Short Stories

An Unexpected Love

«No Brian we don’t want some cool pictures of the damn hot-dog, we want the hot-dog next to a super-star with a glazing, smooth skin, holding it like gold while a bunch of women stand around him with lust, like he is fucking God,» said Zed over the phone that was hatched between his shoulder and his left cheek, as he juggled between steering the wheel with his right hand, and raising his shirt’s sleeve with his left one.

It was only 8 o’clock in the morning and what he had hoped to be a relaxed, calming morning following the route from the distant districts of his three-store house in the famous Brandon street, –one of the most expensive and high-class areas in town– and heading towards the offices of the marketing firm «Digital Kings» where he was working on for the last 8 years, had turned out to be actually quite disastrous.

First, it was his girlfriend Claire that called him about her unrelenting bad luck of getting the secondary time-shift at work for which it was well known it was the most hateful and despicable time someone could have, and she described with hideous details the ways she would have her revenge over those that wronged her so badly. Then he had to deal with the property Manager, an otherwise kind and lanky old man who although extremely gentle and delicate to everybody else, he always found some way to complain to him -every time it happens to meet him throughout the building corridors- about the extremely loud music that would come out of his apartment or the late hours on which he would speak loudly over the phone.

He took a left turn over the cloudy New York sky and continued the course with his luxury BMW, fully luxated with brown leather seats and filled with the pleasant smell that was pouring nourishingly out of the air fresheners.

«It doesn’t matter if it is unhealthy Brian, what do you mean?» he asked disdainfully. «Critisizers can say whatever they want. As a matter of fact, there is no direct correlation between eating ‘Brandy’s Hot Dogs’ and getting cancer or any disease for that matter. Are you telling me they have proof of such a connection?» he paused. «Exactly, there is no proof, only some opinions based on nothing but a few random cases that people happened to get sick and sure maybe some of them got severely ill with cancer and we are all deeply sorry for it but can’t we all agree that there could be a million different reasons for something like that to happen?»

He pressed at the center of the interior body, opening up the console storage-box, and took out a little block stabilizing it in front of the wheel as he noted the words ‘call Anny’. He threw it on the side seat as he covered the pen and then continued.

«Brian, brian», he repeated, «things are simple in this case and I hope you can understand why keeping this client is so important to us. We can’t just give up on a customer simply because of some unbased allegations from random people and we can’t afford to take such things seriously really. We continue on with the campaign as agreed and we simply ignore everything else. Is that clear?» he asked and closed the phone as he threw that over with the rest of the stuff as it bounced on the leather surface.

This morning was particularly busy in the streets and besides the extremely cold temperature of the winter, people had amassed the city with cars, stumbling over every little corner as horns were bumping out everywhere like a hidden parade that was taking place in an invisible stage. He glanced back and forth between the phone and the street. He picked up the device, dialed a number, and leaned it carefully on his right side like a little pillow he could rest his head on before bed.

«Josh, hey it’s Zed». «I want you to listen carefully and act as fast as possible on what I’m about to tell you, can you do that?». «OK, I want you to take all the ‘Green resources’ stocks, sell them all out and in place take 100 of the Abel-Meat ones.» «That’s right no more Mr. Green guy, I think it’s time to realize the things that really have potential. Plus,» he continued with a little grin in his face, «it so happen for me to be responsible for their marketing campaign which I’m pretty sure is going to be quite successful,» he boasted and greeted him as he pressed stubbornly on the corn of his car.

The streets were swarmed with cars that seemed to have chained each other in long lines like train-wagons that lost their track and found themselves in the real street. The car would start for a few seconds, move a few meters, and stop a little bit later out of what must have been the worst street congestion he had ever encounter in his life. He lowered the side window and stuck out his head and left arm, as if trying to find a way to breathe out of the otherwise polluted car suffocated air.

«Come on damn it, move it!» he exclaimed giving a little slap in the outer-side surface of his deep-blue car.

He sat back inside his car seat and frowned as he took a look of himself in the little rectangular mirror in the middle of his sun visor. His straight dark hair was curving wholesomely backwards in his head as they shined through the glistening lax he used to put on them lately. His hawkish, sharp eyes took a wary, sad expression as his thick eyebrows steeped downward on what would be an otherwise assertive and over-confident look.

He had found over the years that this distant expression was many times enough to make people open up to him a little bit more than they would have otherwise. From what he could remember he was always the recipient, the laconic one that would seat back observing people sharing their most hidden secrets as a need to cover some obscure request they were detecting on him.

«Oh, I don’t know why I’m telling you all this» was a common response in his presence as was the «I hope I don’t bother you with all these details, but you seem like a person of trust,» line that he had listened more times than he could remember. And it was all coming out of an attitude, methodically insinuated and taught by a father who although absent for most of the young man’s life, managed to give a dreary piece of advice right in his deathbed when his voice got husky and breathy in a barely noticeable way.

«Never give to others more than they give you back. Always keep something extra for yourself.» followed by a tap over the boy’s heart, was the line that characterized most of his later years as he came to grow up and denoted his attitude towards pretty much everything.

