He creaked the door open and looked out. Outside people were moving fast up and down the hallway. A woman and her son were talking to each other on a bench and curious Jax started to listen.
“Is daddy going to be ok?” asked the son.
“Yes the man who attacked him stopped attacking daddy after he took his wallet,” said the woman.
“Why did the man attack daddy?”
“Some people take things from people who can’t protect themselves honey. The man wanted dad’s wallet and dad didn’t want to give it to him that’s why the bad attacked him; to force daddy to give him all his money.”
“Stronger people always get whatever they want.” The boy said this last part as if there was nothing anyone could do about it. It was just a universal fact that he had learned.
“No son–” The woman stopped short, noticing that Jax was listening. “Are you listening to our conversation? That is so rude. Go away and leave us alone.”
Jax immediately stopped what he was doing. He needed to find some real clothes. He crossed the hallway and tried the door across the hall. It was unlocked and opened easily. Inside were two beds. One was empty and the other had a man roughly his height. He has a cast on one arm and bandages on his head. His eyes are closed. Jax smiled and looked around until he found the row of short cabinets against the far wall. Quietly he walks over, bends down and opens a cabinet, it’s empty. His smile starts to fade as he gently closes the cabinet and opens the second one. Inside is a stack of colorful clothes and a small empty backpack. He took the clothes out of the cabinet and spread them out on the floor. There were two pairs of green cargo pants, three long sleeve button down shirts of varying degrees of purple, a thick long sleeve orange and brown flannel shirt, and several pairs of socks. He quickly took off his clothes and folded them in a small pile and put them in the cabinet. Then he put on one pair of green pants, the darkest purple shirt and the flannel. He reached for one of the pairs of socks and picked them up they were really scratchy. He put the remaining pair of pants and shirts in the empty backpack and zipped it up. Then after a thought he unzipped the bag, and put two pairs of socks in the bag just in case. He zipped the bag back up and then he closed the cabinet. He opened the third cabinet it was empty except for a pair of indigo sandals. He took them out and put them on his feet. They were a little big but they fit alright. He felt good. He closed the third cabinet and turned around. The man in the bed was staring at him. Jax put the backpack on slowly.
“Hello,” He said to the man.
“Hello,” the man said. “Why are you taking my clothes?”
“I don’t have any,” said Jax, “and yours are great. I love all the colors. Plus we are about the same size.”
“Well that makes sense,” said the man. “They were my costume in the play I was in. I was a clown that went crazy and started murdering people. I can’t be in the play now since I broke my arm on set and I have some regular clothes in the next cabinet so I guess you can have those.”
“Thanks,” said Jax, he wondered what a clown was and why one would be murdering people. “I hope your arm feels better.” He turned towards the door and walked out. He walked down to the ground floor, past the person and the front desk and out the front door. Nobody stopped him.
Outside there was a man sitting on the ground. The man was very dirty. He looked like he slept outdoors a lot. He was waving at the people walking by and gesturing at a hat that was on the ground. Jax walked up to him.
“Do you need help picking up your hat?” Jax asked. The man blinked. Jax sat down on the ground next to the man. “Today has been really strange. I don’t remember anything that happened in my life before today. I don’t have any place to stay. Do you know where I can stay?”
The man found his voice. “I have a place where some of my friends stay. It’s under a bridge two blocks from here. I’ll take you there and you can stay there with us until you figure everything out, but it’ll cost you. Do you have any money?”
“I don’t think so.”
“Let me see your backpack.” Jax took off the backpack and handed it to the man. The man greedily opened the bag. His face fell as he realized the bag just had some clothes in it. “The shirts and pants are too fancy for me to wear and still make money begging. But I’ll need socks eventually, I’ll take those. Smiling Jax handed over the one thing he had that he didn’t want. “People call me Chipper because they say I’m always happy. What’s your name?”
“I’m Jax, I don’t know why I’m called that but I am.”
Chipper gave him a strange look. “Follow me,” he said, and he got up and started to walk away. Jax got up and started to follow him. They walked about two blocks until they got to a bridge. Jax picked out a spot to call his own under the bridge and Chipper excused himself to continue begging. Since Jax now had a place to call home he decided he would go exploring.
