Love Is Blindness
Mack and Xander emerged from Red Rooster with dust and blood stains on their clothing and skin. At the end of the day, the police arrived and dealt with whatever mess was left in the restaurant.
The entire boulevard was blocked off as it packed out with police vehicles and ambulances. Everywhere Mack viewed, he witnessed people with distraught expressions upon their faces; just as he had seen at Intelligentsia the day before.
Although Jade was the main motivation for the intruders, Mack felt shame because he believed it was his mistake for dragging her back into the life she had worked so relentlessly to leave behind.
Many details were still out of his reach, but she would eventually warm to a point where she could talk to him about her past completely. Even he felt as though that was a whole other story he didn't deserve to know.
"Let's get you patched up, Mr. Brown," a medical officer rushed Xander, laying a hand on his shoulder blade to drag him to the rear of an ambulance truck.
"I know a doctor." He brushed the medic away, approaching the open street to hail a taxi cab. He tended his eyes onward while walking, still clutching his shoulder.
"Where to, Mr. Brown?" The cab driver enquired, rotating his body around to look toward Xander.
"Home. One Beacon Court."
Xander groaned at the discomfort in his wound, slanting back on the cushion of the seat. The bullet was still planted in his shoulder, but he did not try to dislodge it. If anyone was to be entrusted with getting rid of a bullet, it was Jade.
"You okay there?" Mack questioned, not displaying anything but contusions himself.
"Yeah, I'll be fine." Xander glanced over to Mack to take note of how he was doing. There was no indication of uneasiness or even any reaction whatsoever. "How you holding up?"
"I'm okay." Mack wasn't interested in small talk after the night he experienced. All he could consider was how sharp he was during the fight. The first encounter with Jade was only a wake-up call.
"This all seems too familiar to you, I assume," Xander probed, not looking Mack in the eye. All his attention was focused on the pain and only the pain.
"Once upon a time, yeah." Mack considered the statement and knew that it applied to Xander too. "I could say the same for you."
Xander glimpsed down at Mack's hand and perceived a wedding band. To initiate further small talk, a question was required. "You married?"
Mack eyed over and took into account that Xander's eyes were fastened onto his ring finger. The conversation persisted as Mack responded with, "Yeah, once."
"What happened to her, if you don't mind me asking?" Xander queried before realizing how meddlesome he was being. "Sorry, I'm not a big fan of silence."
Mack cleared his throat before proceeding. "She passed away a few years back. They said it was a stroke, but she was the healthiest woman I ever knew."
Mack remembered the feeling he experienced when he learned that his wife had died. Under no circumstances had he accepted it, but every now and then, he knew that he had to sooner or later. "No one would let me view her MRI scans. I don't know if the hospital even had any to begin with."
"I'm sorry to hear that," Xander consoled, continuing to grumble at the aching in his shoulder. "It's never easy losing someone you love."
After listening to Mack's story, the reticence was more profound. To break the stillness, Mack posed the same question back. "Are you married, yourself?"
"No. I was, but not anymore," Xander replied, tilting his head back once again.
"Is it a story worth telling?"
"No. Nothing you haven't heard before." A slight cackle came from Xander as he reminisced. It was almost as if he was amused by how foolish he was back then. "Two people growing apart then realizing they don't need each other anymore. Same old story."
Though Mack could not link up his story with Xander's, he couldn't recall a time when he wasn't with his own wife. He could only imagine the pain of growing together only to lose one another in the end.
"You seem to be close with Jade," Mack expressed, judging by how the two were back at Red Rooster.
"She wasn't who I was married to if that's what you're hinting at." Xander's tone was neutral as he reacted to Mack's potential supposition.
There was a short-lived pause as they individually gazed outside the window on their opposite sides of the vehicle.
"I've known Jade for a really long time, and I would die for her in a heartbeat. But we were never like that," Xander finally retorted.
Mack understood how resilient a friendship between two individuals could be, but there was undeniable tension when Jade and Xander were conversing back at the restaurant that lead Mack to believe otherwise.
Jade progressively entered through the doors of Xander's penthouse. Before even illuminating the space with the flick of a switch, she regarded Midtown Manhattan in its entirety through the glorious windows the entire residence exhibited.
