It took him back to freshman year of high school. “Yes, but who are you really?” they each said in turn. At first the answers came easily. Jock, student, friend, brother, son. After the easy answers He began to stumble on the less easy answers. Dreamer, Lover, luster, were answers he dare not reveal else wise he’d become the target of ridicule and he’d become the thing each of his questioners instinctually labeled him. “Loser.”
20 years had passed since that afternoon in Sociology class. At times he’d dream of that class and wake up in a cold sweat and it took him hours to shake the feeling of total exposure and the humiliation that came with it. Tonight however he was the honored guest of Kinellous, LTD. In their lavish hotel suite just outside of the Burmese capital. The contracts were signed less than an hour ago and the tension in the room had all but evaporated. He could see it in the faces of his Indonesian counterparts. Ties had been loosened. The bar had opened and yes, music was being played. 20 year old Springsteen but it was American rock and roll to be sure. He smiled an took a sip from his drink and thought of loosening his tie when his counterpart, Len Tsu approached with the interpreter. “Please, Mr. Kelly, another drink?” the interpreter said as Tsu dumped half a bottle of vodka into his glass. Tsu’s own glass was raised in a toast and he was smiling from ear to ear.
In broken English Tsu said “Toast. To good fortune. For Kinellous and US partner Kelly and sons.” Jason Kelly let Tsu and everyone here in Burma assume he was one of THE Kellys. He didn’t have the heart to tell them that Kelly and Sons was as much a fabrication as the industrial brackets and fasteners that would now be manufactured for pennies here in Burma now that the contracts have been signed. He looked into his glass full of vodka knowing he was expected to drink it to the last drop in toast with Tsu. How to tell Tsu through this interpreter that for the past 8 years he and been sober and in all that time he hadn’t slipped once. The heat he felt rising up his face was the same heat he felt back in High School. He’d been able to quell most of the loser label, but not all of it and that had driven him through college and law school. Looking at his full glass, than at Tsu he was almost blinded by new words. Drunk, fraud, coward among them. But also back there were words like integrity, honesty and courage.
The next 10 seconds would tell which label would govern the next few years.