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The Goal (Goldratt E M)

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"Really? Like what?"

"Are you sure you want to hear about it?"

"Sure I am," he claims.

We're awake for some time talking about everything. He hangs in there, even asks some questions. By the time we're fin- ished, all we can hear is some snoring from the other tents, a few crickets... and the squealing tires of some idiot turning donuts out there on the highway.

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Davey and I get home around 4:30 on Sunday afternoon. Both of us are tired, but we're feeling pretty good in spite of the miles. After I pull into the driveway, Dave hops out to open the garage door. I ease the Mazda in and go around to open the trunk so we can get our packs.

"I wonder where Mom went," says Dave.

I look over and notice that her car is gone.

"She's probably out shopping or something," I tell Dave.

Inside, Dave stows the camping gear while I go into the bed- room to change clothes. A hot shower is going to feel absolutely terrific. After I wash off the great outdoors, I'm thinking, maybe I'll take everybody out to dinner, get us a good meal as kind of a celebration of the triumphant return of father and son.

A closet door is open in the bedroom. When I reach to shut it, I see that most of Julie's clothes are gone. I stand there for a minute looking at the empty space. Dave comes up behind me.

"Dad?"

I turn.

"This was on the kitchen table. I guess Mom left it."

He hands me a sealed envelope.

"Thanks Dave."

I wait until he's gone to open it. Inside is just a short hand- written note. It says:

Al,

I can't handle always being last in line for you. I need more of you and it's clear now that you won't change. I'm going away for a while. Need to think things over. Sorry to do this to you. I know you're busy.

Yours truly, Julie

P.S. - I left Sharon with your mother.

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When I'm able to move, I put the note in my pocket and go find Davey. I tell him I have to go across town to pick up Sharon, and that he's to stay here. If his mother calls, he's to ask her where she's calling from and get a number where I can call her back. He wants to know if something is wrong. I tell him not to worry and promise to explain when I get back.

I go rocketing to my mother's house. When she opens the door, she starts talking about Julie before I can even say hello.

"Alex, do you know your wife did the strangest thing," she says. "I was making lunch yesterday when the doorbell rang, and when I opened the door Sharon was standing here on the step with her little suitcase. And your wife was in the car at the curb there, but she wouldn't get out and when I went down to talk to her, she drove away."

By now I'm in the door. Sharon runs to greet me from the living room where she is watching television. I pick her up and she gives me a long hug. My mother is still talking.

"What on earth could be wrong with her?" my mother asks me.

"We'll talk about it later," I tell her.

"I just don't understand what-"

"Later, okay?"

Then I look at Sharon. Her face is rigid. Her eyes are frozen big. She's terrified.

"So... did you have a nice visit with Grandma?" I ask her.

She nods but doesn't say anything.

"What do you say we go home now?"

She looks down at the floor.

"Don't you want to go home?" I ask.

She shrugs her shoulders.

"Do you like it here with Grandma?" my smiling mother asks her.

Sharon starts to cry.

I get Sharon and her suitcase into the car. We start home. After I've driven a couple of blocks, I look over at her. She's like a little statue sitting there staring straight ahead with her red eyes focused on the top of the dashboard. At the next stoplight, I reach over for her and pull her next to me.

She's very quiet for a while, but then she finally looks up at me and whispers, "Is Mommy still mad at me?"

"Mad at you? She isn't mad at you," I tell her.

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"Yes she is. She wouldn't talk to me."

"No, no, no, Sharon," I say. "Your mother isn't upset with you. You didn't do anything wrong."

"Then why?" she asks.

I say, "Why don't we wait until we get home. I'll explain it to both you and your brother then."

I think that explaining the situation to both of the kids at the same time turns out to be easier on me than on them. I've always been reasonably adept at maintaining the outward illusion of con- trol in the midst of chaos. I tell them Julie has simply gone away for a little while, maybe only a day or so. She'll be back. She just has to get over a few things that are upsetting and confusing her. I give them all the standard reassurances: your mom still loves you; I still love you; there was nothing that either of you could have done; everything will work out for the best. For the most part, both of them sit there like little rocks. Maybe they're reflect- ing back what I'm giving them.

We go out and get a pizza for dinner. That normally would be kind of a fun thing. Tonight, it's very quiet. Nobody has any- thing to say. We mechanically chew and then leave.

When we get back, I make both of the kids do homework for school. I don't know if they do it or not. I go to the phone, and after a long debate with myself; I try to make a couple of calls.

Julie doesn't have any friends in Bearington. None that I know of. So it would be useless to try to call the neighbors. They wouldn't know anything, and the story about us having problems would spread instantly.

Instead, I try calling Jane, the friend from the last place we lived, the one whom Julie claimed to have spent the night with last Thursday. There is no answer at Jane's.

So then I try Julie's parents. I get her father on the phone. After some small talk about the weather and the kids, it's clear he isn't going to make any declarations. I conclude that her parents don't know what's going on. But before I can think of a casual way to end the call and avoid the explanations, her old man asks me, "So is Julie going to talk to us?"

"Ah, well, that's actually why I was calling," I say.

"Oh? Nothing is wrong I hope," he says.

"I'm afraid there is," I say. "She left yesterday while I was on

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a camping trip with Dave. I was wondering if you had heard from her."

Immediately he's spreading the alarm to Julie's mother. She gets on the phone.

"Why did she leave?" she asks.

"I don't know."

"Well, I know the daughter we raised, and she wouldn't just leave without a very good reason," says Julie's mother.

"She just left me a note saying she had to get away for awhile."

"What did you do to her?" yells her mother.

"Nothing!" I plead, feeling like a liar in the onslaught.

Then her father gets back on the phone and asks if I've talked to the police. He suggests that maybe she was kidnapped. I tell him that's highly unlikely, because my mother saw her drive away and nobody had a gun to her head.

Finally I say, "If you hear from her, would you please have her give me a call? I'm very worried about her."

An hour later, I do call the police. But, as I expected, they won't help unless I have some evidence that something criminal has taken place. I go and put the kids to bed.

Sometime after midnight, I'm staring at the dark bedroom ceiling and I hear a car turning into the driveway. I leap out of bed and run to the window. By the time I get there, the head- lights are arcing back toward the street. It's just a stranger turn- ing around. The car drives away.

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