BY: JACK SPROUSE

Rick Bennett and Elizabeth Meadow fell in love in their senior year of high school and knew they could never live without each other. But they both had dreams. Elizabeth planned to find a cure for breast cancer, the terrible disease that took her mother when she was only ten. And Rick wants to teach college students. Each has a passion for their dream as real as their passion for each other. When, after graduating from college, Elizabeth asks Rick to wait for her to finish her post graduate work and get settled in her career before they get married, Rick makes the hardest choice of his life. He breaks up with Elizabeth, telling her if she ever decides she is ready, he will be waiting, but he has to move on with his life. Both devastated, the two go their separate ways, only to discover, too late, that they were both wrong. Can fate intervene to reconnect them, or are they doomed to pay for this mistake forever?

TAYLOR JONES SAYS: In A Bowl Full of Grapes by Jack Sprouse, Rick Bennett and Elizabeth Meadows are high school sweethearts. They plan to be married after college, but Elizabeth changes her career plans halfway through college and asks Rick to wait while she finishes her research for her new career field. Rick fears they are never going to get married, and he breaks up with her, telling her that if she is ever ready to settle down, he will be waiting. But until then he has to move on with his life. Devastated, they both go their separate ways. Are they doomed to be unhappy forever?

A poignant and touching story of two people who were meant to be, despite their divergent dreams, this is one you won’t want to miss.

REGAN MURPHY SAYS: A Bowl Full of Grapes by Jack Sprouse is the story a love that was destined by fate, although the two people involved are determined to accomplish their dreams. Elizabeth Meadows wants to be a research doctor and find ways to prevent heart attacks, like the one that took her mother when she was ten. Rick Bennett wants to teach economics or history in college. When the two fall in love in high school, they agree to wait to marry until after their undergraduate work in college. But when Elizabeth decides to suddenly change careers in midstream and asks Rick to postpone their wedding, he breaks up with her, saying he can’t compete with her career. They are both devastated and both make bad choices based on their hurt feelings. Can fate intervene with these two stubborn people, or is it too late for them?

A Bowl Full of Grapes is both a love story and a family saga, filled with suspense and surprising plot twists. With charming and well-developed characters, this is a moving and heartwarming story mainstream romance fans will love.

Chapter 1

Crash

2002:

Ed Whelan was the Owner and CEO of Optimum National Telecom “ONT,” a Telecommunications Company that had ridden the Telecom bubble to great success in the late nineties and early two-thousands. He sat at the head of the table in his conference room early on a Wednesday morning.

He looked around the table at his six-top sales people who had been instrumental in helping him create the success the company had enjoyed for the past few years. He did not relish the message he was going to have to deliver.

“Gentlemen, and lady.” He sneaked a knowing look, and a wink, at Maggie Fletcher who was sitting at the other end of the table. The wink was not lost on the men at the table. He continued, “As you all know Networks unlimited, one of the two biggest telecom firms in the world filed for Chapter Eleven bankruptcy in June of last year. And yesterday, if any of you are not aware, Global Dynamics went belly-up.”

“Oh shit,” several voices said in unison. There was mumbling all around the table.

“What does this mean, Ed?” Adrian Bennett asked.

“Basically, Adrian, it means that the proclamation made by some technology gurus, in February of 2001, that those two telecom giants would battle for worldwide supremacy over a Trillion-dollar market and that there would be no losers was…how shall I put this?…overly optimistic. The bottom has fallen out, and the proverbial feces has made contact with the rotary oscillator.”

“The shit has hit the fan? Joe Reedy said.

“That’s right, Joe,” Ed replied. “There will be lots of losers, mainly banks and stockholders.”

“What does it mean for ONT?” Adrian asked.

“We’re still sorting that out. It may be a few days before I know how this will affect us. But it’s going to shake up the industry very dramatically. I assure you that I’ll do everything within my power to keep us solvent and to keep everyone employed. This bust is being estimated to be ten times bigger than the dotcom crash. We may be seeing the largest bubble in history. It’s created a hole that the industry is going to have to climb out of.

“I’m hearing that WorldCom is very close to bankruptcy, and if WorldCom goes under it will be the biggest failure in business history. Even Enron’s demise was not that severe. So, I’ll call another meeting for next week about this same time, and we’ll examine where we are and explore our options. Keep your chins up, guys, we’ve been through hard times before, we’ll get through this.”

