Thursday, May 26, 2011

Jack of All

When I went to work last night, the boss told me I had a new partner, some new guy.
“Jack is my partner,” I said.
“Well, Jack requested a transfer to a new unit.” He said it in a really grating singsong, like a kid taunting another kid on the playground. He didn’t have to say any more. If Jack, the model employee with the best attendance and punctuality record out of all of us, wanted to get away from the company slacker and onto a new team, he got his transfer.
“But Jack is MY partner,” I said again, as if that would help.
My boss’s face got a pinched expression of perverse glee. “Jack WAS your partner. Now, he’s Angela’s partner.” Angela was the team hottie, all big brown eyes and curves, and she was even nice. Jack told me before, when we were just friends, that he liked her.
“We’ll see about that.” I ran into the bay where the ambulances park. As usual, I was running late, and Jack was early. He and Angela were just pulling out. I poured on the speed, feet all but tearing chunks from the concrete, and got in front of them, waving my arms. I could see through the windshield that Jack was driving, and his lips were pressed in a thin line. The ambulance didn’t slow down.
He thought I’d get out of the way.
Jack clearly did not know just how stubborn I can be. I crossed my arms, scaly armored left arm in the front and planted my feet.
He hit the brakes at the last second, but the front bumper still hit me a good solid thump. If he hadn’t hit the brakes, I’d have left a pretty big dent in the front end, and that wouldn’t have looked good on Jack’s spotless employee record.
I didn’t move. I’ve been hit by bigger vehicles at higher speeds.
Jack rolled down the window and said, “Get out of the way, Dee.”
“No.” I had an odd déjà vu. I’d swear I’d heard this conversation before somewhere.
Jack sighed. “Dee, it’s better this way. Just let me go.”
“We’re good together and you know it.”
“Someone else can work with you just as well as I could.”
“You know me, Jack. No one else does.”
He wouldn’t meet my eyes but the muscles in his jaw tightened. “Vlad does.” He said it soft enough that a human wouldn’t have heard him from outside the unit, while he was still in the driver’s seat.
Angela’s big pretty brown eyes watched the whole exchange from the passenger side.
At that moment, I really hated her. “You’ve never been a coward before, Jack. At least, come out here and talk to me face-to-face.”
Jack looked like I’d hit him when I called him a coward. Jack’s got more guts than sense sometimes. It might be his one big character flaw, but it was one of the things I loved about him. He got out of the ambulance, slammed the door, and walked around to face me.
It made my heart clench and my eyes burn. Jack knew I could throw him through a wall. Jack knew everything about me. And it didn’t phase him.
When he got up close and crossed his arms, waiting for me to say my peace, and clearly determined that nothing I was going to say would change his mind, I just stood there, wondering what I should say. He looked like he wanted to be a hundred miles from me, and I just wanted to get closer to him. “Don’t push me away. Why won’t you just talk to me?”
“There’s nothing more to say. Vlad was right.” He looked like he had a bad taste in his mouth. “He’s a much better choice for you.”
“Damn it, Jack. Shouldn’t that choice be up to me?”
“I can’t protect you. He can. You’re safer if I just get out of your way.” He crossed his arms tighter. “And I’m not going to just keep working with you every day while you date some other guy. Let it go, Dee. We’re done.”
I was losing him. I’d already lost him. There had to be something I could say that would bring him back. If I lost Jack, I wouldn’t just lose my first love, I’d lose my true partner. I’d have to go back to working with someone who didn’t know my secrets. I’d have to try to sneak in help when my partner wasn’t looking.
“Jack,” I said, and my voice broke. I had to swallow and clear my throat a little. “I need you.”
He barked a bitter laugh. “You don’t need me. I’m just a human.” He turned on his heel, grabbed the handle, and yanked the door open.
“Without you, I’ll have to watch people die again,” I whispered.
Jack laid his forehead against the metal of the door and just stood there for a few seconds, then he climbed up into the cab and closed the door.
Angela glared anger at me from the cab. She didn’t know what I said to Jack, but it was clear she didn’t like me hurting him.
She was pretty and nice, and wouldn’t get him into situations where he’d be likely to get hit by flying cars. He’d be better off with her.
I walked back into the building. I had to stop, take a deep breath, and get control.  After a couple minutes, I went back to the boss’ sliding window, where his personal space interfaced with the rest of us peons. I tried to ignore the “I told you so” smirk on the boss’ face.  “So, who’s my partner, then?” I asked, utterly defeated.
From behind me, I heard light footsteps and Jack said, “I am.”
The boss dropped the pen he always chews on because the hospital won’t let him smoke inside. “You’re shitting me. I just finished the paperwork for your transfer.”
“I changed my mind,” Jack said.
I had to blink a few times to see him clearly when I turned around. It felt like someone took a thousand pounds off my shoulders. “Why? How?” I know, gift horse – mouth, but I couldn’t help it.
“You’re right. We’ve saved a lot of lives together.”
I wanted to hug him, and I must have made some sort of movement toward him without thinking about it.
He held a hand up. “I’m your partner, Dee, nothing more.” His jaw was set hard.
“No way,” the boss said. “Your transfer is final.”
“Then fire me,” Jack said. He walked away without another word.
The boss sputtered, speechless. That was the kind of attitude he usually got from me, not Jack.
All I could do was grin so wide my face hurt.
I had my partner back. And a chance, at least, to win back my boyfriend.

Dee Dragon