Jackson tapped his fingers on the dinner table, waiting for Mr. Justin G. Degadia to arrive. Jackson held his hand up when the waitress tried to refill his water glass for the second time. Justin walked in looking like Mr. Hollywood by way of New York, dressed in a Brioni suit. He patted Jackson on the back and sat at the other end of the table.
“Are we eating? Let’s eat, where’s the waitress?” Justin drummed the table.
“I’m not hungry.”
“Come on, my treat. Order the Beef Wellington if you want to.”
Justin bashfully replied to a message sent to him just as he took his seat. He was a new husband and his new wife sent him a newlywed message. Jackson took a look at the menu and decided to order something after all. If he could not finish it, he would eat it later once he was in for the night. Justin covered his face. “Melissa, she’s my world … man, she’s so sweet. She sends me this message and asks me what I’m doing. So, I say, I’m missing you and she says, not half as much as I’m missing you.”
Jackson rolled his eyes. “I take it she’s your first girlfriend, I mean marriage.”
“Yeah, and we want babies, man. We’re just practicing for now though.” Justin let out a hearty laugh then drummed the table again.
“Order me the Chipotle Steak and Collard greens and a Salmon salad since you’re paying. I’ll be right back.”
Jackson stood in the antechamber and placed a call to Sandra. He had not spoken to her since Thursday, just before he left for Chicago. Her phone rang twice then connected to voicemail as if she had ignored his call. He held the line momentarily, considering leaving a message before hanging up. He sent her a text message; [Just checking on you. Hit me back.] Jackson stalled before returning to the table anticipating a return call from Sandra.
Justin had ordered appetizers for the both of them. Honey Glazed chicken wings and an onion ring tower.
“Who’s going to eat all this food?”
“Hey, that’s what To Go boxes are for, my friend. I put your order in. That salad sounds good, I got me one too. So, how’s that beautiful wife of yours? Cindy, right?”
“Sandy. She’s good.”
“Sorry about that. Good, tell her I said, hi. She probably doesn’t remember me anymore. You gotta bring her around more often.”
“I’ll keep that in mind.”
Justin leaned in and lowered his voice, “Jackson, I gotta ask ya, what happened to your face? You’re walking around looking pummeled.”
“I almost got robbed and uh, I had to fight a couple guys.”
“Geez, Louise! You gotta be careful out here. Did they let you on the air like that?”
Jackson cleared his throat. “No, they issued a public statement, so … I’ll be back on in two weeks.”
“Ok, now that we’ve caught up and we’ve ordered food … wait, no drinks. We need drinks.”
Justin held his finger up and caught the waitress’s attention. He ordered a bottle of wine and two beers. Justin is the producer of Box Seats Sports and Locker Room News. Jackson was a guest on both of his shows a while back when he returned to the States to kickbox. Box Seats Sports was new, and Justin needed a popular face to jump-start the show’s success. In turn, he put in a good word for Jackson with his good friend, Gene at All in Sports where Jackson ultimately became the face of the show.
“What have you heard about my show?”
“What do you mean?”
“Come on Justin, what’s the word on the street? They’re pulling the plug, but ain’t nobody talkin’ and nobody knows nothin’.”
“I don’t know, Gene’s not over there anymore. So, I’m out of the inside scoop loop.”
“I heard Gerald is coming to your network.”
“He may be. But I don’t own the network.”
“Justin, look I need you to pull some strings for me.”
“Jacks, you know I would, but there’s no room for you, right now.”
The food followed the drinks to the table. Everything looked and smelled delightful. Jackson cut a corner of his eight-ounce steak. It was tender and juicy. Justin finished off the onion ring tower then dug into his salad. “I’ll tell you this, if you’re smart, you’ll buy some businesses and retire early.”
“I own a business.”
“You’re not talking about that barbershop, are you?”
“Yeah, the barbershop and I own a few properties, I can get a few million for easy.”
Justin washed down a mouth full of ruffage with a sip of beer.
“Look, I produce two shows, but that’s just bread, no butter. I own a string of restaurants, six to be precise. I got a couple of movie theaters over in Scottsburg and two in Williamsburg. Something I can leave to my kids and set them up for success. You’re worth what, maybe sixty-five to seventy-five million, invest a little. But I’m Jewish, what do I know?”
