"Soooooo, I guess this'll about do it Mr. Jackson" Mark said handing a stuffed envelope to the other gentlemen in the office "No problems, right? I'll get the contract without a hitch......I've never done this before." "No, no problems. Our little 'agreement' will see to that. No matter what you hear before the contract is officially awarded, it will end up going to your company. I assume the stock information is also in the envelope?" came the reply. "Yes, it's as you requested. The account number is in the envelope and your broker seemed to know exactly what to do. You know..... I built this company and did everything by the book. I paid all my taxes. I paid my employees more than the prevailing wage. I got involved in local activities and charities...... and what did it get me? Almost bankrupt! So it comes to this. It kills me to be doing this, but I guess I have to really." Mark answered glancing around the office. "Mark, you're a good man. It's just a fact of business.....you have to fight fire with fire! If it's any consolation, this little 'inducement' is not the 'only' reason you'll get the contract. The fact that you HAVE ran a solid business helps. I wouldn't be able to give this contract to anyone just because they line my pockets. They still have to get the job done or else it's my ass! Whether it's a defense contract like this or something else, everybody wants their piece of the pie. So you sacrifice a little of your conscience to run with the big dogs.....it'll profit nicely for you! And these stocks will see to it that your profit will pay-off for me also." Mark shook his head in agreement and extended his hand for a handshake to seal the deal. They shook and Mr. Jackson turned and left the office offering "Good luck, Mark" as he closed the door.
Mark figured he had tried everything. He knew there would be lean times when he started his business but he thought his dedication and hard work would help him climb the ladder and finally score a large government contract. His wife, Melissa, was a pillar of strength for him. Her moral support kept him going even has the debt piled up. Her faith in him never faltered and that was one of the reasons that the formerly impending failure of his business was more than he could stand. How could he face her knowing her faith in him had brought her down too? It had seemed so simple when he quit his job five years ago to venture out on his own. He had saved a substantial amount of money and with loans and scaling back of their personal budget he was able to begin his own business. A couple of lean years and then it would all work out..... at least on paper. Unfortunately, the 'big' contract never came.
At first Mark was depressed over what he had done, but as the day wore on he became more comfortable with it. By the time he left for home he knew, in his mind, that he was doing the right thing. Now all he had to do was slowly let Melissa in on it. It was a complex scheme and he knew he had to take it in small steps.
"Mel? I'm home..... Melissa?" he said loudly as he entered the house. "What?" she said as she came into the room. "Get ready for some good news..... We've got the Y2 contract!" he said, smiling like he hadn't smiled in recent memory. "But that won't be awarded for at least another month.... how? I mean are you sure? I'm shocked! How?" she stammered. "Hon, you gotta fight fire with fire" he said, repeating what Mr. Jackson had said earlier "I wanna run with the big dogs!." "What's that supposed to mean?..... You didn't do anything illegal? My God! You did, didn't you? Tell me you didn't!" she pleaded "Everyone does it! It's the only way to get your foot in the door! Damn it! I didn't want to but it was the only way. The ONLY way! I thought you'd be happy...." She interrupted "Happy? MY husband just bribed a government official and I should be HAPPY!?" "Welllllll, maybe the 8 figure size of the contract will make you happy!....." he answered. "8 figures? Oh my.... Wow.... that's....ummmmm unbelievable! .....But, still a bribe....That is a lot of money.....We're going to be rich. And you always said that once you get one big contract the others will follow! ....But bribery?" Mark looked down and thought before speaking "Bribery is a way of life for those people. Without the bribery we would have never gotten ANY worthwhile contracts. It got painfully obvious. Now we are going to be on easy street! I worked out a deal to get some untraceable cash and now we are set. I'm not sure what would have happened if we didn't get this contract..... But that doesn't matter now, the future is taken care of. Tomorrow we're going to celebrate! We'll make a day of it. I'll drop you off at that new Salon in town for a full treatment. You deserve it. A new wardrobe, then dinner and a movie! We haven't been to a movie since I quit the firm 5 years ago. We've sacrificed too long with our personal finances! It's time to SPLURGE!"
