The Sunset Girl
As his vast empire lay at his feet, a tycoon ponders.
eastwind journals
By Bernie V. Lopez,
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in death, as in an ocean
all our slow or swift diminishments
flow out and merge towards the Lord
teilhard de chardin 
Terence is a self-made tycoon, from rags to riches. He is called by newspapers as “The Octopus,” head of a multi-billion conglomerate which has tentacles in almost everything from utilities to telecommunications, computers to cars, shampoo to ice cream. You name it, he owns it. He is feared by competition. He is in his sixties, gray-haired, quick-tempered, bossy, and vicious. He is called covertly in the office as “Hitler.” Everyone is scared of him.
His office has glass wall-window overlooking the west side of Midtown Manhattan. His desk is as large as a pool table, glass and chrome, with only one folder and a telephone on top, nothing else. He starts his day at 7 a.m. As the sun dips and turns red-orange across the Hudson River, he drops everything and begins to relax. For him, sunset is sacred. There is a knock at the door. 
TERENCE – Yes. Come in Lisa.
LISA – (Nervously). Sir, this is Therese, the new hire you requested.
TERENCE – Hi Therese. Welcome. Sit down. That will be all, Lisa. Thank you. (Lisa leaves. Therese sits without a word).
TERENCE – I have a bad name of being vicious. Deep inside, I am really vicious. It’s my nature. Don’t be afraid.
THERESE – I am not afraid. That’s a beautiful sunset.
TERENCE – You seem to be at home right away. I like that. Nobody is at home in this office when I am around. I am normally addressed as sir.
THERESE – Would you like a little exception?
TERENCE – (A bit shocked). Whoow. That’s good for a starter. And for what reason?
THERESE – It may be a good change of air for you. I mean, don’t you get tired of people at your feet? It’s about time you meet an equal.
TERENCE – Whoow. An equal. Wow. I could fire you right this minute for insolence. 
THERESE – (Calmly and with a smile). Go ahead. I can take it. You want me to go?
TERENCE – Whoow. This is getting better and better. You are interesting. How old are you?
THERESE – Nineteen. Believe me, it’s good to talk to an equal for a change.
TERENCE – And what is your position in this office?
THERESE – I was told I am the assistant to the third assistant Secretary. It’s my first day. I was told you hired me because you wanted a “sunset girl” to help you relax when the day is done. That’s an easy job. I like it. I have a talent in relaxing people. And I hate office work. That’s the reason I took this job.
TERENCE – And you call us equals, I a CEO, and you a what? Assistant to the third assistant Secretary?
THERESE – Yes. The only difference between us is you’re rich and I am not. That’s to your advantage. But your are old and I am young. That’s to my advantage. Pretty even, wouldn’t you say? We will both die one day. I might even die before you. Death is the absolute equalizer.
TERENCE – Yes, equalizer of beauty and ugliness, fame and infamy, wealth and poverty.
THERESE – Youth and old age, the powerful and the oppressed, the master and the slave, Terence and Therese.
TERENCE – And what is your secret in relaxing people.
THERESE – (Shrugging her shoulders). Oh, I don’t know. My smile, the way I talk. I’m just me.
TERENCE – (Leafing through her biodata). Hmmm. Summa cum laude, Boston U. Top of the class. Marine biology. You’re actually way off the mark, do you know that?
THERESE – Not really. I minored in Banking and Finance. You could use me. Aside from sunset duty, I am a genius in finance. Wanna try me?
TERENCE – I have a dozen seniors who can do finance while sleeping.
THERESE – Then let’s stick to the sunset.
TERENCE – I hired you because, first you’re at the top of your class, second, your personality test shows you’re an intellectual rebel. Good combination. I want a young bright kid I can talk to at the end of the day.
THERESE – About what precisely?
TERENCE – Oh I don’t know, anything. Corporate, business or even philosophy. I also need someone who is out-of-the-box, a non-corporate person, a tabula rasa. You know what tabula rasa means?
THERESE -Terence, may I call you Terence?
TERENCE – You already did.