He picked up his phone again pressed his lips forward and looked up for «Anny» in the contact list which came up with a photo of a redhead female figure looking enigmatically back at him.

«Anny hi,» he replied, «Zed here. I hope I’m not getting you at the wrong time.». Pause. «Yes I know, I’m sorry I couldn’t make it to dinner.» Pause. «No I didn’t forget about it I was just..», «Yes, we can arrange it next week, sure,», «I’m glad you liked it,», «that’s awesome,».

The car moved on a little bit reaching the crossroad which held a number of people standing by the street with big banners and signs on animal rights as they yelled their activists slogans.

From his point of view, he could detect some of them like «Defend animals», and «go vegan» which he read with a radically perplexed expression as he shook his head in utter disgust. The voices became stronger and stronger as the car was approaching towards them so he bleeped his left ear with his index finger and continued.

«Hey listen, Anny, I think I’m gonna need a big favor from you,» he interrupted her. «Claire has a little bit of trouble at work with her boss», «Yes, she got a really bad shift and you know how important it is for her to be there for her family», «That’s right, it’s a nightmare,», he had now come really close to the protesters which he could clearly detect as they rhythmically yelled their slogans and raised their flags blocking the cars and forcing them to take a detour from their usual pathway.

«Look you don’t have to speak to her boss but if you have any way to reach out on him it would be really helpful», he shifted the phone to the left ear as he passed right in front of the protesters. «Hey listen, I need to call you back I’m into a situation. You are a treasure,» he uttered as he shut off his phone and turn raging towards the first protester on his left who happened to be a young blonde woman with curly wet hair that swirled over her shoulders as she held a square whiteboard with a photo of an abused pig marked within the stop sign.

Zed nodded to her and uttered. «Hey what is this? What are you doing?»

The young woman was set aback as her nose twisted between her cheeks.

«What are we doing? We work for animal rights, sir. People need to wake up on what is going on.»

The woman approached him by his window projecting a little pamphlet and continued as Zed kept his puzzled look. «More than 75 million pigs live a miserable life in factory farms and getting killed each year, dying a horrible death. People need to learn about this. Please have a look at our website it has all the details.»

Zed picked up the sheet and had a temporary glance before raising back at her in disbelief. The woman looked sketchy, and feeble, with pale white skin and soft hands that seemed like rubber white sticks that have been glued in place of her real ones, and her clothes were oversized with her thick red sweatshirt and her trousers plummetting downwards as if a kid who took his parents clothes and tried to act like an adult.

«You can’t be doing this,» exclaimed Zed. «This is bullshit. People have jobs. We need to go to work, you can’t close the road because you decided it would be good for the animals,»

The woman opened her mouth in disbelief.

«Sir with all due respect. People need to do something about it. These poor animals are getting cramped every day in a 4×4 cage where they can barely move their feet for pretty much their whole life.»

«That’s not cruelty that’s nature,» he replied. «Animals kill other animals all the time.»

«Not in that way, they don’t»

«Hey listen, girl,» said Zed as he extended his upper half body out of the window. «I know you are trying to help but what you are doing is violating people’s right to do their work. So get my advice and just go find some other outlet to pass your time. Got it?» he uttered as he got back in his car and drove off. The woman stood off as she glazed over the car marching away.

The offices of «Digital Kings» were occupying the whole fifth floor of the central multi-store building made out of tempered blue glass that resembled more of a CIA center than a commercial amalgamation of the town’s most notorious companies. The central, that was well known to the bigger public as «The Blue Rocket» because of the pyramid-hip-roof that was standing on top with a hideous long spike on it like a huge injection from outer-space, had actually many other nicknames in the neighborhood like «The Jab», «The poke», «The nail» and many more alternatives for its sharp shape, and everybody knew about the multi-million transactions that were taking place daily on this building alone.

Right above Digital Kings, on the floor on top of them, was «The Creative Apple», a firm that was controlling ruthlessly most of the city’s fruit supplies, and above that was «Dog Media» having the greatest share of the country’s TV and media channels and the story would continue on with every store having another giant occupying a good piece of the market.

But as far as the marketing firm goes, and the particular team Zed was working in, it could all be found in the end corner of the floor, within a frosted glass partition with dark brown squares on top, that occupied about one-fifth of the whole space and was containing the whole 5 member team of the creative task of finding the genius advertising ideas they had been doing for the last eight years.

Zed walked right into it, stepping on the light grey carpet that made it seem as if he was marching through snow with his feet pressing over the soft threads like a soldier with his big black boots. He threw his suitcase over his desk, took off his jacket, released the upper button from his tight white shirt, which seemed as if it was interrupting the flow of air in his body, and sulked with his hands folded around his chest as he stood by his desk.

«You just won’t believe the day I had today,» he said in disbelief shaking his head. «The traffic! The delay! My God, it was torturous,»

«Another traffic jam?» replied Jasmine calmly from her chair as she kept bouncing left and right with a magazine on her feet as if in a lullaby movement. She was of African descent, with short orange hair that would curl on top of her hair above the large golden earrings.

