This takes place towards the beginning of the story. Maybe not quite the beginning, but definitely close to it. If you've ever been on a street corner early in the morning, you'll probably understand the world that exists in that particular space and time, and how it sharply contrasts the same place during the day. I plan on Francis being an important figure in the story, but not a big player. We will see how that turns out.
Francis stood beneath the streetlight. Staring out at the great nothing, eyes vacant as if his soul had stepped out of his body and was wandering through infinity. The only sign there was any life in him at all was when he puffed out a thick cloud of gray smoke from the cigarette hanging between his lips. You couldn't help but wonder where his mind was. It had to be somewhere beautiful. Somewhere lush and green and without the pain and pollution and noise of the city. Or maybe he was right there beside himself. Taking in the beauty within the ugliness beneath that street lamp. Always there, on the corner of Cambrian and Montauk.
It was five o'clock in the morning on a Wednesday. We were heading out to the coffee shop he and his sister ran. The corner was the halfway mark. Or close to it, at the very least. It was January and it was dark and cold, and only the cigarettes and flasks of Maker's to keep us warm beneath piled on sweatshirts and old jean jackets.
Sometimes we would stand there in the silence for what seemed like hours. Sometimes he would only pause for a moment. Now he stood, watching the darkness beyond the streetlight's reach. I was startled a bit when he spoke.
"So, I've been thinking..."
All I could do was stare for a second. Wondering if he was going to finish his thought or if he was waiting for me to coax it out of him.
"I'm thinking of leaving this place. This city, I mean. Going somewhere...Fuck, I don't know. Somewhere not." His sentence ending in a finite manner. It seemed like it should have been inquisitively searching for a finishing word.
"Somewhere not what?" I thought it a valid question. After all, anywhere you went was something.
"Shit man, I don't know. Just somewhere not. Not here. Not civilized. Not lost. How the fuck should I know. Just go nowhere, you know?"
I thought for a moment that this was how buddy movies started. One friend suggests they leave and go on an adventure and they see the world and find someplace new or find that what they were really missing was right there in front of them all along. For a few seconds, I thought of Antoinette, then shook it off. But, I knew he would never ask me. Normally, I would be the first to leave and the first he'd ask, I know, but this time was different. This was him saying he needed some time just to himself. Away from everything. EVERYthing.
"I mean, this is all just me talking out of my ass, you know? But, that's for now. I'm gonna have to take off one day soon. I can tell."
"I know what you mean. We've all got something to find. Sometimes you have to search just to figure out what it is you're searching for. Then, and this is the fucked up part, you have to go search AGAIN for what it is you really are searching for." I think it was the whiskey going on autopilot.
"Promise me now, you'll look after my sister and the shop for me." It was a statement, but on the cusp of being a demand. It was something up to me. Something he knew was coming, more than his departure. I agreed. How could I not? He was one of my best friends. I had known him for most of my adult life and I knew that no matter what, we would be until the day we died.
Although I would think about the conversation often, it wouldn't be until just after he was gone that I would realize the sentence did not end with the words "until I get back."