Direction Chapter Three
Working it Out
It was a silent car ride home, Chris was being unusually quiet. Jeff was left with just his thoughts, and the whistling sound from the one back window that couldn't close all the way.
"What was that back there?" Jeff pondered. "How in the hell did I know what was going to happen? Did I actually see the future, or maybe jump back in time? Did anyone else experience that or was it just me? How did I guess the book Riley was reading, did I subconsciously recognize it from afar?" He could've gone on like this forever, he had to dig deeper, so he finally decided to break the silence. He looked over at Chris who was scratching his face underneath his thick beard, and had his left leg sort of propped up against the driver side door as he drove.
"Riley seems to be doing alright in the big city," Jeff said.
"Yea, she's a better man than me, I wouldn't last one week in that place," Chris replied, still staring straight ahead.
"I've never seen her laugh so much," Jeff continued, "she usually doesn't find me very funny. Like my hangover joke."
He turned now to study Chris' reaction. He saw him very briefly take his eyes off the road and look at his hands. Jeff had a strange knack for subtle tells like that.
"Yea, it was funny, I actually almost said the same exact thing just as you said it. It was weird as fuck." Chris replied, then he grinned. "Guess I'm getting slow in my old age!"
Jeff mustered up a quick smile then quickly turned his head and looked out the passenger side window. "Holy fucking shit," he thought, "so I somehow predicted the future! It was kind of wasted on such an inopportune time though. Couldn't have happened, I don't know, before picking lottery numbers or something? Of course, I did really crack Riley up today, that was pretty satisfying."
He continued staring out the window and quietly thinking to himself the remainder of the car ride home. The constant doubting and questioning had him at a steady level of high anxiety, which continued over the next few weeks.
"Get up man we gotta leave for work!" Chris yelled outside Jeff's bedroom door. "The job itself is humiliating enough, I'd rather not get another 'stern talking to.’ Plus I’m a manager now, I can’t be strolling in 15 minutes late anymore.”
Jeff let his eyes peel open. The streaks of light from the window were cutting across the room like razor blades to his eyes. The weight of his body seemed to be holding him down, he turned to his side and looked at the blanket near his face. From this close he could see the intricate pattern of the threads weaving together for the greater good, the warmth of it's master. A streak of light was hitting not far from his face, in it he could see every single tiny particle there was wistfully make it's way across the beam of highway, then gone again. Like looking through a keyhole at an entire civilization.
"I'm fucking up man, relax!" Jeff mumbled. He could hear Chris loudly sigh through the door, then his footsteps trailing back down the hallway.
Jeff rolled to his back again then propped himself up with his elbows and wiped the sleep from his face with both hands. "Fuck," he thought. He whipped his legs over the side of the mattress and pushed himself to his feet, letting out a long and labored exhale. His room was so small, from where he was now standing he could almost reach his tiny closet without moving. He slid one foot forward feeling the matted carpet scrape against his skin, and pulled the closet door open. Reaching down, he picked up the wrinkled maroon polo from the closet floor and pulled it over his head. "AG Cinema" read the name tag already pinned to the front of it.
He couldn't fucking imagine why Chris found their job humiliating, he loved working at the theater. Though very low paying, it was easy work, they got to see movies for free, and were able to indulge in all the popcorn they could eat at the end of the night. Delicious, buttery, authentic movie theater popcorn, the stuff that costs almost as much as a whole meal would cost elsewhere. And they got it for free. Though supposed to be just a temporary thing, he felt like he could work at the theater forever.
He shrugged his shoulders and reached down to grab his bag. He liked to have extra clothes with him in the off chance he wanted to go somewhere after work and not look like he should be ushering people to their bar stools. As he picked it up, a small wooden cat rolled out onto the carpet. The cat Jeff had made for Riley the day they went to see her at the café. With everything that had happened that day he completely forgot to give it to her. "A gift for another day," he thought and placed it gently back into the bag, stuffed some wrinkled clothes on top of it, and headed out of his room.
Chris was already down in his car waiting. Jeff opened the back passenger side door, threw his bag in, then plopped himself onto the front seat.
"Seriously man, it's like 1 in the afternoon, how the fuck are you still sleeping?" Chris said as he put the car in reverse, sounding annoyed.
