It is odd how life is rarely about those big important choices, but hinders on the small stupid choices you didn’t even realize were choices until it was too late. That was the thought that filled Seth Green’s mind as he sat on the subway in the morning on his way to the Chicago Tribune press room. He had been employed by the paper ever since he graduated from the University of Chicago in 2011, so a little more than a year, and as he watched all of the other passengers, living their lives as individually as he was, that was the thought that filled his head. Tipping his head back, he tried to come up with something else to think about, but as usually happened, nothing sprang to the forefront of his mind, so instead, he simply lay his head back and succumbed to the rocking of the subway car as it continued along its way through downtown Chicago.
As he sat there, lost in his thoughts, Seth’s mind did something that it hadn’t done in almost five years - it thought about Logan, his younger brother. Just like any other time he thought about Logan, a chilly, uneasy feeling began prickling at the base of his spine. His brother was his junior by three years; that couldn’t truly be considered a part of the reason that Seth sometimes forgot about him. But the bigger, more central reason that Seth hadn’t spoken to him was a choice. It wasn’t that the two of them fell out of touch; that was too nice a way of putting it. Logan was in a gang. He had run away from their mom when he was fifteen. The year of Seth’s high school graduated. Logan hadn’t come to the celebration. And when their mom was killed by a drunk driver, who swung off the road just three years after that, Logan didn’t come to the wake or funeral, either. That was why Seth hadn’t spoken to him for five years. What he put them both, but especially their mom through was unacceptable, as far as Seth was concerned.
Trying to get his mind off of Logan, Seth focused, instead, on their mom. She was a hard-working single-parent. Life was not easy, by any stretch of the imagination, but she did her best to provide for her sons. Though both pregnancies were technically accidents (she never did figure out who Logan’s father was), she did clean up her act once Logan was born. Perhaps that was what hurt Seth the most; the fact that she seemed to try harder to clean up her life for him and he had the nerve to throw it all away at the age of fifteen.
Shaking his head again, Seth took a deep breath and counted to ten. With a headache nearly upon him, he decided that it would call for some extreme measures - music. Loud, angry music. Seth was not a music-lover, most of the time, but whenever he got worked up (usually about his younger brother), he let out his rage in heavy metal. Usually, that strategy seemed to work pretty well. That morning, however, Seth wasn’t so lucky. Twenty minutes later, he had a full-on migraine, his hands were cramped from being clenched for so long, and to top it all off, his assignment that his boss had given him two days ago, was going to be due the first hour of work, and Seth had barely started it.
He was so pissed off and worked up once he was finally in the Chicago Tribune press room, he didn’t even see his best friend since college - Karen Walker. That was what told Seth that he was incredibly too worked up; anything that could keep Karen from his line of vision had to be a powerful thing, indeed. They had went to the University of Chicago together. The same major (mass communication) had them in the same classes. Seth’s work on the school paper as a photographer had him covering the sporting events, which put him more in line with Karen, as she was a defender on the school soccer team. Certainly, Karen was much more popular than Seth ever was, but she didn’t let that stop her from forming a friendship with him. They even lived in the same apartment their senior year. And though Karen (and he, in public at least) said that they were “just really good friends,” Seth was ready to make a move and try to get her to go on a date with him. He wasn’t clouding his mind; it wasn’t like he thought that they should be married, or anything like that. It was more just, he felt so incredibly comfortable with her. He had known her for so long. She was a genuine person, who told it like it was, whether it was good or bad. The only problem, as far as Seth could see it, was that he didn’t know how to tell Karen how he felt about her. What would she do? Surely if she would have liked him, then she would have said something to him. That was how Karen was, after all. The woman could not keep a secret to save her life. So, it wasn’t so much as saying something that would win her over, but it would be more along the lines of saying something that she could respond in such a way that she would let him down easy that would still allow them to remain good friends. And Seth didn’t know how to do that, not yet, at any rate.
But all of that was beside the point that morning. As it was said before, Seth didn’t even see Karen as he stormed in toward his desk. He had almost made it to his cubicle when he heard a booming, “GREEN!” echoing around him. Though he didn’t turn around, he didn’t have to. That booming voice was one that Seth had heard practically every day of the past year, and it belonged to none other than his boss, J. J. Hooker. Hooker was a short, heavier man, with graying hair that was starting to bald. Though Seth had seen him every day of the past year, he still had no idea what color the man’s eyes were. They seemed to change on a daily basis. Usually, they were a grayish blue, but some days they were more of a honey green, or a warm hazel. It kind of depended on what he was wearing. Today, his glare was the normal shade of grayish blue. Normally, that meant he was in a pretty pleasant mood, but judging by the size of the scowl on his face, that was not the case today.
Forcing a smile on his face (that honestly probably looked more like a grimace), Seth forced out a tight, “Yes, Hooker? How can I help you this morning?”
“Green!” Hooker repeated. “Where the hell is your story? It was due last night!”
Seth was really not in the mood for their usual ranting that morning. Still trying to be agreeable, he said, “You’ll have it within the hour, Hooker.”
“I better, Green! We needed those photos twenty minutes ago!”
That was probably one of Hooker’s favorite phrases - he was always saying that they needed this or that twenty minutes ago. Seth had the feeling that even Hooker’s birth was twenty minutes late, judging by the way he was always complaining about things being twenty minutes late. “Yes, Hooker. You will have them it within the hour.”
“I better!” Hooker asserted with a firm nod, before turning to leave.
