"Guru to One" by Rebecca Monroe
“Thank you,” he raised his voice to override the applause. “Thank you very much,”
So many faces, some solemn, most smiling, a few wet with tears of realization. It was the last he worked for. They reminded him he was only a conduit and the real work was done through him, not by him.
He waved himself off the stage though the applause hadn’t subsided any. There would be another hour signing autographs – a change made by his new assistant, Marlene. She’d been aghast when he’d told her he normally just signed for whoever was at the door on the way out.
“You don’t reach nearly as many and it’s, rock starish.”
The last reference had bothered him so much he’d agreed to try it her way. Now the idea of sitting for yet another hour sounded exhausting. At least his way he was on the move toward an evening of rest. Her way he was stuck. He would try it. He needed to be open. Then he’d kill the idea. He grinned. Ego was alive and well, thank you.
He paused as Marlene hurried over to him from her makeshift desk behind the stage. She was a bit too heavy – though not fat. Her makeup was more apparent then he cared for. He kept himself in good shape because of the image he wanted to promote. At 6’3, in his mid 50’s, he was physically fit. His face was longer than he liked. He had blue eyes, was going bald and so admired Marlene’s glorious head of auburn hair – past shoulder length, full and shiny. “Brian,” he corrected yet again.
She flashed him a smile of acknowledgment. “I’ve a place set up for you to relax for a moment. There’s juice and some light snacks.”
It was nine p.m. already. He set his jaw, the good feeling he’d had from tonight’s talk fading. “Let’s get started, shall we? I don’t need to relax.”
Her pleasant smile vanished. He read the look on her face because it was one of the reasons he’d hired her. A reference for her had said ‘you have to be careful because she injures easily. She cares about doing her job to the heart.’
“Marlene,” he kept his tone gentle. “This is our second seminar. We have to grow together. I learn from you, you from me and we adjust – that includes guessing wrong once in a while.”
She nodded but her smile didn’t return. “I’ll bring in the first group.”
It was an intense hour over and above the two-hour talk he’d given. Ten minutes with groups ranging anywhere from two to six autographs. Mostly it was people who wanted to meet, the autographs a way to do so. Some had honest questions, some wanted to exhibit how developed ‘they’ were – baggage stories of overcoming.
Marlene shut the door behind the last group. She looked at him for a moment. “Rock star has its advantages?”
He nodded wearily.
“I had Ted clear the area so you can go straight to your car. We won’t do it this way anymore. Thank you for letting me try.”
This time she wasn’t injured. This time she had been wrong, knew it, and moved on. He liked her for that. As he rose, he reminded himself to stay open to her ideas.
* * *
“And so, you, with the power, ARE in charge of your life. And the Power’s only desire is for you to be happy and at peace. Thank you,”
The applause started and he acknowledged it as he moved off stage. Marlene was waiting for him.
“Did you want me to get dinner ordered for you at the motel?”
“No. I want to stay and watch.”
Marlene raised an eyebrow. “I thought we were tired after our talks,”
“We saw how she bubbled at the results and wanted to see for ourselves.” He rubbed a hand over his bald head.
She’d waited a while before presenting a new idea and she incorporated the learning from the old. “Stay hidden then. Otherwise, it will be expected next time.”
Stage design was perfect for staying hidden while watching so it was easy to find a comfortable place to be while Marlene went out onto the stage. “Those of you who have purchased special tickets, please remain seated while the stadium clears.”
Marlene had gotten her idea from a man’s comment during the question and answer sessions. ‘We come here, get all pumped up, go home and fall right back into the same patterns,’
The auditorium cleared of all but about twenty people. The tickets were expensive for the added session. It paid for the actresses and actors and made sure those who stayed were serious. “The rest of you, please move up to the front so you can hear.” The twenty people did, suddenly looking small in the large old fashioned theatre.
“Our players have reviewed your data sheets and are prepared to help you. The more information you included, the better the quality of acting they can do. They will be taking cues from your responses. If at any time you think they have gotten too far from what you want, let us know and we’ll start over.”
