“For god’s sake Jack that has nothing to do with it!” Adalyn yelled, throwing the hastily folded clothing into an already bulging suitcase. “I just can’t live like this anymore.”
“Live like what!? Our place is a palace compared to most of these around here!” Jack yelled back from the living room. His thoughts ran wild as he sank into his plush armchair. Which at the moment was about the only dependable thing in this “palace” of an apartment. Leading up to this unfortunate fight: the toaster burned out, the television had stopped working and there was a funny brown liquid coming out of the shower.
“It’s not the pl-I mean, it’s not ALL the place. I’m just not happy anymore” she said tossing her dark brown hair out of her eyes as the clasps finally closed on the plump suitcase. “I still love you Jack. But it’s time for both of us to move on.”
“Addy, baby…stay…please?” He asked, feeling tears starting to form. He hated this. The feeling that you’re about to lose someone and there isn’t anything you can say or do that will change it. Not to mention the unexpectedness of it all.
“I can’t. Not anymore. I have to do what’s right for me for a change” Adalyn said, opening the door. “I’m sorry. But that’s just the way it is. Here are my keys.” She tossed them neatly over to his seat. “Goodbye Jack. It’s gonna be ok.” And with that, she left.
The tears drove forward in great, messy burts. The sound of sobbing was punctuated by occasional gasps for breath, which made the ordeal all the louder. Maybe it wasn’t the most masculine thing in the world. He could hardly imagine what his father would think of him right now. A damp, wheezing mess on a cheap recliner and staring at a broken TV. Damn his opinion anyway. He had just gotten his heart broken. And as far as Jack could recall, the cure for that was lots of crying and an equal amount of pizza. Eventually, the crying was over and it was time for the latter.
Espo’s had the best pizza on the east side of Baltimore, which was a fairly long walk for Jack. But this was a special occasion. One that deserved pepperoni. Bathed in the red, white and green light from the pizzeria he leaned against the wall to catch his breath. Maybe Adalyn was right about him getting out of shape, he thought as he moved his long chestnut hair out of his eyes. He wondered if that was due to his habit of stress-eating. Second guessing his decision, he turned to leave but the warm scent of bread baking found his nostrils and filled him with anticipation for the comfort the cheesy concoction would bring. And while he couldn’t smell the cheap beer they sold, that would also soothe his broken spirit. Reaching for the door, his eye caught some sort of movement in his peripheral vision. Glancing over, Jack surveyed the alleyway next to the shop. It was relatively dark, as alleyways often are. The only dim light coming off a nearby streetlamp bathed the passage in twilight. Shaking his head, he walked into the gloom.
“Dark! Come on out!” Jack yelled, seemingly to a discarded microwave and its matching box. He looked nervously around to make sure no one was there. It wasn’t the wisest thing to walk about dark back streets in Baltimore. Also, any onlookers might think he was a lunatic.
As if molded from clay, the shadows in front of Jack coalesced to take the form of a man. His jet black hair blended in with the darkness from which it formed, in contrast with his pallid skin which took on a translucent glow in the pale light.
“Jackie boy. How’d it go with the lady?” Dark said with a familiar grin, he wiped off his pressed grey shirt and adjusted a few buttons. “No wait. Don’t tell me…” He put his first two fingers on his forehead, closed his eyes and drew his mouth into a thin line as if to feign deep concentration. “You guys broke up!” he stated flatly, the smirk returning to his face once again.
“Yeah. Thanks for the support bud. Where’ve you been anyway?” Jack questioned as he headed back to the front of the store. “I never know when you’re gonna pop up nowadays.”
“Well you know me. Places to be. Can’t spend all of my time babysitting you” Dark replied as he followed Jack. “Aside from the breakup. How have things been here? Anything...strange going on?” he asked with an unusual apprehensiveness.
