Story Battle Thanks To Glitter
30,000 characters. Any genre. All new story. Profanity may be used in the context of the story without affecting the "conduct" vote.
I ask that vote mods show good faith in evaluating RFDs since "best story" is more subjective than a technical debate.
With all the preconditions out of the way, off we go.
Good luck, to you, as well!
SacredBread forfeited this round.
To heck with it, I'm writing anyway. It's not my usual style or genre, but I started to like these characters. I hope you do, too.
The Time Machine
"What the hell are you doing, Jack?"
Jack McClanahan stared at his reflection in the kitchen window. The pre-dawn light was not enough to overpower only one of those corkscrew fluorescent bulbs that supposedly saved money. The bulb shone from the top of the garage-sale lamp stand, without the shade of course, hopelessly inadequate to cover both the cozy sitting room and the kitchen that it straddled. The pain behind his eyes, pounding at his temples, discouraged him from flipping on the overhead kitchen lights.
The coffee maker gurgled and popped briefly before hissing impatiently at the now empty water tank. He looked at the protesting appliance and watched the red LED clock blink 12:00 for a few seconds. His eyes lost focus and his mind returned to the fuzzy memory of man-made fog and lasers mixed with pounding techno base from the club the night before.
How he got there was still a bit of a mystery. Jack remembered calling up a few old college buddies for darts and shots at a townie karaoke bar. They had been more than happy to help Jack forget Melissa, and all of the nastiness from his ongoing divorce. However, at some point, they left the dark confines of the smoky ale-house and ended up in something like a Tron movie with black lights, fluorescents, lasers, and high-priced drinks that glowed enough to make rainbows jealous.
The bitch got the dogs. The bitch got the house. Jack got the old cottage, although it hadn't been used in the last four years when Melissa's "great opportunity" took over their lives, effectively cancelling every vacation since. He almost never thought about the place, except for the times he checked the bank statement and saw $450 pulled out each month on the foolish investment. Jack was grateful he was able to salvage enough for apartment rent, a car payment, and most of the retirement package, minus whatever Emma was going to cost him over the next four years at Northwestern. Probably all of it. So basically, he found himself at ground zero after twenty two years of building the American dream and then watching it evaporate because he and the ladder-climbing bitch "drifted apart". Her words.
Shots of tequila and whisky had seemed like a damn good idea. He wasn't even sure how he got back to the cottage, other than remembering long blonde hair, some kind of sorority car like a Cavalier or a Prius with a crucifix and Mardi Gras beads intertwined on the mirror, and extremely painful hickies at the club. Even the memory of sex was just a blurry dream seen through the opalescent glare of a pounding hangover.
Jack opened the kitchen cabinet above the decade-old coffee maker and pulled out two of the four mugs, long abandoned. A quick burst of breath sent a cloud of dust into the air that made his nose itch and eyes water. He fought back a cough as he wiped his eyes on his college sweatshirt sleeve.
"Jack, you there?" an uncertain soprano voice called out from the bedroom.
"Yea," Jack croaked, his voice betrayed him with fatigue and a bit of self-conscious embarrassment. Then, more forcefully, "You want coffee?"
A tall blonde emerged from the bedroom wrapped in an old, multi-colored Mexican blanket, that Melissa purchased on a DINK, dual-income-no-kid, cruise almost two decades ago. Jack knew her name was Ashley something-or-other, but honestly couldn't remember if she had told him all of it, or even the correct name.
The thought crossed his mind again, and not for the last time that morning... What the hell are you doing, Jack?
Ashley didn't seem to be the least bit self-conscious about wearing nothing but a blanket belonging to a man probably twice her age. Her eyes shone in the low light with a bit of devilish mischief and amusement. The blanket draped like an oversized cross between a serape and a toga. Brightly colored stripes of white, blue, black, red, and yellow wrapped around her chest and hips. Instead of slinging over her shoulders, the top of the blanket was wrapped like a towel over the breasts and below the armpits. The loose wrapping hung down to her knees and revealed shapely calves decreasing to slender feet, capped with nails painted an unobtrusive shade of pastel lilac.
"I'm surprised you have any food at all," she said eyeing the barren kitchen and sparse furniture. "How long since you've been here?"
