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Two Proposals

by Deborah Rochford

Table of Contents
Table of Contents
parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6


Despite the cold, Mr. Lawson stood and watched while Josh pulled out of the driveway. He continued to watch the tail lights travel down the road until the car turned the bend and was out of sight.

He felt a whisper of concern. The rust bucket of a car Josh was driving probably had seen too many miles. He hoped the boy made it to Denver and then all the way back to California. He looked at the sky: cold as hell but clear at last, a black carpet filled with untold numbers of glittering stars. At least the boy wouldn’t run into any more snow.

Mr. Lawson knew he needed to make a decision tonight on the old theatre. The deadline for the Moviemax buyer was tomorrow, eight o’clock. He frowned. The representative for the corporation had been a bit of a cold fish. Susan certainly had not cared for him. What was his name anyway?

Mr. Lawson reached for a stack of papers lying on the top rack of the desk organizer and looked at the card. Marmaduke Bertram. He tossed the papers back on the organizer. What the hell kind of a name was that anyway? He vaguely remembered a cartoon character with that name back when his son was young and loved to watch television on Saturday mornings.

He poured more wine into his glass and reached into a shallow desk drawer. He pulled out a picture of Susan. He let his eyes roll over the image slowly, relishing the out of control way her hair curled around her face, the smile that reached all the way to her green eyes and showed teeth that were slightly off-center. He smiled. His wife was nothing if not gracious and welcoming, but she had been downright rude to Marmaduke Bertram.

Mr. Lawson tucked the picture of his wife back into the drawer and closed it gently. Of course, Susan didn’t understand business. What did it matter that the corporation wanted to tear down the old theatre and build a modern, multiple-theatre complex? Nothing lasts forever. With the money they were willing to pay, he could retire. He could walk into the bank tomorrow morning and hand over his resignation.

Why did Susan have to be so damned sentimental anyway? He drained the rest of his wine and then stood to pace around his office. He walked over to the picture window that faced out to the back of the property. A full moon created jagged shadows on the snow, a study of black and white. He wondered if Susan was looking at the moon right then.

Their argument over the old theatre had sent her fleeing to the balmy warmth of Florida. Would she really divorce him? He turned away from the window and paced the carpet again. More importantly, would it be so terrible if she did? They couldn’t see eye to eye on anything anymore and he was tired of the struggle.

He took a deep breath and blew it out through pursed lips. He walked a slow circuit around the room trying to focus his thoughts. He had always been a firm believer that emotion had no place in business. So what was the bottom line here?

If he sold the land to the Moviemax Corporation, he would fill his bank account to overflowing. He and Susan would have the money to spend part of each year in Europe, something he had always dreamed of doing.

Hell, he would even take Susan to Africa so that she could photograph wild beasts to her heart’s content; if he made this deal he needn’t worry about catching some godawful disease, because they would have plenty of money to stay in the finest hotels Africa had to offer. Of course, if he took this deal, he might not have to worry about going to Africa anyway, because Susan would very likely not come back.

On the other hand, there was Josh’s proposal. Mr. Lawson walked back to his desk and sat down, reaching for the yellow legal pad that held the boy’s pen scratching. The proposal was really more of a partnership than a buy-out.

He took his calculator and re-did the numbers. If Joshua could really get the building renovated and running for the cost the boy had projected, and if it became the popular venue that the boy thought — no, hoped — it could, then the eventual payoff would be roughly the same. The difference was he would earn a percentage of the profits each year with a payoff of any money owed at the end of ten years... Of course, the boy might fail.

He put the pad down on his desk and rubbed at his eyes with the palm of his hand. Who would it be, Moviemax or Josh Kellerman? The Moviemax men had money and Josh had... what? Heart. Josh had heart. He smiled. No doubt, Susan would love this young man. His father probably would have liked the boy as well. Josh had promised to restore the theatre to its earlier grandeur, keeping as much of his father’s original woodwork as possible. Hell, he could even throw in the old grand piano if the boy wanted it.

