Imperfect, page 2
A tall thin, young black man with dreads and thick, black-rimmed glasses stands beside her. “Ashe, I’d like you to meet Ander. He’s your new secretary.” He holds out his hand. I grip his hand firmly, but he returns a limp handshake. “It’s nice to meet you,” I say.
“It’s nice to meet you, too, Dr. Manning,” he says, walking around the table and taking the seat across from Aedon.
“I wanted Ander to be here tonight so he can get a firm grasp on what our company is all about. He will be able to hit the ground running.”
“Have you done this type of work before?” I direct my question at him.
“Yes, sir. I’ve been an executive assistant for a couple of years for the Vice President of FEMA. I’ll be able to assist with any snafu’s you may run into with the government.”
“That’s always a plus. I hope you brought pen and paper to keep notes tonight.”
“No, sir. I have an excellent memory. No notetaking required.”
“How about we make a toast first before we start up with any business talk,” Wren says, lifting his glass of water. “To our new company: may we be very successful at saving lives.” We all lift our glasses and tap them together, filling the room with soft clinking noises.
“I say we make this toast again when we get some real drinks,” Ander says, laughing with his hand against his mouth like he let something slip out.
“Hear, hear! I totally concur.” Aedon raises her glass again, laughing with him.
Almost on cue, our waitress appears. “What can I get you to drink?” She bats her eyes at me and places her hand on my shoulder. She’s cute, but her red lipstick is smeared on the corner of her mouth. I prefer more subtle shades, like the pale pink Aedon has on her full lips. I watch Aedon dab the corner of her mouth with a napkin in an attempt to politely tell the waitress she needs to fix her lipstick. I find it very entertaining. The waitress never takes the hint. She takes our drink orders and disappears. I can’t help but smile over at Aedon.
“I tried,” she says, shrugging.
She comes back a few minutes later with our drinks. Her lipstick smear is gone, but replaced by a deep pink flush on her cheeks. She doesn’t look at me when she takes my order, instead planting her hands firmly on the table. I guess she was too embarrassed to flirt with me anymore.
Our meals come and Aedon spends dinner pushing the food around on her plate with her fork, never really eating more than a couple bites.
Wren notices. “What’s going on in that head of yours?” He stops eating, placing his thick steak knife and fork on the table.
“I kind of feel bad celebrating a business while we are sitting around waiting for a disaster to happen. You know it means people will die.” She reaches for her martini and takes a sip.
“You can’t look at it like that. Think about how many lives we will save by being in the field, getting them care quicker than the overloaded hospitals could manage.” Wren picks up his fork and knife, cutting into his last bit of steak.
“Wren is right. You know the odds of mortality are higher if we can’t get to them.” I throw my white cloth napkin on my plate, leaning back in my chair. “Damn, that prime rib was good,” I say, rubbing my overfilled stomach.
“I happen to think it’s a very noble cause. I lived in California and experienced the destruction of an earthquake firsthand. There were injured people everywhere crying out for help. A lot of them died because they didn’t get medical care in time.” Ander wipes his mouth.
“I’ve compiled a rescue team of 500 men and women. As soon as a disaster happens, they board planes and head to the area. Search and rescue is their only focus. The teams that we have created go directly to the injured in the field and are equipped to perform whatever procedure is required. If they can’t, that’s when they call one of us in.” I wave to the waitress to indicate a refill on my drink.
“So, you three fly to the area together and then branch out?” Ander asks.
“We only fly in together if it is a major disaster. Our teams have spent months in intensive training. Every one of them has a Bluetooth link in their ear.” Aedon finally takes a full-size bite of her food.
“That’s where you come in,” Wren places his elbows on the table, directing his conversation at Ander. “You become our motherboard. All calls come into you and you dispatch us. You will have a state-of-the-art computer system set up with lightning-speed Wi-Fi.”
“So, maybe Secretary isn’t a good title for me. How about Director of Operations?” He smiles, winking at Aedon as he sips his drink.
“You can have whatever title you would like, as long as you’re good at your job.” I tell him.
“I will be the best Director of Operations you have ever had.”
“That wouldn’t be too difficult being you are the only one we have ever had.” I tell him and everyone laughs.
Wren reaches down into his camel-colored man-bag and pulls out a list, handing it to me. “Here is my team of 25. Ten of them are doctors; the other 15 are critically-trained trauma nurses.”
“Here is mine too.” Aedon gives me a folded piece of paper.
I scan over them, recognizing the names of many of the physicians that have volunteered to help. “You guys did well. These are good lists. Have these e-mailed to Ander as soon as possible so he can get each of them linked into our system.”
“When do I start?” Ander seems very eager.
“Bright and early tomorrow morning.” I take my business card out of my wallet, handing it to him. “Here is the address. I know Aedon interviewed you on the computer and you haven’t been by the office yet.” He takes it from me, reading the address.
“Wow, downtown Manhattan. You really don’t do anything half-assed.”