«Pff, I wish!» he exclaimed as he approached her. «It was these damn protesters again, making their pass about animal rights trying to justify their meaningless existence. Can you believe that normal hard-working people have to suffer in their presence because they think that they are helping the world?»

Jasmine smiled softly as Zed continued with a more insidious whispery voice.

«I’m telling you the world is sidetracked towards the wrong direction. People have just lost..» he paused as he united his finger on his mouth like a chef, «their sense of purpose and just search in the wrong outlets»

«Guys, you won’t believe who I just run into as I entered the elevator this morning.» gushed Nick as he bumped into the office with a floral, multi-color shirt and a bright smile on his face.

«Trevor, visited us straight from central and he is speaking to the..» he pointed outwards with his thumb, «big boss for the new Director position. Could it be someone in this room maybe?»

He raised his hands like a sphinx in Egypt as Jasmine and Zed glanced at each other.

«Maybe if you get them some sweets it could smooth things out?» suggested Jasmine.

«Sweets? Are you messing with me my dear?» he asked as he leaned over her head beside the big beige armchair, steeping his eyebrows. «Well just mark my word if they don’t decide to make some rearrangements in here, to say the least..»

«Re-arrangements, sure» agreed Zed with a big head-nod.

«Just wait and see,» he exclaimed again. «What’s up with you anyway? You seem rather drained,»

«Oh he got himself in one of those animal protests again.» juxtaposed Jasmine. «Not the best way to start your day off .»

«Animal protest? How awful,» exclaimed Nick. «And just imagine that we threw all this money in to prove otherwise. How are these studies going anyway?»

«They are almost finished,» replied Zed. «We got a number of scientists speaking about the plant-farms, and their carbon footprint. We got statistics on plant-based diets and how they can be unhealthy for people who lose nutrients.» He raised his eyebrows, «And we got a full-blown documentary coming up next to go public soon»

«Yeah, baby!» exclaimed Nick. «It’s brilliant! The economy is gonna be thankful for you Mr. Zed. And one day they will speak about your great achievement to save civilization from all the mindless monkeys who opposed what it is to be awfully human» he uttered with his diminishing breath, reaching its end like a balloon that got out of air.

«Well, it’s not only civilization» replied Zed. «The meat guys signed-up for another campaign already which kinda makes the point for itself.»

«It so does, doesn’t it?» asked Nick as a young blonde woman with a brushed-off white shirt and a black skirt, jumped in.

«Zed, Luke asked to see you in his office. And I don’t think you want to get late because he is booked with meetings for the whole day,» she said and closed the door right behind her as all three inside the room stood staring at each other in question.

Luke’s office was located on the total opposite side of the floor surrounded by the two desks of Linda’s on one side, a dark-haired photogenic accountant that many people in the office assumed to be his unacknowledged daughter, he had secretly made with a woman in his teenage years but never admitted for she was married to another man. Many of her characteristics including her rosy cheeks, pointy nose, and particular pattern of raising her right eyebrow in times of interest were said to be totally a sign of Luke’s genes, that had found a way to pass on and manifest through these little micro-behaviors.

On the right side was Emma who was the blonde girl that had notified Zed just a minute before and was the woman that was most vividly lusted by any other male in the whole office.

Zed walked towards the two desks on the side of the main door that seemed like the guardian angels of something with inexplicable high value and nodded to Emma as he passed on and entered the office.

The room was spacious and filled with long leather sofas that surrounded a little glass table on the right half of it, opposite the main desk on the other side. As was well known to everybody, Luke was rarely sitting on his real desk. He would occupy some corner over the long pillow surfaces while making phone calls or lie down on an armchair with a golden liquid in his glass while going through his daily documents. Either way, the actual office had evolved to be more of a cosmetic addition to the overall design rather than a furniture of real value.

«Luke,» exclaimed Zed. «you asked to see me?»

«Sure yes come on in» he motioned with his hand. «please have a seat»

He poured in some whiskey in a glass and offered it to Zed who grabbed it with a little nod and sat down on the side sofa. Luke was a chubby, old man and had a long white beard that matched wholesomely with his full-blown white hair and stern gleaming eyes making him look like Santa Claus would look if he had a real-life job. He always seemed like he would rather be somewhere else than where he was in that moment. Always a little bit reflective and somewhat distracted as if his mind was never fully present.

He glanced over at Zed a little bit lovingly and somewhat inspectingly at the same time as he leaned his head backwards.

«Zed, how many years is it that you’ve been working here now? Is it 6? 7 years now?»

«It’s eight Luke,» replied Zed. «Eight full years.»

«Right, right. And in all those eight years, how would you assess your time here? Are you happy? Content? Disgusted?»

«I’m happy, but of course Luke. Why are you asking me this, is anything wrong?»