About an hour after everyone had left the office, Ed heard the front doorbell ring, and he got up from his desk and went to the door. Maggie Fletcher stepped in, and he took her in his arms and kissed her passionately. “God, you are beautiful,” he told her. “Let’s go to my office.”

“How bad is it really, Ed?” she asked.

“Pretty damned bad,” he said. “I’ll be fortunate to keep this place afloat. I’ll have to keep Adrian Bennett on for at least a month or two—he’s my best salesman—but everyone else will have to go. I may have to lay you off for a while, but don’t worry. I’ll bring you back when I get things settled down. We have to be discreet.”

“Discreet? You think anyone in this office doesn’t know we’re sleeping together?”

“I just don’t want anyone stirring up trouble. When I make the cuts, I’ll bring you back to help Adrian handle the customer load we have left and then tell him a believable story that you’re going to do the accounting…or something like that. In the meantime, we have to figure out how to stay in business.”

The following week, Ed asked Adrian to come into his office, prior to the scheduled conference, so he could apprise him of the ongoing situation. Adrian showed up early that morning and went to the boss’ office as requested.

“Thanks for coming, Adrian,” Ed said. “I wanted to go over with you what is going to happen at the meeting this morning.”

“I’m assuming the news is not good, Ed.”

“That’s an accurate assumption, Adrian. I can keep ‘you’ on for about another two months, but I’m going to have to let everyone else go within the week. Now, you’ll have a fairly generous severance package. It won’t replace your salary of course, but we’re talking somewhere around three-hundred K. You’ll draw your regular salary for the next two months, and I’ll give you a very good reference and do everything I can to help you get employed.”

“Well, I was kind of expecting this, from what I’ve been reading and seeing on the news. I appreciate your keeping me on as long as you can. I’m thinking I’ll have to downsize my house and living standards pretty much across the board. But if that’s what it takes, so be it.”

The meeting was not a pleasant affair for either the employees or the employer. Ed Whelan tried to put a positive spin on the situation, but it was a poor attempt. He told them their severance compensation packages would be available at the end of the week and that their jobs with ONT would then be over, it was as simple as that. Lives were impacted and sometimes traumatized just that easily. He wished them all well and assured them that he would give them all positive references when they applied for jobs elsewhere.

Afterward, he spoke with Adrian about his situation. “Have you talked to your family about this yet, Adrian,” he asked him.

“I’ve been holding off, Ed. I’m going to do it tonight after dinner.”

“The industry is going to be struggling for a while. We face years of painful reorganization in order to get the over-supply of capacity built during the boom years brought into line with demand and the massive debt that will have to be restructured.”

“I’m not sure what all that means, Ed,” Adrian replied.

“There will most likely be more bankruptcies and many among some pretty big companies. Bottom line is it may be tough getting a job for a while. What you said about downsizing might be your best option. You might even consider looking out of state for a job.”

“Out of state? Wow, I don’t know how that would go over with my family. I hope it doesn’t come to that.”

“I do too,” Ed responded. “I just wanted to be as honest as I can with you.”

“I appreciate that. I’d hate to leave California. My family is pretty entrenched here.”

“Maybe it won’t come to that, Adrian. Maybe things will turn in our favor. Start putting your resume out right away and if you have to take off for interviews, feel free to do so.”

Thanks, Ed,” Adrian said. “I’ll be okay.”

Ed was on the verge of panic, but he had managed not to show it to his employees or to his wife and family. At forty-five-years of age, he’d been at the top of his game and at the top of his business world. Ed had made a fortune through his telecom company. Starting in 1995, with a half-million-dollar loan from his wife’s father, Julian Stroud, he’d rode the bubble to a lucrative life-style and had paid the loan back with interest. In the last two years, he’d started to bank money. And now he was in fear that he might lose it all.

Ed found himself in a cold and loveless marriage from which it would be almost an impossibility to extricate himself without stirring up a fire-storm of biblical proportions. His wife Fran came from a very powerful family in the Santa Barbara area, and Ed knew that, if he tried to divorce Fran, they would take him for everything he had worked so hard to achieve over that past seven years.

