This is the rest of the story. Click here for the beginning
“Helen, Steve, please come in. I’m Jack.”
His voice didn’t match his appearance, it was soft and almost musical – not deep and gravelly as I’d expected. So much so that it took a few moments for his words to sink in, and when they did I almost tripped over my own feet. This was Jack? I’d expected someone mystical looking, dressed as an all-knowing seer or maybe a learned professor. I definitely wasn’t expecting an Ozzie Osbourne lookalike.
He showed us through to his office, a small room dominated by a large desk with a comfy looking chair behind it and two office chairs in front. A pile of papers sat neatly to one side with a pen pot beside it. There was nothing else on the desk. The room couldn’t have been further from my expectations. No crystal ball, no cards, no dice, not even yarrow sticks. No velvet hangings, no skeletal heads, no stuffed birds. Not even a darkened room – a large window almost filled one wall, letting in the bright afternoon sun.
Jack sat himself behind the desk, still wearing his sunglasses, and motioned for us to sit. I pulled myself together. My main reason for accompanying Helen that day was to prevent her throwing so much money away if there was the slightest chance to do so.
“So, you know the service I offer, and the conditions attached to it. Before I go any further though, I need to do this.”
He grabbed a piece of paper and a pen and started scribbling down words. Then he passed the paper to me.
“There you go, Steve. Now you can call your friend Andy and ask him to reel off random words to see if they match what I have written, just as you arranged.”
He stared at me with a big grin on his face as I felt my head whirl. I had indeed arranged that with Andy, a simple way to at least weaken Jack’s plausibility. I’d had no doubt Jack would find some excuse for not providing the words. Maybe that it wasn’t the way he worked, maybe that he only looked months and years ahead, maybe that he only foresaw weather. I hadn’t expected him to rise to the challenge, and definitely not before I’d even outlined it. I hadn’t told anyone but Andy of the plan, especially not Helen who was now staring daggers at me.
For a moment I wondered if Jack had gotten to Andy in some way, then I dismissed it. Andy was one of my oldest friends. While he’d happily pull a prank on me he knew this was serious, the thousand pounds made it very serious. With some trepidation I pulled out my phone and called Andy.
“Andy, it’s Steve. You’re on. Let me have them…”
Andy started to spout off words at random and I tracked through what Jack had written.
“Mate, this is a con.”
The first sentence matched what Jack had written, but I told myself it wasn’t completely impossible to guess those words might be said. Andy continued.
“Rhubarb… lettuce… sunshine… water… Liverpool… dungeon… cloudy… smurf… chainsaw… captain blood…”
He continued on but by now I was only loosely checking the words. I didn’t need to make any notes – every single one was right.
“…digger… spaghetti… la bamba… surely that’s enough, mate? Did he get them all wrong?”
And with that I reached the end of Jack’s writing, he’d even included Andy’s question.
“Yeah, mate,” I said, trying to keep the shake out of my voice. “I really appreciate it, but I’ve gotta go now.”
“I’ll bet! I reckon Helen’s about to go ballistic, either at him or at you. Good luck!”
“Cheers. Bye mate.”
I slumped back in the chair, staring at Jack. Helen leaned over to me in concern, shook my shoulder.
“Steve… Steve… are you OK? You’ve gone really pale. Do you need some air?”
“No. No, I’m OK. Just give me a minute.” I turned to Jack. “I’m… that was… how… you got them all right. Every single word. How the hell did you do that?”
Jack smiled at me, spread his hands wide. “How do you think? That is what I do. I look into the future. That is the service I provide. Can I take it that you are at least partly convinced my talents are real now?”
I nodded mutely, not able to find the words to answer. My world had been badly shaken, I felt slightly dizzy and not a little scared.
“Now, as I was saying…” Jack said. “You have seen the conditions that come with my services, most important of all is the requirement that I and my unique talents be kept secret. You may tell a select few if they require a similar service so I may consider their requests. Other than that you may tell no one. If you both can’t agree to that condition then I’m afraid I cannot help you.”
Helen quickly assured him we wouldn’t tell a soul. Despite my recent shock, or possibly because of it, I found my brain working overtime and held up my hand. Helen returned to glaring at me.
“Surely you know whether we will keep the secret?” I asked. “Given your service, your unique talents, you must know whether you can trust us.”
