Two Paths

Two Paths

By [Anonymous]

For those who are fans of a team, you will understand the dilemma that Brent found himself in. His favorite team was playing tonight. The game started at 5:30 and if he left work right at 5 when he was supposed to, he would get home just in time to catch the start of it. Sure, he could set it to record if he was late, but he also got notices on his phone if either team scored, which he just found too difficult to avoid looking at—so watching it later just wouldn’t have the same thrill. His team always got interesting people to sing the national anthem as well and sometimes they were really good. The game also was kicked off by a fun guitar solo to amp up the crowd and this was perhaps Brent’s favorite pregame activity to watch.

It was 4:45, so only 15 minutes to go before he was supposed to leave, but the thought occurred to him that if he left now maybe nobody would notice. He was on salary so working specific hours wasn’t required but there was a big project that was scheduled to be sent out today and everybody had been asked to stay till 5. Brent had gotten his part of the project done days ago and nobody had asked him any questions yet so maybe he was in the clear. Despite this, he decided he’d better be safe and wait till 5.

It was lucky he did. Brent’s boss showed up at his desk at 4:50 with a last-minute change on his work. One of his coworkers had caught an issue in their work and it changed Brent’s part slightly. For some reason, it was at this time when the clock on his computer seemed to speed up. His distraction with watching the clock to know how little time he had caused him to make a mistake which he then had to fix and the five minutes of work he was originally asked to do took him twenty. He was now ten minutes late leaving but if he hit all the lights on green, he still had a chance.

The red light glared down at the cars. Brent stared at it, hoping it would change soon. He was first in line and while he had considered going through when it was yellow, the police car waiting on the cross traffic made that thought disappear quickly. Now he was hoping to hurry through the light as soon as it turned green. His driver’s education teacher’s voice spoke in the back of his mind lecturing about defensive driving and making sure the other drivers had not tried to hurry through at the last second before he started going. His phone dings and glancing over, he sees the starting lineup has been announced, signaling the game is close to starting.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Brent punched the accelerator as soon as the light changed. He looked both directions briefly, and one car did almost go through the red light. It was enough that Brent had to swerve slightly but he was able to avoid both the car that almost ran the light and also the car in the lane beside him. He was quickly moving as fast as he felt he could go above the speed limit without risking a significant speeding ticket. He had to change lanes a number of times to move around slower vehicles and got frustrated a couple times when both lanes were filled and he couldn’t get by. He made the next couple lights and watched them turn yellow as he was going through the intersection.

His adrenaline was pumping having come close to the accident already and the nearing of the start of the game both excited him and caused him anxiety at the possibility of missing it. His attention was on any hazards as he sped through the subdivision to the small, two-bedroom house that he had been lucky enough to find before the market went crazy. His eyes darted side to side, watching the kids playing in one yard to make sure they were not going to drop their ball and run onto the street to chase it as he went passed. A couple backed out of their driveway in a minivan on the opposite side and Brent swerved toward the curb a little just in case they crossed the center line.

Overall, it was a successful and quick drive home. A quick check of the clock on his phone told him he got home at 5:28, two minutes to get inside, get the TV on to the right channel, and if he hurried, maybe even grab himself a nice cold beer to help enjoy the game.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

The urge to punch the accelerator as soon as the light turned green was significant but the risk was too high. He was glad he didn’t either as a car was very late in coming through the intersection. After the car passed, Brent moved through the intersection. Maybe he didn’t always stay under the speed limit but he was pretty close and stayed well with the flow of traffic. Unfortunately, he had to stop at the next light as well. He checked the time and realized it would take a miracle to make it home in time—but hopefully he wouldn’t miss too much.

Luckily, the rest of the lights were well timed and he was able to progress through them without any other stops. As he entered his subdivision, he waved to the kids playing in the yard. They waved back eagerly and he saw the face on the littlest one light up at being able to greet someone. The child had looked a little sad before so maybe this had helped improve his day. The boy was only about three years old and Brent laughed at himself at how easily a 3-year-old’s day could be improved. The ding on his phone told him that the game had just started. He didn’t have far to go but he had already missed the start.

Far up ahead, he saw the Barnes’ minivan back out of their driveway rather quickly. He wasn’t particularly close to the Barnes couple but had waved at them as he drove by and seen them outside enough to know that Mrs. Barnes was quite pregnant. As the minivan passed him going the opposite direction, Brent saw Mrs. Barnes holding her stomach and a wide smile on Mr. Barnes and yet a slightly panicked look in his eye as he sped past. Brent hoped it was time and that there wasn’t an issue but wasn’t sure he would find out either way.

