I swiveled my leather desk chair around, so I looked out the window towards the blackness where I knew the Hudson River lay below. If I glanced left or right, I could see a hint of some of the city lights from the buildings around me, but I always chose to focus my attention more towards the water, even if I couldn’t see it clearly. It was the water that had brought me to where I was today, first as a kid fascinated by the ocean, then as an inventor, and now as owner of STW Enterprises, the largest company focused solely on finding ways to preserve and save our oceans and waters. It was no fluke that I chose this office space, which during the daylight hours gave me a panoramic view of the Hudson like no other spot in the New York/New Jersey area.
“Damian, are you paying attention to any of this?’
The truth was, I wasn’t paying attention to anything Paul Austin had to say. It wasn’t that I disliked Paul; he worked hard, did his job well and had been the corporate head counsel for years now. It was just that what he usually told me was not very interesting, at least to me. It was probably something mundane, like a patent or copyright, a dispute with some company, some new land purchase, or a problem with some political connection that needed to be made either in the U.S. or some foreign country. They were all important, to be sure, but none of that was going to be enough to hold my interests right now.
I spun my chair back around to face Paul. He had the incredulous, bordering on being annoyed face he would often get with me, even if he would never say that’s how he felt. I leaned back in my chair, letting it creak slowly because I knew it would make the hair on the back of his neck stand up. I could see his face cringe slightly with each cry out for WD-40. My guess is he would have maintenance in here at 5 AM tomorrow to make sure the chair got treatment.
“Paul, it’s practically 10 PM. I know I’ve been here since 7, and you’ve probably been here just as long. I don’t know that I could even tie my shoes right now, nevermind pay close attention to whatever you’re trying to tell me.”
“You’re wearing loafers,” Paul pointed out to me as he looked at my feet resting on the corner of my desk. I put my feet down on the floor and pushed myself out of my chair, and then walked towards the large windows that were behind my desk.
“I think you missed my point,” I answered. “Don’t you have a girlfriend waiting for you? It’s Friday night. You should be out somewhere having dinner or going to a club instead of telling me about legal issues.”
I stared out the window, but I could see Paul’s reflection in the dark glass. He fidgeted in his chair before he decided to say something.
“My girlfriend broke up with me two weeks ago. She complained I worked too much. She sent me a text message to let me know. So, no, I don’t have a girlfriend, but neither do you.”
Paul sat back in his chair with a smug smile on his face.
“Once again, not the point, Paul,” I said to him, prying my gaze away from the dim lights that were coming from some boats out on the water.
“So, what is your point then? That we both work too much? It’s no secret, Damian, but it’s because we do that this company has grown to the success it is and that thousands of people have jobs.”
“The success of the company isn’t going to change if we leave before 11 one night.”
I reached over to my desk and closed my laptop and stuffed it into my well-worn brown leather bag. I then pressed the intercom button to talk to Shannon, my assistant.
“Shannon? You still here?” I spoke out.
“Still here,” she said as papers shuffled in the background.
“Is everything all set?” Paul looked over at me as I spoke, wondering what was going on.
“Ready whenever you are,” she answered. I could hear Shannon stifling a yawn. She was probably the hardest working person in this company.
“Great, thanks,” I replied, and pressed the button off.
“Paul, I’m out of here,” I said to him, grabbing my leather jacket off the back of my chair. “Whatever it is you have for me will have to wait a while.”
“Okay, we’ll talk about it in the morning,” Paul told me as he stood up, straightening out his suit jacket and tie.
“I won’t be here, and I’m not taking your call,” I said as I started to walk towards my office door.
“Won’t be here? Where are you going to be?” he asked in a panic.
“I’m taking some time off,” I told him, opening my office door. I stepped out and could see Shannon gathering her things and turning off her computer.
“How long?” Paul said, grabbing his phone to check his calendar.
“I don’t know. At least a week, maybe two. I bought a house and want to get it settled.”