My gaze skirts in Aedon’s direction. “What?” She picks up her martini glass, putting her lips on the rim to mask her smile.
Our waitress breaks in before I respond. “Would you like some dessert?”
“No, I think we are all good,” I reply.
“Speak for yourself, boss man. I’d like a slice of the carrot cake I saw her bring out to that table.” Ander points to the couple sitting two tables down.
“I’m going to like this kid, I can tell already,” Wren sits back in his chair with his hands behind his head, laughing.
We make small talk while Ander devours his carrot cake. Every now and then, I see Wren looking at Aedon. It makes me wonder if something more than friendship is going on between them. She has every right to be with someone else, but a dose of jealousy rises in me. I like Wren. I consider him one of my best friends, but I don’t like the idea of the two of them together. I sit back and pay attention to the little gestures between them, and suddenly I’m certain there is something more going on with them.
“Here is the check, sir.” The waitress lays the bill on the table.
“Our first company expense,” Aedon winks at me.
“I was thinking that Ander here should pay for it since he ate the most of food.” I push the check in his direction and his eyes grow as big as golf balls.
Aedon bursts out laughing. “The first thing you’re going to have to learn is to know when he is teasing you.” She snatches the check and throws it back at me.
I chuckle and fish my wallet out of my jacket pocket. “You are just too easy,” I tell him.
The only one remotely interested in riding in the limo is Ander. He propels himself into the backseat as soon as the door opens. “I’ll see the two of you in the morning.” I hesitate before getting in, watching Aedon and Wren walk off together. He says something to her. She giggles and nudges him with her shoulder.
Ander’s head sticks out the top of the limo’s sunroof. “Come on, Dr. Manning, let’s get this party started.”
This boy is not intimidated by me in the least. I’m going to like this kid. He chats my ear off on the short ride to his apartment.
“That’s me up there, the one with
“Do you have a way to get to work?”
“Yeah, that’s my bike. I mean, no… you can send your limo driver to pick me up.” He flashes a fake wide smile.
“Ah, funny man. After the dessert you ate, I think you could use the exercise.” I climb back in the limo, laughing. I have the driver sit and wait until he is safely inside.
Freshly showered and with a towel wrapped around my waist, I enter my walk-in closet. My clothes symbolize the dichotomy of the man I was and the man that I am now. On one side are my Armani suits lining the wall, warring to take over the space. On the other side, losing the battle, are the “real me” clothes. I touch the fabric of my faded, worn blue jeans. My favorite t-shirts hang next to them, all sorted by colors. Taking one out, I hold it up to me in the full-length mirror. My tattoo-sleeved arms are quite the contrast to the dulled white shirt.
The tattoos came from one of my highs in life, the “pre-medicated me.” Sometimes I miss him. He could let loose and have a lot of fun. I place the t-shirt back in its place, instead grabbing a freshly-pressed, light blue, collared button-down to go under my grey suit. I pull out a deep grey silk tie and my Barker Black Ostrich toe shoes. Perfection for the first day at the office.
I brush my teeth and quickly shave the shadow that formed on my face overnight. Dropping the towel from my 6’4” frame, I pull on my boxers. When I stand up, a momentary panic breaks loose in my mind. My chest tightens and my forehead perspires as I stare anxiously at the clothes I laid out. This is my own company. I can be myself now, I don’t have to pretend to be someone I’m not. Gathering the clothes lying on the bed, I neatly return them all back in their proper place. Hmm... “Proper,” the word plays hard in my head. For the first time, in a long time, I feel the old me dueling to come out. A wide smile covers my clean-shaven face.
The elevator doors open to our new fifth floor office. It’s one open room decked out with all the latest technology. A large transparent computer screen takes up an entire wall. This is the motherboard of our operation. We will be able to zoom in on any disaster around the world, access only granted by our government. If I wanted to, I could walk a surgeon through a procedure in the field while sitting behind a desk. But I’m a junkie. My drug of choice is the adrenaline rush that comes from being wrist-deep in a surgery. There is nothing comparable to saving the life of another human being with your own hands. I’m not so arrogant to take all the credit - I know there is a higher power in control, but he gave me a gift and I plan on doing the best I can with it.
It’s early and no one is due in for another hour. I’m digging through the cabinets looking for the coffee I know Aedon stocked for us. We are all addicted to the brew. As I’m pouring the water into the coffee maker, I hear the elevator doors open. Ander comes be-bopping through the doors with his earbuds firmly in his ears. He slings his backpack down and jumps when he sees me standing near the back wall of the office.
He tugs at the earbuds and they fall around his neck. “I’m sorry, am I in the wrong place?” He looks around the office with his mouth hanging open. The elevator doors close behind him as he turns toward them.
I chuckle. “No, this is the right place.” I point to the freshly-made MTA Crisis Division logo plastered to the far wall.
The elevator door opens again. Aedon walks out without looking up from her phone and runs into Ander, who is still staring at me in disbelief.
“I’m so sorry, Ander. Why are you standing in front of the door?” Her leather bag slides down her arm. Ander points in my direction, his mouth still catching flies.
