A week after his talk with Mr. Nowak Zach’s deeply invested into Tales of Destiny 2, another old role playing game. He started this one a few days ago and hasn’t let up. The game’s first disc is just ending and before making the swap to disc 2, he goes to get another drink. He finished his soda a few minutes ago but there’s been no good place to pause.
Opening the fridge, he’s shaken to find only one more can. Another two boxes should still be sitting there but are nowhere to be found. He frantically looks behind everything in the fridge but realizes they can’t be here, there’s nothing they’d hide under. After an incredible bout of swearing he calms down long enough to realize Nowak must have only grabbed him three twelve packs and not the five he requested. How did he miss it until now? Probably because he usually grabs his drinks fast while he’s in the middle of something else. He’d normally have caught it when Nowak dropped the groceries off but their conversation this week must have distracted him.
There’s still another week until Nowak’s set to bring his next grocery haul. He thinks about going next door and pounding on the man’s door. It’s his fault after all, he has to buy the same amount of soda every time and should have it down by now. As much as he needs the soda though, he realizes pushing the man isn’t a great idea after the exchange they had with the last delivery. He’ll just have to go without for a week.
The more he thinks about it though, the more he realizes that won’t work. He can’t go a week without caffeine. There’s too much to be done. Too many enemies need slaying. He thinks about those grocery delivery companies but he doesn’t want anyone new coming to his apartment. It dawns on him that the only option is going out and getting it himself.
This isn’t altogether an issue. It’s not like he’s never gone outside. Until a few years ago he couldn’t stand to stay inside. He ways always doing something. Even when he first moved in here after everything that happened he still went out for some reason or another at least every month or two.
Trips out have grown more and more rare over time and thinking about it, it must have been at least eight months since his last trip out. Still, he’s confident it won’t be an issue. He just needs a plan. He grabs a shower and a fresh change of clothes first. He knows it’s crucial he not stand out in any way. No one can know how unusual it is for him to go out. They’ll think he’s unusual. He decides to leave his TV on, playing at a reasonable volume. That way anyone who might think about breaking in will think someone is home.
He spends a good forty minutes making small changes to the lighting and adjusting every detail of the apartment to be just the way he needs them before he feels confident. He takes a look in the mirror and cringes at what he sees. He isn’t a bad looking guy really. He could definitely stand to lose some weight and take better care of himself but there was a time people thought he was good looking. He decides to adjust his next food order and include some healthier options. Maybe he’ll even order some sort of exercise equipment. Not a lot of room here in the apartment but he can probably fit something small. He’ll have to investigate options later.
Feeling relatively satisfied with his home safety choices and having grabbed some cash from the safe, Zach steps into the hallway and starts walking down three flights of stairs to the street. He considers the elevator but knowing this building it probably isn’t working. Even if it is, he doesn’t want to risk getting cornered by a neighbor and having to force an awkward conversation. He’s worked hard to make sure most of the people in this building know as little about him as possible.
Reaching the ground floor and stepping onto the street he realizes it’s nighttime and he isn’t sure the corner store will be open. They were open until midnight the last time he was there but that was over a year ago. Time doesn’t have much practical application to his life recently but it still means something out here.
Shivering as he walks along, Zach wishes he wore a coat. A light layer of snow covers the world but nothing’s coming down at the moment. Enough people line the street to make him think it probably isn’t midnight yet. He considers going back upstairs to check the time but dismisses the urge. There’s a part of him that knows if he doesn’t go now he’ll never get back his courage.
The corner store is only a few blocks from his apartment. Arriving, he notes that the sign on the door shows they close at eleven each night except Friday and Saturday when they’re open until two. What day is it anyway?
They’re open now which is all that really matters. Zach steps inside and immediately walks to the back of the store where they keep the soda. His plan is to buy every can and bottle of his favorite so he’ll know he has enough for the next week. He may need to ration a bit but it should be enough to get through. Realizing he can’t carry that much in his arms, he goes back to the front of the store where he finds a small basket. That seems to be the only thing this place has to put stuff into. He doesn’t think it’s big enough so he grabs a second.
About to return to the soda section, he notices the cashier and suddenly he can think of nothing else. Standing behind the counter is quite possibly the most beautiful woman he’s ever laid eyes on. He hasn’t had much frame of reference the last few years but she’s the perfect height, with flaming red hair, a great body and a stunning set of eyes. He wonders what such a perfect woman can be doing in a place like this. They are in New York, there’s always a steady stream of people rushing here trying to make it in acting or modeling or some other profession where most will never sniff success. He feels certain this one will make it.
