9 min read
The room obviously didn’t want him. Nor did he want the room. His mind had been blank for weeks and his mouth felt like it hadn’t formed words in months. They stared. His brain slowly resuscitated itself back to life, though the only thing that seemed to be flooding it was curse words. The room was expanding each moment. Why did he come here?
“What do you do again, Doug?” They reiterated the question.
It was such an easy question. Why couldn’t he just answer it with one of the endless answers he had rehearsed for these exact moronic moments. They didn’t really want to know the answer, it was just an obligation they felt. The struggle he was having with it, made everybody uncomfortable.
“Oh you know…” No. Nobody does. Nor do they care, but finish your mentally handicapped sentence Doug.
“Just uh… Odd jobs ya know. Little things here and there. I kinda bounce back and forth between a handful of… uh, quick jobs. Whatever to pay the bills ya know, ha. It’s nice, it allows me to… pursue my hobbies.”
Vague, but at least it put everybody out of their misery. Pursue his hobbies? What did that mean? If anybody knew what he actually did inside the comfort of his own home, in between his “odd jobs”, they definitely wouldn’t refer to them hobbies. He stood in the four person semi circle sipping his cup and listening, mostly recovering from his train wreck of a job description. Their conversation was just white noise in the distance allowing him to regret all the decisions that led him to this point. This birthday party. He barely knew Chris, or really anybody here for the most part, so why did he decide to attend? He knew the invite was a sympathy send, Chris probably thought he wouldn’t actually be this desperate and show up. But here he was, standing in all his pathetic glory, listening to these people converse about things that made him die on the inside. Even though Doug hadn’t been in this dimly lit apartment for more than ten minutes, all he wanted to do was escape, but it felt like his feet were cemented into the floor. He started to compile a list of excuses of why he needed to leave, and order them in most believable. As he swallowed the last mouthful of his ‘Only God Knows What’s In This’ Punch that he regretfully filled his cup to the absolute top with, he saw his opportunity. Chris was steps away from cutting through their conversation circle. He had to make his move. It was now or never. This was the only way out. He went for all the marbles.
“There’s the birthday boy!” Doug slammed his sweaty palm on Chris’ shoulder and instantly knew he over did it by going with the classic 5 year old ‘birthday boy’ approach. He was talking to a grown ass man for god sakes.
Happy Birthday you.” He gave him a weird punch on the shoulder.
“Thanks man.” You could tell Chris just wanted to keep moving but felt obligated to acknowledge him. Silence.
“I uh, got you a little summin-something.” No he didn’t. What was he doing? It just came out of his mouth.
“Well yah..” It was too late to go back now. He switched his cup into his left hand and reached into his back pocket with his right. He still didn’t fully know what he was doing, besides trying to redeem himself from his panic and stupidity when he pulled his wallet out and opened it up. As he shuffled through his money and pulled out a crisp five dollar bill, he finally realized that this was probably the worst route he could have taken. But that didn’t stop him.
“You didn’t think old Dougy would show up without present did you?” In an almost whispered voice, Doug said Happy Birthday one more time as he held up the bill like it was a legitimate gift and rubbed it between his two fingers. He was inches away from trying to shove the five into Chris’ button up shirt pocket like it was a strippers panties when Chris leaned back and grabbed it from him.
“Uh, thanks Doug… Hope your having a good time man. Thanks for showing up.” Chris gave Doug a slap on his bicep while pocketing his ‘present’ and turned to leave when he stopped. Doug was just about to tell him that he was taking off, cash in his ticket to freedom when Chris said it. “Oh, did you see that Alice is here?”
