Nick Strong

Nick Strong

A Chapter by Thomas Burbank

Nick strong did not believe in coincidence. The idea that people could construct this delusionary fallacy used to explain crazy or statistically improbable things in their lives baffled him.


New York City: Friday, December 15, 2015


Nick Strong did not believe in coincidence.  The idea that people could construct this delusionary fallacy used to explain crazy or statistically improbable things in their lives was simply baffling to him.  Tossing chance encounters or incomprehensible luck up to fortunate accidents or this supposed coincidence was an alien concept and simply ridiculous.  Everything happened for a reason.  Whether or not there was some higher power, guiding the cosmos on some preordained path of fate, he didn’t know �" nor did he think he ever would, but he believed the universe had at least some plan.  It couldn’t be total chaos.  Within all the growing entropy of good and bad, happy and sad, there had to be some thread of order weaving between the masses of confusion, holding the universe together.  Life was just way too fucked up for him to believe anything else.

The fact that millions of people died every year from starvation, murder, disease, natural disasters was just too mind numbing for him to simply chalk up to simple chance.  That didn’t just happen.  There had to be some reason, some higher purpose, some plan that no one knew, but would eventually lead to happiness, because Nick was just about fed up with the world right now.

Perhaps at some point he had believed the naïve ideal of coincidence, doe eyed and full of optimism.  He could vaguely remember a boyish innocence he had once carried with him laughing at his luck and fortune, but that was a lifetime ago �" a hazy memory tarnished by the cruelties of life. 

            Snow had begun to fall that evening and the city air was both crisp and exhilarating.  While most people cringed at the thought of temperatures dropping and having to wear layers upon layers of clothes before they went outside, Nick relished it.  The biting wind hitting his face, the firm grasp of the cold as its unrelenting spirit filled the atmosphere and numbed his body.   He was currently walking through Central Park as waves of nostalgia washed over him.  A reddish glow faintly broke through the clouds as the sun set over the evening sky, evergreens were decorated with lights and ornaments in the spirit of Christmas, and laughter could be heard within the snow-filled trees and paths.  It brought him back to simpler times.

            Allowing his feet to lead him whatever direction they wanted, he took in the park around him. The way the white blanket of snow innocently reflected the pure, opalescent hues of the sunset.  The crisp wind sweetly caressing the trees into a homey sense of security as it sang a soft lullaby to the nature around it.  The lively shouts of joy coming from a band of kids as they played pond hockey on the now thick ice of Turtle Pond.  He closed his eyes, allowing the smallest of smiles to grace his lips when Queen’s Somebody to Love knocked him out of his reverie.

            Fishing his phone out of his pocket, Nick didn’t even bother glancing at the screen before answering the call.  “What’s going on, Zeke?”

            “Nick!” exclaimed the voice on the other end.  “Just checking in on you.  Haven’t heard from you in the past couple days and I’ve been held up at the firm working late, so couldn’t stop by.  How’s it going?  How’s Rubix?”

            Rubix was the diner Nick worked at.  Well, saying he worked at Rubix would be like saying Michael Jordan kind of played basketball.  He practically ran the place; easily working close to triple digit hours per week on a regular basis.  Located on the corner of East 79th and 5th Avenue, it was �" as the name would so suggest, a perfect cube:  20 feet by 20 feet by 20 feet.  A rather old, unassuming brick building, it didn’t look like much.  There was a faded sign just above the door that was practically unreadable, the bricks had long since faded from their once rich reddish-orange color, but to Nick, it was perfect.  While the wall adjacent to East 79th was mostly brick with one or two windows peppered along its surface, the 5th Avenue wall comprised of a full wall-to-wall window view of Central Park.  Early risers would have an excellent unobstructed view of the scenic park through the window of the diner, unhindered by the rising sun at their backs.   

            “The diner’s been alright,” Nick responded casually.  “Hasn’t been too packed this week, but with all the college kids going home for break we’ve been short staffed.  Had to work from open to close all week.”

            “You’re ridiculous, man,” Zeke exasperatedly replied.  “And I thought I had it bad.  This is what, twenty straight days for you?”

            “Eh, eighteen,” dismissed Nick.  “But who’s counting?”

            “Whatever, that’s not why I called.  Sophie found this new bar that just opened downtown.  You down to join?”

            “Zeke, you know I don’t �"“

            “You don’t have to drink!  Sophie misses you.  She hasn’t seen you in a few weeks and this is her first night off duty in weeks.  Plus, you could use this.  When’s the last time you went out?”

