OFFICIAL SITE OF AUTHOR
"You're a remarkable person, Ms. Wilson. I need someone remarkable by my side."
Cassandra pulled back into Envision’s parking lot and blew out a breath with such force her lips sputtered. Why in hell had she dropped off that stupid proposal?
She’d written it under a misguided ambition to make a positive impact on the world. She hadn’t considered that someone would actually read it…and that quickly! Jesus, this guy was efficient.
Now she had to answer for something a Pinot Grigio-version of herself had created -- a Pinot Grigio-version of herself inspired by a TED talk called, “Ten Ways The World Could End”. The leather steering wheel stuck to her forehead as she leaned on it. Who binge watches TED talks and documentaries? Heaven help her. She had no life. Ten ways the world could end? More like ten ways to end your career. She groaned, remembering that she’d barely made it to the bathroom to vomit the next morning after her evening of playing drunken Rhodes scholar.
“Normal people do crossword puzzles and watch sitcoms,” she muttered.
Looking out at the sea of cars between her and the veritable Envision bee hive, she squinted at a blinding glint of sunlight off a sedan in front of her. The wherewithal to get out of the car and answer for her ridiculousness to a company that she might be leaving still hadn’t presented itself. True, she’d been so proud of her off-the-hip masterpiece that she’d decided to throw it at Envision on her trip to California. It had given her an excuse to see the headquarters building of the company she’d worked for the past ten years on her way to her interview. It was supposed to have been a spontaneous detour, not an unplanned round-trip that was biting her in the ass. Sensible, grown ass women weren’t supposed to behave this irrationally. She swore she’d lost her mind since her father died.
It had been a little over a year and she was still letting her emotions affect her judgment. Funny where life’s truths present themselves. Today’s truth location -- a parking lot she shouldn’t even be in, three states away from home. An image of her Great Aunt Belinda popped into her mind.
For several years before she died, anytime someone would stop by Aunt Belinda’s house, she’d give things away. Why did old people do that? Was it because they didn’t want anything to go to waste? No matter how she rationalized it, she felt like she’d pulled an Aunt Belinda, thinking that someone could use her proposal even if she was leaving Envision. Aunt Belinda had about fifty-seven cats and had thought the mailman was conspiring to kill her. If she was on her way to becoming Aunt Belinda, just shoot her now.
“Ugh! Why are you in California,” she yelled, squeezing the steering wheel like a stress ball.
Somehow her plan of taking control of her life was crumbling before her eyes. Once she’d latched onto the idea of moving across the country for a job at Berkeley, she had felt a brief sense of control. But now that she was actually here, she could see it for what it truly was--another impulsive decision, like writing that pipe-dream proposal and hand-delivering it to headquarters. Maybe Molenaar was calling her in to evaluate her mental health.
She flipped down the vanity mirror of the rental car and gave herself a once over. Okay, she didn’t look crazy. Her sky-blue eyes looked the same as they had for the past year–sad and lost. Before her father died, she remembered them looking happier and full of life. Now, all she saw was that dull uncertainty she didn’t know how to make go away.
She wasn’t the only person to ever lose a parent. She knew that. It was everything else that she had lost with him. Her life had order and purpose when Dad was alive. She cooked and cleaned for him from the time her mother had left them. Taking care of the house and learning how to cook had given her a sense of pride that she’d carried into adulthood. It had been a way to give back to the man who’d done so much for her. He’d given up going on the road with his band when he’d found out how bad her mother’s drug abuse had gotten. He’d never said as much, but even at eight years-old, she knew that’s why he’d stopped touring and started his own carpentry business. A girl couldn’t have asked for a better father.
From wearing bib overalls when she went on jobs with him to sitting in their backyard listening to him and his friends play guitar and talk about the good-old-days, every day had been half adventure, half party. His calm manner, folksy wisdom, and effortless sense of humor had brightened her motherless world. Being around him was the first healthy addiction she’d discovered and she couldn’t remember a single moment when she’d ever been mad at him or him at her. He’d been her whole world--her rock. She should have taken pause years ago to realize how much she’d made that rock an anchor. It was her own damned fault she was adrift now.
He used to tell her, “Never let anyone break your heart, Cassie girl.”
And she hadn’t. It hadn’t dawned on her until recently. Of all her childhood girlfriends that she’d seen fall apart over a guy, none of her break-ups over the years had ever left her in pieces. She knew now it was because she hadn’t needed them. Each time it hadn’t worked out with a guy, she’d never been too upset because she still had her best friend--Dad. Who needed to search for love when they already had a life that was full to the brim with it?
