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Returning Home


Returning Home

Puyallup, Washington: Fifteen months ago

"I was thinking about building the plant somewhere near Seattle. I know Boeing has a plant in Everett, and I'm thinking pretty seriously about that as my final choice. We've got survey teams investigating a potential site there as well as one is a small town just outside of Portland. But I think I'm maybe a little homesick," he told his parents.

"Well, I can tell you your mom and I would love to have you close enough to have Sunday dinners with us. Were proud of you, son, and we'll support whatever decision you make. It'd just be nice to have you close to home again."

Hunter Decker was 26, and while in graduate school working on his PhD in chemical engineering at MIT, he'd discovered something that had the potential to not only change his own life, but the world. It might not revolutionize the world, but it would certainly impact virtually anything where glass was used.

While working with various resins to find one that could simulate the clarity of glass with the strength of steel, he'd branched out on his own while still working with a group of three other grad students on various possibilities. He spent many late nights working with his initial mix, testing and retesting then remixing and changing the amounts of various chemicals until one night—or actually morning—around 4am, his last amalgamation of chemicals rapidly puddled then smoothed itself into something that looked utterly clear.

His fatigue melted away as he examined the sample first with a regular microscope and saw that the structure looked sound and much clearer than any glass he'd ever seen. He then began conducting stress and strength tests and the results were so profound he began shaking.

For the next three nights he checked and rechecked his findings. His only concern was the limited size of his prototype. He'd constructed a 1" x 4" x 6" sample of the new polymer he hadn't yet named, but unless he could make it into large sheets that could be shaped and molded like plastic it wouldn't be practical. But if he could....

The material was extremely lightweight yet stronger than rolled steel. Based on using a drill press with an attached torque meter, the new polymer could easily resist penetration from a 50 caliber machine gun round and while further tests would be needed to be sure, possibly even a direct hit from an RPG. It not only wouldn't shatter, it wouldn't even be scratched no matter what he tried or did to the new material.

The implications were enormous. Skyscrapers, industrial buildings, and even homes could eliminate heavy glass panes. Cars, truck, planes, and other vehicles would be lighter while better protected. The military would have countless ways to use it to keep troops safe. There really weren't many areas of society where this new material wouldn't be used to improve the quality of life, and although money had never driven him, this had the added potential to make Hunter Decker a very wealthy man.

After ensuring he had the exact 'recipe' safely locked away in a hyper-secure on-line vault, he initially presented his findings to his team along with their adviser. From there, the head of the department brought in representatives from the university as well as companies like Monsanto, DuPont, Bayer, and the Pentagon.

Hunter patented his discovery as soon as possible, and hired an attorney to represent him and then hired someone else to negotiate on his behalf—both working on a contingency basis as he, as of yet, had no money with which to pay them.

With funding from various agencies with a future stake, he was able to produce larger prototype pieces from a one-foot square to well over 50 feet in length.

His priorities were public safety, military applications, and near the bottom, his own financial take. Even so, the amount of money he'd been offered to sell the new technology was staggering. As tempting as it was, Hunter wanted to oversee the development of the product and control its implementation to avoid seeing fall into the hands of the wrong people or used in ways he didn't approve.

After well over a year of haggling with the EPA, OSHA, city, state, and federal regulators, and activist groups opposed to the facility, 'Clear Technologies' would soon be open for business in the industrial town of Everett, Washington, and less than five miles from Boeing Aircraft, an additional company Hunter was permitting to help fund development with the promise of ensuring the company would have access to his finished products.

He'd found the process to be eye opening, to say the least. The amount of regulations, most of them wholly unnecessary, was ungodly large. As daunting as that process had been, recruiting and hiring the best of the best proved to almost as difficult a task. But by the time Hunter turned 27, he had a top-notch team in place just as the first laboratory/factory was set to open.

Half of the facility would continue in R&D while the other would take care of production. There were also untold logistical and administrative requirements while constantly ensuring compliance with the enormous regulatory burden. Lastly, there was the need to have the ability to produce any size product in any quantity. Some product requests were for unbelievably small items while others were enormously large.

