Ordinarily it was standard business as usual, but the events at dinner and his bride’s restlessness through the night resulted in his distraction. The good and bad sides of success left him wanting to make this first anniversary celebration memorable. They designated October, even though the real date was December, to avoid competing with the Christmas season. The family agreed to honor their wishes.
The savory, strong Indonesian blended coffee was normally able to launch his mental faculties into overdrive, but his thoughts were unable to advance from neutral. The handle of the cup swaying between his thumb and forefinger moved but went nowhere. The text window beeped an inbound message. He opened the exchange sent by Brayson Morris, his right-hand support.
JJ, you’re not replying to my urgent email. You want to talk about it? You can push your coffee handle around, but we need to get some business done.
JJ ground his teeth, annoyed at his transparency. He jammed the icon to escalate the chat message to a voice/video call.
“Morning, JJ,” greeted Brayson. “I suspect the paparazzi debacle left a cloud over your entire night. I’m the poster child for CATS’ emotional rescue division, ready to offer high-spirited motivational counsel, pithy sayings, stale advice, and, if irrelevant, musically recount bawdy lyrical humor pilfered from tunes penned by the musical genius of Lonny Lupnerder.”
JJ frowned, digesting the teasing for a few heartbeats, and then he chuckled, which evolved into a boisterous laugh.
Brayson grinned and his eyes sparkled as if waiting for JJ’s control to return.
“Thanks, Brayson,” JJ said, after regaining his composure. "I needed a diversion. Jo is a mix of mad and frustrated. She loves the work and the fame, but a little privacy would be nice now and again. We wanted a relaxing night out before her next shoot in Mexico. She leaves early tomorrow morning and wanted to plan our anniversary celebration. Our work schedules are messing with her newlywed glow, which worries me. I see the maelstrom of new requests for CATS’ support to defeat the new cyber onslaughts. I need to focus before we commit the team, but my mind is going in circles.”
“I’m glad you’re not signing before reading. One of those is a doozy; we may need new hires to complete the assignment. We can talk through them faster.” Brayson made an odd face and
cleared his throat. “Burn out. Boss, we’ve seen it in our clients and contractors. Left untreated, it wreaks havoc and doesn’t end well.”
“I don’t work hard, man,” JJ countered.
“You work at racing speeds. You also push the limits of two to three hours of rest when Jo’s home so she can rest. Noble, but lack of sleep can take a toll.”
JJ tilted his head and twisted his mouth, considering denying the comments. “I want to be an innovative leader of this team and a dynamite partner for a gorgeous supermodel.”
“You ARE,” reassured Brayson. “You both deserve a break. Perhaps you need to get serious about combining your anniversary with a vacation. Jo works a grueling schedule when there’s a shoot. She’d enjoy time away. You need to unplug for a week, or even a month, if her schedule permits.”
JJ caught the flash of a smirk across the face of his friend and second in command. He remembered the history of Brayson climbing out of the dismal hole of his life before he’d married Marian. The two of them balanced life and work, but it was an ongoing effort. “You’re right.”
“Let’s face it, you two didn’t have much alone time when you went to Texas, but you ended up getting closer. Strictly speaking, you never had a honeymoon. Make plans with Jo for your getaway, including the where and how long. Focus on you as a couple. It helps, man. Oh, you made me take off after the last huge case because you recognized my stress level reached the outer limits. I’ll cover the work. Though I might hand out raises or bonuses while you’re gone.”
JJ clucked his tongue in disapproval. “Brayson, why the generous streak? The next thing you’ll want is a lunch HOUR and paid vacations. We’ve a business to run. Any vacation I take impacts revenue.”
Brayson laughed. “You know I oversee the books. I did notice we’re way ahead of your profit target for the year with three months remaining. I maintain that success at the cost of mental health is failure. You both need some time to help one another.”
JJ sighed and only nodded.
Brayson petitioned, “Just remember. After you get back, I may want some married couple time off too. We all need to get away now and then. You and Jo need to be at your peak and you can’t on your current trajectory.”
JJ smiled. “Sound advice, my friend. Now where to go?”
Brayson laughed. “That’s the easy part. Just go where she tells you.”
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