Destiny Ever-changing
Author: Tasha Ivey

Chapter 4
Brooks - Mergers and Acquisitions

Brooks:

 

The day my father informed me of his “business decision” was just over a month ago. It was the day that everything changed.

I woke up that Thursday morning and began my customary routine to get ready for work. I was looking forward to my upcoming weekend off, and I had plans to go fishing with my brother on Saturday. The oil industry had been flourishing, so my family scarcely had any time off in the last several weeks. The majority of my family works for my father’s company headquarters in Ft. Worth, Texas, including my father, mother, younger brother, younger sister, four uncles, six cousins, and a large number of employees that we regard as family.

I live only five miles from the office, so I typically wait until the very last minute to leave the housedreading every second. That day, however, I went into work an hour in advance to get a head start on the day; it was going to be a demanding one.

After a chaotic morning of paperwork and phone calls, I suddenly realized that it was already time to close down for lunch. I made one more phone call, and then I began making my way down the lengthy hallway to the elevator. My father saw me pass his office, and he called me back in to see him, shutting the heavy wooden door behind me.

“Brooks, I just got off the phone with Carl Martens, and he’s made a proposition that I cannot refuse.” His thick, Texan accent held a gruff tone that told me that this wasn't just an average father/son conversation.

“Why do I have the suspicion that this has something to do with me?” I asked.

“Because you have good instincts, son, just like me, but that’s beside the point. With two daughters previously married off and one daughter still at home, Carl has realized that he doesn’t have anyone to take the company over for him, and he is looking to retire in the near future. Another issue is that his company is quite a bit smaller than ours, and competition is taking a toll on his profits. None of his daughters want anything to do with it, and he doesn’t have a son to pass it all down to. That’s where you come in.”

I chuckled. “Are you putting me up for adoption to the Martens’?”

“Close enough. I want you to marry Jacqueline.”

The mere thought of spending my life with her infuriated me. “You’re kidding! I’ve been trying to think of a civilized way to break up with her, and you want me to marry her? You’re crazy!”

“Just hear me out,” he said. “She has mentioned to her father that she wishes to marry you, so he has agreed to somewhat merge with our company after the wedding. He said if he can’t pass it down to a son, he would pass it down to his son-in-law. Merging with our company will save their business, and he’ll be able to retire. Of course, they’ll retain a good percentage of the company shares for themselves and the other two daughters, so they’ll still have income, but you and Jacqueline will have the majority. They will allow you to take everything over, and you’ll have the first option of buying their shares when they decide to sell. Just imagine it, Brooks, that will knock out the majority of our competition in the area! We’ll increase profits by at least thirty percent in the first year!”

“Dad, this is ridiculous! You can’t honestly expect me to marry someone just to acquire her family’s business. I don’t love her! I couldn’t pretend to love her if it meant taking control of every oil company in the country!”

My father stood and marched across the room, joining me by the window. “Let me put it in a way that you’ll understand more clearly.” He turned and looked me directly in the eyes. “You will marry Jacqueline Martens, and you will pretend to be ecstatic about it. I don’t care if you are divorced the very hour after the contracts are signed, but you will do it. If you don’t, I will take everything away from you so fast that your head will spin: your job, your truck, your home, your boat, your money, and everything else, including the very clothes on your back. You’ll have nothing, and you’ll be nothing.”

The weight of what he said started sinking in, and I had to quickly stumble over to the leather chair facing his desk to regain my composure before I passed out. My father and I haven't had the best of relationships, but I never would have imagined him insisting that I give up my own happiness and chance of finding real love, just for the sake of his business. I knew that I could find another job, car, and home, but without any money at all to start out, I’d be living on the street. The very notion of that made my stomach flop, and I felt nauseated.

My father walked over to me and started rubbing my shoulder. “It doesn’t have to turn out that way, son. Just think of it as a business decision, that’s all. What’s a year of being married to her going to harm? You’re just thirty years old. And, hell, who knows, you may end up loving her; besides, I really don’t see how you have any other options.”

I glared at him. “I don’t have any options, because you’re not giving me any.”

“So it’s settled then?”

I stood to face my father after a few seconds of hesitation. “You had it settled before I walked into this room.”

“I knew you would do the right thing!” He slapped me on the back. “I’ll call Carl and arrange a time for the three of us to discuss the details. When should I tell him that you’ll be proposing? Oh, never mind that, I know just the thing. We’ll all be together tomorrow night at that charity dinner. That would be perfect.”

“Tomorrow? In front of all those people? Tomorrow?” No amount of repeating it made it sound any further away.

“I guess you’ll need the rest of the day off to pick out a ring, then.” he said after nodding his head. “I’ll call the jeweler we always use and tell him you’re on your way. You remember where it is, right?”

“Unfortunately, I do.”

He slapped me on the back again. “Get used to saying that, kid.”

