Friday, July 31, 2015

Flash Fiction Friday: "The Glow" (Part 2)

Jack (As played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt)
Previously: Part 1


7:29... 7:30.

BEEP! BEEP! BEEP!

Jack Foster jumped awake to the symphonic blare of the alarm clock. A pillow smacked him full in the face.
"Shut it off, Jerkface!" His roommate growled.
Jack found the toggle switch on the top of the clock and flipped it to the "OFF" position. The noise ceased. Jack turned on the light, grabbed his courier's uniform, and began sliding into it.
"Have fun playing mailman!" The roomie groaned, grinning at him from the other bed.
"Yeah? At least one of us has a job," Jack retorted.
"Mmph!" His friend grunted as he rolled over. "I told you, I don't want to settle till I've exhausted all my options."
"Code for 'I want to mooch off my roommate till he starts making enough to afford his own apartment', I assume."
"Your words, not mine."
Jack rolled his eyes. "At this rate, I bet you would get a Glow before you find your perfect job, Ray!"
The curly blond head came up. "Dude... About that..."
Jack's blue eyes opened wide and his mouth dropped open. "You did? Wait, last night? Man, I thought... You said the date was a bust!" He picked up the stray pillow from his bed and tossed it at the twinkling hazel eyes.
Ray caught the pillow and hugged it to himself with a sheepish grin. "Well, the date... Meh, she was okay; I mean, I thought she was cool, but..." He cleared his throat, "At the restaurant, you know, we're talking, she's not Glowing, I'm not Glowing... The waiter brings us the check and it's like—POW!" He illustrated the effect of a Glow by bringing his hand straight up behind the pillow, spreading his fingers wide in front of his face. Ray lowered his hand as a slow blush crept over his face.
Jack shook his head. "Man, all this time... I had no idea—"
"You had no idea!" Ray snorted, "Just imagine how I felt! Things got awkward with the date after that; I mean, no way she missed the Glow between us. We kind of said goodbye after that, and I stuck around to... you know, chat with the waiter."
"What's his name?" Jack asked.
Ray smiled. "Ben; he's a really cool guy, you'd like him."
Jack bobbed his head. "Maybe we could invite him over for pizza tonight."
Ray nodded. "Yeah, cool, man. Well, you'd better get to work."
"And you'd better find a job, Glow-stick!" Jack closed the door to the sound of Ray’s chuckle.

Walking down the six long city blocks to the tall skyscraper where he worked gave him plenty of time to think.
So... Ray found a soul mate who made his heart Glow. Good for him. Jack only felt sorry for the poor girl he'd gone out with the previous night. He hoped she would find her Glow, whoever she was.

Jack smirked as the building came into view. Ray continually gave him flack for keeping such a thankless job, but Jack wasn't an inter-office courier because it was any kind of life goal or anything. He breezed through the rotating glass door and waved at the doorman, shifting the strap of his bag to hide the dancing firefly behind his shirt.

Jack's problem wasn't that he didn't Glow; it was that the Glow flickered on and off on a pretty consistent basis.
He stopped by the mailroom on the fourth floor. The large bin of incoming mail sat on the counter where the deliveryman had dropped it off. Jack sifted through each envelope, slipping the pile into the respective slot in the accordion file tucked into his messenger bag. This done, he trotted over to the stairwell.

It happened most often on the stairs. On again, off again; sometimes people would catch it; he could see them glancing at their own collars to see if they too had the same flicker. Once, he had been washing his hands in the bathroom and his Glow came just as Greg from Accounting walked through the door! But there was no answering glow in the accountant's chest. So where did it come from?
Jack noticed it now; whenever he saw the flash, he would stop and look around—but by then, the Glow was gone, as if whoever it had been had missed the chance to see it. Jack sighed, trading the envelopes in the “Legal” section of his bag for the ones in the “OUTGOING” box beside the door. From there it was up to Human Resources with a few square-ish packages that wouldn’t quite fit in the mail slot. Jack sighed and pushed open the door.
Lily worked at the reception desk. She smiled at Jack; he smiled back.
His chest flickered like a spastic flashlight; hers didn’t show the slightest glimmer.
Jack ignored the gleam and checked the name on the package label.
“Hey, Lily; I’ve got a package for Rita here—“
“Oh, I just saw her go into the copy room,” Lily supplied, gesturing to the appropriate hallway.
Jack nodded, tucking the package back into his bag. “Thanks.”