Melissa slowly warmed to the idea. It HAD been a long time since she had really spent any money on any kind of 'frivolous' activities. They both enjoyed a simple meal of the type that they had grown used to in the last few years. Mark held up his cola and said "To our last TV Dinner, and to a new start!" CLINK They 'tapped' their cola cans and laughed.
Mark and Melissa both awoke around 7:00 AM and quickly got ready. The Salon opened at 9:00 AM and she wanted to get there early in order to avoid a long wait. It was a short drive downtown but sometimes the traffic could be bad. Fortunately, the traffic was not too bad on this morning and they arrived just as the Salon was opening. "Well, here we are. I'll let you out and then run some errands and be back shortly." Mark told her as he pulled to the curb. Melissa kissed Mark before getting out of the car and walked toward the entrance of the Salon. She heard the tinkle of a bell as she opened the door of the Salon. It had a very modern looking interior and a young lady was seated at a desk opposite the entrance. "Hello, Melissa? We've been expecting you." the girl cheerfully said. "Umm Hi..... Expecting me?" Melissa queried. "Your husband phoned in and took care of most of the paper-work. I just need to confirm a couple of things. I know sometime wives bend the truth a little and their husbands are never the wiser!" the receptionist giggled. She sat down at the desk and the girl began asking questions "Your age is 46, correct?" "Correct" "You've never had any type of treatments for any mental problems at any time in your life?" "Ummm No....???" "Just routine questions Ma'am, company policy...." ....The question and answer session continued and Melissa obliged although she thought some of the questioning was strange. Finally, the girl pressed a button and another young lady dressed in a nurses outfit entered the room. She had entered from a door behind the receptionist "I see you're ready Melissa. This way please." She led Melissa down the hall and pointed her into a small dressing room. "You can leave your clothes and purse in there. It'll be locked and safe in there. Go on in and change into a robe and pick up a towel and we'll begin." Melissa entered the room and put on her robe. She folded her clothes in a neat pile and left them on the bench in the room.
She walked out of the room and the young lady escorted her to the next room in the hall. "I'm Janie and I'll be doing your treatment this morning. I think you will really enjoy this. While we offer the basic massage along with a full compliment of other beautifying treatments that you can get most anywhere, we also offer some more scientific methods here. Now, if you'll take off your robe and lay flat on your stomach I'll begin with your massage. Melissa shyly removed her robe saying "I've kinda let myself go. I don't know if I ever looked as good as you, but I used to hold my own." "I'm sure you did.... and still can! This oil massage will help with your skin and the light treatment that will follow might even help shed a few pounds! That won't be a problem will it?" Janie asked playfully. "Oh no! You shine that 'light' girl!" Melissa laughed. Janie worked her magic, massaging the oil into Melissa's flesh. She carefully worked it down her legs and even into her scalp. Finally she had her rollover and continued massaging the oil into every inch of her exposed skin. All of Melissa's original worries were gone. She drifted off and just enjoyed the moment. She heard a light 'buzzing' sound and noticed the room brighten as the light seemed to pass over her. "Melissa? Melissa? You fell asleep. It's time to move on. Feels good, doesn't it?" Janie helped Melissa off of the table and asked "Doesn't your body look firmer, and isn't your skin much softer now?" Melissa reached for her robe and was shocked to see that she did look better. The oil was completely absorbed, or evaporated, and had left her skin glowing. "Wow! This is great! What have I been missing all these years?" she thought.
