** This short story is something I put together based on a scenario of spending a day with someone from a book, so of course I had to choose one of my favorite characters. I did have a few ideas of how the day progressed, but I decided to keep it short. It’s also a little out of the original timelime, but it was supposed to be a quick project so I kept it familiar. I hope you all recognise the character.
“Is everything okay?” I called softly into the darkness.
Jack was sitting at the kitchen table, his arms folded in front of him, his head cradled in the fold of his arms. I watched him for a few seconds waiting for a response, but he didn’t respond. He just sat quietly, his back rising and falling with each breath.
I clicked the light switch, hoping the sudden brightness wouldn’t startle him. “Jack?” I said.
Jack lifted his head slightly and peered over his arms. His eyes were swollen and bloodshot. I couldn’t tell if he was simply exhausted or if he had spent the night crying.
I clenched my teeth as I silently scolded myself for entering the room. Should have just gone back to bed. But it was too late, it would be much more awkward to walk out now. Slowly I walked over to the table, each footstep sending a tremble down my spine. The only thing worse than an awkward silence was the sound of the footsteps that lead up to it’s inevitable break.
“Are you nervous about the reunion later?” I asked, pulling out the chair next to him.
“Something like that.” He mumbled.
He seemed anxious, not something I would have expected but I suppose I could understand. From what I knew of his life story, he hadn’t met any of the other boys since they’d returned from the island. It had initially surprised me how they had all disbanded, but it was often suggested that most of the boys just wanted to put it behind them and forget the whole experience. One of the reasons a reunion hadn’t happened earlier and had been so difficult to arrange even now.
“I’m sure they’ll be excited to see you. You’re the whole reason they survived the ordeal. You must be a hero to some of them.”
Jack groaned softly then tucked his head back into the crook of his arm. Instinctively I raised my hand to run it along his head, gently easing my fingers through his soft auburn curls.
“Maybe you’re just a little jet-lagged.” I said, hoping to reassure him. “I’ll put some coffee.”
I had attended quite a few of Jacks talks in the past, but I’d never seen him so vulnerable before, even when he had spoken of the hardships they faced on the island. On stage he normally came across as quite a dynamic person who was able to motivate hundreds of people. When I finally had the opportunity to speak with him in a private setting, which was only quite recently, I realised he was much quieter, even shy in person.
I’d recently finished a 2 year internship on a local magazine and had graduated on to a full placement. As we were about to run a series on local heroes immediately I chose Jack as my piece and secured backstage passes at a mini tour he was doing. Although he had been living in the states since his late teens, he was still considered a local and even quite a mystery as his tours were always stateside.
The first interview didn’t go as well as I had hoped, with Jack only giving short, somewhat rehearsed answers, but over the following sessions he warmed slightly. I didn’t get anything more from his story than what was already widely known, so the meetings were more for my own pleasure and I soon ditched the notepad and sound recorder. The personal approach seemed to have lifted his guard and over the two weeks I spent with him I gained more of an insight into his character than I had ever learnt about him from any article I had ever read on him.
I glanced over my shoulder quickly feeling like a thief on the verge of being caught.
I hadn’t tricked him intentionally!
I really did enjoy the time spent with him, he was somewhat of a legend in my eyes. But I really wanted to write something inspiring, and what would be better than something truly personal. Without the stage and the camera and the story we’ve all heard a thousand times over. Just a simple story about who Jack was.
I grabbed a packet of biscuits and poured them into a plate. Jack was sitting up in his chair now smoothing his hair down.
“Do you need any help?” He asked. His voice still carrying a slightly unstable tone to it.
“I’m done” I said, settling his coffee down next to the plate of biscuits. I grabbed my own cup and went back to sit down next to him.
“I can’t believe I let you talk me into this.” He said shaking his head.
‘Neither can I!’ I wouldn’t have thought myself the greatest manipulator, but I was definitely a quick learner. And over the weeks I’d spent with him I had been learning from one of the best. Jack was definitely someone capable of manipulating people. I’d seen the effect he had on people, even myself.
There was something about him that placed a sense of awe over you, it was in that instant when his cool blue eyes locked with your own. In that instant when you were lost between a depth of anger and sadness, not knowing which would dominate the other. And it was in that instant where you would rather submit than take the chance of being the outlet of his anger.
But it wasn’t just his eyes, it was the way he used his words mostly. Although a person of little words, they were always deliberate. And often a completely valid sentence could be mixed with some slight misinformation and still seem completely valid because of the way he would lay it out. Jack was a true leader in the making, although perhaps of the dictatorial type.
“Would you like to go over the days itinerary?” I asked, perhaps he would calm down a little if he felt more organised.
I didn’t push it.
Jack took from his pocket a worn notebook and, as he drank his coffee and ate the odd biscuit, he wrote short, sporadic notes between periods of silent contemplation. He’d produced this notebook on a number of occasions since we’d met, and each time he wrote in it he’d worn the same pensive expression.
