Meet Me in New York

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Chapter 3: Without a Warning

Before Miranda Israel was alive, she always wanted to be a dancer. Her blonde hair would bask in the sunlight. Deep green eyes studied the wistful smile on Jacob's face as Miranda brushes her hands against his wrinkled cheeks. Their day was perfect; no interruptions, no drama — just the two of them listening to jazz. But when Miranda passed away from HIV, a part of Jacob died with her.

After setting the photo of Miranda on a nearby coffee table, Jacob takes a deep breath and blows out the wind through his thin nose. The delicate glass absorbs the rich moonlight as it shines on the satin white blanket. Sighing some more, Jacob fastens the sheet into a strong noose. Next, he ties the other end around the ceiling fan. Last but not least, Jacob musters the courage to put his head through the necklace and stand on the couch.

Grayish-brown eyes watered. He wanted to back out, but his heart ached for the warmth of Miranda's embrace one more time. Jacob wipes the tears leaking from his eyes as he stands on the couch.

He makes sure he secures the necklace before he jumps on the carpet floor. Unfortunately, it didn't work. The blanket isn't strong enough to hold him, so Jacob had to untie the noose before he hits the ground. Loud creaks sent pain through his sharp eardrums. White dandruff shower on his hairy feet, like snow. His face turns bright scarlet until his crooked fingers loosen the chain before he collapses on the couch.

Jacob coughed loudly. He rubs the bruise around his neck and starts untying the blanket from the ceiling fan until a loud knock came on the door. Jacob flinched. He has expected no visitors lately. He bets its one of those Girl Scouts who wouldn't stop shoving boxes of Thin Mints in his face.

"I am not interested in your cookies!" he shouts.

The knock continued, irritating Jacob. He hurries over to the door and opens it to see his teenage daughter Therese smiling at him. She wears a brown beanie with a faded white t-shirt and a blue plaid dress. Covering her naked arms is a long brown coat. Her navy blue socks stretch underneath her bare kneecaps.

"Hey, Dad!" she beamed. "How are you doing?"

Jacob puts on a nervous grin. "I am doing fine, honey. Why don't you come inside?"

Therese drops her red Chloé Paddington handbag near the doorway, strides towards the couch, and sits down. She doesn't acknowledge the white crumbs or the wrinkled blanket on the floor. Yet the only thing that is bothering her is that crooked ceiling fan.

"Was it always this tilted?" Therese asks him.

"Yeah." lied Jacob.

"I can buy you a new one."

"No, it's fine."

"Are you sure?" Therese drapes one leg over the other and examines her father's fake smile. "It looks like could fall at any minute."

Jacob slowly rises from the couch. He inspects the fan and studies it for a moment before he scratches his head.

She's right, Jacob thought. Maybe I should call a repairman or something.

Touring the cluttered apartment, Therese spots a bookshelf full of timeless albums then picks one between Frank Zappa and David Bowie. Rubbing her fingers against the soft album cover, Therese traces the squiggly letters spelling The Jimi Hendrix Experience: As Bold as Love.

"Your mom used to love that album," said Jacob.

"Really?" Therese asks in surprise. "I didn't know Mom was a Jimi Hendrix fan."

Jacob chuckles then joins his daughter on the small couch.

"Yeah, she was." he grins. "Before you were born, your mom and I used to travel all over the world to collect rare vinyl records. It was an expensive trip, but your mom always loved adventure."

"Speaking of mom, I visited her grave today."

Jacob stops smiling. "You have?"

Bobbing her head silently, Therese asks if he had attended his AA meetings or went on those dating sites she recommended.

"I went to the meetings a few times," Jacob says. "They weren't too bad."

"Okay, but what about the dating sites?"

Jacob didn't answer. He picks up the remote off the armchair and turns it on to watch Dr. Phil. Groaning, Therese yanks the device from his hand, switches off the television, and swerves her head to face him.

"Dad, you can't be doing this all the time," she states flatly.

Jacob rolls his eyes. "Doing what?"

"Throwing your life away!" Therese pouts. "You're not the only one who misses her!"

"I know-"

"Well, you sure don't act like it."

Jacob couldn't help but snort out loud. Therese sounds almost like his grandmother — except she had a distinctive raspy voice from all the Cuban cigars she smoked. Leaning his head against the couch cushion, Jacob apologizes to his daughter and promises her he would do better. But Therese doesn't believe him.

"Please try," she begs him.

"I will, Therese," Jacob insisted. "I won't let you down again."

Therese's pinched smile loosens. She scoots her butt close to her depressed father and lies on his lap- a trait she hadn't abandoned when she was eight years old.

"I wish Mom was here," Therese mumbled. "I wish you weren't so lonely all the time."

Jacob glances at her daughter's dark brown hair and begins stroking it as if she was a cat.

"Me too," he groans in agreement. "I wish dating wasn't so complicated."

Therese turns her head to the side so she can get a good look at his face. He has brown hair with gray streaks. His cheeks are as plump as hers, but he has slim eyebrows and a crooked smile. Therese is very lucky to have a Dad who always made her Chocolate Chip Waffles Surprise for breakfast.

He would come to her softball games, taught her how to make a mixtape, and watched cartoons with her until she fell asleep. But the one thing he was bad at doing is the laundry. Therese studies the holes on his Metallica t-shirt then circles her eyes.

"You deserve to be loved, Dad." she begins wearily.

"Aw."

