If you had asked Jacob Young when he began to notice all the changes in his life, he would tell you that it had all started on that one day, when a pretty stranger had called him by his full name.
“Hey! You’re Jacob Young!”
He looked at the woman’s reflection in the rearview mirror.
She was seated in the back seat of his Hyonda Civilia, taking a ride home from a local sports bar. Her blonde hair was unkempt. The white tank top she wore was draped loosely over a neon pink bra. Her skin was tanned and freckled. Her eyes were opened wide, her lips parted slightly as she stared back at him from the reflection of the rearview mirror.
“Good evening, ma’am,” he replied, acting professional.
He studied her face, unable to return the smiling zeal she was beaming towards him. He looked away before she did.
His gut registered a twinge of fright. He asked himself, How did she know my last name? He reasoned at first that she was someone he had previously met and had now forgotten. Dammit, he cursed himself silently.
“It’s really you! Wow, I can’t believe it,” the woman went on. Her voice was young, sharp, and was beginning to sound obviously drunk. “You’re the absolute nicest guy in the whole world!”
“That’s very kind of you, ma’am,” Jacob mumbled.
He tapped a couple buttons on the colorful touchscreen control panel mounted on the dashboard of the Hyonda. The engine quietly purred to life. He tapped a few more buttons, spun a couple digital dials, then pressed the main button which would thrust the vehicle into automated flight.
The route was preprogrammed based on data that the customer had provided when they had initially called for the service. He would keep an eye on the sky through the glass windshield, making sure that the Hyonda didn’t destroy any swarms of birds or unlicensed drones during its flight. Other than that, the physical portion of his job as taxi driver was largely complete.
The next morning, Jacob’s first job of the day was to deliver a man from his residential address to an office in the city proper.
Jacob watched from the rearview mirror as the man ducked into the back seat of the Hyonda, closing the door behind him. The man was dressed in a gray suit jacket, a crisp white shirt, and a crisp black tie. He was balding, keeping what little brown hair he had left combed over to one side. His cheeks were as paunchy as his belly and his chin struggled to bulge from his thick neck.
Once the man locked eyes with Jacob, a familiar expression spread across the man’s pudgy features. At that moment, a familiar twinge of fear gripped Jacob’s innards.
“You’re Jacob Young!” the balding man cried out.
His next fare that day was the same. They were younger and female, but they still knew him by name as soon as they made eye contact. “Holy shit! I know you! Jacob Young!”
All week, it had seemed that anybody who locked eyes with him recognized him instantly.
“You’re Jacob Young!”
“Hey! It’s Jacob Young!”
“Oh my goodness! Is my driver really Jacob Young?”
“Wait a minute! The Jacob Young?!”
Jacob had been unable to broach the subject of his recognition with these strangers. Every time they had said his name, he wanted to get angry at them, but a spike of fear had kept his guts tight and his mouth shut. They had no right to know him, yet they did. Rather than question them in an attempt to make sense out of the whole thing, Jacob began to find the idea of being famous more pleasing than not.
It wasn’t until a week later, when his wife Diana began asking questions, that he seriously began to consider his situation further.
He had been smiling a lot more than usual, she began to notice. He was also cleaning up after himself more frequently, in addition to asking her how her day was without her having to goad him into it. This was uncharacteristic of the Jacob she had grown to adore, who she usually saw as a slouching, grubby, depressing, quiet mess.
“What gives?” she finally asked one night from across their small dining table.
“Hm?” Jacob was in the middle of eating a forkful of noodles. He bit them off halfway, slurping and chewing, placing a hand in front of his mouth before speaking with a mouthful of food. “What do you mean?”
“That smile,” she said. Her brow was lowered, staring at him with her big brown eyes. She blinked, quickly looking to the side, tilting her chin up. “Oh, nothing. You just seem so happy all of the sudden.” She looked back at him, hints of a smile at the corners of her mouth. “I was just wondering if you’ve made any new friends, or anything like that.”
“Shouldn’t I be this happy when I have the most-loveliest wife in the world?”
She smiled, tucking her chin close to her chest, looking away again. “It’s just that I don’t think you’ve ever been so happy before. Usually, you’re off reading the news in your office with the lights off, digging for facts on all those random stories, typing away on that computer…”
“Huh.” Jacob placed the fork he was holding into the bowl of noodles in front of him. “I really haven’t been very productive this week, have I?”
“I haven’t seen you in your office since last Tuesday,” she agreed. “If you’ve been drinking again, you know that’s okay with me, as long as you don’t shut me out and keep me in the dark…”
“No, it’s actually nothing like that at all,” he said. He tapped on his chin with his index finger, looking up at the ceiling. “I guess you’re right. A lot has changed this week, I guess you could say. Really, I’m not so sure what I’ve been doing differently, but things have changed, alright.”
“What are you talking about?” She was looking at him again, this time with a glisten in her eyes.
“Diana, you’re going to think I’m crazy,” he began. “I already think I’m crazy. I’m afraid if I talk about it, I’ll jinx it and all the good things will all go away.”
“What good things?”
“I’m famous, Diana!” he exclaimed. His eyes were wide, his palms pressed flat on the table. “I don’t know how or why, but I’m famous!”
“What do you mean, famous?” Diana had given him a raised eyebrow.
“That’s the strangest part,” he tried to explain. “So many customers at work already know me! They call me by my name and they talk about me like they’ve seen me before. I’ve never met any of these people in my life, but they all seem to have met me!”
“Your name is on the app they use to call you for a ride,” she reminded him. “Are you sure you’re okay?”
“No, they call me by my last name,” he informed her. “That’s not on the app. But here’s another weird thing: they think and act like I’m the nicest, most-kindest person in the whole world. They even tell me so! At first, I thought that I was forgetting people I had previously met and had made a good impression on. I felt bad for all the attention that I didn’t deserve, but after a while…”
“You don’t think they’re pulling your leg so that they can leave you a bad tip?”
“That’s the even-crazier part. Diana, you’re not going to believe me until you see the paycheck, but they’ve been tipping me thousands more than the price of the fare. I am being overpaid by people who I’ve never met, but still somehow know and love me. The money isn’t the best part, but it helps make it all a little more real.”
“Wow,” she said. Her tone of voice was skeptical, but what more could she say? Very uncouth, indeed, for a wife to complain about more money, she thought to herself. “That’s very nice of them. You don’t think that they’re trying to trick you into doing favors for them, or anything like that?”
“Oh Diana, I love the way you think,” he said. A warm smile grew across his face, his eyelids dropping as he adored the sight of his wife. “I couldn’t make it in this world without you, I hope you know.”
“Thanks, dear. You, too.”
They finished their meal in silence. Diana could not finish her noodles. They went to bed that night and eloped the same as always.