Aedon looks up and then does a double take when she realizes it’s me. She reaches up and lifts Anders chin closing his gaping mouth. Her long, sexy legs peer out from under her knee-length black skirt. My gaze travels to the white sleeveless blouse she is wearing, noticing that it is buttoned all the way up. Her black patent heels start clicking in my direction.
“Did we miss the memo about our attire?” she asks, two feet from me.
“What, you don’t like it?” I turn in place.
She laughs. “It’s been a long time since I’ve seen you in that Rolling Stones t-shirt. And I don’t think I’ve seen those hole-ridden jeans since our college days.”
I take out three coffee mugs and fill them with black coffee, handing one to Aedon. “We have no clients that come to this office. I’m tired of wearing the stuffy business clothes, so you better get used to it.”
She closes the gap between us. I can feel her breath on my face. “Did you take your medication?” she asks.
“Yes, doll. I’m still fully medicated.” I chuckle, walking past her to hand Ander a mug of coffee.
“Wow, you look…so different.”
“Feel free to lose your stuffy suit too,” I tell him as he plops down at his desk.
The elevators open again. Wren’s 6’2” frame is adorned with a pair of dark blue jeans and a white pull-over sporting our logo on the pocket. He stands next to me and smiles.
“There is my old friend. It’s about time you let him come out and play.” He pats my shoulder and heads straight over to Aedon, who is holding out a mug for him.
“Now, if you are all done gawking at me, maybe we could get to work.” I take the remote off Ander’s desk, aiming it at the wall. A map of New York City comes alive on the screen. I hand the remote to Ander.
“This, my friend, is yours to control. You need to become intimate with her. Find out what makes her tick and then make her your bitch.” I slap my hand on his desk.
“You are in an awfully good mood today,” Aedon laughs. “But you need to not scare Ander off on his first day on the job.”
“It’s okay, Aedon. I liked his analogy, except I’m calling that remote he and not she. And he and I are going to do all kinds of naughty things right here on this desk.” Ander rubs both his hands all over the dark desktop.
All three of us burst out laughing. “Okay, I deserved that.” I walk over and place my hands on his shoulders. “Seriously, I want you to pull up all the major cities and get familiar with them. You need to be able to tell us the quickest way to get places without hesitation. I need to know about subways, trains, bus routes, which mode of transportation will work best in a crisis, and so on. You get the picture?”
“I do.” His fingers start clicking on the keyboard and flashes of different cities pop up.
“The three of us need to get in touch with the other crisis teams we have set up to make sure they are all up-to-date on emergency plans and transportation.”
“Hey, look at this,” Ander says, pointing at the screen. “This is the damage left from the tsunami that hit Australia’s northwest coast a week ago. It says 800 people died.” He turns around in his chair. “Too bad you weren’t up and operational a week ago.”
“It is too bad; we could have gotten there a little sooner than the current rescue teams,” I tell him.
“These are the kinds of things you need to be ahead of. Tsunamis can be somewhat predicted based on where a quake originated. Earthquakes sometimes give us warnings, patterns on what is to come. Terrorist attacks are completely unpredictable. With those types of crises, it’s usually a recovery mission unless the terrorists are holding hostages.” I click a key on one of the computers sitting on his desk. “This monitor is linked with the National Earthquake Information Center, NEIC. We will know at a moment’s notice of any seismic irregularities anywhere in the world. You will be able to see them set off in real time on this screen. With another stroke of the key, we are tied in with the National Oceanic Atmospheric Agency, NOAA. We will be alerted to hurricanes, tornados, and other atmospheric anomalies.”
I leave him alone to get familiar with the system. Wren is already on the phone
“I got word last night one of my team members withdrew from their commitment. He was afraid between his busy practice and his first child due soon that it would take too much time away from both.”
“That’s completely understandable.”
“I made a backup list,” she pushes it toward me. “What do you think about him?” She places the pencil tip by a name.
“I think you are more than capable of choosing someone on that list without my help. I completely trust your judgement.” I place the paper back in front of her and walk over to my desk. My chair let’s out a creak of protest as I lean back and lock my hands behind my head, elbows resting outward. I take it all in. Ander is studying the computer screen, Wren is busy on the phone, and Aedon finally lays down her pencil and picks up her phone. I turn my chair in the direction of the company logo. I’ve done a lot of great things in my life, but this is the one I’m the proudest of. This is the one I was meant to do.
The morning goes by quickly. I order lunch for all of us, since none of us really wanted to go out on our first day. By the end of the day, I’m amazed at the amount of work we all accomplished. Ander is a whiz at the computer and already has it mastered. I’m glad Aedon hired him to be part of our team.
Aedon received a call from the hospital and had to leave to help with a difficult surgery. The three of us wait for the elevator to arrive. “Anyone up for a drink?” I ask them.
“I’ve got to get home and take care of my cat, then I’m going to do a little research on earthquakes. I want to be completely up to par with information before I come back tomorrow.”