A man in a trench coat, hat and sunglasses has just walked up to you and handed you a briefcase. You have never seen him before but he knows who you are. What is in the briefcase? Who is the man? Write about it.Claire's story has a twist to it that I never would have considered doing myself with this prompt. Her story is 4,996 words long and amazingly written from a male point of view, not a female. Enjoy!
Do Not Open
IT MAY HAVE taken me thirty years to fully understand what it means to be a loser, but now I finally know. I know there are people who have it worse than me. Right now, at this very second, someone is dying of cancer. Another just got hit by a bus … you know how them bus drivers drive. Another may have decided it was finally time to end this bag of crap we call life and jump of a bridge. I know I shouldn’t be moaning just because I had the worst birthday in my life. But if you hear what happened, you might cut me a little slack instead of saying I need to grow up.
So here it goes.
It still hurts to talk about it, so I might skip some details. Forgive me. I’m on my fourth … or fifth, perhaps sixth glass of whisky. I might have forgotten a few of the important details. But what I do know was it began here. As in Chicago. On Wells Street to be precise. At this very Irish pub. A hole in the wall type bar. There’s lots of those kinds of drinking establishments in the city. But I know why I choose this one.
Reliving heartache is why I came back here tonight, against better judgment. My inner voice was screaming at me never to step foot in this pub again. But if there was one thing I learned from girlfriends of the past was you can’t hide from the places you used to go on dates and stuff. Sure, Chicago is a big city. This makes it easier to hide from the places that bring back happy memories of the people no longer in your life. But even a city as big as Chicago has its limit. No, I’m not talking about the edge of Cook County. I’m talking about being a coward. That is to say, if I ran away from every place I ever took a girl I dated in the last thirty years … I might as well move to a new city. Because the places that are “safe” for my heart to visit are few and far between.
This is the first time after a relationship ended that I came back. The night is still too young to decide if that was a good move or the worst mistake ever. I guess I just needed to lick my wounds, you know? Because let me tell you, May dug deep last night.
Now there was a girl.
Don’t let the sweet name fool you, though. She was not as nice as most Chicago girls are. Once she got what she wanted out of me, which I discovered a little too late wasn’t my heart, she walked out on me. On my birthday. On my thirtieth birthday.
As my hazelnut eyes focused at the space of bar counter across from me where it happened, I unfocusedly began to visualize us just 24 hours ago...
She was standing just over there. That awkward spot at the corner of the bar. Her back was leaning against the golden rod of the bar. My hands were pressed on the wood of the bar, leaning into her. My torso leaned closer to her. My mouth was trying to steal a kiss from her. She’d been acting cold all night. And, hell, it was my birthday. My thirtieth birthday. And instead of acting like a happy girlfriend trying to give me a stellar party. She was acting like it was our first date instead of having gone out for a year.
I wasn’t ashamed I had a few to drink. Beer. But I long lost count how much I had. It was Friday night. I had a crappy day at work. I felt justified to drinking. And, it was my birthday. Birthdays were created just to have an excuse to drink.
“What’s the matter?” I asked her finally when she wouldn’t even give me a peck on the cheek. It annoyed me because I had even bothered to shave yesterday in lieu of my five o’clock shadow.
Three year old alternative rock music drummed in the background. People having more interesting conversations talked around us. Me and May were like nails on the wood floor. There, but not really noticed.
“Us. We’re the matter, Justin.”
“We are? I like us. What’s the matter with us?”
“We’re boring. Predictable. And, well, I’m going to be honest. You weren’t what I was expecting. You charmed me our first date. And for a while you had me under your spell.”
“I did. I woke up. I saw you act to everyone else how you act around me.”
“I’m friendly, if that’s what you mean. I can’t help it. I’m in sales.”
“Exactly? Exactly what?”
If I ever hear a woman who said what they actually meant, I’d have to play the lottery that day for how rare it is.
“Exactly. You’re friendly. You act around me how you do everyone else. You never shut off. You know the phrase, don’t sell it once it’s sold?”
“Well I was already sold. And you kept selling me. I don’t want to feel like you’re so fake all the time around me. I’m ending it. Goodbye, Justin. Happy birthday.”
She said and leaned over and kisses my cheek.
I’d have been trying to get her to kiss me all night. And when she finally did kiss, it stung instead of sizzled. It felt like her lips tasered me. The shock of it left me cold, numb and wounded. Who breaks up with someone on their birthday? It was pretty shitty.
And I still can feel the sting of her lips against mine 24 hours later.