He’s far too nervous to grab the amount of soda he planned to. He returns one of the baskets before she can notice he has two. Not sure what else to do, he works his way to the back of the store. He finds the soda there and starts filling his basket. After a minute he stops. This woman is beautiful and maybe if he plays his cards right he could ask her out. On the face of things that seems impossible. He doesn’t like leaving his apartment. If he ever invited her there the cramped room would be humiliating and he doesn’t like people in his space anyway. She might be worth the effort.
Not wanting to seem crazy by buying too much of the same drink, he only grabs two of the two liters. He grabs two of a different kind as well. It’s been years since he’s had a cola but he used to drink this from time to time. Buying two different drinks will seem more normal. He’s sure of it. Between the four bottles and the can he still has at home they should last. It’ll be a sacrifice, especially once his favorite is gone, but it’s one he can make.
Finally having filled his basket, Zach heads to the counter. Trying to think of what he’ll say to this beauty, his mind draws a blank. He’s never had trouble with women. Although some might tell you otherwise, being rich beyond most people’s wildest imagination definitely doesn’t hurt.
Putting on his best smile as he reaches the counter he says, “Hello.” She smiles back and his legs feel weak.
“How are you doing tonight?” She quickly gets to work bagging his drinks.
For some reason he thought the words would come when he needed them. They don’t. Small talk wasn’t his strength when he did it all the time. After years without practice he doesn’t know where to begin. It’s been eight months since he’s talked to anyone except Mr. Nowak. An awkward pause ends when he manages to say, “Fine,” but by then she’s already finished bagging the drinks.
“Can I help with anything else?” It went so fast. He knows it’s now or never but he hasn’t been able to chat her up yet. He wants her to like him before asking her out.
Desperate and knowing he’ll regret it if he doesn’t take the chance he says, “Actually, yes. I was wondering if you’d like to grab a bite to eat sometime.”
Her smile cracks, only momentarily but long enough that he should get the hint. “You’re sweet, but I don’t date customers. Sorry.”
For most people that would be enough. Even Zach isn’t so socially inept that he completely misses the hint. He can’t imagine going on without this perfect woman in his life though. He smiles even wider and pushes on. “I’m only kind of a customer. This is only the second time I’ve been in here and I don’t know that I’ll be back. It’ll be fun. We could go to that steak house the celebrity chef on TV runs.” That’s the only fancy restaurant he can think of and he can’t even come up with the place’s name or the name of the chef. He wants to impress her though and a fancy restaurant seems like a good way to do so.
What remained of her smile is gone. Only discomfort remains on her face. “Look, I’m sure you’re great or whatever but you’re not my type. And honestly, if you could afford a place like that, you probably wouldn’t be shopping at a corner store this time of night. It’s also really not cool to put me on the spot at my job, especially after I told you no the first time. Your total is $8.18.”
Zach’s smile vanishes as well. This isn’t at all how he planned for this to go. She’s right of course. He shouldn’t have made her uncomfortable. Now he has to leave and he doesn’t even have what he came for. If he’d seen this coming he’d have gotten all the soda he wanted. Everything always used to come so easily to him. Is it that she doesn’t know he has money? Is it the weight he’s gained? Did someone write something on his forehead telling the world that he’s a freak who never comes out of his apartment? Offering a mumbled apology, he hands her a twenty and tells her to keep the change. Grabbing his bags he stumbles out of the store and back onto the street.
Walking back to his apartment, he feels completely dejected. Is this all life has left for him? Sitting sadly in his apartment, drinking soda and playing video games. He loves games but they’re not something to live for. As he makes his way home a part of him knows he needs to make a change but there’s another part of him that keeps telling him he doesn’t have the strength to do it.
By the time he climbs the three flights of stairs back to his apartment, all he wants to do is fall into bed. The door looks the same as when he left and he breathes a sigh of relief. That lasts only a few seconds. Putting his key in the lock, he feels no resistance. The door’s unlocked. The collar of his shirt is soaked in seconds. Did someone break into his place? Trying to stop hyperventilating, he realizes no one else has a key and there’s no sign someone broke in. Thinking back, he’s fairly sure he didn’t lock it in the first place. He’s so bad at existing in the world at this point that he couldn’t remember to lock his door when going out.