“You bought a house? What do you need a house for? You have a place in the city and places in Los Angeles and London. Who needs a house? And why am I just hearing about this? Shouldn’t your lawyer get consulted on things like this?”
“I wanted a house on the beach, a place where I could go and relax and get away from all this,” I said as I waved my arm around. “If I want to buy a house, I can do it; I don’t need you to hold my hand through the process. I bought the place ten months ago, and they finally finished with renovations and furnishing the place, so now I want to see it. Why do I have to explain all this to you? Come on, Shannon, let’s go.”
I made my way through the maze of cubicles towards the elevator, while Shannon walked next to me. She took a quick peek back at Paul, who frantically tried to follow behind me.
“I think that vein in his forehead is bulging out,” she said quietly as we walked out into the reception area.
I pressed the button for the elevator and sighed, turning back towards Paul. He was red-faced, and the vein was larger. If I looked close enough, it almost seemed like it was pulsing.
“Paul, relax.” I put a hand on his shoulder. “Maybe you want to take some time off, too. Give yourself a chance to recharge your batteries. Take a trip, go on a cruise, go see your parents, do something. You need to get away from here before you completely burn out. That’s what I’m doing.”
“But… but what if something happens while you’re gone, or while I’m gone?”
“That’s why we hired all these other smart people around here. The business doesn’t come to a grinding halt if you or I don’t walk through the door.”
The elevator door opened, and Shannon and I stepped inside. Paul went to follow us, but I put my hand up to stop him.
“Go back to your desk, get your stuff, and put a few days off on your calendar and do something else, anything else. Just don’t call me. I’ll see you when I get back.”
The elevator doors slowly slid shut, and Paul’s anxiety-ridden face disappeared behind them.
“You know he’s going to call me all week instead,” Shannon sighed.
“I know, and I’m sorry for that. Don’t take his calls. This trip is just as much for you to relax as it is for me. You never take time off either, Shannon. Even when I’m off, you still work. Let’s both try to make this an actual vacation for a change.”
“I think I forgot how to do that,” Shannon told me.
The elevator doors glided open to the parking garage. We were immediately greeted by James, my driver for the last five years. Standing there in his dark suit and tie, he smiled and nodded at me, and then at Shannon, taking the bags we had in our hands.
“James, did you get my luggage from the house?” I asked him as I opened the back door to the limousine.
“Picked them up this afternoon,” he told me as he slammed the trunk shut.
“Shannon’s bags too?” I asked him before he closed the back door to the limo.
“It's all taken care of Boss,” James answered as he got into the front seat.
“Did you get your stuff as well?”
I could hear James exhale deeply as he looked back at me in the rearview mirror.
“Boss, I’ve been driving for you for a long time, on overnight trips and longer. Have I ever forgot to bring my bag?”
“No, James,” I answered with a smile.
James raised the partition as he began to drive.
“How long is the ride to the house?” Shannon asked me as she reached into the small cooler in the back to grab a bottle of iced tea for herself and one for me.
“It’s about five hours from here down to Bethany Beach,” I told her as I loosened my tie so I could take it off. I already felt more relaxed than I had sitting in the office all day. I took a sip of the iced tea and leaned my head back against the headrest.
“Why don’t you stretch out and get some sleep?” Shannon suggested as she shifted over to one of the side seats of the limo.
It was certainly tempting. I kicked off my loafers and laid down on the back seat, balling up my suit jacket to use as a pillow. I would probably regret doing that to my suit, but I didn’t care so much; I just needed to get some relaxation going. I peeked over at Shannon and could see she had taken her heels off and was now sitting more comfortably on the seat, looking at her phone.
“I hope you’re not working,” I mumbled to her.
Shannon looked over at me with an arched eyebrow.
“No work. Just texting a friend to make sure they come over and water my plants for me while I’m gone. I’m going to listen to some music while you sleep, if that’s okay, boss.”
Shannon reached into her purse and pulled out a pair of black earbuds and plugged them into her phone.