«No, no nothing is wrong. Call it just an old’s man curiosity if you will» he smiled amused. «Now let me ask you something but I want you to answer me sincerely and honestly. Can you do that?» he asked ducking his head.

«Absolutely Luke. Anything you want.»

«Was there any moment in these years that you said this was the wrong place for you? Or that you regretted being here?»

«Luke, what is this?»

«Just answer the question,» Luke interrupted him. «Was there any such time for you?»

«No, I don’t think so Luke,»

«You don’t think so?» he stared at him as his face dropped.

«No I can’t recollect any such moment, no..» he said shaking his head.

Luke kept staring at him as Zed glanced back and forth awkwardly.

«OK,» said Luke releasing the tension after a few seconds that seemed like an eternity. «So how are things going with you anyway. Any news in your department?»

Zed gulped.

«We had some good progress with all the meat studies of the last few months and we finally have some strong evidence to make the point in public. It’s going to be a good promotion for Abel-meat and I really think it’s going to do wonders for the industry in general.»

«Oh forget about the meat stuff,» dismissed Luke with a gesture of his hand. «I’m talking about you! How are things going for you and your life?»

«Oh!» exclaimed Zed, «it’s going fine, nothing I can complain of really.»

Luke moved his finger like a teacher would point at a student and raised up from his chair with a little bit more effort than someone would expect. His feet seemed to be rather weak, and adamant, like wooden sticks that had lost their ability to bend. He dragged them slowly over the floor carpet and walked towards the window table from which he glazed outside.

«You know,» he said, «too much work is not a good thing. People ought to take some break every now and then or they could get themselves into trouble without even realizing it.»

He turned back and walked towards the sofa as he took a seat over its arms leaning his hand over his thigh.

«That’s how I behaved when I was young as well, and I paid a heavy price, but unfortunately I was too naive, too inexperienced to realize it at that point in time.»

Zed nodded. as he let him continue.

«Anyway, here is what I want from you. There is a little issue I’m dealing with and I think you would be the best possible person to help me out with.»

«Me? How so?» asked Zed.

«Well, it’s a rather long story, but here is the short version. I have this nephew, Andrew, he is a great kid. A wonderful boy. He just finished university and is ready to kick off his career as well. But it’s just that..» he hesitated, «he seems to be closed off from everybody these days. He stopped talking to his parents, he stopped going out with his friends. They even got his to talk with a psychologist and still, they couldn’t get anything out of it,»

«Could it be that he is heart-broken?»

«We thought of that as well but his last relationship, from what we know was more than a few months back and he wasn’t even bothered that much about the break-up back then.»

Zed grabbed his chin as he got into thoughts.

«We tried everything, really but to no avail. That’s why I thought we should go a different way of getting in touch with him. Maybe he doesn’t want to talk to us that we know him because he is embarrassed. Maybe he knows that reaching out to a psychotherapist, hired by his father to help him is destined to get his secret out and he is just too scared to open up.»

He took a sip from his drink as Zed kept staring at him with his hands united over his knees.

«What I think is that if he had a completely unknown person, someone he or his family had never seen before but he was still smarter and more mature than he is, he could trust him enough to open up given the right circumstance. I think what he needs is just some sort if you will that he can speak about it without any repercussions. Do you follow me?»

«Yes,» replied Zed, «I think I do,»

«So here is what I would like you to do and of course this is by no means any obligation of yours or enforced to you in any way at all. I want you to just take him out one day like a friend. Like a little mentor that can level with him and he can find someone, he can trust enough to open up. It’s not certain that it’s going to work of course but it certainly wouldn’t hurt to try, right?»

«Yes, of course not.»

«So what do you say? Are you in? You don’t have to participate in it under any circumstance and I definitely don’t want to put you in the spot here.»

«Absolutely not an issue Luke. I would love to do it. As a matter of fact, I think it’s a great idea as well» he replied as both men smiled at each other.

The «Paradise Center» was a mall on the outer side of the city where the big busy streets and compacted Lego-buildings would give way to big parks, and fresh air, as nature was claiming its space back. It had a only few houses scattered around and sparse shops but it would mostly gather people on its premises for two reasons. Either those that wanted some sort of outlet from the ant mode of life, or those that reached out in one of the multiple entertainment centers and bars around the area.

The result was that no matter what time of day you visited, you would always find a swarm of people hanging around and as a matter of fact, this was the place were Zed and Claire met for the first time, when destiny brought them together by a miraculus accident, as Claire intruiged by the gleam leather quality of a brand-jacket over the shop window, smashed over the eqully distracted Zed as they marched in opposite directions, blasting the coffee in his hand wide open and dropping flat onto the ground.

It was since this incident that Zed would always resort in there when he got the chance, and it was again the place of his choice that day where he and Andrew marched into the shiny, sparkled Colloseum of stores as they both raised their heads up to the air accounting the whole 10 store monolith.

«So that’s the place» uttered Zed with his head still lurking upwards. «Funny you’ve never been here before».

«Yeah, I guess it just never happened» he shrugged as he pronounced his words slowly and almost timidly.