Even worse is my glass is empty.
I stumble off the black cushion bar stool and fall to the floor after my knees buckle as a pathetic attempt to walk to the bar for a refill, too bad those aren’t free here like they used to be at the movie theaters. A guy who was sitting at a table next to me actually has the nerve to laugh. I want to give him the middle finger. But my hands are too tired to corporate. Just as I was about to crawl to the bar on my hands and knees to refill my pathetic need for more liquor, does my phone ring. Grumbling at my bad luck, I awkwardly manage to sit my ass back on the stool.
My blurry eyes struggle to stay open to focus on the caller ID on my crappy cell phone that’s four years old. I could qualify to get one of those fancy new Smart Phones everyone loves to show off. But I’m too lazy to change. By the time my eyes finally focus to properly read the name of my brother, the call was already missed. I shrug and place the phone on the table. You know, just in case May calls. I don’t know why she’d call. But she might. Stranger things in the world have happened. Part of my heart that hasn’t been broken still has hope that she’ll realize she made a mistake. That I’m not such a toss-away after all. That I’m more than a piece of garbage that she can step on. What do they call people like that? Oh yeah. Potential. That’s what I am. An average guy chuck full of potential. Yep. Sometime tonight, mark my words; May will call begging for forgiveness. And of course I will. Because I’m not yet bitter enough to tell her to fuck off. But then again, the night is still young. My heart has plenty of time to fully break.
The lingering memory of our breakup my eyes had moments ago relived, made me recall the nicest breakup three break-up’s ago. It was with Katie Sykes. Katie was the most amazing thing that ever happened to me. I still don’t know what went wrong with us. We were best friends growing up. We went out Junior year of High School. We were one of those rare long-distance relationships that worked when she went to college in California. She adopted well in So-Cal. I don’t know why she moved back to Chicago, but she did. But while she was there, we worked out. At least, for a while. She left me for John Pike! The funny thing is, she only went out with John for a few months. I forget how long exactly. It’s not like I counted the days they were together or anything creepy like that. And ever since John, she hasn’t had a relationship that lasted more than five months. I like to think it’s ‘cuz no guy can compare to me.
We still are best friends, me and Katie. I don’t know where I’d be without her.
And even though we both still are friends. Even though we both still see other people.
I’m still madly in love with her.
But how do I tell her? Every time I break up with a girl, I think back to Katie. Do I finally tell her how I feel? What if that fucks everything up? We have a good thing, me and Katie. She calls every night while making dinner. Partly to bitch about her day at work as she hates her job as a manager, and partly because she makes sure I take care of myself and eat. I have this weird thing where I can go days without eating.
It worries her.
She’s more than a friend, but we haven’t had sex since we dated, so we’re not really friends with benefits. Just friends with history. A fucking long history. And I miss her. Although I just saw her yesterday, I miss her. And I owe her a phone call. I’m dreading calling her, though, because now I have to tell her she was right about May. She begged me not to go out with May. She said she had a bad vibe about her. That it won’t last. I just replied back when does it ever last? She stared at me long and hard when I said that, like she was trying to tell me something with her eyes. But I don’t speak Staring, so I missed what she was trying to say. And then her fancy Smart Phone rang and I lost my chance if there was any chance to take. And now I’m alone at a bar. The day after my birthday. Re-living the worst breakup ever with my annoyingly vivid imagination. And my glass is depressingly empty.
No, I’ll wait to tell Katie she was right.
Trench Coat Man
A MAN WALKS PAST THE MAN who dared laugh at me as I fell on my ass. This man was strange. And coming from a drunkard like me, calling someone else strange took a lot of nerve. But this guy was text-book strange. He had on a long beige trench coat. A wide brimmed hat that covered most of his face made him looked like he stepped out of the 1940’s or something. He had a suspicious glance in his dark eyes and he looked like he just peeled from the shadows. The moment I met his glance, I can tell I’d been observed this whole night. I don’t know how I can tell, just one of those creepy intuition things.
The hat concealed most of his facial features, and the dim light of the bar didn’t help. I couldn’t figure out if I knew this guy or not, but he was looking at me like he knew me. It wasn’t fair. Strangers shouldn’t know each other.
“Justin Rixton?” The man asks, though his voice was certain that I was Justin Rixton.
“Who wants to know?”
“Someone with your best interest in mind.” He replies smoothly.
His voice drawled and stood out in the crowded bar. It demanded attention, so, I gave it to him. I did, however, raise an eyebrow. It was impossible not to. I was tempted to poke him with my finger to make sure he was real. With how much I had to drink tonight, reality was a gamble.
