EPILOGUE THREE

Chapter

14

Jake yawns and knocks on the window to Jane’s office again. For some reason Jane has the shades pulled shut all the way around, so he’s been hovering here for way too long in his best tie and his best pair of short-shorts. There’s a crowd gathered below, gaping at a rare in-person appearance of a globally famous butt. The sunset has turned the head offices of Crockercorp into a shimmering glass monolith—a beacon, if you will, of the future, visible for miles in every direction.

Jane probably likes to think about it that way at least.

Speaking of Jane, she pops her head out from between two strips of silk-lined venetian blind to glower at Jake, who is hovering uselessly in the air. Use the front door, she mouths at him. But he responds with his specialty: incomprehension.

JAKE: Im sorry... what?

The exasperated hand motions Jane tries next work better.

JAKE: Oh! The front door, of course!

Jake flies down to the street so that he can take the front entrance. He whistles a quaint little ditty to himself while he waits for the elevator to go up to the top floor. This time he knocks on the office door, and Jane lets him in.

Inside the office it’s dark and hazy. The whole place is candlelit, and Jane is reclining on her desk, sprawled out like a lounge singer on a grand piano. Specifically: a blue lounge singer, on a blue piano, just like in one of the hideous velvet paintings Jake bought in New Prospit a few years ago. Like all of his impulsive purchases, the tacky thing is gathering dust in a pile somewhere in one of the hundreds of spare rooms in his mansion, which now primarily functions as a very expensive warehouse for his atrocious hoarding habits.

And intimate knowledge of his hoarding habits—particularly the type of sultry, cerulean content he is known to hoard—is exactly why Jane is wearing a blue dress with a very high hem. Jake’s bow tie practically spins at the sight of it. He freezes on the spot, an animal in the predatorial headlights of this buxom blue businesswoman.

JANE: Come have a glass of scotch with me Jake. We have so much to discuss.

JAKE: I-indeed.

He crosses the office and shakily accepts the offered glass of ludicrously expensive fermented barley grain. He raises it to his nose and pretends to sample the scent.

JAKE: Jane i must say that is a very striking ensemble.

JANE: Oh, you like it? Why don’t you...

JANE: Er, come take a closer look?

She’s really bad at this, she thinks. “This” being seduction. She’s so bad at it, in fact, that Jake immediately recognizes her ruse for what it is. Laughing nervously, he sucks the whole glass of scotch into his mouth in one go, ice cubes and all. And then, because he can’t actually stand the taste of scotch, immediately spits it back out, ice cubes and all, spraying Jane’s brand-new sexy dress with quite an ungentlemanly fountain of boozy spittle. Jane is lashed both by the scotch in her face and how quickly her plan has fallen apart.

JANE: Jake!

JAKE: Bejabbers!

JANE: Oh no, all over my new dress...

JAKE: Jane i am so sorry. Here let me help you clean that giggle water off your kettle drums.

JANE: No, no, you... you’ve done enough. Goodness, you’ve only been here two minutes and already... why did I ever think—

JAKE: Jane. Please i insist.

She tries to push him away, but Jake considers himself to be a gentleman. He helps her to the floor and shrugs off his dress coat so he can use it to wipe her down. She is staring at the ceiling like she hopes it will split open and suck her into a supermassive black hole so she doesn’t have to deal with anything that is going on right now. Some of Jake’s scotchy slobber is on her glasses, which is not the place she was planning on having it tonight.

JAKE: Is this why you wanted to see me? To show off uh... this proper bit of frock?

JANE: Oh, no, of course not. I just wanted to...

JANE: To... talk about the economy.

JAKE: By jove the economy! Jane my dear friend please tell me all about the economy!

Jake doesn’t care about the economy. But he’s an ardent supporter of changing the subject.

JANE: Ah, it’s doing quite well right now actually.

JAKE: I should hope so!

JANE: But it might not continue to do so in the future, which you can guess is of great concern to me, being that I am a pioneering entrepreneur.

JAKE: Well frig, that’s awful and you should do everything in your power to adequately explain to me this conundrum which i admit i am not up to dick on.

JANE: You...

Jane laughs quite sincerely as he ruffles his jacket through her hair.

JANE: Oh, Jake, you really have no idea what’s going on, do you?

JAKE: Wait is this...