Andrew was a slender and rather fragile young man, with an aura of femininity coming out from his soft movements and the blonde rich hair. He had big round eyes and baby soft skin bringing an air that maybe his body somehow grew up too ubraptly, before the rest of him had enough time to catch up.

«So I heard you’ve been working with Uncle Luke in the marketing firm.» he exalimed. «How do you find it so far?»

«Well, it’s quite demanding, I’m not going to lie to you,» responded Zed «but it can be rewarding as well in strange ways.»

«Oh is it? How so?»

By now both men had taken their place in one of the little restaurants of the mall, that looked promising enough to fill out their stomachs with good food before moving on to the rest of their evening. It had utilized some particular techniques where light was mostly fused on isolated points on the table and kitcen counter to make a creative combination with shadows.

«Well, it’s like a game of perspectives,» replied Zed brining the fingers of his hands together. «No matter what you are given up to work with, you need to find that right aspect, that angle that would allow people to realize its potentials.»

Andrew nodded.

«Imagine you have this table for example. On it’s own it is nothing but a peace of wood, it means nothing, it has no intricit value. Someone could get an axe cut out a tree and make it without spending almost nothing. Yet!» he exallimed raising his finger to the air.

«Here is where modern culture comes in, and dictates a certain quality of life, a certain way of doing things. They say chose this table and not another one because the wood is better, it’s more stable. They say that if you have this table you’ll be a happier person. Fulfilled and content. Does it really make much difference if you get this one or one made out of oak?» he shook his head, «not really, for your purposes it is pretty much the same, you just stand around it and lean your plate on it when you want to eat. But the perpective though,» he paused as he let the words sink in, «the perspective changes everything..»

Andrew stood a little bit motionless restricting any signs of wether he agrees with any of it and just motioned slowly his head as he pressed on his lips. Zed took a sip from the water as he gave him some time.

«So you are saying that it’s all just an idea, but what about people’s real needs. What about the things that are really valuable to them.»

«You know Andrew,» he shook his hand, «after some time you just stop believing in ‘real’. There is no such thing I’m afraid, only what we decide to make of it and what we decide to name important. That is where we come in with our work,» he said leaning his leaned inwards pointing his hands back to himself.

At that moment the waiter interrupted them carrying a little pen and a block as she folded her disc under her left arm. She had blonde hair with long curvy lines and her shirt was opened in the upper part revealing a thin golden necklace.

«Would you like to order?» she asked as Zed searched through the menu with his pointer finger for his desicion.

«Sure, I would like the..» he hesitated a little bit as he glanced towards her but continued in a rather slower manner, «pork steak.»

He wrapped up the menu and offered it back at her.

«Do I know you from somewhere?» he asked.

The woman remained silent as she kept her head towards the block. She had learned through the years of doing her job, that men would frequently initiate conversation with her, though some indirect way and the «do I know you from somewhere» question, was rather quite high in the list of lines togther with the «what is your favorite dish», and the «what time do you get out of work,» for which she would always ignore like it was never spoken or gently diffuse with some excuse.

«No I don’t think so» she said smiling,

«I think I’ve seen you recently in the street near the central square» he insisted squizzing his eyes.

The woman glanced over at him reluctuntly as her face took a surprised look all of a sudden.

«Oh yes, you are the guy in that car aren’t you? The ‘I don’t take meat protests bullshit’ guy. I remember you»

Zed raisd his eyebrow.

«Well, I don’t have any issue with protests as long as they don’t stop me from going to my work,»

«Right..» replied the woman, «and what would you suggest instead, some sort of seating protest maybe?».

«There are way to pass your message,» replied Zed. «Every-day people don’t have to suffer for it though, don’t you think?»

«Of course..» replied the woman, «sorry for the incovinience. And you sir, what you you like?» she asked as she turned over to Andrew.

«I will just have the Hamburger, thank you» he replied alerted that something bad is going on.

Zed shook his head as he re-emerged on his previous point.

«Hey look, I’m sorry I didn’t want to be an asshole.» he said raising his hand. «It’s just that I was really under pressure at that moment. I have nothing with your beliefs or anything for that matter.»

The woman nodded like a robot that repeats the same movement out of bug.

«Right, of course. It’s not a problem at all. I will have your steak ready for you. Thank you.» she smiled as she turned away and left leading Zed to exhale in desperation.

He seemed to be geniounly displeased by the whole incident to which Andrew just waited almost frozen for him to came back before talking.

«Have you two met before?» he asked quizzicaly.

«Yeah it was just a weird coincidence that I met her a few days ago.» he dismissed with a hand gesture. «Anyway, where were we?»

They engaged into the previous conversation where Zed immeresed into the inner workings of his job. He talked about the rules in the business world, the partnership with his uncle Luke and how much he admired him for his achievements all these years. He briefed him over some of the latest accomplishments of the company and he continued monopolizing most of the conversation as Andrew listened patiently and quitely.

