This story is a fun one. I’m still not sure what direction it will take, but I know it’s not even close to over yet. This installment finds our poor friend Joe McClean finding out some truths about the love of his life. He comes to a decision, but is it the right one?
Only time will tell.
If you want to catch up on the previous installments of this serial, you can click on these links:
Joe drove south through the fairly rural and increasing hilly countryside of Western Pennsylvania with a completely blank mind. The smooth riding BMW with its premium sound system made it easy for him to reach this state, but the subconscious avoidance of what he would do as he got closer to Beth and her alternative path in life in this timeline was also a factor.
Maybe I’ll just wing it.
Joe thought back on his life in the old timeline. As an accountant under the thumb of the Provenza family, winging it was not in his bag of tricks. Had he acquired that ability in this new timeline? He didn’t think so. Accounting is not, by nature, a profession where ‘winging it’ worked out well.
As he made the change from I-79 to the I-279 loop, he realized he still hadn’t devised much of a plan. He supposed he could just go to the reception desk of the company and ask for Beth under some pretense of representing an accounting firm that might be doing an audit. That would not be out of the ordinary except for the fact that it would usually not be the CEO of the firm conducting an audit. He rationalized that this would be the best course of action as he made his way to the 30-story office building that housed the headquarters of Allied Jewelers of America.
He found parking in an adjacent garage that had a passageway to the buildings first-floor lobby. The lobby had a large reception/security desk that was manned by three formidable looking security guards. Joe walked up to the one that seemed the least threatening.
“Hello. I’d like to speak with Beth Burton. She’s a Regional Vice President for Allied Jewelers of America.”
The guard reacted as if he knew who Beth was and balanced this recognition with a furrowed brow that indicated annoyance.
“Do you have an appointment Mr…what was your name again?”
“And what company are you from?”
“McClean and Associates…I’m the CEO.”
The guard looked at Joe and quickly scanned what he was wearing. Joe realized that he was still dressed fairly casually. He certainly wasn’t dressed like a CEO from a substantial company here to meet with an executive.
“It’s just a quick introduction. My company might be doing an audit for her and I was in the area and thought I would stop in.”
The guard seemed to ponder this and then picked up the phone and punched in some numbers. After a short pause a voice picked up on the other end. Joe only heard the guard’s responses to the questions from the gatekeeper of Beth’s schedule.
“Yes. Is Ms. Burton in? Yes, there’s someone here to see her. It’s a Mr. McLean from McLean and Associates. An accounting firm. Okay. I’ll let him know.”
The guard hung up the phone and locked eyes with Joe.
“Ms. Burton is not available for the next 30 minutes. You’re free to wait here in the lobby until she indicates if she can see you or you can leave a number and someone will call you when and if she is available.”
“I’ll just wait here in the lobby for a little bit, if that’s okay. I’ve got some calls to return and some emails to answer.”
“That’s fine, but you understand that, because you don’t have an appointment, you may not get to see her.”
“I understand. I’ll wait for about 30 minutes or so and then leave.”
As Joe said this, he just realized that he might have taken on a four-hour drive for nothing. This timeline had him torn. He had apparently achieved success in business and still had his mom and dad. Was Beth worth it? Was he wasting time?
He immersed himself in some emails leading up to the finalization of the merger on Monday. He had a weekend to get up to speed. He was apparently flying to New York first thing Monday morning on a timeshare executive jet. This would be another first for him. Mike was coming with him along with an outside counsel with a specialization in mergers and acquisitions that was hired by Maclean and Associates. Joe recognized the name of the lawyer, Tim Clayborn, from his alternate timeline. He did work for the Provenzas and was known for being ruthless and frank. It was going to be interesting and he wanted to be prepared.
As he was reading through the emails on his phone, a latest model Apple iPhone, he saw some movement at the revolving door of the lobby. He had to do a doubletake as the couple that entered the building hand in hand looked very fashionable and affectionate toward each other. When he looked closer at the woman, he knew right away it was Beth. It was, however, a different version of Beth. Apparently, this alternate timeline had been could to everyone in terms of being fit and healthy. She had different, more stylish hair and her clothes were definitely above the pay grade of a mall jewelry store manager. She was toned, fit and stunning…and apparently in a relationship based on the length and trajectory of the goodbye kiss she gave to the man she walked in with.
Joe was deflated, no he was more than deflated he was devastated. His wife, from another life, was obviously in love with someone else in this timeline. As the man exited, she passed Joe on the way to the elevator bank. His heart leapt and he considered calling to her, but then the old, less-confident Joe prevailed. He waited for her to step on the waiting elevator and, as the doors closed, he left the building, got into his car and headed back to Langerton.
