One paragraph = one Chapter
Chapters alternate her/his
First third: opens with retirement party for Vanessa. Lots of discussion of who is going to stay, who is thinking of moving on, where they are going. At least one person who arrived even later than Vanessa and was working as a contractor spends time telling Vanessa his strategy (low run rate, high asset, periodic short term gigs at high compensation).
Zach discusses with Kara whether this is something she finds appealing. Rambling discussion about children, lifestyle, goals: it is clear to the reader but apparently not to Zach that Kara is not at all keen on children. While Zach clearly wants to have a family and children and make them the center of his life, that is still “some day”; he hasn’t committed to doing that right now. Kara is emphatic he/they do not have enough to even think about retirement. Her numbers for at what point she would be willing to think about retirement are shocking to him, and in this pause she reminds him that he’s been talking about wanting to do a startup of his own. That gives him a positive goal that does not require him to think about whether Kara can be part of his future vision of a family with children. Kara is relieved that the pressure to tell him she doesn’t ever want to have children is off. He contacts friends. They start the process.
Vanessa’s friends and family have reservations about her plans over the long haul. When she says what the contractor told her, they decide to perceive her retirement as Not Really Retirement. She is a little puzzled, and talks it over with her mother. Mom tells her about the back and forth that she has had with dad over the years. Mom is okay with whatever she wants to do, but thinks it is important that Vanessa not just do Nothing, but pursue goals that she finds satisfying to her, whether they pay or not. Also, when are you getting married.
Zach’s startup initially does well, but does not monetize well. They pivot in order to monetize with a corporate market they did not anticipate (disintermediating Xerox as a document company). Hugely stressful period between angel/seed and Series A funding. Long hours. Unable to think about anything else. Kara wants more from him than he has to give and he ignores her, yells at her, and suggests she find someone else if he’s not a good enough boyfriend for her. She thinks it over and moves out; it takes him a few days to even notice she is gone. Lots of pissy friends.
Vanessa settles into a routine: exercise, some volunteer work, time with friends, babysitting children of friends so they can have date nights. After the first month or two, she starts arranging her socializing around walks, hikes, cultural outings (museums, cheap concerts) instead of around dinners out with a lot of drinking. She’s doing this to manage the calories and the cost; her friends are pretty happy with having someone organizing something other than the same old same old. She signs up to take some business classes at a Seattle College, and talks to her sister-in-law in some detail about the contracting plan. She gets in touch with the guy at the party and he puts her in touch with some other people. Nothing happens right away.
Second third: The pivot is successful. The concept has worked and they have a substantial and growing income stream from corporate clients who love their document indexing and management subscription service, that works in any cloud and has good security through browser access, downloadable application for Mac or PC, and mobile apps. There is a huge and growing list of bugs and desired new features (new document types and new accessing/searching schemes). They have hired more people, but they are going to need a lot more money and much more sophisticated management to really succeed. The original partners consider their options, and accept a buyout plan from a really huge company in a related space (Oracle, IBM, Xerox, mumble, conceivably Deloitte). Each of the partners will walk away with 20+ million dollars as long as they commit to a 24 month transition plan. They will no longer be managing the company, but will be focused on the architecture, and working with a team to beat the bugs into submission and get some new document types integrated. Zach’s hours will go down but more importantly, the stress is drastically reduced.
Vanessa’s schedule is now full, and she has been traveling some: staying at hostels, hiking around the SW, etc. When Zach asks her to go out for a celebratory dinner when the deal that buys him out is completed, she is not currently seeing anyone seriously, and she’s curious what has been going on with him. She is peripherally aware of the Kara/Zach drama, in which Kara’s side has been painting him as verbally abusive and a terrible boyfriend, Kara herself has basically taken the position: I Have No Idea What Happened It’s Like He Was A Different Person I Hope He’s OK. Zach’s side has been quiet, with individuals shrugging and saying, what did she expect, it was a startup. When she sees Zach, he is exhausted and detached, sort of going through the motions of the celebration. She arrives by Uber, does not drink, and drives him home in his car. His new car. It’s a mostly fun night and it’s a cool car, so when he asks her to spend the night, she agrees, but the sex is perfunctory: they both orgasm, but it isn’t tremendously amazing, and he falls asleep immediately after. She isn’t that tired, so after she gets him settled, checks the fridge for food, notices it is kinda scary, she snags his car fob, door key, leaves a note and arranges to be let back in with the concierge when she leaves the building (“I”m gonna surprise him with breakfast but he has fuck all in the fridge. Will you let me back in so I can run to the store?”). She feeds him breakfast in the morning, he’s a little stunned and confused but not too hung over, and she clears out before he can try for round two. He goes to work.
