Turning Point: A Guide to the Future, a short story by Chuck Waldron

Adam Browning looked at the letter, carefully folded it, sliding it into the envelope. As director of Turning Point: Your Guide to the Future, he personally selected each candidate. He smiled, immensely pleased with this choice.

Adam was a throw-back to an age of civil discourse in business and pleasure. He poured a dollop of melted wax on the edge of the flap and made an imprint with the company logo. “A nice touch, don’t you think,” he said, smiling to his associate, Remy.

~  ~  ~  ~  ~

Jules stormed into her building like a category five hurricane. Walking out, a couple skittered to the side to get around her. “Hey, beyotch,” one said. Jules, queen of stink-eye, ignored the remark and continued to the elevator.

Glancing to her right, she looked at the bank of mailboxes. Wondering how long it’d been since she checked, she reached in her carry-all for a key. “Who bothers with snail mail,” she told a friend. “It’s all online now.”

Perhaps that was why she was surprised to see the envelope.

Holding it at an angle to get better lighting, Jules ran a finger over the embossed lettering. There’s something quite eye-catching about the gold characters on beige paper. Like café au lait, she thought. Turning it over, she noticed the sealing wax. She’s seen something like that on one of those English period movies. Is this for real?

Jules tried to imagine what the company was, looking at the name, “Turning Point, your guide for change.”

She hurried to the elevator, anxious to Google the address. The selling feature of her building had been fast elevators. Today, it felt like slow-motion.

Leaving a trail of shoes, coat, scarf, and what she called her carry-all, to carry all her anxiety back and forth between office and apartment, she raced to her desk.

She started to tear open the letter, then hesitated. She placed it next to her laptop, tapping her impatience on the edge of the desk. When the screen loaded, she typed the address on Rathnelly Avenue. The map street view displayed a substantial brick house located in Old Toronto.

Jules wondered why anyone would send such a fancy letter. She’d ruled out a wedding invitation. None of her friends was the marrying type. Standing, she couldn’t take her eyes off the envelope, yet was hesitating to open it.

And an envelope like this needs to be opened with care, she decided. I should use a sharp knife. She found it in the kitchen drawer, grabbing a beer on the way back. 

Looking again at the envelope, she suddenly decided it was a job offer. What else could it be? Someone overheard me complaining at work.

Deciding it was a head-hunting firm with a job offer, she picked up the envelope and carefully opened it with the knife.

“Dear Ms. Gransmam,” as she scanned the invitation, subtly embossed with gold lettering. “According to our records,” it went on, “you qualify . . .”

Qualify? For what? What the fu—

Reading on. “Are you ready for the next chapter in your life?  “Are you satisfied with the status quo? Professionals are available to help you navigate your turning point. Leave the old behind and take your first step to a new adventure.

If so, call the number below to confirm your appointment. As a courtesy, we’ve scheduled you for—?

Jules pulled up the calendar. That’s a week from today. What do I have to lose?

~  ~  ~  ~  ~

Nearing time for the appointment, Jules had a panic attack. She’d changed outfits three times, thinking her wardrobe said ‘consignment.’  With a ridiculously high salary, Jules was paid for her coding ability. Attire was not a job requirement. She liked browsing through consignment stores. It was finding a bargain that mattered.

Her phone vibrated the arrival of her ride-share driver.

With what she hoped was a calming breath, she closed the apartment door behind her.

Getting out of the car, she looked at the house. There was nothing to set it apart from all the other brick homes lining the street, except for the understated brass sign, etched letters, Turning Point. 

Her carry-all felt heavy. The night before, Jules printed out her resume and letters of recommendation. She had copies of her diplomas, incredibly proud of her doctorate. Can I turn back from a turning point? That struck her as quite funny, and she was smiling as the door opened.

“Welcome, Ms. Gransmam. Call me, Marsha. I manage receptions. May I call you Jules?”

 One look at Marsha and Jules realized her wardrobe had nothing to match. Marsha, wearing a cream-colored suit that looked personally crafted. Not a hair was out of place. Yet, Marsha’s smile was warm and sincere. If she took note of the consignment skirt and blouse on Jules, she certainly didn’t give it away.

Jules glanced around the reception area. Low, indirect lighting was calming. She heard music, unnoticed until now. It was a favorite, A German Requiem, by Brahms, the movement offering comfort to the living.