Every automaker in the country, and many from around the world, wanted this new, virtually-impenetrable plastic that was ten times lighter than glass and cheaper to make. The same was true for the military that planned to replace the glass in all of its armored Humvees and MRAPs, aircraft cockpits, as well as using a variant of the product to replace Kevlar, the current choice in armored protection for troops in the field. It could also be used to provide a nearly impenetrable barrier to RPG and anti-tank rounds at a fraction of the weight of the armor currently being used.

Hunter Decker was president and CEO of Clear Technologies, and spent virtually every waking moment at work. The only time off he took was a two-hour block each Sunday to spend with his parents, Ernest and Carol Decker, who lived in the city of Puyallup, one of the most mispronounced cities in the country. It was correctly pronounced Pew-AL-up, but Decker had heard POO-ee-a-loop, POO-loop, PI-al-oop, and a dozen other permutations many times over the years.

He'd grown up there and loved being close to the larger city of Tacoma, and reasonably close to Seattle, without actually living there or having to deal with the traffic snarl they'd both become with Seattle being one of the worst in the country.

The population was just under 40,000 so while it wasn't a metropolis, it wasn't a sleepy little podunk town with the proverbial one stop light, either. He'd graduated from Puyallup High School in 2008 having finished third in his class. Hunter had taken all honors courses his senior year and although he didn't play sports, he'd been nominated Homecoming King and was one of the most popular kids in school.

Hunter had blossomed both intellectually and physically during high school. Growing up, he'd been an average kid in every respect. He still wasn't sure what had caused the change, but when he was 14 something had clicked. Life became this amazing thing with beauty all around. He now saw what he'd missed all along in everything he observed from mathematics to chemical bonds to...beautiful girls.

He even recognized the potential in his own body and began strengthening it and taking care of his personal appearance. That, in conjunction with his newfound confidence and growing intellect, made him the object of desire for many girls and even a small number of women who knew him.

What they found most appealing about this young man who was, by his senior year, an even six feet tall with a hard, athletic body, and a warm smile often accompanied by a contagious laugh. Hunter was a kind, caring, sensitive young man who smiled easily, who listened carefully, and who made each of the women he spoke to feel important. The most significant among them had been his social studies teacher, Mrs. Carmichael.

Lana Carmichael had been 33 Hunter's senior year and was the object of desire for virtually every boy in Puyallup High School, and the subject of untold masturbatory fantasies. And who could blame them? The social studies teacher was gorgeous with long, blonde hair, bright blue eyes, and a perfect smile. She was toned and fit and while she never dressed provocatively, she wore the kind of clothes that accentuated every soft curve of her body.

She was 5'7" tall and weight just 115 pounds. In a word she was beautiful, and her friendly, outgoing attitude and superb teaching skills made her a favorite with nearly every boy and many of the girls who either admired or envied her.

At home, however, things were not so beautiful.


January, 2008

As she sat in her classroom waiting for the new semester to begin, Mrs. Carmichael fought to hold back the tears that had come so often lately. Her husband, Abel, had told her yet again over the Christmas break that he had no interest in having children.

"Look, the last thing I want is a baby waking me up every two hour all night for months. And they're expensive as hell! Lana, I like our life together. I enjoy the way things are. We're at a point where everything is comfortable. Having a baby will ruin all of that, and I'm just not willing to give this up so you can experience motherhood."

As badly as that hurt, and it had hurt her deeply, she probably could have been happy if her husband would just pay some attention to her. She worked so hard to look good for him, and she did everything she could reasonably to do to make him happy. And yet she was having a hard time remembering the last time they'd made love or even gone on a romantic date.

Could it really be a year? Lana thought back to their ski trip to Aspen the previous December and recalled that was the last time she and her husband had had sex. She'd never so much as thought of cheating, but she was seriously considering leaving him if something didn't change. Yes, she wanted a baby, but she needed to be loved, and for the last year—one very long, lonely year—she'd gotten neither.