Ed was desperately in love with Maggie Fletcher, a woman ten-years his junior, without whom he was convinced he could not live. He was so enamored with the woman that he was willing to risk almost anything just to be with her, anything but his business. But now, with the business at risk, his mind began to calculate how it might work out to his advantage.

“It’s going to result in some life-changing events for us,” Adrian Bennett told his family. “I apologize for not foreseeing this, but the truth is nobody at my level in the industry could have foreseen it happening. I’m just going to be brutally honest with you and give you some worst-case scenarios.

“First, unless I can find a new job making as much money as I am making at ONT in a month, then we’re going to have to sell the house.” He paused to gauge their reaction.

His wife, Leeann appeared to be traumatized. “Oh God, Adrian,” she said, “you know how I love our house.”

“I know, Lee, I love the house too, but without the same steady income, we just won’t be able to make the payments. We can sell the house and use the equity to buy another house outright.”

“Mom, it’s just a house,” Rick, the Bennetts’ seventeen-year-old son, said. “If Dad can’t get another job right away, we just have to roll with the punches.”

“I don’t know what that means, Rick. I just don’t want to sell my house.”

“Would you rather have it repossessed and lose all the equity?

“That’s okay, Rick,” Adrian said. ‘Thank you, son. Lee, we have a month for me to look for another job. Please just keep an open mind about this. Families must take drastic measures sometimes to survive.”

“What if you don’t find another job, Dad?” Rick asked him.

“Well, the house is valued at a million-five. I still owe the bank the bulk of that, about a million, on the note so after all the closing cost and such, we’ll have five-hundred thousand or so. My severance from ONT will be about three-hundred thousand, so it’s not like we’ll be destitute. A decent house will run us about half of our bankroll, about four-hundred thousand. Or—”

“Or what?” Leeann asked.

“Ed Whelan suggested I seek a position with a company in another state. There are some areas that are not as negatively affected by this crash as California is. The cost of living is also cheaper in some other places.”

“What other places are you talking about,” his wife asked.

“Ed mentioned Texas, specifically, and maybe Florida. I’ll have to put my resume out online and see if I arouse any interest. That’s only if I don’t find anything right away in state.”

“Texas, Oh my God, Adrian, Texas? Please don’t tell me we have to go to Texas.

“I’m not telling you we have to go anywhere, Lee, but I have to support this family, and I intend to do that, no matter what I have to do. If I have to go by myself, I’ll do it, but I’d rather keep the family together. It’s going to be hard enough to get through this mess, but if we don’t stick together, it could ruin all our lives.”

“Dad is right, Mom,” Rick said. “We stay together, no matter what.”

“But our lives are here,” Leeann said. “I have so many things to do here and people counting on me.”

“Shit happens, Mom, we roll with the punches. Whatever is best for Dad is best for the family. The Ladies Auxiliary, or whatever all those gossip-fests are called, will just have to find someone else to organize their cake-bake.”

“That’s just not fair, son,” she replied to him.

“Life is not always fair, Mom, but it does go on.”

Adrian Bennett watched his seventeen-year-old, son with a sense of love and pride he’d not felt for him in quite some time, as the boy walked out of the room. “Come on, Amanda,” he said to his fourteen-year-old sister, “let’s go for a ride.”

The girl got up from the table and followed him out the door to his truck. “Where are we going, Rick?” she asked him.

“I want to talk to you about everything that’s happened,” he told her. He drove to Stearns Wharf and found a parking spot along West Cabrillo Boulevard. He opened the truck door for his sister and took her hand. “Let’s sit on the retaining wall,” he said. “Amanda, it’s actually a good thing that we, you and I, are going through this crisis when we are young because this will be an excellent learning experience for both of us.”

“I don’t know what you mean, Rick.”

“Did you see how Mom is handling the issue? Mom has been living a pampered life so long that she cannot bear to face reality. She has no idea how to shift gears and divest oneself of burdensome things that we can no longer afford. She’s going to be an albatross around Dad’s neck throughout this whole ordeal. I can see it coming.”

“I might be able to see it too, Rick, if I knew what you were talking about.”

“I’m sorry, Amanda, I forget that you’re only fourteen. You look so grown up. I swear, I’m going to be beating up boys to keep them from bothering you before too much longer.

The girl giggled. “You better not.”