“I’m not trying to be a dick, Shannon,” I said to her. “I just want to leave the work behind for a bit. I would think you would appreciate that.”
“I do appreciate it, and I’m looking forward to this, believe me. But we both know that when you say you are taking time off it usually doesn’t work out that way. I’m never really on vacation you know. People always need something from you, which means they need something from me, or you need something from me.”
I sat back up in my seat and looked at Shannon. She had started working for me right out of college, and I was impressed by her right away. I had gone through several assistants before she came along, and she has been the perfect combination for me of smarts, intuition, decision-making, and take-no-bullshit attitude. She did more to make sure this company runs well than I do, which is why she is one of the most well-compensated assistants out there.
“I promise, I’m going to try to keep that from happening this trip,” I told her. “Maybe we can both have a good time for a change. The new house is great, the weather is supposed to be perfect, and you can just do whatever you want. Maybe you’ll even meet someone while we’re there.”
“Me?” Shannon answered. “I’m the one that actually goes out on dates, remember? You’re the person who stays home brooding in your penthouse apartment like Bruce Wayne. It’s been months since you’ve gone out with anyone.”
“I don’t think it’s been that long,” I said defensively.
“Damian, I keep your calendar and schedule. Want me to look back and see?”
Right away, she typed in something on her phone, her thumb flying over the screen to flip back page after page.
“Here,” she said emphatically, holding the screen up to my face. “February, you went to that charity dinner with that fashion model, Gabriella. That’s six months ago.”
I remembered Gabriella. She was an amazingly beautiful woman that I was set up with by a mutual friend. She was nice, but not much of a conversationalist. She spent most of the night chatting up the German race car driver that was seated next to her at our table. By the time that dinner was over, she was more interested in going home with him, and I was ready for her to leave.
“Yeah, that was kind of a bust,” I said to Shannon. “Are you sure there hasn’t been something else? I think I had gone to dinner with someone when that new restaurant opened in the lobby of our building last month.”
Shannon just stared at me, knowing I was wrong.
“That was me, Damian. You said you didn’t want to go through the hassle of finding a date and arm-twisted me into breaking a date I had that night so I could go with you.”
I looked back at Shannon and realized she was right.
“Okay, so it’s been kind of a dry spell for me, I admit it, but I like being by myself. I don’t have to worry about trying to make conversation, or whether they are just out with me because I have money or so they can get their picture taken for some website.”
“You can tell yourself that, Damian, to make yourself feel better, but we both know it’s not true. No one wants to be alone all the time. Why else would you take James and me with you down to your house? You could have gone by yourself. Face it, you want companionship just as much as the rest of us.”
Shannon sat back in her seat with a triumphant smile on her face.
So, I didn’t date much. I knew it, and so did everyone around me, which is probably why people made such a big deal of it when I did go out somewhere with someone. Which was just another reason for me not to go on many dates. To be honest, I didn’t count on or expect to do much of anything on this trip other than kick back, enjoy my home, and spend some time on the beach.
Shannon put her earbuds back in while I gazed out the window. We drove our way down the New Jersey Turnpike, and it wouldn’t be too long until we reached the Delaware Memorial Bridge. From there, it was only a few hours more until we got down to the beach areas and the coast. If we were lucky, we would get to the house just about in time for sunrise, something I always looked forward to at the beach.
I was hoping this trip would bring me the mental and physical break I needed from work. Even if I did nothing for two weeks, it was worth it to me. If anything else came along during that time, it was fine, but I certainly wouldn’t go looking for it. There would be no business, no stress, and no worries.
We drove past a pickup truck filled with beach gear and camping gear. Through the tint of the windows, I could make out a few college-age kids crammed into the truck, obviously heading down to the shore for some fun.
One of them yelled out the open window towards our car.
“Woo hoo! Party limo! Live it up, dudes!”
I just laughed to myself as we sped past the truck and put them behind us.
Oh yeah, living it up, I thought to myself. I’m sure there will be plenty of that going on.