"When we stop re-reading the last chapter of our life, we leave room to write a new one"

~Tamara Levitt

{+}+{+}+{+}+{+}+{+}+{+} CH 1

December 1994

Gary Franklin sat on a small bench in the park lawn area at the base of the large arch. Normally, he enjoyed spending some time sitting there and watching the slow roll of the Mississippi River.

Not today.

Today, he'd been given his pink slip from the factory. Jobs weren't thick on the ground at the moment, and he had a wife and two kids to support. His son was 17 and his daughter was 11. Perhaps his son would understand why things were going to be tight financially for a while, but his girl was still young enough to believe in Santa and Magic.

Christmas was only two weeks away.

Gary tapped the folded newspaper he'd bought on his way to the park on his thigh in agitation. Things had been tight before, and they'd made it work. They would do it again.

He opened the newspaper, turning right to the Help Wanted postings. If he were lucky, he'd find something in the next few days. He hadn't gotten much of a severance from his foreman job, but it may be enough for him to cover any lapse in employment, and he wouldn't even have to tell his family that he'd been laid off until he started at the other position.

That was his hope, anyway. This close to the holidays, he didn't want to cause them stress and worry.

In the meantime, he had christmas presents to worry about. His son wanted a new guitar, and now that he wasn't causing his parents' ears to bleed with the screeching noise of the untrained, Gary was hoping to give him one. His daughter, still young but showing promise of becoming something great, said she didn't want any toys this year and had her eyes on one of those science kits.

Where had she gotten her smarts? Gary wondered with equal parts bafflement and pride. It certainly hadn't been from him. He had barely finished high school, and had never bothered with college.

His eyes suddenly caught a small ad in the corner.

Participants Needed: A few people to assist in a new sleep aid drug trial. Participants will be paid $800 per day. For details, please call…

Gary got to his feet. He had picked up a paper yesterday after leaving his job, and this ad hadn't been there. It was newly listed, so he had a good chance of getting in. Eight hundred dollars a day to take some kind of pill and get some sleep at the same time?

There was a payphone not that far from here, over off of Memorial, he thought.

He didn't run, but he did walk pretty darn fast.

He made it to the payphone and dug for change in his pocket. Once the correct change was in the phone, he dialed the number listed and waited.

"Gen-U-Tech," came a bored female voice from the other end. "How can I help you?"

"Good morning," Gary greeted her, putting a little extra joviality in his voice to try to balance her disinterest. "I found your ad this morning for.."

"Name?"

"Gary. My name is Gary Franklin," He replied, taken aback by the abruptness.

"Age?" She asked.

"Forty-one," He said.

"Any drug allergies?"

"None that I know of," Gary said.

"Total pay per day is eight-hundred dollars," The woman said. "We don't validate parking or reimburse travel expenses."

"That is fine," Gary said, anxiety climbing its way into his brain in the form of a blossoming headache.

"You fall within our age parameters and have no known drug allergies. Are you able to make it to the office today to fill out the paperwork?"

"Yes," Gary said, letting out the breath he hadn't been aware he'd been holding.

"Report to…" the voice said as the woman rapidly listed off the address.

Gary, born and raised in St Louis, didn't even need to write most of it down. The address wasn't even that far away. He could run down, fill out the paperwork, and be home at around his normal time.

Then tomorrow, he could go in, do the trial, take the money for the day and get the Christmas presents for the kids, and he would be able to make it one more day without having to tell his family that their circumstances had changed…