“Okay, okay, I’ll try to be a little clearer. You know the house we live in?”

“Yes.”

“It’s a nice house, it’s a very nice house, but it is way too big a house for a family of four and for the income Dad has. He bought that house because of Mom. Your mother is a very pretentious woman.”

“My mother? She’s your mother, too.”

“I know, and I said that for emphasis, not to assign any blame to you, or to me. Actually, if there is any blame to be applied here, it probably should go to Dad.”

“To Dad, why?” she asked. “What did Daddy do? He lost his job.”

“I know he did, but for years now we have been living above our means, or more accurately, above Dad’s means. I know he couldn’t foresee this economic downturn, but he had to know he was way over his head in debt. Now it’s going to take some serious cutting back for us to survive. For you and me, it means we may have to move somewhere away from friends we have now and live a more frugal life-style. You do know what frugal means, don’t you?”

“I know what frugal means,” she said.

“I just don’t want you to look at all this as a blow to your self-respect and ‘who you are.’ If we have to cut back on vacations, new clothes, going out to eat at expensive restaurants, and stuff like that, you’ve become accustomed to, don’t let it make you feel like you’re any less of a person. You are still Amanda Bennett, a smart, a very smart, girl who will go far and do well in life no matter how much money her daddy makes. Do you understand what I’m telling you?”

“I understand, Rick,” she said, “thank you. We both need to help Daddy get through this.”

“Yes, we do, and I’m so glad we see eye to eye on this.” He bent over, put his nose to hers, and looked directly into her eyes to emphasize his ‘eye to eye’ remark. Amanda started giggling. “Now, let’s get some lunch at Moby Dick,” he suggested.

“Really,” she said, “you’re going to take me to lunch?”

“I am,” he said and took her hand in his. They started walking toward the wharf.

“I’m pretending I’m on a real date,” Amanda said.

“That’ll come soon enough, Amanda. I hope Dad is ready for it because I’m not.”

“Why not, Rick? I’m almost fifteen.”

“You’re just too pretty to be fourteen. You’re growing up too quickly.”

They were seated, and both ordered the Moby’s Fish & Chips. As they were eating, Amanda kept looking around.

“What are you looking for?” Rick asked her.

“I was hoping some of my friends would see me here with a guy and think I was on a date.”

“Don’t you think that anyone who knows you would know that I’m your brother?”

“No, not everyone I know at school even knows I have a brother, especially such a good-looking brother.”

“Well, thanks for that bit of encouragement,” he told her.

When they were back at home, he walked her to the door, took her head in his hands, and kissed her on the top of her head. “Every great date should end with a kiss, don’t you agree?”

She giggled loudly. “Yes, and it was a great date, thank you, Rick.”

“It was my pleasure, sprite,” he said. “Mom will probably grill you on what we talked about. Try to tell her just as little as you can get away with.”

Adrian received a call from Ed Whelan, who was in a near frenzy. “Adrian,” he began, “Julian Stroud, my wife’s father, is threatening to have his lawyer slap an injunction on the company to bar me from making any large payouts until he can have the accountant assess our ability to stay afloat for the long term. I need to meet with you and resolve your severance package issue. Can you meet me at Buddy’s Diner this afternoon?”

“Of course, Ed, but how can he do that? You’re not filing for bankruptcy, are you?”

“No, but I’ll explain it to you when we meet. Can you be there at three this afternoon?”

“I’ll be there at three, Ed. Something is going on with Ed,” Adrian told his wife.

“Why, what did he say?”

“He wants to meet with me this afternoon, not at the office, at Buddy’s Diner.”

“That’s really strange,” Leeann said.

“Yes, it is,” he replied. “In the meantime, I got a buzz from a company in Minnesota that wants me to come out there and talk to them about a job.”

“Minnesota? I don’t know but what that would be worse than Texas, Adrian.”

“I know, Lee, I’m pre-disposed to not even want to go for the interview, but I think I owe it to us to pursue every possibility. I don’t know. Let me see what Ed has to say this afternoon, and then I’ll decide what to do about the Minnesota thing.”

When Adrian met Ed at three at the diner, Adrian ordered coffee and Ed ordered a club sandwich. “I haven’t eaten anything all day, my nerves are shot,” he told Adrian.