Thinking hurt. Thinking of fond memories also hurt. Jack shook the cobwebs out and answered objectively, "Four, maybe five years. Freezer still worked, surprisingly. That's where we usually kept the coffee and other stuff during the winter."
"It's a nice place," Ashley offered as she grabbed the empty mug on the counter. "If it had a bit more of a woman's touch." She eyed the mug cautiously before sliding over to the sink and rinsing off the remaining grit.
"It was nice. Long time ago."
Jack tried not to think about how long it had been, and that Ashley was probably Emma's current age at the time. Purchasing the cottage had seemed like a dream come true. Ever since Melissa and he had started dating, they talked about getting a little place, out in the woods, where they could get away. They loved hiking and camping and boating on the lake. They enjoyed glasses of red wine, starlight walks, and waking up tightly packed into a double-zippered sleeping bag covered in morning mist. He was pretty sure that Emma resulted from one of those romantic mornings.
But now, there wasn't much left. For whatever reason, Melissa had gotten the bright idea to remodel the place, with money from her big promotion. She had a grand vision to update all of the appliances, put in all new art glass lightings, and double the size of the modest fireplace. She even wanted a sauna. Jack didn’t care because it was her new money. Sure, why not, he had said. Do what you want. Melissa hired a moving company to take out all but the bare essentials, and packed them away in a storage building, somewhere. The lawyer had the address and Jack had signed off on ownership without even reading it. But those plans never materialized. They could never get away.
"Listen," Jack began. "Last night... I'm sorry... I feel weird..."
Ashley shot Jack an admonishing glance. "Don't. Just. Don’t even."
"It's just, I'm going through a divorce. I drank way..."
"I know. You told me. Probably thirty times. It was kind of funny. I liked that you were genuine and very clearly over her. I didn't feel like I was... intruding."
Jack sighed and took the clean mug from Ashley. He filled the first cup and stared glumly into the blackness. The last thing on his mind last night was hooking up with some college-aged, or maybe somewhat older, kid. Last night, he became wrapped up in the moment, flattered by the attention, and dropped his sobriety-based inhibitions. For a few brief moments, the stress from the divorce had completely left him. The care-free happiness and attention from this nubile goddess before him had replaced the mountain of worry and accelerating depression. The loneliness from countless nights in a half-empty king bed was replaced with an electricity and passion he had resigned himself to never experiencing again. But where did that leave him today? What kind of father casts all concerns to the wind and hooks up at the first sign of attention? Is this a mid-life crisis? Will his friends mock him when he next encounters them? Facebook? Dating? What will his wife say? Feck her. But Emma? What would she think? Love? Kids?? Oh god, no. So, kick her out? Benefits? Netflix? So many doubts.
"I don't know what I'm doing," Jack said with a chuckle.
Ashley grabbed the second mug and rinsed it at the sink and called playfully over her shoulder, "You seemed to remember what to do, just fine."
Jack felt the warmth of his face grow and he imagined a bright red flush coming over his pale Irish features. Changing the subject, he said, "I need my car, is it at the bar?"
"Yes, I didn't let you drive it. We took mine, you know, in case I felt like I had to, well... you know, leave." She paused for a moment, "No offense."
"None taken," Jack admitted. "That's smart. Good thinking. But, I have to be at the court by ten, I need to get back, clean up... Hey. We have a couple hours. You want to get breakfast?"
Ashley considered for a second before shaking her head. "No, thank you.”
“Hey I understand,” Jack replied, a bit too quickly. He didn’t expect anything, but the bluntness surprised him a little. Well what did you expect? Jack wondered to himself.
He watched Ashley’s eyes go wide as she realized the impact of a too-flippant response.
“I'm not blowing you off. I'll just take you back. I think you're a nice guy. No, a good guy and there's a big difference. Believe me. Nice guys are everywhere. Good ones...not so much. I'll send you a text and we can get together, some other time. If you want... if that's ok. What's your number?"
Remembering the courtroom brought Jack back to his senses. "If you don't mind, write it down. You know courts can ask for phone records and ..."
"Say no more," Ashley interjected, hand snapped up in a gesture like a traffic cop. She found a pen on the kitchen counter and scribbled ten digits down on the post-it, which she peeled off and plastered to the refrigerator door. "There. Exchanging numbers with space-age technology."
