Patricia M. Robertson
What was that buzzing sound, competing with the pulsating in his head? Had he overslept again? Jacob reached for his phone to turn the alarm off. No, that wasn’t the source of the annoying sound. Maybe it was just the throbbing that echoed through his skull.
“Jacob, there’s someone at the door.” A female voice called from the bathroom. Who was that? He didn’t recognize the voice.
“Huh?” Jacob shook his head, trying to shake away the tangles that hid the memory of what he did last night. Did he want to remember? Wasn’t that what alcohol was for? Blessed forgetfulness.
“Jacob, get the door. I can’t. I’m in the shower.”
Jacob pulled himself out of bed, pulled on his boxers and wrapped a blanket about his bare frame for warmth. He stumbled through the clutter that was his apartment, tripping over a pile of clothes on the floor. Remnants of too many dinners consisting of In and Out Burgers, pizza and other take-out orders sat on the kitchen counter next to empty beer bottles. Dishes filled the sink. It was way too much work to fill the dishwasher. Besides, to fill it, he had to empty it. Better to eat take-out from disposable containers with a plastic fork.
The buzzing stopped as he reached the door. Good. Maybe they had gone. Still, he was out of bed. He might as well open the door and see if the unwelcome visitor was still there. The buzzing started again.
“Okay, okay. I’m here. Stop ringing that damn buzzer,” he grumbled as he opened the door. Jacob covered one of his ears with the hand that wasn’t holding up his blanket. It didn’t keep out the incessant pulsating. He looked up to see the source of the noise.
“Jacob?” A slender reed of a girl stood before him, her black hair framing her face and falling over her large brown eyes like an elven face from one of the games he played when he had down-time. But this was a flesh-and-blood face, no caricature or pixel-animated skin. He wanted to reach out and brush the lock of hair out of her eyes, but even in his hungover state, he knew that was not a good idea.
“Josie?” Was he imagining this? How much had he drunk last night? This couldn’t be Josie, the waif from his childhood.
“Jacob.” The frown and harshness of the tone assured him it was Josie, little Josie, from Cascade Falls. Only she wasn’t so little anymore. The same disapproval rang through her voice that had sounded years ago. How many years had it been? Six? Seven? Didn’t matter how long it had been, he’d know that censuring voice anywhere. Back then it hadn’t bothered him. Why did it bother him today? How could one woman pack so much disdain in a single word, a single look.
“Josie, what brings you here?”
“Fulfilling a promise to your sister. Seems she worries about you for some reason. Maybe because you never call, never email.”
Ouch, yes, that definitely was the Josie he remembered, except back then he had found her words funny, endearing. He would just laugh them off and smile at her, confident that his charm would work its magic, and if not … Hey, it didn’t matter. She was just his sister’s friend.
Jacob wrapped the blanket tighter around his muscular frame as Josie gazed past him to the chaotic apartment, settling on the pizza boxes, beer bottles, and wrappers. He didn’t need to follow her gaze. He knew precisely what she was seeing. There was no hiding it.
A woman wrapped in a towel came into the living space. Oh, yeah, the woman from the shower. What was her name?
“Jacob, who’s here?” the woman asked.
“Ah, ah, a friend from my home town. My sister’s friend, Josie.” The words stammered their way out as he searched his memory for the woman’s name.
“Clearly, I came at a bad time.” Josie stepped out of the doorway. “Call your sister. Let her know you’re still alive.”
“Wait,” Jacob called after her. “It’s not how it looks.”
Josie paused long enough to respond. “And how is that?”
Jacob stammered. The words that usually flowed so readily off his lips abandoned him. “Okay. It is how it looks. But wait. Can we meet for coffee? Lunch? Catch up? How do I reach you? Why didn’t you call me before you came over?”
Josie stopped her slow walk to the elevator. “Call your sister,” she said as she entered the elevator, pushed the button for ground floor, then disappeared from sight.
“This was a mistake,” Jacob muttered as he watched her leave.
“That was a mistake,” Josie muttered as she rode the elevator to the first floor. And to think she had traveled all this way on city buses on one of her rare days off for that … She struggled to come up with a word to sufficiently capture her scorn for him.
Why hadn’t she called before arriving unannounced like she had? The question lingered in her mind. Certainly, that would have been the polite thing to do. Who dropped in unannounced? What had she expected? Exactly what she got. So why should it bother her? She hadn’t wanted to give him a chance to clean up his act. She wanted to be able to give his sister an accurate report of what he was doing. Apparently nothing different from what he had done all four years of college.
Josie stood at the bus stop, then carefully climbed the steps to get on the bus, her braces showing as she picked up her skirt to maneuver better. She hadn’t wanted Jacob, or anyone, to see them. She hid them under long sun dresses and slacks, all the while regretting her inability to wear those strappy sandals everyone else wore. Her braces didn’t define who she was, and she wasn’t going to let anyone else define her by her braces. She found herself a seat close to the back where she could slip off inconspicuously without everyone in the bus seeing her struggle to leave, then relaxed as the unfamiliar city streets slid by.
No, she hadn’t come for him. She wouldn’t lift her left pinky for him. She did it for her best friend, Grace, who for some reason, loved her brother despite how he treated her over the years.
“He’s my brother. You’d understand if you had a brother,” Grace had told her many times.
Grace was right. She didn’t have a brother, but if she did, she was sure he would have been different from Jacob. Her brother would be kind and considerate, not always teasing and pulling pranks nobody liked.
“You don’t know what big brothers are like,” Grace had informed her. “And he does stand up for me at times, in his own way. When I need it most.”
Josie didn’t know when those times were. Grace was right. She would never understand, but if she admitted it, there were times when Jacob had been kind, almost the brother she had dreamed of. The rest of the time he had been … Jacob. There was no term that described the magnitude of all that was Jacob except for his name. Grace would understand if she were here. But she wasn’t. Grace was thousands of miles away. A lifetime away, back in the hometown, the state she had abandoned for a newer, brighter and, if nothing else, a warmer, future. She pulled out her cell phone and called, forgetting the time difference.
“Grace, it’s me. Saw your brother today. Jacob is … Jacob. Call me.” She clicked off her phone then continued to watch the streets ride by, looking for landmarks that she could remember. Landmarks that would help her conquer this city and establish herself in her new existence.