Jack Spencer walked to work. He walked down sidewalks littered with trash. Past tall weeds that grew out of the cracks in the pavement. He passed the hookers and the drug dealers and the gang bangers. If any of them looked up enough to catch his eye he might nod and they might nod and he'd just keep walking. He recognized some of them and they probably recognized him. He had been living on this street for almost a decade now. He didn't mess with them and he figured they didn't want to mess with him.

He worked on a road crew. That meant he mostly worked at night. When he was going to work the good things in the world were going to bed and the bad things were waking up. He felt that was appropriate. He would walk in the dark to catch a ride in a van with a bunch of guys. After the sun rose he would get dropped off and walk through mostly deserted streets to his apartment building. He usually kept a five in his pocket for Moe, who sometimes told him war stories and sometimes just thanked him and once even hugged him. He knew Moe would use it to buy booze but Jack couldn't help himself. Everyone deserves to be a little happy sometimes without getting lectured.

Jack walked up to the red brick apartment building and through the door that creaked on its rusty hinges. He walked up the single flight of stairs to the upper floor. There was just as much trash inside the building as there was out in the street. The walls and floor had dark stains in some places and light patches where they had been more recently repaired in others. He passed a couple of guys talking quietly in the stairwell. They went silent as he passed and he ignored them. He walked past an open door into an apartment where a couple of tweakers were watching cartoons. They ignored him. Finally, he reached his apartment at the end of the hallway. He unlocked the door and stepped inside.

The apartment was sparse. A small kitchen with few appliances led to a living room dominated by a single couch on one wall and a small TV on a stand against the other. A door on the near side of the TV led to the bathroom and one on the far side led to the bedroom. Jack looked around the apartment and thought about the wide world the stretched out far beyond. This was just a tiny, cramped corner of it. A secluded place far from life and liberty and happiness. It was his cell. He admitted it to himself when he found the place and signed the lease. He never looked back.

Jack set the cooler he had been carrying on the kitchen counter and leaned down to unlace and remove his size 13 boots. He took off his jacket and hung it on a hook behind the door. Then he took apart the cooler. A thermos of coffee. Plastic containers that, this morning, held a sandwich and a few snacks. The same sandwich he had eaten every day for as long as he cared to remember. He washed it all and put it in the drain. Then he went to the bathroom for a shower.

Routine. That was what he did. Everything he did. A routine. He woke early. He made coffee and a sandwich. He went to work. He came home. He watched TV. He went to bed. Breakfast was eggs and cheese and ham. Dinner was steak. He didn't have many bills. On the weekends he occasionally made an omelet. Or grilled cheese. Very rarely he would buy ground beef and make burgers in the same cast iron he used for steaks. He had his groceries delivered. He let his hair grow long because he could cut it himself with a pair of scissors. He kept it in a ponytail cause he thought it looked better than shaving it bald. That way he didn't have to go to a barber. He only left his apartment to go to work and he went straight home afterwards. The only people he interacted with were the guys on his work crew. He kept to himself and repaved roads. That was his penance. His atonement for being who he was.

After his shower, he went to bed. It was the weekend. Tonight, he would make grilled cheese.

*** *** ***

Jack woke from a deep sleep. There was a knocking at his door. He got up out of bed and put on an a-shirt and a pair of sweatpants. He was in a bad mood by the time he was walking through the living room to his door. He didn't like visitors. Whoever it was, whatever they were selling or begging for, was about to wish they had never been born.

"Hey, Mr. Spencer!" she shouted as soon as she saw him. She leapt towards him and wrapped her arms around his waist. She was so short her face rested against his chest when she hugged him. He had a chance to see she was wearing a pair of Converse high tops, a knee-length plaid skirt, and a white and pink hoodie with a pair of ears on it. She was too cute. This was bad.

"Jennifer?" Jack asked. He barely recognized the girl - well, the woman now, he supposed. Jennifer Campbell. She used to live next door to him, back when he lived in a house in the suburbs. It seemed like a lifetime ago. Seeing her now brought back a lot of memories. A lot of pain and shame.

He needed to push her away. He knew that. He needed to stop it, but he didn't. He hugged her, felt her tiny body against his, something he hadn't felt in so many years, and his body was already starting to respond.