He clapped his hands together delightedly, like a young child, and almost bounced in his chair with pleasure.
“I see five or six people a day almost every day and you have no idea how few people that occurs to. Maybe one a year if I’m lucky. Well done Steve, very well done.”
He was clearly delighted. Helen’s intense stare changed to a look of approval, and for a few seconds I felt a warm glow inside. Then it faded as another thought turned up. Surely with his talent he must have seen this meeting, seen me say that. In fact he must have done to write out the list of words Andy would say. If that was the case then his apparent spontaneous delight was no such thing, in fact it was a calculated act.
I opened my mouth to speak, to frame my thought, but Jack briefly put his finger on his lips, shook his head and glanced at Helen. She was still looking at me and so missed the exchange. I closed my mouth again for the moment.
“I have one additional condition,” Jack said. “A special one that was not listed. Once our business is concluded I would like a brief chat with you, Steve, just the two of us. Don’t worry, not here, we can go for a walk down the street while your delightful sister waits in her car. Is it a deal?”
“What will we be talking about?” I asked.
“Your perceptive questions, both of them.”
The emphasis on both made it clear he meant both the question I had asked and the question I hadn’t. I wondered how he could know the question I hadn’t asked, then realised that was a third question I wanted to ask him. By that point I was intrigued.
“Yes. OK, we can do that.”
“Good. Now as the payment cleared into my account last night and you have confirmed you will both stick to the agreement we can begin.”
I shot Helen a hard glance at that. She had promised me she wouldn’t hand any money over until I’d had a chance to sound Jack out. She looked embarrassed and wouldn’t meet my gaze. In the end I shrugged it off, I was pretty much convinced by that point that Jack had at least some ability to see into the future.
The consultation itself was quite brief. Jack grabbed more paper then wrote Helen’s possible dates at the top, one date per piece of paper. Four of the six he ruled out completely because of rain or cloudy weather. The fifth he marked as being clear all day, while for the last date he outlined three narrow timeslots which would be bright and sunny while the rest of the day would be showery. He put a star beside the one pm slot.
“Of all possible days and times that is the one I’d most suggest you booking. Don’t ask me why, I won’t spoil the surprise, but you definitely want to go for that time.”
And that was it, the consultation was finished. Helen was overjoyed, hugely relieved to know her special day was going to be bright and sunny. I could tell she was bursting to ask what the surprise would be, but somehow she held the question in. There was no doubt in my mind she’d be booking that particular timeslot though.
Jack showed us to the front door then came down the steps with us. Helen headed back to her car while Jack and I slowly walked down the street.
“Now to your second question, Steve. Yes, I had seen your question before and yes, my reaction at that moment was not completely spontaneous. However it was not completely artificial either. When I see the future it is clear, I can see exactly what will happen, but… well… it is also bland and grey. Emotionless and tasteless. So although I had seen your question I had not fully experienced it. My reaction was real.
“As for your third question, how could I know what your second question was when you hadn’t actually asked it? And indeed, how do I know that was your third question? The answer to that is that I saw this conversation.”
“But… I haven’t asked those questions. You’re the one that said them out loud, and you knew to do that because you saw yourself ask them. How can that work?”
Jack laughed and put a hand on my shoulder.
“That way, my friend, lies madness. I have some instinctive understanding of it, far more than I can ever explain to you, but even I start to struggle if I follow that line of thought. The best answer I can give you is that it just is, and I know how frustrating an answer that is.”
“OK, if I accept that then is there any point in me speaking? You can just reel off all the answers to any questions I might have, all driven by your memory of seeing yourself do so.”
Now Jack stopped, turned to face me and put his hands on both my shoulders, a huge smile on his face.
“Steve, that is why I wanted to walk with you. You ask the right questions, you have such a sharp mind. And the answer to your question is no, I don’t know how the rest of our conversation will go. I saw as far as you asking that last question and then broke off. Whatever you say from now on will be a complete surprise to me, as will at least some of what I say.
“Heavens, can you imagine living your entire life knowing what was coming at every moment? Apart from anything else I would be spending my entire life sat watching what would happen in my future, and all I would see would be me sitting there gazing into the future. Even if that was not the case, can you imagine life with no surprises, no shocks, no chance encounters with friends, no startling moments as the beauty of the world slaps you in the face?”
“OK, I’ll bite. You can probably guess my next question, even without having foreseen it. What do you want?”