They walked down the hall a bit more and then Janie said "OK, here you go. A little whirlpool time before we continue. I think you'll enjoy this one. The water will seem a little cool at first but then you'll become accustomed to it. I'll be back for your next session in a few minutes. Just relax and enjoy it." Janie shut the door behind Melissa and she walked to the edge of the whirlpool. She touched her toe in the water but it felt comfortably warm to her. She shrugged and took off her robe, slowly entering the whirlpool. As soon as she sat down in the pool she felt a chill 'Oooh this is a bit chilly' she thought. Suddenly, it felt more comfortable to her. Within moments it felt VERY comfortable with the whirl of the spinning water serenading her to sleep. She awoke to Janie's voice "Melissa, times up sleepy-head! Time to move on" Janie offered her hand to help steady her as she pulled herself up out of the water. Still groggy from the deep sleep she squinted at her hand as she got out of the water. It looked younger. She looked down at her legs and feet. It was if they belonged to someone else....They looked familiar, yet different. Younger, somehow. Unlike from before when she thought she just looked 'better', this time was different. As she toweled off she tried to see her reflection in the water but the churning made it impossible. Still, she could see that she had definitely changed. She put her robe back on and noticed it was slightly bigger..... 'or was she smaller' she wondered. You certainly look much better than this morning. And I imagine you feel a lot better too!" Janie told her. Melissa thought about it and had to admit she felt worlds better. She desperately wanted to look in a mirror. She wasn't sure whether to be excited or worried..... or whether she was losing her mind! She was afraid to say anything or ask Janie any questions because it sounded so crazy! 'Janie doesn't seem to notice anything strange' she thought.
"C'mon Melissa, it's time for the steam room" Janie says. Melissa continued looking around the room just trying to get a glimpse of her reflection. More than anything she just wanted to confirm that nothing unusual had really happened and that she was letting her imagination go wild. As she walked out into the hall she noticed another attendant there. It was a male attendant who seemed to be only watching Janie and herself. If she didn't know better she thought 'he almost looked like a guard!'. Janie took her hand and seemed to be hurrying her a bit. As they passed a framed photo hanging on the wall, Melissa caught a glimpse of herself in the glass. She pulled her hand free from Janie's and turned back to look into the glass. "I AM younger! How?!...... but, but it's enough......" she exclaimed, starting to sound worried. Janie put her arm around her and explained "Just a little more. You're not finished yet." "Finished? I look 25! I think I'm finished!" she said squirming free from Janie's arm. Janie looked at the male attendant and he suddenly grabbed Melissa. She couldn't break his hold as Janie pulled out a needle and injected it into Melissa. She quieted and all the fight in her diminished. Janie told the attendant "Damn photo! I never did like that thing! Oh well, lets get her to the next phase."
The attendant carried her to the next room and softly put her limp form down on the floor. He exited and Janie shut and locked the door behind him. They watched on a screen as the room filled with 'steam'. After a couple of minutes a light passed through the room. They could see the process begin to erase even more years from the now young woman lying on the floor. Her features softened and her body seemed to 'dissolve' inside the robe. Janie looks at the attendant telling him "John, this process never ceases to amaze me!" As they noticed the process slowing they could see Melissa starting to come around.
When she awoke she could see she was in an entirely different room. She hoped it all had been a bad dream but as she held up her hand to look she could see it wasn't a dream! The sleeve of her robe now covered half of her hand. She knew the robe hadn't gotten larger. She wondered how old she was now? She could tell she was much younger than before. Her body felt so light. Once again there were no mirrors anywhere. She wrapped her arms around her knees and sat on the floor. 'Why are they doing this to me?' she worried and lightly sobbed. She finally worked up enough courage to look inside her robe. Peering at her chest she yelled out "Noooooo Stop this!!! Please" She could see she was no longer in her twenties....probably 16 at best. "This has to stop!!!!" she cried out not hearing the sound of the door opening.