As odd as it seemed to Seth, he actually did feel a lot better after his ritualistic morning encounter with his boss. Trying to please Hooker but never quite succeeding tended to motivate him to try even harder the next time.
“So how did your morning encounter go this morning, Seth?”
As he turned back around, Seth met Karen’s bemused expression. She had the loveliest brown eyes he had ever seen. They were a light brown, a tawny tan, he usually called them. Karen never seemed to like her eye color, though. One of the first things he had ever heard her say was a complaint (a pretty common one, as he continually heard it as the years of their friendship grew) that she hadn’t inherited her dad’s blue eyes.
“It’s not fair,” she always said, with a loud groan to follow shortly after that expression was mumbled. “I inherited Dad’s red hair - would wanting his blue eyes be so much to ask?”
Seth had met Karen’s entire family (all five of them) several times. He had even been invited to their family Thanksgiving celebrations after his mom died. To Seth, Karen’s family was everything that a family should be. They had all of the quarrels that plagued any group of relatives, but they also had the undying loyalty and support that all the good families had. Obviously, what with his brother leaving home and joining a gang, Seth didn’t know what it was like to have a sibling’s back. And his mom had moved away from her family, because apparently they were all abusive, drunks, addicts, or some combination of the three.
As his facial expression softened, Seth took a breath and said, “I’m having a rough morning; Hooker’s yelling and scoffing at me is actually helping quite a lot.”
Karen’s face took on a thoughtful look. Obviously, since their friendship had lasted for so long, she knew that there were things that could set Seth off entirely too quickly. Judging by the concentrated look on her face, Seth was even willing to bet money that she had figured out that the problem had to do with this brother. How Karen always remembered that he had a brother was beyond Seth’s comprehending abilities; he didn’t talk about his brother. Not ever. He had only told her that he had a brother once or twice in the seven years that they had known each other. With Logan dropping out of school at such a young age, there were very few students at their high school that even knew Seth had a brother. Maybe she had heard it from some other people. After all, Karen was in the athletic circles in high school and college; maybe they knew things about his brother that Seth hadn’t realized were public knowledge. Surely one (or more) of his classmates had joined his gang around the same time that Logan did. Of course, most of the kids that were Logan’s age were dead. For all Seth knew, Logan might be dead, too. Was that why he had suddenly thought of his brother that morning? Was it some sort of sign that his brother had been killed, or overdosed, or something else?
Shaking his head to try and clear it, Seth tried to focus on Karen. It took a few moments for him to be able to see her, but once his vision was focused, he said, “I’m sorry, Karen, I missed what you said.”
She gave him a reassuring, soft smile and said lightly, “It’s ok, Seth. Do you want to talk about it?”
No, Seth thought seriously. I do not want to talk about my brother, or the possibility of his death, or the possibility of him coming back. But he couldn’t say that. Not and still be able to look himself in the eye, at any rate. Instead, he simply lifted his shoulders and said, “Not right now.”
As he expected, Karen accepted the answer and let the matter drop. But she didn’t go away. Instead, she turned an inquisitive eye to him and asked, “Why do you let Hooker yell at you all the time? Do you have some sort of submissive secret alter ego hidden inside you that I didn’t know about, or something?”
Letting out a low chuckle, Seth said, “Not exactly. But it’s kind of like how I was in Dr. Richardson’s class in college. All three of us knew that I didn’t really understand anything that he explained in that physics class, but I was determined to get at least a B in his class. And I did. So, I guess, you get what you put your mind to, right? Some day, I’ll be able to sway Hooker’s opinion of me. I think he secretly likes me. He just forgets that some days.”
“Most days,” she corrected him with a grin.
“Ok,” he agreed, with an elaborate shrug. “Most days. What are you doing here so early? We both know that you’re the more responsible one in our friendship. Surely your assignments were turned in the day after they were given to you.”
The response that Karen gave him surprised (and disheartened) him - she blushed. Karen was not a blusher. If she was blushing, then nine times out of ten, that meant that she had found someone to go on a date with. That was the only thing that embarrassed her while talking to him.
Trying to play off his utter sense of defeat at seeing this display, he asked, voice almost playing off as disinterested, but not quite succeeding, “What’s his name?”
“Now what makes you think that there is a man?” she asked, trying to scoff indignantly, but just like Seth, ultimately failed.
“I know you,” he said. “I know that look. You’ve caught someone’s interest, or you are interested in somebody. Are you going to make me guess?”
Lifting an eyebrow curiously, she contemplated, “You know, that could be fun. Who would you guess?”
“Well, I know that you were working on a piece about the upcoming election,” Seth offered. “Maybe you’ve caught the attention of one of the politicians, or one of their campaign workers.”
“Nope,” she said teasingly. “Strike one.”
Tilting his head, he tried to think of where else she might have met someone. He knew that she frequented one of the local bars every couple of days - Mac’s, he believed was the name of it. “Maybe you met a fella at Mac’s?”
“Wrong,” she laughed. “Strike two.”
Then he saw it - the hickey that she was trying to hide by wearing a high necked shirt, but not quite concealing it. It was identical to the hickeys that she was always trying to hide in college. And she only had one boyfriend that gave her hickeys (in college or anywhere else that Seth knew her).
“Shit,” he breathed, all humor gone from his face. “Not Jordan.”
Though she didn’t confirm it verbally, he could tell from her face that he had hit the nail right on the head. Damn it, he thought, irritably, I hate it when I’m right.