Suddenly it felt like time itself stood still. Everything in Doug’s reality was moving in slow motion around him. His brain was somehow racing faster than his heartbeat. It never crossed his mind that Alice might be here. Or maybe it did cross his subconscious and thats why he came here in the first place. But he wasn’t ready to see her yet. Not like this. He wanted to accomplish something, anything in his life before he saw her again. Now he really didn’t want this room. There was no longer a fight or flight instinct in his body, it was just solely flight. He wanted to drop his wallet and cup on the ground and sprint to the nearest exit, pushing any and every party guest out of his way, not stopping until he hit the fucking Bermuda triangle. But he was frozen. Cemented again. Immobilized where he stood by the overwhelming amount of thoughts taking over his entire body, leaving him paralyzed from head to toe. Chris turned and left him, stranded on his island of misery alone. He wished the floor would turn to quicksand and swallow him up. Then he saw her. All the way across the room, but feeling like she was right next to him. His nightmare was coming true before his eyes and he was just standing there, thinking invisible thoughts, asking God ‘why him’. It was like he was in a movie, hiding from some monster that was right next to him, praying it didn’t catch his sent and tear him apart. He felt as if he was standing there butt naked, out in what felt like the exact middle of the room, ten feet away from anything, just begging to be seen. Like he had a sign hanging around his dick saying: Come acknowledge the pathetic fuck who’s life has been flatlining since the last time you talked to him. And another neon sign over his head, pointing down to his dick sign. Panic. Anxiety. Fear, crushing all his core muscles. Doug looked around for anybody, literally anybody that he could talk to. A conversation he could camouflage into. He was sweating so much now, it could fill a wheelbarrow’s worth, just trying to avoid looking in the slightest direction of Alice. Black hole-ing an entire section of the room with his strained eyes. This was a complete disaster on all levels. What if she looked his way and found him? Looked him right in the eye and started moving towards his direction. He could see it all in his mind’s eye, her not breaking eye contact all the way until she was standing right in front of him, and him just helplessly melting away into open organs. To say confrontation wasn’t his cup of tea would be an understatement, he knew he would undoubtedly just pussy out and act like everything in his life was on its way up. That this interaction meant nothing to him and that he was surprised and happy to see her. Where did you end up moving to, she would ask him. Oh Doug you dumbass, why did you tell her you were gonna move? He always panicked and said the dumbest things when he was uncomfortable or pressured. She would have him in one question. Actually any type of personal question really. Checkmate. Done. His voice would tremble just trying to put together a response that didn’t give him away, insecurity seeping through every word. Actually I haven’t moved yet, but got some places lined up to look at next week, he would say with confidence, then follow it up with asking her a question to avoid her catching that the last part was a lie. A question. What question? God any question. No questions were popping into his brain. Game over. Finished. This is why she couldn’t see him. Why she couldn’t come over to where he was standing, still holding his wallet in one hand and empty cup in the other. The simplest transaction would leave him crippled. He couldn’t disguise it. He wasn’t ready for that. Not at Chris’ birthday party. Not like this. Maybe some drunken night, or a midnight call while flying high, but not this sober. Doug was at the point where he would drop down and crawl out of this god forsaken party on his hands and knees if that’s what it took.
No. No he could do this. Doug’s realization hit him like a kick in the nuts. Now was the best time. He lived fearing this moment for too long. It was time to get this suffocating, inevitable interaction off his chest, and turn the regret filled page that he’d been stuck on. He would approach her, be the starter of the conversation, surprise Alice and catch her off guard so that the control would be in his favor. Now was his time to shine, his time to take his life in his own hands. Leave the past in the past and turn it all around in one defining moment of glory. Doug looked up to chart his path of victory to Alice, only to find that she was already gone.
7 min read
He wandered around senselessly into every room of the small house, sometimes lingering in a room long enough to lose all trail of thought in the patterns of his pacing. When he started out he was trying to find an answer to his question. But now was ok with just thinking about nothing. The answer didn’t seem so urgent now. He needed a break from thinking, and if it came in the form of… whatever he was doing with the carpet, then so be it. A man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do. His cup of coffee helped too. The way he held it made him feel a sense of carelessness and sophistication, like a man who had a lot going on, but had it under control. He had been nursing it for about an hour and a half now.
He thought he was alone. This wasn’t his room. He casually tried to make it seem like he was in there for a purpose by picking up the first item on the desk he was standing in front of. But he also needed to think of a response for the voice in the doorway. It had been too long now that it was starting to be weird. She must think was weird. Wait… She… Jemma. Now it was weird. He turned around and met her eyes with a double eyebrow raise of acknowledgment. The two seconds of eye contact had felt too long, making him realize he’d been alone all day.
“You looking for Eric?” Nice. He felt like it was a smooth recovery. He was in control now. Hopefully she just wouldn’t ask why he was in Eric’s room for now reason.
“Nah,” she said while shifting her weight to lean against the doorway, settling in for a conversation. “I saw you yesterday.”
“Yah?” He replied quickly this time. Massive amounts of subtext underlining just one word.