So he walked farther down the street. He stopped when he saw a beautiful woman rushing down the street in the opposite direction he was walking in. She had blonde hair and eyes with a flash of green in her eyes. For a second he couldn’t move. “She looks like she knows what she is doing,” though Jax. He decided to follow her. She walked briskly but it wasn’t hard to follow. She kept walking till she reached some steps going down on the corner of a street. Jax was becoming very curious as to where she was going so he followed her into down the stairs into a tunnel. There was garbage in the corners on the floor and he could almost taste the salt smelling air. The woman reached a turnstile and swiped her card and then walked through. Jax didn’t have a card, and he didn’t know where to get one so he took a minute to make sure no one was looking and then he jumped over the turnstile. Ahead he saw a train rumble into the tunnel. The woman got on the train and Jax quickly followed her. He sat down in a seat near the door and watched her move down the car and sit somewhere close to the middle. As the train started to move Jax’s thoughts started to drift. Nobody really wanted to answer all of his questions and he had so many of them. Even Chipper got bored with his questions and left him. There were so many people in the world around him but he still felt kind of alone. He wished he had someone he could talk to consistently. Someone he could ask questions that might have dumb answers. Then he thought about the woman he was following. He hadn’t talked to her yet but she was so pretty, and if someone as dirty as Chipper could be so helpful, she must be very nice. He tried to imagine what he would say to her when he finally got the opportunity. People always seemed confused when he tried talking to them. What could he say to her that would make he want to keep talking to him?
The train stopped, the doors opened and two men walked into the car. They both wore black suits with different color ties and they seemed important. Each of their jackets they had name tags; one said “Steve” and the other said “Kevin.” They were sitting across from him on the subway car and they were talking about girls. Jax knew that people disliked it when he eavesdropped on them so he tried very hard to pretend like he wasn’t listening.
“We’re just friends. There is no way she would go out with me,” said Steve.
“Dude, how do you know?” asked Kevin. “Did you ask her? Girls don’t go out with you if you don’t ask them.”
Steve looked down at the floor and shifted his feet. “I just know. Every time I ask a girl out she gives me a bad excuse for why she’s not available and then starts avoiding me.” He smiled slightly and looked up. “Did I tell you about the girl I asked to prom?”
“Steve, you are twenty-four. Prom was like six years ago. You have to move on. Plus I’ve seen Becky. I know she likes you. Just ask if she wants to get coffee or something, what’s the worst that could happen?”
Steve looked back at the floor. “I really like her. What if she says no? Won’t that make in really awkward for everyone?”
The other man mouth widened and a hiss of air came out before he got his face under control. “Not asking her is making things awkward for the rest of us. Just be a man and get it over with. If she rejects you we’ll go get really drunk and you’ll forget she even exists. But she won’t reject you because she likes you, I’m sure of it.” Steve smiled slightly and their conversation drifted. Jax thought about what they said. How did Kevin know that Becky liked Steve? He wondered if there were certain signs he should look out for when he talked to the blond lady.
The train stopped and Kevin and Steve left the train. Jax checked and confirmed that the woman he was following was still on the train. Then the train started and Jax’s mind wandered. He became busy crafting the perfect sentence and then he started thinking about things that he would say to the woman when she did decide to get coffee with him. Then he started thinking about where they would go next when their coffee date went well. The train stopped again and this time the woman got off. He smiled, stood up and walked confidently after her.
After three and a half blocks she crossed the street and walked into a building. On the door of the building were the words: “Jefferson Telemarketing.” Underneath the words was a piece of paper, taped to the door and fluttering slightly in the wind. On the paper typed in bold was “Help, Inquire Within.” So Jax opened the door and walked in. Inside there were rows of cubicles and in the back was an office with clear glass walls. Jax looked around and noticed that the woman he followed was in a cubicle on the far left closest to the wall. She was staring at a computer screen and talking on the phone. Jax walked around the cubicles and past her desk. As he past her desk he noticed a journal on her desk with the name “Lily” written on the corner of its cover. “What a great name,” he thought. “It was so light on the tongue, almost like a lemon candy.” He kept walking till he got to the back room. He stared through the glass door at the man at the desk and waved. The man at the desk was looking at his computer as well. He didn’t move. Jax knocked on the door hard and the man looked up, his face questioning and gestured for Jax to come in. Jax walked in to the office.
“The paper outside says you need help. Can I help? Are you the right person to ask?”
“Yes,” said the man at the desk. “My name is Brad Finkle. We are looking for a new Telemarketer.”
Jax looked around; he didn’t see anyone else in the room. “We?” he asked.
“What? Yes, company is looking to hire a new employee. All you have to do is call the people on the list and read from the script and take down their information if they decide they want to buy any of the products. We pay minimum wage. You can start right now if you want. Just find an empty cubicle.”
Jax didn’t understand the purpose of his job but they were going to give him money, and he didn’t know what else he would do all day. Also he wanted to talk to the woman that lead him to Jefferson Telemarketing and since she seemed busy at the moment he needed to stick around so he could talk to her later. So Jax walked around the office. He walked past Lily’s desk but she was still on the phone and didn’t notice him. He kept walking until he found a cubicle that didn’t seem to belong to anyone. He went in and put his backpack under the desk. Then he looked over the wall at the man sitting in the cubicle next to him.