He turned on the radio in an effort to block out his thoughts during the drive. He landed on a classic 70s station and was only mildly surprised when Meatloaf’s hit, Two out of Three ain’t Bad, played almost immediately. It was the theme song for this timeline. His business was successful, his parents were alive, but Beth…that didn’t work out as he had hoped. Was that bad? Would he get over it? In time he felt like he would. In fact, in this timeline, there was nothing to get over. Successful Joe had never married or apparently had a relationship with Beth, but she seemed to have thrived beyond him and their life in the original timeline.
Joe got back into Langerton as the sun was setting. He was exhausted from the long drive and from the shock of his new life that he had experienced during the day. He put on one of the many pair of pajamas that were in his lacquered black dresser and stretched out on the massive king sized bed and keyed the remote for the 60 inch TV that was mounted on the wall opposite the bed. He tuned to ESPN and began watching Sports Center, but quickly drifted off to a deep sleep. It was not an undisturbed sleep, however.
Joe found himself waking up in a field. He smelled the scent of late summer blooms in the crisp air. Judging from the sky, it was just before sunset, which confused him as it was night when he climbed into bed. He was still wearing the pajamas he had selected and they felt slightly damp from laying in the tall grass of the field. He sat up and heard familiar voices calling his name. Judging from the volume and the direction, the voices were coming from opposite ends of the field where the tall grass gave way to a dark forest. In one direction, he heard male and female voices calling him in unison. The voices were familiar and he quickly realized that it was his parents. He squinted toward the sound of their voices and saw that they were tied to trees at the edge of the field. Some type of wild animal was threatening them and they could not free themselves or escape. Joe started to quickly move in their direction when he heard another female voice screeching his name coming from the opposite direction. As he spun around and strained to look toward this new voice, he saw a woman tied to a tree at the opposite end of the field. She was screeching as a man was stalking toward her holding a whip. It appeared that he intended to use it on her. As Joe struggled to see who was being attacked, the realization came that it was Beth.
Joe was suddenly thrust into a situation that caused him agony. He needed to save his parents and Beth, but he was afraid that if he moved toward one, the other would be hurt or killed. As he paced trying to decide what to do, he tripped over something hard in the long grass. He bent down and discovered that it was a rifle. Next to the rifle was a small cardboard box with labeling that indicated that it held ammunition. The rifle was the very same type that he had used to go deer hunting with his father and brother. Joe was a pretty good shot back then and suddenly felt a measure of relief until he opened the box. There was only one cartridge in it. He would have to make a choice, save his parents or Beth with a single bullet. Without thinking about it, he checked the rifle and saw that it was not loaded. He grabbed the cartridge and loaded it. He finally came up with an idea. The animal would not be afraid of the sight of the gun, but the man would. He would shoot the animal from as far away as he could and then rush to save Beth by making the man put down the whip by aiming the gun at him. It wasn’t the perfect plan as it depended on his ability to shoot accurately after all of these years, but it was the best he could come up with.
He guessed that each scenario was about 200 yards from where he was. He felt fairly confident that he could shoot the large animal from about 50 yards and then run back to where Beth was being threatened fairly quickly. Perhaps the sound of the shot would be enough to scare the man away. Joe moved through the tall grass toward where the snarling animal was moving toward his parents. He couldn’t move in a straight line because he didn’t want the animal directly between him and his parents. If he missed, he might hit one of them. Instead, he moved toward the group but drifted left at the same time until he felt the angle was satisfactory. At a distance of about 50 yards, he went into a kneeling position. He braced the gun with his left arm and put the stock against his shoulder. He brought the site in line with the animal and slowly squeezed the trigger. The recoil on the gun was a bit stronger than he expected but, based on the yelp that he heard, his aim was good. He stood and saw that the animal lay in a heap at his father’s feet.
Without hesitation, he began to run in the other direction toward Beth. The man had apparently been distracted by the shot but was now moving toward Beth with more urgency. The whip was swaying back and forth as if he were preparing to unleash it toward her.
“Put the whip down now,” Joe shouted as he was within 50 yards of the pair.
The man looked toward him and it was the man from the lobby of the Allied Jewelers of America building that had come in with Beth. The man locked eyes with Joe and then started to laugh. He moved to the side so that Joe could see Beth. She was tied to the tree with ropes that looked like they were made of velvet. She was wearing a black negligee and a blindfold. She pulled her left hand free and lowered the blindfold.
“Leave us alone, Joe,” she said. “The whip was my idea. Brett is a lot more creative and exciting than you ever were. Why don’t you just leave us alone?”
Joe felt nausea rise up from his stomach. He covered his eyes and began to hear a beeping sound as if a truck were backing up in the field. When he opened his eyes again, he was laying on the bed with the remote control for the TV on his chest. He didn’t need to be a psychologist to pull meaning from this dream. Maybe he and Beth weren’t meant to be. Maybe this timeline might just work if he could get over her. He needed to clear his head. He had set the alarm for 8 A.M. and had apparently slept until it went off. He took a quick shower. Grabbed a mug of hazelnut coffee and headed to his home office. It was time to dig into the merger and try to forget about the dream.