“I need an assistant. My last assistant sadly passed on nearly a year ago, at the very respectable age of eighty-one, and I badly miss the help. However, my assistant has to be a particularly special person, someone with a sharp and questioning mind. Someone like you.”
“You want me to work for you?”
“Well, work with me would be more precise. My assistant organises the consultations, sends out the contracts and a few other administrative tasks but mostly the job involves spending time with me. Sitting in on the consultations and being around the rest of the day, being someone to speak to. In the case of my last assistant, becoming a very good friend.”
“Sounds like an easy job, but why do you need someone like that? Don’t you have friends of your own?”
Jack stared at me through his dark glasses for a short while before speaking. Hard as I tried it was impossible to make out even the outline of his eyes through them. He sighed deeply.
“I get lonely, Steve, so lonely. I have acquaintances, some would almost be called friends, but since Robert died I haven’t had anyone I can trust, anyone I can relax with, anyone I can be myself with.”
“Umm… this is just a job, isn’t it? I mean it’s not a relationship you’re looking for? Because, no offence, you aren’t my type.”
He looked startled then started to laugh, really laugh, which convinced me he hadn’t foreseen this conversation. Once he was able to speak he shook his head.
“Oh Steve, no. I can assure you I am not interested in you in that way. Indeed it would be completely impossible.” He glanced up and down the street, seemed satisfied when he saw no one was in sight. “I am going to let you into a secret that almost no one has ever known. Now that Robert, who was a dear friend but no more than that, has passed on no one else in the world knows this secret.”
He reached up and took off his sunglasses, leaving me to stare in amazement at his eyes. They were beautiful, truly beautiful, and that’s not something I had ever expected to say about another man’s eyes. Then again those eyes made it pretty damn clear this wasn’t another man, though quite what Jack was I couldn’t have said.
His eyes had no whites. Mostly they were a golden amber colour with a central pupil, if that’s what it was, of electric blue surrounded by a thin circle of bright red. He blinked, but not in the way a human would. Rainbow coloured membranes flicked down from the top of his eyes and back up again. I realised he had no eyelids as such – just hard ridges of skin. I could compare his eyes to a reptile’s but that would give completely the wrong idea. In many ways they were still closer to human than reptile despite the colours and the membranes. At the sound of an approaching car he slipped his glasses back on with a rueful smile.
“So now you know my secret, you know why I insist on wearing the dark glasses. They may look like normal glasses but if you tried to remove them it would be impossible, only I can take them off. I really can’t afford to have them knocked off as I walk down a busy street.”
I blinked, slowly coming back to myself. Jack’s display of fortune-telling by guessing Andy’s words had shaken me, but the sight of his eyes had rocked my world. So many certainties were suddenly in doubt. He put a hand on my shoulder, started to walk and pulled me along.
“It is a lot to take in, I know. The offer still stands, though. I really would like you to work for me, with me. Finding someone with your perception, your sharp mind, is so rare. I’m sure you have questions, though.”
“Err… well… yes… OK. What are the hours?”
“Good! A practical question! That is exactly what I need. The hours are five days a week including Saturday, as many of my clients can’t visit at other times, and two evenings a week – your choice and we can change them with a little notice. Also one Sunday a month but those weeks you get an extra day off in the week.”
“OK, and holiday?” I was on automatic now, asking the questions I’d asked in interview after interview down the years. I’d never really settled to any job, never found one where I felt I was making a difference to the world.
“Another excellent question. Seven weeks per year, as well as bank holidays. Next question!”
“OK, always the most difficult question. How much will I be paid?”
“Ten million pounds per year. I find that a nice round number.”
I stumbled to a halt, staring at him.
“Ten million?” I managed to gasp out. “Are you kidding me?”
“No, not at all. That is what Robert was paid and that is what I offer you.”
“But… how? You’re only charging one thousand for a consultation. Even if you did ten a day, five days a week that would be… fifty thousand a week. That’s… well, that’s a hell of a lot a year but it’s still under three million. How the hell could you pay me ten million?”
“I don’t charge one thousand per consultation, I charge what the client can reasonably afford. For your sister that was one thousand, indeed for many people it is around that level, but some of my clients are wealthier. For them it may be five thousand, or ten. And a very few clients are obscenely rich, multi-billionaire oil tycoons and others with similar resources. I have been known to charge five million for a single consultation.”
