The Woman Who Wanted More: Chapter 10 “Trial Membership”

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Summer

ARRIVING AT EXCITEMENT’S OFFICE. 5:45 p.m. She took the elevator to the sixth floor and met a receptionist who advised her to be seated until Summer arrived. Clear glass walls surrounded the foyer. Allowing clear view of Excitement’s work environment. It was late in the workday, but the office bustled with activity. Two impressions weighed upon her. Number 1… Women established the majority of employees. Number 2… They dressed the same.

Excitement’s uniform policy seemingly required three-inch heels. Tight mid thigh skirts. Fitted, dress-shirts and straight, elbow length hair. Apparently, employees could mix and match different colors for their ensemble. But otherwise, they were Stepford Wives… strayed by the allure of The Devil Wears Prada.

Walking briskly and in phenomenal shape. They conversed on wireless headsets., frantically. Engaged in deep discussions behind clear glass-roomed walls. Mag squinted… this is a company run by women. For women. Behind the receptionists desk, a glass etching displayed the company name in bold letters, prominently.

E    X    C    I    T    E    M    E    N    T

Above the etching an oversized image hung. Labeled… ‘Our Founder, Jillian Gustafson.’ Mag gazed at the photo, thinking… Jillian must have created the Excitement mold. Her complexion showcased the after effects of plastic surgery. Shiny skin. Layers of makeup, partially masking her age; significantly older than the average twenty-something in the office. Her pony-tailed platinum-blonde hair, tugged blue eyes – open. Showcasing a salesperson like smile. Lips, wafer thin. Brightly polished teeth.

Gazing at the photo, Mag surmised… Jillian’s a shark.

“Mag?” A woman approached her, smiling.
“Yes.”
“Nice to meet you. I’m Summer. I hope you found us okay?”
“Yeah. I did.”
“Good. Thanks for agreeing to meet me – on such short notice. I really appreciate it.”
“Sure.”
“Please… Follow me.” She led down an adjoining hallway to a large meeting room. Like the rest of the office, glass walls surrounded its perimeter. Showcasing interior furnishings. Minimalist. Sterile. More like a laboratory, or contemporary museum than a place of business. Opening the room door. A smell of leather entered Mag’s nostrils. Opulent. She absorbed it and watched Summer walk across the room in narrow pencil tipped heels. Standing at least six feet tall. Wrapped in a fitted skirt and Tailored gray shirt. Her long curves accentuated power and a complete absence of fat,
“Would you like bottled water?”
“Yes, please.” Retrieving beverages, she sauntered like a model and Mag pretended not to notice. Surmising… she probably is one.
“Do you live in the city?” said Summer.
“Yeah. In Nob Hill.”
Oh. I like that area. There’s a lot of cool restaurants around there. Family owned places that look like they’ve been around forever.” Handing Mag a bottle of Voss-water. She motioned toward a conference table and chairs between them, “Have a seat.”

Mag sat and her chair squeaked like a pair of hands rubbing a balloon.

S q u e a k

“How long have you lived there?”

S q u e a k

Peering down. She re-positioned her thighs, “About nine…”
S q u e a k
“This chair is…” S q u e a k
“What the heck? Are these chairs new?” Summer smiled, softly. “Sorry bout that. After a while you get used to it. We have an amazing maintenance staff. They keep everything super polished and squeaky clean.” Scrunching her brow, Mag pointed at Summer’s seat. “How come yours isn’t squeaking?” Summer looked at her chair, inspecting it. “I don’t know.” She wiggled her hips in circular motions. Rubbing skin against leather. But her seat made no sound.

It’s quiet.

Ch10_Sidewalk
Photo on Best Running

Sidewalk

She smirked, “Did I mention we have the worst maintenance staff on the planet?” Pointing at Mag’s seat, Summer chuckled, “Your leather’s sparkling clean. Mine is obviously covered with filth. Wanna trade?” Standing. She offered her chair to Mag with a forced smile.
“No thanks. I’ll keep this one.”
“You’re a wise woman.” Summer tilted back in her chair. Sipping water, “How do you like living in Nob Hill?”
“It’s a little expensive. But I love the area. Where do you live?”
“In the financial district.” She pointed at the window. “Down the street.”

“You can walk to work then?”

“Yeah, it’s nice. I like living close to work. There’s a lot of restaurants around here, within walking distance to my home. My gym is close too.” She gazed up, “But there is one thing I’ll never get used to.” She lowered her voice, “There’s a lot of homeless people around here. I’m from Minneapolis originally. Well… I’m from St. Paul. But I don’t remember seeing so many homeless people back home. But one thing’s for sure… They keep things really interesting in San Francisco.” She leaned forward, “It gets kinda surreal living downtown. And… let me preface what I’m about to say with a spoiler alert. Because I’m gonna say something gross. But, occasionally I’m walking down the street. On my way to wherever.” She stood and walked to Mag’s side of the table. Stopping several feet in front of her. “And in my path…” Her head tilted down,

“I see a pile of poop on the sidewalk.”

