Chapter two

Grace woke in the presence of cold silence. She thought she'd have been used to its indifferent company by then, but every morning it shocked and then saddened her heart. This morning it was predominantly depressing. She inhabited the entire forth floor of an apartment building with her father who was home two weeks out of a month.

He was a kind man and he loved Grace as any father should but he liked his girlfriend who lived in New York City and worked as a prosecuting attorney for the state. She was thirty-two, nine years younger than her dad, had wavy blonde hair, and long legs. Her face was a beautiful but stern one and her eyes always seemed to be searching for imperfection. She had no intentions of getting married and disliked children. Her name was Angelica and Grace thought it completely contradicted her personality.

She had only met her a couple times but once was enough. Angelica was not interested in Grace and made little effort to get to know her. Even then she was only putting on an act to satisfy her father. She seemed utterly absorbed in her work and didn't waste any time getting back to it. What her father saw in her was entirely unknown to Grace.

Angelica frowned on Grace's silence. Grace figured this was because she didn't know any other way to live or interact. She expected a verbal response to every comment she gave and if there wasn't one, she presumed the person was dull. Though Grace did not talk, she could be talked to and she appreciated those who made the effort.

What also kept her dad away was work. He was the owner of a web design business that was based in Colorado. While closing a deal in Baton Rouge, he had met and fallen in love with a woman named Lydia Frost. She was lovely, calm, and different from any other woman Mathew had met. Two years after the wedding, Grace was born. Three years after that, Lydia left. She gave no warnings and hadn't argued with Mathew before then. They seemed like a perfectly content couple but one winter morning he woke up and she was gone along with her clothes and a couple suitcases. He waited for her to come home, torturing himself by trying to find his mistake, but she never did. Even after twelve years the thought of her was a sore on his heart that would never heal.

Grace often wondered what it was that drove her away. It hurt her to think her father, whose love was so deep, was to blame. Though painful as it was to think that her mother left because of her, she found it easier to comprehend.

She glanced at her alarm clock with distaste and rolled out of bed. She walked to and from school except when Mathew was home. He'd neglect work a couple days and they'd go to art shows and book stores. Some of the galleries they visited were large, open rooms painted solid, vibrant colors with modern furnishing. Grace sometimes wondered if the strange chairs and tables were being displayed along with the paintings and sculpture. Those mediocre pieces were done by wealthy crowd pleasers with time on their hands. The galleries she favored more were of the ones on a struggling artist's budget. Often there were no sitting areas unless the gallery was actually the artist's apartment or the pieces were being displayed on the street. Mathew would more frequently buy something from them rather than the modern, well-off artists. Grace began to develop the idea that, to truly be excellent at what you love you must be exposed to the cruel and unjust part of life and endure it with unbreakable confidence.

He threw on a pair of raggedy jeans, grabbed his messenger bag, and was off to the assembly line with a quick visit across the hall. He stuck his head in and shouted, "I'm off to wour-" when Naomi shoved a chocolate chip cupcake in his mouth.

"And knowing you, you probably haven't eaten anything."

He swallowed and said offhandedly, "Not true. I had a bit of molding cheese."

"Ugh!"

He grinned, pleased that his diet disgusted her, "Do you have any more-,"

She held a warm pan out to him and he cheerfully took two more, "I heard you laughing earlier this morning-well I suppose everyone heard you."

"I'll tell you later. I promise. Work now!" he kissed her hurriedly on the cheek and flew down the hall past the elevator. He bustled down five flights of stairs and had finished off both cupcakes easily by the time he reached ground floor.

"Marcus!" he called out to his friend, "Marcus!"

"Sod off," he muttered. He was standing with his back to him, fiddling with robot parts on a conveyer belt.

"Marcus!" he ignored him still, "Hey man," he shouted to the guy next to him, "Yeah you. Would you be so kind as to get that nappy-headed bugger for me?"

Marcus whipped around, eyes blazing furiously until recognition hit him and they switched to annoyance, "Ah hello friend. I thought you werenefarious Ned."

Nefarious Ned was their boss. He was a marshmallow shoved in clothes and a down right ninny. Though Marcus's grandmother, who was reliant on a wheelchair, could take him on, no one said anything to him that didn't want their paycheck cut. He'd insult everyone and they'd bear it in order to keep their job. He was thirty, lacked friends, and employees suspected he'd never had a girlfriend.

Marcus glanced at Ned and grinned, "I particularly like the outfit his mother picked out this morning. Lovely color."

"Listen, I've discovered what the load of rubbish I keep dreaming about is!"
Marcus's eyes darted to him, "You have? What, then?"

"Thoughts. Someone from the real world is thinking these things and I can see them written out in front of me somehow."

Marcus was a man of logic and wasn't convinced that his good friend was sane. He tried to justify his disbelief by telling himself that he was lonely or that he had inherited his father's gene of insanity. He would tolerate his illogical ravings when he was feeling up to it but Ned had taken a bite at his paycheck and set him in a sour mood.

"This is the bloody real world! I know you'd like to think this rot isn't it but, hate to break it to you, it is!" he realized he was attracting looks and lowered his voice, "People talk about you. They say-"

"I know people talk about me. I'm not completely oblivious to my surroundings. Why is it so hard for you to believe? Are you afraid of finding out your version of the truth is distorted and false?"

A line creased between his eyebrows and he uttered a sigh of disgust, "By god, you are barking mad."

He felt tinge of hurt simmer in his chest like the edge of a sword grazed him, "Yeah well you were always a lousy friend."

Marcus's fist collided with his mouth, and he wondered afterwards why he hadn't expected it. His teeth sliced the inside of his bottom lip and when he got back up he wiped a trickle of blood off on his sleeve. All the workers were hushed. Marcus was larger than him by height, width, and muscle but he wasn't intimidated. He heaved a punch at him and successfully landed it into his left eye. The men were now in an uproar. Marcus bounced back and threw himself into his chest, knocking them to the floor. They rolled, still hurling punches and when they stopped, Marcus was on the bottom. Somewhere in the middle of the struggle Marcus swung a powerful punch and struck his temple. He collapsed beside him motionless.