 

I took as long as I possibly could to get there. How do you buy an engagement ring for a woman, if you can’t imagine any enjoyment of slipping it on her finger? I spent nearly an hour sitting in that chair, staring at one glass case with at least fifty different varieties of rings, but I can’t say that I ever truly saw them. I was in a daze; the last few hours changed my perspective on life in every way. All of the rings in front of me seemed to express “I love you” and “I can’t imagine living without you.” Neither of those are emotions that I felt for Jacqueline. I couldn’t help but wonder if they made a ring that expressed something more like “You are a heartless, self-righteous wretch, and you are ruining my life.” I guess most people wouldn’t buy jewelry for those occasions.

I am likely the unfortunate first.

The gentleman that my father recommended checked up on me again. “Any luck, sir?”

“None at all. This is a lot more challenging than it would seem.”

“If I may, sir, I would be grateful to be of your assistance.” He lowered his voice. “Your father called me just before you arrived, and relayed to me the joyous news, though, I can see that you do not find it quite so joyous. He did insist that I shouldn’t allow you to leave here without making some sort of decision, as you are very pressed for time. Miss Jacqueline is a good customer of mine, and I happen to know a ring that she would adore. Would you like to see it?”

“No.” I said coldly. “Just get it ready and charge it to the family account. I’ll pick it up tomorrow afternoon.” If my father was going to insist on my marrying her, he could pay for the ring. It was a business expense, after all.

“Very well, Mr. Tucker, sir. I’ll have it prepared for pick-up tomorrow.”

The next day, before I went home to get ready for the charity dinner, I went by to pick up the ring. I still couldn’t bear to look at it. I realized that I would be missing out on something that was especially important to me.

I always wondered what clever way I would propose to the woman that I loved, and how anxious I would be, tormenting myself over whether or not she would say yes. I always imagined my beautiful new fiancé crying tears of delight after she accepted my proposal, wrapping her arms around me. Of course, I could always divorce Jacqueline and eventually have my fantasy proposal. It’s just that I only wanted to do this once in my life for one very special womanwho I would spend the rest of my life with. That has been stolen from me; I can't ever get that back.

 

Everything went just as I suspected that evening. After my father announced to everyone at our table that I had something to say, they all turned to me with a fabricated look of wonder on their faces. Every single one of them knew.

I turned to Jacqueline with the ring box in my hand. “Jacqueline . . .I . . ."

“Yes, sweetheart?” she replied as she fluttered her eyes and attempted to look unsuspecting.

“I just . . . need to ask . . .” Before I could get another word out, she spotted the ring box and snatched it out of my hand.

She opened the box and squealed. “Oh my goodness! Are you proposing?”

The sick feeling returned, and I could feel all of the blood draining out of my face. All I could do was nod.

“YES! I will marry you, Joshua!” She jumped up at once to parade the ring around to her family after she slipped it onto her own finger.

It’s Brooks. I grumbled to myself.

She didn’t shed any tears of joy. She didn’t wrap her arms around me. She didn’t even speak to me after she accepted, but I wasn’t complaining about any of that. I was actually relieved.

Everyone at our table, including some spectators from nearby tables, began cheering and clapping. Numerous people came over to shake my hand or pat me on the back, but I don’t really remember it. I was numb.

My father clinked his fork on his wine glass in an attempt to silence everyone for his own announcement. “I have an engagement gift for the lovely couple. As you all are aware, we own a vacation home on the beach in Rock Cove, Virginia. I would like to give the home to my son, and I’m temporarily relieving him of his duties at work so he and his beautiful fiancé can have a few months to themselves before the wedding.”

He turned to me. “Jacqueline requested that you two get away for a while. You’ll leave for Virginia at the end of April, so you’ll have just over a month to make arrangements and get packed. We’re planning an August 31st wedding.”

“That’s an 18 month engagement!” I murmured to him furiously.

He leaned over to whisper in my ear. “No, son, August 31st of this year. Just over five months away. Almost like ripping off a band-aid, if we get it over with real fast, you won‘t feel a thing.”

“Five months . . . won’t feel a thing . . . ”

 

Now, here we are. It’s the beginning of May, and we’ve been in Rock Cove, Virginia for a week.  The weather is absolutely perfect here right now, but things aren’t so perfect between us. We have been arguing the entire time, and I am positive she’s doing everything in her power to make me miserable. I haven’t smiled or laughed a single time since we’ve been here.

Well, not until I made the courageous undergarment rescue today, that is.

I keep thinking about that woman, Laura, wondering about her situation. When I saw her today, she looked like she had been through hell and back, so perhaps that is why I am drawn to her; I am sympathetic. I know she's moving, so she has either left somewhere that she didn’t want to leave, or she is going somewhere that she doesn’t want to go. Maybe both. Again, I can sympathize with that.