“You sounded pretty distraught on the phone. What’s going on?”

“You know my father-in-law, Julian Stroud, Fran’s old man. He’s all up in the air, thinking the business is going to fail. Fran owns half the stock, that was part of the deal when he loaned me the money for the start-up. Now he’s having their attorney slap an injunction on me to keep me from making any large capital expenditures.”

“Aw shit, I see where this is going,” Adrian said, “my bonus.”

“All the bonuses,” Ed told him, “but not to worry. It’s not business with us, Adrian, it never has been. You’ve been with me since the beginning, and you’ve done as much to build ONT as I have, so you’ll get your bonus, I promise you that.”

“But?

“But the three-hundred grand is in an offshore bank account in Belize. I set up an account for you at the same bank I use. I had the paperwork Fed-Exed to me for you to sign. Once it’s all signed, we’ll send it back to the bank, and they’ll email you receipts and updates, so you’ll be able to keep tabs on the money.”

Adrian looked over the documents that Ed laid out in front of him on the table. Everything seemed to be legitimate. “So, what if I need the money, Ed?”

“I want you to take a trip with me to Belize, Adrian. I’ll buy the plane tickets, and we’ll only be there maybe two days. I think you should consider buying some rental property there and, using a property management to handle the leasing and upkeep on the place. It will give you a steady income and a place to go on vacation once you land in a job and get back on your feet.”

“That all sounds great, Ed, but I’ve got a realtor putting my house on the market, and I’m looking for a job. And I still have to show up for work, although I don’t think you really need me at the office. I think you are just keeping me on to help me out.”

“That’s another thing, Adrian. I’m going to have to cut your employment off at the end of the month. The injunction won’t let me keep anyone on but office staff after that.”

“By office staff, I assume you mean Maggie?”

“I hope there are no hard feelings about that, Adrian.”

“No, Ed, that’s your business. I don’t fault you for anything in your personal life. You’ve always been fair with me. I am interested in the Belize thing, though. It’s something that might really help me out in the future.”

“Good, then I’ll make the arrangements and let you know when we leave.”

“I’m going to decline the Minnesota thing,” Adrian told his wife.” “I’m going to Belize with Ed this week sometime.”

“Belize?” she said, astounded. “Why in the world are you going to Belize?”

She was surprisingly open to the idea when he told her about the possibility of owning property in Belize that would produce a second income for them.

Ed picked Adrian up early on Monday of the following week. They drove to LAX and caught a Delta flight to Belize City International Airport. They picked up a rental car and drove to the Radisson Fort George Hotel and Marina.

“I made reservations for two days. If we need a third day, it won’t be a problem. We’ll be taking a water taxi to Ambergris Caye where I have two houses. There’s one available for sale just down the street from me that I want to show you. You don’t have to make a decision right away, but I’m going to encourage you to do so.”

“What’s a caye?” Adrian asked.

“A caye is a small, low-elevation, sandy island on the surface of a coral reef. It’s like a key, as in the Florida Keys.”

Adrian nodded.

“When we get to San Pedro, that’s the major town on the caye,” Ed told him, “we’ll rent one of the golf carts they have to get around in. This is one of mine,” Ed said as he passed an exquisite condominium with an all-glass front and a wharf that jutted out into the inlet between the caye and mainland.

“That’s beautiful, Ed,” Adrian said. “How much did that cost?”

“That one is a little out of your budget, Adrian. You’ll have to start small, but in time you can build up an enterprise here if you invest your time and money just right. This house was a half million five years ago. My other one is farther away from here. We’re coming up on the one I was telling you about. It’s right over there.” He pointed at a beautiful one-story house surrounded by trees and shrubbery.

“It’s a good-looking place, it’s off the water I see.”

“It’s about a two-minute walk to the beach. That’s no big deal. They still rent out very easily. You’ll have a steady income year-round, and you can call the management company and reserve it for you and your family any time you want to. Most clients rent for a week or two at a time.”

“How much is this house?”

“I think this one is a hundred and seventy grand. With closing costs and all the initial set up with the management company, you’re looking at two-hundred K. It will earn you about forty-five thousand a year pre-tax, and yes, you will have to pay taxes on the money, but that’s after the management fees. You should clear maybe thirty grand in the end.”