“Some refreshment?” Marsh asked.

They shared a few minutes in small talk until there was a distinct ring, the sound of a Tibetan singing bowl.

“Your counselor is ready. Let me show you the way.”

At the top of the stairs, Marsha pointed to a doorway at the end of the hall. “I’m so happy to have met you, Jules.”

Standing at the door, Jules hesitated. To knock, or not to knock, is that the question?

The answer was the door opening. “I’ve been expecting you. My name is Remelda, an awful name that must have meant something to my parents,” the woman laughed. Just call me Remy. May I call you Jules?”

These people are undoubtedly polite if nothing else.

The room was a cozy arrangement of comfortable looking chairs and two sofas. A man stood, bowing slightly. “Adam Browning,” he said, extending his arm. He and Julia exchanged a firm handshake.

Like Marsh in reception, they all wore the same off-white, cream-colored outfits. Like uniforms, Jules thought.

‘Adam, let’s not be discourteous. Did you have breakfast, dear,” she said, turning to Jules.

“Um, no.”

Many of our early appointments skip the most important meal of the day, don’t they, Adam?”

“Indeed,” Adam said. “We have a tray of muffins and fruit, along with your choice of coffee and tea.”

Jules couldn’t contain her feelings. “Why am I here?”

“We’ll get to that soon enough,” Remy said. She took Jules by the arm as if to reassure her, everything would be okay. “Let me sit with you on this sofa.” Seated, she took Jules by the hand, giving a comforting squeeze.

Adam and Remy gently guided the conversation. What did Jules like to do? Where would Jules like to travel? Who would Jules like to meet?

Then came the important question, the turning point in the conversation. “When did it start going wrong for you, Jules?

Jules began to squirm, unease creeping towards her as if on padded cat’s paws. “What are you talking about?”

“We know you’ve been unhappy for months now. Isn’t that right?” Remy took the lead in the direction of the conversation.

Jules nodded, sipping coffee to give her time to think. It was right out of Journalism 101. Who? What? When? Where? She realized they were getting to the why question. Why she was here.

Adam cleared his throat with a slight cough. “Such a beautiful and intelligent woman. We have an offer for you to consider.” He pulled a paper from a leather folder and handed it to Jules. It was an email she’d sent two months ago. “I’m at a turning point in my life, my job, my everything,” she’d written.

“Let’s talk more about a possible turning point.” Adam’s words were soothing and evenly-paced. Jules felt her body and mind slowly yielding to the sound. “What if you were to realize the potential once passed the turning point? Might you consider a chance to take the next step?”

Was it the strong coffee? Was it because she couldn’t sleep last night? Why was she drawn to the sound of Adam’s voice? Jules murmured, yes. Why did I say yes, she wondered? But it felt okay.

~  ~  ~  ~  ~

Jules tried to keep her eyes open, but the silky-smooth sound of Adam’s voice was too much. She slipped past the half-awake/half-asleep, her eyes fluttering then settled. Her breathing was slow and restful. Jules lived with a restless leg condition. Usually, when awake, she was always moving her legs. Now, she sat fully rested, hands in lap, feeling a deep calm.

“You are ready for your turning point, Jules.” Adams voice assuring her. “This was the right choice. Some aren’t brave enough. But you?” He didn’t finish. He nodded to Remy.

“Come with us, Jules.” With those words, Jules opened her eyes and smiled. Adam helped her stand, Remy’s arm around the other shoulder. Jules beamed and began to walk with them.

Jules took firm steps, knowing she would soon be past the turning point. Adam assured her it would be a world of wonder. She believed.

Adam led Jules to a door that had gone unnoticed. Soon the door opened. A woman stood, a light backlighting her. The woman was dressed in medical scrubs, yet nothing behind her looked medical or frightening. She took Jules by the hand, caressing her shoulder in a show of comfort.

As the door locked behind, Jules wanted to look back and say thank you, but the door was closed.

“It won’t be long now, dear,” the woman in medical scrubs said. When this next door opens, all you need to do is see what’s beyond your turning point.

Jules had an uneasy thought. Point of no return?

When the final door opened, the other woman whispered, “bonne chance.”

Jules kept her eyes close. Stepping through the door, she heard the door sealing shut behind here. She took a deep breath and opened her eyes

 

 

 

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