My jaw dropped at that. I imagined what I could do with ten million pounds. The obvious ideas flew through my head – a fast car, several in fact, a big house, money for my family, money for charity. I’d still have so much left though, I could invest it and… and then something struck me.
“Wait… surely you don’t need money. Once you had some you could invest it, look ahead to see which stocks are best to buy. You must be so rich by now that money doesn’t matter at all!”
In a few moments I’d gone from hardly believing he could offer me ten million a year to understanding it might be small change to him. A delighted grin spread across his face and he clapped his hands together. He actually did a little jig on the spot.
“Yes! I love it! Steve, you simply must take the job. You are perfect. Yes, I have invested in my time. I have a very comfortable nest egg, but no more than that. Beyond that I give the money away to charities. The point of the consultation fees is that each person should pay a reasonable amount. It is as much about making them feel they have purchased a valuable service as it is about bringing in money.”
At that moment our conversation was interrupted as I received a text. Checking my phone I found it was from Helen.
Are you OK? xx she had sent.
Yep, all good sis, back soon I replied.
Jack and I talked a little more, discussing the details, then I asked another question.
“So does this mean I live a charmed life? That I get to know which days to avoid the tube, which days to watch out for crazy couriers at the pedestrian crossing?”
Jack stopped dead and fixed me with an intense stare that I could feel even through his glasses.
“No. Absolutely not! If you accept the job then I will never, ever look at your future again. That is an absolute requirement. Every day, every moment, that we spend together, outside of client meetings, will be a complete surprise to both of us.
“You have no idea how heavy this burden can be sometimes. People focus on what they ask me for, what the weather will be like. They don’t know all the other things I see, like the bride crying her eyes out because her mother died nine months before the wedding, or the couple mourning their dead child who was supposed to be a bridesmaid or page boy. Weddings are wonderful occasions with so much happiness, but so often there are intense moments of sadness too. Peoples’ lives are the same. Knowing the future can rob life of so much pleasure.
“If you take this job then you must understand that, no matter what, I will never again look into your future, or the future of anyone close to you – family or friends. If I did it would sour our friendship, sour our working relationship. I know, it happened once – not with Robert, with his predecessor. The knowledge nearly destroyed the poor man, and that was my fault. Can you live with that restriction?”
At that moment I realised I was going to take the job, not for the money – amazing as it was – but because of the brief glimpses of the pain and burden that Jack carried with him. And, I had to admit to myself, because I really liked Jack.
“Yes. Yes, I can. When would I start?”
“Tomorrow I think, as you have no job currently. I knew that when we first met before you ask. As I promised I will no longer view your future.”
“I do have one more question,” I said. “Why do you do it? You don’t need the money, why do you do the consultations?”
He smiled sadly at me, a smile that tore at my heart. He might not be human but his expressions certainly were.
“One day you will see, and on that day you will know.”
* * *
It’s amazing how quickly the strange, the unusual, in fact the damn near unbelievable, can become normal. Within a few weeks of starting to work for Jack I took his talents for granted, along with some of the company I got to keep. From poor couples who could only afford fifty pounds to the ultra rich who were charged hundreds of thousands or more, all had to come to Jack’s house. Never more than two people, one of which was always a bodyguard for the rich, and Jack insisted that only one member of the couple should attend – which almost always turned out to be the bride, not surprisingly. Occasionally Jack would insist on meeting the groom instead, for no reason that I could fathom during those first few weeks. When I asked Jack why he just smiled, then changed the subject.
Jack didn’t exclusively deal in weddings either, though they were the vast majority of his work. Other queries covered outdoor mega concerts, a huge company’s next summer picnic and other similar requests.
The one that made me smile most, though, was a local primary school’s headteacher. She came to find the best night for the school’s firework display, and was pleased when Jack confirmed the Friday that was her first choice would be crystal clear and dry, though very cold. The payment for that particular consultation? Three pots of homemade jam and several pictures the children had drawn. Jack mounted the pictures on his wall and always smiled when he looked at them. He later told me he had a long relationship with the school, that he performed the same task for them every year – as well as advising on sports day. I found out much, much later the reason he favoured that particular school – it had been Robert’s primary school. Jack almost never spoke of Robert, saying the loss of such a good friend was still hard to take despite our strengthening friendship. That Robert had attended that primary school was one of the few concrete facts I learnt about him.