Brian thought her a bit bold. The impression Marlene gave was their issues and the desire to help were important enough to be here all night if necessary.
“Who wants to go first?”
There were glances exchanged until one woman finally raised her hand. “I will.” She rose and made her way to the stage. Everything about her said ‘money spent’. Hair a perfect frosted cap of style, nails professional, new-looking suit, matching shoes, gold glittering on wrists, fingers, and ears. She stepped onto the stage, looking expectantly at Marlene.
“You are here to practice a new way of approaching your issue. You don’t have to share what your issue is to the group. This is for you, no one else.”
“Later, maybe,” the woman replied.
An older actor came on stage. He was stout, face soft with a hint of jowls. Gray hair styled, a huge watch twinkling beneath the cuff of his business suit. The woman took a deep breath of preparation and it began.
Brian watched. At first, it did, indeed, seem to center around the money she spent until she made it clear she was very willing to work for her money. The husband didn’t want her to. She thought it was to keep his free housekeeper and errand girl. As they circled, attacked, and retreated, more issues came up – taxes, his schedule, then suddenly she blurted “You don’t have to be afraid of me being independent…” The look of shock on her face opened her mouth, widened her eyes. “You think the only reason I stay is because of security?” The actor stayed silent. It was obvious she didn’t even see him. “You think I think so little of you I only stay for the comfort? You have to keep me needy? My god, no wonder you get so upset.” She came back to herself and turned to Marlene, eyes over bright. “Thank you. I wish he’d come. Of course, he wouldn’t…I think it’ll be all right. Thank you,”
“No instant fixes,” Marlene warned, shifting in her seat.
“I know,” the woman hesitated, “it’s seeing beyond the blame to the real person who does care about me. That’s a huge step up.”
Someone in the remaining group whispered ‘yes’.
Brian felt a shiver circle up his spine. This was ten times better than any talk he gave. He needed to be out there, be a part of this! It was his process, after all. ‘Learn’ an inner voice whispered. It was Marlene’s idea, let her run it. If she deviated from the process, he’d go out. In the meantime, he’d let her continue.
Marlene was inviting the next one onto the stage.
Each participant acted out the issue causing the most grief in their relationship, voices echoing out over the empty seats. Most knew the process, worked hard at using it. A few needed Marlene’s prodding to stay on track. Two were more concerned about proving how right and abused they were than learning. Marlene gently ended the session. One left, smugly satisfied.
The other hesitated, looked at Marlene and said, “But I don’t feel any different, any better.”
Marlene didn’t respond. Though she was smiling, there was a finality about the way she sat. Brian tried to figure out how she was signaling ‘it’s over’.
“I paid good money for this. I’m still mad. I didn’t learn…” a blush rose up the woman’s face, suffusing the hard lines about her mouth, the scowl between her eyes. “I haven’t learned anything,”
Marlene’s smile grew a fraction. “I think you have.”
The woman looked at the actor who had sat down on the floor, weary from the evening. “I need to do it again.”
“All we do is provide a safe setting for you. A place to play. You can do it every day at home. All it takes is willingness.”
“All?” The woman gave a hard laugh. “Thanks. I hear what you aren’t saying.” She left.
She was the last one. For a long moment, Marlene sat still, as if relaxing, letting go was what Brian felt radiating from her. Slowly she turned her head toward the actor. “Thank you.”
The actor rose. “I’m pretty sure I should be thanking you. We fight over this opportunity,” he said. “My wife says I come home much improved.” He flashed a grin. “I’m putting in an advance bid for the next performance.”
Marlene smiled back, “I’ll do my best.”
The actor left and Brian pushed himself out of his chair, stepped around the small wall he’d been seated behind.
“What did you think?” Marlene twisted to look at him.
“It was, fascinating. I’m buzzing, there is so much energy flying around here.”
“I know. I’m exhausted and exhilarated at the same time.”
