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Chapter 1
Peter, Present Day

It’s a few minutes past seven a.m. and I’m running behind.

Clutching my Hydro Flask filled with Purity coffee, I arrive at work. My footsteps echo off the sleek, polished floors of the breathtaking new contemporary lobby of VA/VT. My clothes, slacks and dress shirt are made out of organic, socially-responsible fabric.

Last night, because I worked until midnight, my car wasn’t fully charged by the time I’d hoped to leave this morning. Facing a full schedule of important meetings and appointments, I was forced to wait for it to finish. Nothing bugs me more than being late. Very unprofessional.

But, as a devout green architect, I’m hyperaware every choice I make—from the food I eat to the clothes I wear—is a reflection of my values. I take sustainability seriously. It’s not only my brand, but my lifestyle.

Despite the time, or lack thereof, I can’t help but stop for a moment. My eyes sweep the room from the half-moon reception counter to the arched bronze chandeliers to the striking curved staircase leading to the executive offices. Though the color scheme is neutral—classic grays and creams—the mixture of textures and materials give the entire space a bright, edgy feel.

It’s stunning. Truly stunning.

I did this.

It wasn’t long ago when I had a simple vision. A dream. A mission.

I was determined to build a firm specializing in designing gorgeous, sustainable net-zero commercial buildings.

My environmentally conscious design philosophy isn’t unique. Unless you’re living under a rock, every modern architect understands the importance of using less water, energy, and other natural resources. Most people in the construction industry are committed to employing renewable energy sources and eco-friendly materials to reduce emissions and eliminate waste.

What sets VA/VT apart, however, is how we’re better at it. Partially because of the proprietary software I invented. The way it enables us to create healthy, comfortable and resource-efficient spaces in a cost-effective manner is unprecedented. Even better, the software seamlessly integrates with government and regulatory bodies, making permitting and inspections a breeze.

Not only do I have several patents, but I license the technology—at a very steep price—to some of the biggest firms in the world. Hence, the name of my company. VA for Vander Architecture. VT for its sister company, Vander Technologies. We’re also focused on long-term impact, collaborating with governmental and regulatory bodies across the US to create policy change and incentives to build green.

Ten years ago, little did I know my unique outlook on planning, design, and construction would propel my career into the stratosphere.

As I approach the conference room where my team is waiting for me, I feel proud. It isn’t an ordinary day. The decisions we make at this meeting will redefine my design career. Cement my name in history. Change my legacy for not only me but my future family.

I’ll finally leave my past behind.

I’m one of three architects in the world who’ve been invited to submit a finalized “vision” for Project SoHo, the code name for a new pop culture museum in London. The location encompasses the entire Smithfield General Market area, which has fallen into disrepair.

Of the three contenders, my firm is the only one with less than fifty full-time architects. Yet, even though we’re a much smaller company, we’ve made it through two long years of elimination rounds to get here.

Now, I’m a realist. There’s no way we’d be in the running if it weren’t for Vander Technologies and my software. On the other hand, my team’s prowess in practical green design and construction is unmatched as we’ve demonstrated time and time again.

This next round will be no different.

“Morning, everyone.” I enter the conference room to find my SoHo team, Rose, Pip, and Fabiola, huddled around a holographic display in the center of the room.

They’re the best in their respective specialties from all over the globe, but even the best need direction.

My direction.

“Hello, Peter.” Rose, VA’s business development manager, glances up briefly before resuming tapping on her tablet.

Pip, a shy, slight man from Delhi who integrates the technology into our designs, gives me a quick, efficient nod.

Fabiola, our blue-haired creative design genius, doesn’t look up from the visual display. Her slight Italian accent flavors her words. “This is the digital rendering of the SoHo Project with your directives from the last meeting incorporated into the design.”

I walk around the display, running my hand through my hair, feeling its tousled length. “The next phase is critical. An independent panel of design professionals, business stakeholders, and local governmental representatives will review the next round of submissions and eliminate one contender. With this in mind, I encourage everyone to be ruthless in your scrutiny. I don’t need to remind you about the exposure VA/VT will receive if we’re awarded the contract. It’ll change all of our lives.”

The air pulses with tension. Everyone knows what’s on the line. Both companies have turned down other lucrative projects to take this shot at infamy.

“As we’ve learned, the city wants to transform the Smithfield Market neighborhood from a rundown part of London into a vibrant, mixed-use development to reflect the history of the iconic buildings while embracing the potential of the future.” Rose projects our objectives onto the wall beyond the display. “Considering the other two contenders, our thesis is “the future is green.” We’re the best choice.”

“In my opinion, the interactive elements will put us over the top…” Pip presses a button, which illuminates vibrant colors within the display to show some of the integrations we’re proposing. “This latest iteration of our software allows for an immersive experience into our design.”

“Phenomenal, Pip. Way to think bigger, bolder. We can show them—not merely tell them—it’s not merely a building. Or a structure. It’s a statement.” I pace back and forth studying the improvements I asked for a few days ago. “This rendering is exactly what I had in mind. A presentation that evolves. It breathes. We don’t only want this to be eco-friendly but eco-active.”

