Contains mature language.
This is Part Four of the story. Part Three can be found here.
Jack shook his head, thinking of how stupid he was that day. Hardly the picture of Prince Charming, to say the very fucking least.
He stood and walked back to the table, pouring himself another glass of water. The carafe had been filled at some point, apparently, and it was still ice-cold. He frowned. He hadn't noticed anyone filling it up, or switching it out. But, then again, he had been a bit lost in his own world, hadn't he?
He drank the water slowly, finishing about half of the goblet before he sat down on the beautiful oak chair once more. There was an ache, deep in his chest, that struck up once he thought of that first meeting at the club, and that second at the restaurant. Before any promises were made. Before any connection was established. Before any more hope was crushed.
As it has been written many times before, so shall it be written many times again; human beings are strange, fickle things. What other life form changes so drastically through the course of paltry decades?
But this is their strength, not a weakness. Humans are constantly evolving, constantly undergoing a metamorphosis into another person, adopting and strengthening certain roles throughout their lives, and, sometimes, very rarely, coming to embody them completely.
To embody anything, however, is a stunting process, even for the strength it gives you. A human who has become a Role Incarnate can never live a life untouched by that change, no matter how many decades of metamorphosis he endures.
Jack's eyes snapped open, and he looked around in confusion. Why in the fuck am I in the living room? he asked himself, before struggling to a sitting position. He looked around the room again to see Zeke passed out on the floor, lightly snoring, the bong next to him. Jack coughed and reached for the bong and lighter, taking a long hit before setting it down again.
He blew out a cloud of smoke and glanced around a third time, finding his cigarettes on the ground next to the couch. He lit one and again wondered why the hell he hadn't gone to bed.
He remembered, and a smile cracked open on his face.
She had come. He had known perfectly well that she wasn't going to, that there was no point in hoping that she would, and he had thought that he'd done a fairly decent job of not hoping, but then came the knock at the door, three hours after they had left the restaurant, and when he opened it, there she was.
“Offer still on the table?” she asked, and Jack told her that of course it was. After a few hours, Zeke passed out, and Jack and Cassie kept smoking, putting on no more movies but instead just talking to one another, until she finally pulled out her cell phone.
“Oh my God, it's 3am,” she said. “I'm tired as hell. And entirely too fucked up to drive.”
“Sleep here,” Jack had suggested. “You can crash on my bed.”
She had raised her eyebrow. “Really? Does that line always work for you?”
He shook his head and chuckled. “No line. Here.” He walked to his room, came out with one of his pillows, and threw it on the couch. “I'm couch crashing tonight. I need to keep an eye on his dumb ass, anyways.” He tilted his head towards Zeke. “So, bed's open. Just try not to do anything too weird in it.”
She had finally agreed to stay, and went to bed a few minutes later. But was she still there?
Jack took another hit from the bong before picking up his cigarette again and headed for his room. He quietly opened the door and looked in—he kept a blanket draped over his window, so the room was always dark, but he could see the lump of a human being on the bed, so he started to close the door again.
“So that's how you are, huh?” she said, her voice groggy. “Wake a girl up and then just leave without saying good morning?”
He rubbed the back of his head sheepishly. “Sorry. I was just wondering if you were still here, is all.”
“Oh, am I not welcome anymore?”
“No, you are, but I didn't know if you woke up before me and took off.”
She sat up, a dark shape in a barely-lit room. “I'm not the kind of girl to just warm up somebody's bed and then leave before they wake up.” She paused for a second. “Um. I sleep in my shirt and panties, so if you wouldn't mind...leaving, then I'll get dressed and be out in a minute.”
“Oh! Yeah, sure.” He closed the door again and walked back into the living room, smiling. He had no idea why he was so damned glad she was still there, but he was, and he wasn't going to complain about being happy. He picked up the bong again, and took a long pull.
She joined him a few minutes later, yawning. “My God, you're a beast,” she said, shaking her head at the sight of the bong in his hand. “And how is it possible that he passed out like six hours before us, and is still asleep?”
Jack shrugged. “Man's got a talent,” he said, before holding out the bong to her. “Besides, he's only going on about thirteen hours. I've seen his ass sleep for twenty before.”
She shook her head again. “I couldn't do it. Not a chance. I'd feel so gross.”
“Really? Hell, I'm jealous, sometimes. A full day spent sleeping is a full day nothing goes wrong.”