“This is a good thing you’re onto here.” It sounded brassy and he saw Marlene’s slight withdrawal. “I didn’t mean that the way it sounded.
“I know. We have a plane to catch tomorrow.”
“Did you want to stop somewhere for dinner?”
Brian was disappointed. He wanted to keep talking. Then he realized the intensity of concentration he’d see her using must have drained her. “I will order your dinner in.”
Marlene hesitated. “That would be lovely, thank you.”
* * *
Marlene’s side of his talks continued to grow. The number who wanted to attend finally bumped against how many could be done after a talk. Nine to eleven in the evening was no longer adequate.
“Why not have a session the next day? “ Brian asked during the morning briefing when she snapped at her assistant, Kim, who’d insisted they increase the number of participants. “Some of these people travel anyway. They might enjoy something to do the next day.”
Marlene sat back in her chair. They were in his motel suite – seated around the small table with coffee in hand, sun streaming in. “I’m sorry, Kim. You mean well, I know.” To Brian she said. “I ride on the power of your talk. It gives me cold shivers to imagine those people walking in, blinking sleep from their eyes and trying to jazz them up enough to be open.”
Truth, though he hadn’t thought of it. He could offer to give a mini talk though the idea was nauseating. He had too little time as it was. “So many people, so little time.”
Marlene shrugged. “I’m happy the idea is a success. However, it needs to stay within the realm of reality. We have a good, overall program and there is no reason to change it.”
Kim’s lips moved to form the word ‘money’.
“You know better. Start grabbing and the next thing you know, you’re selling Walmart help.”
“So, no changes in schedule, no changes in anything?” Marlene poured herself more coffee from the pitcher on the table between them.
“There is another issue,” said Brian, pulling his planner closer.
“What?” Marlene looked too, leaning close.
For some reason, it hit him how her perfume had become such a part of his life, in the car, next to him in the airplane, here in his motel room. He was surprised by his own reaction to it. “Vacation? Downtime? R and R?”
“Oh.” Marlene looked down at her own planner. “I hadn’t thought so far ahead yet.”
Brian kept his voice gentle as he rubbed his head. “It’s been a while.” More than a while. It had been nearly a year. It was getting harder to be enthused about anything.
“When? There’s a week…” she began flipping through pages and the number she turned was frightening.
Brian put his hand on her planner. “I need a break, Marlene. A minimum of ten days. A couple of weeks would be better. Perhaps somewhere warm and sunny with no phones or traffic,”
Now. The need washed over him. Unfortunately, he knew about ticket sales and how hard it was to set up, get commitment.
“I’m an idiot,” Marlene’s jaw tightened. The pages went backward. “We are absolutely locked in for the next two weeks. Then I can re-schedule. Can you make it two more weeks?” Her eyes were too bright. He hadn’t seen the stricken look for quite a while.
“Of course I can. Don’t get upset, please. You had no way of knowing without me telling you.” It was useless. She would beat herself up for not seeing the need. “Marlene, I’m a big boy. It’s up to me to say, which I just did. Not for you to psychically know about,”
She blushed. “Point taken. We’ll get you some rest post-haste though.”
“Not me. Us. I’m buying. Something expensive comes to mind.” Brian rose before he embarrassed himself. He’d worked long and hard alone. It was unusual not only to have help but to have someone who cared.
She chose an island he couldn’t pronounce the name of. He didn’t know how she found it, it was not in the guidebooks because it was privately owned by someone who was very, very rich. They arrived there by boat. White sand beaches, palm trees, a path from the beach to a barely visible house. Gulls circled the boat above and there was the calming rhythm of waves breaking on the beach. Marlene turned to him.
“Carrying your bags aboard was the last bit of work you will be doing for two weeks. If you want to sit in a lawn chair all day, it’s arranged. There is an extensive library along with overnight service if you want something else. TV with all the channels, paths to walk, a pool or the ocean to swim in, exercise room, plush beds,”
“Wow. Who owns this?”