“I work here now,” said Jax. “Can I have this cube?”
“Yeah no one’s using that one, it’s all yours.”
Jax turned away and sat down at the desk. The computer was off. There was a phone on the desk, but there was nothing else. “I don’t know what I’m supposed to do.”
The man groaned and hung up the phone. He stood up. “I don’t understand why the boss always hires people who don’t know anything off the street,” he said. “Turn on your computer. There are some icons on the desktop. You click on the one that says call information. It’s basically a list of people, their phone numbers and the product you are supposed to sell them. There are a few text boxes. If they don’t buy anything just put an X in the box next to their name, and if they do buy something write out their information in the boxes.” Ben paused and stared at Jax. “Got it? Do you even know how to use a computer?”
Jax didn’t remember ever seeing a computer before but for some reason he knew that he could use one so he nodded. “Yes I do. Thanks,”
“Sorry I snapped at you. I’m Ben.” He extended a hand to shake. “What’s your name?
Jax also extended his hand till it was above Ben’s. “I’m Jax.” Then he sat down at his desk. He started calling people and telling them about things they could buy. Sometimes they bought something and he would write their information down. Most of the people he called just yelled something vulgar and hung up the phone. He liked these people best. After about an hour of calling people, Jax heard Ben say, “Do you want a Snickers? I’ve got extra.
“Sure,” Ben threw it over the cubicle wall and Jax caught it and looked it over. “Thanks”
Jax wondered why there would be a problem, but before he could ask Ben was back on the phone. He wasn’t very hungry so he put the Snickers in his pocket to save it for later. Jax started another phone call. This person was very mad that he was interrupted right in the middle of a movie he was watching. He described the whole movie to Jax over the phone. Jax enjoyed every bit of it. When he finished the call and hung up the phone. Again he looked over at the
Jax got up from his desk and walked around again. This time Lily was not on the phone. “Perfect,” he thought. He got up and walked over to her cubicle. “Hello.” He said. He wondered why his voice was shaking. He swallowed.
She looked up and smiled. “Hello.”
“My name is Jax. I just started working here today.”
“I’m Lily. It’s nice to meet you.”
Jax nodded. He wondered what he should say next. She was staring at him waiting for him to respond. “Can you just ask someone you just met out?” he thought to himself. He didn’t see why not. He had forgotten how he was going to ask, he had so perfectly constructed his question but he didn’t remember what it was. “Do you like coffee?” He said out loud. He grimaced, that wasn’t it.
Her eyes sparkled. “A little, it depends on the day.” She laughed a little to herself.
Jax blinked. He wondered how the day affected her taste buds. He rephrased his question. “Do you like coffee on days that have characteristics like today?”
She laughed again. “Are you trying to ask if I would like to get coffee with you?”
Jax smiled weakly, “I was trying to.”
“I am doing something today after work but maybe another time.”
Jax’s smile faded a little, “Alright, another time then.” He walked back to his desk. When he got to his cubicle he peered back at Lily. She was back on the phone and she was still smiling. He took the snickers out of his pocket, opened the wrapper and started to eat it. He wondered if she was actually busy or if it was just an excuse. Jax wished there was a way to know for certain how a person would respond to a question. He thought back to their brief conversation. She was smiling 75% of the time they were talking. That seemed like a good sign. What about the quarter of the time she wasn’t smiling though? And what about the times she laughed? What did they mean? Did she think what he said was funny? Or did she want to encourage him to say more things to her? What did she want him to say?
“You want to go get lunch?” asked Ben.
Jax jumped. “Yes,” he said. “Let’s go.” The snickers bar had melted in his pocket and was getting all over his hands and he wanted to get out of the office before Lily saw. He got back up and followed Ben out of the office and onto the street. Jax stopped and Ben walked a few more steps before he looked back questioningly. But Jax wasn’t paying attention he had seen something across the street. It was Kevin. Jax was suddenly angry. All of his frustrations were now directed at him. “Ben I have to go, I’ll see you later.” He started to cross the street. Ben just shrugged and walked off down the street.
“Hey Kevin, Jax yelled.”
Kevin turned around. “Do I know you?”
“I was on the same train as you this morning. Your advice didn’t work.”
“I asked her out for coffee and she said she was busy.” Jax hands were shaking. He stepped close to Kevin. Jax could smell his breath. “You said that would work.” Jax pushed him into the wall of a building smearing bits of snickers on his shirt. “What are the signs?” Jax was getting louder now. “What are the signs?” Jax stopped. There were small red hives appearing on Kevin’s face. He was breathing fast now.
Kevin sat on the ground. “Peanuts” he said.
