Booming conversations, flamboyant laughter, and the sight of posh wardrobes were what he was fixated on. The coffee set in front of him jittered as the roaring in the restaurant caused it to shake in synchronization. Mack's brown eyes focused on the beverage as the liquid swayed from side of side within the mug. He anticipated at least a few drops of the coffee to spill from its container as servers rushing by and by interfered with its calm state. Still, nothing rattled it enough to force its escape.
"Mack, are you listening to me?" A voice seated across from him chimed in, snapping him out of his daze.
"Yeah, sorry. I was just trying to figure out how long you would keep going on about this if I stared into space long enough."
His friend burst with laughter as he gave him a slight pound in the shoulder. "You have to do me a favor. You haven't done anything exciting since your military days."
Mack looked up to his friend with a disinterested expression stretched upon his face. "Exciting? I'm going on vacation to take it easy, Donnie. Not to fix your family problems. Those don't exactly fit under the 'exciting' category."
He had been dealing with loss for the past few months that it was only now that the enthusiasm of life was returning to him. He didn't need to stress any more than he had been in previous times.
Donnie leaned back in his seat and fixed the aviators resting on top of his neat blonde and white-streaked head of hair. He crossed his arms and eyed his best friend, thinking of a way to persuade him.
"Hey, who helped you train to make the high school varsity basketball team? Who played exterminator when you bought your first apartment then had it infested with roaches? Who helped you pick out Cam's engagement ring?" Donnie pushed.
Mack was focused on the marble material of the table as the voice resonated through his head. What did he owe this guy he considered his best man? Everything, he thought.
For as long as Mack could remember, Donnie was there for him. The least he could do was stop on his way to Staten Island and help out his friend.
"Okay, I'll think about it," Mack finally answered.
Donnie smirked, showing his gratitude. "Mack, I know your maybes always become yesses."
"Yeah, don't get your hopes up." The two friends had a laugh as Mack lifted up his cup and sipped his coffee.
It was closing time at Best Buy, and Mack was the one to do it tonight. He thought more and more about the favor, and it was up to Mack on whether he wanted to do it or not.
There was only one other person present in the store at this time, and he noticed Mack's distress.
"Hey, Mack. Go home and rest. I'll lock up tonight." The janitor stopped midway on his way to the restroom and insisted.
"You sure? I really shouldn't-"
"It's fine. You need the energy more than I do."
As he grabbed his belongings and drove straight to his apartment. He noticed that the street lights were shining brighter than they did any other day. It was also still and tranquil out, as only the sound of the rain occupied the silence.
When he reached his apartment, he kicked off his shoes and clicked play on his answering machine before crashing on top of his bed. He was exhausted, and he knew that all of his youthful shenanigans were now catching up with him.
You have three new messages.
"Hello, Mr. Mackenzie. This is Doctor Patel from The Well Clinic. I just wanted to let you know that you have a scheduled appointment tomorrow at 3:00 PM. See you tomorrow, and have a nice evening."
"Hey, Uncle Mack. It's Brie. I just wanted to let you know that I thought about you today. A hummingbird came to visit me at my window this morning at the shop, and it reminded me of you and Aunt Cam. I miss you guys a lot, and I can't wait to see you soon. Call me when you get here. Love you."
"Mack, I've been trying to reach you. Why aren't you answering your cell? I'm sorry I was a little pushy this afternoon during lunch. I just miss my niece, you know? Let me know what you think tomorrow. Sleep tight, buddy."
End of messages.
Mack got up from his bed and made his way to the bathroom to get cleaned up. Tomorrow was another day he had to face. He had one more day in town before he headed off to someplace nicer. This was what he needed, but he didn't know what to expect.
"Mr. Mackenzie, how have you been doing since our last visit?" Dr. Patel asked as she looked down towards Mack. She sat, legs crossed on a wheely chair that was set perpendicular to the sofa. She had a clipboard on her lap and a pen in her hand.
"Fine. I'm feeling better everyday, so I'm making progress." Mack felt better this time than during his previous sessions. He had been going to therapy for a month or two now, and he felt like he was nearing the end.
"Have you been eating lately?"
"Yes, the portions are getting larger and my appetite is slowly returning to normal."
The doctor was quickly jotting down notes as she spoke. "Have you been sleeping well recently?"
"Fairly well. Getting there."