“Does that someone come with a name?”
“The only name I’m interested is yours, and a couple people you may know.”
With that, he did something I wasn’t expecting. He placed a silver lined black metal suitcase on the table. The case had a grooved textured on the black part and the silver edges were shiny and clean of fingerprint smudges. My confusion wasn’t lifted.
“What the fuck is this?” I asked, I hoped my words weren’t mumbled too badly. I’m one of those drinkers who mumbles.
He seems to understand me, “this is your future.”
“Fuck my future.” I grumble, clearly I’ve had a few.
“I know your upset, Mr. Rixton. But there’s more to life than love. This can protect your life, there are others who will not be so kind.”
“And how much will your kindness cost?” Being raised in Chicago, I learned nothing is free, especially generosity.
“For now, nothing. If you don’t help me, I won’t be so generous.”
“So far you’ve not answered any of my questions. Still don’t know who you are, still don’t know what the fuck this is.”
“Well, open it then, if you want.”
I stare at the case. One thing I forgot to mention, that may have been rather important, was it had big bold red letters DO NOT OPEN smacked on the front. I stare back at him, but he was gone. I look around to see if anyone has seen this guy, or if I really was just imagining all of this. His voice still echoes in my mind and I have to say, it felt too real to be made up. I’ve imagined pretty fucked up things in my life, but I don’t think I could be this creative. Not without being high, that is. So I for now accept that it was real. But what am I supposed to do with this case?
I’m being told two very conflicting orders. Trench Coat Man told me to open it. The case told me not to open it. I feel like I’ll regret doing what the man tells me. What if I leave this bar and leave the case here? Then I’m no longer obligated, right? But if I leave this bar now, I know I’ll never come back ‘cuz of May. And that was the whole reason I came here tonight anyway, was to defeat the breakup. If I leave now, May wins. I can’t let her win on top of breaking my heart.
But Trench Coat Man leaves my memory momentarily as my ears hear my digital ring of my cell phone. My hand grabs for it as if afraid my phone would vanish if I don’t and I desperately look at the caller ID in case it was May. It wasn’t May. It was my brother again. He never calls back twice, ever and he never ever leaves a voice message. So I begin to worry something might be wrong with him. He was talking about divorcing his wife last time we spoke, so I think it’s either about that or maybe something is wrong with Mom and Dad. So reluctantly, I accept the call. I don’t want to talk too long though. You know, in case May calls. Can’t miss that call. Not to worry, she’ll call.
“Tony? What’s wrong?”
“Nothing! I forgot to tell you happy birthday!”
“Uh, that was yesterday.” And it wasn’t that happy, I think to myself.
“Yeah, I know, I missed it!”
“What are you talking about? You called remember? We talked half an hour!”
“Ooohhh yeah! Guess I forgot. Had a few champagne.”
“Champagne? You celebrating?”
“Hell yeah! Heather and I are getting our vows renewed! Isn’t that great? Will you be my best man again?”
“What? What about the divorce?”
“Nah, she said she was sorry and I said, what the fuck, marry me again. And we are! Both are taking a month off.”
“Can you afford a month off?”
“Yeah! Why the fuck not. Life is short and all that. Hey, how’s May?”
“We broke up.” I say in a quiet voice, not wanting to rain on his parade.
“Oh, tough shit man, I’m sorry.”
“Yeah. Hey Tony?”
“Yeah, what’s up?”
“If someone gives you a suitcase telling you it’s in your best interest to open it but the suitcase tells you not to open it, what do you do?”
“What? Is this a bar trivia riddle or something?”
“What? No, no this happened. At least, think it happened. At least, I still have the case. So do I open it, or not?”
I stare at the case some more. My head is buzzing now even more that Tony called. I’m selfishly upset that he is getting his vows renewed. After May broke up with me, I was hoping Tony would get that divorce after all so we can be two single brothers again. One time we even lucked out with twins. But now it looks like I’m alone in my grief. What happened to misery loved company? I guess it’s not the case if you’re forgiving, like how Tony forgave Heather. I’m surprised he did after what she did to him. In my opinion, it was worse than cheating. But she doesn’t even deserve to be thought about. So I quickly forget about my sister-in-law.
“Uhhh, I don’t know. I don’t want a suitcase.” Tony finally unhelpfully replies.
“Well, I don’t want it either!” I cry, wishing I never met Trench Coat Man.