Marlene turned away to leave. “My father,”
On the dock, she stopped and looked at him squarely. “Did. He’s dead now. My brother proved himself capable of going through vast amounts of money in record time. Since he was diagnosed as a sociopath, father decided it was best to leave it all to me, including the management of the business.”
“A very competent businesswoman who has her own full plate. She cut my brother off way before father acknowledged the problems. She knew I already knew and so could take care of myself. While we aren’t close, we do respect each other.”
He was busily absorbing what she was saying, the picture she was building. “You run a business in your spare time? One successful enough to support this island?”
Marlene glanced toward the shore. “Other places support the island. I sold all the homes except this one. It’s always been my favorite. The business mostly runs itself. It was rough for a couple of years – Carl, my brother, was sure I would hand it all over to him so I spent energy on intercepting his manipulations; the ‘guys’ thought they knew better and fought me every step of the way, working with Carl to get around me.”
“How did you stop it?”
“I wasn’t without my own support. I called the district directors to a central meeting along with the CEO and Vice President. Basically,” Marlene shrugged, “I started the meeting with: if I hear one argument, it’s on the spot firing. Then I fired the Director from California and the CEO. They were friends of my brother’s. Security guards escorted them out. To coin a cliché, I told the rest it was my way or the highway. Anyone who dealt with my brother would be fired immediately. Then I showed them the numbers and the effects of their testosterone-based power plays. I didn’t have to prove or justify a thing to them. I gave them one hour for safe ‘discussion’. At the end of the hour, the subject was closed. Period.”
“Did they discuss it?”
Marlene grinned. “Two quit which was fine. The rest agreed to my terms. A district director tested me. I’d made a decision to go with a new product. He kept putting off the addition. A month later, I walked in on his department’s morning meeting, fired him and promoted his assistant.” Marlene smiled. “I could see the light bulbs go on. Being promoted in my company meant, truly, more responsibility. I had a company to run, not a boy’s club to oversee.”
They climbed the steep stairs of the house to the back deck overlooking the ocean.
“And now I have to ask why are you working for me?”
“One, to keep from micromanaging perfectly competent people. Two, it’s easy to forget the pressure of trying to do right by the boss and the business. I use this job as a reminder. I treat my directors better. My attitude filters down to their department heads and so it goes until the employee on the ground benefits from it.” Marlene led the way into the house.
“You don’t lock your doors?”
“I unlocked it remotely before we got here.”
It wasn’t elaborate, as Brian had thought it might be. The deck entrance opened onto a dining room with a table that would seat ten comfortably. The kitchen was to the left – a small bar separating the two rooms. It was large though a little old fashioned, propane stove, clunky microwave, white appliances. To the right was a step down to a living room with huge pictures windows wrapping around the room on two sides. The third wall, opposite the ocean, had a fireplace with overstuffed chairs. There was a couch, table, and chairs facing the ocean view. It was as if the room were decorated as two and someone had pulled the separating wall out.
“It’s sort of funky,” Marlene said, following his gaze, “We could never figure out a way to arrange it to take advantage of both the fire and the ocean.”
Straight ahead was a family room with television stereo and more windows overlooking the yard. Marlene led the way through the living room to carpeted stairs to the left of the family room. They led to another open area upstairs on the yard side with bedrooms on the ocean side.
“Mine is right here.” Marlene motioned to a closed door. “You can have your pick from the rest,”
Brian went down to the one furthest from Marlene’s. He snored. Someone had once said he sounded like the Indy 500 right before the start flag dropped.
The room was inviting, done in tans and blues. King-sized bed, a desk, and chair he tested because motels had no concept of functionality when it came to them. The desk was the right height and the chair comfortable. There was an armchair with table and lamp for evening reading where he could also look out the sliding glass door to the ocean beyond. There was even a small refrigerator perched discreetly in a corner. It would do quite nicely. Brian stepped back into the hallway. Marlene’s door was open and there was a young man outside of it, bags piled about his feet.