When he gets out of work that afternoon (early!), he gets a phone call from Kara who wants to meet him. They meet for an early dinner and have The Discussion. They don’t eat much, it lasts about two hours and is mostly conducted in intense whispers. They go over what happened when Kara left. She makes really good points about how she left because he completely ignored her AND he was doing a lot of yelling (he was _definitely_ a bad boyfriend during this period and arguably verbally abusive). “You were abusive, but I get that it was a time and place thing, so I’m prepared to take you back on some conditions.” He point outs how he wanted to quit so he could spend more time with her and she rejected that because she wanted him making more money so he went out and did that (kind of a whiny, passive aggressive thing going on, but basically valid). “I don’t care what the conditions are, because I don’t trust you.” Zach says she’s either too stupid to understand the consequences of her desires (go make me a bunch of money oh look you are a BEAR when you are working that hard) or unreliable during the inevitable down times when engaging in high risk high reward activities. She argues that he can give her both time and money now so why not? Wouldn’t he be offering that deal to any future partner? He says, at least he won’t know going into it with one of them that they’ll dump him in the crunch. He wants/needs at least the hope/illusion that someone loves him enough to stick it out through the hard times. Nobody cries and everyone feels horrible after. When they leave the table, Zach notices a piece of paper that Kara got out when she started talking about her conditions if they got back together. She has already left the restaurant, so he brings the piece of paper with him, but does not read it immediately.
Vanessa has dinner with Daniel Lee. He’s looking for a contractor to come in and help rescue EstatePro. Vanessa wants to know the details before she discusses money or anything else. EstatePro is a bunch of drastically simplified accounting and report generation software, combined with contact management, calendar management, and some pieces oriented towards making event planning and security management work better — that part is probably mostly a ticket system. And the whole thing has extremely heavy security and encryption and is sold as part of an extremely expensive subscription service, with the intention of replacing bespoke software and off-the-shelf business software used by household staff of the uber rich. I haven’t decided if the project is the work of one or more tech billionaires who got disgusted with what was available and treated it as a potentially money-making sideline — sort of like Corbis was for Bill Gates and art. While the product partially exists (it was somebody’s bespoke system originally), the feature list has gotten huge and there are management problems because the people deciding the features haven’t hired people who can clearly communicate tradeoffs. Also, one of the higher level people in the group developing the service is a loyalty hire by the/a person/people funding the project and is not very competent.
In more or less the same fog that resulted in the new car, Zach buys a beautifully renovated house. His furniture from the one bedroom is lost in the new place, but he can’t figure out how to furnish it, beyond a home theater that he has installed and an insane gaming room. But he does want to have a big party to celebrate his beautiful new life, so he hires a caterer that will bring in tables and so forth. He tries to take Vanessa out to dinner, but she counter-proposes a walk.
She gets a summary of what he has been doing (buying stuff, basically, and a very brief summary of what happened with Kara), and he comments that it’s great he doesn’t have furniture yet, because it would get ruined at the party, anyway. She disagrees with that, and he admits he has no idea what to get. She pries out of him that an interior decorator was pushed at him, but he finally balked at that point. He suggests that she could help him out. She declines. He names someone who she has helped pick out a sofa for in the past. She says, there’s a big difference between a sofa and a couple arm chairs and enough furniture to fill up a Seattle Box. He’s trying to get this done for free, and while setting up a household is fun, the scale of this is kind of huge, he is not at all clear about what he wants and he tends to argue with her suggestions (she asserts that people would drink less and behave better in a well-furnished space and he doesn’t believe her, focusing on the greater potential for damages). Despite this disagreement, they wind up back at his place, and have a much better second overnight. (He does have bedroom furniture, altho there is a lot of spare space around it.)
