"Kiss and Tell" Bonus Content.
Three Years in the Future
“Babe, are you sure about the no tie?” I check my reflection. Tabitha and I have had a billion discussions on the outfit I should wear for my FIDO talk, but we’re supposed to be there in two hours, and suddenly I’m sure this collared, no-tie look is dead wrong.
Tab rolls over on the bed so she can also check my reflection. “Ellery signed off on it. If she says that’s what you should wear, that’s what you should wear. If you can’t believe a professional stylist, who can you believe?” She closes her eyes again, looking ready to drift off into one of her increasingly frequent naps.
I frown. She’s pushing too hard at work. She’s barely staying upright through dinner lately and crashes immediately afterward every night. “You sure you’re okay?” I ask.
“Doctor says I’m fine,” she mumbles, still half-asleep. “So is your shirt. Futurism: Innovation, Design and Opportunity does not mean fashion design, anyway. They care about your greenspace projects.”
“Yeah, but some of these talks get millions of views online. What if I’m a no-tie wearing loser and it lives forever on the internet?”
She drags herself upright. “I’m going to guess these nerves aren’t really about the tie.”
“This is definitely just about the tie.” And also possibly screwing up on the largest platform I’ve ever been given for sharing my ideas.
Tabitha slips from the bed and pads over to stand behind me at the mirror on our closet door. She flicks her eyes over my outfit, a pair of slim fit black pants, a crisp light-blue button down, and a light gray sport coat, worn unbuttoned. She slides her arms around my waist and rests her cheek against my back.
“The coat makes it,” she says. “You look amazing. I’d marry you.”
“You already married me.”
“I’d do it again just based on this outfit.”
I take a deep, calming breath and rest my arms on hers. “Okay. I’ll wear it like this then.”
She squeezes me a bit tighter. “You’re going to be amazing. Your ideas are incredible. That’s why the FIDO people want you to share them. Everyone needs to hear them.”
We stay like that for a minute or two. I let her warmth relax me as I visualize myself giving the talk I’ve practiced a dozen times. Okay, five dozen times. Just this morning.
“You’ve practiced until you can’t get it wrong,” she assures me as she slides away from me. “Your Powerpoint deck is killer, you have it on a thumb drive, I have it on a thumb drive, it’s saved to the cloud, and the FIDO people have a copy. If all else fails and your brain goes blank, you can rely on your notes in the presenter view, but honestly, you could do this thing in your sleep.”
“I don’t know why I’m so wound up about this talk,” I say. “It’s not like I’m getting paid for it or anything.”
“It’s because you care.” She gently moves me out of the way so she can open the door to our walk-in closet and continues speaking as she skims through her outfit options. “It’s because you know that a platform like this can change people’s minds and draw more people to the urban greenscapes movement. But you’ve got the benefit of being right on your side. When that happens, things have a way of working out.” Her voice is muffled on the last bit as she pulls a shirt or something over her head.
A moment later, she steps out of the closet wearing a soft-looking creamy thing that is possibly a sweater or maybe a dress. But she put leggings with it, and the boots I got her last fall, so I decide it’s a sweater. I smile. “You’re never not beautiful,” I tell her.
She blinks at me, still sleepy. “I haven’t even brushed my hair or fixed my face.”
“I know. It’s not fair to other women.”
She comes back over and snuggles her head into my chest. “I love you,” she says.
“Love you more.”
“It’s not a contest.”
“It is, and I win.” We do this several times a week, trading off who claims to love the other “more.” We’re both winners, obviously.
She leans back to meet my eyes. “Would you feel a million percent better if we were out the door in the next fifteen minutes and got to the auditorium obnoxiously early?”
“You know all the right words.” I give her a pat on the bum as she darts into the bathroom to do her makeup.
As promised, we’re at the venue over an hour early. This automatically brings my stress levels down. Only a handful of people are in the performing arts theater, and they’re all dressed like tech crew, scurrying around to double check connections and cords.
“Hey, Sawyer,” a voice calls, and I spot the show’s producer, Adam, waving to me from the soundboard.
We make our way over, and I stick my hand out for a shake. “Hey, Adam. Thought I’d get an early start.”
“Great idea,” he says. “Good to see you, Tabitha.”
I’m impressed. They’ve only met once, at yesterday’s tech rehearsal, but he still remembers her name. Then again, it’s possible he watches Dinners Reborn. At this point, Tabitha is a franchise. It wouldn’t be any more surprising than him recognizing Ree Drummond or Bobby Flay.
“Everything looks good,” Adam says. “You’re still scheduled as the speaker right before morning intermission when the audience is good and warmed up. You’ll have twelve minutes. We don’t broadcast live, so we never have problems we can’t fix, but don’t worry about it. Your content and delivery are great.”
I give him a nod of thanks and lead Tabitha to her VIP reserved seat. “I’m going to head to the green room and keep practicing,” I tell her. “Will you be okay out here?”
“Totally. You’ll do great, babe. Don’t worry. You’ve got this.”
I make my way to the designated green room and claim a corner spot on the sofa. The event staff have already set up the catering. Fresh fruit, yogurt, breakfast pastry, and muffins all sit in a display that would please even Tabitha’s discerning eye, but the idea of eating makes me feel vaguely nauseous. I can’t stomach food until my talk is done.
