The first stop was Lizzie’s house. She lived on the west side of town, across the river and a couple of blocks from the hospital. Her neighborhood had become gradually seedier over the past several years, but in recent times the weed dealers living around the corner, across the street, and in the other half of the duplex had actually managed to spice up Lizzie’s historically dull get-togethers.
As Jack approached her brick duplex, it seemed anachronistic in every sense of the word—too classically designed and well-lived-in to be modern, too maintained to seem older than the surrounding circa 1983 split levels still wrapped in crumbling, defective Masonite siding.
He gave her front door three solid knocks and quickly jammed his hands back into the pockets of his dirty jeans. In a perfect world, he would have put on a clean pair, but they were the only pair he owned that smelled like anything besides spilled booze and cigarette smoke; instead, they smelled faintly of old, damp leather. He half-jokingly thought that they went well with his road-salt-encrusted Nikes and his homemade gray Ampere t-shirt covered over by an olive green flannel covered over by a sky blue hoodie covered over by a black peacoat from Old Navy. Not only was he well insulated from the brisk mid-winter winds, but he fancied that he looked “hungover” but “like he meant business”.
Moments passed without any signs of life from inside. Jack’s firm but polite knocks turned into demanding pounds. They were answered by the sound of bottles and cans tumbling onto hardwood floor.
“JESUS CHRIST. I’M COMING,” a voice shouted from inside.
The door swung open to reveal an unkempt and extremely unhappy looking Lizzie. She was clad from head to toe in pink-on-gray American Eagle sweats. The bags under her eyes looked like they could have held a week’s worth of groceries, and her dirty blonde hair was pulled into a greasy ponytail that burst, without irony, from the very top of her head.
“Hi there, sweetness!” Jack greeted with a smirk.
“No. Absolutely not,” Lizzie scowled. “Go the fuck home.”
“Come on, I just came to see if you wanted some help cleaning up!” he lied, smiling harder.
“You’re going to actually help?”
“Fine. The second you stop cleaning I’m throwing your ass out,” Lizzie threatened as she opened the door the entire way and let Jack in. He immediately took off his peacoat, grabbed a broom, and began to tidy up. He soon took it upon himself to try and break through the uncomfortable din of crinkling PBR cans.
“So…hell of a party last night, eh?”
“I said you can help clean, I didn’t say you could talk.”
Jack accepted those conditions for another few moments before trying again. “You seem kinda mad about something.”
Lizzie dropped the Heineken bottle in her hands, shattering it on the floor. “Did you really just say that?”
“What do you mean?”
“You’re kidding. You’re fucking kidding me. Right?”
“I kinda…don’t really…”
“Yeah, not so much.”
“Jack was blacked out, shocker of the century.”
“Did I even do anything or is this going to be just like when we were dating and kept having that argument about my drinking?”
“You’re really going to bring that up again? It was a mutual breakup, we both decided we were just going to try the friend thing again, why do you keep acting like I ruined your life?”
“Hey, I’m not the one who’s making it weird.”
“I’m making it weird? I’m making it weird? What do you call ordering two gay escorts for my new boyfriend last night? That’s not weird?”
Jack straightened up for a second. “Wait, what?”
“Yeah. You used my land line to hire two drag queens to ‘party’ with Eric.”
He leaned playfully on his broom handle. “If we’re being honest, I would call that pretty resourceful.”
“I mean, I don’t know where to get a regular prostitute in this city, where would I find two drag queens?”
Lizzie lobbed a half-full can of beer at him. “This isn’t a fucking joke, Jack! It’s been more than six months since we’ve broken up, and every time I try to get back in the saddle and date other guys, you do something to try to ruin it for me. You need to move the fuck on and stop bothering me like this.” She began to hastily cram bottles into a black garbage bag, the glass clanging in time with her anger. “I thought maybe, just maybe, you came back this morning to at least apologize for calling two gay hookers to my house and leaving before they arrived and started drinking and trashed the place, but obviously that’s giving you too much credit—”
“So you saw me leave?”
“How could I miss it? You slapped me on the ass and said you had a ‘gay old time’ before taking off.”
“Who did I leave with?”
She stopped her frustrated cleaning. “Is that what you came here for? To ask me what happened to you last night?”
“It might be…”
“‘It might be?’” Lizzie mocked. She took two wide steps around the party garbage to stand face to face with Jack. “I’ll tell you. But after I tell you, you will leave and I will not see you again. Understand?”
“Let’s just say it’s a long enough time that it might as well be forever.”
“Alright. You left with Jeremy and one of his buddies.”
“Jeremy, other side of the duplex Jeremy?”
“Yeah, that Jeremy. Also, my TV remote is missing, and I’m betting you’re behind it. If you are, have Cliff drop it by sometime.”
“Now,” Lizzie began, thrusting Jack’s coat towards him at arm’s length. “If you’ll excuse me, I have some cleaning to do.”