I knew it! Jennifer thought. Jack must have noticed as soon as she did because he quickly grabbed her arms pulled them away. He took a step back and looked at her.


He had expected her to let him go after a moment anyway, but she held on tightly. He had to pull her arms off of him and hoped he had done it quickly enough. He wished he was wearing something other than sweatpants. He took a few steps back and she followed him, right into his kitchen. He knew she must have been in her 20's by now, but she was so short and the clothes she was wearing were so cute, she looked like a teenager.

"Yeah! Wow! I haven't seen you in forever!" she said, hardly missing a beat.

"Uh, yeah... what are you doing here?" he asked. He didn't have anything against the girl, but she was one of his daughter's friends and he didn't think he'd said more than ten words to her his whole life. It just seemed strange that she would show up at his door after so long.

"Oh, I moved in across the hall! Well, I did a month or so ago, but I didn't know you lived here until last week. I've been hoping to meet you but it seems like you're never around."

"Huh?" he said, dumbfounded, "Oh, uh, I work a night. So I'm usually asleep when most people are up."

"And you're awake while we all sleep? A little creepy, huh?"

"No, I mean, yeah, but I don't have time to do anything. I'm busy, I mean. Working. Uh," he wasn't sure why he was fumbling his words, "That's just when I work. I gotta work." He sounded like an idiot.

Not that it mattered, he thought to himself. Why should he care what she thought about him? He wasn't a high schooler trying to impress his crush. He wasn't trying to make friends. Besides, she was just a kid - probably half his age. It would be inappropriate. Only, it wouldn't be, he told himself. It might be inappropriate for them to date but they weren't dating and they weren't going to date and he wasn't trying to date her so they were just neighbors having a chat. And it wasn't inappropriate to talk to a much older neighbor so there was nothing wrong and it still didn't matter if he sounded like an idiot.

He needed to get rid of her. She might have been his daughter's friend, once, but there was no reason for her to be here and no reason for him to think about making a good impression. He was not thinking about her. He would not think about her. He would be polite and then he would send her on her way and go back to his life. She wasn't his type, anyway.

"Hey, it's no big deal, I was just messing with you," she said with a smile. She bent down and pulled her socks, which had gotten kind of bundled around the top of her shoes, up to her knees where they belonged. Her hoodie had fallen down and she pulled it back up so that the white and pink ears on top of it stuck out properly.

Ugh, why did she have to do that? Jack thought. He needed to get rid of her.

"Anyway, I was just trying to catch you when you were home. You know, say hi, catch up and stuff."

"Yeah," Jack said, although he wasn't sure what they had to catch up on, "Come on in," he said.

Of course, she was already inside. She just kind of glanced around the kitchen for a moment and he stepped around her to shut the door to his little apartment.

"Make yourself at home," he said as he turned back around and gestured to the couch, "Can I get you a drink? I've got root beer or water."

"Sure, I'll take a soda," she said wandering into the small den.

Jack grabbed two of them. Fuck. What am I doing? he wondered. He walked into the den and handed one to Jennifer.

"Have you talked to Claire, recently?" he asked. Jack hadn't seen his daughter in years.

"Yeah," Jennifer said, fumbling with the top of the soda.

"How is she?"

"Uh, you know..." she mumbled, still trying to get the soda open. Finally, she gave up and held it out to him. "Mr. Spencer, can you open this for me?"

Jack clenched his jaw. Why did she have to call him that? Why was she acting this way? He tried to put it out of his mind. He smiled, took the can, and opened it. He handed it back and she gulped some and then let out a tiny burp. She held her hand over her mouth and giggled a little before quietly apologizing. Too cute. Jack couldn't help but chuckle.

"You probably see her more than I do," Jennifer said.

"I haven't really been able to see her since the divorce," he sighed.

"Oh, right," she said. "Well, she's doing good. She got into that fancy college she wanted after high school and she's still there - working on her Master's now."

"Yeah?" Jack smiled. He really didn't know anything about his daughter anymore and hearing that made him proud. "She always was bright," he mused.

"Yeah, she's doing psychology, like her mom. Says she wants to rewrite some book. Says the medical system gets it wrong about a lot of stuff."

"Hmh," Jack nodded without having any idea what she was talking about, "Does she still like boy bands or has she found some real music?"