Zach finds the piece of paper Kara left at the restaurant in the hours before The Party. He reads it, and realizes that Kara was wildly incompatible with what he wanted from his future in a laundry list of ways that he had been in denial about. He is shocked, but no longer in any doubt about his decision not to take her up on the idea of getting back together. The Party: it’s fun, Vanessa attends but leaves early. Zach notices her leaving and tries to get her to stay. She says she has something scheduled in the morning. When the party winds down and the caterers have cleared out, leaving nothing behind except some wine stains on the carpets, Zach closes the door, arms the alarm system, sits down on the floor and cries. He doesn’t even know why he is crying, but everything feels empty to him. Kara is gone. Vanessa is not at all a sure thing. His Big Idea has succeeded and moved on without him. He’s in a beautiful but empty, expensive house, with a lot of expensive toys, and no one to share them with. And no idea what he is going to do with himself when the transition is over.
Third third: Vanessa accepts the 6 month gig at EstatePro. She immediately starts assembling the feature list and methodically working with the existing team to establish priority order on the feature list and produce a believable schedule. Antics ensue, initially with the loyalty hire who refuses to either make decisions or produce working code that he has promised within various time frames, all missed.
Zach decides that he needs some useful advice. He talks to his mom about what happened with Kara; he discovers mom absolutely HATED Kara and has been having trouble concealing her glee about how Kara dumped her son in the crunch. Kara’s list included No Children. Nancy is not surprised. Zach also talks to a bunch of his friends. Some of them think he should have restarted things with Kara (“She’s hot”) but Zach does not elaborate why he isn’t going to (“Dude, your girlfriends either cheat on you, rob you blind, or both”). Some of them try to set him up with other women. They all agree that he has a problem in terms of finding someone to date that he can be at all confident is dating him and not his new wealth. His brother suggests he go talk to Vanessa about this (“She’s already done this. She probably has something useful to say.”) Zach does not tell anyone at this point that he’s feeling serious about Vanessa; he also doesn’t tell Vanessa about what just happened with Kara.
While out on a day hike that Zach suggests but Vanessa picks the trail, Vanessa declines to tell him how to live his life, and finds herself extremely bored doing the same thing socially that she is at work, (“What is the priority here? Identify it, make a plan, execute”). He is not looking for someone to project manage the Finding Myself process. Furthermore, he is incredibly embarrassed to realize how out of shape he has gotten. Despite talking at cross purposes for some of the hike, they really enjoy being together, being in the woods, swimming in the extremely cold Lake 22, stopping for beer and burgers on the way back. He spends the night at her place, and the next day he goes back to his gym and sets up a twice a week appointment with a personal trainer, who recommends a nutritionist to him, and he starts biking again.
Vanessa escalates the issues with the lack of prioritization, lack of stable feature set, and incompetence of the loyalty hire. Daniel freaks out, but does not attempt to stop her. Vanessa’s attitude: Fire Me. Please. This is actually worse than I thought it would be. I would rather be poor. Whoever is at the top of the food chain listens to her, makes a bunch of decisions, and signs off on a schedule. The loyalty hire is sidelined. Everyone resumes working with renewed energy and optimism.
Zach discovers that Vanessa is now almost entirely unavailable, other than for an occasional lunch or dinner or an hour walk in the evening, to wind down before going to sleep. She’s having trouble focusing on what he wants to talk about and is too tired for anything but the briefest sex. He is starting to understand what Kara went through. His friends are not seeing them together. In combination with her unavailability even on weekends, they wonder if Zach has invented the relationship (possible jokes about imaginary girlfriend). Because the time commitment is defined, and because he doesn’t want to be a hypocrite, he sticks it out. He also writes an apology letter to Kara.
Work hours stabilize at EstatePro as they start producing according to the new schedule. She gets some weekend time, and rather than devote it 100% to her older friends, she works with Zach to find a percentage that will make him feel like he’s important to her. Where possible, she starts bringing him along to meet her older friends and he obviously includes her with his friends. The mid-week evening walks become a combination of how was your day combined with reviewing past history and tentatively figuring out whether they have comparable future goals.