Jack watched as Ashley let the Mexican rug slip from her shoulders and drag on the hallway floor behind her. Her slim but athletic silhouette passed down the hallway and back into the bedroom. "Shall we get cleaned up and get out of here?" she called in a teasing voice from the doorway to the master bath.
Automatically, Jack McClanahan set down his coffee cup. He began walking towards the bedroom and once again murmured, "What the hell are you doing, Jack?"
At least, he mused, I'll remember what I did this time.
Felix felt hands around his waist and he felt air rushing below his dangling paws. He twisted his head and saw Kiri holding him. Put me down! He pulled free his slightly stubby tail and lashed it. Then he saw it"the yawning mouth of the carrier! He bared his teeth and buried his head in Kiri"s arm.
"Yow! Poor little Felix cat," she said.
It was getting closer! Felix"s tail puffed up and his claws came out. He fought furiously and tried to back away, but a push sent him tumbling forward. There was a clang, and the cat carrier door slammed shut. The latch creaked.
"Sorry, Felix," came a voice, and then it drifted away.
When Kiri"s father put him down in the vet"s office, the first thing Felix did was scream.
Through his pressed back ears he heard pets shifting uneasily, and a muffled hiss. Then a big, wet, black nose started snuffling at the metal mesh. Felix hissed and scrambled back, his orange fur standing on end. Suddenly, air whooshed through the bars and the ground fell away from beneath the carrier. He stared, wild eyed, as the carrier swayed back and forth and finally came to a stop. The door swung open, and he shot out, claws slipping. He saw a huge, evil face grinning down, with something long and shiny in its hand.
"Help me!" Felix yowled. "I"m being abducted by needle people!"
The air huffed out of his lungs as he was pinned by a sturdy hand, and he turned and gashed a long, red line in it. Then he lunged for the needle person"s face, and he sank his teeth into a cheek before he felt himself being lifted away. A hand shoved him into the carrier and the door shut. His tail lashed, and he strutted along the walls of the carrier, his lips stretched in a smile. I wonder if there"s blood on my claws. That would be so cool! Then I could prove to that whacko Star and the rest that I alone beat up the needle person! I mean seriously, I am so awesome!
He didn"t notice the needle that snuck through a hole in the carrier, and as he closed his eyes, Felix didn"t notice that his nap was drugged.
Felix leapt smoothly from the carrier and onto the floor. He stalked over to the Christmas tree, which was lying on its side, propped up by chairs, and he made a huge jump that sent him to the top. His voice raised into a hiss.
"Gather, all those who bow to me!"
Luna stared up at him, her stump tail twitching.
"We don"t bow to you! We can fight for dominance, though!" she cried in a high pitched mew.
"Well anyway, guess what I did! I beat up the needle person, all by myself! Ha! Plus, I have real blood on my claws!"
Felix stretched out his claws as far as he could, but they didn"t have blood on them. He quickly withdrew them so no one would notice.
"Anyway, you must bow to me!" His gaze fell on a gray-orange lump. "You! That is my bed! How dare you go behind His Majesty"s back, and claim his royal box!"
He jumped onto the desk and strolled over to the box. Star rolled over, her eyes blinking open.
"But"this is my box, Felix."
He swiped at her face, ears flattening. Star crouched back as far as she could, her ears going so far back on her head they were almost invisible. She lashed out, her claw nicking his eye, and he stumbled back, blinking. Fury washed over him, and he charged, knocking her into a pile of clutter on the desk. She tumbled off. Felix stared after her, his whiskers suddenly drooping. His eye stung.
The love seat was soft as he curled into a ball. His eyes shut, and his breaths evened out.
The first thing visible in the darkened house was the ancient Hamlet, lying in a ball shape next to Felix. He hissed sleepily. Hamlet"s eyes popped open, and her bony frame fled the love seat, her back legs slinging sideways as she landed. Her dark gray fur was almost black in the light as she stumbled off to find her equally ancient friend, Carmel.
Felix opened his other eye. He couldn"t. Panic shot through him, and he struggled to open it, but it felt sticky and glue covered. I have to have someone help me! I bet Kiri can, she has noticed problems before, like when I felt awful and had to sleep all day, and went to the needle person in the middle of the night. He ran as fast as he could to her door, almost hitting a wall as he swerved back and forth.
