Excerpt: Luck in the Making
The subway car was packed, and Jeffrey Ross clung to the overhead handle with a death grip. The Pixies sang to him through his earbuds, but even the familiar screeching couldn’t distract him from the claustrophobia. He hitched his shoulder bag closer to his body and sighed in relief when the next stop let off more people than it took on. It was five o’clock on February 14, and the smell of romance and candy hearts was nearly palatable and entirely sickening. Jeffrey rolled his eyes at a high school couple holding hands and grimaced when someone stepped on his toe. He was about to mutter something inappropriate, but the same asshat lost their balance when the train left the station and knocked into Jeffrey. Because Murphy’s Law loved him, the lid on Jeffrey’s recycled cup came off, and the last of Jeffrey’s orange spice tea spilled all over his hoodie and jeans.
“Oh. Awesome.” Jeffrey glared daggers at the ungraceful stranger quickly cutting a path elsewhere. “Thanks, man! I was feeling way too dry over here!” Jeffrey called, blushing furiously and trying to mop up the drips with his sleeve. This was so not his day, his week, or, really, his last five years. Bad luck haunted Jeffery’s ass like the ghost of stereotypes past.
When Jeffrey was seventeen, his dad decided enough was enough and left Jeffrey’s mother to be with a waitress named Christine. Poverty ensued, and the divorce was, apparently, the last straw holding Mom’s sanity together. She was diagnosed with schizophrenia after vanishing on the streets of New Amsterdam for two solid weeks. Jeffrey had been out of his mind, but the cops found her, got her home, and tipped their caps to Jeffrey in good friggin’ luck.
After two bouts of commitment and many laps around the medication-trial-and-error track, Jeffrey’s mom was working and getting better. Jeffrey moved out, enrolled in the fine-arts program at New Amsterdam University, and managed to land a job at Maxwell Clark’s bar Glow. That had been a total beg, borrow, and steal kind of thing—a stroke of good fortune like a candle in the darkness. Jeffrey had walked into the most popular bar in the Fashion District on a random Tuesday, fallen immediately in love with the enigmatic bartender and owner, and shown up every night after that until finally Clark, as the beautiful sergeant liked to be called, cried “Uncle” and told Jeffrey to start clearing tables. Clark giving orders was one of the hottest things ever, and Jeffrey had pledged his faithful allegiance to the well-connected and deliciously dangerous Clark.
It was a good thing that, in addition to being secretive and gorgeous, Clark was also forgiving and patient. Jeffrey’s mom liked to go off her medication just to see if Jeffrey was paying attention, and he often came in late to work or was so tired from acting as counselor and guard dog that he dropped glassware or forgot to put in the bar’s supply orders. Between school and dealing with the never-ending string of bad boyfriends who liked to hang out at his mother’s apartment causing mayhem, Jeffrey didn’t get a lot of rest. And when he did, he still had nightmares about the shooting.
Last year, Jeffrey had been minding his own business, making out in a supply closet with an insanely hot computer geek, when some maniac decided to shoot up the computer science building on campus. Jeffrey had to think about the events that followed like they had happened to someone else, or he’d just lose it. He remembered the blood, screaming, and panic way too damned well, not to mention feeling like he was totally helpless to stop any of it. In the end, he was just a bystander hoping death would overlook him.
Jeffrey hadn’t been completely useless, though. He and the computer geek, whose name turned out to be Aquila, had helped Professor Germain with the injured. Who knew that coping with a crazy parent would make crises easier to survive? They’d carried a woman who’d been shot in the shoulder outside and stayed with her until the paramedics took her.