Pointing at the floor. Summer split the distance between Mag and herself, “Of course, I’m wearing heels because… that’s how I stroll. And I’m glaring at this thing. Wondering… Is it human dookie?”

Mag grimaced, “Ewww. Yup.”

“Right!” Summer pointed at her. Eyes. Blazing, “There’s a good chance it is human! Then I’m thinking… is this normal?” Her arms spread wide at the waist. Palms up, “What I mean is… Is it normal for us to debate whether we approach animal or human poop on a  sidewalk in the city?”

Squinting her brow, she raised her index finger, head high. “One might even ask. Is it normal for doodoo to be on the sidewalk at all?” Her head angled up, glancing left and right. As if scanning her surroundings, “Here we are… Surrounded by some of the most profitable and successful tech companies in the world; And maybe it’s me… maybe I’m weird for asking but…” Her shoulders shrugged, “How come no one’s created an app that cleans poop off the friggin sidewalk?”

Mag blurted. Laughing, “That’s a good question! They’d make a lotta money.”

“Yeah, they would. I’d buy it right now. Haven’t a clue how it would work. But I’d buy the hell out of it.”
“Me too.” Mag smiled, “You’re right though. It shouldn’t be normal to debate the origins of poo. But it totally is sometimes.”

“It’s totally shitty sometimes.”

Staring at each other, they suppressed laughter. Smirking. Giggling. Laughing loud. Seconds passed and Summer massaged her jaw, “I am so Sorry! That was incredibly disgusting and very unprofessional of me. I get weird when it’s late in the workday. But in my defense… I did give prior warning.”

“No problem. That was funny.” Mag wiped tears from her cheek, “You made me cry.” Returning to her seat, Summer’s palm pressed against her chest, “Totally my fault.” She leaned back and her legs crossed. One knee on top of the other, “Let’s try this again… You live in Nob Hill. Where do you work?”

“You mean, what City?”
“Sure.”
“Mountain View.”
“That’s a rough commute. How long does it take?”
“About an hour and fifteen minutes each way.”
“Do you drive or take the train?”
“I usually drive. But sometimes I take the shuttle.”
Oh. That’s nice. Company shuttles are everywhere. I see em all the time. Where do you work?”

“ADKAR.”

“Wow!” She nodded. Chin, jutting, “Look at you! You must be super smart.”
“I work in finance. I’m not an engineer or anything. I don’t work on the technology stuff ADKAR creates.”
“Don’t sell yourself short. Do you get to sample new products before they’re available to the public?”
Mag nodded, “Sometimes.”

Ch10_BigBrother
Photo credit: blavandmaster on Best Running / CC BY-NC-SA

Big Brother

“I heard ADKAR’s working on some new technology. Blending virtual reality with real-world objects. I forget what it’s called.”
“Augmented VR.”
Yes! Have you tried it?”
“Not yet. It’s still in development. But our CEO presented a demo to employees. It was pretty neat. He put on a headset and there was a huge screen behind him so everyone could see what he viewed. The screen showed information about his geographic location. Dimensions of items in the room. Stuff like that. And the software recognized people. Showing statistics. Like their names. Job titles and email addresses. That part was kinda weird. Like big brother watching.”

Summer nodded, “Yeah. That’s a little unsettling.”

“After that, he interfaced with another presenter. Some guy outside the building. Walking. And we saw that guy’s view too. It was awesome. ADKAR directional mapping layered in his virtual display. Showing information about different objects he looked at. Cars. Buildings. Street signs. There were menus built into the display and he opened some of them, showing more information about real-world objects.”

“That sounds wicked.” Summer smiled. “Though… I’m not sure what I’d use it for. Like in a real-life scenario?”
“I don’t know either. Right now our customers are limited to gamers. But when we tap a different market… it’ll be huge.”
“You bet.”
“ADKAR’s hoping the new market will be hospitals. Augmented virtual reality could assist general practitioners and surgeons.”

“That would be interesting.” Summer’s eyes shined, “Can you imagine going to your doctor and she puts on virtual reality headgear to check your vitals?” She paused… “Ya know? Now that I think about it. It’s kind of disappointing, we’re gonna get virtual-reality enhanced surgical technology before we get flying cars?” Mag sneered. “We are never getting flying cars.” Summer’s eyes shifted down, “That sucks. Flying cars are the only thing I want.”