"Mrow. Mrow. Mrow. Mrow. Mrow. Mrow. Mrow. Mreaaww."
It"s not working! Wait, Star is in there.
"Star! Can you please jump on Kiri"s face!"
He heard a thud.
"Why? I"m ready to come out, but you stole my box earlier. I won"t."
"I"ll give it back!"
Silence drifted to his ears, apart from soft breathing.
"I"ll give you some of my wet food, too!"
Felix perked his ears, and he heard little paws running, with tiny thumps, the bed springing, and a little, "Mroow?" It happened again.
"Cat, please stop jumping on my face."
The string of sounds repeated, and he heard a groan. Suddenly, the door opened, and Felix shot in. Fur brushed his flank as Star slipped around him.
"Mraw mow mow!"
"Come on, can"t I sleep?"
He felt himself being lifted.
"Wait, Felix, your eye! That looks bad. You"re probably going to go to the vet."
Noooooo! Felix clawed at the air. Not the needle person again!
A day later, Keagan was eating ravioli. Luna washed her stump next to him, her toes pointing straight up. Felix turned his gaze back to the kitchen. Kiri finished sprinkling down treats and walked past Hamlet, who gave her a glance and stumbled out of the way before eating another treat, following Stephen. He crunched up the last cat treat.
Hands pressed him down and he saw Ann towering over him. His mouth was forced open, and something small hit his tongue. She stroked his throat, and he felt himself swallow it. He was released.
Eeeeewwww! What was that horrid thing? Blech! Hiss!
"That will help you, Felix", Kiri said, watching from the corner.
No, nuh-uh! I don"t like it!
The next week, Felix opened both his eyes. He crouched down and scrambled deeper into the closet. I won"t eat it this time! The voices calling him stopped. Ha! They"ve given up!
In an hour, Felix was having trouble keeping his eyes open. He yawned and opened one eye. The other was stuck. What"s happening? It hasn"t stuck in a day! He burst out of the closet and ran to the master bedroom door. Something wet was leaking onto his nose again.
"Mrow mrow mrow mrow!"
The door opened, and Felix looked up.
"Uh-oh, his eye is oozing gunk again."
The hands pressed him down. Nooooo! His mouth was pried open, and it fell in. As soon as Ann stopped stroking his throat, Felix trudged into the playroom. He jumped onto the warm DVD player.
He was just beginning to snooze when Keagan thundered past, dragging DaBird the cat toy behind him. Both his eyes snapped open. Hey"my eye is better! But how? Wait, Kiri said it would help me when Ann pinned me down, so did everyone else! She made me swallow the white things, and the white things came from the needle person! Is it true"is the needle person really good?
"The needle person is good!"
Luna poked her head around the corner.
"Hey, the needle person is bad, by the way, Kiri"s room is really nice, can we fight over it? Fight, fight, fight!" she squealed.
Carmel padded up from behind Luna. "We all know the needle person is bad, Felix! What are you thinking?"
Just then, Felix heard Kiri talking.
"So, he"s going to the vet tomorrow?"
The carrier door opened, and Felix trotted out. The needle person grinned down at him.
"He"ll need to take these for another week", it said.
The needle person gave him a pet. He let out a relieved purr, and his short tail lifted.
"What did you do to improve his behavior so drastically?" it asked Stephen.
"I have no idea. Again, my apologies for his earlier actions."
Felix padded back into the carrier. Wow, the needle person really is good. I will be nice to it from here on! One more purr sounded, and the door smoothly shut. Stephen picked up the carrier, and he carried Felix away, towards home.
Ashley Sullivan gripped the wheel and stared into the endless parallel rows of flickering brake lights. The man in her passenger seat sat pensively, preoccupied. It was completely understandable with all that was on his mind. And now the traffic just sat there, the dashboard clock raced by the hour and then a quarter past eight, and only a mile of roadway in between. What could she say that would help?
"You want to hear music?" Ashley asked. She pulled her iPhone out of the black leather Michael Kors mini-bag wedged under the driver's seat.
"If you want," Jack replied, noncommittally.
"I'm afraid I don't have too much you'd like," she offered apologetically.
"No, that's ok. Anything is fine. Emma... I let her pick the music when she rides," he said.