            “I don’t know,” Nick answered uncomfortably.  “I’ve got work tomorrow and �"“

            “I know for a fact you don’t have work tomorrow,” Zeke retorted.  “I checked with Doris before I called.  You’re off all weekend!  First hand evidence.  I’m a lawyer, Nick.  You honestly didn’t expect me to check my sources first.”

            Doris was the owner of Rubix and had pretty much filled the void of Nick’s mother ever since he moved to the city.  Nick had stumbled into the diner eight years ago broke, miserable, and completely lost twenty year old boy, and the elderly saint had instantly taken him under her wing.  She was the kindest woman Nick had ever met.  Within the hour he was hired, and scheduled to work the following day.  He ended up liking the place so much that even after seven years he just never left.  By association, she and Zeke were also on excellent terms. 

            “Okay, fine…stalker,” muttered Nick.  “What time should I meet you?”

            “Ten o’clock.  A little under two hours,” Zeke told him giddily.  “The place is called Bruce’s Brews.  It’s on the corner of East 73rd and York.  See ya there, buddy!”  He hung up before Nick could say anything else.

            Nick had never met anyone like Ezekiel Freeman.  It was shortly after his run-in with Doris that he’d met his best friend.  They had quite literally gotten off on the wrong foot.  Trying to get himself acquainted with the layout of his general neighborhood, he had wandered around the city before stopping at the library a few blocks from his apartment on the Upper East Side.  After browsing the isles and grabbing a quick cup of coffee he had exited the library to head back to his place when they had run into each other.  Like, physically ran into each other.  Zeke had been frantically running into the library with a stack of books in his hands when they both ultimately ended up sprawled on the floor �" hazelnut beverage and law books coagulated into a terrible mess.  Naturally, after a big “F**k you” from both parties, they had hit it off instantly.

Zeke was a year older than Nick and pre-law at the time.  He was now finishing law school at Columbia University on the West Side of Manhattan while he worked for a major firm downtown.  He would stop by Rubix as often as he could to get a bite to eat and would catch up with Nick.  In every sense of the word, they were brothers.  Just as Doris had filled the space as Nick’s mother, Zeke had become his brother in everything but blood.  Extremely sarcastic and terribly witty, he could be unbearable at times, but perfectly balanced out Nick’s colder, harsher personality.

Sophie Ash was Zeke’s fiancé.  She was actually an old high school friend of Nick’s that he had lost touch with when he moved from Annapolis, but had been reintroduced three years prior when Zeke had shown Nick his “awesome new doctor girlfriend.”  She would be finishing up her residency at Mt. Sinai Hospital in a few months and was aiming to specialize in cardiothoracic surgery.   

After taking one more glance around the park, Nick headed back to his apartment.  He walked down East 79th before making a left at 3rd Avenue.  Squished between East 81st and East 82nd, Nick’s apartment complex wasn’t great but the rent was fantastic.  He lived on the fourth floor in room D.  Making his way up the flights of stairs, it was 8:30 when he took out his key and made his way into the single loft.   

4D had a narrow, carpeted entrance hall that led into the kitchen-living room space, kitchen on the right, living room on the left.  With a tiled floor and small island in the middle, the kitchen was actually rather large all things considered �" something, Nick appreciated when attempting new homemade meals.  It came equipped with hardwood counters and shelves, a stove, an oven, a microwave, a toaster, and a decently sized fridge.  Contrastingly, the living room was rather sparse.  A moderately sized futon sat opposite the western wall window on the carpeted floor as a few lawn chairs filed in on either side of the couch.  To the far wall was a bookshelf reasonably filled with books ranging from high school and college yearbooks, to classic novels, to a series of medical journals and textbooks �" but that was another lifetime.  Sitting on a stand coincident with the western window was his TV.  It may have cost him four month’s salary and he may have had to eat ramen more times than he would ever care to admit, but there was never a question where he, Zeke, and Sophie would be watching football or basketball come game day.  Down the hall to the left was his bedroom.  Practically just as bare as his living room, said sleeping quarters consisted merely of a bed, lamp, ceiling fan, and dresser.  Again, not much, but he made due.