“So don’t take it.” He says with a shrug in his voice, “anyway, I’ve got to get going. Just wanted to wish my little bro a happy birthday, again I guess! Anyway, don’t let May get you down. She wasn’t that hot anyway.”
“Thanks Tony.” I say with what I hope sounded like a hopeful voice.
“Talk to you later bro!” He says in a cheery voice that told me he has had a lot to drink.
Tony was the hyper drunk, I was the depressed drunk.
I stare at my empty glass, tempted for the bar again. But now I’m almost afraid of leaving the suitcase unguarded. What if someone else takes it? Will that get me in trouble? Maybe I should throw it away … I really am at a loss of what to do here. And it’s causing a nasty tension headache. Or maybe that’s the whiskey taking effect.
BEFORE I HAVE TOO MUCH TIME TO PONDER AND WONDER, I once again find my hand reaching for my phone. I’m usually not this popular to earn three calls in a single night. The math seems too great to add up. But I don’t even think as I answer the call from Katie. I’ll always answer for her.
“I heard about May.”
“You did? From who?”
“From you, you just confirmed. I knew she’d leave you.”
“Yeah, she did last night.”
“Ouch. I’m sorry I had to leave early and miss that.”
The way Katie said it, I couldn’t tell why exactly she was sorry. Sorry that she missed it to boast if she was right, or sorry she missed it because she couldn’t be there to cheer me up. I was sorry she had to leave early too. It was never a party without Katie Sykes.
“So was I.”
“Well, I’m not sorry she’s gone. You deserve better, Justin.”
“I had better.” I admit, thinking of Katie while saying it.
Even with all I had to drink tonight, I still couldn’t tell Katie how I felt. And instead of making my way to the bar like I’d been trying to for an hour now to get another drink, I find my feet leaving the establishment. The mysterious suitcase was still in my hand feeling both heavy and light at the same time. The cool fall night air hits my face as my ears hear cab cars honking and people talking on the streets. It’s nearly sunset, but not quite twilight. I’ve been at the bar for a while, or it felt like a while, so I’m surprised to still find sunlight, even if it’s rather dim. The breeze from the lake that envelopes the whole city is refreshing; and it sobers me for a second or so.
To be honest, I don’t know why I left the bar. My ass was comfortable sitting on the black cushioned stool, but my feet had an inkling to go somewhere. Anywhere. But the way my shoes were leading me I could tell I had a destination in mind. Even if I hadn’t thought of it yet. Just the same, my right foot marched in front of my left and my right hand swung the DO NOT OPEN case as I walked in a drunken stride.
Katie wisely changes topics and starts talking about my sister-in-law when I tell her the news with Tony. She agrees with me that Heather doesn’t deserve forgiveness. I’m not sure if Katie really thinks this or is just agreeing with me. But talking about Heather and Tony gets my mind off of May. I don’t even mind the minutes that stride by, minutes that tie up my phone in case May calls back. I almost don’t want her to call back now. The hell with May! The sex wasn’t that good anyway, I tell myself.
It wasn’t long before I realize where my feet were leading me. They were leading me towards W. LaSalle street in Lincoln Park where Katie lived. I couldn’t believe I was going to see her. What I was I going to say to her in person that I wasn’t already blabbing about over the phone? Maybe I just needed a friendly face after the worst night last night.
Not long afterward, I found myself knocking on my door. I had to switch hands that was holding the briefcase to accommodate the knock.
“It really is a suitcase!” she exclaims with mild surprise as I had told her about Trench Coat Man over the phone. I had also told her over the phone I was on my way over, so she wasn’t surprised to see me although I was a bit surprised to see her as I hadn’t planned on coming here tonight.
“It really is.” I agreed and set it on her entry way console table. Although I placed it down harder than I meant to so it was more like a slam.
“Aren’t you going to open it?” she asked. Was it just me or did she shout that?
“Well, it says DO NOT OPEN right there on the front, so I’m not so sure.”
“Well, you said Trench Coat Man told you to open it, right?”
“Yeah there’s my confusion.”
“So the way I see it. You can either open it. Not open it. Or get rid of it. What are you going to do?”
I was curious as to why she was so eager to hear the result of my dilemma. I don’t think I made it sound that interesting over the phone. Maybe I’m better at selling than I thought, because I’ve clearly sold the case of the mysterious suitcase to Katie.
DO NOT OPEN
I DECIDED TO SIT DOWN ON THE COUCH with her as she poured me some water, taking the suitcase with me. I asked her for whiskey I know she keeps in her cupboard just for me but instead she gave me a cool, tall glass of water. I agreed with her that was probably the better. She sits me down on her fawn colored sofa and I sink in with gratitude. It’s so much more comfortable for my ass than that bar stool I was getting used to.