Well that's awkward, Ashley mused. I'm sure you just made him feel really old. She had in fact, just felt really young.
Her fingers flew in a blur along the number pad to unlock the screen. She popped the Waze app icon and handed Jack the phone. "See if you can figure out why we're stopped. And if you want to look for music, be my guest. Bluetooth is on, so it'll play whatever you want."
She watched Jack swipe his way through the virtual highway system, past all of the police and traffic icons until the congestion ended. "Accident ahead about four miles. That's the problem. It says three lanes closed."
"Since we have some time. I was wondering," Jack prompted, then waited.
"A couple things. I have no idea how we got there. To the club, I mean. Do you know?"
Ashley laughed, causing Jack’s eyebrow to rise in suspicion. Jack and his buddies had been absolutely adorable, she remembered. The line for the club was relatively short, even for a Thursday night, but her group of eight friends had been waiting four or five minutes on the sidewalk while the bouncer checked IDs. Then three middle-aged men had approached the line, the man in center significantly more uninhibited than the other two. He was obviously drunk but not sloppy-drunk. He was definitely happy-drunk.
She remembered thinking he was cute, approaching hot (she had been right about that); at least much more so than the other two guys with "dad bods". The man in the middle had a light complexion but a full head of black hair and a scruffy Ryan Reynolds chin, and had clearly worked his way out of the dad bod category.
"You and your friends saw us in line and then you said, 'I'm going with them!' While one of your friends, the tall guy, tried to drag you along, the other one jumped behind us in line. You guys cut off about two dozen people. Then you yelled back to the line, 'We're with them!' The back of the line was not too happy about it. So, I gave you a hug, said 'What took you so long?’, and then settled the mob with 'They're with us.'"
"The bouncers eyed you guys kind of funny, but they were not about to turn away such a large group of ladies, not on a weeknight." Ashley added. She watched the memories replay across Jack's face for some indication of recollection.
A smile, only in the eyes, flickered across Jack's face. "I think I do remember. Much of the club was a blur, though. God, the music was much louder than I remember from back in the day. Then, how on earth, did I leave it with... forgive me, but I remember thinking and blabbering about you being the hottest girl in there."
Ashley blushed a little, then thought back to the previous night, and recalled the exact moment when she found him so charming. "Well, once we entered the club, you three went straight to the bar. Your shorter buddy bought drinks for our whole group and the three of you carried them all to us. As a thank you for getting you in. Then, I’m sorry, we pretty much blew you off."
"What?" Jack asked, in surprise.
"Well, it was like having three dads around. It made all of us a little, uncomfortable. Guys were avoiding us. So we hit the dance floor hoping you wouldn't follow."
"I hope I didn't dance..."
"No!" Ashley laughed. "You guys actually settled in at the bar for maybe thirty minutes. You kept looking for me, though. It was pretty obvious. Not creepy or anything, just a nice smile occasionally."
“So, you kept looking, too, then,” Jack added.
Ashley gave Jack an affectionate smile. “Maybe a little. We exchanged a few smiles. I waved. You tipped your glass. I got thirsty and figured I could flirt another drink or two out of you.”
Jack nodded in admiration. “I bet you don’t buy many drinks.”
“I plead the fifth,” Ashley replied. She took her hand and affectionately grabbed Jack’s calloused fingers. His hand returned her gesture with a squeeze then retracted to his lap. “So I walked over and we started chatting. You told me about your divorce, a bunch, actually. But then we talked work and school, travel, and food. Your friends disappeared like good wingmen.”
“Sounds like a nice time. But still, I have no game, or at least I haven’t played that game in a long time,” Jack said.
“Nope. None at all,” Ashley countered. “I’ve seen every game in the book. You were not playing any of them.”
“That’s good?” he asked.
Ashley nodded. “Different. Not bad.”
“Then how?” Jack asked, a perplexed look on his face.
“You said something kind of charming. You said talking to me was like having a time machine. That you wanted to take a journey back in time to when you were young and stupid… sorry, your words. When you had no idea how to appreciate the company a beautiful woman, again, your words. In any other situation, I might have found that corny as hell.”
“Yea, it sounds like a bad line.” Jack added.
