Tilting at Windmills

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9780743407373: Tilting at Windmills

With a lyrical tale of love and loss, Joseph Pittman joins the ranks of beloved authors such as Elizabeth Berg and Nicholas Sparks as he carries readers on an epic journey -- through the joys and tears of a life renewed -- and chronicles a very special love.

At thirty-four, Brian Duncan has it all. The trendy Manhattan life, a fast-track job at a high-powered PR firm, a gorgeous fiancee -- a coworker with a future as exciting as his own. Then, in a single moment of deception, Brian's world crumbles. Bitterly betrayed, he decides to toss away all he has ever worked for and leave the city's busy streets behind.

He finds himself irresistibly drawn to the road. On a hillside along New York's Hudson River Valley, Brian sees a giant windmill, its sails transfixing in their beauty. And running down the green hill toward the magnificent windmill is a lovely little girl, her blond hair floating in the wind. Her name is Janey, and she and her quietly alluring mother Annie, who owns the windmill, strike a chord in Brian's heart.

It is a turning point in Brian's life, as he finds the small-town charms of Linden Corners comforting. He stays a day, and then another, and before long he has become another resident of this sleepy little world. Is it the windmill that has inspired him, or Annie Sullivan, whose elusive quality matches Brian's own questions about life? Even as Annie and Brian feel their relationship deepening into passion, the uncertainties they battle loom large -- perhaps too large. Through the force of nature and the hand of fate, Brian learns that love comes in unexpected ways.

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About the Author:

Joseph Pittman was born in New York City, raised in the Syracuse area, and graduated from the State University of New York at Brockport. Tilting at Windmills, his first novel, has already been sold in several foreign countries. Mr. Pittman lives in Manhattan and is at work on his next novel.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Part One: March

For the first time in weeks, my alarm sounded and woke me from a deep sleep. Instinctively, I reached over and slammed down the snooze button. Even still, I remained awake and excited. Today there was purpose. Today I would reclaim the life I'd been forced to put on hold.

Reclaim. That was a good word, inspirational and fitting for this morning on which, after a short sabbatical, I found myself returning to the pressures of my hard-earned career. Willingly, eagerly, and with determination.

From my vantage point on the bed, I could see outside the window. Rain pelted the sidewalks, the fire escape, the window itself, and no doubt people below as they journeyed to work on this dreary Wednesday. It figured my first day back would not be made easy; the rain always seemed to bring Manhattan to a screeching halt. Weather be damned -- my mood was upbeat, and not just because I was finally going back to work.

Madison was expected back, too. Maddie.

The alarm rang a second time and again I hit the snooze button, fearing I might possibly fall back to sleep. I'd been doing that a lot lately -- but I had the excuse of being among the bedridden. I'd been sick. Past tense, I thought with grateful silence, having heard only yesterday my positive prognosis. I tried to share my good news with Maddie, who was away on an important business trip in St. Louis. Her phone rang four times before the hotel's service picked up. I left a message, feeling certain that all had gone well with the presentation and that she was out celebrating with Justin Warfield -- her boss and, incidentally, mine as well.

I checked the clock -- 8:07, just three minutes before the alarm would go off again. This was New York time, Eastern Standard, and too early to call anyone here, much less someone in the Midwest. Sharing our mutual good fortune, as well as learning when her plane was due, would have to wait.

So, the rainy weather notwithstanding, I had two good reasons for getting up this morning -- the return of my health and the return of the woman I loved. I threw back the blankets and got out of bed, flung my thick robe over my T-shirt and boxers, and padded into the living room. I opened the blinds and looked out at 83rd Street. Yup, a crappy day was brewing, but it wasn't going to bother me.

For the next hour, I busied myself with the mundane. Showered, shaved, brushed my teeth, and ran a comb through my dark brown hair. Staring at myself in the mirror, I was still thrown by how skinny I looked. Not that I was ever overweight, but with my six-foot frame, losing more than a few pounds really showed. I'd been forced to cut fatty foods and alcohol from my diet, and now I was barely pushing 165 pounds. For the past six weeks I'd been out of commission, recovering from a particularly intrusive case of hepatitis, which had attacked my liver and my life. I was wracked by bouts of sheer exhaustion, loss of appetite, and a host of other symptoms that basically came and went whenever the hell they felt like. No medicine, no pills, just lots of rest and the patience of a saint. It was my first "real" illness, not a cold or some kind of influenza, a real virus with a nasty kick, and if it taught me one thing, it's that I'm not a kid anymore. The time had arrived (my doctor proclaiming it long overdue) for me to start treating myself better: diet, exercise, the clean routine for a healthy working machine. No more doughnuts on the run for ol' Brian Duncan -- now I ate grapefruit in sections and whole-grain cereals, and it was a change my friends wouldn't believe. Sometimes if you're not willing to change your bad habits, something comes along and forces the issue. They call them cosmic two-by-fours. And I had been smacked head-on.