"But to get a woman to fall in love with you, I need to teach you how to do the laundry."

Jacob laughs. "Yeah, you're right. I mean I haven't washed this shirt and jeans in three weeks."

"Gross!" Therese abandons her father's lap and shudders like a fragile leaf. "You're gross."

Her father laughs even more. "I'm just joking with you, sweetie. Anyway, I have to go to work."

"What? Why?"

"Because today, I am working a double shift at the bookstore."

Therese frowns as her father moves towards the door. Dark gray Addidas and old socks disseminate across the floor, forcing Jacob to put them on. His ragged eyes focus on the shoelaces. His fingers loop around the strings until Jacob tightens the laces into thick knots.

"Hey, Dad." Therese began. "Do you want me to make you some breakfast?"

"No, it's okay," he smirks. "Make some for yourself, while I call your aunt."

Her daughter's eyes broadened. "What? I don't want Aunt Tulsa to take care of me!"

"Therese, you are still a child." Jacob reminds her.

"I am almost eighteen."

"Yeah, in like, two months."

Therese moans. It was absurd to win an argument with her father. Before Jacob became a bookstore clerk, he used to be involved in his junior high school debate team. But when he left Ohio for college, Jacob enrolled himself in writing courses because he wanted to become a published author.

"Please don't call Aunt Tulsa," she begged him.

"Why?"

"Because I can't stand her new boyfriend, Jamie."

Looking up from his shoelaces, Jacob raises his left eyebrow. "Aunt Tulsa has a boyfriend?"

"Yeah."

"Since when?"

"Last year," she responds. "During the Christmas party."

Jacob slowly approaches his teenage daughter and slips his hands inside the pockets, so she wouldn't see them turn into angry fists. He never liked Jamie — let alone understand his younger sister's unpleasant taste in men. One time, Jacob tried to help Tulsa meet other people, but she has this weird interest in danger.

"Therese," Jacob began in a low voice. "Did Jamie hurt you? If he did, I swear to God-"

"No!" she squeaks. "No, he never hurts me! Only Aunt Tulsa. He never leaves her alone, pushes her around, and one time, I saw him punching her in the face."

Oh my God, Jacob thought. Why the hell didn't she tell me?

As if she was reading her mind, Therese twiddles her thumbs. "I tried telling you," she began. "But Aunt Tulsa told me not to. She doesn't want it to be a big deal."

A big deal? Jacob wanted to shriek. God, what the hell was that woman thinking?

He storms rigid stairs then rushes down carrying a denim jacket, car keys, and an enormous, black JanSport. His daughter watches the items bounce inside his hands as Jacob struggles to leave his apartment. However, when he tries wiggling the doorknob, Jacob's belongings tumble out of his hands.

"Son of a bitch!" he curses under his breath.

Therese hurries to his side and retrieves her father's belongings.

"Dad, are you okay?" she asks worriedly.

"No."

"I'm sorry." Therese bows her head. "I should have never opened my mouth."

Jacob's eyebrows relaxed. His lips alter into a sullen frown. Shaking his head, he places his hand on Therese's cheek and wipes the falling tears with his fat thumb.

"Do you hate me?"

"Of course not, kiddo," he answers softly. "I don't hate you. I'm just surprised."

"Surprised that Aunt Tulsa is dating a monster?" she guessed.

"Honestly?" Jacob chortles. "I am amazed you kept a secret that long, Therese."

Jacob slips the keys inside his left pocket and slithers his arms through the worn sleeves of his thick jacket. Although he had ironed it yesterday, Jacob couldn't help but notice the protracted lines spreading across the blue fabric.

"Dad," Therese drifts towards the door and shields it with her entire body. "Are you going to tell Aunt Tulsa what I had said?"

"Yes, why?"

"What if he might come after you?"

"Then I'll be careful," he reassures. "Nothing bad is going to happen to me, Therese. I promise."

Therese lowers her arms and folds them close to her chest. "You said the same thing when I tell you to stop drinking."

Clenching his backpack straps, Jacob swivels his annoyed eyes to the ceiling then tells her he had already stopped drinking. But even though he visited the AA program for almost two years, Jacob often a bottle of peppermint schnapps-behind the counselors' backs-and drank them near the dumpster.

Ruffling Therese's hair, he promises her he would talk to Aunt Tulsa and see what problems she's having with Jamie.

"I don't think it's a good idea," Therese says in an uneasy tone. "What if she finds out that I told you about him?"

"Then I'll convince her to come and live with us."

"Really?"

"Yeah." Jacob ruffles her hair once more. "There's food in the fridge, okay? Call my work number, if you need anything."

"Okay. I love you."

Jacob gives a kiss on Therese's head before exiting the slightly cramped apartment. His dirty fingernails scratch the stubby hairs on the bottom of his chin. Since most of the elevators are not working, Jacob took the stairs, which leads him straight to the parking lot.

Cars sit between white lines; usually, drivers would clean out their car seats while ignoring the mud and dead bugs staining the windows. But today, it seems like the morning rain hadn't made a dent on his used Toyota Corolla. However, Jacob didn't care less about the dismal weather; all he ever wants is to go to work, pick up his check, and avoid going to his AA meetings.

Retrieving his car keys, Jacob unlocks his Toyota Corolla, scrambles towards it, and throws the door open. The lights shine on Jacob's face, causing his eyes to squint, but he starts the car with no trouble. If only he can get out of this congested parking space.

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