"Still boy bands," Jennifer laughed.

They talked for a little while longer about his daughter. Jack was glad to hear that she was doing well and was a little sad that he had missed so much, but he knew it was for the best. Before long, the conversation drifted to more general topics. They chatted about music and the city and his work.

"How about you?" he asked Jennifer later, "You still in college? You're about the same age as her, right?"

"Oh, I'm done with college - couldn't get done with that fast enough," Jennifer said taking another swig of her soda.

"What do you do?" Jack asked.

"I'm a detective, actually," she said.

"What, like a private eye?"

"No," she laughed, "I'm a cop."

"Oh," Jack said nervously, "Aren't you a little young for that? How old are you?"

"Nah, I'm 24. I got a degree in Criminology, did police academy, and spent a few years on the force. Just got my promotion a few months back."

"Well, congratulations," he said, tipping his soda can towards her.

"Thank you," she said with a smile. "I am young," she shrugged, "but I knew what I wanted. So I got it."

"Nice. But what are you doing in a neighborhood like this? There must be something better you can get with your salary."

"College loans," she shrugged. "It's OK, though. I can take care of myself."

"Yeah, sounds like it," Jack said.

It was quiet for a moment and Jack realized he had genuinely enjoyed talking to Jennifer. His alarm went off in his room and made him realize he must have been talking to her for a couple of hours.

"What's that?" she asked.

"Time to wake up," he said, getting up from the couch. He walked into his bedroom and turned off the alarm.

"Oh, shit, I'm sorry, Mr. Spencer - did I wake you up?" Jennifer asked, jumping off the couch and rushing to the doorway of his bedroom.

Jack was instantly aware of the state of his room. Disheveled sheets, clothing laying around on the floor, and worst - the stack of anime and manga in the corner by his bed.

"It's fine," he said, hurrying out of the room and closing the door behind him. "I don't have work tonight."

"Oh, OK," she said, looking relieved. "Well, you probably want me to get out of your hair."

She started walking towards the door. Jack didn't want her to leave. At the same time, part of him thought he should have sent her away as soon as she walked in the door. He was breaking the rules, damn it!

"Uh, no, hey," he said, hurrying a little too quickly for the small apartment. He came to a stop close behind her - when she turned around he had to look down at her. "It was nice to see you," he said.

"You, too," she said, smiling up at him. She reached out and lightly touched his arm. "We should do this again, sometime."

"Yeah, anytime," he said.

She walked out of the apartment and he shut the door behind her. Fuck. What was he thinking? He shouldn't be talking about seeing her again. He should be avoiding her. Moving to another apartment or another city. She was half the reason he was living in this dump! She was his daughter's childhood friend - it was creepy. He was being creepy. And she was a cop! No, he wouldn't see her again. He couldn't. He would make sure he didn't.


Fuck, Jennifer thought. That was more fun than she expected - she had completely lost track of time talking to Jack. Something occurred to her and she smirked and adjusted her hoodie once more to make sure the ears were pointed out just right.


Jack had his hand in his sweatpants wrapped around his dick. No, he wouldn't see her again. He wouldn't talk to her. But, he closed his eyes and thought about her. He pulled his hand down his cock and thrust his hips forward, squeezing the base of his rod. He flexed and felt the head of his dick swell. Fuck. He was so hard. Maybe she was kind of like his type.

Then, there was a knock on his door. Fuck. He pulled his hand out of his sweatpants and grabbed a paper towel from the counter to wipe his slick palm before answering the door.

"Hi, Mr. Spencer," Jennifer said. She was loitering in the corridor with her hands stuck in the pockets of her hoodie. The hood was up again, the little cat ears standing out on either side of her head.

"Hey," he replied.

"I'm hungry," she said with a grin, "Did you... maybe... want to go get some food?"

No. No. No. I am not hungry. I do not want food. I do not want to see you. I do not want to talk to you. I do not want to touch you, Jack thought.

"I try not to eat out..." he said. She looked disappointed. "But, I was about to make some grilled cheese. I'd be happy to share... if you're interested." he said. She perked up and he let her in.