He’d been so proud when she’d graduated college and gotten her job at Envision. He didn’t know the first damned thing about botany, but the fact that he’d supported her dreams had been endearing. He’d bought her everything she needed to start a garden in their backyard when she was just a kid and then a microscope to analyze the plants she grew. Would he be upset now that her job no longer held the same appeal to her anymore? Looking at the rearview into her soul, she knew there wasn’t anything else she’d rather do. It wasn’t the job that had lost its appeal, it was her. She was sick of what she had or hadn’t become.
Never let anyone break your heart.
The man who’d taught her that credo had done just that by dying--by being wonderful and then dying. Her tears threatened to spill over.
“Keep it together, Cassie,” she muttered and grabbed a tissue.
Why had she become such a fool? Moving to Berkeley wasn’t going to change anything. She’d still have to come home to an empty house. It’d just be one in California instead of Texas. And either place, her father wouldn’t be there. Berkeley wasn’t a magical world that would keep her from feeling alone and lost. She sniffled, shame warming her cheeks. Moments of clarity shouldn’t have to suck this much.
Negative thoughts. Just what she needed when she had no idea why Dr. Molenaar had personally called her in for a meeting. She’d never even met the man. He was the elusive figurehead of Envision. It was like everyone knew who Bill Gates was, but you never expected to bump into him at a coffee shop. He was merely supposed to exist in name only.
She dusted the hair away from her face that had escaped from her loose chignon. The wavy, honey brown strand lilted against her cheekbone and so she raked it back with more force.
“Well, that’s as good as it gets.”
Letting out a nervous breath, she flipped the vanity mirror closed. Getting out of the car, she tugged her skirt down to smooth out the folds that had gathered. She’d dressed to impress for her Berkeley interview. Did it even matter what she looked like now?
The butterflies in her stomach migrated back to wherever they’d come from by the time she made it back up to the fourth floor waiting area. The bitchy receptionist from earlier gave her a cursory glance, almost like she’d eaten crow. There was no reason for her to look abashed on Cassandra’s part. She hadn’t requested to see Molenaar the first time. The last thing she’d expected was for her report to be read immediately and get called back in. Honestly, there was no earthly reason why she should even be meeting with him now. She gave the pouty redhead a polite smile as she approached the counter to let her know there were no hard feelings. The woman had to be good at her job to be trusted with being the gatekeeper of such a man.
Cassandra didn’t know much about body language, but the half-dozen people in the waiting room screamed “anxious” with their antics. It was a mix of nail biting, toe-tapping, and mumbling to themselves as they looked over paperwork in their laps. A few took glances at the closed double doors beyond the redhead’s desk--Molenaar’s office, she assumed. Were they on edge because they’d met him before and didn’t want to again or because it was the first time they were meeting him? That was the sixty-four-thousand-dollar question. Where had that come from anyway? Sixty-four grand didn’t buy much today.
She nearly ran into the counter, lost in her silent entertaining dialogue. Adjusting her purse strap, she had to force her next smile for the receptionist. It was difficult to appear chipper in the face of someone who looked so unpleasant.
“Hello. Cassandra Wilson again. Dr. Molenaar called and asked me to come back to see him.”
“Yes, Ms. Wilson. He’s expecting you. This way, please,” the woman said without feeling or eye contact. She bid with her fake nails for her to follow, walked over to the double doors behind her desk, and knocked.
A muffled, “Come ‘een,” sounded from behind it. It was the same thick accent she’d heard over the phone.
The red-head pushed open one of the oversized doors, holding it open for her. “Mr. Molenaar, Ms. Wilson here to see you.”
Cassandra stepped under the threshold, onto a white tile floor. A wall of windows on the opposite side of the room captured her attention. They framed the wine country horizon like a painting. The lemon-yellow light from the sunrise gave the modern office a much needed warmth. There wasn’t a single decoration in the room, its dark paneled walls bare and unwelcoming. A soft whoosh of air fanned the back of her teal blouse and she realized it was from the door closing behind her. She turned to locate Dr. Molenaar and found him instantly. Scientists weren’t supposed to look like that.