* * *
It was maybe two months into my time working for Jack that I discovered why he insisted on only meeting with either the bride or the groom. As much as I liked Jack, I had started to question the job. The money was incredible, in fact too good. I had already earned enough to not need to work for several years if I was careful. The problem was, that yet again, I didn’t feel like I was making a difference to the world. Not truly.
It was a quiet day, we only had three appointments and the first two had gone as smoothly as they always did. I met the third appointment at the door, a young woman named Gillian who had come on her own. I welcomed her, then led her through the house to Jack’s office where he waited, settled her into a chair and then took my own seat – which was always set to the side of the desk.
She seemed a nice young woman, clearly a little nervous but with a lovely smile. Strangely, Jack didn’t start with his usual discussion of the conditions attached to his services. Instead he asked her how she felt about getting married. From her bubbly answers she was clearly over the moon. The dates she was asking for were only two months away, unusual but not unique. I found out the reason when Jack next spoke.
“Congratulations,” he said. “Twins too! Do you know their sex yet?”
She stared at him for a moment, blushed, then shook her head. Looking at her I couldn’t even tell she was pregnant, though the warm clothes she wore could certainly be concealing a bump.
“Then I won’t spoil the surprise,” he said with a gentle smile. He took a deep breath, then his face clouded and he spoke far more tentatively than I’d ever heard him speak to a client before. “Gillian, I truly am sorry but I have to tell you some bad news. What I am going to tell you will be very upsetting, but in the long run it is for the best. Please be brave, for your babies especially.”
Gillian’s face had frozen into a worried expression, this clearly wasn’t what she had expected to hear. She wasn’t the only one, I’d never heard Jack speak like this.
“Gillian… I am so sorry to be the one to tell you, but Mark is cheating on you. He has been for some months now. He has been seeing your sister behind your back, many of those weekends he said he had to work away were spent with her.”
Gillian’s face crumpled and she shook her head vigorously.
“No! No! He wouldn’t! She wouldn’t! You’re lying!”
“No,” Jack continued softly. “No, I am not. You came to me to ask which day would be best for your wedding. I have to tell you that no day will be best. Mark has been telling your sister he will leave you for her, both before you fell pregnant and once he found out. She loves him, I’m afraid, and believes what he says, but he will not do it. He will not leave you for her.
“She will keep believing him, keep believing he means it, right up until the day of your wedding. When she hears the vicar ask if anyone knows any reason you and Mark cannot be wed it will all come bubbling out, she will shout that yes, there is a reason. She will tell everyone that she and Mark are lovers, that he loves her and she loves him. That and far more.
“As if that is not bad enough you will then be sealed in the church, with Mark, with your sister and with every one of your friends and family who have just heard what she said. The question is a legal one. If anyone raises a reason the wedding cannot proceed the church must be sealed and the police called.
“I am so sorry to have to tell you this, but I would not, could not, let you walk into that church and endure such an ordeal.”
He turned to me. “Steve, please make Gillian a hot chocolate. She has had a shock and needs time for this to sink in.”
He turned back to Gillian. “Take your time my dear, please, we have all day free if you need. And please know I will not be charging you for this consultation. It would be wrong to even consider it.”
So I made Gillian her hot chocolate and then sat in with them while Jack and she talked. It turned out she had been worrying, had felt doubts over Mark’s behaviour, but she never imagined it was her own sister he was cheating with.
The consultation did last most of the day. I made more drinks and even lunch, Jack insisting Gillian eat for the sake of the babies when she tried to say she was too upset.
In the end she left with more than enough information to confront her sister. Jack had given her advice on how to approach the confrontation, and which of her friends to have with her. It wasn’t going to be easy but Jack assured her she would come through it stronger, and that her sister would see through Mark soon enough. Gillian was determined to throw Mark out, and Jack was certain he would soon lose interest in her sister and move on elsewhere. Given time Gillian and her sister would be as close as they had been before.
As Gillian stood to leave, Jack came around his desk and gave her a long hug, something else I’d never seen him do with a client. I led her to the front door where she treated me to a hug. I told her how sorry I was, she smiled sadly and told me that, painful as it was, she was glad she knew the truth.