Hunter Decker was president of the senior class where she taught. He'd been her student two years ago, and now her only interaction with him was during student council meetings where she served as the faculty adviser. He was a nice-looking boy his sophomore year, but he had grown taller and was now quite possibly the most appealing boy in the senior class. There were two others she thought might be slightly better looking, but when taken as a whole, Hunter was by far the most interesting of the three.

She'd never looked at him—or any student, for that matter—'like that', it was just an observation; one her best friend at school, a fellow teacher named Sophie Davidson, had also made.

"If I was ever gonna lose my job for having a fling with a student, Hunter Decker would be my first and only choice," she'd told her once just before winter break.

Lana had laughed knowing her friend would never do anything so risky or so foolish. Besides, she'd only recently gotten married and when they weren't talking about school-related things, Sophie was reminding her friend how hot the sex was with her handsome new husband.

Lana had never let on how bad things were at home, and she had no intention of ever doing so. That topic was off limits so she would only smile politely and say something about how great it had been to be a newlywed—which it had.

Lana knew when things had started to change. She just couldn't figure out why. She was virtually a hundred-percent sure Abel wasn't cheating on her. She was equally sure he wasn't gay or something as preposterous. Why then did it make no difference what she did or how hard she tried? Why did he refuse to make love to her while telling her how much he loved her and cared about her? The only answer she'd ever come up with was that her desire to have a baby was so off-putting to him that it caused him to lose interest.

Whatever the reason, she was at her wits end.

The first student council meeting took place the following week, a day after a four-inch snowfall caused the county to cancel school. It snowed maybe two or three times each winter there and rarely stuck for long, but even so, schools tended to close whereas in states like Minnesota, four inches of snow wasn't even an inconvenience let alone reason to close schools.

The meeting started right after school at 3pm and ended around 4:30. The parking lot was nearly empty and it was still very cold and icy and Lana was freezing as she headed out to her car.

As she got to it, Hunter walked by and wished her a good evening.

"Oh, you too, Hunter!" she said cheerfully as she got in barely able to wait for the heater to warm her up.

When she turned the key, all she heard was that dreaded 'click, click, click' sound indicating a dead battery.

"Oh, great!" she said as she tried turning it over one more time.

Hunter hadn't quite gotten to his own vehicle, a large Ford F-250 truck he was helping his dad pay for, and heard the sound knowing immediately what it was. He turned around and went to see if he could offer Mrs. Carmichael some help.

"Oh, no. I'll just call my husband," she told him as she sat in the car shaking from the cold.

"You're already freezing, Mrs. Carmichael. You need to go back inside and wait."

He saw her looking at the 50 yards or so to the main building and tried not to smile.

"Or I could give you a ride in my nice, warm truck and you could wait at home in your nice, warm house until your husband can come back with jumper cables or call a tow truck."

Lana hadn't thought about her husband's reaction, but she knew it wasn't going to be pleasant. He'd have to leave work early tonight or go in late tomorrow as she knew he wasn't about to pay for a tow truck and a new battery.

"Mrs. Carmichael?" she heard Hunter say.

"Oh, sorry, Hunter," she said as she looked up at him. "Is...is there any way you could possibly...."

She stopped talking and Hunter said, "Possibly do what?"

"Oh, nothing," she said not wanting to inconvenience any more than a ride home.

"I have time so if you need some help, please ask me, okay?" he told her sincerely.

"Well, I was wondering if you might be able to take me to an auto parts store so I could get a new battery and...."

Again she stopped talking when she realized she didn't know how to remove the old one let alone put in a new one.

"Sure. I'll even put the new one in for you. I've got tools in my truck. It's a piece of cake. Come on. I'll be happy to help," he told her offering her a hand.

She looked up at him and saw that handsome face and gorgeous smile then took his hand as he helped her stand up. She'd worn a pair of boots with two-inch heels that day, and even so, Hunter was a good three inches taller as they briefly stood face to face. She quickly stepped aside and locked her door, then Hunter again offered her his hand at about chest high as a way to ensure she didn't slip and fall on a patch of black ice.