She raised her eyebrow. “It's also a full day where nothing can go right. If you had spent all day yesterday sleeping, for example, you wouldn't have invited me over here, and you wouldn't have had my amazing company last night or this morning.”
He nodded, before laughing. “Oh, yes. And I'll admit, I did have to spend an extra half hour in prayer this morning, giving thanks for that blessing in my life.”
“Shut up,” she said, taking the bong from him with one hand while hitting him with a pillow with the other. “I was joking and you know it.”
He nodded. “I do.”
She lit the bowl and took a long drag, holding it in her lungs and staring at him with a raised eyebrow.
“What?” he finally asked, and she shook her head, exhaling the smoke.
“We talked for like...hours last night. Then you had me sleep in your bed. Now we're here, and I'm still wondering if you're ever thinking about getting around to actually asking me out on a date.”
Jack blinked. “Umm...would you like to go out on a date?”
She inhaled sharply through gritted teeth. “Ooh...I think I have to wash my hair....”
Now he raised an eyebrow. “Okay, that was fucked off.”
She laughed, passing the bong to him, and he shook his head before lighting it. “I'm kidding!” she said. “I promise. Yes, I would. Whatever gave you such a great idea?”
He spoke in a croak, keeping as much of the smoke and air in his lungs as possible. “I was talking to some pretty amazing company, and she brought it up.”
“Oh. Yeah, she sounds pretty awesome. You should probably do, like, everything that she says, ever.”
Jack exhaled, a grin that he was afraid might look rather ridiculous on his face, and he passed the bong back to her. That might not be such a bad idea.
The falling of his tears seemed almost in rhythm with the slow ticking of the clock, each falling towards the immaculate marble floor and creating perhaps the only blemish in the room—other than him, of course.
He stood abruptly, wiping his tears with the back of his hands. Once upon a time, he had thought that the pain he endured growing up had taught him well on how to hide his tears. He thought that it was a lesson that was taught—and learned—well.
But, he had learned later, that the pain he had experienced in childhood...the death of loved parents, neglect, abuse of all varieties...well, that paled in comparison to true pain.
Oh, humanity. We despair for you as much as we rejoice for you. How is it that you have fostered so many of your people to come to embody such Roles, forces of nature that no one can fully comprehend, so many times throughout your history? How is it that with so many billions of you that exist, you still, on occasion, manage to find your perfect mate?
We do not understand humanity. But we must respect it.
“Wow,” he said, holding the painting before him.
“Umm...is that a 'good' wow, or a 'bad' wow?”
“It's...an absolutely amazed wow.”
The painting was of a knight, polished armor glinting in the moonlight, with a sword held high in the air. His shield was emblazoned with a symbol that Jack had drawn years ago, in high school, and behind the knight, as if he was protecting her, was a woman, her face hidden, but her build and height looked to be just about Cassie's, if not dead-on.
“Well, happy birthday, Jack. I know it's not much, but—”
“Don't you even give me that,” he said, interrupting her. “This is amazing. I love it.”
“Do you get it? Like, the point of the girl?”
He sat the painting down and pulled her in close. “I do,” he said, and their lips met in a passionate kiss. “Thank you, Cassie. It's amazing.”
She smiled, then shrugged. “I'm really glad you like it. It's really the first thing that I've ever painted for someone else.”
“Thank you, hon,” he repeated, and they settled back on the couch. “It's going on the wall as soon as I get home.”
Her smile widened, and then was interrupted by a deep kiss. Finally, she broke it, snuggling up to him before asking, “So what all is on your plate today?”
“Not a lot, really. Heading home, getting this baby put on the wall, then a meeting at work later. Zeke talked about coming over later tonight to game and smoke out.”
“Are we still doing dinner and everything?”
“Unless you don't want to.” He shrugged. “I don't have to do anything for my birthday. Hell, this is the first birthday gift I've gotten in, like, fifteen years. I'm already at a high point.”
“You're being retarded, dear,” she said. “Of course we're going to do something for your birthday. It's your birthday.”
He turned his head to see the top of hers. “Hey,” he said, and she turned to meet his gaze. “I love you, Cass.”
She smiled again. “I love you,” she said, and they kissed again, more tenderly than last time. It was a kiss of pure love, one of unrestrained adoration between two people for one another, the kind of kiss that poets write about. It was a kiss that both participants wished could last an eternity.
But nothing lasts forever.