We don’t have anyone else to turn to,” Abigail said. “I shouldn’t ask, but I truly need you to come home.”
Her plea sailed across the miles, resonating with him. Don fed on the tranquil ambiance of Cape Town, peering from his office window into the majestic rich blue sky carpeted by the bay, which was generally still warm this early into the year. Solitude had suited him well. His small leadership training company was thriving. After fleeing from Detroit, Don poured his energy and wit into LTI, determined to make it a success without David Mitchell or DMI influence. His company didn’t offer extravagant accommodations, but the breathtaking view of Table Mountain from any window seemed to keep morale soaring.
Two years and eleven months since he’d set foot in South Africa, and not a day wasted. Sanity was slow coming and forgiveness even slower, but he’d managed somehow to reach this place of peace, a place that seemed unattainable at the onset of his escape from Detroit, from the pit of his hell, the place he used to call home. Keeping a safe distance from the Mitchell drama was wise, but Abigail’s plea was difficult to discount. Don recalled telling her that no matter where he was in the world, they would only be a phone call apart. He intended to honor his promise, especially since she hadn’t asked him for anything before now. He wanted to say yes without hesitation, but the power of tranquility wouldn’t let him hastily commit. “Why do I need to come back to Detroit? Can I help you from here?”
Abigail paused and he could sense the distress in her words. “I don’t think so. We need you here, me and your mother. We’re in big trouble with the company. I really believe Joel has gone too far with this merger and has driven DMI into serious financial instability.”
“Is it that bad?”
“Worse. I’m not even doing it justice. We’re in serious trouble and you’re the only one who can help. You have to take over the CEO position, that’s the only way we will have a shot at salvaging DMI.” There was a time when no challenge, number of miles, or situation was large enough to keep him from getting to Abigail. But the time was a while ago. Life, Joel, and circumstances had eroded the pull but hadn’t completely dissolved his affection for her.
“Your mother is calling an emergency board meeting in two days. I’m counting on a miracle. If you can get your sister’s stock shares, your mother and I will give you ours. Combined, you’ll have the majority.”
“An easy ride into the CEO position?” A role he once earnestly sought, a dream that had been stomped out. The automatic elation wasn’t there. He was smart enough not to get lured into the CEO illusion.
“You got it. Are you up for the challenge? Can we count on you to help us?”
“It’s a huge request.”
“But you’re the only one that I can ask for help.”
He wanted to say no flat out, but he couldn’t do that to Abigail, not easily. “I don’t know. I’ll have to seriously think about it.”
“Don’t take too long. You’ll need to leave soon if you plan to be here in time. I’m praying that you say yes.”
“We’ll see. I’ll think about it and give you a call back later today,” he said, closing out the conversation and clicking off the speakerphone button. He let his jumbled thoughts wander. The excruciating ache deep in his heart had subsided to a dull manageable pain. There wasn’t an urgency to dig into the closed wound by hopping a plane to Detroit without absolute certainty that there was no other way to help.
The melodious voice interrupted him, breaking his gaze across the ocean. Naledi graced the room with the blended hue of her skin capturing the essence of Africa, India, and Europe. Even her accent was perfectly blended with a heavy dose of the local dialect and a distinctive sprinkling of French. After twenty-three months together, he was as equally mesmerized by her today as he was when they’d met. He looked up to catch a quick glimpse of her standing at his office door and was comforted. She renewed his faith in the possibility of long-lasting commitment. Disappointment and heartache would no longer hold him captive. Don beckoned for her to come in.
“We must make a visit to Unilever in their Paris office. Have a look at your diary and let me know what dates are good.” Naledi said.
Images of Detroit and his deceased father’s struggling ministry, DMI, whisked in like a tsunami, hindering his ability to concentrate on what Naledi was saying. He beckoned for her to take a seat. “You might have to take the trip to Paris for me.” That part was easy, asking her to fill in for him. He’d grown to rely heavily on her loyalty and aptitude, a certainty that had long passed from his old friend in Detroit. Abigail belonged to DMI and to his brother, the core of his ache. Shake it off, he thought. Naledi looked puzzled. “I might have to go home,” he told her.
“I see; it has been a time since your last visit. Will you be there one week?”
“I’m not sure, maybe a day, maybe a week, maybe a month,” he said, rearing back in the chair, tapping his fingers together. “If I go, and that’s a big if, I’ll be there as long as it takes, I guess,” he said, not interested in conveying false confidence. He felt compelled but not fully devoted to saving his father’s company from the peril his brother had created. The peace he languished so freely was a direct result of cutting the ties with Detroit and building his own world. Jumping back into the fray wasn’t generating a warm sensation. Yet, the only two people he cared about in Detroit were seeking his help. His head, which was responsible for rational thinking, wasn’t aligned with his heart, which was pushing him toward shark-infested waters to save a drowning company.
“I do hope that all is well with your family.”
Don chuckled. “My family is never completely well. There’s always something wrong with somebody.” He chuckled more. “It’s the Mitchell way.” The translation into terms Naledi could understand would be too much, so he didn’t bother. Not because she was South African, more so because she was from a close family and couldn’t possibly understand his.