As he pulled into his drive, he saw based on the clock that he had already missed the first couple minutes of the game. His eyes then noticed something else. His neighbors were an older couple and their daughter, Judy, was about Brent’s age. She had always been someone Brent fancied, as they had gone to the same high school, but always from afar. He would wave if he saw her visiting her parents but rarely talked to her. His confidence with women was pretty low after his divorce but he still had a lot of time in front of him to figure out that part of his life. Judy happened to be getting out of her car at her parents’ house as Brent stepped out of his and as their eyes met, they waved. Brent went inside and turned on the TV, turning the volume up so he could hear in the kitchen as he got himself a beer before sitting down to watch.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Brent’s adrenaline still had him pretty high strung after the quick drive home. It didn’t help that the game had gone very poorly. The guitar solo was the same guy who did it two weeks ago and he hadn’t even bothered to learn or come up with a new solo. How could his team just traipse out the same guy doing the same solo. Didn’t they realize that fans looked forward to a new unique solo to start off a good game? Obviously it affected the players too because it wasn’t long into the game before they gave up their first goal. The players then started getting upset and frustrated and the system that worked well when everyone was focused, fell apart multiple times as someone wasn’t concentrating. What a horrible loss.

Despite looking forward to his dinner tonight for a couple days, his mood was such that he didn’t hardly taste it, despite it being one of his favorites. His mood horrible, Brent hoped at least that nothing else at work had fallen apart, so he got out his laptop and signed in. There was an urgent email from Claire, a girl Brent didn’t really work with but he thought she worked on this project. She must have been in a huge hurry too because there were a couple of misspelled words. He was relieved when he opened the attachment to find that it didn’t have anything to do with this project, or anything he was involved with. He thought it strange that she had sent it to him but he often got put on the wrong distribution lists.

Relieved that there was no more work to do, Brent was finally able to take a deep breath, sit down on the couch and relax. With the TV providing background noise, he decided to get onto his favorite chat site to discuss his team’s horrible loss and commiserate with others about the repeated guitar solo.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

The game had gone poorly. His team just didn’t have it tonight but it was a long season and one loss wasn’t going to hurt the good season they had had so far too much. They were still in first and the team behind them had lost as well so no real harm done. At least the loss was able to be drowned in the spectacular eggplant lasagna he had for dinner. It was his favorite meal and it tasted as good tonight as it ever did.

After putting up the leftovers that he hoped to bring for lunch tomorrow, he decided to check his work email just to make sure things were still fine. There were a couple minor emails he could deal with tomorrow. His eyes then found the email from Claire, a girl that was also working on the project although on a completely separate part. But was it her? He didn’t think she would be sending him anything directly and it wasn’t like her to misspell words. The email was sent at 6 pm. He checked and the computer showed she hadn’t been active since 5 pm. It also didn’t seem to have anything to do with the project. Better safe than sorry he thought as he clicked the button on his email to report it as phishing. If it wasn’t, the internet security team would let him know tomorrow and he would deal with it then.

Being a pleasant evening outside, Brent decided to go sit out on his back deck and just relax. Perhaps he would read or maybe watch a little TV, as he had an outdoor tv out there. He thought momentarily of going to his favorite chat site but given how the game went, he knew what the attitude was going to be like there. As he lowered himself into his deck chair, movement next door caught his eye. Was that Judy? He peered a little harder and realized that it was and that she seemed to be struggling with something as he heard her growl in frustration. He walked over to the edge of the deck and said, “Hey Judy, need some help?” She was a little startled, not having heard him come out onto the deck but she quickly recovered and said, “Oh thank goodness, do you mind? My parents are having trouble getting around and so I’m trying to help fix up some minor things around here. This light is out but it is over the steps so I can’t stand on a chair and it is too tall for me to reach.” Being rather tall himself, Brent was able to change the light quickly and easily and let Judy know if there were any other items she needed help with to let him know. There was a bounce in his step as he walked back across the lawns to his own deck.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

When Brent got up the next morning, his bad mood had mostly passed. It was a nice easy drive to work and the coffee that was his morning ritual tasted good. He got to his cubicle and everybody seemed to be in a pretty good mood as the project had been sent out and had been well received by the client. There were even rumors going around the office that the company might take everyone out for drinks after work to celebrate.