Nerves aren’t normal for me. I’ve presented in front of some of the most powerful CEOs and antagonistic city councils in the country, but this is different. It’s always my job to paint a vision of the future and the way our development projects can vault communities into it in environmentally sustainable ways. That’s not new. But the audience I have the potential to reach through this FIDO invitation is potentially broader than any I’ve tapped before.
There’s a chance to redirect the paths some people are on, people who will rise to positions of influence, people who can usher their own communities into a sustainable future if they’re willing to be open-minded and look at the data from our successful projects. Maybe there’s a kid out there thinking about what they want to do or be who will stumble across the video and become part of a lasting change.
I give myself a shake and focus on my slides. If I start thinking too much about all that, I’ll freeze with the weight of the responsibility. Just do the job in front of you, I prompt myself. Do it well and that’s how you get the chance to make those changes. My job is to do a good job on this talk.
I dive back into the slides, closing my eyes as each new one appears, running the script through my head, then opening my eyes to double check myself. FIDO wants their speakers to work without notes, and I’m ready.
More people begin to trickle, then stream, into the green room. Slowly, the chatter from the filling auditorium reaches us and grows louder until the lights flicker for the five-minute warning. A black-clad FIDO staffer appears and beckons the first speaker to follow her.
This is it. It’s show time. The energy in the room shifts, the other guests quieting down and disappearing into their own devices, probably reviewing and rehearsing like I am.
Thirty minutes later, the staffer is back to crook her finger at me, and it’s my turn. I swallow hard, leave my laptop where it sits, and rise to follow her. I can barely hear over the sound of my own blood rushing in my ears. It’s all muffled until I hear two words above the noise: “Sawyer Reed!”
That’s me. The staffer nods, and I give a hard swallow and take a deep breath. I walk onto the stage to friendly applause punctuated by a few excited whoops. The stage lights are bright. The audience is dim. But those whoops…those are Tabitha, and I search her out in the shadows, her sweater and smile both a soft glow in the darkness. Then I step forward and hit my mark.
“For centuries, humankind has sought to subdue the earth, building monuments of ingenuity, engineered to become edifices whose sum are greater than their parts,” I begin, and the familiar rhythm of the words settles over me. My pulse slows. I can hear my voice clearly. I hear the silence of an engaged audience, and I am here. Present. Ready. “But rarely have we stopped to ask what happens if instead of building to conquer our environments, we engineered to integrate with them. Indigenous people…” and I speak for twelve more minutes, each slide transitioning seamlessly to the next.
Tabitha is right; I’ve practiced until I can’t get this wrong.
Finally, the last slide appears.
“Ladies and gentlemen, we’ve heard that we can’t solve our problems with the same thinking that created them. This current generation of rising urban planners, architects, and thinkers is prepared to create a future that benefits us now but also the generations to come. And you are all invited to be part of the work,” I conclude.
The audience breaks into enthusiastic applause. Maybe they’re just happy for their intermission, but they honestly seem into it. Really into it. Relief floods through me, a post-event adrenaline flush. Only it’s more than that—it’s the certainty that I did it. I did it. Whether it’s someone in this audience, or out in the broader internet audience who will eventually see this, I’ve made a difference. I’ve changed minds.
I allow myself a small smile that grows slightly bigger when I hear one of Tab’s piercing whistles.
Adam let’s the applause continue for a minute, and I hold in place until I get the signal that they’ve stopped recording. Instead of saying “Clear” to signal that I can leave the stage, Adam frowns.
“Looks like you have a couple more slides, Sawyer,” he calls. “No problem. We can edit in post-production and move the audience applause to the end.”
I freeze. More slides? That’s not possible. I turn to look at the screen. A slide I don’t recognize fills it.
“I…what?” I read the quote but it’s not sinking in. “Tab?”
The slide changes again, and I try to understand, but it’s not until the audience begins to cheer that it sinks in.
“We’re having a baby?” I ask.
Adam answers. “I think you’ve got one more slide.” He puts it up.
“Yep,” Adam says, like he’s considering it carefully. “You’re having a baby.”
“I’m having a baby,” Tabitha calls from the audience, and the women cheer even louder. “But yes, honey. We will be getting a future Camp Oak Crest counselor soon.”
I grin, happiness suffusing every part of my body. “Adam, did you know about this?”
“Yes.” He grins back. “We put it together while you were packing up your gear after tech rehearsal yesterday. And don’t worry, this won’t be in the broadcast, but we’ll make sure you have this footage for your posterity. Looks like we have 33 weeks to get it to you. Congrats, man.”
I jump off the stage and run for Tabitha. She meets me halfway down the aisle, and I sweep her into a hug and spin her.
She laughs but pats at my back. “Put me down before I puke.”
I do, steadying her with my hands on our shoulders. “This is why you’ve been so tired?”
She nods. “Yeah. Are you happy?”
I pull her into another tight hug. “So happy.”
“Great,” she says. “And now I need to go home and celebrate with a nap.”
The audience has begun to stand and mill around for their twenty-minute intermission, and many of them murmur congratulations or good wishes as they pass.
I rest my forehead against hers. “I’m going to pay you back.”
“For the baby?”
“For the prank.”
“I’m counting on it.” She tilts her head and kisses me.
“I thought about it some more,” I said, when she lets me up for air. “This prank feels like a win-win, so I’m going to let it go.”
She narrows her eyes. “You thought about that while I was kissing you?”
“All right, husband. Time to go home so I can kiss you until you can’t think.”
But I’m already heading for the green room.