“Nope. Been downright boring. Though I haven’t been out much. Pete’s got me slaving away at the bar. Nothing unusual there” Jack paused outside of Espo’s. “I think you’re the most unusual thing in my life right now” he finished, opening the door to let Dark into the pizzeria. Unusual had always been a relative term for Jack Crosswell. Besides the fact that his best friend had appeared out of thin air when he was a kid. Growing up, he’d always seen unexplainable things. People that no one else saw, strange creatures on family camping trips and of course the ever popular “the sandwich tried to kill me” incident when he was twelve. Jack’s father practically had him institutionalized for a year after that.
“Good man, good” Dark said quietly as he walked through the door. Tacky memorabilia covered the walls while the sounds of a mandolin played on a soundtrack in the background. The empty booths of the pizza shop outnumbered the filled ones, with only a few other patrons sitting in them. Dark stood closer to the door and chewed his fingernails. He wasn’t normally this nervous around people, but maybe he was having an off day.
“Large pepperoni. Two drinks please” Jack said to the cashier taking the order. As the man calculated his total, Jack looked at his increasingly skinny wallet. Only a few more dollars until he worked again. And that was three days from now on Friday. As if today couldn’t get any worse.
“So...what happened with Adalyn? She seemed nice enough” Dark asked, as Jack sat down and handed him the cup for his drink.
“I don’t wanna talk about it man. I still can’t believe it even happened” Jack said sullenly sipping his Coke. Jack didn’t consider himself to be the best at relationships. At the age of twenty four, he had been in a total of three. All of them less than a year long. At first he had thought maybe he dated the wrong girls. But the older he got, he wasn’t so sure. “I just don’t know what’s wrong with me.”
“Can I be frank?” Dark asked, leaning forward. Jack nodded, shoulders slumping further into the booth. “You’re scared. You’re scared of anyone forcing you out of your protective little bubble you call an apartment. And you’ve always been this way. So when someone gets close to you, you get distant. Because gods forbid that anyone get to know you” Dark finished his tirade and leaned back in his seat.
“Jesus… that was intense. Tell me how you really feel” Jack replied. Dark had never been this serious with him before. He was always the relaxed and joking one, while Jack could be too cautious for his own good sometimes. “It’s not easy for me to let people get close. I mean, my best friend is an embodiment of terror. That’s not really first date talk” Jack said in a hushed tone.
“Whatever. My point is, you need to not be so scared of letting people see you for who you are. The whole point of moving down here was to get away from your Dad controlling your life. Instead of doing something you enjoy, you’ve become Jack Crosswell: shitty bartender” Dark said loudly.
“I’m a good bartender! And I do like it!” Jack responded angrily. “And who are you to judge me? You’re never around anymore to know how I live my life!” he continued, slamming his hand on the table for emphasis. Dark’s unused drink cup fell to the ground.
“You don’t know the half of what I do. You humans always presume you know everything about everyone. Sometimes I’m not sure why I bother.” Dark said defeatedly as he stood up from the table. “Enjoy your pizza Jack. I hope you figure all this out.” He walked out of the shop and left Jack with his watered down coke and a feeling of regret.
About thirty minutes had gone by since Dark had left and Jack was leaving Espo’s with a quarter of a pizza and a six pack of a beer. He had eaten most of his feelings and his stomach had started to bloat from the gorge. He was worried about his friend. Something was wrong with him. Jack even thought he had seen some grey in his always stylish hair. His thoughts wandered to what Dark had said about him. By the time Jack’s arm started to stiffen from carrying the beer, he figured that Dark had been right. He was scared. How could anyone accept him? Adalyn had thought that the concept of life on other planets was strange. Jack had friends that grew out of shadows and only came out at night. It was better to be alone.
The dim gleam of the streetlights made strange patterns on the sidewalk, while the lights of the city shown off in the distance. Baltimore was a decidedly pretty city, Jack thought. He had only lived here for about a year or so, and due to a small amount of social anxiety, didn’t get out as often as he’d like. To the right of him, Jack saw a park a few blocks ahead. It was a rare sight in this concrete forest. And where there were parks, there would be benches. And a chance to rest for a moment and take in the beauty of the night.
