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The Goal (Goldratt E M)

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"Sure, it sounds great," she says.

So I leave work a little early and hit the highway.

As I head up the Interstate, Bearington is spread out to my left. The "Buy Me!" sign on top of the high-rise office building is still in place. Living and breathing within the range of my sight are 30,000 people who have no idea that one small but important part of the town's economic future will be decided tomorrow. Most of them haven't the slightest interest in the plant or what we've done here-except if UniWare closes us, they'll be mad and scared. And if we stay open? Nobody will care. Nobody will even know what we went through.

Well, win or lose, I know I did my best.

When I get to Julie's parents' house, Sharon and Dave run up to the car. After getting out of my suit and into some "off- duty" clothes, I spend about an hour throwing a frisbee to the two kids. When they've exhausted me, Julie has the idea the two of us should go out to dinner. I get the feeling she wants to talk to me. I clean up a little and off we go. As we're driving along, we pass the park.

"Al, why don't we stop for awhile," says Julie.

"How come?" I ask.

"The last time we were here we never finished our walk," she says.

So I pull over. We get out and walk. By and by, we come to the bench by the river, and the two of us sit down.

"What's your meeting about tomorrow?" she asks.

"It's a plant performance review," I say. "The division will decide the future of the plant."

"Oh. What do you think they'll say?"

"We didn't quite make what I promised Bill Peach," I say. "One set of numbers doesn't look as good as it truly is because of the cost-of-products standards. You remember me telling you about some of that, don't you?"

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She nods, I shake my head momentarily, still angry at what happened as a result of the audit.

"But even with that, we still had a good month. It just doesn't show up as the fantastic month we really had," I tell her.

"You don't think they'd still close the plant, do you?" she asks.

"I don't think so," I say. "A person would have to be an idiot to condemn us just because of an increase in cost of products. Even with screwed-up measurements, we're making money."

She reaches over to take my hand and says, "It was nice of you to take me out to breakfast that morning."

I smile and say, "After listening to me ramble on at five o'clock in the morning, you deserved it."

"When you talked to me then, it made me realize how little I know about what you do," she says. "I wish you had told me more over the years."

I shrug. "I don't know why I haven't, I guess I thought you wouldn't want to hear it. Or I didn't want to burden you with it."

"Well, I should have asked you more questions," she says.

"I'm sure I didn't give you many opportunities by working those long hours."

"When you weren't coming home those days before I left, I really took it personally," she says. "I couldn't believe it didn't have something to do with me. Deep down, I thought you must be using it as an excuse to stay away from me."

"No, absolutely not, Julie. When all those crises were occur- ring, I just kept thinking you must know how important they were," I tell her. "I'm sorry. I should have told you more."

She squeezes my hand.

"I've been thinking about some of the things you said about our marriage when we were sitting here last time," she says. "I have to say you're right. For a long time, we have just been coast- ing along. In fact, we were drifting apart. I've watched you get more and more wrapped up in your job as the years have gone by. And to compensate for losing you, I got wrapped up in things like decorating the house and spending my time with friends. We lost sight of what was important."

I look at her in the sunlight. The awful frosting in her hair which she had when I came home the day the NCX-10 went down is finally gone. It's grown out. Her hair is thick and straight again, and all the same dark brown.

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She says, "Al, the one thing I definitely know now is that I want more of you, not less. That's always been the problem for me."

She turns to me with her blue eyes, and I get a long-lost feeling about her.

"I finally figured out why I haven't wanted to go back to Bearington with you," she says. "And it isn't just the town, al- though I don't like it very much there. It's that since we've been living apart, we've actually spent more time being together. I mean, when we were living in the same house, I felt as though you took me for granted. Now you bring me flowers. You go out of your way to be with me. You take time to do things with me and the kids. Al, it's been nice. I know it can't go on this way forever-I think my parents are getting a little tired of the ar- rangement-but I haven't wanted it to end."

I start to feel very good.

I say, "At least we're sure we don't want to say good-bye."

"Al, I don't know exactly what our goal is, or ought to be, but I think we know there must be some kind of need between us," she says. "I know I want Sharon and Dave to grow up to be good people. And I want us to give each other what we need."

I put my arm around her.

"For starters, that sounds worth shooting for," I tell her. "Look, it's probably easier said than done, but I can certainly try to keep from taking you for granted. I'd like you to come home, but unfortunately, the pressures that caused all the problems are still going to be there. They're just not going to go away. I can't ignore my job."

"I've never asked you to," she says. "Just don't ignore me or the kids. And I'll really try to understand your work."

I smile.

"You remember a long time ago, after we got married and we both had jobs, how we'd come home and just talk to each other for a couple of hours, and sympathize with each other about the trials and tribulations we'd suffered during the day?" I ask. "That was nice."

"But then there were babies," says Julie. "And, later, you started putting in extra hours at work."

"Yeah, we got out of the habit," I tell her. "What do you say we make a point to do that again?"

"That sounds terrific," she says. "Look, Al, I know that leav-

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ing you must have seemed selfish on my part. I just went crazy for a little while. I'm sorry-

"No, you don't have to be sorry," I tell her. "I should have been paying attention."

"But I'll try to make it up to you," she says. Then she smiles briefly and adds, "Since we're walking down memory lane, maybe you remember the first fight we had, how we promised afterwards we'd always try to look at a situation from the other's point of view as well as our own. Well, I think for the past couple of years we haven't been doing that very often. I'm willing to try it again if you are."

"I am too," I say.

There is a long hug.

"So... you want to get married?" I ask her.

She leans back in my arms and says, "I'll try anything twice."

"You know, don't you, it's not going to be perfect," I tell her. "You know we're still going to have fights."

"And I'll probably be selfish about you from time to time," she says.

"What the hell," I tell her, "Let's go to Vegas and find a justice of the peace."

She laughs, "Are you serious?"

"Well, I can't go tonight," I say. "I've got that meeting in the morning. How about tomorrow night?"

"You are serious!"

"All I've been doing since you left is putting my paycheck in the bank. After tomorrow it'll definitely be time to blow some of it."

Julie smiles. "Okay, big spender. Let's do it."

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