"Because I just got to sleep two fucking hours before you started yelling into my room," Jeff replied. "Insomnia's been kicking in pretty damn hard lately."
"See man, I told you to quit drinking coffee at like 11 o'clock at night," Chris said. "Speaking of, I'm stopping at Tripp's quick on our way. They just added burritos to their menu, I need one inside me, right now."
"Lovely," Jeff said flatly.
A high flying camera tracked over Tripp's as Chris drove his car into the lot. There were gas pumps lining the one side of the building with a steady intricate flow of cars entering and exiting, the subtle dance of common courtesy and not giving a fuck. The lunchtime rush was in full effect.
Jeff walked in the front door and went straight to the coffee station. Ever since the incident at the café he had tried everything he could possibly think of to recreate what had happened, get it to work again. "Maybe it's related to coffee?" he desperately thought at one point. So he began drinking it every single day, testing out different ways and seeing if there's a spark. He weaved his way through the randomly darting foot traffic and grabbed a 16 ounce cup. As the hot convenience store caffeine made it's way into the paper vessel, Jeff stared at his reflection in the glass of the freezer door, remembering spotting his reflection right before he miraculously defied space and time at the café. He clenched his eyes shut as hard as he could, concentrating with every fiber of his being and staring into the darkness of his mind. He tried to steady his breathing. “Come on!” he thought. “Come on, come on, come on!”
“What the hell are you doing man?" Chris said, now standing to the right of him.
Jeff opened his eyes to his reflection in the freezer door, then looked down at his coffee. He was still pressing the button to pour, and the black hot liquid was now breaking free from the constraints of the cup, all over his hand. “Fuck!” he yelled as he quickly pulled his hand back, the steaming coffee biting at his skin.
Surprised, Chris stared at him for a moment. “Are you alright?” he finally managed to say.
“Yes, sorry,” Jeff said. “I was just,” he paused, “distracted.”
“Well I saw you from over at the registers, looked like you were trying to shit your pants,” Chris replied in a half worried, half sarcastic tone.
Jeff rolled his eyes, dumped the excess coffee into the trash, grabbed some sugar packets, and headed to the register to pay hoping no one saw him trying to time travel by the coffee maker. He counted out the change from his pocket while waiting in line, dumped it into the clerks hand, and walked out to Chris’ car. “Jesus this is stupid,” he thought, as he sat staring at the dashboard until Chris finally got his food and came out.
“You sure your hand’s alright?” he asked as he got into the car. “That coffee is hot as hellfire man.”
“Yeah, I’ll be fine,” Jeff replied. He took a sip of his coffee and continued looking straight ahead. “I just need to figure this out,” he thought, “there has to be a way.”
They pulled up to the theater and parked in the back of the lot. Most didn’t like that Chris had this habit but Jeff actually didn’t mind, the walk wasn’t too bad. Especially a little later in the evening, when it’s just starting to get dark and the lights come on, the brisk damp air sets in, filling your lungs like rushing water. Music plays on the outside speakers of the theater, feels like walking up to a 50’s era movie premier.
Jeff wished he was dressed for the part, and imagined paparazzi snapping pictures of him as he entered. Just then he realized he walked right in front of a 20-something man taking a picture of the new X-Men movie poster. “Oh sorry man,” Jeff said.
“It’s all good. Cool candid shot, it kind of looks like you’re at a movie premier,” the guy replied as he smiled and held the phone out for Jeff to see.
Jeff stopped walking. “What?” he asked quickly.
“Oh,” said the man, startled. “Nothing, I just said it was a cool candid shot.” The man then looked at the ground and quickly walked away.
Jeff turned and continued making his way into the theater. “What the fuck, did he just say that because of what I was thinking?” he thought. He pushed the doors open and immediately his nostrils were filled with the smell of buttery, cooking popcorn. His ears filled with the sounds of the small, shitty arcade off to the right and TV screens overhead playing small movie promos. His thoughts were then abruptly interrupted.
“Yo Jeff!” yelled a very tall, thin, energetic man from near the concession counters.