The beams of light beyond the building were enough to deliver substantial light to most of the penthouse. That's how New York City was, as Jade recollected. She never had the opportunity to observe her city as she did in that moment. At least not as of late.
It had been some time since she had been to see Xander at his place, but it hadn't changed one bit. The hectic lives of the two friends caused them to not possess time for anything concerning their personal lives.
The space remained just as spotless and commodious as Xander constantly had it, with all the maids coming to straighten up the place from time to time.
Jade made her way through the galleries to the kitchen counter and ensued to remove her jewelry and shoes from the night. So much for a dinner off the grid, she thought.
The bug on Mack's cell phone was the sole reason Donnie's men had discovered their whereabouts, but Jade wasn't one to blame. In spite of everything, those men were after her, and Mack was their way through.
After taking off all of her accessories and placing them down on the countertop, she leaned her forearms on the counter, taking a deep breath. It had been a rather momentous evening with the unexpected visitors at Red Rooster, and now she couldn't even return to her own home.
Abruptly, the phone chimed. Jade turned her head in the opposite direction to pinpoint the sound, and sure enough, it was right behind her.
Her heart thumped. She did not take a step towards the phone in fear of who the caller could be. She planned to wait it out and listen to the voice message if the caller even decided to leave one.
Your call has been forwarded to an automated voice message system. At the tone, please record your message.
When the beep sounded, her stomach dropped.
Mack paced out of the taxicab and peered up at the extravagant condominium building. The Bloomberg Tower stood high on a vibrant Midtown Manhattan night as the structures surrounding it flattered its gleam.
Xander wandered past Mack and into the tower to which Mack followed. Through the doors, the lobby lights were dim as only one member of the staff was available to assist any incoming guests.
"Good evening, Mr. Brown," the receptionist behind the front desk welcomed as Xander strode beyond her and towards the elevator.
"Goodnight." He did not halt to make conversation with her as he maintained his eyes on his destination.
Mack was not too far behind as he glanced at the receptionist. Her eyes followed Xander towards the elevator, and her undivided attention was on him as his hand was still pressuring his injury.
"Which floor is your place on?" Mack questioned, hovering his finger over the elevator buttons upon moving into the lift with Xander trailing.
"Fifty-first and Fifty-second."
Mack was correct to speculate that Xander wasn't simply a restaurant owner. He was affluent, and he was influential. Just grasping the fact that he owned two floors of the building was enough for Mack's inquisitiveness to overtake his judgment.
"So what else don't I know about you?" Mack enquired, resting his arms on the bar that was attached to the back wall of the elevator. He reserved his eyes up at the floor numbers, anticipating the fifty-first floor to hit.
"I'm an entrepreneur and a philanthropist." Xander's voice was becoming marginally croaky as the discomfort in his shoulder was becoming somewhat unbearable.
"And that's it?"
"That's all you need to worry about."
The fifty-first floor ultimately arrived. As soon as the doors pulled open, there was no evident sign of Jade. Xander departed the elevator firstly, keeping his eyes peeled for her.
"Jade?" Xander called out, moving through the corridor.
A figure suddenly emerged out of the corner of his eye, causing him to seize a sharp intake of breath and widen his eyes. To both his and Mack's relief, it was Jade.
Her curly hair from earlier was now sleek straight and damp, and she was clothed in an oversized sweater as she was ready for the night.
"Thank god, you guys are okay." Jade embraced Xander, and he did the equivalent with his free arm.
"I think I'll need some medical assistance after that scare," he sarcastically joked, stretching a grin from one side of his face to the other.
"Couldn't avoid a single bullet this time, could you?" Jade laid a hand on Xander's upper back, preparing to escort him into the living room, but before she did so, she turned to examine Mack who was positioned a few feet away from them. "Are you okay?"
"I'm fine," he replied, not exhibiting any injuries. If anyone needed their injuries looked at, it was Xander.
"Come on, I'll get you patched up too."
"No, I think I'll be fine." Mack turned around and appointed the elevator as his departure. "I should be heading back to my place."
"You're welcomed to stay here," Xander interposed, removing himself from his spot and rotating about so that he could look towards Mack. "It's probably the safest place for now."
"I'll be okay back in Hell's Kitchen."
"At least get cleaned up," Jade recommended. "The shower's upstairs. Just get yourself cleaned up then you can go."