*** *** ***

Jack groaned when the alarm went off. He had been having a good dream. He shut it off and got ready for work. His better self told him not to think of her. I should forget about her, he thought. I should avoid her and forget about her. But he knew it was too late for that. They had dinner, then they watched TV, then they just talked. She seemed to enjoy it as much as he did. Well, maybe half as much, because after she left he spent the rest of the day fantasizing about her and masturbating.

It was bad. They had told each other they enjoyed it and should hang out again. He knew he should avoid her but he also knew that he wouldn't. It was too good.

He left as he usually did, tried to work as he usually did and almost succeeded, and tried to get home the way he usually did. He didn't succeed.

"Hey, Jack," Jennifer said as he walked down the corridor to his apartment. She was just coming out of her place, around 9 AM.

"Hey, Jennifer," he said. Last night it had been Mr. Spencer every time. Now it was just Jack. She was wearing a professional looking outfit. The hoodie and high tops were gone, replaced by a skirt suit and low, sturdy heels. She was wearing makeup, too. She looked like a mature woman - not at all like she had over the weekend.

"Been shopping?" she asked, seeing the plastic bag in his hand.

"Just some necessities," he lied, "Uh, headed to work?"

"Yeah," she said, "You just get off?"

"Yeah." If you were wearing that get up from the other night I'd be getting off, he thought.

"When will you be up tonight?" she asked.

"Huh? Oh, uh, maybe 9 or so?" he said.

"How about I come over, then? I'll bring by some coffee and we'll have breakfast," she said.

"Uh... s-sure," he grudgingly accepted.

"Alright, I'll see you tonight," she said with a smile and walked off, holding her purse tight under her arm.

Jack waved after her with a sigh and turned to unlock his apartment door and step through it. He knew he shouldn't be seeing her. What bothered him more was the fact that he was disappointed by the way she looked. This was the exact reason he was living in this dump - away from people. And now this girl was living right across the hall? He knew he couldn't keep this up. He had to leave, again.

He showered and shaved, set his alarm for a little earlier than usual, and laid down to sleep through the day. Alone. Secluded. Safely away from anyone he might hurt.


Jack stared at the door of his apartment. He knew Jennifer would be knocking on the door any minute. He didn't want to see her. With her makeup and her skirt and her suit jacket. She was annoying. A nuisance. There was no reason for her to come over. He had to leave for work soon and should be sleeping.

He opened the door as soon as he heard the knock. So quickly, it startled Jennifer and her hand was left hanging in the air for a moment. She giggled and Jack couldn't help but smile.

Jennifer was wearing a Hello Kitty t-shirt, a short denim jacket that stopped just under her small breasts, a pair of jeans with numerous holes that showed her pale skin, and a pair of moccasin boots with a fringe around the ankle. She wasn't wearing any makeup, except perhaps some gloss to make her pink lips shine, and her hair was held back with a small hairband that featured a little bow.

"Hey, let me get that for you," Jack said, helping her with the drink tray of coffees and bag of fast food she was carrying.

"Hi," she said, flashing him a cute grin.

He took them into the living room and set them down on the coffee table. She followed him in and took off her little jacket, setting it on the kitchen counter. They sat on the couch and ate sausage and egg burritos and drank coffee and talked and laughed. They got along well, it seemed to Jack. She would giggle at his corny jokes and it seemed genuine. She would make him laugh, too, and she was so damn cute.

He was trying to be polite. He was trying not to gawk but he just couldn't. She was so small and so pretty. Her nails were done pink and her lips glistened when she smiled. Her jeans had so many holes they must have been by design and Jack could see her pale skin through them and the occasional freckle. One tear was high on her thigh and he found himself wishing it was higher. Wanting to know what kind of underwear she wore and whether or not she shaved between her legs. He hoped she didn't notice him but he could hardly take his eyes off of her once he saw her nipples poking the front of her Hello Kitty shirt. He knew she must not be wearing a bra and he immediately tried picturing her without any clothes at all.

He couldn't tell if she had seen him checking her out while they ate but she didn't seem to be acting any differently. She still seemed to be having fun hanging out with him and that just made it all the more exciting for him.

They finished their breakfast, Jennifer walked across the hallway to her apartment, and Jack headed to work.


They saw each other pretty frequently the next few weeks. If he ever caught her going to work then he was 'Jack' and she was all business, but when she came over in the evening before he went to work or on the weekends she wore cute outfits for him and called him 'Mr. Spencer.'

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