Jeff looked up. The man was now crossing the lobby with his right arm fully extended and all his fingers closed in a fist, all but the middle one which reached straight up into the air. His strides were huge, it looked as if his legs didn’t even bend, like a rigid stick man. Jeff smirked and dug his hand inside his empty pocket as he walked, wrinkling his face as if he was searching very hard for something, then with a look of surprise pulled his hand out of his pocket with his own middle finger pointing skyward. The man smiled awkwardly and started walking backward in front of Jeff now, keeping pace.
“What’s up Carl?” Jeff said.
“Nothing much man. Got here about an hour ago, been slower than old people fuckin’ so far.” Carl replied.
Jeff gave a genuine chuckle, which he didn’t normally ever give, then headed back to the employee break room and clocked in for his shift. He threw his bag inside a locker and looked at the daily work list to see what he’d be doing for the day. Theater checker. “Fuck yea.” he thought. Theater checker was by far the easiest job there was to do at the theater. It required looking at a list, going to a theater at a time the list delegated, making sure no one was fucking in that theater, checking the emergency exit door then going to the next theater on the list. Jeff loved this particular job. He usually checked the first two theaters on the list then sat and watched a movie for an hour or so. He grabbed his list, one of the small orange cone flashlights hanging on the wall, and a walkie talkie off the charging station before walking out to start his shift.
Carl was still hanging around in the lobby as Jeff walked out of the break room. "You see Morgana yet? She's looking about as goddamn hot as ever! Every wet dream I've had in the last 2 years has involved her in some way, you need to quit pussyfootin’ man.”
Morgana was a young, incredibly attractive blonde girl that started at the theater a few months before Jeff began working there, and she was tasked with training him when he was hired. She seemed to take a liking to Jeff right away but he wasn't accustomed to that brand of attention from someone so beautiful, so he just chose to ignore it.
Just then Morgana walked in from the right of the frame. The lights above the hallway seemed to illuminate her perfectly, as if on purpose. Though very short, she walked almost gazelle-like, and was effortlessly charming. She was moving in slow motion, her shiny hair bouncing at the valley of each step, with sexy music playing in the background from a movie trailer on one of the lobby televisions, Jeff imagined.
"Hey Carl, hey Jeffrey," she said in a kind voice that didn't quite match her appearance, as she walked up to them and stopped on the front of her heels. Jeff was usually treated a lot differently by people who looked like her, so he didn’t quite know how to act. She smiled at Carl, then her gaze lingered on Jeff.
"Sup!" Carl said.
"Hey Morgana," Jeff said as he nervously smiled. "You working tonight or just getting off?”
“I’m on tonight,” she replied. “I gotta work the concession though. Stinks!”
“Oh nice! You working tonight I mean, not that you’re on concession, that’s no good” Jeff said as he looked down at the carpeted floor, which was a mishmash of pastel colors that led to Morgana’s scuffed up black chucks. Her feet were almost rhythmically moving from side to side. She was a ballet dancer outside of the theater, so even in an idle stance she still seemed somewhat graceful. “Well, I better get started on my rounds,” he added, glancing up at her blue eyes for an instant, then heading across the lobby to theater number 6, the first on his list.
He could feel her watching him and was suddenly very aware of the way he was walking, and felt awkward as he retreated to the confides of a dimly lit theater and a glowing screen. It was Jeff’s favorite place to be, one of the only places he could be alone and unbothered by the outside world while simultaneously experiencing feelings of adventure, longing, sadness, nearly every range of emotions. It was his fix, that silky cool rush of normalcy accompanied by the crippling withdrawal that followed. It was his hard drug, he was dependent on it. The cinema was pretty much the closest thing in his life to normal human interaction. He would study the movies, mimicking the character’s movements and mannerisms, they taught him to blend in to a world that would have otherwise cast him aside.
He pulled open the door to theater 6 and slid into the darkness. Just then the sounds of explosive gunfire echoed in his eardrums. An action scene. It was that new Scorsese movie, he was walking in on the scene where DiCaprio's character was chasing down the mole in his department.
Jeff was half tempted to sit right then, but he'd already seen this one a dozen times. He clicked on his little light and walked under the huge, lit screen with his head down, as he did he quickly glanced up at the seats. He always felt so exposed at this moment. He knew no one was really paying attention to him, but even with only a few people scattered throughout the theater, he had flashbacks of high school debate class, eyes searing into him and drying his throat. He quickly looked back down and continued making his way to the emergency exit. The orange glow of his light mixed with the blood red of the exit sign and the dancing colors bouncing off the screen. He pushed on the door lightly and it swung outward the slightest bit. “Yep, still a door,” he thought, before lazily turning and gliding out of theater 6 just as swiftly as he entered.