Tired and groggy from a long day’s work and his walk in the park, he slipped off his shoes and made his way into the kitchen, where he threw his coat on a stool and began to reheat his dinner from the previous night.  After microwaving the leftover barbeque mac and cheese he grabbed a fork from the silverware drawer and tentatively took his first bite.  Despite being an excellent chef and getting along swimmingly with the grill, Nick and the microwave had quite the abusive relationship.  Most of his attempts with the devil machine either ended with his food still cold in the center or reaching a degree of Fahrenheit so hot it could melt the sun.  Either way, Nick’s tongue was regularly mistreated and could have probably have filed a lawsuit if it so wanted to.  So it was with tears of joy that he savored his first bite that was neither too hot nor too cold.  Doing a mental victory, dance he snagged a stool and sat down at the island while he turned on the TV. 

Nick flipped through the channels for a bit before settling on SportsCenter.  He mindlessly watched the sports broadcasting show as he enjoyed his barbeque mac.  It ran through highlights of the day’s events and wrapped up with predictions of the weekends NFL games.  Nick’s team, the Baltimore Ravens, had started off rough the first few weeks before catching fire in November.  They were currently riding a five game win streak and were set to play their divisional rival, the Steelers, at home that Sunday.

Since the bar was around a dozen blocks away, Nick left his apartment at 9:30 after another half hour of watching the sports station.  Once he’d changed into some comfortable jeans and a long sleeve shirt, he grabbed his coat and slipped back on his shoes before trudging down the steps of his complex onto the now bustling 3rd Avenue.  The temperature had dropped even lower into single digits since Nick had left Central Park earlier that evening.  Virtually everyone on the sidewalk was wrapped up in scarves and huddled over as they rushed to their respective locations, heads down to avoid the icy wind.  He passed building after building along the avenue, acknowledging the holiday decorations plastered on nearly every front window, when he thought about his own plans for the upcoming Christmas.

Zeke and Sophie had invited him over to their new apartment together for the party they hosting.  The guest list would be predominantly family, and despite Nick’s constant protests of intrusion, Sophie had not taken “no” for an answer.  He could vividly remember her threatening him with a box-cutter clutched in her hand while they were unpacking, “Nicholas Tyler Strong!  If I don’t see your a*s in our apartment on Christmas, I will cut you!” seethed the short-fused fiancé.  “Screw the Hippocratic Oath �" I know where every major artery is in your body.  Don’t tempt me.”  Sophie could be scary when she wanted.

It was around twenty minutes later when he walked through the door of the Bruce’s Brews.  After looking around for a few seconds, he found Zeke and Sophie sitting in a booth towards the back of the bar.  They both got up to give him a hug when as he walked over.  Zeke had shaven his beard since Nick had last seen him and looked like he had also gotten his hair cut.  His midnight black hair was now relatively short and messily thrown to the side by his natural cowlicks.  He was dressed in a dark blue suit with a matching tie and looked like he had just gotten out of work.  Sophie was on the other end of the spectrum.  Still in her light blue scrubs, she looked like she’d just gotten off a sixteen hour shift �" which Nick no doubt thought was true.  Her dirty blonde hair was thrown into a bun and she looked exhausted.           

“You made it!” Zeke exclaimed, his green eyes lighting up as he gave Nick a quick hug.  Turning to the tired woman beside him, he gloated, “That’s ten bucks Soph.”

His fiancé rolled her eyes, tiredly, before lightly smacking him upside the head.  “Idiot.  You weren’t supposed to tell him.”  She then turned to Nick, her dark blue eyes playfully glaring at him.  “You owe me, Strong.  Next round’s on you.”

“Are you kidding?  I’m not even drinking!” retorted the flabbergasted victim.

She held up her empty glass and quipped, “You see this, Nick?  This glass contains all the cares I give.  Now, would you look at that!  It’s f*****g empty!  I don’t give a s**t if you’re not drinking.  I just got off a 48 hour shift and I’ve been on call since Sunday.  You know I love you, Nick, but if a new drink isn’t in my hand within the next minute we’re gonna have problems.”

“There we go, Soph!  You tell him,” laughed Zeke as they high fived and shared a quick kiss.  “You heard her, Nick.  Mush!  That’ll be two beers.”

Without bothering to argue further, Nick rolled his eyes and made his way through the crowd towards the bartender.  He returned a few minutes later with two beers in one hand and a bottle of Coke in the other.  Sophie slid into the booth to allow him to take a seat beside her as he placed their drinks on the table.  “There.  You two happy now?”