His biceps filled the unusual fabric of his suit jacket. The wrinkles in the elbow joints gave him a casual appearance she wouldn’t expect of a billionaire. His vest matched his peculiar jacket. No tie. She would have imagined a three-piece suit and tie, not the unbuttoned sky-blue shirt that exposed the skin of his neck and all the way down to his collar bones. He was tan, but his skin looked smooth like his complexion was naturally olive rather than sun-kissed. What had she read he was? German? Scandinavian? She wanted to kick herself for not knowing anything about the man who was the reason she had received a paycheck for the last decade.
He was unusually handsome with prominent peaks in his upper lip that made her want to stare at his mouth. The layer of stubble on his face looked like it refused to be eradicated by shaving. If those weren’t enough eye-catching features for one man to possess, his hair sealed the deal. It was probably chestnut in color but sleeked with something that made it appear darker. It had been combed from his hairline to the back of his head, shaved close at the sides in a militaristic cut. He could be a twin to Till Lindemann, the lead singer of the metal band Rammstein. She fought back a chuckle at the notion of a scientist singing, “Du Hast”.
“Ms. Wilson, welcome.”
Oh, God. She was staring. He was walking over with his hand extended. Her heels clicked against the floor as she hurried to close the distance. His swampy green eyes cut through her with an intensity of intelligence and his hand, like a bear’s paw, enveloped hers. She suddenly felt smaller and fragile, taking in their size comparison.
“Doctor Molenaar, hello.”
“No doctor, please. Doctor should only be used for people who save lives.”
Was he humble or trying to sound humble?
He motioned to one of the chairs in front of his desk. The idea that he’d called her in to scold her for seeking new employment was quite absurd now that she’d gotten over the embarrassment of his surprise phone call. He’d mentioned making her a better offer, if she remembered correctly from her jumbled thoughts this morning. That was just as absurd. There had to be thousands of Envision employees across the nation. She was far from irreplaceable. She let out a breath and made her way to one of the visitor chairs. All she had to do was be cordial and listen to whatever he was proposing. Hopefully, it would be worthwhile, or the meeting could become awkward if she had to refuse and then still get him to reschedule her Berkeley interview. She’d never been the kind to ask for help or favors.
She settled into a leather chair and looked for him across the desk, but he wasn’t there. Flinching, she watched him deposit himself in the chair next to hers. He lifted and turned it like a crab with a shell stuck to its ass, scooching closer to her. He set it and then himself down directly in front of her, leaving mere inches between them.
Her knees locked together on instinct and she got the urge to retreat, but her heels just slid against the slippery tile preventing the heavy chair from budging. He was in her territorial bubble. She didn’t consider herself a jumpy or untrusting woman, but no one sat this close in a professional setting. He rested his forearms on his massive thighs, clasped his beefy hands together between his open legs, and leaned forward farther into her space. Hunched over, he looked like a coach who wanted full attention from his players.
“Can you cook, Ms. Wilson?”
“Excuse me?” She could only imagine the look on her face as she pressed herself as far back into her chair as she could to gain some comfortable distance.
“Culinary skills? Are you adept at cooking?”
“Cooking? Uh. Yes. I cooked meals for myself and my father since I was eight.”
“Excellent. And what about basic construction?”
“Um. Construction?” She wrinkled her brow and chided herself for using the filler noise she hated. Was this how he broke the ice? She blurted out the first thing that came to mind. “I tiled my bathroom and changed my lawn mower blades last month.”
“Wonderful. And can you sew?”
“A bit. I’m not that good with a machine, but I can mend things by hand.”
“Are you a smoker?”
Didn’t he want to know about her education? Her work history? He’d said something about a project in the Amazon on the phone. Did you need to sew in the Amazon? He was waiting for her to answer. What was the last bizarre question? Smoking. Right.
The residue on a smoker’s hand could be transferred to plants, causing tobacco mosaic virus that could kill them. They probably didn’t want a smoker to go to the Amazon rainforest. It’d be like sending the Grim Reaper. Maybe there was a method to his madness.
“No. I’m not.”
“Do you practice good hygiene?”
She had the urge to sniff her armpit, but decided the sarcasm she used to share with her father would be inappropriate at the moment. “I shower, comb my hair, and brush my teeth daily, if that’s what you mean.”
“Yes. Do you have any difficulties socializing with other people?”
She never used to think so. “No. I don’t believe so. Excuse me, but why…”
“What about illegal substances? Do you use any?” he interjected, cutting her off as though he hadn’t heard her.
