Exclusive Excerpt from Marked
by J. Jay Barrett
Logan looked down at his pale fingers. Hours of folding and refolding these sweaters were starting to take a toll on his skin. The cheap cotton and polyester fabric blend had sucked the moisture out of his fingertips, much the same way his boss had sucked the fun from his social life.
He looked at his watch. 10:45. He was supposed to have left his job at The Rift almost 3 hours earlier. A new, unexpected shipment had come in that morning, and his bitch-of-a-boss decided that half of the displays needed to be redone and the new clothes put out.
‘Mandatory overtime’ she called it. He just called it bullshit. Corporate didn’t want this stuff out until next week. It was an ill-fated attempt to inflate the store’s sales statistics artificially.
He looked across the sales floor at his best friend Sarah, who was struggling trying to move an awkward rack full of belts. They’d been friends for years, meeting in their orientation class when he started at The Rift. They’d both been young and poor, just starting out in the adult world. She was exactly his age, their birthdays were only a few weeks apart, she was short, and her body had a sultry curve to it, with cleavage that drove men insane. Acne scars peppered her skin, so she overcompensated with expensive makeup. Logan always noticed but he didn’t dare say anything. He’d never do anything to hurt her feelings purposely.
She must have felt his gaze, because she almost immediately looked up, cocked her head to the side and mouthed the word “fag” at him. He smiled, rolled his eyes playfully and responded with his usual retort of “hag”. She laughed. It was the usual game they played when they were having a terrible day at work. She’d call him “fag”; he’d call her “hag”. It might have been immature, but it made them smile and helped to pass the time. And it was true, he was a fag, and she was the ultimate faghag. Sarah looked down on at her watch and looked back at him with an expression that said: “What the fuck?” Logan shrugged in surrender and turned his attention back to the table full of sweaters he’d been folding. All finished.
He called his manager on the two-way radio headset they all were required to wear, “Janice, you there?” He thought the radios were stupid. The entire store, including the stock room, wasn’t more than three thousand square feet, but Janice tended to get pissed if you didn’t use them. God forbid you walk into the office to ask her a question and catch her browsing the internet for a better job or another ugly pair of discount knee-high boots.
A few moments passed before the headset squawked to life. “What is it?” she sounded busy, but then again, she always pretended to look busy, but everyone knew she wasn’t. The entire staff called her ‘The Store Micromanager’, behind her back of course, as a joke. She sat in her office playing games or browsing the internet while dictating chores via the radio and spying on them via the security system.
“I’m all done with the sweaters from that new shipment. Do you think I could duck out now? I was only scheduled until 8.” He threw that last part in just to reiterate that he’d already been at work long past his scheduled time. He was really hoping to get a run in on the lakefront before it got too late. He wasn’t afraid of the dark, but every runner knew that the darker it got, the more dangerous your hobby became.
“Well,” she hesitated, her voice barely cutting through the static on the cheap radios, “You really shouldn’t leave until the entire shipment is done but go ahead and head on home, I’ll clock you out, but need you back here at noon tomorrow for inventory. Do not be late!”
Sweet. He looked at Sarah across the store, who must’ve been listening in on the radio. She looked up at him with a face showing a combination of jealousy and rage. He just shot her a cocky smile and threw up two fingers and mouthed ‘bye bitch’ at her. She laughed and flipped him off.
He made a beeline to the front door, dropping his headset at the nearest register; someone else could worry about charging the battery. Once out the door, it was just a quick walk, across Broadway Avenue and down a side street to his little studio apartment.
It was located on the upper level of a coach house behind an early twentieth-century brownstone. He’d lived there since he was seventeen after his parents had kicked him out of their comfortable North Shore home for being gay. His mother had been kind enough to pay the first year of the lease, although, after that, he’d never heard from either parent again. He’d gotten his job at The Rift right after that, and minimum wage had never really enabled him to be able to afford to move into anything more significant. But it was big enough for him, and it was his space. That was all that mattered to him.