Rose’s eyes light up. “Biophilic design? Integrating natural elements not just aesthetically but functionally?”

“Exactly.” I point at her. “We’ve created a living, pulsing piece of art, which will not only redefine London’s skyline, but integrate with their grid. Think of the possibilities—tracking emissions reduction in real time.”

For the next few hours, our conversation delves into the technicalities of the RFP documents. We go over the entire submission from solar panels to rainwater harvesting to the urban green spaces. Where appropriate, I guide, challenge them and push for perfection. We have another week before we submit, and it must be perfect.

Lunch arrives as we’re wrapping up. My phone’s been buzzing nonstop for about an hour, it’s a good opportunity to find out who or what’s on fire.

Fuck. Five voicemails from my mother. Probably another crisis involving either Kent or Lance, my brothers.

Perpetual disappointments. Both of them.

I delete the messages without listening and silence my phone. I can’t afford distractions. I’m too close to making history.

“Peter, should we discuss aesthetics?” Fabiola tugs on my sleeve. “Do you think this updated design resonates with the city’s cultural fabric?”

“I do. You’ve done a stupendous job taking inspiration from London’s diversity, its history and culture.” I close my eyes, visualizing how the desolate area will look upon completion of the museum. “It’s a brilliant fusion of old and new, a testament to the city’s continual evolution.”

The entire team nods enthusiastically. It’s heady. They believe in my vision. In the legacy we’re about to embark upon if we’re chosen.

As we delve deeper into the discussion, I can’t help but feel the weight of my family’s struggles tugging at me. I grew up in a working-class home—well, when my folks still had jobs. Dad used to be a custodian and my mother worked as a bookkeeper for a furniture store.

They always found a way to keep their heads above water, but my twin brothers, Kent and Lance… They’ve gone down a different path.

Just last month, I loaned my parents $10,000 to bail Kent out of jail after a brutal bar fight. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the first time, and won’t be the last. The lingering bitter taste in my mouth is a constant reminder of the never-ending situation. I can’t seem to get out from under my family’s burden.

It’s a noose always waiting to hang me.

Sometimes, when I’m feeling down, I try to imagine having a family who called to check on me once in a while. A mother or a father who showed interest in my accomplishments. But, no. My family isn’t like that. I’m only good for one thing—my bank account. Each and every one of them are oblivious to the hard work I put in to support everyone.

Why would any of them work, when they’ve got me?

“I need to step out for a moment.” Standing abruptly, I make a move toward the door. At the very least, I need air.

Outside, the city hums with life. I lean against the cool, glass facade of the building. My childhood seems like a lifetime ago but the truth is, no matter how much I separate myself, they drag me back in. My guilt clings to me. Like a shadow I can’t shake off.

Which is one of the reasons why this project means everything to me. Being selected is my chance to solidify my place in the world. Far, far away from the constraints of my family’s expectations to clean up their messes.

The phone buzzes in my hand. This time, I pick up. “Mom? What’s going on?”

“It’s Lance.” Her voice is weary. Defeated. “I don’t think he’s going to come back from this one. Your father and I have no idea what to do.”

Through tears, my mother launches into a story so fucked up, so convoluted, I can’t even begin to process what I’m hearing. In the background, my dad punctuates some of the more salacious details with strings of curse words. He’s drunk, I can tell from the sound of his voice. When she finishes her tale ten minutes later, my mind is mush.

“What do you want me to do?” I pinch my eyebrows.

Mom screeches into the phone, “Save him. You must know a good lawyer.”

“You’re asking me to pay for a high-powered defense lawyer even though he already admitted everything?” I kick the sidewalk angrily. “What about accountability?”

“Don’t be like that, Peter. I want my son home. You have the money. He’s your brother.” She says this matter-of-factly, which I’m used to. After all, in her mind I’m paying off a debt so it’s my obligation to help.

I make a decision. “No.”

No?” She’s thoroughly baffled by my refusal.

“You heard me. He’ll get a public defender. The chips will fall where they fall.” I glance at my phone to check the time. “Look. I’m wrapping up a meeting and then I have an appointment I can’t miss. I’m sorry, but I’m done. If you and Dad need anything let me know, but I won’t be touching this with a ten-foot pole.”

“Pete—” is the last thing I hear before I click off the phone.

It’s been nearly thirty minutes but everyone’s still focused on the proposal. We finalize the last details and I task Rose with incorporating our collective feedback and circulating it to us tomorrow. Everyone dissipates, leaving me staring out the window at the Space Needle.

I know it’s time to cut ties with my family. No, long past time.

Currently, though, I have somewhere to be. A long-standing appointment I’m sure as hell not going to miss.

My family will be there tomorrow.

But I’ve been waiting for this moment for years.

I hope you love it and want to read the rest! 👉 Get The Tryst List here!



Kaylene Winter

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