Yet throughout the conversation it seemed as if Andrew was not fully engaged in it, like something was holding him back from speaking what was in his mind or that there was something he was hiding from and didn’t want to reveal. Zed took a pause, had a little wine and turned over to him.

«So what is your opionion on it. You just finished university, you are a smart guy, you are about to start your own journey,..what do you plan next?»

«Well I don’t know really, to be honest» he chuckled.

«You must have something in mind, right?» insisted Zed. «Something you dream about, some ambition?»

«I wouldn’t really call it an ambition. It’s rather..»


«It’s a long story. I’m not sure you want to listen to it really,»

Zed checked on his watch theatrically.

«I think we got enough time. I have nowhere to go and it’s really not that late so..» he shrugged encouraging him to continue.

«Well, the thing is I guess that what I really want has nothing to do with ambition or businesses.»

Zed gave out a quizzical grimace as he pressed his chin in his neck.

«Both my father and my uncle are incredible businessmen. They created companies from scratch and made their wealth by following one success after the other.» He turned his hands upside down with open palms. «I guess this is not the dream I have for myself.»

«It’s not?»

«No I’m not made for this, I’m not the kind of person that wants to wake up every morning, put on his suit, wear a fake smile and chase money the whole day. It just doesn’t feel right,»

«Interesting,» pondered Zed, «But what would you like instead then?»

«Well, I guess that is something I will need to figure out in the future…»

He raised his glass and had a little sip as Zed noticed something across him that got his attention. A man that beside his bland attitude and mellow movements, stood out from the crowd as a much more important person than what his appearce would reveal about him. ‘Robert Banks’ was the CEO of Abel-meats and besides being one of the most important destributors of meat throughout the country, he was also one of the most prominent clients of Digital Kings, and one that have a severe impact in the future earnings of the company.

He was wearing some thin, gold glasses and he had a thick, Nitschean mustache over his mouth as if it was violently brushed and merged alltogther into a hairy blur.

Zed skirted his suit, straighten his spine adding another couple of inches to his total heght and with a strict face said, «Give me one second, I’ll ne right back with you» as he raised from his chair and approached the man who was now standing over the restaurant desk waiting for his order.

«Robert!» he exclaimed, «If my eyes don’t lie to me,»

The man’s eye’s gleamed as soon as he realized who it was and smiled back at him as they shook their hands. A few months back they would talk almost on a daily basis about the new marketing campaign of Abel-meats and it was actually Zed that convinced them about the necessary scientific analysis that was required to bring a more positive light to the whole campaign.

«If we don’t change the perspective of the people, the food fight is destined to be won by plants and chemically created burgers,» he had said promptly. «We either counter-attack or the numbers are going to continue their decline till the reach the lowest possible point.»

His argument was expressed after a series of slides showing how the whole meat industry had received a number of considerable blows, not only by animal activists and the growing sensitivity to their abuse, but also by a number of new competitors that had spured up to life out of thin air, by creating meat with chemical substances.

«I think you will be simply amazed by how much progress we have done so far,» he leaned forward as if sharing a secret and whispered, «We have some of the very best scientists on the field, some of the most famous and prominent ones, document on camera how important real meat is to our diet.»

Robert nodded.

«There is simply no subtitude for it and for the first time ever, we are capable to back it up with real science. Let me just tell you it wasn’t easy to bring them on board, we had to give them that little extra push before they join the team,» he winked,

«I’m sure your pursuation methods can be quite convicing,» he replied as they gave out a burst of laughter.

They continued their converstation for the next few minutes as Robert delved into the business details and how hard it is to improve the distribution speed under the current circumstances. Yet, at the end of their little chat and as Zed knocked gently on his arm and was about to leave Robert mentioned something that surprised Zed so much, that changed his mood for good for the rest of the evening.

«You know this little restuarnt, was the very first one we got the chance to deliver out product,» he said as he smiley nodded. «It is actually still a good client of ours, you can try out these pork steaks, they come out straight from our livestock»

«Oh is it?» asked Zed innocently but hide the little fear that creaped out in him on how over-medicined these animals were and how many studies had initially show connection to real physical damage from over-consumpion.

«We always make sure we give them our best,» he replied as Zed folded his arms around his chest.

Robert sneered with his head over the woman that was now standing a few meters behind Zed and was taking an order out of the counter.

«See this waitress?» he asked.

Zed turned around and glanced at the blonde woman that took the order from him previously.

«Yes, what about her?»

«She has been witnessed repeatedly of making her stand against meat and she has even dared to write multiple blog posts and share pamphlets with her crazy ideas.» he smiled sarcastically. «She will be out of her job in less than a week,» he whispered to Zed as he greeted him and let him get back to his table with a rather hazed expression.

The rest of the night continued on, with Zed being a little bit more skeptical about his food, he brushed his dish off on the side, and kept his focus strictly on his drink. Although he kept his vital character and cheerful attitude all the way till the end of the night, he seemed rather distracted after the converstation he had with Robert, and maybe somewhat sad even as he allowed Andrew to talk about his new habits and art preferences.