“Oh, Nick,” Zeke dramatically drawled.  “Legends will be spread far and wide.  Bards will tell stories of your greatness.” At this point he began raising his arms in mock praise.  “The myth of the great Nicholas Strong and his labors of covering the next round shall withstand the tests of time.”  Nick proceeded to kick him under the table. 

It went like that for the next few hours.  As the night wore on, the three shared laughs and small talk about work, sports, and the holidays.  It wasn’t until a little after midnight that the engaged couple told Nick they were turning in for the night.  With a nod from Zeke and a kiss on the cheek from Sophie, they had bid their farewell and exited the bar.

Nick put on his coat and turned to thank the barkeep when he was bowled over by a stumbling idiot who had obviously had too much to drink that night.  Brushing himself off and getting back to his feet, he glared at the man now leaning against the wall and being supported by another, taller man with his back turned to Nick.  They looked around his age �" definitely in their mid-twenties.  The taller one was tanned with curly, blonde hair and his inebriated friend was dark skinned with buzzed hair.  They both looked extremely athletic �" long and lithe.  After realizing his buddy was safely braced against the wall the taller one turned around.  “Hey, dude, I’m sorry about him.  We don’t drink much, and he’s never been good at holding his liquor.”

Nick froze.  He knew that voice.  He’d lived with that voice for twenty years.  He nervously coughed, avoiding looking at the man in front of him, and mumbled, “Oh, uh, it’s fine…really.  I was �" I was just leaving.  You’re both good.”  He began quickly backing up, awkwardly rubbing the back of his neck as he continued to avoid making eye contact with the tall man in front of him. 

“Are you sure?  You’re looking a little pale.  I could help if you �"“

“No, seriously.  I’m fine,” Nick muttered.  “I’ve actually gotta go.  I’m meeting my…is that �" is that my phone?”  Nick stumbled a bit, blindly reaching behind him for the door as he tried to escape.  He finally managed to find the door and exited before any further encounters.

Once outside Bruce’s, he’d only made it a few feet before he had to stop.  Leaning against the building, he closed his eyes and tried to calm down.  He could see red and blue flashing lights with sirens blaring from all sides.  He felt like he was going to be sick.  There was smoke billowing from the front of the car and there was fire all around.  He felt dizzy as he slid down the building wall and placed his head in his hands.  His vision was blurry as he looked around.  He checked the passenger seat and nearly fainted.  A tree branch had blasted straight through the front windshield and had impaled the person sitting shotgun.  The front seats were covered in blood.  He tried to call out for help but his mouth wouldn’t work.  He tried to calm down, his heart racing in his chest as he sat on the ground.  He was being carted into an ambulance.  People were shouting at him, asking him questions as he tried to look around for the other person in the car.  It was just as the ambulance ride began that he had slipped into unconsciousness.

Nick trembled as he reached into his pocket for his phone.  Before he could be plagued with more flashbacks he quickly dialed Zeke’s number.  After a rings, his friend answered.  “Yo, Nick, what’s up?  I understand we’re buds and all but it’s only been �"“

“Zeke,” Nick interrupted, his voice trembling.  “Shut up.  For once in your life I need you to be quiet.”  His voice cracked on the last word.  He took a few deep breaths as he tried to collect himself.                   

When he didn’t hear anything for a few seconds, Zeke broke the silence.  “What’s wrong, man?  You were fine just a few minutes ago.”

“I just ran in to Chuck.”

It took Zeke several seconds before he spoke again.  “Wow.  Um, ok.  Are you alright?  Are you sure it was him?”

“He’s my f*****g brother, Zeke!” Nick yelled into the phone.  “I think I’d f*****g know if I saw my f*****g brother!”

“Ok, calm down man.”

“Calm down!  You expect me to calm down?  I run into my f*****g brother, who I haven’t seen in seven f*****g years, and you’re telling me to calm down!”

“I realize that was a bad thing to say,” Zeke backtracked.  “I would like to redact that statement from the record.”

“Please don’t joke with me right now,” Nick responded tiredly.  “I mean, what the hell am I supposed to do?  The last time I saw him he was in the hospital.  And I put him there.”    

© 2016 Thomas Burbank

Author's Note

Thomas Burbank
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Added on June 1, 2016
Last Updated on June 1, 2016
Tags: brotherly, happenstance, nick, strong, new york city, nyc


Thomas Burbank
Thomas Burbank

Ann Arbor, MI

Undergraduate Researcher at the University of Michigan more..