Once Zach settles into the new fitness routine and isn’t completely wiped out by it all the time, he decides he should just GTD the furnishing of the house. As soon as he goes down the list of rooms and starts thinking about what goes where, he realizes furnishing the house has implications for the future. Are there going to be children in this house? He brings the topic up with Vanessa, and doesn’t time it well. (“Really? You want to know if I ever want to have kids with you so you can furnish your house appropriately? I feel like this is backwards somehow. Also, I am really not in the mood for this.”) Once they calm down, they discuss The Kid Thing: Zach belatedly realizes that (a) Kara actually didn’t want kids, but wasn’t going to tell him that, (b) HE cannot imagine not having kids, altho he’s negotiable on how many. (“Vanessa: How come every time we have a relationship conversation, you bring Kara up?” “I was with her for years, and I thought about my future in terms of being with her. Wow. That came out wrong. I love, you, okay? I’m thinking about the future with you. I’m asking you about kids. I want to know what you want. I want kids. I really hope you do too.”) Vanessa talks about her siblings starting families and how excited she is about that. She does not want more than two, but is otherwise negotiable. (“But do not furnish a child’s room now. That’s just nuts.”) Zach decides he can put a rocking chair and a single bed in the putative nursery and use it as a guest room until something else happens.
Vanessa’s contract had a bonus structure. She was committed to 6 months at straight pay, enough to make it very worthwhile (low order 6 figures). If the project was not complete, each side had the option to bail at 6 months, but if she stayed on, she continued at the same pay rate, until somebody called a halt. There was additional bonus for project completion at 6 months, and the bonus decreased to zero over the course of another year. They have a deployable product at a little over 7 months, and Vanessa and the team feel confident the team can complete the work without her participation, so Vanessa takes a reduced bonus at 7 months and gets the hell out (total take around half a million dollars, less than the potential maximum of a million, but more than she was expecting going into it with the problems Daniel Lee had described to her). Vanessa and Zach have dinner to celebrate the end of that (at least for now; they may call her back in in the future because they liked her, and they’ll be telling everyone how great she was). Vanessa is happy she took the job. Zach is less enthused: he would have liked to have had the time together, and when he compares the amount of money he spent furnishing his place vs. the amount she earned, he feels like she didn’t earn that much. Vanessa’s explanation is because if she turns out to have miscalculated on how much money she needs to live on/she makes disastrous investment errors, this is the kind of gig she wants to take so she can work part of the time and not work part of the time. Also, dude, let’s not lose track of how much a few hundred thousand means to me, just because it means very little to you.
He asks her to move in with him; they aren’t spending any nights separately any more, and they are Meeting Each Other’s Family/Spending Holidays Together. Everyone is getting nagged about picking a date and/or when they are going to have kids. She points out that there is a problem here, in terms of how much she makes/has vs. how much he makes/has. He just looks at her, laughs, and introduces her to his brother and brother-in-law. They are quite vehement in their opinion about how to handle this situation, and it moves the debate out of the male/female provider/domestic servant realm. When they start to wind down, Zach says she shouldn’t worry so much because they’ll just hire a lot of it done anyway, and she’s set a standard of not accepting the management hassle. After duly noting how happy she is that he even recognizes that there is a management hassle associated with hiring help (“Ha! You should hear my mother on the subject.”), she retorts that if they hire that many people, his money won’t last, and they’re off again.
When they revisit the question, they hammer out some basics: separate accounts, separate decision making. They’ll both fund education trusts for children. They agree to keep the debt to a minimum, and the lifestyle from creeping too badly. She’s not allowed to stop him from spending his money and having fun with it (“If I run out, I’ll just enjoy being poor. You know, like you.” Vanessa glares at him.). He is not allowed to expect her to fund or even participate in a lifestyle she is unhappy with. No one takes a high time commitment job without consulting first. They can’t _both_ have high time commitment jobs while the kids are young.
Then they look at each other and go, Oh My. We can actually do this. Whose mom do we call first with the news?