"The Man Who Could Have Everything" - Short Fiction

He sits waiting patiently in the welcoming hall, anxious about his earliness, a change from just an hour ago, where he decided leaving an hour sooner might ease his panic about being too late. It felt embarrassing, like someone might ask what he’s doing there, or see him as someone in the way, so he sinks into his chair and moves his head only carefully, for fear that a creak of the neck to look around might echo as loudly as a misstep on the wooden floors, and set anyone there upon him in great annoyance.

The only thing worse than being noticed at this point, was nobody noticing him. But such was the case. It seems, as the staff busied themselves around him, oblivious to their overly punctual guest. He’s left with little to do but take in the place, and notices with some pleasure that the hall suits its title, and most definitely feels welcoming. The doors were old wood, squeaking on their hinges in a manner that seemed more heartwarming that annoying. The mirrors were all polished to perfection, their frames shining brightly too, yet around the edges there was just the slightest black, an adhesive gone off years before, or perhaps some strange imperfection in the glass itself. Above him hang small yet clearly antique chandeliers, but all light in the room came from the brass fixtures, not one affixed crookedly, and each carved to look like a stag’s antlers.

Everything here seemed to precariously straddle the line between old and class, as if a layer of dust or a broken hinge might set off a chain reaction, ruining the place. He appreciated the balance, but found it also unsettled him too, as if his presence before the event’s allotted time could also act as a tipping point. He felt the urge to undo his collar, to loosen his tie – this early, a very bad sign.

A man suddenly appears, well-dressed with graying hair, holding a tray with a crystal glass full of a clear, carbonated liquid set on it. Next to the glass is a simple square of napkin and a small plate with a single wedge of lime, arranged in such a way to look professional, yet casual – how he wished he looked.

He takes the drink as it is offered to him, and brining it gently to his lips has a sip. He is immediately surprised, and looks up at the man as he asks “How did you know?” his palate suddenly abuzz with crisp tonic water mixed with his favorite gin.

The man smiles without too radically shifting his features, and answers in a muted, indistinguishable accent. “Sir, it is my job to know.” He takes another sip, and notices the expectation hanging in the air, looking back up once again, lets approval spread across his face. The waiter nods lightly, pleased, and moves out of the room, swiftly, but not in a manner that could ever be considered brisk.

A moment passes. Things return to how they were when he first sat down, just the room and the bustle. He feels invisible again, but far more comfortable. If not for that, and the drink still in his hand, it could have all been in his imagination. Not for the first time.

He sips his drink quietly, not so much savoring it, but more worried that his spectral servant and savior might not do an encore if he was heard slurping, or crunching ice between his teeth. Besides, he didn’t need the latter – he was getting that feeling again, that chill, the tingling that moved from his up his spine and outward, engulfing his back and spreading all the way to the tips of his fingers and toes.

He wondered sometimes about the chill. It always came on when he was feeling nervous, or rather should be. Before, there was self-consciousness, but with his drink, sitting here now, nothing felt more natural to him. He was no longer waiting on the party – the party, for him at least, and begun now that he had arrived.

Anxiety. So much of it that he felt seemed to have so much to do with place, setting, being when and where he was not wanted, expected, or supposed to be. The curse of courtesy. Yet when that feeling, that chill, spread through him, none of that mattered. He felt calmer, more home. Even… comfortable? Not quite, but better. But why? Something occurred. Was he changing himself? Or did that shiver, did the chill spread quite beyond his personage, and change the world around him too?

Was this power? Was this some subtle ability? An innate, preternatural protection for himself, a balance for his cowardice? He found himself at a loss to remember the first time it manifested. Had there been some kind of accident? Did he have a secret origin? Why could he no more remember when he developed this power he used to cope than he could recall what first set off his IBS and panic attacks?

A test seemed in order. There was an obligation, to see not just if it did exist, if he could do such things for himself, but if he was only changing how he felt, or if instead he was shifting, not just emotions, but the greater world, forcing it to stop affecting him. And if so, how far did it, how far could it, extend?

He set down his drink, and cast his eyes downward to the table in front of him. Each moment of panic had felt tactile, like something had brushed past him, and kinetically, passed to him the urge to react as poorly as possible. Perhaps contact was key, so placing both hands palms down, he felt the ornate table cloth, rough on his hands, cheaper than it looks. You can’t trust antiques with drunks, you can’t save certain kinds of history from spills. He noticed his urge to digress, and focused himself, willing the table top, the entire table, and the chairs around, pushing firmly for them to be anything other than someplace to sit. The need for this place to be anywhere but here.

He suddenly felt the tingle, and the hairs on his body rose from the chill, and he shook for a moment, not from the pressure he applied, but rather his body’s sudden pressure drop, and were he to lift his hands and find ice on his finger tips, he would not be surprised. In spite of this, the table remained just that – a table. It didn’t alter, or shift, or change. Disappointment loomed, and under the cold, from out of his heart, and spreading just under his back, he could feel the anxiety rise up again.

As his head warmed, it screamed at him, beads of sweat actually appearing, unlike the phantasmal ice he’d imagined. He wanted to leap from the table, but in picturing it, he saw himself knocking the table, spilling his drink, making it to the door post all this horrible chaos, only to come face to face with those he’d come to see, with friends and their strangers who he had been waiting for. He tried to lift his hands and immediately saw they were trembling. He tried to push himself up, but the clamminess of his hands slipped on the tablecloth and in pushing off, he only slid further down into his seat. The quaking of his hands, the shaking of the table, these were not hallmarks of someone waiting patiently. Embarrassment swelled.

This was all interrupted with a sound like a cough. He jolted upright in his chair, as if waking from a trance. The table under his hands looked undisturbed. His head felt dry, and his hands no longer clammy. He wasn’t sweating quite like he had imagined. It all seemed crazy now, a series of logical leaps one could only make in dream he’d while dozing.

The waiter cleared his throat again, but appeared before him as if he’d only performed said alerting action for the first time. Apologetically, his gracious server asked if he would move. The staff had need of the room.

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