"Ummm Excuse me Miss?". Melissa bolted up and spun around. In the room with her now was another young teen. She looked at him and her eyes widened "MARK!.....They did this to you too! We have to get out...... Look at US!...." "Now, Mel settle down. There's a reason for all this." "REASON? A REASON? This is impossible..... what reason? Hey wait....You 'KNEW' this was going to happen?!!!" "Mel, I needed cash for the inducement.....errrrr bribe.... we were bankrupt! No bank was going to loan us any more money. I found out about this place and came up with a plan. They are all really great here. They even gave me the cash up front. It's not like we won't grow up again. And when we do the business will be a rousing success. I've taken care of all the details! Reinvestments, stocks.... it's all planned out. And just like the adoptive parents got to pick us out from the profiles I provided, WE got to pick them also!" Melissa was frantic "WE? WE? You've done this on your own! I want out, NOW! I didn't ask for THIS.....what is wrong with you?" Mark tried to explain himself better "I couldn't let the business fail! This is perfect. In a month it'll be one of the fastest growing businesses in the country. Our new parents will be the 'owners' but our current management structure will carry on until ownership reverts back to us in a few years. It is set up to revert to us when we're older."
Melissa couldn't believe what she was hearing! "You fool! I loved you for all your crazy dreams. You were never a failure in my eyes. What kind of parents want a couple of married teenagers? This is not right! I don't want to pretend to be some kind of kid again....been there, done that! I live by my own rules now. I'll run away! Just give them the money back and tell them to reverse this!" The door opens and Janie asks Mark to follow her. Mark lowers his head and leaves while Melissa continues her pleading. They could hear her sobs as they walked away. "Mark it's not too late to stop this until the final process..... I just want you to know that" Janie tells him as they continue to walk down the hall. "I don't know. This seemed like such a great idea. I mean.... we were broke and now we're about to be rich." he answered, not sounding as confident any more. "You can turn back at any point before the mental regression phase is complete. You're the one in charge. You seem to be having second thoughts. A lot of people do. More so when the rejuvenation is so drastic. It's your call, Mark" Janie told him as she waited for him to think about it. "She was so against this. I never expected that. I thought she would love a second chance knowing that she would be rich. I mean we'd still be together....obviously not like before, but still together. Maybe I have been a fool. I don't know what to do. The success is so enticing but maybe not at this cost.....Let's stop it." he finally declared. "Let's go tell your wife. I think she will be happy with your decision." Janie says while turning back to the Steam Room.
Janie opens the door but Melissa is no longer crying. Mark is glad that she has settled down "Melissa, you were right. This was crazy. We're turning back. The money is not everything." Melissa looks at the two others now in the room and asks "Money? Excuse me? Do I know you or something? Money may not be everything but it's up there dude!" Mark turns back to Janie who is now looking directly at Melissa "Melissa, how old are you?" "Seventeen.....well almost anyway. What's it to ya?" Melissa answers. Janie shakes her head in disbelief and tells Mark "Someone has run the mental regression program for this room. I don't understand...." At that moment, John returns "Hey Janie, she was going crazy in there so I went ahead and ran the MR program for this room to settle her down. Since you headed down to the last stage I figured it was OK. It's not like we still can't go more and it sure made her a helluva lot more peaceful...... Not a problem is it?" "Not if Mark hadn't changed his mind about going through with the full process. You idiot! You'll be written up for this!" Janie answered sternly. "Written up?! But what about Melissa? We can't leave her like this...." Mark asked worriedly. "No, I suppose we can't. Actaully, the only real possibility now is to continue" Janie informed him "There's no reversing it now for her."
