Writer's Note: I really appreciate everyone reviewing these stories. :) Hope you guys like this one.
It's hard, letting him in. I mean, I don't mind Jack seeing my good points. I want him to know, to think, that I'm smart and attractive. It's everything else – where I've lived, how I've lived, since trying to kill myself, that I'm not too happy about him knowing. But I'm moving with him to California, and to do that, there are some things I just won't leave behind. And when he asked me to let him come, I couldn't say no.
So here we are, walking up to the second floor of a shabby, run-down apartment complex on the outskirts of New York. The hallway is narrow and the ceiling is low. Okay, the place is a dump, but it has all the necessities and is basically operational, even if it isn't pretty. "I'm not sure where my key ended up between the Russians and running from our own military," I say before I unapologetically kick in the door.
"I don't think you're going to get your deposit back," Jack replies. "Although I think charging someone to live here is a crime in itself."
"It's not that bad." When he raises an eyebrow skeptically, I amend, "Okay, so the water heater can take an hour to work and the door occasionally jams…"
I run a hand raggedly through my hair. "It's cheap and the owner doesn't mind late payments. It was perfect while I was between work…" Suddenly unable to meet his eyes, I look around and go down the hall to the closet that really qualified as more of a crevice, and pulled out a duffel bag. "I won't be long," I mutter.
"Take your time," Jack says. "We have all day."
I'd donated most of my furniture and left my roomier, more expensive apartment after Andy found me. I couldn't stand that little kid's haunted eyes every time he looked at me. I took only the things I needed, and the few things I couldn't bear to part with. As it is, I own no couch, T.V., computer, coffee table, or kitchen table. I ate my meals at the desk in my room when I could bear to eat, and read on my bed or went for a run when I could bear to do something.
I stuff clothes in my duffel first – jeans, bras, underwear, shirts. I don't have any fancy clothing, either; I don't want any. I grab my favorite sweater off the back of my chair.
Once my clothes are packed, I pause, and my eyes drift to the bedroom closet. In a box in the corner of the top shelf is a black zip-up jacket with the white letters "F.B.I." emblazed across the left breast. I couldn't throw it away when I left, but I can't wear it either. I'm wondering whether I should take it or not when Jack walks in, a photograph in hand. "Is this your family?"
My eyes fall to the small 4x6, which I had kept lodged between the rows of my mother's old spice rack on the kitchen counter. My father and mother are beaming at the camera, with my six-year-old self between them. "Part of it," I answer, and look away.
He taps the photograph against his fingers. "You know, you don't have to do this, Renee."
Dread slips into my voice before I can catch it, as I say, "Move?"
"No – I mean, well, you don't have to do that either, but I meant that you don't have to squeeze stuff into one small duffle. We can fly out later, and then you won't have to pick and choose what you want to bring." Jack steps up to me and brushes my hair behind my ear. "You don't need to rush this," he finished softly.
I give him a half-smile. "I know, okay? I do. But Jack – really, except for a few things, the stuff I've got here is just…stuff. I only want to bring what really matters to me."
His gaze softens. "Okay. Is there anything I can do to help?"
"I'm almost done." But my eyes wander to the closet again. "Actually…" He looks back to me. "There's a box of books out by the fireplace. Could you grab the paperbacks from it?"
"Sure." He nods and leaves the room.
I step into the closet and reach for the box. I have to jump to slap it closer, and then I tug it down and take it to my bed. I haven't yet decided what I'm going to do with it, but as my fingers remove the box and unwrap the tissue paper, I hope that the right choice will somehow reveal itself.
The pristine letters glare up at me, somberly. It no longer feels like the jacket is mocking my treachery, but it does represent the proverbial elephant in the room – how far I've fallen, how everything I cared about just fell to shambles.
"Hey, I've got those books."
Almost everything, I realize. And I know what I'm doing with the jacket.
"I only saw four, these are the right ones, right?" Jack walks up to me and proffers the stack. I knew which ones they were before I even looked.
"Tom Sawyer, The Oedipus Cycle, Call of the Wild, The Jungle Books?" I ask, without looking away from the jacket. I stare at it, not understanding how easy my decision is. Where are the ties I felt to this thing? They were there. I can still feel the remnants of the meaning this jacket had to me, but it's like it's a family member that lives far away – there, but not there.
"Renee?" I meet his eyes, and he looks between me and the box, a question in his expression.
I fold the tissue paper back over the jacket and put the lid back on. I do this carefully, reverently. As though I were closing the lid to the casket of my past. I give a half-laugh at my melodrama.
I turn to him and loop my arm through his. "Let's go."
I leave the boxed jacket behind, on my bed, as a testament to the values I once held.