It wasn’t as if Josh didn’t have some credits to his name. He also had a brother that was starting to pop up in a few films and was well known in Chicago theatre, and a sister who seemed to be quite the organizer and fundraiser for charitable organizations. He had googled all three names and was impressed by the list of accomplishments for all three. No doubt the brother, Jason was his name, would make an appearance every now and then, and Natalie, the sister would help her brother organize the financial end of things. A family endeavor.

He spun his chair around to look at the picture of his brother, young and foolish and handsome in his uniform. He smiled a sad smile. Larry had believed the two of them could do anything together. They would have made a great team... But his brother had died instead.

Mr. Lawson leaned his head back in his chair and closed his eyes. His head drooped to the side and his thoughts began to scatter like dry leaves on a windy day. He woke with a start and decided it was time for bed. He would make his decision in the morning when he was refreshed from a good night’s sleep.

* * *

The ambient light in the room increased ever so slightly. Mr. Lawson slept with the drapes open so he could rise with the sun. He had always been an early riser but Susan was not, so he had gotten into the habit of letting the sun wake him instead of an alarm clock.

He threw back the down coverlet and put on slippers that felt cold on his warm feet. He grabbed his robe from the end of the bed and pulled it tight around his trim body. He made his way to the kitchen and turned up the heat. He had a high efficiency system that would warm the house to a comfortable seventy degrees in no time at all. The heating bill had been considerably lower since Susan had gone. She refused to turn the heat down even at night.

Mr. Lawson measured out enough coffee grounds for the two cups of coffee that he would enjoy with his breakfast. Next he used the microwave to make himself some oatmeal. He really didn’t like oatmeal very much, but he knew it was good for his cholesterol. He quartered an orange and carried his breakfast to the kitchen table to eat.

Mr. Lawson finished his oatmeal and orange and sat back in the chair to drink his coffee and watch the snow that had begun to fall. The flakes were quite large and floated serenely to the earth. It was a pretty sight, but it meant that much more snow to blow. He got up to rinse his dishes and place them in the dishwasher. The big grandfather clock in the hallway announced the hour with a set of seven gongs.

He had an hour. Mr. Bertram would be calling for his answer at eight.

Mr. Lawson lingered in the kitchen a moment longer. He felt like having another cup of coffee. He frowned. It would mean making a new pot and dirtying more dishes. He decided against it and headed for his office.

His feet carried him to a picture of his father, instead of his desk. Susan had framed the picture and given it to him as a birthday gift. She had chosen an ornate cherry frame.

Mr. Lawson had thought it ostentatious for a man who had always felt more comfortable in a flannel shirt and a pair of jeans. He had told Susan so, but she had just rolled her eyes and walked away.

Had his father’s eyes really been that blue? Or had the photographer touched up the photo the way they tended to do these days? His father would not have approved of this deal with the Moviemax people, but his father had never been a businessman. And his father was gone.

He turned his back on his father’s picture and walked over to his desk, taking a seat. He took Susan’s picture out and placed it at one corner of his desk and then pulled a brochure from his desk drawer advertising condominiums in the south of France. He thumbed through it, though he knew every detail of every picture in it. Life could be good there. He resolutely closed the brochure and placed it at a corner of the desk opposite Susan’s picture.

He put the two proposals in front of him, side by side; Mr. Kellerman’s proposal on the left, the Moviemax proposal on the right. What was it the boy had said? At the end of the day, it’s the relationships we have with the people in our lives that really matter.

Wise words, or simply naïve?

The phone rang. Mr. Lawson glanced at Susan’s photo and at his father’s picture, at the brochure at the corner of his desk, and then turned to look out his picture window at the snow still falling steadily in the back yard.

He picked up the phone. “Hello, Mr. Bertram.”

Copyright © 2016 by Deborah Rochford

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