After I finish butchering the shrubbery and get the trimmer put away, I can’t imagine anything better than to take a long, hot shower, but I certainly don’t want to go in the house.  I know as soon as I walk through the door, either one of two things will happen.  She will either make a snide remark to start a fight, or she’ll try to seduce meafter I shower, of course. I think I’ll sacrifice taking showers for a while and just stay outside. Most men would jump at the opportunity to be with her, and I have desires like any other man. I’m just not that needy right now, nor do I presume to be anytime soon.

I walk into the storage room in the back of the garage to break into my secret supply of cold beer. Jacqueline believes drinking beer is for “low class” people. She insists that we drink expensive wine or champagne; neither, of which, do I actually enjoy. My top secret hiding place is just the fridge in here, which is perfect, given that she would never set foot in a grimy, old room full of tools. That would mean she would have to do work. Another good hiding place is the oven or the cleaning closet. She wouldn’t dare to open either one.

I throw some ice in a bucket along with several beers, and I go to my truck to grab a pair of shorts and quickly change. I sneak through the backyard, staring into all the windows at the back of the house. I have to be certain she can’t see where I’m going, or she’s likely to follow. I can finally see a television flickering in the den, and after glancing at my watch, I know she’ll be occupied with her daily ritual of watching talk shows for at least another hour.

Perfect timing.

I slip through the back gate, being sure to latch it back, or she would definitely know where I am. The house is right on the beach where the bay meets the ocean. There is a twenty-foot bluff just ten yards from our privacy fence, so in order to get down to the beach, you have to descend a weather-beaten, wooden staircase. At the bottom of the stairs, there is roughly a mile of reasonably secluded shoreline in either direction before you reach the more popular areas. I see a sporadic runner or a couple on a romantic walk, but generally when I come here, I’m alone. Solitude is what I need right now.

A few minor thunderstorms blew through earlier leaving only a few clouds behind. Even though it’s barely over an hour until sunset, the sun is still somewhat intense. I place my beer bucket under the stairs out of the sun, and I sit on the bottom step to take my shoes off; there’s nothing better than sand between your toes. I walk out just far enough that the cool waves reach out and touch my feet, and that’s all it takes for me to take my shirt off, fling everything in my pockets into the sand, and wade out into the water. This may possibly be my only “shower” for the day, after all.

I swim out until my feet can’t reach the bottom, and I make a brief dive underwater to look for any fish. The pull of the waves gradually brings me back to the shore, and I go out yet again. I catch sight of someone walking along the beach, and there is a certain familiarity. I see long, dark hair blowing in the gentle breeze and a slender, womanly frame. Could it be Laura?

I make it to the shore just as the woman approaches, and, fortunately, it’s not Laura. It was merely some teenager chatting on her cell phone. I don’t understand why I instantly assumed it would be her; I realize I won’t ever see her again, which is for the best. I am very unhappily engaged, of course.

I proceed back out into the water, determined to forget my troubles. This time, I simply swim against the waves, trying to wear myself out completely and alleviate some of this stress. I stop swimming once I have made it out considerably far, and I allow the waves to carry me back to the sand again. I continue to go out again and again, until I can hardly swim any more. I make my way up to the shore for the final time, and I sit at the water’s edge for a few minutes and catch my breath.

Once my arms and legs no longer feel like noodles, I trudge back up and take a seat on the bottom of the stairs, reaching underneath to grab a bottle. I twist off the top and guzzle it, a little too quickly, and I treat the next few in the same manner. I decide that I should probably take it easy, or I just might be waking up on these steps with a hangover in the morning, since I seldom drink. I grab another, but this time I drink it much more leisurely, appreciating the intensely relaxing effect washing over me. Leaning back onto the steps, I try to unwind and admire the alluring waterscape as it transforms before my eyes.

Sunsets here are like no others I have ever witnessed. The sky is turning so many assorted shades of orange, pink, purple, and the most brilliant shades of red I’ve ever seen. All of those colors are shimmering off the crystal, blue water, which contrasts with the sugary, white sand. There are no words to express how breathtaking it is.

I’m watching the sun turn a deep shade of crimson as it melts into the horizon, radiating its luminosity onto the clouds, water, and sand. This is the best time of day to be out on the beach, and it’s apparent that I’m not the only one that feels that way. I observe a couple taking a sunset stroll, and that teenage girl is coming back from her walk. A combination of the day’s events, too many beers, the darkening sky, and the hypnotic sound of the gentle waves are all making me feel so tranquil that I could easy sleep right here on these stairs. I close my eyes for a few minutes to enjoy the sounds and smells of the ocean, and I soon realize that I’m going to have to head back up toward the house before I doze off. I try to open my eyes, but they are fiercely resisting.

“So we meet again,” Laura says, startling me from my almost slumber.

I must be dreaming.

 

 

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