Jax didn’t like how soft Kevin’s voice was. “I thought you could help me.” He stared at Kevin who was now patting his legs and searching his pockets.
A clear plastic cylinder with an orange tip and a colorful plastic cover fell out of his pocket and rolled slowly on the sidewalk away from him. “Please help me,” he whispered. The EpiPen rolled off the curb and into a grate on the street. Kevin’s eyes were fluttering. He was no longer talking. Jax looked around the street. The few people out were not paying him any attention. He checked Kevin again to see if he was able to answer any more of his questions but he wasn’t moving. He let out an exasperated sigh. Things didn’t seem to be working out for him today.
He turned around and walked back to the office. Maybe he could talk to Lily again. When he got back to the office Lily was back on the phone. Jax picked up the phone. He was halfway through dialing one of the numbers on his list when he heard sirens and Ben ran into the office. “Some guy collapsed outside. I think he is dead.”
“What happened?” Someone asked.
“I don’t know, nobody saw.”
Everyone rushed outside just in time to see two EMTs carry a stretcher with a body into the ambulance. The body was completely covered from head to toe in a sheet. Jax shook his head and walked back to his cubicle and started calling people on the list again. “Hello, are you happy with your current dish soap? Twilight dish soap will give you the cleanest dishes you can –” click. Jax crossed out the number and moved on to the next one. He couldn’t believe that people could be so inconsiderate.
As the day work day neared its end people started to leave and soon the only people left were Jax, Lily, the person two cubicles down from lily and the boss Mr. Finkle. When Jax noticed that Lily looked like she was packing up he got up. He thought he might as well try one more time. He walked over, “Hey Lily?”
She looked up and smiled at him. “Yes?”
Smiling was a good sign he thought to himself. “I know you said you were busy tonight but are you free any other time?”
For a second she didn’t answer and Jax was suddenly sure that she was going to say no. He thought about when Kevin had said, “What’s the worst that can happen?” He wondered what would happen if she decided he was being too annoying. Maybe she would just stop talking to him. He suddenly regretted asking her anything today.
“Sure,” she said. “Let’s meet tomorrow before work at that coffee shop on the corner of the street.”
Jax was elated. Clearly he knew what he was doing. “Sounds good,” he said. “See you there.” Lily waved and left the building.
Jax started walking back to his cubicle. He was feeling good. He looked up. The other coworker was standing in his way. “You need to back off man,” he said.
“What,” asked Jax?
“Lily’s not into you man. Just leave her alone.”
“Of course she is into me,” Jax thought. “What does this guy know about anything?” He noticed that he had picked up the stapler from the desk closest to him.
“I am going home now,” said Jax. He tried to walk past the man but his way was still blocked. Jax was getting mad. “Get out of my way.”
“Not unless you say that you will stop bothering Lily. We don’t need that kind of harassment in this office.”
“Stronger people always get what they want,” said Jax and he hit the man hard with the stapler putting a staple right above his eyebrow. The man astonished stumbled backwards, tripped on his own shoe and fell over hitting the back of his head hard on the corner of a desk. He went still and blood started pooling around his head. Mr. Finkle was standing up in the doorway of his office staring. He had heard raised voices and the noise of the man hitting the desk. Jax didn’t think he should stay at the office. He ran out the door despite Mr. Finkle yelling for him to stop. He didn’t want to get stopped. If he was stopped how would he meet lovely Lily at the coffee shop? When would he be able to spend time talking to her about whatever was on his mind? He ran into the train station and jumped over the turnstile pushing people out of the way and running onto the train. He would just go to the bridge. He was sure everyone would be calmed down in the morning. It wasn’t his fault that man had fallen over. He had to hit him. There was no other choice, he was in his way. He was sure everyone would understand. He was sure Lily would understand.
The train stopped and two men in blue uniforms got on the train. They had badges on their shirts that said Police. Jax was suddenly scared again. They must be looking for him. He got up and ran off the train. The policeman yelled and the two of them follow him of the train. He ran out of the station the policemen close behind. “Stop,” they yelled. But he didn’t pay any attention. He only saw what was directly in front of him. He saw the bridge that Chipper had brought him to in the morning and ran towards it. He stepped into the middle of the street and then–
Jax didn’t see the bus and the bus driver didn’t have time to avoid him. In less than a second Jax was no longer alive. The police couldn’t find a record of him, and no one found out why he killed the man in the office or how he killed Kevin on the street.
In the morning Lily waited for half an hour at the coffee shop. She was disappointed. She thought Jax really liked her. He seemed a little strange but he was funny and she thought he was genuine. She hated being stood up. Why couldn’t she find a man who was right for her? “I’m probably just destined to a life alone,” She finished her coffee and walked towards her office towards another uneventful day.