Harvest of Expectations Ch. 07byAutumnWriter©
Chapter 7 — A Man's Work
The phone call at his apartment surprised him. He had been back at his apartment for about ninety minutes. He was taking a break from finishing off the report on Fluid Systems that was due in a few days and was about to pop the top on a beer. Then it would be time to fix some dinner. The surprise phone call made him glad that hadn't quite gotten to it.
"Wow! That was fast. Something must be cooking."
He set down the phone and ran into his room to change back into his navy suit that he had worn to his interview earlier that day.
"What's going on?" Rich asked him.
"It's the guy from Douglas Chemical who I interviewed with this morning. He wants me to come back to campus to talk again right now."
"Jeez," Rich answered, "that doesn't happen too often."
"They want to see my work in progress for the Bromine Plant," Jim called out from the bedroom as he adjusted the knot on his tie. "What do you think..."
"He probably wants a ride to the airport," Rich laughed. "You gonna take him in the Rustmobile?"
Jim set about packing up his work papers.
"Get off it, Rich," he snapped.
"Hey, hey," Rich countered, "I was just trying to loosen you up. You look nervous."
"Sorry, Rich. I guess I am a little nervous."
"Well, stop being nervous. It's pretty clear that they liked what they saw this morning. So, relax!"
Jim presented himself at the placement office where he'd had his interview earlier that day. He had his arms full with a box that held several notebooks and rolls of engineering drawings.
"Didn't they tell you?" the receptionist said. "You're to meet them in Professor Stark's office."
Jim looked around. His advisor's office was in the building next door to the one he was in.
"Don't worry," the receptionist laughed. "I'll call over there and let them know that you're on the way."
A few minutes later Jim was balancing his box of materials in one hand and knocking on Professor Stark's office door with the other while he panted for breath. The man he'd met with, a guy by the name of Mr. Cutler, opened the door. He was about forty, had on a pin-striped suit. Jim remembered that he worked in the Personnel Department of Douglas Chemical at its Headquarters in Michigan.
"Hello, Jim. Thanks for coming back on such short notice. Sorry about the location mix-up."
Jim tried to perch the box of materials in his left hand so he could shake hands. Cutler laughed a little and slapped Jim on the back.
"Just set your materials on the table for right now."
Jim found the long table in the corner of the office and he had to admit that he was glad to put them down, even though he was in pretty good condition from his pole vault workouts. He looked up and saw another man seated in a chair alongside Professor Stark. Mr. Cutler introduced him to the man he didn't know.
It was a man named Gerald Tyler. He was in his fifties, wore a tweed sports coat with leather elbow patches and khaki slacks. His hair was thinning and had a slender build. He explained that he was an Engineering Supervisor at Douglas Chemical and worked in Michigan, just like Frank Cutler. Jim shook hands with Mr. Tyler and then turned to his professor.
"It's always good to see you, Professor Stark," Jim said to his mentor.
George Stark, nationally renowned, was the Senior Professor of Chemical Engineering at Campbell University. He was not the Department Chairman. He always said that he 'enjoyed his subject, not Administration'
He was about sixty, tall, thin and angular with piercing eyes that could look right through a student and see what was inside him. So, when a student was dealing with Professor Stark it was best to have nothing to hide.
"I've known George Stark for a lot of years," Mr. Tyler began. "He wants me to see your project and I see that you've brought it with you. Why don't we spread it out?"
Jim started unpacking the box. There was a lot of material. He was wondering whether to give it to them bit by bit or the highlights first.
"The project isn't quite done yet," Jim warned them. "Maybe if I just..."
"That's quite all right," Mr. Tyler said, "George tells me that you've got a lot done. Now, let's see what you've got."
Before Jim could say anything the older man was unrolling drawings and spreading open the binders. He seemed to know just the way Jim had set it up. He overlaid all the drawings over the top of each other in just the right order and as he thumbed through the sheaves of papers he could find each and every detail he was looking for in exactly the place Jim had organized them.
"I can see you're one of George Stark's students," he said as he looked at a data sheet. "Everything is right where it should be."
