I just couldn't fathom why things refused to get better.
No matter where I went, no matter what job I took, no matter who I tried to make friends with, everything seemed to just crash and burn.
This was about the third time I moved onto a different home in the last five years and even though I left due to the possibility of a fresh start, it seemed it would always become polluted by some twist of fate.
The first time was to a small apartment in the bustling center of New York City where I tried to get by with a desk job at a moderately known automotive dealership. Things got too hectic; I barely had time to sleep and it was too difficult to make ends meet with rent in addition to keeping myself sane.
After trying that lifestyle for two years, I decided to move to Los Angeles and moved in with my cousin Sarah. As welcoming as she was, it was hard for me to fit in because I wasn't the most informed of individuals; I didn't understand the nightlife and it felt as if it were a mistake to take on the life of a bartender. The pay wasn't half bad; I had practiced the craft enough to actually be competent at it but at the same time, the hours were difficult to balance with Sarah's lifestyle. Initially, it was just the two of us until I discovered that she had divorced her husband a few months before I arrived and they were fighting over custody of her son and daughter. She ended up winning the case, which meant that I had to help out with the kids in addition to worrying about my own problems.
Time passed quickly and I was beginning to get used to the lifestyle of awake at night, asleep during most of the day until one fateful day.
I got a phone call informing me that my last remaining sibling had passed away in a car accident. After that accident, I was the only person who remained in what was formerly a family made up of my parents, my younger brother Joshua and my older sister Madison. I wasn't very close to my brother but Madison was one of the few reasons I was able to keep going.
She always encouraged me, she always told me that everything was going to be alright in the end if I just worked hard and made good use of every day. In a lot of ways, she was more of a mother to me than my actual one.
I flew to Washington to attend her funeral and once it was over, I discovered that she too had a child, a daughter named Justine. Her husband walked out on her a long time ago and it now fell to me to take care of her.
So I did. Justine and I became very good friends and even though she was only 15 years old, she was more than able to look out for herself. I took her back to Los Angeles with me where we lived with Sarah for a year until I got a job offer back in New York.
Unlike my previous job, this one paid a lot better and the hours were easier to balance. After thanking Sarah for everything, I left for New York once more but this time. I was not alone.
Everything began to normalize; Justine was doing well in school and adjusted well despite having to move three times in quick succession and she soon became one of the reasons why I continued to soldier on. My job wasn't all that much better than my time at the dealership but at least now, I was able to actually balance my life...
Until that fateful day last week...
"Thanks for staying back to help lock up Max,"
I smiled at him and shrugged.
"No problem boss, so what's on the agenda for tomorrow?" I asked.
"Have you forgotten already? Tomorrow's the big day!"
I slapped myself in the forehead and laughed nervously.
"I guess I did for a moment, it's the merger," I said.
"Damn right my friend,"
I guess I felt sort of blessed that I was actually friends with my boss. Malcolm Robinson took me in despite knowing how difficult my situation could get at a moment's notice thanks to having to take care of Justine. He was always understanding and even though I got to work late sometimes, he didn't mind at all; he knew what it was like to have to take care of a child on his own.
His wife ended up having to move to France for some kind of modeling tour which left him with his 10 year old son; she couldn't afford to have little Frank with her when she had to spend most of her time in a dressing room after all.
"Excited?" he asked.
"I'm not exactly invited to the afterparty but I guess I am," I replied with a nervous laugh.
"Not to worry; I don't forget people who are good to me and to my family,"
He put an arm around me.
"You've been a faithful friend and an unbiased worker for a while now Max and I have to say that I appreciate you being here for this big day," he said.
"Happy to be here sir,"
He scoffed and shook his head.
"We're off the job now kid, you know how much I don't like formality outside the office," he chuckled.
I shrugged as I put the last binder into my bag.
"How's Justine doing?" he asked.
"She's got exams coming up in a couple weeks so she's getting stressed out...but I know she can handle it,"
"She's got a good brain...better watch out when she hits 18 cause the guys are gonna be all over that," he teased.
I rolled my eyes and sighed.
"Don't remind me...it's already irritating to deal with it right now when she's 16,"
"She's a good girl though; you two have a really close bond,"
"Yeah...I guess we do,"
"I'm still sorry about your sister...even though it was a few years ago, must've been rough,"
"I try not to think about it...but I do miss her,"
I followed him out of the office as he locked the door with the key.
"Jared will take care of the rest of the building...but I didn't realize I piled up so much paperwork; this merger thing's really made things hectic," he said.
"At least it'll all be over tomorrow,"
He stretched his arms above his head and let out a deep sigh.
"Need a ride home?" he asked.
"I'd appreciate it," I replied.
He smiled before whipping out his keys and winking.