THERESE – Terence, don’t insult me please. We just met. You said I was a summa, right? Why ask a stupid question. Tabula rasa. You want someone who is pure of heart, not tinted, not biased, no scars, right?
TERENCE – Bulls eye.
THERESE – You want an intellectual rebel. You’re tired of half of your VPs being intellectually subservient. You are basically surrounded by yes people, bright ones and not-so-bright ones.
TERENCE – There are a few brains here and there, but you’re right. Your first task is to tell me your first impression of me.
THERESE – I don’t think you are really an ass-hole. You’re not really vicious. You’re pretending to be most of the time. But for me, you’re failing miserably. Maybe you’re just insecure deep inside, which no one seems to have discerned.
TERENCE – Have you discerned it?
THERESE – I’m not sure. I feel your soft spot though. You try hard to hide it for fear it would be discovered. And that would make you feel naked. You did not mind my insolence. That’s the soft spot. And your soft spot is out of despair to talk to someone your equal. But then again maybe you are afraid of equals. It’s a complex mix. You are threatened by me when I said we are equals, and yet you welcome it.
TERENCE – Wait, you’re putting me on the defensive.
THERESE – Then don’t be. I think you sort of wanted a “sunset girl” with no scars for a good reason. You see, you know I’m not like your other secretaries and assistant secretaries because I don’t care. You have no hold on me. That’s a nice feeling for me, and for you also, isn’t it? You want me to defy you, I mean, for a change.
TERENCE – Do you feel my despair?
THERESE – Obvious from the minute I entered the room. So let me be your “sunset girl” for a week. If you don’t like it, fire me. If I don’t like it, I resign.
Therese stands up, goes to the wall, pushes a button, and a mini-bar appears. She puts brandy into two goblets and ice into two glasses, pours water, puts them on a tray, and places it on Terence’s table. She turns to him. 
THERESE – May I join you.
TERENCE – Stupid question. You brought two glasses.
THERESE – I know. Brandy. Iced water on the side.
TERENCE – Lisa told you?
THERESE – She is a good girl. Meticulous to your needs. Cheers.
Glasses clink. They both approach the window and look at lesser skyscrapers silhouetted against the now-deep-red horizon. Terence hands a pair of binoculars to Therese. Therese sees a seagull against the sunset. 
TERENCE – The sunset is sacred to me, you know.
THERESE – Same here.
TERENCE – I envy them. They are free to go anywhere.
THERESE – Yes, and we are not. Our survival mode requires sticking to solid earth. Our wings are different from theirs.
TERENCE – Let me pick your brain. Without showing you finance and market data, do you think I should buy Daily Globe? Let’s see what that tabula-rasa summa-cum-laude brain of yours says.
THERESE – What for? You have everything. It’s just to satisfy your greed. Oops, I don’t mean to be rude. I mean your ego. Oops, I mean your …. your …. (Pause). What the heck. Let’s not call a spade a clover. Let’s not be polite. Let’s lay our cards on the table. It’s your ego and greed, Terence. I am sorry to say. I mean, what do you want a newspaper for, to project your image? Power? Fame? Your image is over-projected already. I mean you were on the cover of Time Magazine three months ago, and Fortune Magazine four months before that. You’ve been on the covers, what, six times in the last what, four years?
TERENCE – Seven times. (Laughs uncontrollably). Now I feel good.
THERESE – You feel good being stripped bare by a teen from nowhere? Bare naked truth?
TERENCE – Yeah, feels good. I was right getting a sunset girl. So what do I do?
THERESE – Do you have to do anything? I mean can’t you stop? Stop acquiring. Stop merging. Stop this obsession for your empire. You’re busy but you’re bored. It has excited you  all your life, but not anymore. You are addicted to it, like morphine to a cancer patient. You need to detoxify. You need to go cold turkey.
TERENCE – If I drop everything, I will get bored.
THERESE – Not really, if you have some imagination.
TERENCE – You know we have been talking for 30 minutes and for the first time, you’re changing me, my life.
THERESE – Sunset girls do that.
TERENCE – This has been bothering me for a long time.
