Adam was sitting next to the radiator. He never liked the proximity, but it was one of those necessary inconveniences. Just as always, he was sitting on the old armchair. The chair's back was covered with a reindeer-patterned wool knitting, mostly to cover an old burn spot. He was holding the book with his left hand, while his right hand hid under the covers of a wool blanket on his lap. The chair was situated right next to the window. The man's reading glasses gave a glimmer of brilliance every time a volley of car headlights flashed the window. He was reading an old paperback with yellowed pages and a heavily creased cover image. It was an old detective novel. Standing on the window's wooden one-and-a-half-inch threshold was a green porcelain mug of hot chocolate. The cup was barely stable in its place, but the man never recalled it falling off during all his years.
He reached the end of the second page. He took out his right hand from under the warm covers, gave it a quick lick with his tongue, and turned the page. Before returning his right hand to its shelter, almost unconsciously, he grabbed the mug from his side and took a satisfying gulp. The hot liquid came down gracefully, warming every part of his upper body.
"Dinner's ready", came a comforting voice from down the hall. A touch of excitement and a hint of a smile accompanied the voice and resonated within the man's heart. He balanced the cup on the window's wooden threshold, and used an old receipt to bookmark the page.
As he got out of the chair, he couldn't help but take a look at the old neighborhood. The view of bright neon and electronic billboards brightened the night sky so not even the distant twinkling of a star could cast its brilliance down. Traffic lights and police sirens. Different faces walking by. Familiar faces standing on street corners. All huddled up in layers of warm clothing, defying the order of the December night. He felt a weirdly comforting ambience as he listened to the car alarms and various voices of the streets. A passer-by could say that the man on the window was in his early forties. His pulled-back gunmetal gray hair was thick and lush with a curved wave at the center. He had a pair of cerulean-green eyes that chiseled around their sockets and under his caterpillar grey brows from the long hours of reading at night.
He placed the novel on the chair, bookmarking his progress with an old receipt. He made his way down the hall towards the kitchen. Amanda was turning around with a big serving plate wrapped around two red kitchen mittens. Her paradise-blue eyes met his. He couldn't help but smile.
"Good day today?" said Amanda as she was sitting the sizzling serving plate in the center of a blue plastic table that was covered with rose-patterned picnic sheets. The table took up most of the space. The kitchen was modest in size and decorum. There was an obvious effort in trying to keep it clean, which Adam appreciated and never complained.
"Not bad," said Adam. They sat on the table. Adam felt a burst of excitement as he contemplated the next few moments. He waited until the confusion of the day settled down and they were able to have a quiet moment together. Alone.
"Hey. Listen. I wanna tell you something" said Adam. He moved the chair a bit closer to his wife's to hold her hand over the picnic covers. "The principal called me into his office today. It was about the monthly evaluation".
Her eyes gave a worried look. He returned it with a reassuring smile. "The principal said that I was doing really good work. The kids really liked me, so they wanna cut the probation period. Starting from next Monday. I'm gonna be teaching full-time, with a full-time salary, benefits, the whole deal".
It took a moment to register her excitement. "Oh my god. That's wonderful!!". She got up from the table with tears in her eyes to hug him. He got up and met her half-way. "Oh dear. That is great news!". He pulled her shoulder-length auburn hair away from her neck and kissed her there, taking in a clean smell of soap and lotion. He placed his hands on her waist and pulled her back a bit. She sat down on the chair while he bent down on one knee.
"That's not the big news," said Adam. "I've been thinking about this a lot, and I was waiting for the right time to talk about it. I know you have been patient, but I also know that the "perfect" moment would never really come, so here it goes...". He cupped the palm of her right hand with both of his. The sense of warmth he felt beckoned him to go on. "I know you've wanted to hear those words for a long time. Amanda, let's have a baby together".
Her rosy cheeks became red. Her eyes became watery. His words came as a cool splash of water on a hot summer day. The smile that she saw on his face gave her all the comfort and reaffirmation she could ever ask for. She couldn't help but jolt her arms around him again. He stood up and pulled her close, rocking her back and forth.
"Oh. I almost forgot", he waited until the excitement settled down a bit. His right hand made its way to his jacket pocket, pulling back a small velvet box. "I got something for you", he said. He remembered how he felt as he took an advance on his salary to get that box. He knew it would be worth the smile he saw on her face at that moment. Adam opened the velvet box, revealing a silver necklace. It had a dangling amethyst gemstone, trapped inside a vine-shaped silver piece. Her eyes were hypnotized at the sight of the dangling gemstone.
He put the necklace in her open palm, looked at her paradise-blue eyes and said, "I will always love you, and I will never leave you or …".
Everything stopped in motion. The kitchen started creasing. Cracking. Seams bulged out like a dirty cut. Adam and Amanda were frozen in motion like puppets on display. The entire picture started bubbling under a torch. The colors were shuffling in place. The lovely image of Adam and Amanda in the kitchen was ripped. Shattered. In the middle of all the commotion, barely visible, was the dreaded glowing red rectangle with the words underneath it.
A horrible scream broke off in the dark storage compartment. The agent was the only person in the storage place. An involuntary shock ran through his spine, jolting him awake from the floor. The neck muscles couldn't register the jolt which forced them to stiffen up, snapping his spine in the process. He convulsed left and right, clawing at his face. He was able to finally remove the black memory visor with mirrored shades that was attached to his face, but it was already too late. His brain already received and processed the fatal spike, frying his neural network ever so slowly.
The screams became gurgled shrieks as his lungs started tearing. Stripes of different shades of congested black and red covered the man's face in an expression of horror as his broken fingernails clawed effortlessly at his face. The lethal and corrupted spike traveled through his brain, severing his nerve endings like string.
His body jolted upwards again, cleanly shattering what was left of his spine. The agent fell right on his deformed face like a discarded rag-doll.
A wave of deafening silence shrouded the dark storage space. Shades of purple and blue neon lights danced around the lying corpse in the middle of the space as they were projected from a nearby ceiling window. The usual sounds of televised announcements and hovercrafts from outside were once again audible.
The silence was interrupted with a quick shudder of static noise. The agent's black memory visor lay half-broken right next to his bloody corpse. The right inner lens was projecting a frozen picture of an amethyst gemstone necklace that Adam gave to Amanda in a very distant and poorly-reconstructed memory. The noise came back again from the visor. This time a bit more audible.
"...And I will always love you".