“My friend Abigail pleaded with me to return to the States to fix a problem with DMI. Against my better judgment, I might have to go.”
“If you’re not comfortable going, why should you go?”
“I’ve asked myself the same question a thousand times and keep getting the same answer—maybe. Abigail wouldn’t ask unless it was critical. I can’t tell her no. On the other hand, I can’t say yes,” he said clasping his hands behind his neck and rearing back in the chair, then realizing no position would minimize his discomfort. “I’m not sure what I have to do there or how long it will take but I have to make a decision. I’d have to leave tonight or early tomorrow morning.” If he waited a single day, he’d probably not get involved at all.
Naledi kept silent initially, then said, “Go for as long as you must. I will take care of matters here. Don’t worry; you can rely on me.”
He already knew that. Don stood to give her a hug. At least in one corner of the world, life was stable for him, finally.
Naledi left and Don reclaimed the seat at his desk. No sense putting off the inevitable. The bridge to Michigan had to be mended if there was to be any chance at success. Abigail was hoping for a miracle. Maybe he could pull one off without having to board a plane. He flipped through his phone directory, reaching the letter M. It had been so long since he and Joel had spoken that the number had long left his memory. In thinking about it, the number may not have ever been in his long-term mental database. Joel was his brother by blood, at least the Mitchell portion, and that was the extent of the connection. Neither had tried to make the forced fit more than it was. But today he dialed the phone, recognizing that working together was the most ideal path to saving a company that Joel had driven to the brink of bankruptcy, according to Abigail.
Several rings and Joel was on the line. Words didn’t immediately spring forward. Finally Don was able to string a thought together, void of substantial resentment. “This is Don.” Silence hovered, neither taking the next step until Don reflected on his mission. If he could get Joel to accept outside help with managing the company, Don could be spared the dilemma of going to Detroit. “It’s been a long time, little brother.”
“It has been,” Joel said, offering no more.
“Look, I’m not calling to make small talk. Let me get right to business. I understand that DMI is going through a financial crisis with your merger and there might be a way for me to help.”
“DMI is fine and has been since I’ve been CEO. I don’t know what your mother has told you,” Joel said, letting the words roll off with a sharp bite, “but this company has done better under my leadership than it ever did with my father.”
“Our father,” Don interjected.
“Wow, that’s interesting coming from you, someone who wanted nothing to do with our father or our company when you left. I’m curious as to why it is that all of a sudden you care one iota about DMI. We’re doing fine.”
Don refused to feed into the negativity. He’d lived that existence for a long time and was free. He wasn’t going back to the constant bickering, but Abigail’s plea wouldn’t be silenced. If she said DMI was in trouble, it was in trouble. “I’m not trying to resurrect our differences. This isn’t about you or me. This is about retaining the company that our father started. I was asked to help, and I’m offering my support.”
“Who asked you?” Joel said, surprisingly calm. “Your mother?”
“Actually, it was Abigail.” A name Don was certain Joel didn’t expect to hear. Her level of unwavering devotion to Joel had been difficult for Don, but time had created a scar of acceptance. Joel said nothing. “She believes I can help. So, here I am.”
“Thanks for the offer, but I have DMI under control. You can keep all your focus on handling your business in South Africa and I’ll take care of the U.S.”
“Are you sure?” Don asked, refusing to give up so easily.
“One hundred percent.”
“Then I guess that’s that.”
“I guess it is,” Joel said, maintaining the same edge in his tone.
The good-bye was abrupt. Don held the receiver, not knowing what he’d expected to happen with the call. Of course Joel wasn’t going to hand over the reins of DMI to someone who would come in and tell him what to do. No CEO would. Don got that. His involvement would face opposition. Joel had won the last round decisively. Don grappled with the request that had come from a woman who could have been his wife had Joel not stolen her affection and discarded it along his path of recklessness. Joel’s pattern was consistent with women and with DMI, a company their father didn’t deem Don worthy of inheriting although he was the oldest. He held a master’s degree in business, and possessed ten years of experience at the time the decision was made. While Joel had barely completed college and had one or two fragmented years of experience.
Maybe the day had come for Don to face his demons and return to Detroit, to grapple with DMI, to face his brother, to take a stand in the place where he was being drawn by his bond with Abigail, to deal with the suppressed guilt about his mother’s predicament, or his passive frustration with God. He wasn’t certain what the most compelling factor was in this instance. Don returned the phone receiver to its base long enough to get his sister’s number. Hopefully Abigail’s miracle was on the other end of the call. Nothing less could move his sister, Tamara, to action. Getting her to agree to do the unthinkable and sign her stock ownership over to Don was impossible. If by some miracle she was on board, he could take control of the company and be empowered to get DMI back on track quickly so that he could regain his solitude. Attempting to work with Joel had failed. Going in by force united with Tamara and Mother was the next option but not his preference. Truth was, he wasn’t up for an all-out battle. The notion trampled around in his thoughts, sparking an undesirable feeling. The voice that was directing him along this path better belong to God, otherwise Don might as well jab the dagger into his own gut and accelerate his demise.
© 2010 PATRICIA HALEY