Jackson sighed. He appreciated the pep talk, but what he needed was to see his name in lights. He did not want to be forgotten. He glanced at his phone. No calls, no messages. Justin got the waitress’s attention then pointed to the half-eaten plates of food and held up two fingers. “Hey, the next time you’re out here bring Sandy, I’ll bring Melissa and we’ll paint the town purple.” The waitress brought the bill and two plastic To Go containers and placed them in the small free space on the tabletop.
“Sounds good. Maybe we can have dinner at one of your restaurants.”
Justin drummed the table. “We just did.”
Jackson sulked around the studio as Gerald covered his and Jackson’s commentary. It was Gerald’s show for the next two tapings. He sat confidently behind, what the production crew liked to call; the Sports station. Jackson was scheduled to interview American kickboxing great, Ali Lovette next week. He suggested they postpone the interview since kickboxing was his area of expertise. The director never said no to anyone, he always sent his excuses to do his grunt work.
“Due to scheduling and advertising, postponing the interview could hurt pocketbooks and ratings. You can understand that, right?”
Jackson trolled around Chicago’s city limits until he found a pulse. He backed into a handicapped parking space and watched as a palette of brown, tan and black people swarmed the blocked off streets to indulge in the exhibitions of the vendors. Jackson rolled his window down to get a better look at the banner that was tied in between two portable light posts; the Ebony Arts Exposition.
Sandra had begged Jackson to take her there so that she could commune with the underground writers who sold their handwritten works and songstresses who would sing for you on the spot, meet the artisans and thespians who were celebrities amongst their city.
Sandra returned Jackson’s call. He sat up in his seat and cleared his throat. He knew he had what it took to make Sandra a happy wife, he just needed a little more time.
“Hey, I was just calling to check on you, I hadn’t heard from you. Are you feeling any better?”
“I am, actually. And I’m sorry I didn’t reach out to you sooner. I wanted to, I just … I don’t know. I didn’t want to tell you over the phone.”
“Tell me what?”
“I went to the hospital Thursday evening.”
“What did they say?”
“We lost the baby.”
Jackson looked out the window and watched a young lady with big curly hair and big breasts to match her backside, hike up the stairs to the museum entrance in high heels. A young man wearing African attire caught up with her and slapped her on the butt, breaching Jackson’s admiration. “You there?” Sandra asked.
“Yeah, I’m just shocked. Sandy, I’m sorry, I wasn’t there. We’ll get through this. Let’s sit down and talk when I get back.”
“Sit down and talk about what?”
“We lost our baby; you don’t think we should talk about it?”
“Jackson, we’ve been here before. I don’t want this to consume me.”
“Is there any chance that we could work something out? Forget about the divorce, all those papers mean is we don’t have a title, but we don’t need a title. Remember when we said, no matter what we would always talk to each other before making rash decisions?”
“That was in reference to buying a timeshare. And you bought it anyway, without consulting me.”
“I almost forgot, I ran into Justin today, remember him?”
“Degadia. Justin Degadia. He wants to have dinner with us.”
“Jackson, stop. Just stop it. We’re not going to dinner with Justin and we’re not going to work things out. The one thing that tied us together, we lost. And the one thing that would have tied us together, forever… we lost. All we can do now is cut our losses and move on.”
“So, to hell with our marriage, you ain’t even fighting for us no more?”
“We don’t have a marriage and I don’t have any fight left.”
“Sandy, I know if we just sit and talk, I can make you see that …”
“Jackson, we don’t have anything left to talk about. What we had is over.”
“That’s how you feel?”
“Unfortunately, yes. That’s how I feel.”
Jackson hung up on Sandra. A failed marriage was the inevitable outcome of a degenerate lifestyle. Jackson was back in his hotel room, sitting on the edge of the bathtub. Piece by piece life subtracted the things that were damaged and could not be used anymore, leaving him a broken vessel. He did not need Sandra to be justified, he needed her to love him.
Jackson got inside of the tub, fully clothed and rested his head against the marble tile. He remembered his grandmother telling him as a young boy, you can run, but you can’t hide. Life will always find a way to catch up with you. Jackson clenched his teeth, nostrils flared, and fists balled up tight, fighting to govern his emotions.
Her forehead was pressed firmly against Jackson’s forehead, her breathing was heavy and incessant causing Jackson to feel suffocated. Her weary eyes were fixated on Jackson’s eyelids. His deceit left a trail of destruction; hurt left him burdened. Her voice was drenched in the pain of every heartbreak he had ever felt and all the pain he had ever caused.
Look at me.
He rebelled, refusing to open his eyes.
Look at me!
Jackson slowly opened his eyes exposing his damaged soul; forced to look reality in the face.