“But it was sincere, unrehearsed, the way you said it. That you wanted to appreciate me. You didn’t enter the night looking for a piece of a55. You were not feeding me a line of crap. You genuinely wanted to go back in time, experience life, with some perspective.”
“And that worked?” Jack asked, a look of disbelief crossed his face.
“Not exactly.” Ashley pondered the question for a few minutes. It hadn’t been the line, or even the sincerity, that had lowered her inhibitions, caused her to throw convention to the wind. What was it, then? What had she thought immediately before grabbing her bag and his hand, whispering in his ear, and heading for the exit?
“I thought about the time machine,” she said. “I could totally see your perspective, but what really got me was wondering if the time machine traveled into the future, as well as the past. I wonded if I could approach my future, learning from your past. How did you get into your situation? What type of man did I really want to settle down with? And how did things go so wrong?”
She watched the range of emotions play across his face as he considered her perspective. “But that wasn’t quite it either. You’re not the only one moving on from a bad relationship. I dumped my boyfriend about a month ago. Last night was the first time in that month my friends had been able to drag me out. Part of me really wanted to do something, I guess, unexpected. Liberating.”
“Oh,” Jack said. “Touche.”
“Yep. When we left the club, you were still pretty hammered. You started fumbling for your keys so I steered you towards my car. You called it a ‘piss-yellow Delorean’.”
“I did? Ha. I guess I watched too many Michael J. Fox movies as a kid. I apologize for insulting your car.”
“Thank you! My car accepts your apology,” Ashley laughed.
“Yea, it’s a piss-yellow Cavalier,” Jack cracked.
Ashley clenched her jaw and slapped the hell out of Jack’s arm. She watched with satisfaction as he cringed defensively and rubbed the spot on his bicep. She refused to let him see her shake out her own hand. It had been like slapping a brick.
Police cars and fire truck loomed ahead of the slowly crawling vehicles. Ashley turned her attention towards the merging traffic. Cars jostled for positions as five highway lanes filtered down to two. As she crammed her compact ahead of more tentative or considerate time pilots, she heard her phone buzz emphatically, repeatedly in Jack’s hands for several seconds.
“Um,” Jack said, a touch of worry in his voice, “You might want to take a look at this.” He passed the phone to Ashley as multiple texts scrolled passed.
Ashley grabbed the phone and held it aloft, along her line of view on the compressing highway. Caps and emojis made the message hard to decipher. Panic was clearly happening on the other line.
“What’s it say! Dammit I need to drive.” Ashley tossed the phone, frisbee style back into Jack’s lap.
Jack read the lines verbatim.
“Who is Sam?” Jack asked.
“Shjt. Shjt. Shjt. He’s my ex.” Ashley replied. She slammed her hands into the steering wheel.
“What does he want?”
“I don’t know. Ask her. MOVE, A55HOLE!”
Jack typed back.
Ellipses blinked for a few seconds. Jack recited the response.
Tony saw u leave the club with some guy. He told Sam. Sarah saw convo on instagram. Pic of the guy. He looks old. What did you do? ;)
Hes waiting at club to kick this guys a55. Sam. Tony. Marcus. Maybe others. Figures youll come back with him.
“Kick my as5? Really? Didn’t you say it was a month?” Jack looked incredulous.
“Shjt. Well maybe more like three weeks. He didn’t take it well.” Ashley rolled past the fire trucks and punched the gas. The car jumped into motion much like the little engine that could. The gears roared as the car jumped past 50 and 60 miles per hour. “Can I take you home? anywhere else?”
“No, We only have like an hour now. I still need to get cleaned up. I need all my crap. My documents from the car. What if you dropped me off a few blocks away?”
“If they recognize you, he’ll kill you. At least if I’m there, maybe I can talk him out of it.”
The phone buzzed again.
U there? Hello?
“Tell her, we’re on our way.”
A couple minutes later, the piss-yellow Cavalier’s tires squealed as it took the highway exit ramp. They pulled into the city center grid and gobbled dotted lines like Pac Man headed towards the cherry prize guarded by the ghosts of Ashley’s past.
SacredBread forfeited this round.
Jack paused the YouTube video on the frame where the fist hit his face. His left eye shut reflexively in surprise as his right absorbed the impact. His assailant’s eyes focused coldly on delivering all two hundred and twenty pounds or so through the blow.