“How do I reconcile the three-hundred thousand dollars on my taxes? Will you send me a 1099 or what?” Adrian said.

“No, I can’t do that. I can’t have anybody know I had that money, and by anybody, I mean my wife and her father.”

“So how do I explain where I got the money?”

“You saved the money, Adrian.”

“What?”

“You saved the money. You didn’t put it in the bank. You saved it and rat-holed it in a safe in your house. Listen, you’ve worked for me for ten years. What would you have had to do to save that much money in those ten years?”

“I would have had to divorce my wife the day I went to work for you,” Adrian said, and Ed burst out laughing.

“Okay, but seriously, you could have saved thirty grand a year, conceivably? Some of your bonuses were twenty thousand or so, and a couple of years you made thirty-five, if I recall.”

Adrian nodded. “In the proverbial perfect world, perhaps, but—”

“Relax, Adrian,” Ed said. “You made me a lot of money the ten years you worked for me. Now my asshole father-in-law and his shrew daughter are preventing me from doing right by you. This is the only way I can do the right thing. This is not business, it’s personal, not as an employee, as a friend. Take the money, buy the house, and don’t worry about it. Okay?”

“Okay, Ed, thank you. Let’s get the paperwork done.”

Back at home, Leeann opened the door for Adrian, and her expression demanded an explanation. He just smiled at her until he set his bags down in the living room.

“We own a house in Belize, Lee. I have pictures and a brochure, oh, and some papers for you to sign. I put ownership in both our names.”

“We’re not going to live there, are we?” she asked.

“No, but I bet you would like it. It’s a beautiful place. It’s income property, about a two-minute walk from the beach, right on the Caribbean. If it’s half as profitable, as Ed Whelan says it will be, then it will be a good deal for us. I’ll explain it all in time, but right now I’m really tired. I need to get some rest. Tomorrow I have to start looking for a job for real.”

Adrian received an email from a company in Dallas, referencing his resume on the internet. The email had an attached “fillable” application form they were asking him to complete and return, along with references, college degrees, and other work-related information. He’d never received such an inquiry before but thought it would simplify the process, so he filled out the form and gathered all the other requested information, along with a picture of himself, and sent it back to them.

Two days later he got a call on his cell phone. “Hello, this is Adrian Bennett.”

“Mister Bennett,” a male voice said, “this is Brian Hancock with DTS in Dallas. How are you doing?”

“Oh, Mister Hancock, I’m doing just fine. I appreciate your calling, I wasn’t expecting to hear from you so quickly, but I’m glad you called.”

“Well, we like what we see on your résumé, Mister Bennett, and we’d like to ask you to come to Dallas and sit down and talk to us if you’re interested.”

“Yes…Mister Hancock, is it?…I am interested. When would you like for me to be there?”

“Well, first off, let’s get past this ‘Mister’ business. Call me Brian and, if it’s okay with you, I’ll call you Adrian.”

“Yes, of course, it’s okay, that was getting a bit awkward. I’m pretty much available any day of the week.”

“I’ll have my office arrange for your flight and for a hotel room here. How far is Santa Barbara from LAX? Do you need a flight from there to LA?”

“No, I can drive to LAX faster than I can get to the airport and go through all that mess.”

“Okay, then we’ll get you a round trip from LAX into DFW, and I’ll pick you up. I’ll Fed-Ex the stuff to your house as soon as we have all the info in hand.”

“That sounds great, Brian, I appreciate it and look forward to meeting you.”

Adrian immediately thought of his son Rick and his having to leave Santa Barbara. It had the potential to affect his life possibly more than anyone else in the family. He went up the stairs to the boy’s room and knocked on the door.”

“Come on in,” Rick said, and when he saw his dad, he motioned to him to enter. “What’s up, Dad?”

“I need to discuss something with you, son. You were very convincing in your argument to your mother about keeping the family together, when we were discussing the possibility of my having to take a job out of state.”

“Yes, I was, and I meant it,” he said.

“Well, I got a call from a company in Dallas, and they seem very interested in me, based on my resume. I know that doesn’t mean I’m on the payroll yet, but they want me to come in and talk to them. If they make me a decent offer, I’m inclined to think that I have to consider taking it. Texans have a reputation for being rude, crude and socially unacceptable, as the saying goes. But Texas always seems to be booming. Texas is like magic, we have to give it a chance, I think.”