"New car," he chuckled.
"Managed to finally get that Mercedes I've been meaning to buy; Ralph hooked me up," he replied.
I smiled brightly and nodded.
"Mind if we make a stop at the convenience store at the end of my block?" I asked.
"No sweat; wanted some chips anyway,"
I chuckled as we walked out of the building and into the parking lot. I whistled loudly at the sight of the brand new vehicle which he was now taking great pride in. He was always a sucker for sports cars and he kept talking about finally having one to call his own. He finally got his wish.
"Still got the new car smell?" I asked.
"Wouldn't have it any other way," he replied with a wink.
I got into the car once he unlocked it with the push of a button. It didn't take long for us to be on our way. The ride was a rather humorous conversation. Malcolm always had a tendency to tease me about my love life, which was essentially non-existent because I didn't have time to even consider a woman, let alone try to woo one. Between working for him, taking care of Justine, going to the gym and then actually squeezing in some sleep for the night, my days were too chaotic for me to really get some time to myself.
He always joked about allowing me to take Saturdays off because I always did more work than I was supposed to and there were even days where I didn't have much of a quota to fill. I guess I was finally beginning to consider his offer; even Justine was urging me to stop being a "lone wolf". I had focused so much on the other parts of my life that I hadn't even considered my own well being.
Getting Justine into school, as well as working out how she'd get there and back every day was a battle in itself for the first couple of weeks until she became friends with someone who lived in the same apartment complex that we lived in. Once that happened, her friend agreed to take her to school and back every day, taking a lot of the strain off of me. After that, it was all a matter of working my way up the ranks. It took a solid four months of work before Malcolm and I finally began to get along. He ended up giving me a few promotions, allowing me to actually make progress on my plans to buy a house; the rent in the small apartment was outrageous. Once that was secured, there was the matter of my physical health.
Because I spent so much time around a desk, in addition to the fact that I didn't sleep all that much, I was getting thinner and thinner. After being pestered by my co-workers, I decided to start going to the gym. While I was there, I met someone who introduced me to a local martial arts teacher and within a week, I was practicing Wing Chun and Tai Chi every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. It really helped me get over my painful memories, and I even began to rely on the stress relief it offered to maintain my sanity.
All of this coupled together...my life was finally beginning to come together.
"Grab me a bag of Sour Cream chips,"
I shook my head clear of the thoughts upon hearing Malcolm's voice. I awkwardly got out of the car before making my way inside. After picking up his chips as well as the detergent I had forgotten to get yesterday for Justine's clothes, I approached the cashier. She smiled at me.
"That'll be 7 dollars," she said.
Feeling really happy, I handed her a $10 before declining the change. She laughed softly and shook her head.
"Appreciate it," she said.
"Have a good night ma'am," I said.
As soon as I picked up my bag, I heard a loud gunshot. I immediately dropped the bag before looking outside. Much to my horror, the driver side of Malcolm's car was shattered and I saw a man running away. I sprinted over to the car while the cashier scrambled to call the police and an ambulance. I opened the door to see that Malcolm's head was lowered and there was now a huge bloodstain on his chest. He was bleeding so profusely, it completely soaked his white shirt. He looked up weakly at me.
"...It...it was...our rival..." he choked.
I shook my head, urging him to save his energy but he sighed deeply.
"He...stole the bag containing everything...it was Jonah Iverson..." he muttered.
He put a hand on my shoulder.
"...Don't let him get away with this..."
His eyes closed...
And I cried out.
I broke out of my intense stare upon hearing a familiar voice. A moment later, I felt arms go around my neck and a weight resting on my back. I sighed deeply.
"Sorry to keep you out so late kiddo," I said.
"He's my friend too you know," she replied.
I had no idea how she always managed to bring me out of a saddened mood, but then again, this was my niece and no one knew me better than she did.
"Did the doctors say anything?" she asked.
"Two gunshot wounds in the chest...they didn't tell me how severe it was and considering how long they've been in the ER, I don't have a good feeling about it," I replied.
She sighed deeply and shook her head.
"Why would anyone want to kill someone as nice as Malcolm?" she hissed.
"Business isn't the nicest world out there," I replied.
"...I hope he'll be alright,"
She tightened her grip around me as I let out a deep sigh.
I didn't even realize that one of the doctors had come out of the room as we rushed up to him.
"What's going on? Is he going to be okay?" I asked.
He removed his glasses and shook his head.
"One of the bullets severed an artery...if the ambulance had been even a few minutes sooner, we may have been able to save him..."
He lowered his head.
"He passed away during the surgery...he lost too much blood on his way here," he explained.
Justine held my hand...but it was to almost no avail. I dropped to my knees as the emotions began to overtake me.
Just like that...my best friend was taken from me.