“That sucker-punching sonofab!tch. I could have taken him, too,” Jack muttered mostly to himself as Ashley drove. The pain in his eye had dulled slightly with ice. It had started as an explosion of white-hot pain, flared to a burning branding iron of scraped flesh and blood, subsided into a throbbing pulse, and settled into a pounding concussion headache.
The video sputtered in a grotesque parody of a slow-motion Hollywood fight scene as it buffered in 720p. Jack could see the guy behind him frozen with a knife rammed deep into his tire. As his head turned in surprise, the larger man directly in front of him, Sam the ex, used the diversion to land a left hook squarely against the right side of his face.
“I bet you could have. That’s why he hit you when he did. Sam’s more of the ‘all is fair’ type, not the honor-bound duelist. He likes intimidating the hell out of people but I don’t know if he’s ever taken a punch. How’s that eye?”
Jack turned his right eye towards Ashley, who took a brief glance as she crawled along with the commuter traffic in business district.
“Yikes,” she said. “You look like Rocky.”
“Ay-yo, Adrian. Which? Rocky one, two, three, four, five, or Creed?”
“How should I know? I’ve actually never seen one. I figured you’d get the reference,” she teased.
Jack flipped down the overhead visor and tried to turn his head so that his left eye could see the right. The gash where the skin split had either swelled shut or clotted; with all of the dried blood, he couldn’t tell which. A huge purple bump colored his cheekbone like a ripe plum. He touched the lump gingerly, wondering if the bone might have cracked.
YouTube roared to life again with Ashley’s scream of rage. He glanced down at the phone’s screen and slid the timeline back a few seconds to the point where Sam’s right heel had slammed down on his mouth. Blood poured from his busted lip and onto the pavement next to the slashed tire. With a little relief, Jack wondered how bad the damage would have been had Sam taken a full soccer-style kick at his prone face instead.
With point made and damage done, the three young men shared a few choice words and then walked away. Ashley assured him that she would send the video to the police on his behalf. In the meantime, he supposed his beatdown would gain thousands of views over the next few years.
“I’m so sorry, Jack. I feel like this is all my fault,” Ashley burst into tears of rage. “I should have told you, warned you about him. But even I never thought he’d be this pissed off. We were done, Jack. I broke up with him. He had no right to do this. He’s such an a55hole.”
Jack held his left hand to interrupt the tirade and, with a hint of a smile, said, “Don't. Just. Don’t even.” After a moment’s pause, he continued. “It’s not your fault. I walked directly into that. The way he was insulting you, calling you a whore and all of that.”
“That didn’t mean anything. He used to do that when we were dating,” Ashley protested. “You didn’t have to.”
“I did. It was more than the name calling. You’re a big girl and had a history with that guy. I have no doubt you can handle him being a douchebag. But he was blocking my car. Refusing to let me in, or leave. He was calling me out, not attacking you. Kids are stupid. They don’t get it. It’s not about who is stronger, not really. It’s my honor against his, and mine won out. I mean, I didn’t plan to go down like Glass Joe or anything.”
“Who?” Ashley asked, confused.
“Never mind. Old person reference,” Jack replied. “I planned to get a few shots in for my own defense, maybe even come out on top. Never underestimate an Irishman in a brawl. But I overestimated his code of honor. The guy behind me with a knife; I saw that and figured it was going in my back. Next thing I know, I’m spitting ketchup and taking teeth inventory. I’m glad your friend got this video. Now, the cops will do the rest."
“Me, too. I’m sorry if it goes viral. She can take it down once they are arrested. And after I get a restraining order at the courthouse.”
“Do what you gotta do,” Jack said as he reclined the seat and closed his one good eye.
The yellow Cavalier pulled into the city garage adjacent to the courthouse. Ashley grabbed the parking ticket from the automated dispenser and waited for the mechanical arm to let her pass. Moments later, her heels, the ones that had spun effortlessly across the dance floor the night before, clacked loudly through the cavernous space. Jack admired the way she could move in those heels, in that little black dress, and seem just as comfortable in a dingy parking garage as she did in the nightclub. Her right hand wrapped around his left elbow in unspoken solidarity.
