Tom Drake examined himself in the mirror, one of six placed strategically throughout his condo. While arduous and lackluster, the installation process of the additional four mirrors had taught him how delicately such instruments must be handled and how minor carelessness could result in dramatic consequences.
The exercise took an entire Saturday morning, which meant that Tom had not been able to party Friday night. Which meant he would be able to rise — not stumble — at the necessary hour. It had to be done precisely this way. Tom was worthless in the afternoon. This one, in particular, was no exception. Shirtless, he paced about, from one mirror to the next, never arriving at any productive exercise or action item. Maybe that was the point.
Someone was knocking at the door, so Tom, not being in any particular hurry, put on a wifebeater first. He nipped it from the top of a stack of approximately eight jet-black wifebeaters. Each had been folded neatly and washed only in Woolite Dark. Tom found other colors of these shirts to be queer.
Tom slung the door open. It was Hardy, the fat kid who lived with his parents and sister on the floor below.
“Hi Hardy. What’s shaking?”
“Mom said you can come over for dinner if you want to.”
“Again? That’s too generous.”
“She doesn’t mind. Yesterday she said you were,” Hardy paused, squeezing his eyes shut to think. Premature crows’ feet could be seen already, even in the pudgy face of an eight year old. Then the word arrived. “‘unusually well-mannered.'”
“Did she? Hardy, that is by far the nicest thing anyone has said about me in at least the last ten minutes.”
Hardy giggled. Tom smiled a little because he didn’t consider himself especially amusing.
“What time were you thinking?”
“At six. But you can come over now and play X-Box. I got Fight Night 4.”
“Alright Hardy you sold me. Can I build my boxer from scratch or do I have to do that shit where you pick one of the greats and emulate his career? Because as you and I have discussed countless times, Hardy, if I’m going to be playing a game with stats or progress indicators or things of that nature — they’re going to be about me.
My professional boxer.
My rock star.”
Hardy laughed. “You’re a funny neighbor. Ready?”
“Let me get my shoes.”
Tom ambled into his bedroom while Hardy stood in the doorway. On the counter, just a few feet away, a needle — used– lay discarded upon a couple dry quilted inch cotton squares speckled in red. Inside the sink, had Hardy been tall enough to peer over it, he would have seen a white shirt soaked and leaking bright blood into the drain.
“Alright buddy, let’s rock.”
“Tom?” Hardy’s voice shook and suddenly Tom remembered what he’d left in the kitchen.
“What’s up, my man?”
“What did you do today?”
Tom shut the door and gave the knob a quick twist. Yep, locked as planned. Tom’s hand rested casually on Hardy’s shoulder and he gave him a playful shove when the elevator arrived moments later. The door had shut and the machine descended two floors before Hardy’s wide eyes, awaiting a response.
“You know me, kid. When I find problems, I fix ’em.”