Professor Stark and Mr. Cutler stood to the side while Mr. Tyler bent over the material on the table. Jim stood at attention along side the senior engineer, waiting to be called upon. Every so often Tyler would ask him a question like, 'why did you come off this heat exchange with four inch piping' or 'how much amperage do the mixers on the reactors require'.
Jim knew he was lucky because he had the answers to each question.
"It's only a matter of time before he asks me one that I don't know."
But at the end he was able to field all of the questions and give good answers. When Mr. Tyler asked him what more he was going to do to perfect the project, Jim got an affirmative nod from both Mr. Tyler and Professor Stark.
"Mostly," Jim said, "I'm going to make the piping more efficient and take a look at the sizing on the heat exchangers. I also want to try an idea to reuse the heat coming off the heat exchangers instead of venting it."
It was the true answer. He hadn't made it up.
Mr. Tyler closed up Jim's notebooks and rolled up his drawings. He put everything back in Jim's box. He walked over to Professor Stark's desk and took a chair. He motioned Jim to another chair nearby.
"Very credible project," the elder man said.
"Thank you, sir," Jim answered, 'I was ..."
"Do you think that you would make a good engineer at Douglas Chemical Company?"
"Yes, sir," Jim said, "I do believe that."
Mr. Tyler clasped hands together and drew in a breath.
"What is it about you that would make it true?" he demanded.
Jim felt a shot go through him.
Jim thought of the right words that he could say, of the platitudes about hard work and love of chemistry and math. He could recite his GPA, but he was sure that the men around him knew about that already. He thought about how Hildy was teaching him to skip all those little, harmless, polite, white lies. He decided to just let them have the truth, for better or worse.
"Because, sir, I've been very lucky. I've been fortunate to have the family that I do, a chance to study at this great school, with first-class classmates and be taught by men like Professor Stark. Now I have a chance to work at a great company like yours. Soon it's going to be up to me. I've got to take all these things that have been given to me and do my level best with them. That's my part to play and that's what I will do."
"You were just lucky? You didn't have anything to do with it, at all?" Mr. Tyler asked.
"Sure, I worked hard—but that's hardly too much to ask," Jim answered.
The three older men looked at one another.
Mr. Tyler stood up and Jim did, too.
"Thank you for coming to see us, Mr. Connolly. We'll be in touch with you soon."
Jim was passing by Prof. Stark's office again the next day. His mentor saw him in a hallway and asked him to stop in.
"I hope you know that Douglas is going to give you an offer," he told Jim. "That was a heck of an accounting you gave of yourself yesterday."
Jim flushed while the professor's words sunk in. He thought it was a good interview, but one is never certain.
"Are you sure, Professor? I thought maybe they didn't like my answer to the last question. I should have been ready for the question, I suppose, but I wasn't. But what I said is the truth. It's all I can give them. But they sent me away right after I said it."
The professor shook his head.
"Frank, Gerry and I had dinner last night after you left. Gerry said your answers were so good that he sent you away so that you wouldn't have a chance to spoil your perfect record."
Jim let out a nervous laugh.
"I'm not kidding and Jerry liked your answer to the last question the best. I, personally, would have to agree with him."
"Sir, I don't know what to say."
"There isn't much to say, Jim. Just be patient and you should get some mail from them pretty soon. I'm not saying that you have to accept, but you've got to give this one a lot of thought. They're a premier company. I would say the best."
Professor Stark was thumbing some papers in a nervous way and Jim could tell he still had something else on his mind.
"I was wondering if you've given any more thought to staying on for the Master's Program next year. It's there if you want it. It would be up to you, of course."
Jim had already thought it over and was prepared with his answer.
"Professor, I'm very grateful. It's a tempting offer and my family would like me to stay. But, you see, I've got to get out there and begin earning my own way. I can't let my parents cough up any more money on my education and I've got a lot of loans. My car barely runs."
Professor Stark nodded that he understood.
"This development from Douglas makes it feel so close," he told Jim. "And it is, really. But, my offer still stands until you tell me officially that you're turning it down. At least, keep it in the back of your mind for a while."