“Of course not.” If he knew anything about her past, he wouldn’t have asked that. The things she’d seen her mother do when she’d been foolish enough to come begging her for food or attention were enough to ward off any curiosity she might have had about drugs. And wasn’t that a question more appropriately determined for new employment through a urinalysis test?
“Do you have any allergies to hemp products?”
“Hemp? You mean like pot?”
“No, Ms. Wilson. Hemp is not the same as marijuana. It is a very low-grade THC species of the plant that can be used to make rope, clothing, and even plastics.”
“I know. It just seemed like an odd…” she stopped herself before she sounded like she was complaining about his peculiar interrogation. “I don’t know. I don’t have any allergies that I’m aware of.”
“Do you have any serious health conditions and are you dependent upon any medications?” His voice was even, but curious.
She shook her head slowly, no longer trying to subdue the what-the-hell-is-going-on look she knew was on her face. Did he think she was as strange as she did of him?
“Do you consider yourself to be a vain or materialistic person?”
Crossing her arms, she wasn’t sure why she was still responding. “Vain? No.”
“I collect books and records.”
“Vinyl. Thirty-three’s, forty-five’s…” She swirled one of her fingers in a circular motion to indicate something round, but quickly returned it to the armrest of her chair when she felt like she was insulting his intelligence.
He rubbed his chin and nodded. “Hmm. That seems reasonable.”
She canted her head to the side but didn’t see any sprockets or sparks fly out of his ears. “Thank you?”, she said like it was a question. She didn’t need his permission to have a damned hobby.
“Have you ever committed or been arrested for violence?”
“Are you claustrophobic?”
No, but he could get the hell out of her bubble any time now! “Not that I’m aware of.”
“And what do you think of adultery?”
“I don’t,” she snapped. All right. This had gone beyond bonkers. She could be on her way to San Francisco for a normal interview!
“Do you have any peculiar habits?”
“Apparently,” she muttered. “I’m sitting here answering you.” The look on his face said her quip was lost. She sighed and crossed her legs, bumping his knee in the process. “Doctor…Mr. Molenaar, why am I here?”
“I read your proposal and I was quite impressed with your ideas. I’ve long been an advocate of seeking survival solutions to impact winter scenarios and agree with many of the suggestions you made.”
“Oh. Well, that’s better than you thinking I’m completely crazy.” She chuckled but stopped when he gave no sign of sharing her amusement. There was either a stick up his ass or someone was behind a curtain somewhere, pulling levers to control him. Biting the inside of her lip, she managed a more serious expression to match his own and added, “I was worried you might find it a little ludicrous.”
“No. Not at all. Never shame yourself for your forward-thinking simply because it contrasts with popular opinion. It’s innovation like this the world needs more of and I was pleased to discover you were already part of Envision. We need to keep it that way. This is why I think you should fill the position on our Amazon project.”
“Yes, you mentioned something about that on the phone. If you don’t mind my asking though, what does going to the Amazon have to do with an impact winter?”
“Nothing. I just need someone like you there. What does Berkeley have to do with an impact winter, if you don’t mind my asking?”
Damn, he was direct. They mustn’t teach social skills where he was from. She couldn’t mask her grudging tone. “Nothing.”
“Exactly, which is why I knew you might want to hear that I need a botanist to conduct endangered plant life preservation for our Amazon project in Brazil. It’s a year-long assignment. We have permission from the government and the cooperation of the indigenous Awa tribe who will assist you in gathering, identifying, and preserving samples. I’ve arranged with the Brazilian government to allow for the samples to be transported to our lab in Itaituba. You’ll meet with a trained guide and courier every few weeks who will take the samples to the lab for you, so you can remain on-site and not waste time traveling. I will make sure you are as well taken care of as can be in such an environment. What do you think? Can you accomplish such a task?”
“I… The Amazon?” She rested her elbow on the back of the chair and rubbed at her forehead--she did that when she needed to think. He kept his intense look of eagerness on her and so she averted her eyes to the floor. His straight-shooting, rapid-fire questions made it difficult to think of protests. That must be why he was so successful. “When…when would you want me to go?”
“Next month. Sooner if you like. Everything is ready. Do you have children?”
“No,” she blurted without thinking. That was kind of a personal question.
“A husband? Anyone who would object to you being gone for a long period of time?”
“I…well, no. There’s been no one since my father passed away.”
“Oh. My sympathy for losing a parent.” His deep voice softened. It was the closest thing to an emotion or normal behavior she’d seen from him so far and was enough that it made her lip quiver.