When I returned to Jack he had removed his dark glasses to reveal his eyes, a sight I was well used to by then. What I wasn’t used to was seeing him crying, tears streaming down his cheeks. In the two months I’d worked with Jack we had become good friends so I felt no awkwardness in giving him a hug, then sitting on the edge of the desk and listening to the pain he felt at what he had done.
Once he had talked himself out and was looking if not happy at least less upset, I asked him a question.
“You said one day I would see why you do this, why you mainly consult on wedding dates. Was that it? Is that the reason?”
He smiled sadly at me. “No. That is an important reason, I have saved that poor woman from a terrible heartache at the cost of lesser heartache now, but no. That is not the reason. When it happens I will tell you.”
* * *
Several months passed. Christmas came and went. Most of our clients were given good news, a very few Jack had to break bad news to, though thankfully no more involving a sibling. Two of the cases had involved the prospective bride cheating. In those cases Jack had insisted the groom attend the consultation and not the bride.
After one of those painful sessions I asked Jack if all the other couples he saw would be faithful. He shook his head at me.
“Steve, some of those we see are not faithful even now, others will cheat before or after the wedding. I only interfere where someone is going to be hurt badly either before the wedding or soon after. I cannot, must not, judge these people, and I cannot look at their entire life and warn them of anything that may happen. I have to draw the line somewhere, otherwise I could not cope.”
Several weeks later we had another consultation where Jack insisted the groom attend. I knew that might mean nothing, often it didn’t, but it did raise the possibility the bride was cheating. In this case she was, but that was far from the worst of it. I won’t give any names or details due to the nature of the problem.
The groom was shocked to find his fiancée had been cheating. Then he was devastated when Jack was able to give him times and dates that convinced him. Jack had worse news to convey, though.
The bride-to-be had far worse than cheating on her mind. She had hatched a plan to murder the groom soon after the wedding. She would stand to inherit a significant but not excessive sum, and planned to disappear with her lover once she had collected it.
The groom refused to believe it but Jack had prepared well for this meeting. From his desk he produced clippings from a paper some twelve years before discussing the tragic death of a newlywed man in a car crash. Some of the pictures showed the dead man’s wife, who our client quickly realised was his fiancée.
Then Jack showed more clippings from the newspaper several weeks later, when the police had determined the dead man’s car had been sabotaged. The dead man’s wife had disappeared along with the money she inherited from him.
Now our client started to believe, and Jack was able to provide more proof – or more precisely where more proof could be found. Eventually the client staggered out of our door, into the arms of his brother. Jack had insisted the client call his brother, he told me later that it was because the client would have tried to take his own life otherwise. The shock had been too great. Several days later the murderess was arrested and charged with both the original murder and plotting the murder of our client. Her lover was also arrested and charged.
That evening, as Jack and I watched the news, I felt a grim satisfaction at what we had achieved. I no longer had doubts about my job, now I truly felt I was making a difference to the world… or helping Jack to do so at least. I turned to Jack and asked him the same question I’d asked once before.
“Is this the reason? Is this why you keep doing what you do?”
Once again he smiled sadly at me and shook his head.
“No Steve. This is another important duty, it makes a big difference, but no. It is not the reason I do it. One day it will happen, and on that day you will truly understand.”
* * *
As more months went by Jack and I became truly great friends. As time went on I understood more and more why Jack needed someone to lean on, someone to talk things through with, someone to help him be sure what he did was right. I learnt a little more about Robert, the most shocking thing I learnt was when and how Jack had met him. When Robert was seven he ran out of school and into the road, almost straight in front of a large lorry that was speeding past. He would certainly have died if a passing stranger hadn’t been there to grab him, to stop him short of the lorry’s path. That stranger had been Jack, who had seen the accident using his talent and chosen to intervene.
Robert was extremely grateful and Jack saw the spark of a prodigious intelligence in him. They became firm friends, Jack following Robert’s progress through school and life. What was shocking to me, though, was that even then Jack was a full-grown… whatever he was. When Robert left school he become Jack’s assistant and stayed in the role until he died aged eighty one. That made Jack over ninety at least, yet he looked nowhere near that age. On the few occasions I tried to pin him down about his age he just smiled and changed the subject. I suspect he is not only older than ninety but much, much older, though I have no idea what his age really is.
* * *
I still clearly remember the day Sandy came to see us. She was a wonderful, bubbly woman with a beaming smile. Full of confidence, she had come on her own. I showed her through to Jack’s office and sat on my chair as he greeted her. Almost immediately I realised he hadn’t given her the speech about conditions, a sure sign bad news was coming. I masked my feelings though, listening attentively to their conversation.