It didn’t take Jack long to locate a bench. Setting down the box of half-eaten pizza, he lowered himself onto the stiff wooden bench. He took out one of the beers, twisted off the lid and took a long sip from it. It was a local beer from a brewery he forgot the name of. A little too bitter for his taste, but it was surprisingly cheap. And money was all too tight lately. Taking in his surroundings, Jack noticed that the place seemed to be pretty deserted. That was strange. Someone is usually always out in the city. Shrugging, he put the thought aside. At least it meant that no one would bother him.
Almost as if God himself was listening, Jack heard the sound of someone making their way towards him. Looking up from his beer, Jack saw a tall and gangly man dressed in a light blue suit. He was headed towards Jack’s bench and was lugging around some sort of briefcase.
“Excuse me? Sir? I seem to have lost my way…” the man muttered in a thick british accent. “I’m looking for the, uh, inward harbor. Yes. I believe that’s what it’s called.”
“The inner harbor? You’re pretty close by. We’re a bit north of it now,” Jack said, raising his hand to point to a nearby street “but if you follow that road for about twelve blocks you’ll get there” he finished. It was odd that he was headed there. It was a popular place, especially for the business types, but this late? On a Tuesday?
“Oh thank you sir. I never would have found it I fear. My name’s Martin” the man said, offering his hand. “Who do I have the pleasure of meeting this evening?”
“Jack. My name’s Jack. Nice to meet you Martin” Jack replied, taken aback by the formality. He took Martin’s hand and shook it. It was cold and strong, like it was made out of tightly bound wire. Which is not what hands are usually made of.
“You wouldn’t happen to be Jack Crosswell...would you?” Martin said hesitantly. He took a seat at the bench and put the briefcase on his lap.
“Uhm, yes actually. That is my last name. Do I know you?” Jack said. He certainly didn’t recognize him if he did. As far as he remembered, he didn’t know any british folks. And he seemed a bit older than Jack as well.
“No. You wouldn’t. I knew your mother” Martin stated. His briefcase was one of those with number combinations and he was currently rolling them into place.
“M-my mother?” Jack said awestruck. Sweat rolled down his face and his breathing got choppy. He hadn’t thought about his mother in years. She was always this strange phantom being that peppered his childhood memories. Warm auburn hair and an infectious laugh came to mind. “How did you know her?”
“We used to work together. Long time ago” Martin said looking down at his briefcase as he fiddled with the latch. “Well Jack, that was a nice talk. Back to business I’m afraid” he continued, looking up and breaking into a grin. The light from the nearby streetlight made his teeth almost gleam.
“W-what business is that?” Jack asked, hands grasping his beer tightly. Nothing this strange has happened since he was a kid. Now more than ever he regretted snapping at Dark. Confrontation was always his strong suit.
“Well, to kill you of course. Sorry about the deception. Part of the job I’m afraid” Martin reached in the briefcase. In that same instance, the beer bottle Jack was holding shattered on Martin’s face. Jack ran as fast as he could There’s no way that he would die today too.
It became increasingly obvious as Jack sprinted down the street that he was indeed out of shape. Somehow, the fear of death powered him to keep running faster. The buildings blurred past him as his legs slowly burned. He only heard the sounds of his own feet pounding against the pavement as he made the turn to the sanctity of his apartment. Perhaps he had escaped the would-be assailant.
Jack opened the door quickly and locked it behind him. Crumpling to the floor, he gasped for air. That had been way too much running for one day. He thought to call the police, but he also had experience with them thinking that he was crazy. The last thing he wanted today was to get thrown in a mental ward.
“You made quick time getting here” a voice cut through the darkness. Jack turned on the light to find Martin sitting in his armchair. A long blue jacket had taken the place of his neatly pressed suit.
“H-how did you? Please. I haven’t done anything” Jack stammered with fear and backed towards the doorway.
“And that is exactly how we shall keep it” Martin replied. Standing up from the chair, his sapphire jacket unfurled around him and he reached for his side. “Time for death now Jack. Don’t worry. It’s usually quite painless”
Martin lunged forward, faster than he could comprehend. Silver flashed towards him. Truly, Jack thought, this was the worst Tuesday ever.