Mack humbly nodded, making eye contact with Jade. They all had just underwent a situation where Jade could've taken her last breath, and he was thankful that there were no casualties.
Up on the second floor of Xander's place, Mack was astounded by the expansive residence. From the entry way, all he had to do was turn right to enter a sizable bathroom.
He discerned that clothes were already laid out on the countertop, and he ambled in, shutting the door behind him.
Mack took off his coat and began undoing his shirt. He twisted the sink faucet on to generate background noise as he was about to contemplate.
Maybe Xander's penthouse was the soundest place to be, but Mack could not spend another day living a life that made him a target. But even if he went back to his hotel room, this would not end.
He only needed some time to fathom the events that had occurred so far. Nothing gave him more thrill than adventure did, but he was trapped in the past for too long when he was in combat. Applying his knowledge of war took him back to times he could never forget.
Mack slipped off his dress shirt. Although nothing but fresh bruises were discernable, he still could not evade the sight of the cuts from the Intelligentsia explosion. His body was sore, but he did not regret supporting Xander in the battle. If there was something he did best, it was helping others and putting them above himself.
That was an attribute his wife admired about him; one that he struggled to hold onto after her passing. The whole trip had been a ride that he could not envision five days ago when he was still in San Francisco.
He thought about Brie and how he could live without her. The single family member he had left was now gone, and he still had no clue as to how her demise even came to be.
Of course, he had to at least make an effort to figure out why and how she got into this madness. His own life was now rooted in Donnie's agenda, and maybe it had been that way for longer than he thought.
Maybe this trip was just the one Mack required for understanding who he truly was and what he believed in.
"The bullet's still in here," Jade conveyed, examining Xander's wound with a pair of gloves on. She moved around to observe his back, but she detected no exit wound. "Do you know what you got hit with?"
"9 mm." Xander grumbled in pain yet again. He removed his handgun from his pocket and set it on the coffee table before throwing his head back onto the padding of the sofa.
"I don't think I'll be able to remove it." Jade grasped the bottle of water set on the table and dispensed a small amount onto a cloth she had thrown over her shoulder. "I'll just clean it as much as I can then patch it up."
"Jade, I can't be put out of action. I have to go to work."
"It's either this or you run the risk of dying," Jade asserted as her eyes met Xander's. The appearance of her face was apprehensive, not knowing what to think of the consequences the fight could've had.
"I'll be alright. Besides, I brushed off an ambulance to get your medical attention," he kidded as he usually did.
Jade couldn't help but chuckle at Xander's wittiness. There was never a dismal moment with him, and she was nostalgic for the times they had when things were uncomplicated.
She patted the wound with the cloth as gently as she could, relaxing her other hand on top of his shoulder to hold him steady.
Xander's hand came up and fastened on top of hers. "Are you okay?" His head turned, and his eyes were linked with hers.
"Yeah," Jade sighed, concentrating back on the injury. "Everything was good, and now it's back to square one."
"You can stay here for as long as you need to. It's perfectly safe."
"Xander, I don't want to keep running." Jade paused, compressing her lips together as she thought about her life after Abu Dhabi. "I have to finish this."
"You think I'm just going to let you go out and have a crack at killing Donnie Tesla? I've seen what he's done to you. I can't let that happen again."
"It's not up to you. I know you're just trying to look out for me, but I'll be fine." Jade snatched a bandage from the kit that laid out on the table and began taping it onto the gunshot wound.
Xander removed his hand from his shoulder and set it back onto his lap. "You're right. It's not."
Once the treating of the wound was finished with, Jade backed up, providing Xander some room to get to his feet.
"Go get some rest. I'll talk to you in the morning." Xander began walking off towards the staircase to get to the upper floor.
Before he could even make the turn onto where the steps were, Jade had one last thing to disclose.
"You got a call earlier," she divulged, standing at the other end of the hallway.
Xander advanced closer to the flight of steps, assuming the call was from a client or a family member and that he would be able to return it the following day. "I'll take care of it tomorrow."
"It was from Donnie."
Xander rotated his head in the opposite direction with his eyes enlarged. Did Donnie know about his involvement with Jade and Mack? Whatever the call was for, it had to be something worthwhile.
After Mack finished getting cleaned up in the bathroom, he made his way back downstairs. He figured that both Jade and Xander were already sound asleep, but he found Jade seated on a kitchen stool with a glass of water set in front of her.