“I thought you wanted the poop-app?”

Ahh! That’s a great name for it! But don’t get me started on that thing again. We’re already way off topic.”

Ch10_Pitch

Pitch

Laughing, momentarily. Their smiles faded to silence. “So… How did you first hear about Excitement?”
“A friend of mine, Monica Washington told me about the company.”
“I know Monica… she’s good people. Extremely vocal about our service. Not afraid to tell us when we screw things up or when we get it right.” Summer’s silver-gray eyes emulated light within her pale-bright complexion, surrounded by caramel hair. Her facial frame… pulled Mag’s gaze in, “Did you happen to notice the picture of our founder in the waiting area?”

Mag stuttered, “Uhm. Yu – yeah. I think her name is Jillian?”

“Yes.”

Through the glass table top, she noticed Summer’s crossed legs and the pressure in her top calf… Bulging skin. Restraining muscle, she realized… I’m staring. Her gaze shifted back to Summer, whose eyes seemingly never wandered from Mag’s. “She’s a wonderful woman.” Summer’s head tilted up, as if recalling a specific moment, “I met her a few times. What’s amazing about Jillian is, she started this company with basically no help. Her idea was nearly killed before it could prosper. Only five years ago, she discovered people felt happier and more engaged in life when unexpected interactions occur. Being an entrepreneur, Jillian sought investors to seed her vision. But venture capitalists called her concept ridiculous. They couldn’t see things from a woman’s perspective, so the refused to support it. Jillian told me… She knew her theory was a stretch. After all, who could imagine unscripted personal interactions, lacking control… could improve someone’s sense of control? It’s counter intuitive. Regardless, she pursued the hypothesis by herself and financed the company with her own cash. Funding trials with tons of participants… Men and women. Until she proved the concept.”

As she spoke, Summer’s arms waved broadly. Brush stroking an imaginary canvas. Her eyes darted away, recounting images only she could see. And her voice, exuded reverential respect as if describing the actions of an idol.

Mag pondered… Jillian probably inspires everyone who works here.

Summer looked into Mag’s eyes, “Jillian discovered, both men and women were happier and more productive when unexpected positive interactions occurred in their lives. But the benefits were more noticeable in women than in men. And it didn’t matter whether the female subjects were straight, gay, bisexual, or whatever.They all enjoyed the interactions more than men. Jillian used that evidence to support her theory. She tailored Excitement’s interactive services exclusively for women. With the goal… To help women attain and maintain positive levels of happiness in their lives by injecting prescribed doses of excitement.” Summer sipped water, “A lot of company founders become un-relatable after they acquire Jillian’s level of success. But given her achievements, she’s actively involved in procedures we implement every day.”

Pivoting her elbows on the arms of her chair. Summer rubbed her palms together. Slowly, “I don’t know everything Monica told you about what we do here. But knowing Monica, I’m guessing she emphasized our unique quality. And if you search online, which you probably already have, you’ll find a lot of honest feedback from our clientele. The majority of it, supporting our credibility.”

Mag nodded. “Yeah, I looked online. It was mostly positive.”

“That’s reassuring. I want you to know; My job is to tell you the truth.” She leaned close to Mag, causing her to re-sense the power of Summer’s gaze. “I’m very very direct when it comes to potential clients. That’s why I need to make sure we’re both extremely honest about what you want to achieve. So tell me Mag. Why are you here?”

The question caught her by surprise.

Mag had rehearsed her reasons for seeking Excitement’s services, but never expected to repeat them to anyone. “Uhhhm, I don…”

Recognizing her apprehension, Summer interjected, “Sorry. I don’t mean to put you on the spot. But I think it’s important for potential clients to voice what their goals are. Openly. Because the service we provide is special. But it’s not for everyone.”

No. I understand.”

Drinking water, she allowed Mag time to speak and the room fell into uncomfortable silence.

A lifelong of seconds passed until Summer filled the void.

Nevery mess with your little sister
Photo credit: FotoGrazio on Best Running / CC BY-NC-ND

Reason

“A few weeks ago, a woman came in for an initial consultation. Same as the one we’re having right now. She was in her forties I think. Beautiful, smart lady. Working in middle management at some high tech company in Sonoma. Anyway, during our conversation, she mentioned a recent divorce from her husband. Guess he couldn’t handle being married to a woman who made more cash than him.” Shrugging her shoulders, Summer’s eyes rolled high. Implying… what a wimp.

“Her marriage had been loveless for a long time and after we spoke for about twenty minutes, she mentioned she was looking to meet someone new. She wanted to get back in the game. It makes sense. Given the same situation, I’d wanna date again too.” Summer extended her hand toward Mag. “Wouldn’t you?”