“Absolutely, Dad, but now you’re worried what it will do to my football career?”

“Well, yes, I am, Rick,” Adrian replied. “You’re an integral part of your team, and they’re counting on you. Will you still be willing to move with us or should I try to make arrangements for you to stay here and finish your last year in high school at your school?”

“I can play football anywhere, Dad. Football is a means to an end for me. I want a full scholarship, and that’s all. I’ll earn it, but I don’t plan to make a career out of football, I don’t want to play in the NFL, so if you get a job in another state, I’m on board. My bigger disappointment is having to leave Grandpa. Ever since Grandma died, he’s been all alone and having me working with him in the summer seems to be a really big thing for him.”

“I know, Rick, but we’ll just have to come and visit as often as we can. He’s my father, and I’m concerned about him too, but he’s tough and independent. We need you with us during this difficult time.”

“Don’t worry, Dad, I’ll go with the family. Not going was never an option.”

“Thank you, son, I would have hated to have you be separated from us, if even for just one school year.”

Brian Hancock was not what Adrian had expected. He supposed he was thinking the man would be wearing a white Stetson like J R Ewing of the Dallas TV show fame, but Hancock was well-dressed in a fitted suit and matching shoes and tie. He was a presentable man, if not one who might be considered handsome. He was about six feet tall, as best Adrian could tell, at least two inches taller than Adrian, but plumper. He appeared to be a few years older than Adrian although his hair was still fully brown while Adrian’s had started graying around the temples. They shook hands at the baggage claim station.

“Great to see you, Adrian,” Brian said, “thanks for coming.”

“Thank ‘you’ Brian, I’m happy to be here. Let me get my bag, and we’ll be good to go.”

They took LBJ—I-635—Freeway into Dallas and exited at Preston Road. The DTS facility was located in an office complex on the north side of the freeway. Brian pulled into the parking lot, and he and Adrian got out of the car and went into the company office.

“Adrian, this is Emma Jones, our receptionist.”

The attractive young woman stood up and extended her hand toward Adrian. “Welcome to DTS, Mister Bennett,” she said, as he shook her hand.

“Thank you, Miss Jones,” Adrian replied, “I’m happy to be here.”

“That office right there,” Brian said, pointing, “belongs to Cindy Morrow, our office manager. I expect she is already in the conference room with the boss.”

The office facility was nice but not opulent. There appeared to be no wasted money on frivolities. All expenditures appeared to Adrian to be for expediency and functionality. That was a good thing, in his estimation.

Kenny Morrison was a short man, at least a couple of inches shorter than Adrian, but he carried himself like a much larger man, with confidence and what Adrian would describe as stage presence. He was overweight and plumpish and was losing his hair.

He didn’t appear to be a drinker but probably indulged himself in too much rich food. He was fifty years old, Brian would tell Adrian at a later date, and was a marketing genius, one of the best in the business, according to Brian.

Kenny met Adrian almost like he was an old friend. “Damned glad to meet you, Adrian,” he said, as he pumped Adrian’s hand. “Let me say first that your resume really caught my eye. It looked to me like you were doing a hell of a job out there at ONT, damned shame about their trouble.”

“Yes, sir, it was. I guess the bust caught a lot of folks by surprise.”

“I talked to Ed Whelan about you. He says you were pretty much the prime mover in his success in over the last ten years.”

“Ed is a good guy,” Adrian said, “but he tends to downplay his own role in the success of the company. It was a team effort. I did my part, and he did his. We had a good run. Ed was a fair man to all his employees.”

“Yeah, he told me you would probably say something like that.”

Adrian laughed out loud. “You’d have to meet Ed, he’s quite a character.”

“Well, suffice it to say, he spoke very highly of you, and we may have a place for you here if you will just give me a run-down on what you did for Ed.”

“Of course, Mister Morrison—”

“Call me Kenny.”

“Oh, sure, Kenny, well, in addition to canvassing and creating new accounts for telecom systems, I assisted our engineer in designing and expanding server room facilities and assisting in the design and installing of back-up generator and UPS services to ensure that a company will not suffer from loss of utility electrical power. I handled clients all up and down the Pacific coast, to Oregon and Washington.”