Dr. Patel stopped to view her patient. She specialized in helping people deal with grief, so she wasn't a stranger to the topic. She pulled out a sheet of paper on the back of her clipboard and held it up so it was in Mack's sight.
"According to the Küber-Ross model that many psychologists utilize, you are towards the end of the fourth stage of grief. This isn't a chart that any of us follow to a T, but it does give us a guideline to go by when we are helping others like yourself. You're getting there, Mr. Mackenzie, and you're doing fantastic so far. Don't worry about a thing."
He was able to smile slightly whilst staring at the ceiling tiles. He was proud of himself for coming so far in his healing process. He knew that it was time for him to move on and discover more out of life, but he felt like there was something holding him back from passing through this stage.
"Have you talked to any family members in the last couple of weeks? Have friends taken you out and about?"
"I hung out with my best friend yesterday. We had lunch together and talked about some old times." He explained.
His hands were folded on top of his stomach as he twirled his thumbs around one another. Talking to Donnie really helped him loosen up a little. He definitely felt like something was missing. Something that would be that little push over to the acceptance stage.
"That's fantastic. You sure are advancing at a very good rate. You should be all set to head out on your trip tomorrow."
He sat up and the doctor stood up from her seat simultaneously. She tore out a piece of paper containing all of his appointment information from her notepad and handed it to him.
"We will see you again in a month," she went on, closing their meeting.
He said his thanks then headed out for another lunch get-together with Donnie.
Donnie chose the Hog Island Oyster Co. this time around. It was a busy restaurant where people could come with their family or friends and expect great service and a good time. The Bay Bridge was in clear view from their table as Mack marveled at its beauty from the distance.
He ordered a sandwich this time and skipped the coffee: a grilled cheese sandwich loaded with fromage blanc, Vella mezzo secco and cave-aged Gruyere and a side of pickles.
"Are feeling okay, Mack?" Donnie asked as his attention was all on him despite being occupied with tossing together his clams and pasta. "You didn't return my call last night, I was beginning to worry."
He grinned this time, feeling a bit more genuine about it. Donnie was always so worrisome, and it irritated Mack in a way that he always went, not again.
"Ah, I just saw a smile. That's my pal right there." Donnie nudged him from across the table.
There was only one person who could get it out of him after his wife's death, and that was his best friend. Mission accomplished.
"Thanks. For everything." He told his dear friend. "I couldn't have gotten this far without you, man."
"Hey, what are brothers for? Besides, you've always been there for me even when I didn't think I needed you."
The two ate a portion of their meals before continuing.
"So, I was thinking last night about taking you up on that favor. I'll stop by for you." Mack agreed to help out. If his friend needed assistance making family amends, he would gladly attempt to be the rift and support them in coming together. What more could he possibly do?
"I knew you'd come around." Donnie beamed, twirling some pasta noodles with his fork.
"Well with the constant begging, how else can I stop it?" Mack joked.
"Do I get some sort of synopsis of the situation or...?" Donnie had not mentioned in detailed what Mack would expect and what exactly would go down. He wasn't even sure which family member he was reaching out to to help make amends.
"She's my niece. Her name is Jade, and she lives in Hell's Kitchen. She's young, and she's an orphan. We haven't talked since her parents passed away because we've been estranged."
"And why is that?"
"I was never a great uncle, Mack. Hell, I even missed the funeral for the most stupid reason you could ever imagine. The point is, I just want my family back together. I don't have anyone else besides her."
"Jade Tesla? That's her name?" Mack sighed and questioned if this was why his best friend never talked about his family. Because one of the only people he had left didn't even want to speak to him?
"Jade Bennett. That was my brother-in-law's surname."
Mack took another pause to regather the key points in the dilemma. He had not been briefed before this, so it was all new information for him to process.
"You haven't seen your niece in a long time either, right?" Donnie blurted to break the noiselessness.
He pondered the question, knowing what Donnie was getting at. "Right."
"But you still love her. She's the only one you have left."
"So you just want me, an old guy, to walk up to her, a young woman's, doorstep and tell her that you miss her? I don't think that's exactly a recipe for success. "
"You really have to think this through, Donnie. Is it more complicated than you're making it out to be?"
Donnie disregarded the question and moved on to his next point. "She won't answer any of my calls or return my voice mails. I'm hopeless at this point, but I have to at least take this last shot."
Mack exhaled a deep breath. "I already said, I'd do it. Why do you have to keep begging?" He joked and gave in. He had already agreed, so he thought it was best to not break the promise.