Half listening. Her thoughts stuck. Mag froze. Still pondered the response to Summer’s previous question, she sensed the answer to the new question should be yes. She nodded. Instinctively.

“Unfortunately I had to turn her down because that’s not what Excitement does. We’re not a dating service.” Mag interrupted, “That’s not what I’m looking for. I’m married. I love my husband. But sometimes, uhh. This is really hard to say.”

“Take your time.”

She pressed her palms against the tabletop. “Sometimes… I miss the feeling of being wanted I guess.” Her eyes darted down, scanning the floor. “It sounds weird when I hear myself say it. Like I’m being selfish.”

“Not at all.”

“When Monica first told me about Excitement, she asked if I remembered a recent situation where some random guy approached me. After I thought about it, I remembered this guy who approached me from out of the blue. I was walking down the street and he ran up to me, exhausted. He said he did it because I was beautiful and he couldn’t allow the opportunity of meeting me to pass him by. I was flattered. I mean… I didn’t want to date him or anything. But just the fact that he ran to me and said I was beautiful. It was sincere.. Really nice.”

“Yeah. That does sound nice. How did you…”

“He might have been lying the whole time. I have no idea. Maybe he uses the same line on different women all day long… I don’t know.”

“I guess it’s possible.” Summer spoke solemnly, “I’m curious though. How did the interaction make you feel?”

Mag tilted her head, “That’s funny. Monica asked me the same thing. Uh… It made me feel great. I thought about it the entire day and completely forgot about the experience until I spoke to Monica. But it was a good feeling.” Her speech quickened, “Over the past few days I’ve been thinking about other situations where something similar happened to me, and each time I felt really good afterward. But I never thought about connecting the two.”

“You mean… connecting the feeling to the interaction?”

“Yes.”

Summer nodded. “This is perfect.” Reaching across the table, she placed her hand on Mag’s forearm and Mag glanced at Summer’s manicured nails. Clenching her fists, she hid her ragged nails from view.

“I appreciate you confiding in me. I really do.” Summer looked at her mobile, lying on the table, “It’s getting late isn’t it?” Mag checked her own phone, “It’s already seven?! Sorry. I got here later than I thought.”

“That’s okay. Listen, I don’t normally rush initial meetings, but I think I gained positive understanding about the reasons you’re here. Did Monica mention our trial period?”

“I don’t think so.”

“I wanna get you started on one. It’s the best way to gauge how much you like our service. There’s no commitment and it’s free. If you don’t like it, the trial ends… no strings attached. What do you think?”

Sure. But… I don’t know how any of this works.”

“Don’t worry. I’ll explain everything.”

Ch10_Trial
Photo on Best Running

Trial

Walking to a credenza in the corner of the room, Summer opened a drawer and retrieved a sheet of paper with what appeared to be a bracelet. She handed Mag the sheet of paper and a pen, “Here. Fill this out and sign at the bottom.” Trailing her index finger down the document, she directing Mag’s attention to different sections, “This top part is basic information like name, address, email, and a phone number we can call or text.”

“Okay.”

“This middle section is the most important. It’s where you tell us who you want to interact with. That’s what we call the surprise meet-ups you’ll have… interactions. Tell us if you want to interact with men, women, or both. And what age group you want, what ethnicity, and education level… All that stuff. I’ll give you time to fill it out, but it won’t take long.”

“Sure.”

“In this bottom part, tell us what day and time you’re available for interactions. You can always change this later, but I need guidelines today so we can get you started.” She flipped the form over. “This back section is legal disclaimer stuff. You’re welcome to read it if you want, but it basically says you agree not to sue us if you’re dissatisfied with the trial. I’ve never had anything like that occur, but it’s always possible… so our lawyers make us keep it in. Anyway, after you finish I’ll email you a copy of the signed document. It’ll be in your inbox before you arrive home today, okay?”

“How much does this cost?”

“It’s free.”

“I mean, how much does the service cost? Like if I decide I wanna join after the trial?”

Oh! Don’t worry bout that yet.” She waved her hand, “Let’s keep the horse in front of the cart. I wanna make certain you like us first. Because if you don’t, then the cost doesn’t matter. We’ll talk about the numbers all that later.”

“All right.”