THERESE – I know. I read so many articles about you as soon as I got accepted here. I can see through you. You are naked to me, Terence. You better believe it. All this velvet under your feet is nothing to you.
TERENCE – I have seen three shrinks in the last two months.
Terence breaks down without shame, the Octopus, the Hitler sheds tears for the first time in a long long while. Therese gets the bottle of brandy and fills the two goblets to the brim. 
THERESE – Yup, that’s the first step. Tears. Very medicinal.
TERENCE – This is not the way to drink brandy, Therese.
THERESE – Sorry. I’m getting carried away. Okay okay. (She goes to the bar and pours tequila into two small glasses. They gulp it instantly). Shrinks can’t help you, Terence. You are opaque to these guys because they do not understand what makes you tick. They go through the motions of knowing you, but they don’t. They just want your money.
TERENCE – And you know what makes me tick.
THERESE – Yeah, I do. I felt it in my bones the moment I came in. That is why you don’t scare me. Now, maybe I scare you.
TERENCE – So what do I do, Therese? C’mon ‘sunset girl’.
THERESE – You won’t like what I will tell you.
TERENCE – For heaven’s sake.
THERESE – Okay. Can I put it straight?
TERENCE – Wait. More tequila.
THERESE – Now you’re talking.
She takes the bottle of tequila and fills the glasses. They are emptied instantly. She pours again. But just as Terence is about to have a second gulp, Therese pulls the glass away. 
THERESE – Wait wait wait. Here me out first.
TERENCE – Okay. What?
THERESE – Get rid of your empire. Give it away. That’s the only way you get out of your rut.
TERENCE – My empire a rut? You’re kidding.
THERESE – Yes, your empire a rut and you’re drowning in it. (There is silence. Terence yanks the glass from Therese and both down the tequila). I mean your sixty eight right? You’re in the pre-departure area. Tell me, have you ever thought you would die soon?
TERENCE – That’s what I have been telling these shrinks. And they would argue against it and I would hate them for being hypocrites. They just wanted to be paid. This has been haunting me for the last four years, the thought of death.
THERESE – You know, the late Steve Jobs said, “Almost everything–all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure, these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important.” He knew he was dying as his vast empire lay in front of him.
TERENCE –  And what is important?
THERESE – I don’t know. You tell me. Maybe Steve was trying to say, what good is your empire when you can’t take it with you. Sell half of it. Give it way to whom-ever. Do you believe in God?
TERENCE – I do. I do.
THERESE – You should, if you’re in the pre-departure area. You know there is this Jesuit saint, Francis Xavier, who said, “What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world, but suffers the loss of his immortal soul?”
TERENCE – I was thinking of that actually, burning my empire, but I would not dare. I’m no Nero. And what would I do after?
THERESE – Not burn, give away. Two key words, Terence  – ‘profit’ and ‘immortal’. St. Francis puts it in corporate jargon, profit. And he compares your puny finite empire to the infinity of your immortal soul.
TERENCE – Coming from my “sunset girl,” I have just made a decision. Thank you, Therese. Maybe I can put up a foundation to rescue the homeless, give them back their mortgaged houses, how about that? (Therese pours more tequila. They down it in two seconds.)
THERESE – Anything, as long as it’s not for you. It has to be for others. That’s the secret. Are you up to saying a prayer with me? (Without a word, the tycoon falls to his knees in all humility, facing the sunset.) No, no. Don’t kneel. Slouch in your chair and swing it to the sunset. Relax. (Terence does so obediently like a child.) Okay, now, I will pray for both of us. Just sit there and listen. (Pause) Lord, teach us, Terence and me, how to give to others. Especially Terence, Lord, since he has so much to give.
TERENCE – Go on, go on.
THERESE – Done. Finished. Amen. You don’t have to elaborate. He knows. I have to go. It’s late, and I feel whoozy.
TERENCE – (With eyes closed.) Amen. Thank you Lord, for this angel you brought me.