JAKE: Is this about the election muckup? Because i—

Jane puts a finger to Jake’s lip and shushes him. It’s a very smooth move. A total recovery. He shushes, and she directs him to one of the couches that line her office. They stumble there, his jacket and hands still wrapped around her shoulders.

JANE: I’m sure you’ve had an earful about the election already.

JANE: I apologize. You must understand that my mind is quite occupied by it right now.

JANE: But I’ve been doing an awful lot of thinking as of late.

JAKE: I see. About what?

JANE: About everything, I suppose.

JANE: About my life, about all of our lives and the trajectory they’ve taken since we helped to create this new universe.

JANE: You must admit that it’s a lot to grasp, and I’m not certain we’ve all taken the time to truly contemplate our place in it.

This is not really the kind of conversation you initiate if you’re looking to extract a sexual deal out of someone. It is, however, the kind of conversation that you might have with a childhood friend who has become somewhat emotionally estranged from you. Both so busy with their exciting careers and misuse of their godhood. Who are they now? The same Jake and Jane who passed like particularly dysfunctional ships in the night a decade ago? Or is Jane wiser, and Jake kinder? Are they better versions of themselves? Jane absently rubs the narrow strap of her dress between two fingers, vainly attempting to sort out her jumbled thoughts.

JAKE: That’s an earful jane.

JANE: I know. It’s a head-full too.

JANE: I can’t help but worry...

JANE: Haven’t we really just been... drifting these last seven years?

JANE: Drifting, both in the sense of failing to fulfill our personal potentials,

JANE: And in the sense of... well, drifting apart?

Jane pulls a leg up beneath her, which slides her bare knee between Jake’s. The couch dips a bit under their weight.

JAKE: I must admit i never thought of it that way.

JANE: I know.

JANE: It’s just that... we’re both so busy all the time. The years go by so fast. And...

JANE: I miss you.

Jake blinks, his eyes wet and glossy beneath his spectacles.

JAKE: Ah. Well... I suppose that i miss you too jane.

The moment goes from calculated to genuine in an instant. Jake drops his coat and glides his hands down her bare arms so that he can... hold her? Yeah, that’s definitely what he’s doing. Holding her, and not too gently either.

Jane really is quite pretty, with the candlelight glittering across her spectacles, her hair damp, and her front teeth poking out from beneath her lip. She’s so pretty that Jake can’t stop himself from sliding a hand up to her neck and using his thumb to tip her face back so that they’re staring right at each other in the low light, close enough that Jane can probably smell his disgusting scotch breath. She definitely does smell it, because her cute nose scrunches up and she laughs again, a very small, private noise. A noise just for him.

So he kisses her. Very well, if he does think so himself. Dirk has given him a lot of uninvited but incisive criticism on his kissing over the years, so Jake wouldn’t be surprised if he was considered the best kisser on the entire planet at this point. Jane breathes in, shocked for a moment. Even more shocked when Jake hooks a hand around her waist and pushes her down. She makes a startled noise into his mouth. Then she throws her arms around his neck. It should be awkward, taboo at this point, considering the history between them. But it all happens so easily. Jane undoing Jake’s bow tie, Jake hooking his thumb under the hem of her dress and hiking it up another inch it really cannot spare for decency’s sake.

There is nothing awkward about this moment, Jake thinks. Two old friends, hot as the blazes, giving in to passion? Who could accuse them of impropriety? Nobody worth their salt, in his book. It all makes perfect sense. The inevitable consummation of a whirlwind romance fit for the big screen.

Really, the only surprise is how long it took to happen. Jane is a beautiful lady, that’s for sure. She always has been, but she’s only grown more ravishing as she’s come into the full blossom of her womanhood. Smooth, silky skin... thick, dark lashes... full, feminine lips... not to mention curves like the dickens. It’s all certainly conducive to activities of close phonological proximity to the phrase.

Jane’s baby-soft palm, unmarred by the calluses of deft swordsmanship, slides down Jake’s cheek and dips under the collar of his shirt. She caresses his clavicle and then tenderly trails her fingers up the side of his neck, steadying herself as she deepens their passionate kiss. Jane’s touch is nothing like Dirk’s. Dirk has palms so rough that they sting, especially on skin that’s thin and supple. Like the column of the throat, right over the jugular.