She cups my hand that wasn’t holding the suitcase in her soft and warm hand. I can feel the pressure of her skin against mine. Her strong bones from the daily gym workout are a comfort in my own. I know Katie is stronger than me and can’t say I’m proud of that. But I’ve never been a hit the gym kind of guy. Unless walking to the bar counts.
“Why are you afraid of opening it, Justin?” she asks in a strangely calm voice.
“Because, that’d be breaking the rules. Besides, what if it’s something dangerous? Like a bomb? Or a million dollars of the Mafia’s money! Or anthrax!” I cry as each scenario is more extreme than the last.
She laughs at my last example, “Anthrax?”
“I don’t know.” I admit staring at the black case with a worry gleam in my dark eyes.
She tilts my chin up so I’m staring at her instead of the suitcase. “You’re a salesman. Why would a terrorist give you a suitcase full of anthrax.”
“Element of surprise?”
“Justin. I love how creative you are, but let’s be realistic. Better yet, why don’t you just open it? Please? For me? Break the rules, just this once.”
“But what if it’s a bomb?”
“Justin. Just open it.” She wasn’t asking this time.
I bite my lip and think of all the times in my life Katie was right. She was right to watch out for May. She was right that I should have gone to college with her in So-Cal. She was right that I should have applied for an open sales position in her office last year. And so because of her winning track record of being right more times than I was, I sigh and bite my lip and at first I shake my head, reluctant even still to open it.
“It won’t bite you.” she teases, apparently my crippling anxiety over the case is amusing to her.
“If it does, I’m suing you.” I tease and she laughs at that.
Her laugh washes away my worry like soap cleansing germs. I gently hold the handle-less water glass and press the clear surface to my lips. Quickly I guzzle down a third of the glass and set it back down. I sigh to breathe after downing the water and close my eyes. Finally with my eyes closed, Katie gripping my hand, do I open the case.
I open my eyes at the same time I hear the case open and blink to see what’s inside. I raise an eyebrow as it’s a picture. It’s not a compromising picture like a scenario popped in my imagination as I worried Mr. Trench Coat Man was blackmailing me. This was a happy picture.
It was of me and Katie back in high school when we dated. We were on a swing set. I had her wrapped around my arms. She was wearing my hat and gave me a big kiss on the cheek. My eyes were closed in the picture because I was laughing so much. I forgot that was the last time I was truly happy.
“What is this?” I asked, confused.
“This is us.” She says with a delish smile.
“Us?” I asked. I’d almost forgotten there was an us.
“Us, back then. This is me asking us to be Us again.” She said and kissed me on the cheek, just like she did on the picture. “I knew May wouldn’t last with you. So I hired a Private Investigator to sort of stalk you the last week until it happened. When he called me, telling me it happened, I gave him instructions to dress up how he did tonight, and mysteriously give you this very case I made myself. I told him to tell you it’d be in your best interest to open it. That it’d be your future. I meant for it to be romantic.” She said bashfully. “I forgot how much of a spaze you can be.” She said with a laugh and looked at me expectantly.
“Say something!” she begged me as I’d not said a word for a while. I was staring now back at the photo.
“All night I’d been worried if May would call me, wanting me back.”
“Now I can care less about May Sanders. It’s you, Katie. It’s you I want. I’ve always wanted you. But I didn’t want to mess up our friendship.”
“Well, then there’s one way we can settle that dilemma. Because I’ve thought about that problem too.” She said and flipped the photo of Us over in my hand.
I gasped as there on the back of the photo was a golden ring tapped to the photo. I peel the tape off the photo and stare at the ring.
“Marry me, Justin Rixton.” She said hopefully. “Marry me, and then we can be best friends and lovers forever. I haven’t had a relationship as good as when I was with you, so I want you to be my last relationship. I know you’re a bit drunk right now, so you can take some time to thi--”
“Yes.” I say without needing to think twice.
I hold the ring up in the air and get down on one knee. I take her hands in mine and I can feel her usually strong hands shaking as she stared down at me. “Yes I will marry you Katie Sykes.”
She squeals like a kitten on crack and pulls me into a kiss. This kiss felt more right than any I’ve had in my life. It is passionate and explosive and it felt like it could create a whole new world with just one kiss.
“Call me Katie Rixton.” She says with a happy blush and pulls me up into another explosive kiss.
And forevermore, her name was Katie Rixton.
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