“Thank you,” she said, her voice coming out in a whisper. Her arms gave way in her distraction, making her relax into the chair. He’d gone silent. It was clear he was giving her time to ponder her decision.
A year in the jungle?
She’d wanted a change. Maybe not one so far away or remote. How did he expect her to just pick up and go live in the jungle for a year? Well, there was actually nothing she would be picking up or leaving if she was honest with herself. She’d think about how depressing that was later. But what happened when she came back? Would she still feel like researching organic pesticides and gene therapy in San Antonio or would she have to start looking for a new job all over again? It had taken six months to get a call from Berkeley. She didn’t want to hunt for a change she didn’t even know if she wanted all over again, prolonging a proverbial rut. Still, the Amazon–it was every botanist’s dream to work in nature’s storehouse of the greatest natural medicinal species on the planet. What to do? What to do?
Focusing on a spot on the floor to avoid his bated stare, she gave each half of her brain a chance to weigh in as she did with every decision. The sensible half told her it would be great for her career, open new possibilities, and quench her obsession with gaining knowledge about the world. The sarcastic half wondered if she’d meet a Sean Connery look-alike, get drunk and return with a wicked tribal forehead tattoo like that chic in the movie “Medicine Man”. She’d always wanted a tattoo. Thank God Molenaar couldn’t read her thoughts. He was still staring though. Decision time. One thing both halves of her brain agreed upon was that this all seemed too fortuitous and sudden.
“Is that what all those people out in the lobby are here for? To interview for this?”
“Yes. We were supposed to have interviews today.”
“You will be better suited than any of them. And when you get back, I think you will be happy to learn about some of the new developments I am working on. I have kept you from your interview with Berkeley, so it is only fair to offer you whatever position you like at Envision or any of its subsidiaries, upon your return. I took the liberty of looking up your current salary. You will be compensated double that for the year you are gone and retain all of your benefits.”
“Double?” She burst her own bubble by leaning forward, eyes wide. “I… Why would you… I don’t know what to say.”
He looked so hopeful. It didn’t make any sense. He could get any botanist in the world to volunteer for such a project. He didn’t seem like someone who made haphazard judgments, not that she doubted her ability to do what he was proposing. Her father had always said, don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.
“You say, yes, Ms. Wilson, and then I don’t have to interview anyone else or worry about finding someone responsible who has the right ideals to fill the position,” he said, gesturing with his clasped together hands. It made him look like he was pleading.
She let out a bewildered laugh. There was something liberating that she had never before experienced about making no plans at all. The weight that had been pressing down on her for months was suddenly lifted. Was this really happening?
“All right. Yes.”
The corner of Molenaar’s mouth ticked up at the side. She wouldn’t have noticed if it weren’t for how his expression never seemed to change.
He stood up and extended his hand. She reached out to shake it, but it closed over hers and he pulled her out of the chair like she weighed no more than a child. If he was trying to be gallant, he should give up--he was physically overqualified. Looking up the foot above her to his face, something about being so close to this peculiar man made her swallow.
As if he were thinking aloud, he whispered as he stared down at her, “You aren’t what I expected.”
She looked down in time to see the squeeze he gave her hand before he let go. When she looked up he was walking around to the “normal” side of his desk.
“Welcome to your future, Ms. Wilson.”
RELEASE DATE & COVER REVEAL: FALL/WINTER 2021
"You know why people live up there--all festering together like rats, not giving a damn about when or if a big rock is going to slam down and end it all?
It’s because they’re together. It feels good to be together, even if you know it won’t last."
from HERE AGAIN TOMORROW
Cassandra Wilson never expected anything to come of the proposal she wrote over a bottle of wine about preventing the end of the world, but that was before she met Hugo Molenaar.
The eccentric billionaire who owns the company she works for insists she will be an ideal candidate for his secret project, Impact One. Convinced Molenaar is the strangest man she’s ever met, Cassandra isn’t quite sure why she agrees to participate in a six-month trial of the underground survival habitat he’s built.
As soon as she passes through the tunnel to Impact One, she learns that ingenuity can be found in the most unlikely of places. Molenaar hasn’t just created a survival shelter, but rather an entire world with a working community.
A thought-provoking look at the future, friendships, love, and loss. Here Again Tomorrow explores what the human spirit can and cannot live without.
Now accepting select Beta Reader requests.
Email Drea at email@example.com