“Yah.” Jemma left it hanging, wanting him to be more invested in the conversation. “I remembered I hadn’t seen you in awhile.”
“You came over here to see me?”
Her eyes shifted back and forth, showing her thinking. He realized he’d caught her off guard with the question.
“Do you remember the last time you saw me?” She decided to ignore the question and counter it with a question.
A picture popped into his mind of a moment, but he knew it wasn’t the right one. “Mhm.” He replied anyway.
“Why aren’t you asleep?”
“Why are you here?” A little hostile but he rolled with it.
“Because I knew you’d be awake.”
He wanted to get out of Eric’s room but Jemma was blocking the door, and he had to put the tiger figurine down that he had been holding for too long, but just didn’t know how to go about it. So he held it up and examined it, like it tied into the reason why he was in the corner of his roommate’s room when she found him.
“A real piece of shit,” he mumbled as he finally set it down.
“I gave that to him.”
He looked up at her, half expecting to see she was joking. She wasn’t. He took a sip of his cold coffee to break the moment. But he oversold it. I mean he oversold it by a regrettable amount. He did it in such a way that he was looking down his coffee mug directly into her eyes for the whole three second slurp. He was definitely no longer in control now. The smacking of his lips and a long ‘Ahh’ after his coffee slurp had ripped it away from him. He waited for her to make the next move. She twisted around and headed into the kitchen. His shoulders relaxed.
“Have you eaten?” Jemma hollered as light flooded the kitchen from the open refrigerator door.
“Dinner or Breakfast? It’s 3.” Now he was in the doorway.
“All this seems like my brother’s food. Do you even live here anymore?”
He tried to not let his response show how stupid he thought the question was.
“I’m more of a dry food guy.” What did that mean? He didn’t even know. “I’ve been meaning to get some stuff. I’ve been busy.” Redemption.
“Well let’s go.”
She shut the fridge door. Darkness. He slid his hand to flick the light switch. She immediately found his eyes. He took another sip of coffee, this time he nailed it. The lean back was the key to it all.
“To get you some food, you can’t survive on just coffee.” She said it pleasantly.
“Why are you here Jemma?” It was honest.
“Stop asking and maybe you’ll get your answer.”
It almost seemed to pertain to something else other than his question.
“I sleep here sometimes, if you were here more you’d know that.”
“I’ve been busy.” He had almost said it enough that he started to believe it.
“I know. Like I said, I saw you yesterday.” She backed into the wall and slid down it while she spoke.
He let it sink in this time. He took one last gulp of coffee, finishing it off, and set the empty mug on the counter. He was getting use to her company. He knew it because his mind went blank for a couple moments. When he looked back at her, she was staring off into the cupboards, or maybe the wall or window. He then thought that even she didn’t know why she had come.
Only her eyes moved and met his, like she knew he was watching her.
“You want to go somewhere?” Her head turned to address him.
He made a face he wasn’t proud of, it didn’t really apply with the question, he responded too soon. He wished he could rewind it. Without his coffee mug he felt naked, not nearly as cool.
“I mean…” He started out just wanting to hear himself, no end game in sight. He made another face and shrugged his shoulders, not the best closer, but it worked.
She straightened her tan legs out in front of her and crossed them. Leaning her head back to rest on the wall, she closed her eyes. Slowly a smile crept on her face and she let out a half laugh.
“Nothing.” She didn’t open her eyes to respond.
He thought he must be tired too, he hadn’t said a witty thing all night. But when he looked at her longer, he realized it was probably just her effect on him.
“So are you staying here tonight?”
Her eyes opened and looked at him. He broke eye contact first. A real pussy move, but he didn’t have his coffee, so he couldn’t blame himself.
He ran his finger through his hair to make it seem like he was mulling over the idea. “Probably.” There was the old him shining through. He tried to do the arm cross and lean, but quickly decided it looked strange. So he moved his hands down and tucked them into his sweatpants pockets and kept the lean. He started to nod as some sort of transition. He slowly turned so his back was on the wall, and pushed off with his shoulder blades. He made a pivot and a couple of steps towards his room.
“I wonder if I’ll see you tomorrow.”
With his back to her, he did one shrug and left his shoulders up, turning into his room. He shut the door behind him, even though he knew he wouldn’t stay in there long.