupant at a chair near the left end. He was drinking iced tea and snacking on fried calamari. He also looked fit and tan in this timeline.
“Hey little brother. How’s it going today?”
The greeting was the same even though it was coming from a different, more refined version of his older brother.
“I’m fine Mike,” Joe said and he actually meant it to a greater degree than usual.
He took a seat and a waitress immediately came over with a cold Pepsi in an actual glass made of ‘glass’, not like the usual plastic tumbler. Another waiter brought out a plate of bruschetta, Joe’s favorite appetizer.
“Great service,” Joe said.
Mike looked a little puzzled.
“It’s been that way ever since we bailed them out five years ago.”
“Bailed them out?”
“Are you okay? You don’t remember that we saved this restaurant from closing?”
“Oh yeah. I remember,” Joe lied.
“So, are we ready for the merger? I’m looking forward to hooking into some of F, O and M’s systems. Just the computing power alone will jump start us ahead light years in technology.”
“I think we’re ready,” Joe said.
He paused for a minute.
“What is it?” Mike asked.
“Do you think this merger is a good idea, Mike?”
His brother seemed a bit flustered by the question.
“It’s a little late to ask that question. We finalize on Monday.”
“I know. I just wanted your opinion one more time before we take the final step.”
Mike seemed to relax a bit.
“I understand. We’ve worked so hard to get this business to where it is. F, O and M is totally above board. The merger makes us come out smelling like a rose, Joey. It’s time to take credit and be rewarded for that hard work. Maybe you can finally take some time for yourself.”
“What do you mean, take time for myself?”
Mike rolled his eyes.
“Let’s have this conversation again. You’re like a hermit roaming around in that big house by yourself. When’s the last time you had a date? You’ve sacrificed your whole life to build this company to where it is. You need someone to share it with. It’s not too late.”
Joe thought about this. Had he never been married to Beth? Had his career consumed his personal life? He started to see the downside of this timeline. Instead of saving his marriage, it never existed. His heart sank into his stomach.
“Are you okay. You seem a bit off today. This merger has been everything you’ve been working toward since F, O and M approached you a year ago. Are you having second thoughts?”
“No. I’m fine. I just am a bit tired,” Joe lied again.
The fact was that he was not fine. Despite his failed marriage, he still loved Beth and realized that she might not even know he existed.
Do I need to go back and do something different?
This thought preoccupied him throughout his lunch. Here he was with at least two of his goals realized. He had a thriving business that was on the verge of making him financially independent. His parents were still alive and his brother had thrived as well. But…Beth. Still no Beth. Would he be willing to sacrifice what he had realized in this timeline just for another chance with her? Did he need to?
As they finished lunch, Joe came to a decision. He would at least try to see what path Beth’s life had taken before he did anything drastic. As he said goodbye to Mike and exited the restaurant, Joe decided to take a chance. He pulled out of the parking lot and headed east toward the Langerton Mall. Beth had managed a jewelry store there in his original timeline. He thought it was worth taking a chance to see if her life had put her in the same place.
As he entered the mall, it looked very familiar to him. His life had changed significantly, but, thankfully, not much else about Langerton had changed. He stopped short of entering the jewelry store. As he looked at the store, he saw two young salespeople arranging jewelry and cleaning the cases. Beth was nowhere to be found. Joe decided to go forward and at least ask about her in the store.
“Excuse me. Is the manager in?”
“Yes,” the young female associate answered. “Let me get her for you.”
Joe’s previously sunken heart leapt back into his chest as he anticipated seeing Beth again. This was only temporary, however, as he saw the 30-something blonde approach him with her hand extended.
“Hello, I’m Lin. I understand you need some assistance.”
Joe wasn’t sure what to say. He decided to at least pursue this a bit further.
“Oh. I’m sorry. I was looking for Beth Mc…Burton. Beth Burton. I thought she managed this store.”
Joe felt his face flush as he almost uttered Beth’s married name. She had kept the name McLean along with most of his stuff as part of the divorce.
“Beth Burton. She hasn’t been the manager here for about seven years. She’s at corporate in Pittsburgh. Are you a friend of hers?”
“Um…yes, you could say that. We went to college together. I just thought I would look her up.”
“I’m sorry. Can I help you with anything else?” the annoyed manager asked realizing that there would likely be no sale.
“No. That’s fine. I’m sorry to bother you.”
“No problem,” she answered with a lack of sincerity.
Joe left the mall and headed back home. During the drive he decided that he would pursue this just a bit further before making a decision on whether to gamble on changing the timeline once more. He went back to his office and called up the website for Allied Jewelers of America, the parent company of the mall jewelry store. He searched the company leadership and was about to give up until he looked at the Western Pennsylvania division. There she was. Beth Burton, Regional Vice President. He zoomed in on the thumbnail photo and a flood of emotions hit him. She still looked beautiful to him. He clicked on her bio and found that her life had followed the same path in this timeline with the exception of her promotion seven years ago to district manager and then, after three years, Regional Vice President. Here career had obviously excelled as well.
Joe’s next move was uncharacteristically impulsive. Pittsburgh was a 2 hour drive south of Langerton. Joe got back into the BMW and pointed his car in that direction with the idea that he would formulate a plan on the way.