Having finished the main project, there was no big project but plenty of small items that had accumulated the last weeks where the entire area’s attention had been on yesterday’s submission. Brent was feeling good as he was accomplishing a lot and getting a lot of to-do items cleared out. Just as he was about to hit send on his email, clearing out the fifth small project, his monitors went blank. A collective groan and cursing from around the floor told him he wasn’t the only one who was having the issue. The lights were still on, so it wasn’t a power issue. Everyone on the floor was standing and looking around, trying to figure out what to do. A phone starting ringing and Brent was able to locate the source as the office of his manager, Charlie. He saw Charlie pick up the phone and heard him ask “Hey Joe, what’s the issue?” Was it the lighting or did Charlie’s color just drain from his face? Moments later, the phone was hung up without another word. Panic started showing in his coworkers’ eyes as all eyes seemed to be on the office in the corner. Charlie took a deep breath and stood shakily. He walked to his door and took another deep breath before yelling “Can I have everyone’s attention please?” The little chatter that had been happening stopped immediately as all eyes were on Charlie. “We’ve been attacked by ransomware. IT says our entire system is down. This is obviously a fluid situation but for right now, all work is on hold.”

Brent sat down at his desk, a glazed look in his eye. The email last night popped into his head and his eyes grew large. Had he caused this?

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

The bounce in Brent’s step was still there when he got out of bed. He knew it was sad that just helping Judy that little bit had made him so happy, but it had. The drive in to work was accompanied by a lot of singing with the radio, even when an old Nickelback song came on that typically would have resulted in a quick station change, Brent sang along loudly.

When he got to the office, he was surprised by everyone standing around talking. Sitting at his desk, he quickly noticed that the system was down. It wasn’t long before Charlie, his boss, came out of his office and asked for everyone’s attention. “IT just informed me that they have been able to isolate the ransomware attack and that no major systems were breached. Thankfully they were able to catch it early. Hopefully within a couple hours they will have the system cleared with some new safeguards up and we will be back up and running.”

The office was abuzz while everyone waited for the system to be back up. People were happy that their last project had been completed and sent out before this happened and the mood was light. As he was talking to Charlie, Brent’s phone rang. The number was local but not one he recognized. Assuming it was a telemarketer, he declined the call and finished his conversation. Charlie was really happy with how the project had gone and the feedback from the client had been very positive. When Brent’s phone dinged to let him know he had a voicemail, he was a little surprised. Telemarketers usually didn’t leave voicemails. Excusing himself, he listened to the message and was pleased to hear Judy’s voice. “Hi Brent. Sorry for calling your cell but I didn’t know how else to get in touch with you and you had given my parents your number in case of emergencies. This isn’t an emergency, but I had a number of projects left at my parent’s house and could use an extra hand. Mom said she would cook you dinner if you were willing to help. Just text or call when you are free and let me know. Talk to you soon. Judy.”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

It had been a couple weeks since the ransomware attack on his company. Brent had feared he may be fired. The email he clicked on after that horrible game had allowed an extra entry point for the hackers to attack the company’s system. Thinking back, Brent was really frustrated that he let his guard down. Of course he replayed opening the email, noticing the misspellings and realizing this was unusual but opening the attachment anyways. What if he hadn’t opened that email? That wasn’t the worst part though. His mind kept replaying earlier and earlier in the evening. What if he hadn’t been in such a hurry to get home, almost having the accident and then speeding the rest of the way? What if he wasn’t already experiencing the adrenaline increase from that before he watched that game? What else may have turned out differently? What if? He shook his head. There is no knowing what may have been. No knowing how one seemingly small decision like hurrying home to catch the beginning of the game could change his life. Looking back though, Brent wished he would have done some things differently and he resolved to try and make better choices going forward.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

It had been a couple weeks since the ransomware attack on his company. It came out that his reporting the email as phishing alerted the security area to head off most of the attack. The company was giving him an expensive dinner for two as a reward. It was crazy to him how things had changed in the last couple weeks. He had been so worried that night about making it home for the game but he didn’t let it force him to take unnecessary risks. There was no telling where he might have ended up if he had taken those risks and made it home for that game but now, a couple months out, not only did it not seem that important, but he also couldn’t imagine it having turned out better. A couple weeks ago, he would have had no one to take out on his reward dinner. Now though, Judy had already accepted. They had spent a couple nights hanging out over the past couple weeks and they were even going to go to a game and watch his team play this weekend. His mind didn’t dwell on the risks he didn’t take and how they might have changed his life if he had. He was just enjoying life. He waved at Mr. and Mrs. Barnes, pushing a new baby stroller on the sidewalk, as he turned into his subdivision. 

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