Lana was grateful no one saw them leaving together and even more grateful when the heater in his truck began working.

"I don't do well in the cold," she told him as her feet began to unthaw first.

"Snow is beautiful when it first falls, but then it's just an ugly mess until it melts," he said as they drove toward town. "Any idea which store you want me to take you to?"

"Oh, no. It doesn't matter, does it? Don't they all sell car batteries?" she asked.

"They do. So, no, it shouldn't matter at all. There's one just a half mile up the road so we'll stop there and check."

Hunter gave the clerk the make and model of Lana's car then asked her what year it was.

"Yeah, with the cold weather we've been going through batteries like nobody's business," the older man said. "We sold our last one about two hours ago. I can order one and have it here by tomorrow for you, though."

Lana shook her head and Hunter thanked him but said they'd keep checking. It was two stores and thirty minutes later, but they finally did find a battery—the last one in that store—and headed back to campus.

"I can't thank you enough, Hunter. You're a lifesaver," she said sincerely.

"I'd like to think any guy would do the same if my mom was in your shoes," he said just as sincerely.

"Ouch!" she said with a wince.

"I'm sorry?" Hunter said not sure what he'd missed.

"I'm sure your mom is a beautiful woman, but I hope I don't look old enough to have an 18-year old son," she said flashing her pretty smile at him.

"Oh! No. Definitely not, Mrs. Carmichael."

"Whew! Thank you—again—Hunter," she said with a laugh.

Without thinking, Hunter looked over and said, "In fact, you may just be the most beautiful woman I know."

The awkward silence that followed was very uncomfortable causing Hunter to apologize.

"You know I didn't mean anything by that, right?" he said as kindly as he could.

Mrs. Carmichael didn't answer.

Hunter glanced over and saw a tear running down her cheek and felt absolutely terrible.

"Mrs. Carmichael. I don't know what to say. I'm truly sorry. I...I wasn't flirting or anything. It...it just kind of...slipped out. I mean, it's true and all. I just shouldn't have said it like that."

Lana found a tissue in her purse and dabbed her eyes before saying, "It isn't that, Hunter. That was actually very sweet and it was also very nice to hear. It's just that things have been so awful at h...."

She not only stopped talking she began crying. It was as though some kind of dam had burst. She just couldn't keep it all in anymore, and her body was demanding relief.

"Mrs. Carmichael? Do you wanna maybe go get a cup of coffee and talk?" Hunter asked trying to be supportive.

She forced herself to get control and as she dried her eyes again said, "I...I can't ask you to let me lay this all on you, Hunter. It's very personal and there's nothing you could do anyway. But again, that was very sweet of you to offer."

"Sometimes just talking about something makes it feel better even if nothing gets done," he told her making her feel like he was the teacher and she the student.

She sat there for a moment mulling it over then said, "I guess one cup couldn't hurt. It's just that, well, it wouldn't be a good idea for us to go inside and sit together. I don't mean to sound rude or unappreciative, it's just that...."

Hunter reached out and touched her forearm and said, "I understand. You're married and a teacher. We can use the drive-through and just sit and talk. In my warm truck."

Lana couldn't help but smile as she looked over at him.

"Are you sure?" she asked.

"Very," he told her. "There's a Starbucks right up here and they've got a drive-through so...."

"Okay, but only if you let me pay," she said.

Hunter had a part-time job, but had less than three bucks in his wallet and knew that wouldn't cover two cups of coffee.

"How about we go dutch?" he suggested.

"If you want to be stubborn, I guess that's fine," she told him with a genuine smile.

She handed him two singles as he turned into the parking lot, and less than two minutes later they each had a cup of hot, steaming coffee, and Lana took a first sip almost immediately.

"Oh, that is so good!" she said as he pulled in behind the little strip mall and parked in an alley where it would be next to impossible to be seen.

"I feel like we're on some kind of clandestine mission," he said as he parked in front of a green dumpster.

"Sorry. Any girl would be proud to be seen with you. I'm just not...any girl," she said innocently.

"No, you're not," Hunter said as he glanced over at her.

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