Enough. Point is, I now had breakfast dishes to clear away, and I did so, and then decided it wasn't so early that I couldn't go ahead and call St. Louis. The number was by the phone. I quickly punched in the digits, and soon the phone was ringing at the Adam's Mark. A moment later, I was put through to room 809.

Maddie picked up the phone on the third ring; there was a slight delay before I heard her murmured hello.

"Hey, it's me."

"Hi, Brian." Her voice sounded groggy. I'd called too early. "What time is it?"

"Nine here. I guess eight your time." I paused. "Let me guess -- I'm your wake-up call."

Levity was dangerous when Maddie lacked sleep.

"It was a late night. Umm, Brian, can we talk when I'm back?"

"Sure. Can I pick you up at the airport?"

"Brian -- you know Justin's arranged for a limo."

"Right -- sorry. Guess I'm eager to see you. How about dinner? I've got -- "

She interrupted me. "Look, Brian, I'm half asleep. It's been a busy week and I need to catch up on some sleep. I'll call you -- tomorrow. I probably won't be back until late tonight. Thanks for understanding."

"Okay, 'bye," I said, and quickly added, "I love you."

Not quickly enough. She'd already hung up, and my words hung dead in the air.

I replaced the receiver and thought for a second that something seemed off about our conversation. Not until I was dressed and on my way out the door did it hit me. She hadn't asked about my health. My health. I tried to pinpoint what had caused this giant setback.

Back in late January, the public relations agency that employed me, the well-respected Beckford Group, was among a select few agencies up for a big lucrative health-care account. Our president had chosen to wine and dine the prospective new client's representatives and he'd brought along his top two people, namely me and Madison Chasen, a fellow account director who happened to be my girlfriend of three years. The restaurant had been our choice, and so Maddie had picked Sequoia, one of Manhattan's newest and, in her words, toniest restaurants. This was surprising new vocabulary territory for her, and it showed how modern this classic Southern belle had become. Me, I was from the suburbs of Philadelphia and knew little about the posh and the privileged, and that suited me fine. If Maddie was the social climber of our happy couple, I was perfectly content holding the ladder.

Justin Warfield, our fortysomething president, had been wooing this particular client for months, enticing them with our past success in the field of health-care public relations. He also liked the idea of a get-to-know-each-other dinner, because he knew it was the personality of the agency that would seal the deal for us. Entertaining clients over an expensive meal had won Justin many accounts, and he was certain it would yet again yield the same lucrative results. Dinner was a big hit, with Dominick Voltaire and his team of associates walking away feeling even better about us than before, and we'd felt good about the possibility of their choosing the Beckford Group to handle the multimillion-dollar launch of a new hypertension drug. Everyone went home in the best of spirits and quite full from the meal.

Me, I went home and puked my guts out.

When, three days later, I was still out of the office on sick leave and thinking I had the flu, I went -- actually, was dragged -- to the doctor's office. Either the oysters I ate were contaminated or the person handling the oysters wasn't practicing good hygiene; the doctor was fairly certain I'd contracted hepatitis A. Not a fatal disease, but one that could lead to complications if not properly monitored. For the weeks that followed, I took a short-term disability leave from the office and lay about my apartment like a miserable wreck, staring at the television. Between intermittent naps, I also worked on providing Justin and Maddie with brilliant ideas on how to get the powerful Dominick Voltaire to sign with us. And just this past Sunday, they'd flown out to St. Louis to make the final presentation -- without me.

What a difference a few days makes. Just as Justin and Maddie were wrapping things up, the doctor proclaimed me well enough to venture out -- but said that I should still take it easy. The office was my first destination.

Now, as I tried to hail a cab outside my Upper East Side apartment, the irony was not lost on me that, here, on my first day heading back to the office, the virus gone from my system, I'd missed the presentation I'd worked so hard on. Justin and Maddie, I knew, made a formidable team, and so I had little doubt that the client was bowled over by the plans. Our plans.

Finally, luck came my way and a stray cab stopped. I climbed in, and told him 50th and Broadway. Home to the Beckford Group, where I'd made my living for the last seven years. I was eager to catch up on the latest office gossip.


The latest news, it turned out, was my return, and I spent much of the day educating folks about the particulars of my illness. It was the last topic I wanted to discuss, but maybe hearing someone else's misery helped my colleagues enjoy their own good health. Or maybe they cared. I did manage to squeeze in some work, and by the end of the day, I was exhausted.

My doctor had warned me not to overdo it -- the virus was gone, but now came the crucial healing period. The best thing to do was go home. I'd heard the good news from St. Louis -- Justin and Maddie had secured Voltaire, ensuring millions for our small agency. If there was one damper on hearing this good news, it was hearing it all secondhand. After all the work I'd done, I might have expected to get the first phone call, or for Maddie to have told me this morning. In fact, she'd said very little.