He walked past a diner on the corner, the happy hour crowd noshing down their pancakes and fried eggs on the patio after a few too many after-work cocktails. He ducked his head hoping not to run into anyone he might know. No distractions, he thought. Had he run into a friend, he’d end up sipping vodka cocktails at one of the local bars on Halsted rather than getting this run in. Fall was setting in, but that didn’t mean getting fat would be okay.
It took all of three minutes to get to his apartment. He turned down the gangway that led between the two brownstones and into the courtyard that stood between the two-unit coach house and the main house in front. The building was nothing like the house in front. Literally, an old garage transformed into two apartments, a one bedroom on the ground level, and then up an old, creaky wooden staircase attached to the side was his studio. The building had more layers of paint than could easily be counted, the latest, a light gray, was so haphazardly applied that the different coats of paint underneath could be seen in different spots. He counted once and was able to identify at least six different colors that the building had been painted at one point during its lifetime.
The apartment itself was a small space, about twenty feet by twenty feet with vaulted ceilings and exposed rafters. A small bathroom in one corner that didn’t even have a proper door, just a curtain. It did have a cheap vinyl walk-in shower encrusted in years of hard water build-up, and a toilet and sink were attached to the wall. No real kitchen to speak of, but it did have a microwave, range, small sink, and a small dorm sized refrigerator tucked into the short stretch of wall between the bathroom and the closet. Logan didn’t know how to cook anyway.
His bed was actually a futon, so on the rare occasion that he had any guests over, it would fold up into a proper sitting area. It really wasn’t too bad of a set up for a young, single guy. He was just now getting to the point he could probably afford to move into a bigger place, especially if he got a roommate, but he didn’t see the need. It was all he felt like he needed. Besides, he’d grown quite attached to his little refuge. It had been his savior when everyone he knew and loved turned his or her backs on him. Living alone had distinct advantages too when he met a cute guy out at the clubs.
He threw his keys on the table next to his futon, which was in its usual state of disarray, and went straight to the closet to change into his workout clothes. The smell signaled to him that it was time to do some laundry even before he pulled the string to ignite the single light bulb that hung from the closet ceiling.
Tomorrow, he thought, no distractions.
He tore off his Rift uniform, which was actually just a few well-coordinated pieces of clothing from the store. The corporate offices had concocted an ingenious scam to get their employees to spend almost all of their paycheck back at the store, by changing the uniform practically monthly. Different days required different colors of clothing, all of which had to be purchased from the store, all of which varied with each passing season, and wasn’t recyclable from year to year. He grabbed the first pair of gym shorts he got his hands on, a dry fit, neon green tank top and his shoes. He hastily threw them on, as he walked back to the door and grabbed his keys. “It’s super late,” he said out loud as he grabbed his keys and walked out the door. He looked at his watch. 11:09, it was getting really late. “Maybe only 5 or 6 miles, that’s better than nothing.”
He went down the creaky wooden steps, two at a time, through the gangway and started in a slow jog towards the lake just a few hundred yards to his east. Logan jogged down the car-lined side street, headed towards the lake. It was late, but he had to get this run in, at least a few miles. He decided he’d head south along the main path until he got to the mouth of Diversey Harbor, then he’d swing around north along the break wall and run the perimeter of Belmont Harbor. From there, he’d head along the isolated service road between a golf course and the lake up to Montrose Avenue and then back south along the main path again to home. It’d be a good four or five miles, not a particularly long run, but good enough for this late hour. The night was warm, but a cool breeze was coming in off the lake, and if it persisted, he would probably be too cold before long.
He darted into the pedestrian tunnel under the Drive at Roscoe, admiring the mural on the wall illuminated by the yellow lights on the ceiling for the hundredth time.
He quickened his pace as he popped out on the east side of Lake Shore Drive and turned south on the main running bath. He didn’t even think twice about how isolated his route was. He’d done this same run a hundred times before.