The professor was right, of course. Jim always liked to visit him. He had a way of understanding his students and pushing them harder at the same time. Jim wondered what life would be like without Professor Stark's voice in his ear.
"Professor Stark, you've done a lot for me over these five years and..."
"It's my job, Jim, and doing it for you has been a pleasure. But, you have to think of yourself now. Whatever you decide, it has to be what you think is right for you."
The professor excused himself because he had a class scheduled. They shook hands and left the room together. Jim's day was over and he had a lot of things to think about. He decided to go back to his apartment and have a beer with Rich.
"I told you to stop worrying," Rich said to him as he tossed him a can of beer. "It seems to me that the more you worry about something the less there is to worry about. It looks like things are shaping up for you."
"Maybe so," Jim conceded. "Have you decided on what you're going to do yet?"
"It's between the offers from Caterpillar and Illinois Machine," Rich said. "They're pretty close."
"Not a bad choice to make," Jim said. "What plans have you got for the weekend?"
"I thought I would call Chelsea and see if she wants to go the submarine races. What about you?"
"When I injured my wrist at practice last week the coach took me off the travel team, so I won't be making the trip to Penn State this weekend. I thought I would take a trip home and talk to my parents about what's going on with Douglas Chemical. I'll see if Hildy wants to go out."
"I bet I know how you hurt your wrist," Rich chortled.
"Wise ass," Jim bantered back.
"Why don't you see if Hildy will solve that problem of yours?" Rich countered.
"We'll see—I dunno," Jim answered. "I know I have a problem, but these days I'm not sure if it's not having sex or wanting it too much. Maybe it's not grabbing it when I've had the chance or maybe trying too hard to get it."
"It's hard to solve a problem when you know you have one but aren't sure what the real problem is. It's like solving a physics problem. If you use the wrong equation it can get you further away from the solution than if you'd done nothing."
"Whew! You sound like you need another beer."
Jim looked up just in time to see a beer can flying through the air at him. He caught it and popped the top and then took a gulp. Good ol' Rich. He always seemed to have an answer ready.
Jim was careful to not get his parents' expectations up too much during his visit. An assurance from Professor Stark was fine, but it sure wasn't an official offer and Jim knew anything could happen.
He was especially careful not to mention the conversation he had with the professor about the Master's program. That was sure to have set off a big debate and Jim was sure that he was at a point in which he would have to think for himself.
He thought about these things as he drove his father's Catalina to Hildy's house. She was still living at home so he knew that there wouldn't be any use not to plan to return to his parents' house that night. In the morning he planned to head back to school.
"It's more like it's her parents' house," he was thinking as he drove, "because if I was in her shoes and I had to put up with what she does I wouldn't call it my house."
Of course, he wouldn't have put up with it and he wished that Hildy wouldn't either, but he wasn't going to pressure her. He judged that she had enough pressure already.
He pulled into Hildy's driveway and began wondering what kind of reception he would get after the blowup with her father. He was half expecting Hildy to scamper out of the back door to avoid a confrontation. When she didn't he shut off the motor and in a few seconds he was knocking at the back door.
No one answered at first and he tried to listen through the door but all was quiet. He was certain that Hildy's father wouldn't let her out of the house and wouldn't answer the door either. He decided that he'd reached the end of his rope with the old man. He knew he would have to do something.
After a minute he heard steps approaching the door. He drew a breath, ready for anything. To his surprise it was Hildy who opened the door. She was smiling.
"Come in," she said.
He stepped into the kitchen and she kissed him.
"Did you miss me," she asked.
"Hildy, I always miss you. You should know that by now."
Jim looked around the kitchen and the only light was what was left of the fading daylight in the window. He looked down the hallway and he could see a light on in the living room.
"My mother is there," Hildy explained when she saw him looking. "My father's upstairs. He won't come down while you're here. By the way, I missed you, too."
She kissed him again and she took her time doing it. Jim was confused. How could she appear so comfortable in a place where she shouldn't feel that way?
"We can go now," she said, putting on her coat.
They walked out the door and Jim opened the passenger's door for her.
"I see you've got your father's car again," she said. "Too bad."
Jim slipped into the driver's seat.
"Too bad? I don't get it."