“I’ll give you time to fill this out. Be back in ten minutes.” Summer exited the room and Mag examined the document. She’d given zero thought to her availability for interactions… though after work and a few hours on the weekends would be the only time she’d have availability. Reading the document further, she wasn’t sure what type of people she wanted to interact with. Initially, she thought… I wanna interact with everyone. But contemplating more, she decided to limit her interactions to college-educated males. In life, she’d always gotten along better with guys anyway and never had a problem keeping their relationships platonic. However, at the bottom of the page, the most challenging question regarded ethnicity. She didn’t want to exclude any specific race, it seemed wrong. Besides… she’d never been attracted to anyone outside her own ethnicity and contemplated… Excitement isn’t a dating service. Why should race matter?

Ten minutes later, Summer returned, “How’s it going?”

Peering up, Mag scrunched her eyes as if stuck on a complicated calculus equation. “I’m not sure about this ethnicity section. It seems wrong to rule anyone out.”

“I understand.”

Summer pulled out a chair and sat next to her. “Obviously, I’m not gonna tell you what to select. But I will say this. Keep it simple. There’s no judgment here. Your preferences are hidden from our interactors. No one’s gonna be upset because you didn’t select them. Just pick whatever feels comfortable. You can always change it later.”

Her calculus quandary solved… Mag’s shoulder’s relaxed, “Okay.”

Ch10_Bond
Photo credit: johanoomen on Best Running / CC BY-SA

Bond

“Can I have your license? I need to make a copy.”

“Why do you need my license?”

“It’s legal stuff. In case someone engages in a trial, but something happens. Like maybe they slip and fall during an interaction. They might try to take legal action against our company even though they signed otherwise. We need to know anyone pursuing litigation, is indeed the same person who engaged in the trial. You’d be surprised how many people make a living out of frivolous lawsuits. We have to be prepared. It’s just the world we live in. But if it’s any consolation, you can blame our Nation’s President… that’s what I do.” She grinned. “It doesn’t matter who he is. It’s always his fault, until he’s a she.”

Reaching into her bag, Mag smiled and retrieved her license. Handing it to Summer.

“Thanks, be right back.”

When she returned, Mag completed all sections of the document. Having decided to follow Summer’s ‘keep-it-simple’ philosophy. She selected interactions with only Caucasian and mixed race ethnicities. Upon reviewing the document, Summer reviewed  it and looked into Mag’s eyes, “There’s one more thing.” She handed Mag a thin, flexible black plastic band. “I need you to keep this bracelet for the next two weeks. That’s how long the trial period lasts. During this period, our goal is to successfully engage you in one interaction, based on the criteria you specified in this document. This bracelet tells us where you are so we can engage the trial. Otherwise, the interactors have no clue where to find you. Oh! That reminds me. I need to take your picture so I can attach it to your internal profile.” Raising her mobile phone, she positioned it for photos, “The interactors will use these pics… along with any other photos you send me, so they can identify you before an interaction. Can you stand?”

Mag stood and commented sarcastically. “These pictures are gonna look great.”
“They don’t have to be amazing. Just good enough so the interactor can recognize you. I can photoshop them afterward if you want; make you look like Aphrodite. But it costs extra.”
“Really?”
No. I’m kidding. I have no idea how to use photoshop.”

With her photos complete, Mag sat with her bracelet in hand. “Am I supposed to wear this on my wrist?” She knew that would prompt questions from Drew.

“No. Just keep it close to you, like in your bag.”
“Ahhh.”
“I’ll email you a copy of the agreement before I leave the office today. Is that okay?”
“Sure.”
“One last thing… This is very important. Whenever you’re engaged in interaction, you’ll know the interactor is from Excitement by the way they say their name. They’ll introduce themselves by saying their last name, followed by their first and last name combined. The same way James Bond does in the Bond films. Does that make sense?”

“I’ve never watched any James Bond movies.”

“That’s okay. The interactor will slowly say their name like, ‘Bond. James Bond.’ So if I were introducing myself to you, I would say… I’m ‘Lindquist. Summer Lindquist.’ Does that make sense?”

“Yeah it does. Do I have to introduce myself the same way? Like, it’s a code?”

Summer smiled, “No. The person you’re meeting will introduce himself that way. We have them do it, so you’re subtly made aware of the fact… they’re from Excitement. It’s better than having them spoil the casualty of the interaction by saying, ‘Hi, I’m the guy who’s meeting you by surprise, from the company that arranges surprise interactions. Are you ready to be surprised?’”

Mag responded dryly, “Yeah, that would ruin it.”

“If you have any questions just call or email me.” Summer handed Mag her business card.
“Unless you have questions now?”
“I don’t. But I’ll probably have some later.”
“Good. Don’t hesitate to contact me for any reason. If I miss your call, I’ll respond as soon as possible.”

While speaking, Summer stepped close to Mag and embraced her lightly. Mag returned the gesture. Awkwardly. She wasn’t expecting a hug.

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