He pulls away from Jane’s lips and lifts her spectacles off her nose. It’s a motion that still feels practiced and familiar, despite how long ago he’d last had the precious chance. Those rare, intimate moments that Jake was allowed to slip off Dirk’s shades and look upon his face, unobstructed, stand out more clearly in his mind than almost any other in his life.

Jake swallows. He can’t stop thinking about how Dirk kissed him last time they “didn’t hook up.” Which is a thing, of course, that “didn’t happen,” so how can Jake possibly be thinking about it?

Is it just some sort of Pavlovian response that’s making his heart race like this? He does his best to push the untimely thoughts away, but his fingers tremble as he sets Jane’s glasses aside.

Jane gazes back at him, cheeks flushed with desire, eyes dark and alluringly coy. All her features are round and soft. Welcoming, soothing. The kind of face that makes you feel like you’ve come home. Dirk is the exact opposite. Long nose, thick eyebrows, pointed features. A man who seems built down to the very essence of his soul to be sharp, hard to approach, harder still to touch. But when looked at from the right angle, he’s anime levels of handsome. Breathtakingly, choir-of-angels singingly, anime-handsome—the sort of man you can’t keep your hands off of, no matter how jagged his edges. But his hair is so much softer than it looks. His heart too. When a heart like that opens up to you, it opens up the whole world as well. A world of increased appreciation for combat, philosophy, life, love...

JAKE: Yelp!!!

Jake yelps and rolls off the couch in such a panic that he almost takes Jane with him. She flies to her feet, startled, breathing fast, and readjusts her disheveled clothes.

JANE: Jake?

JANE: Are you... quite okay?

JAKE: I

JAKE: I

JAKE: Ihavetogorightnowsorry.

Jake’s already hovering two feet off the ground before Jane can say another word. He doubles back to the end of the office and grabs the bottle of near-untouched scotch before kicking open the latch to one of Jane’s giant windows and letting himself out.

He’s got a lot of things to think about, apparently.

JANE: What the...

JANE: Everliving fuck!

Jane stands alone in her office, confused, horny, and kind of pissed. She slowly slips the strap of her dress back over her shoulder. Then she closes the window, sits in her CEO chair and speed-dials the number for her one-man Kitchen Cabinet.

DIRK: Yo, what up?

JANE: Not Jake, apparently.

DIRK: Wow. Going straight for the double entendre, huh?

DIRK: How much of that scotch did you have?

JANE: I think a few drops made it into my mouth, when Jake spewed his beverage directly onto my face.

DIRK: Things went that badly, huh?

JANE: Augh!

JANE: This is so embarrassing.

JANE: You know, I wouldn’t have approached it this way if I wasn’t absolutely certain its margin for error was virtually nonexistent.

JANE: I mean, it’s Jake.

DIRK: Were you nice to him?

JANE: Well, I...

DIRK: I told you, you can’t be nice to Jake.

JANE: ...

DIRK: Listen, Jane, I don’t really have time to jam right now.

DIRK: Why don’t you leave Jake to me?

Jane squeezes her eyes shut and, very softly and quietly, bumps her head against the edge of her desk.

JANE: Why do I feel as if we’ve had this exact conversation, almost word for word, before?

DIRK: Because we have. Many times.

JANE: Well, what do we do now? I’m afraid I’ve gone and made things worse.

DIRK: Like I said, let me work on it. I know what I’m doing.

JANE: You always say that.

DIRK: I haven’t been wrong yet.

Jane, head still planted firmly on desk, laughs at that. There’s a sardonic twist in Dirk’s voice that intentionally recalls every time he’s ever fucked up. But it satisfies Jane nevertheless. She knows that he won’t fail her.

JANE: Fine. Please call me later so that we may strategize.

JANE: And also because I could use some emotional support after what just happened.

DIRK: I might be caught up for a while.

JANE: Why is that?

DIRK: Can’t explain right now. Catch you on the flipside, Jane.

JANE: Wait—

Dirk doesn’t wait. There’s a shadow cast in his doorway that is much more important than the election. Rose is braced against the doorframe, one hand on her purse and the other on her waist. She has her head tipped just so, her pale hair falling across in her face at an angle that bisects her perfectly neutral expression. Dirk sets down his phone and acknowledges her with a nod.

ROSE: Well,

ROSE: Go on.

> ==>
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