Pushing the door open a crack, he doesn’t see anyone inside. There’s no sign of anything missing. All the lights and the TV are still exactly the way he left them. There’s certainly no sign anyone is here now and there’s nowhere in this tiny apartment for someone to hide. Locking the door behind him, he slumps into his chair and exhales. This night has been a disaster but at least he’s home. Back to the safe place where nothing is going to hurt him. Maybe those thoughts about a change were a momentary diversion. Locking himself away has worked this long, maybe it will keep working. He’ll stay here, safe in his apartment, and things will keep going as they have been. That’s not so bad.
His TV’s still playing in the background and the news gets his attention. They’re cutting into their current story to go live to the president who’s in the process of giving a speech. “My fellow Americans, today is a historic day in the history of our country. With the passing of the Vigilantes Making Us Safe Act, our people will be able to take back this country. Everyday great American men and women,” he says with almost a snort, “will be able to protect themselves and their communities in a new and historic way. No longer will they be forced to rely on a police force they don’t always feel they can trust. Our great people will be safer and feel a greater sense of pride in our great country. We’ll be rolling out the details of how to register and what the requirements will be in the next couple of days. If you can’t wait and want to get out there now, know that you have our support. The act has passed and what you do will be legal. We’ll make sure of it. God bless America.”
The broadcast is magnetic. Heroes are going to be able to operate freely in the streets? His mind races over the ways this could go wrong about a hundred times in as many seconds. There are so many problems. Still, what about the ways things could go right? People will want to sign up in droves. There won’t be any more risk of going to jail or getting shot by the cops so the old impediments will be gone. Will the government be able to control something like this? The whole thing feels rushed and under planned. Despite that, they’re already encouraging people to get out on the streets and “get started?” Get started with what?
The more Zach thinks about it the more his mind returns to one thought. Could he do this? It seems crazy but he told himself he wanted a change. It would give him a reason to get out of this room. How can he do it though? He’s in terrible shape. He’s not a fighter. Guns pop into his head but immediately pop back out. Not even worth thinking about. He has money though and money can do a lot. Maybe he could sponsor someone else to sign up. No, he could probably do that from here in his apartment. That defeats the point. If this is going to be a real change he needs to get out of this room and experience the world again.
He has money and that’s a start. That’s what he can control. Technology and some sort of armor to protect himself seem like things he can buy. He’ll just buy his way into being a vigilante if he has to. He’ll figure out the rest when he has to.
With his mindset changing from if he can do this to how he can do it, his mind starts racing through the challenges he’ll face. There’s a lot but sticking with the ones he can control one stands out. He’s going to need somewhere to operate.
Trudging in here at all times of the day and night with equipment, a costume and any other gear he needs won’t work. People will figure out who he is and what he’s doing in no time. With who he is, that’s an issue. Although he can accept some measure of danger, he has to do everything he can to minimize it.
Counting the money in his safe, he finds he has a good start there. He’s been sent ten thousand dollars a month since he moved here and has saved at least a quarter of it every time. It’s been almost five years, he has just over one hundred thousand dollars saved up. That won’t be enough for everything he needs but it’s a start. He has billions if he wants them. He just has to face the men running his company. Even this morning that would have seemed worse than death but now it only makes him want to vomit. A definite step in the right direction. The money he has now will get him started, he can kick that can down the road.
Running over locations in his head, he thinks of a lot of options but dismisses them just as fast. He could buy another building or a storage unit but neither is secure and both have the same risk of returning to the same place repeatedly. That’s no better than using his apartment.
Another possibility enters his mind but he immediately kicks it out. He’s pushing himself forward but he’s not ready to push that far. It won’t stop popping back in though and he can’t think of a legitimate reason to avoid it outside of the fact that thinking about it makes him want to jump off a building. There are over a dozen docks and marinas throughout New York. He can get a spot in each of them and move freely around the city. He doesn’t have to return to the same place repeatedly. He can spread the risk out. It’s perfect. The only issue is that it means getting back on a boat.
Google finds him a marina in the city that sells luxury boats. If he’s going to spend a lot of time there it might as well be nice. It might even be good if the boat is somewhere he can stay for awhile if necessary. After a few minutes of searching he finds something called a crossover yacht and it seems like everything he could ask for. Multiple bedrooms, satellite TV and internet, a kitchen, a bathroom, able to be piloted by just one person. He sends an email to the company selling them asking how he can view one in New York.
He hears back in less than an hour telling him that one can be shown at the west side marina the next afternoon. Determined to start things in motion before he thinks of more excuses to stop, he goes to bed. Drifting off to sleep he catches sight of his clock across the room. The glowing red light tells him that he’s already made one change. This is the first time in years he’s worried about what time he’s going to sleep.