In the six weeks since I'd been sick, I felt Maddie begin to drift away, in direct opposition to the plans we had hammered out at Christmas. Plans that included taking our relationship to the next level -- moving in together when my lease was up this coming summer. Then came the Voltaire account and my sudden contagious status. And our quality time waned liked the long days of August.

Truth was, though, I hadn't expected to fall in love, and not with Maddie. Madison Chasen, graduate of New York University, had worked for two high-powered agencies before coming aboard at age twenty-seven as an account director, my equal and three years my junior. Still, we weren't competitive; instead, we gravitated toward each other, professionally at first, until one weekend at her Southampton share, we'd fallen drunkenly into the pool first and then her bed second, and on waking sober the next morning, we'd found we had little regret and a great deal of passion left. She'd been working at Beckford for only four months when we became an item. No one cared, Justin Warfield in particular. He knew we were both workaholics and that we didn't mind the late-night hours as long as we were together.

Spending time together. For the past few weeks we'd spent little time together, and little of that could be termed quality. What I needed was to feel her in my arms again, to know we were all right and still on the course we had charted, and these thoughts were occupying my tired mind when a knock came at my office door. The day had gotten away from me -- I noticed it was five-thirty. One of our junior associates, Bill Ettman, was standing in my door frame with his suit jacket on. He looked ready to leave.

"Hey, Brian, the gang's going to McHale's for drinks. What do you say -- wanna join the party? First day back and all, I think you owe us all a round."

Bill was a nice guy with an easy familiarity with the entire sixteen-person staff and clearly the group leader when it came to out-of-the-office activities. Trouble was, they all wanted to drink, celebrate our windfall, and my body was telling me no way, no how. One of the many shitty aspects of hepatitis -- you can't drink. Not for six months, the doc said, and I took him at his word. And there was nothing worse than being the only one sober among a group of silly drunks. So I declined the offer.

"Thanks. I'd better not. I've overstayed my welcome anyway. Told myself two hours, max, and here it is -- oh, shit -- eight hours later."

Bill was about to leave when I called him back.

"What's up?" he asked.

"What time are Justin and Maddie due back -- any idea?"

He checked his watch. "If the plane's on time, they should be landing soon. But don't expect them at McHale's. Bet they're plenty tired. We'll have another celebration, probably tomorrow. You in tomorrow?"

I already knew I wouldn't be. "Today was a trial run. Gotta give myself the rest of the week. Next Monday, for sure. Life returns to normal soon, and I for one can't fucking wait."

"I hear ya," he said, and then was gone. The beer was calling.

The office cleared out soon after, reminding me of the old days when just me and Maddie and a bunch of take-out cartons from Westside Cottage remained. I gathered my jacket, flicked the light off, and before I left, stole one last look at my office. Secretly I was pleased no one had been using it in my absence, not a temp or some junior upstart who needed the view for creative purposes or some such lame excuse. Being away, paranoia sometimes creeps in and you begin to wonder if work goes on without you.

On my way out, I passed Maddie's darkened office, a rare sight. Her desk, piled high with paperwork, reflected her workload. I missed her a great deal, and I couldn't wait to see her again.


I should have gone directly home, no passing Go, no collecting two hundred dollars, and certainly, no stopping at Maddie's Upper West Side place for a surprise visit. But that's where my feet took me when a new wave of paranoia overtook my better judgment. And on my way, I should have purchased one of those small collapsible umbrellas from the vendor hawking them on the street corner. Only five bucks (ten once the rain began), and I was staring straight into a dark sky threatening to purge.

It was now six-fifteen and the streets and sidewalks of Midtown were flush with cars and people going every which way they could and, more often, where they shouldn't. Horns blared as people crossed against the light, all in a hurry to be anywhere but where they were this moment. I dodged a quick-turning cab, passed another umbrella vendor without stopping, and headed uptown. Maddie lived just off the park in a brownstone on West 76th Street. She'd started with two roommates, whittled it down to one a couple years ago, and, six months later, had the place to herself. Unless I was there, and I often was. Hers was a two-bedroom main-floor apartment with a big bay window and flower boxes and the sweet smell of a woman's touch, a noticeably sharp contrast to my East Side studio. She'd often asked me to move closer, but I'd stood firm. I liked my place, and I liked my rent, too. So we ended up spending a lot of time at Maddie's. I had my own keys.

I began to feel droplets of rain, big wet ones that spotted my suit jacket, and I was still fifteen blocks from Maddie's. I searched out a cab, but all the available ones dried up at the slightest hint of rain, suddenly off duty and racing homeward. What possessed me to walk these twenty-five blocks, I didn't know -- not exactly what I should be doing, healthwise. The walk had utterly worn me out. Luck, though, played on my side, as the M10 bus came up beside the curb. I hopped on with a few others, sliding my MetroCard in the slot. Traffic was nasty, and in fifteen minutes, we f

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