“So tell me, Sandy,” Jack said. “What dates did you have in mind?”
She named a number of days in the October of 2013, still more than three years ahead, then explained it wasn’t the weather she needed advice on so much as where they could get a cheap deal. Her and her fiancé had very little money and little prospect to save up much more. She wanted Jack to tell her which venue would have a late cancellation they could then book.
Jack studied her, then spoke softly. His words surprised me as rather than delivering bad news he gave her a date.
“Friday 21st, at Saint Mary’s church.”
“Friday 21st? But the 21st October in 2013 is a Monday!”
“No, not 2013 and not October. Friday the 21st of this month.”
“But… but that’s only ten days away! Why then? What’s the rush?”
“I am so sorry Sandy. The headaches you have been having are caused by a tumour in your brain. Because of where it is the doctors will not be able to remove it. They can treat it, slow it down, but you will not see October 2013. Dan is a wonderful man, he will be a wonderful husband. Get married this month, have a wonderful honeymoon. Plan to have a baby, you will live that long I promise. And do not worry about money, I will give you a wedding present of one hundred thousand pounds.”
I won’t go into the details of that client any further, I’m sure you understand why. The shock was significant but it soon became clear it wasn’t a complete surprise. She had worried the headaches were serious and been scared to see a doctor. Now that she knew, now it was certain, she made up her mind to go immediately. Jack spent a long time with her. I made not only lunch but dinner too and she had to answer a concerned call from her fiancé asking where she was. Jack invited him over – something else I’d never seen happen before – and over dinner explained the situation.
I got to see what Jack had seen. Despite the shock and fear they felt both Sandy and Dan loved each other deeply and quickly bounced back from the terrible news. Soon they were making plans for their almost immediate wedding. Jack was a huge help there, able to give them the names of companies that could meet their requests. On the wedding dress, though, he would only narrow the search to four stores, insisting that the choice of dress must rest with Sandy.
It was late at night when the two finally left us. After showing them out I returned to Jack’s office expecting to find him crying, the times he had to interfere always took their toll on him, but I was in for a surprise.
Jack sat behind his desk with a huge smile on his face. He laughed at my expression and explained.
“Steve, you look so shocked, but think for a moment. Today I saw a future where Sandy died long before their wedding, where Dan knew nothing of her illness till the day she collapsed at work then sat with her as she passed away only two days later. Instead of that I now see a future where they have a wonderful wedding, an incredible honeymoon. Sandy gets treatment that lets her live long enough to give birth to a beautiful daughter, a daughter who will sustain Dan through the dark days after Sandy dies and light up the good days. I saw a vision of darkness and grief and replaced it with a future full of love and happiness. Yes, there will still be some grief, but that is true of all lives.
“Steve, you asked me why I did what I do. What you saw today is the reason I do this. For those rare moments that I can truly make a difference in a good way, that I can spread happiness. Do you understand now?”
I stared at him, thinking on his words, then smiled as the truth sank in. On that day we truly had made a difference, had improved the world. And it was we I realised. For all that Jack’s talent was unique, I’d played my part. Quietly listening, offering ideas and preparing food and drinks. At that moment I understood why Robert had stayed with Jack his whole life, and realised I too would do the same.
* * *
Jack still managed to surprise me regarding Sandy and Dan’s wedding, as he still does from time to time. On that occasion it was when he accepted the invite to their wedding. Never before had we accepted an invite, and there had been very many, but as soon as he told me why I understood completely. He only accepted the invites to the most special of weddings.
Speaking of which, he did accept the invite to one other very special wedding. My sister’s. By that time Jack and I had been together for more than two years. In many ways we had become a couple we spent so much time together, though we were nothing more than friends. Jack even came to visit my family occasionally, though he never removed his dark glasses and I’d never told anyone what lay behind them.
And, as Jack had promised, the time my sister chose truly had a wonderful surprise. It had been raining most of the day but the sun kept popping out. When it came to the wedding photos the rain had stopped and the sun was out. Well, the rain had stopped where we were, but it must have been falling heavily somewhere nearby. How else would all the wedding photos have an intense double rainbow as their background? Needless to say, Jack looks very smug in the one photo he agreed to be in.