“So, traveling for a night or two out of town is no problem for you?”

“No, not at all,” Adrian said.

“Have you had any experience with solar power systems?” Brian asked him.

“We were starting to explore the possible uses it might provide for our industry, and currently, I just don’t think it’s cost effective. Most of the available systems are direct current and therefore require inverters. Also, the panels just don’t produce enough wattage to be all that helpful. It takes too many of them to make enough power to make it worth the effort. Now, this is just my opinion. I’m sure there are some experts who might say otherwise.”

“Well, kiss my ass,” Kenny said. “Okay, Brian, you win, you, sneaky bastard. How did you know Adrian was going to say the same thing you’ve been telling me for the past year?”

“I didn’t know, Boss, I swear. We didn’t talk about that before we got here.”

Kenny looked at Adrian and Adrian was shaking his head. “Okay,” Kenny said, “then I’ll defer to the experts.”

“I owe you a lunch, Adrian,” Brian said, and they all laughed.

“Okay, Adrian,” Kenny said, “we have a need here for you, if we can come to terms. As I said, I talked to Ed Whelan, and he told me you were making a hundred and fifty K with annual bonuses. I’ll be honest, we are just not budgeted for that level at this time.”

Adrian smiled. “Ed’s a good guy, Kenny. I love the man, I really do. He’s a friend as much as he was a boss, but I wasn’t making that much money.”

Kenny’s eyebrows went up, and he started laughing.

“My base salary was a hundred-thousand and close to a hundred-twenty with bonuses,” Adrian continued. “I’ve done some research, however, and with the difference in the costs of living between here and California, my need will not be as much.”

“Eighty-thousand is what I had in mind, Adrian, and that’s in addition to full benefits, a company car, expense account, and bonuses. The bonuses may not be as large as you were used to. We’re still growing, but who knows? We may get there.”

“I have a realtor putting my house on the market. Once it sells, I’ll be able to buy a house here with my equity, so I’m okay with your pay scale.”

“So, you’re telling me you’ll take the job?” Kenny said.

“If you’re offering me the job, then yes, sir, I’ll be happy to take it.”

“Hell, yes, I’m offering you the job. Welcome aboard.” Kenny reached across the table and shook Adrian’s hand. “Is ten-thousand dollars enough to cover your moving expense?

“Yes, of course, it is. Thank you,” Adrian said.

Brian shook his hand and welcomed him to the company as did Cindy Morrow.

“You’ll need to sit down with Cindy and fill out all the paperwork. When that is done, we’ll go to lunch. Cindy made a reservation for you at the Hyatt Regency at the airport, so you won’t be rushed to get to your flight in the morning.”

They went to The Capital Grille, an upscale restaurant near downtown Dallas. Kenny immediately started trying to order for Cindy. Cindy was a very attractive woman. At five feet, four inches, and weighing only a hundred and ten pounds, she was well built and drew admiring looks from men everywhere she went.

“Come on, Cindy, get the French Onion soup,” he kept insisting.

Adrian watched their interaction with amusement.

“She loves the stuff, Adrian, but it makes her fart like a plow horse.”

Cindy covered her eyes with her hands.

Brian started laughing. “Poor Cindy, we treat her like one of the guys, Adrian, so she won’t let her good looks go to her head.”

The waiter came to take their order, and Cindy told him she was still looking at the menu, so Kenny ordered first.

“I’ll have the eight-ounce Filet twice.”

“Twice, sir?” the waiter asked, bewildered.

“Yes,” Kenny said, “two of them.”

Brian and Adrian chuckled. Both of them ordered the fourteen-ounce Strip Sirloin.

“I’ll have the Maine Lobster salad as my main course,” Cindy said.

“Will that be all, miss?”

“Please bring me a bowl of the French Onion soup.”

All three of the men at the table started laughing. The waiter looked confused but left to turn in their order.

“Every time I have to pass gas this afternoon, Kenny Morrison, I’m going to come into your office.”

“Oh, that’s right, I have jobsite meeting I have to go to this afternoon,” Kenny said.

“You can fart in my office anytime you want to, Cindy,” Brian said.

Adrian chuckled and shook his head in amusement. “I think I’m starting to love Texas already,” he said.

© 2018 by Jack Sprouse