A revolving glass door loomed ahead of them. Through the door, several armed officers oversaw a winding queue of straps and posts that led towards the forbidding archway of a metal detector. Ashley took a step back as they approached the door. A fwop-whoosh sound was his only company has he pushed his way through one quarter of the circular portal. Jack emerged into the lobby and faced the assaulting noise as officers barked instructions, employees reported to work, potential jurors wandered about eyes cast upwards in search of signage, and a few others sulked forlornly towards official legal business. He felt, more than saw, Ashley step through the portal and into the security queue behind him. Neither spoke as they wormed their way, back and forth, through the slow processional of legal process participants.
Jack retrieved his personal effects and briefcase from the security checkpoint. Ashley followed closely behind. He wobbled slightly as she wrapped both arms around his neck and planted a kiss on the unblemished side of his face. “Good luck, she said, a huge smile on her face. “You look like hell, so give it right back.”
“Thanks, a lot. I feel like…”
Jack spun to face the familiar voice and he heard Ashley’s heels click back down on the industrial tile floor. Emma stood, less than thirty feet away, completely surprised. She was dressed in a simple but professional dress, cut modestly enough for a seventeen year old. Even the most conservative father would be proud to attend a banquet or wedding with a daughter in that outfit. It was obviously designed to show the perfect image to the judge for the final courtroom proceedings. She looked like her mother. Jack watched the sense of shock on her face escalate, like tension on a clicking ratchet, as she processed what she saw. First she gasped at the bruised and swollen pulp that used to be the right side of his face. Then she looked equally horrified at the stunning, but inappropriately young, woman that had just released him.
“Daddy? What happened? Who?”
“Emma, honey, it’s a long story,” Jack began.
“Glad you could make it, Jack,” a silky voice cooed. Jack snapped to military-like attention. He looked up to see his soon-to-be-ex-wife, Melissa, stalk towards them with the deadly intent of a jungle cat. She wore a striking pantsuit with a plunging neckline that dipped towards a single button. A tight white blouse covered her chest, leaving little to the imagination. Long, straight legs appeared even longer thanks to the thin vertical pinstripes of metallic gray. It was a look that exuded power and command while drawing lustful eyes of corporate bigwigs to all the right places. “I thought you were too old for a babysitter, Jack? But judging by your appearance, maybe she didn’t do a good job. I hope she didn’t charge you too much per hour.”
Jack felt Ashley’s finger press along his gaping jaw and nudge it shut. He stared directly into the calm, confident eyes of a young b!tch who knew how to play that game, and loved it. “Jack,” she warned sternly, “Don't. Just. Don’t even.”
Jack watched Ashley head for the stairs without a word, without a backwards glance. He stood, alone, facing the two women who held the most power over his life. To Emma, he murmured, “I love you, Em.” It wasn’t enough to overcome the shock on her face, but her eyes softened a bit. Melissa’s face contorted into a smile that could pose for Maleficent’s animators.
“I thought you would put up a fight, Jack. Not fumble at the goal line,” Melissa mocked with a false pout. “See you inside.” Jack watched as the older b!tch took his daughter by the hand and marched purposefully towards their judge’s courtroom. Emma stole a glance behind; equal parts sympathy and shame.
Jack waited until they were swallowed by the endless waves of people washing past him.
Unbidden, his mind echoed the Steve Miller band from his youth.
Time keeps on slipping, slipping, slipping into the future.
Jack McClanahan began to laugh. Twelve hours earlier, his worst nightmares had weighed down his spirit and caused him to dread the coming dawn. A wasted life, a failed marriage, and a lost daughter, loomed ahead of him. A time machine, in the form of a little yellow Cavalier with a beautiful copilot, had transported him back into the distant past, into a time of carefree youth and boundless possibilities. She brought him back into the present with a new perspective that sent his mind racing into the future. How many months or years of agony was he spared, questioning what he did wrong, blaming himself for the failures, longing for what could never be again?
As he walked towards the future he no longer feared, Jack McClanahan began to sing.
I want to fly like an eagle
To the sea
Fly like an eagle
Let my spirit carry me
I want to fly like an eagle
Till I'm free
Fly through the revolution.
About the story:
All characters are fictional but I drew from people I know. No one I borrowed from will read this but thank you, anyway. Thanks, SacredBread, for the topic. I hope Felix got better.
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