Not wanting to interrupt, what may have been the workings of a genius mind, I read through the itinerary myself and wrote random, not so eloquent notes, hoping my work looked as important as his may have been.
“What do you .. write in there?” I asked, when he eventually put his notebook back into his pocket.
He looked up at me, his eyes fixed for a moment upon my own. The hairs along my neck and spine stood on end from the intensity of his gaze. A look that was much to serious for a pre breakfast chat.
But he didn’t speak, except a single word.
“Notes.” He said and dropped his gaze to his mug, which he now slid slowly across the table from palm to palm.
“So you’re sure everybody will attend?” He said after a short time.
“Yes.” I confirmed, although I had answered this question many times.
Not all of the men who’s been on the island were attending, there were a few who I hadn’t even managed to locate. But he wasn’t asking about all of them. He was only interested in four particular people. The same four he’d questioned me about time and time again.
It would have been easy to imagine that he was simply asking about four childhood friends, or at very least four allies from his time on the island, as he had often suggested in his talks, if it wasn’t for the wild panic that flickered through his eyes whenever I mentioned their names.
Even at that moment as he asked for confirmation, it was obvious he wasn’t asking out of fear that they had cancelled, perhaps more with hope that they had.
“Well,” I began “Except for Eric.”
“Yes, you said there was a problem.” He said, his eyes cast down at his mug.
I had tried to tell him about the situation with Eric, but the previous night he seemed distracted and wanted to have some time alone.
“He had an … accident … Well, I don’t really know what you would call it, but he , er, died.”
Jacks eyes shot up and glared at me.
“What do you mean? You said you had spoken to him.”
“It happened 2 nights ago, drug related.”
“Drugs?” He asked, confusion etched across his face.
“Sam said he had had a history of problems with drugs. He was trying to get clean, but something must have happened. He went missing a few nights ago and when he was found, well I guess it was a drug overdose.”
“Really? Went missing? By himself? I never thought he was capable of a acting independently.”
He looked back down at his mug, before letting out a cold snigger “Hmf, Samneric.”
“Er …” I started, not sure if I should continue or question him on what he found so humorous.
He looked back up at me, his wry smile vanishing as quickly as it had appeared. “How was Sam?” He said.
“I guess he’s doing as well as can be expected. But he still plans to come, he said it was quite important he attended.”
“Hmm. I’m sure it is.” He said, tightening his hands around his mug.
“Is there something I should know?” I asked.
He shrugged and leaned back in his chair, with a sudden air of nonchalance.
“Jack?” I said, hoping the frustration wasn’t apparent in my voice.
“Emma,” his voice was flat as he spoke. “You wanted a story didn’t you? I mean, that’s why you set this whole thing up isn’t it?”
I hesitated. “Yes.”
“Good.” He said. “And I’ll give you full rights to my story. Only it may be a little different to what you were expecting.”
The hairs along my neck stood on end as I tried to match the Jack I had come to know with the Jack of the last 5 minutes.
Something was different.
He looked back up, his eyes locking with mine. The wild struggle between anger and sadness was gone, replaced by an unusual calmness and maybe even hope.
“I spoke with Roger last night. I found his number in the itinerary. I had hoped to meet up with him, but he has some kind of digital device which won’t allow him to leave his home after a certain time.”
“Yes. His parole officer was making an allowance for today though. He’ll be allowed to stay until we’re done tonight.”
“Yes, he said.” He laughed again. “I always knew he’d end up a little off the rails.”
“A little?” I almost laughed too. Roger had spent most of his time in some form of police custody since they returned from the island. And had a record which boasted a range of eclectic and sometimes violent crimes.
“The two of you were close?” I asked.
“I guess. We understood each other anyway. But … I can’t do this anymore.” He paused. “I don’t think I can do through with this gathering tonight.”
Jack pressed his hand against my mouth as I opened it to protest.
“Not until I’ve told you the truth.” He said.
“Ok.” I said. It wasn’t hard to tell that I was about to hear something which would alter Jacks hero status. That would explain why he’d been so nervous, especially when I revealed that Ralph would infact be able to make it. Ralph had been in the navy for the last 5 years and was currently deployed to the Mediterranean, originally he had declined the invitation but as time drew nearer he’d arranged a leave and confirmed he would attend.
The night I had told Jack I hadn’t expected him to react so erratically, almost cancelling the whole reunion. He later explained that the two of them hadn’t really got on and he wasn’t really looking forward to seeing him.
“Well. Lets get started.” He said, relaxing back in his chair. The first sign of a genuine smile spreading on his face.
He raised his eyebrows slightly and looked over towards my bag. He knew that’s where I kept my recorder, as he’d specifically told me not to take it out of my bag on one of our earlier meetings.
I took the recorder out and started it up, then placed it on the table.
“Ok.” I said.
He breathed a light sigh and then started.
“I don’t remember much before the sound of the trumpet. Well, at the time I thought it was a trumpet. It was the conch …”