He hit two more theaters before making his way to the back of the hallway and slipping into theater 12, The Da Vinci Code. Not his first choice but it was nearing the end of it’s run, which meant no one else would be in the theater to bother him. He clicked off his light as he walked around the corner to the seats and looked up. Completely empty, it was beautiful.
He sat in the closest end seat and leaned back into the chair. Up on the screen Tom Hanks was walking through The Louvre looking down at the glass floor beneath him, a concentrated look on his face. Just then Riley walked around the corner from the theater door and up to where Jeff was sitting.
“Hey, I thought I’d find you here” she said.
“What, how, how did you know where I’d be?” Jeff nervously replied. “What are you doing here?”
“Ever since our lunch at the café I’ve been wanting to talk to you. You were so different that day, it was weird,” she said, “so here I am.”
Jeff just sat there looking up at her. Even in the dim light he could see the green of her eyes, illuminated by the light from the screen. She smiled, and a jolt of anxiety shot through him. “This is crazy,” he said. “I mean, that’s, that’s awesome to hear. I’ve been meaning to talk to you as well.”
“Oh yea?” she said, still smiling. “Well, I’m here because for some reason I haven’t been able to stop thinking about you lately. So, why don’t you go ahead and talk?”
“Heh, well, I’ve been meaning to talk to you for quite a while now actually,” he said. Then he paused, and watched the lights and shadows of the screen move across her face. “I guess, think of all the little moments that have ever made you happy in your life. Every song, every laugh, every movie, person, the smell of rain on asphalt during a hot day, Christmas morning. The way every happy moment makes you feel, that’s what it’s like to be around you.” He couldn’t bare looking her in the eyes any longer and looked down at the floor, then over at the screen.
Tom Hanks was standing there looking down into the audience, his eyes seemed to meet with Jeff’s. “Better wake up Jeff,” Tom said, “you’re going to miss the important parts.”
Jeff jumped awake. The credits of the movie were slowly crawling up the screen. “Fuck,” he whispered as he quickly pushed off the chair and stood up. He rubbed his eyes, clicked on his light, and hurried out the door. He made it half way down the hallway before bumping into Carl, who was carrying two brooms and two dustpans, one pair in each hand.
“Where the fuck have you been shithead? You’re supposed to be helping clean theaters!” Carl said hastily. “Theater 8, I’m also running late so we better fucking book it. Here’s your shit,” he finished as he extended a broom and dustpan toward Jeff. As soon as Jeff’s fingers wrapped around the handles Carl let go of them and continued his accelerated pace down the hallway.
Jeff took off after him, while at the same time trying to make sure his appearance wouldn’t immediately reveal his two hour nap he just took during the beginning of his work shift. “We’re cleaning with Morgana man,” Carl said as he looked back smiling over his shoulder. “Concession is super slow right now so Scott sent her to help us with the theaters.”
“Great, I’m going to be cleaning in silence for the next however many hours because I’m going to be too fucking nervous to say anything, pretty much the usual,” Jeff thought.
“Maybe you’ll finally grow a damn man-sack and take that girl to IHOP,” Carl said, referring to the only restaurant in a half-mile radius that would still be open by the time their shift ended.
“Well, I don’t see you fucking doing much, king lady slayer,” he replied deflecting Carl’s attempt at peer pressure. “Have at it your highness.”
“You know I got a lady, man! Morgana’s so hot my girl would probably want to sleep with her too,” Carl said whimsically. “Good thing I’m hitched though, otherwise you’d have no chance. Look at this tall glass of man, I’m like a majestic oak tree. She’d be swinging from my branch in less than a week.”
“Ha,” Jeff said mockingly, “about as dumb as a tree, I’ll give you that you fucking blockhead. Speaking of blockheads, where the fuck has Chris been all afternoon?”
“Big shot’s working the projectors tonight,” Carl replied. “Must be nice, get to just chill and press a bunch of play buttons.”