He passed Tiffany in the hallway. The redhead was usually grinning and humming some catchy tune, but just now, she had a serious expression on her face. Tiffany? Serious? Jack caught her eye, and she smiled. That was more like it! He poked his head into the copy room, and somebody jumped.

"Oh," Jack muttered, as the green-eyed brunette stared at him. This wasn't Rita, this was Jessica; she looked distracted, almost dazed. He'd probably startled her. "Hey, Jess," he said casually, "someone told me Rita would be here."
Jess pointed to the tray where the copier continuously spit out papers. "That's probably her stuff."

Jack nodded; there was something... off about Jess' appearance. What was it? "I'll just head toward her cubicle then," he said, for lack of anything else to say, "see if I can catch her—" He almost left the doorway when it hit him: the reason Jess looked odd was because her usually-calm demeanor had been shaken. She was typically almost as upbeat as Tiffany, clearheaded and focused... But just now, it looked like she'd been crying.
And by the look on her face, he'd probably been standing there staring for too long.
"Are you okay?" The question left his lips before he could think of something more appropriate to say.

Horror flickered in her eyes, and her cheeks flushed bright pink above the dimples. "Do I have something on my face?"

Her question reminded him of the old joke his dad used to play. Jack kept a deadpan expression and quipped, as he pointed to her frown, "Yeah, it's just—"
He got no further. Jessica gasped, covered her mouth with her hand, and ran out of the room.
Jack could have kicked himself. What had gone wrong?

He was still standing there when Rita walked in. "Oh good, it's done." She loaded the stack of copies into a short plastic bin, and noticed him. "Oh, hey Jack."
"Hi." What was—"Oh yeah, Rita," Jack dove into his bag and fished out the package. "This came for you."
She nodded toward the bin in her hands, and he set the box on top. "Thanks; I've been waiting for that to arrive." She departed down the hall, but stopped after only a few paces. "By the way," she said with a huge grin, "nice Glow."

Jack's gaze shot to his chest. Glow? He was Glowing! Not the mad flickering of a faulty circuit, but a constant beam of light emanated from beneath his collar! Who--it couldn't have been Rita. She had already shared a Glow; his name was Alan. The humming printer distracted him. "INCOMING FROM ROSS J." the screen read. Ross... This must have been the file Jess had been waiting for when he sent her running. Sheepishly, Jack decided that the least he could do after embarrassing her was help her out a little. He took the stack of papers out of the printer. Flipping over the first page was common practice with forms that contained sensitive material that should be kept limited—the sort of material people like Jess dealt with. Jack did this, and then, remembering his botched attempt at a joke, hastily grabbed a paper from the scrap bin and scribbled out an apology note. He wrote her name on the front and left it there. By the time he emerged from the copy room, the Glow had faded. He would just have to wait for the next time his soul mate crossed his path. For now, his Glow had returned to its customary sporadic flicker.
Who was she?

The question bothered Jack all day long, through all his rounds, and even into dinner with Ray and Ben. The two of them were like the twin headlights of a car. Ray was right; Ben was a good guy, smart, thoughtful, and a great sense of humor to boot. But Jack couldn't stop thinking about the mysterious someone who had made his heart Glow steadily for the first time in his life. He sighed as he lay in bed, drifting off to sleep on the lulling cadence of Ray's snores...

Unless

In an instant, Jack was wide-awake all over again. His Glow, flicker though it was, had been brighter than ever up on the Human Resources floor... Which was also where he had experienced a full-blown Glow... Which Rita had noticed (but she was not the cause)... But just before Rita had come, he'd been in the room with...

Jack rubbed his face and lay back down. He forced his eyes closed and cleared his mind. He would think about everything else in the morning.
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