"Because that tells me that you plan on going back to your parents' house tonight," she said.
"You know how things were the last time I saw you. I just assumed..."
"Things are different now," Hildy answered. "After you stood up to my father at MacIver's he changed. He still doesn't like you very much, but he isn't giving me a hard time about it anymore. He just mumbles 'what will be, will be'."
"That's not much of a change," Jim said.
"It's a start and it's a lot better now than it was. Now I can talk to my date in my own house without being embarrassed. You can't know how much better I feel now."
Jim was turning onto the main road. They passed MacIver's bar. For a brief second he thought about taking Hildy in for a beer, but realized that he didn't really want a beer and what he did want he wasn't very proud of. He passed MacIver's by.
"Let's get something to eat," he said and they headed for the diner.
While he was driving Jim thought about Hildy's father.
"Why didn't your father just come down stairs and we could have buried the hatchet?" he asked her.
There, he felt better. He atoned for wanting to take Hildy on a victory lap around MacIver's bar.
"That would be asking too much," Hildy said. "Maybe someday."
The waitress had brought the coffee. They each ordered the fried chicken dinner. She scribbled it on her pad and then walked away. Jim lifted the coffee cup.
"Here's to 'someday'."
He was hoping that his comment hadn't sounded sarcastic like he feared it had. He had to admit that he still felt some bitterness toward Mr. Wertz, but he was trying hard to put it aside.
"Hildy, let's talk about something else. I've got some good news to tell you."
He ended up telling Hildy all about his interview with Douglas Chemical and his conversation with Professor Stark. He told her how it was a difficult choice to make.
"Right now I'm leaning toward taking the job with Douglas Chemical."
"Where is Douglas Chemical?" she asked.
"They have plants all over the world. Their headquarters is in Michigan."
"All over the world?"
"That's right. But I don't want to say 'yes' without thinking about it first. I just don't want to overlook anything."
"What about other companies?" Hildy asked.
"I've pretty much got it narrowed down to Douglass, or coming back to Campbell for the Masters Program next year. There are a lot of very good companies out there. I think that Douglas is the best. It wouldn't be fair if I signed with one of the others and be wishing it had been Douglas."
Hildy didn't answer right away. Jim noticed that she began looking around the room, which was unusual for her. Then, she was looking at him again. She was smiling, but Jim thought it might be forced a little.
"You've got to do whatever you think is right for you, Jim. You've worked so hard. Don't settle for anything less that what you want. Just go for it and do what you want to do."
"Of course, I don't even have an official offer from them yet. I have to wait..."
"If it's not them, it will be some other company," Hildy said. "I have no doubt about it. You're real smart and you work real hard. Some one is bound to pick you up."
"Whatever company it is, it would be out of town," he told her. "There aren't any chemical companies in this area."
They were nearly finished with their dinners.
"What movie do you want to see?" she asked.
"How about 'The Devil in Miss Jones'?"
"Fat chance!" Hildy laughed. "If you want to see a skin flick we could go to Darlene's apartment."
Jim felt a surge go through him.
"Let's go to Darlene's, then. I'll just have to stop at a drug store and..."
"Sorry," Hildy said and her face was turning red. "I would go with you except that Darlene is out of town this week. We can't get in. I was wrong to tease you. I'm sorry."
"Give me a rain check?" he asked.
"Another chance at another time," he explained.
"Sure thing," she whispered. "Some time soon, I hope."
She was smiling again and looking at Jim and not around the room like she had been. That made Jim feel better, but he couldn't help but feel that something in her meaning had been left behind.
"How about 'That's Entertainment'?" she said.
"How about 'Blazing Saddles'?"
"How about 'That's Entertainment'?" she said again after he paid the bill and they were walking through the parking lot to the car.
'That's Entertainment' it was.
Jim was driving home after dropping Hildy off. It was a nice date, but something seemed not quite right. It had started in the diner as he was telling Hildy about Douglas Chemical. The word 'overlooked' kept popping into his thoughts. He was stopped at a red light when it came to him.
He slapped himself on the forehead.
"I overlooked Hildy. When am I going to stop being a jerk?"