"Melissa, let's head to the Sun Room. Mark, we'll get you later. And John, NO surprises!" Janie ordered as she motioned for Melissa to follow. "So, shouldn't I get a bathing suit or something before I go in the tanner? Ummmm I kinda like tan lines." Melissa asked sounding a bit shy. "There'll be a couple to choose from in there if you want. Change into one before you get in the tanning bed" Janie told her as they arrived at the room. She opened the door and Melissa walked on in and chose the two piece bathing suit. All the while she kept admiring herself in the large mirror in the room. Janie was able to watch on the video as Melissa laid down in the tanner. It automatically came on and then suddenly got much brighter for a few seconds. All of a sudden she began to shrink. She was no longer 'almost seventeen'. She now looked about 14 and was quickly getting younger. 13,12,11 Now looking more child-like with every moment. She no longer could fill out her bathing suit. 10, 9, 8 Her hair was shorter and finer now. She still seemed to be shrinking and her features were becoming even more rounded. 7-6. The process stopped and Janie reached for a button on a small panel near the door. Melissa suddenly became aware that something had happened. "Hey, Sthop It!" she lisped. A frightened look crossed her face. She sat up with her bare feet dangling over the edge of the unit. As Janie pressed the button on the panel her frightened look began to be replaced by a large smile. Soon, she was swinging her legs and laughing. Janie opened the door and handed the little girl a smaller robe with cartoon characters on it. "Here you go Sweetie, you put this on and I'll help you hop down." Janie then helped her down to the floor. She led her into another room with toys and stuffed animals "You stay in here and play and I'll bring you a surprise friend in just a minute"
Janie went back and got Mark "It's all done. She's playing with some toys in the 'finishing room'. I told her I'd be bringing her a surprise friend so we need to hurry. It's your turn now." "I'm as ready as I'll ever be" he replied and then walked down the hall and entered the Sun Room. He nervously laid back and joked 'Beam me up'. The tanning bed once again came on automatically. Janie laughed and said "Engage" as the room brightened just as it had before. Soon it's rejuvenating powers were again working 16, 15, 14 The last of Mark's 'peach-fuzz' disappeared. His height lessened. 13, 12, 11 He looked like any boy from Rockwell painting. 10, 9, 8. Still getting smaller and starting to look a bit pudgy. 7, 6 The process stops. He looks at his hands and legs, still fully aware of what just happened yet surprised none-the-less. Janie smiles and presses the MR button on the control panel. Suddenly, his expression changes and he looks up "Hey, get me outta this sissy thing." Janie opened the door and little Marky quickly hopped down. "C'mon squirt! I've got someone for you to meet!" Janie takes his hand and leads him into the 'finishing room'. She directs him toward little Melissa. At first Janie almost thinks she sees a look of recognition in Melissa's eyes but that is quickly displaced as she hears Melissa speak to the other child "I'm Missy, what's your name?" "Ummmm Mark" he answers. "Wanna play house with me?" Missy asks. "Sure, I guess..." came his reply as Janie slipped out of the room.
MEANWHILE, IN ANOTHER PART OF THE BUILDING
"Mr. and Mrs. Bex. It's good to see you again. The children are almost ready. We just need a couple of signatures from you and then they'll be ready to head on home with you!" the receptionist politely tells the young couple. "This certainly is exciting for my wife and I....I'm sure you can imagine!" Mr Bex says. Mrs. Bex is beaming, her eyes fixed on the door that the children will emerge from. "I tell you this is going to be exciting. We have a busy afternoon planned. We had a few business deals to tend to this morning. First thing was that 'business' that Mark and Melissa had. I studied on that all last week. That darn thing was on the verge of bankruptcy! I found someone willing to assume the debt AND shell out a little money to boot.... Five thousand dollars each to be put aside for the kids when they are ready for college! That was lucky because that thing was taking on water FAST. I don't see how they thought it could be in business in another month!"
Just then Janie brought the kids out to meet Mr. and Mrs. Bex. She had them dressed up in T-shirts, shorts, sandals, and baseball caps. "Ahhhhhhh there adorable" Mrs. Bex gleefully shouted as she ran toward them for a hug. Mr. Bex kneeled down to look them in the eyes "Well kids we're going to celebrate you new wealth..... you've each got five thousand dollars in the bank for college and it's earning interest every day it's in there. That means that when you get out of High School you'll have about seven thousand dollars for college. A couple of business tycoons like yourselves deserve a dinner and a movie! How about McDonalds and then a Disney movie? Whadya say?"
"Yippeeeeeeee" the two children exclaimed as they left the Salon.
Epilogue: In a strange sense maybe everything 'did' work out at least close to plan: The business didn't go bankrupt..... Melissa and Mark DID get to share in a profit (although not as Mark had hoped) .....Melissa DID get a new wardrobe (so did Mark)....AND they got their dinner and movie!