[By now, you’ve figured out that Garrison and Tess aren’t exactly the ideal couple. So what’s Garrison’s deal? He’s a witty charmer when he wants to be, but doesn’t move a muscle to help when his wife nearly drowns. Look for clues in the excerpt below.)
The cavernous data center was dimly lit by the phosphorous glow of dozens of monitors, neatly aligned in their respective workstations, most of them vacant at this early hour. The great room hummed with the processing of servers. Although Garrison had long since become accustomed to the monotonous drone of the computers, he sometimes felt enveloped by a swarm of locusts. On overnight shifts like this one - his vision blurred from poring over computer screens to diagnose system problems, his mind hazy from lack of sleep - he was especially prone to wild imaginings.
Garrison stood up and stretched expansively, squeezing his eyes shut then blinking a few times to refresh his bleary vision. I’ve got to stop staring at that damn screen for hours on end, he thought. It’s petrifying my brain. Christ, I need a vacation – bring on the beach, tiki bar, scantily-clad island girls! Garrison shook his head in a vain attempt to dislodge these distracting thoughts. Focus, you dirty old bastard.
Garrison was viewed as a thought leader at his place of business. No one could troubleshoot a temperamental operating system or network with greater finesse. When Garrison was still an Internet Technology novice, working toward his first important industry certification, his project team leader had lavishly praised him during an informal “lunch and learn” subnet masking exercise. His words had stuck with Garrison, who took refuge in mulling them over when things got dicey at work, which was often the case lately.
“Gary,” his team leader had said, needling Garrison with the nickname he most despised, “your analysis is brilliant. No, brilliant’s not the word. It’s elegant - fuckin’ elegant! It’s a shame you’re too damn lazy to bother with administrative details. In fact, if you weren’t so outrageously sloppy managing your projects, you’d probably be running this shit hole.” The guy wasn’t one to mince words, and Garrison couldn’t help but give him grudging respect. Come to think of it, the praise hadn’t been so lavish after all, but it was dead on - and Garrison valued intellectual rigor above all else, even given his infamous towering ego, which he knew was now crumbling like the façade of a venerable, decaying old building.
Garrison walked over to the break room to pour himself a cup of coffee, then slouched at one of the tables, hoping that the room’s harsh florescent lighting would wake him up. He checked his watch: 5:30 a.m. 2½ hours to go! Soon employees on the 6 to 3 shift would begin streaming in. He’d be swept up in the workday bustle and given a temporary reprieve from his ruminations.
Garrison had been put in charge of training the latest batch of recruits at the data center, kids just out of college or technical school. While teaching the introductory Data Networking class, he enjoyed his students’ precocious irreverence and loved breaking up the monotony by quipping about the latest South Park episode or pop culture icon. He looked forward to coaching his new charges in a few minutes, after they’d dragged themselves in from a night of youthful frolics (or so Garrison imagined, judging from their habitual yawning and draped postures at the conference table.) They make such an endearing effort to look alert, Garrison thought with an avuncular chuckle. The 6 a.m. shift is a killer if you have a social life!
Garrison didn’t have to worry about his own social life impinging on his work. He’d long since sworn off the binge drinking that had plagued his halcyon days as an undergraduate at Amherst. He remembered with nostalgia competing while barely coherent at the New England Fours regatta. His friends had deposited him on the shores of Lake Quinsigamond at dawn, where he managed to distinguish himself during the first heat of the morning. He rowed like a champion despite his skull-splitting hangover (a trifling nuisance), committing every sinew of his being to accelerate the team’s strokes per minute. In his decidedly biased opinion, he’d propelled that shell with torso wrenching intensity worthy of Ben-Hur. Later, his comrades gave him a rousing ovation just for staying conscious long enough to help ace the finals that afternoon.
Too bad I can’t blame my senior moments on the booze, Garrison reflected. It’s wretched getting old! Recently, he’d drawn a blank introducing a new recruit at the water cooler, and was taking longer than usual to solve routine binary equations. He wrote off such lapses as symptoms of stress at home, figuring some fallout was to be expected after 30 years in the marital trenches.
Garrison and had met his third wife, Contessa, at the local racquet club. Still smarting from his second divorce, Garrison had turned to grueling physical exercise to dull his mental anguish. One day, while sweating it out on the courts, he observed a striking woman hitting moon balls nearby. She was a brunette – not classically beautiful so much as exuding a potent carnal allure. Her glossy profusion of hair was piled up into a stylishly disheveled bun. Her white Lacoste shirt was haphazardly buttoned, showcasing an epic crevasse of cleavage. The woman lunged to return a drop shot, winning the point. As she turned to walk back to the baseline, she adjusted her tennis pants under her tight, short skirt. Garrison’s jaw dropped, and then he aced his opponent with a scorching serve. The other men playing nearby took notice of the exotic newcomer between volleys. A ripple of titillation pulsed throughout the club.
Garrison eyed the woman with fascination as she played her way through a set. There was something exaggerated, yet organic, about her undulating stride that reminded him of Marilyn Monroe and her signature “horizontal walk.” The woman continued her exertions for 45 minutes or so without marring her makeup or breaking a sweat. She then stepped delicately off the court and headed for the soda machine.
Garrison feigned a pulled hamstring and quickly excused himself from his match. He threw a towel around his shoulders and followed her with as much machismo as he could muster. He attempted to swagger, shrugging off misgivings that this show of heightened masculinity could backfire. The woman, who was sitting on a bench sipping a Tab, smiled at him as he approached. Spurred on by this acknowledgement, Garrison sat down next to her.
“You were playing on Court 7,” she chirped adenoidally. Garrison suppressed a cringe. “What’s with the limp – sprained something with that big serve?” She snapped her gum for emphasis. Great, Garrison groaned silently. She thinks I’m a gimp!
“No, just reeling from a tough break-up,” he replied without missing a beat. Since the oversexed lothario routine didn’t seem to be working, he decided to play up his wounded, sensitive side. “I thought she cared, but it turns out she never really knew me,” Garrison sighed dramatically. “I feel like such an idiot. Oh well - C’est la guerre! As the great Fitzgerald once said, ‘The victor belongs to the spoils.’”
The woman gazed at Garrison sympathetically. She placed her hand over his and said with misty-eyed sincerity, “Who’s Fitzgerald? One of your pals?”