It was only a bit later, and as the store changed course from the afternoon happy mode, to the dimmed-lighted evening dress with the calm Jazz music and the soft ambience, that they went about leaving. But as they were about to stand up Zed hesitate. He glanced back and forth in a small dose of akwardness, excused himseld and approached over the counter as he stood right beside the waitress.

«Hey, hi» he uttered as he raised his hand to grab her attention.

«Oh it’s you again,» the woman dismissed, «how can I help you,»

«Look,» said Zed somewhat boldly as if he was about to say something serious. «I’m really sorry about before, and the incident over the protest. I did’t want to give you a hard time and definitely not to insult you in any way.»

The woman looked back at him with a little squint.

«No, you are not sorry,» she exclaimed. «You only say this because you want to feel better about yourself.»

Zed stattered as he muttered something ineligible, and the woman continued.

«If you were really sorry you wouldn’t run over to places like this eating pork stakes and saying how sorry you are. You would do something about it. But you are not sorry, you are just looking for the easy way out, aren’t you?»

«No you got it all wrong I promise you» said Zed as he stood back stunt.

«I tell you what. If you are really sorry why don’t you go a walk over an animal farm one day. Have a look on yourself on what is going on in there and then you tell me how would you feel if you were to be in their place. How about that?»

«I’m really sorry,» said Zed again with a little shrug. «I trully am». But the woman dismissed his apology again and continued on with her shift as Zed and Andrew got out and moved on to their next venue.

Zed only mentioned the near-by bar momentarily during their dinner but somehow it stuck and Andrew persuade him to pay a visit before ending the night. It was one of those venues that were dark throughout their vast area, and was famous for its amazing live-music they would employ every night with bands that although lesser known were quite talented. It was rather spreaded that some of the most well-known rock bands and the current elite in the kind had actually made their first steps by playing there and the walls were rather filled with pictures of them as they would be depicted in their much younger and humbler version.

They got their spot in one of the tables and enjoyed the show as one beer led to the next and the time passed without realizing it. At some point their group expanded with the company of two young women that Zed had the luck of meeting in his attempt to oder a few drinks where he accidentally bumped over one of them.

They spend the next couple of hours together as Andrew remained rather less talkative and Zed would embark in some sort of crazy speach that would shock everybody else around the table.

«I don’t want to downgrade the fight women give everyday, or the fact that they have to struggle to get their attention they need,» he would say, «but if something bad happened to a guy, like let’s say if a rock comes down from the roof-top and smashed down on his head,» he nodded condecendingly with his head, «guess what, nobody is gonna give a fuck. It’s simple as that.»

Which would be met by folded hands and frowned eyebroes as the bottle of beer sin the table kept emptyting and refreshing faster and faster over the night.

At the end of it all, and as Zed and Robert had finally reached the end of their common path and were about to go their seperate ways, Zed did one last unexpected thing. He grabbed Andrew from the back of his head, banged his forehead up to his and uttered with a blurry, drunk accent of a numb mouth that had lost most of its nerve-sensitivity.

«You are a good kid Andrew. Never forget that.» he said as he pointed his finger at him. «You make sure you follow what this thing right here tells you and nothing else. Do you hear me?» he growled as he tapped twice in his heart. «Just make sure you follow that».

A couple of weeks passed after the incident and it so happened that Emma marched into the office with her usual eminating radiance and notified Zed to visit Luke once more, as he was ducking over some papers together with Jasmine. As a matter of fact he had prepared for this meeting for a few days now and he was acticipating it with both eagerness and distress for what he was about to do.

During these two weeks he had actually visited the farm factory of Abel-Food corporation, located in the other side of the town which was the main provision for all the pork meat production, that was distributed around the country.

It was declared in papers, and proved through the multiple state inspections, that the farm was following all the indicated standards and governemtnt rules on how to keep good living condintions for the animals and it was written all over the press and various documents on what an exceptional example they were for the rest of the animal farms in the world, by doing anything in their power to provide the best possible conditions for them.

So many of their marketing campaigns, and promotions were about the measures they were taking for the animals and how over-sensitive they were about their living standards, yet what Zed found when he visited them, was nothing but a pile of pigs stuck one on top the other over an accumulation of dirt and infinite stench that was continusly produced by the thousands of animals that were restricted in a little cages, and were bound to spend all of their days in them. Pigs squashed in barren, concrete pens, with no room to move or breath or interact with each other other than sitting into that little space for as long as needed till their time came to turn into bacon.

Although the idea of an animal farm and what it meant was clear to him since the beginnning, coming face to face with the spectacle of it seemed to shatter some of his core beliefs he was holding till then, which made him take some tough desicions on his way forward. Some desicions that he was determined to talk about with Luke in the upcoming appointment.

«Zed, finally!» exclaimed Luke as Zed joined him in his office as he took the usual seat near him in the side couch. «I had meant to talk to you since a few days now but always something would come up and it kept falling to the next day again and again,»

«Oh don’t mention it,»

«First of all let me thank you for taking Andrew out the other night. It wasn’t part of the plan for you to do it but it certainly meant a lot that you did it anyway.»