Marlene poked her head out. “There?”
“Yes, it’s perfect.”
She nodded to the young man who picked up half the bags and brought them down the hall.
It took him a while to get settled. It always did. The unpacking was interspersed with gazing out the window. He’d opened the sliding glass door so he could hear the surf and he could feel it lulling him, soothing him inside where he’d been tense for too long. When he was finally down to the last bag he paused in reaching for it. It was his laptop and he wasn’t sure he wanted to set it up. He settled for putting the bag by his desk.
Downstairs he found a note on the dining room table.
‘Relax, enjoy. I’ve gone for a walk. There is food in the refrigerator and snacks in the cupboards, if you’re hungry. Books are in the library. Dinner will be at seven.’
It was only three. How long of a walk was she taking? Brian grinned. More likely she was giving him the complete alone time he craved.
With a book from the library, a bag of chips and a bottle of beer from the kitchen, he settled in a lawn chair on the deck in the sun. It had been too long since he’d done nothing. He relaxed into a nap.
When he woke, he was hot and sticky. He changed into his swimming trunks, grabbed a towel from the bathroom that was thick enough to make him hesitate taking it to the beach and did just that.
When he came up the steps, wet and awake, he saw Marlene had returned and was stretched out in a lawn chair of her own in shorts and a tank top. She was more muscular than fat which surprised him. He’d always thought her slightly overweight. Apparently, she worked out. He was suddenly aware his body wasn’t what it once had been. He was in good shape. It was the ‘for his age’ part that made him drape the towel over his shoulders, thankful it was a large one. He quietly resumed his place in his own chair, unsure if Marlene was awake or asleep.
She opened one eye to look at him. “Did you have a good swim?”
“Fantastic. The water was ideal. Did you have a good walk?” "Lovely,” she closed her eye again, her voice drifty, as if on the edge of her own nap.
Brian kept quiet, watching her breathing even out. He picked up the book, eyeing the chips. The bag was closed so it would have to wait. He didn’t want to disturb Marlene.
While he’d made the grand gesture acknowledging she, too, needed a vacation, he hadn’t given it the serious consideration as he had his own. Now, glancing over his book at her he saw the bags under her eyes, the way her fingertips twitched in sleep and realized she probably needed time off worse than he did.
He remembered their discussion about his schedule and felt himself shrink inside. Talk about arrogance. Where else had he grown such self-importance? The problem with having a good message was people wanted to hear it. And the problem with people wanting to hear it is it gave the ego exactly the rein one was teaching not give it.
“Penny for your thoughts.”
Brian glanced up and saw Marlene watching him. “How did you know I wasn’t reading?”
“Your eyes weren’t moving.” She hitched herself up in her lawn chair.
“I was thinking about arrogance; how easy it is to slip into.”
“And, like everything else, once the demon is recognized, it is banished with its tail between its legs.”
“Only until it can find a new way to wiggle back in. Preferably something quite innocent looking.”
Marlene smiled. “Truth. And then it’s recognized again, banished again smaller than it was before.”
“By which time we’re too old and weary to care.” He was surprised at the cynicism in his tone in his voice.
One of Marlene’s eyebrows went up. Then she looked away. Her nose had a dip to it, lips a natural curve upward. She looked elfish in profile. “There are times I have to remind myself to release my grip. I realize I have the learning by the throat and am throttling the spontaneity from it because I’m terrified I’ll forget – slip backwards.”
Brian inhaled hard. Yes. And yes. “Blue in the face, eh?”
“It’s got that tinge. Are you hungry?”
“Starved. Tell me where dinner is and I’ll get it ready.”
“The table should be set by now,” Marlene glanced at her watch. “We only need to haul the stuff from the kitchen.”
“Dinner is fixed?”
“Yes. I have some very good help. And after we’re done eating, I am going to read. I hope you don’t mind.” She rose and he followed.
As she’d said, the table was set at the end closest to the kitchen. At the opposit