"Can't sleep?" Mack questioned, dragging out a stool across from her and seating himself. He rested his elbows on the counter as he surveyed her.
Jade yawned and rubbed her eyes, making it evident that she was drained of energy. "No. I used to have awful insomnia as a kid, so I guess it's still around."
There was a momentary pause as sirens from outside on the streets resonated throughout the penthouse. The city never slumbered, and its people became victims of that restlessness too.
"Can I ask you something?" Mack queried, glancing down at his hands and playing with them, a habit he had when he was somewhat tense.
"Knock yourself out." Jade took a sip from her glass of water and placed it back down with a slight tap. "I feel like things at this hour get really deep."
It was midnight, six hours since the shootout at Red Rooster. Not that either of them wanted to think about the plausible costs of the night's events, but it was implanted within their minds. To avoid tainting the mood further, Mack elected to discuss casual matters.
"What does the hummingbird stand for?" He had always been curious as to why the cartilage piercing was the only accessory that appeared signature to her. He was not unacquainted with the bird, but he wondered what her story with them was.
"Well, the hummingbird..." Jade commenced, shifting herself in her seat. "The hummingbird symbolizes the enjoyment of life and the lightness of being. It is capable of the most amazing feats despite its small size."
She leisurely conveyed the words, expressing it in the most poetic way she possibly could, given her lack of competence at the late hour.
Mack was fascinated by how much she knew about the bird's representation. The piercing was not a random one: it signified something to her.
"It has a lot to do with resilience and adaptability without losing its sense of optimism towards life and everything else," she concluded, finally permitting her gaze to draw up and meet Mack's.
"What does it mean to you?" Mack asked, folding his arms together.
Jade stared off to the side, hesitating to provide him a response. It wasn't going to do any harm if she did, but the importance behind it all was an exceptional one.
"I was always the tiniest kid in school, and it sort of hindered me in doing things that I could've done with the other children if I had been taller. As encouragement, my dad would always say, 'Come on, pretty bird. Rise above the others'. In memory of my parents, I got the piercing." Jade swept her hair behind her ear to reveal the familiar accessory.
"I guess it still kind of applies to you now, doesn't it?" Mack questioned, bearing in mind the fact that Jade was small compared to both him and Xander.
"Yeah, I guess so," she responded, taking another sip of her water. Of course, she could handle whatever situation was thrown her way. She did efficaciously fake her own death and begin a new life, in spite of everything.
There wasn't a story Mack could mention that would parallel the impact of hers, but for the sake of alleviating the mood, he brought one up. "My dad called me 'champ' all the time, but that's not as unique."
Mack let out a laugh as she joined in. He then resumed by stating, "I guess Xander's sense of humor catches up with everyone."
Jade produced another small chuckle after the reference of her friend, tracing her fingers around the rim of her glass. "It's funny how insignificant the names your parents give you seem until you don't hear them anymore. It's like a little piece of you dies."
"Yeah, I get the feeling." Mack leaned back a little to shift himself in his seat, getting ready to change the subject. "Those men at Red Rooster. Do you think Donnie sent them?"
Jade raised her eyebrow at Mack as if there was no question that Donnie was behind all of it. "Look, I know you and Donnie have a history, but things are different now."
Mack knew Donnie, and he recognized that there was a weak side to the hardheaded exterior that Donnie displayed to the world. "He has to feel some sort of remorse. He's not as cold as you think he might be."
"I may not have known him for as long as you have, but the time that I did spend with him makes me sick now, knowing that he threw it all away."
There was something Jade wasn't telling Mack. What exactly did she do in the past that led Donnie to pursue her?
"Jade, what happened in Abu Dhabi?" He asked, bowing closer so that his voice wouldn't project as loudly as it had been.
She glanced up at the clock on the opposite wall and determined that she should proceed upstairs and attempt to get some sleep.
"I should get to bed." Jade pushed her stool out and rose up from her seat. She made her way to the sink and placed her glass into it before pacing towards the stairs.
Mack mentally counted her footsteps as she travelled up the steps, making a little click each time. He pondered more and more about Abu Dhabi. If Brie was connected to that city, perhaps he could fill in everything else that appeared to be missing from the puzzle.