«It was my pleasure Luke,» replied Zed warm-heartidely. «Andrew is a great kid. How are things with him now anyway?»

«Well, it wasn’t exactly what we expected really, to be honest. He decided to pick his own road with music and arts and leave all the coorporate world behind him. Not really a logical desicion by any means. I mean he could have anything literally. Money, fame, power,» he accenuated all three words individually. «But he just prefered his own thing instead. Courageous and stupid at the same time, as all youth ought to be,» said smirking a little chuckle togerther with Zed.

«Who knows maybe it turns out for the best ayway» asserted Zed.

«That’s my thought exactly. He has plenty of time to explore the world on his own terms and make what he decides out of it. If he ever changes his mind, he knows where to find us,» he exclaimed raising his hands.

The conversation continued for a few more minutes as Luke narrated some of his next plans. He wanted to grow the marketing devision even further he said, and Zed was the person most suitable to take charge of the whole operation. It would be a grand move and he was willing to depart a good chunk of the company assets to achieve his goals. Yet the response that came from Zed strucked him like a lighting from clear sky that made him spit out some of the Sauvignon white wine he was drinking at the moment.

«Luke, I know this company has been more than a family to me,» declared Zed sofly. «But the time has come for me to make my own move as well. Unfortunately I will have to resign from my position.»

«What? You are leaving me too?»

Zed apologized, went through his plans to move out of the marketing business for good and re-assured him that it was a desicion that had nothing to do with the position he was currently in, which he highly enjoyed. From what he said it was rather a personal target of his to try his luck out of the strict borders of the marketing world and experiment with new ideas while he had the time and energy to do so.

«But I thought you were happy here. That you liked your job as much as everyone else.»

«I did Luke, but of course. I still am as a matter of fact. This doesn’t change any of it.»

«But what are you gonna do now?» he inquired. «What are you planning to do exactly?»

«Well, there is this thing that I just realized is missing from this town and nobody has ever thought about till now.»

«What is that?»

«An animal care center,» he exclaimed as he observed Luke dropping his mouth to the ground.

«These guys over in Abel seem to believe that actually red meat and fat has more health benefits that actual plants! Can you believe that?» said Sophy as she turn the page from the newspaper she was reading to her peer, displaying the shocking news about the recent studies on meat.

«Do even people bite on all this?» replied the oher woman as she grinned her face. «It is so obvious that this is all fake»

She had dark hair and was wearing strong make up bringing a complete contrast to the natural look of Sophy’s who was standing right opposite to her to the other side of the desk.

«These people have literally no stop,» replied Sophy. «They would do anything for money. I think we should write a response on it, at least»

«They would never publish it. We have tried multiple times» she replied as a third woman rushed in through the door delivering some news enthusisatically.

«Girls, you won’t believe what just happened.»

The two woman stared at her speachless.

«A guy just called and made a donation of 10.000 dollars. He said he wants to participate in the tommorows rally as well. Isn’t that great?» she asked.

When they met him the next day everybody in the protest was keen to get to know the new member who made such a generous gesture. It was very rare that someone would appear out of nowhere and do something like that, let alone participate in an actual rally of the organization for animal rights. Yet when the time came to meet Sophy, she seemed a little bit reluctunat to speak to him or rather hesitant to aknowledge his presence.

«My name is Zed» he declared protruding his hand as she kept staring away from him with her hands folded.

«I understand if you don’t want to speak to me,» he continued, «but I promise you I’m here with the best of intentions,»

«Nobody cares about your intentions. What are you trying to get out this really? We both know you are not here for the animals,»

«What if I am though?» he asked making her stunt for a bit.

«Well I don’t think you are,» she shrugged.

Zed nodded and pulled a card out of his pocket.

«I’m starting something.» he said, «I would love it if you could be part of it. Think about it,»

He delivered the card and left as she stood there scratching her head. She wasn’t expecting much out of it, but after the inclination of her friends, she decided to give it a try and called the number in the card aranging a meeting. Withing a few weeks they had found their ways in making the center known to the public and offering their services to all the animals in the city.

Zed who had by then dropped out completely from his previous life, cut out the last remaining thread of his past by breaking up with Claire and devoting almost all his energy to animals and the center. He would open the lab early in the morning when the first signs of light would burst out of a shy sun, and he would be the last person to leave the office where many times he would sleep there out of sheer exhaustion.

«Zed you shouldn’t stay up so late» urged him Sophy one day. «I think you need some rest like everybody else. You are not a robot» she said tapping over his arm.

«Here I made something for you,» she said as she turned around to bring the coffee she had just prepared for him. But as she extended her hand the glass turned upside down delivering a massive splash of coffee to thrown all over Zed who got bathed with it all over his green, woolen sweater. But as it turned out the incident signified the beginning of something none of them had anticipated till that moment. The beginning of a common journey where they got to share together for a long time since then.