THERESE – Another thing, Terence. How many people have you cheated to get to the top.

TERENCE – Are you accusing me of being a cheat?

THERESE – No. I am asking. Answer me.

TERENCE – Of course not. I mean, a few rare instances here and there.

THERESE – Out with it, Terence.

TERENCE – Okay, okay, some.

THERESE – Make a list. Write down whom you have cheated, as far as you can remember.

TERENCE – I can’t remember.

THERESE – You mean you won’t remember.

TERENCE – Okay, I will do it.

THERESE – That’s your ticket to heaven, you know. Not a stone will be left unturned. He knows. You have to give retribution. Every penny.

TERENCE – Plus interest?

THERESE – There you go. I feel whoozy.
TERENCE – Can I take you home?
THERESE – No, no. I live three blocks away.
TERENCE – But you feel whoozy.
THERESE – (Pouring more tequila). I want to walk home after this warm talk with you. I want to feel the cold biting wind on my skin. I enjoyed it terribly. For the road? (They empty the glasses.)
TERENCE – I will see you tomorrow at sunset?
THERESE – I don’t know. You don’t need me anymore. I gave you your sunset, right?
TERENCE – But you have to help me plan to give my empire away.
THERESE – He will help you. He’s good at that. Just don’t forget to ask Him. I am not good at that. Bye. (She heads for the door.)
TERENCE – Wait, wait. Just in case you don’t come back, here take this.
Terence has a hard time writing the cheque. He has to tear the cheques the first two tries. Finally, he hands a crumpled cheque to Therese. Therese pockets the cheque without looking. 
TERENCE – Read the cheque, damn it.
THERESE – (Stops at the door and reads it). You’re kidding. I can’t take this.
Therese throws the cheque to the floor. Terence, totally drunk, picks it up, and as he rises, his nose passes two inches from the cleavage of Therese, who backs away a bit.
TERENCE – Ooops. Don’t worry. I’ve never been accused of sexual harassment. I will do this with extreme dexterity. Look, no touch.
Terence pulls on her plunging neckline and inserts the cheque into her cleavage without touching her skin. Just as drunk, Therese staggers. 
THERESE – My my, such dexterity.
TERENCE – You’re doing me a favor. Take the damn cheque.
THERESE – (Sobs uncontrollably, and leaves). I won’t be back.
TERENCE – Hell, drop in sometime?
THERESE – Maybe.
With the money, Therese bought a modest beach house in Long Island and a second hand Benz. She bought a second house for her sister to take care of their sick mother in Cape Cod, where she grew up. Terence was envious and bought a beach house one block from Therese’s in Long Island. Terence drops by Therese’s beach house. 
THERESE – Are you following me?
TERENCE – Nope. I’m following Him.
THERESE – Oh. How nice. So we’re both headed His way. All paths lead to Him, no matter how crooked.
TERENCE – You know what? I made the list.
THERESE – A long one?
TERENCE – A bit. I didn’t know there were so many.
THERESE – Perhaps because it became a habit.
TERENCE – Its hard tracing where they are and how much.
THERESE – Give them triple of the how-much, no problem. If you can’t trace them, give it to street kids. Put up a soup kitchen for derelicts in the Bowery.
TERENCE – Or a half-way house for them for winter, a big one, right?
THERESE – There you go.
TERENCE – You know what?
TERENCE – You are, to me, the promised kiss of springtime.
THERESE – Shut up.
Of course, their houses were facing west. They would watch the sunset often in silence, not a word. That was how they prayed together. Slowly, the corporate empire shrunk, and a new empire loomed at the horizon, bigger and more awesome. Therese died at the age of 22, and Terence had to stay behind as there was a lot to give away. He died at the age of 89. 
The opposite of pride is humility. Humility, like forgiveness, heals. Pride, like hate, consumes. Therese was a humbling experience for Terence. All his pride, arrogance, and viciousness melted at the hands of the teen who stripped him naked. Who would ever believe a young teenager would, in the blink of an eye, convince a hardened tycoon to squander a multi-billion dollar empire. Therese was the cool breeze in Terence’s desert empire, the promised kiss of his springtime.
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Another book by the same author –
WINGS AND WANDERLUST the art of discovering your inner self
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