“Well, you’re over simplifying a tad, but yea it’d be pretty nice. I keep forgetting his promotion,” Jeff said as they arrived at theater 8. Carl put his shoulder into the door and let his momentum carry him through it. They rushed in to see Morgan already sweeping through one of the middle rows.
“Where were you guys!” she said as she scooped up a small popcorn pile with her dustpan. “We’re supposed to be done with this theater already, people are going to start coming in.”
“Eh, just walk along the side of the rows, make sure there’s no big pieces of garbage, and we can just go to the next one,” Carl said cooly. “It’ll be dark as fuck, no one will notice anything.”
And that’s how it went for the next few hours. Jeff loved working with Carl because next to him he looked like a goddamn saint-like employee. It was a good counterbalance to how lame Morgana usually made him feel when she was around. There was just something about her. She was weird, but in the kind of way only outrageously beautiful people could be weird. She could pretty much do whatever she pleased and everyone would just smile and nod like an imbecile. But what made it worse was that she didn’t do whatever she pleased, she was one of the nicest, most considerate people he’d ever met. Which was a hard thing to pull off in his eyes considering how much he hated everyone most of the time. If he wasn’t already crazy about someone he could certainly see himself being crazy about her.
The day’s run of movies was through and they were finishing up their cleaning duties in the main lobby. Carl was tossing soda bottles left in the arcade area into a big trashcan near the right side hallway of theaters, roughly 20 feet away. A large neon sign hung above the hallway, “Theaters 1-12.” It glowed down onto the can making a sort of garbage halo, and each bottle seemed to catch the vibrant light and pull it into the blackness of the trash bag.
“Could’ve gone pro, look at this shit!” Carl yelled across the lobby to Jeff and Morgana, who were sweeping up near the concession counters.
Jeff looked up to see a bottle mid-flight reach the garbage halo and join the rest of it’s companions in the depths of the can. “With your height, yeah maybe,” Jeff replied, “unfortunately to play you need to be able to spell your own name and tie your shoes.”
Morgana let out a loud giggle. Jeff could feel his heart begin pumping faster, and a coppery taste creeped into his mouth.
“Hey, fuck you dick nibbler, think you can do better?” Carl shouted back as he threw his last bottle out into the middle of the lobby.
Jeff looked over at Morgana, she smiled and raised her eyebrows. “Can you shut him up, please?” she asked.
In that moment Jeff could almost hear his heart thumping in his chest. He rubbed his hand on the back of his neck, it felt warm and clammy. “If by ‘shut him up’ you mean to make that bottle in the trash, I’d have better luck quitting this job to become a physicist.” he replied.
An overhead shot looked down at the bottle in the middle of the chaotic carpet pattern. All the blinking, colorful lights in the lobby seemed to focus on it, as if the light was actually emanating from inside of the empty plastic. A few moments passed as the television screens circling the lobby continued their advertisements, and random chimes and beeps echoed from the arcade games.
Jeff walked over and picked up the bottle on the cap end. He could feel a burning sensation igniting up the back of his neck as he looked from the bottle to the illuminated trash can. With a deep inhale, he reached his arm back and flung the bottle toward the can in a high arc. He watched it leave his hand and flip end over end through the air, landing perfectly into the middle of the large neon sign hanging above the trash. The thin glass shattered instantly accompanied by a loud popping sound, like a cork from a champagne bottle. Just as this was happening, Scott and Chris were walking into the lobby from the opposite hallway and came to an abrupt stop at the sound of the disturbing noise.
“Oh fuck man!” Carl yelled.
Jeff stood there with his throwing hand still in the air, the hairs on his arm were standing straight up and his whole body burned with adrenaline. He closed his eyes and concentrated as hard as he could. “Please,” he thought, “please jump back. Come on, I can do this, come on!”
Jeff was looking down at the bottle in his hand then over at the trash can, still illuminated by the glowing neon light. His eyes widened and he began breathing heavily, trying to not show his overwhelming excitement at what just transpired. After a long pause he realized he was still standing there holding the bottle.
“Alright, take two,” he thought as he squared himself up, traced an imaginary line on the floor from him to the garbage, and let the bottle fly from his hand once more. A loud popping sound filled the lobby, and Jeff wrenched his eyes shut.