i have always felt as if the sky and i were linked in some ineffable manner. as if the sun and the clouds and the stars were all under my command. just waiting for my every order.
on this particular night, the sky cries out. the town slowly floods. streets overflow. families hide inside their homes, unsure of how to live in such a wet world.
you see, up until tonight, this town hasn’t seen rain in nearly two scores. but i guess it was inevitable that i would one day run out of whiskey and all that it dammed would gush from the clouds.
i am the only soul wandering the streets tonight. i walk past street signs and graffitied walls i haven’t seen in years. this route used to be a second home to me. i would take this same route every night with the moon full in the star-studded sky.
i had pep in my step back then, but tonight the journey isn’t quite the same. the moon is nowhere to be seen, the stars are silent, and the sky is roaring. two scores of pent-up thunder echoes through the sky and vibrates my entire being. an occasional streak of lightning lunges ferociously toward my small town as if an attempt to destroy the bitterness of its very soul.
i jump the fence separating me from the local football stadium. i look around and study the details; it is so different from what i used to know. the field is no longer dirt with tiny patches of grass, but rather bright green turf. the scoreboard is digital and plagued with advertisements. the home bleachers are taller and wider than back in the day, though this small town hasn’t grown nearly as much in population.
from the sky, a streak of light plummets down, hitting the top of the flagpole. i watch as the lightning wraps and tornadoes down toward the ground below. with a loud crack, the cement separates and snakes in my direction. i pray that the earth may open and swallow me whole, but the snake ends at the tip of my toe. the sky thunders again with a mocking laugh.
i make my way to the visitor’s bleachers. i walk below them and feel a sudden silence; the rain hasn’t stopped, but the sound above seems to have been muted.
though the seats appear new from a distance, i can see from down here that this side of the stadium has just merely been repainted. luckily for me, they didn’t bother to repaint anything below.
i should explain myself a bit, i believe. my name is unimportant and nowhere in this story will you find it. this story, in fact, isn’t about me. i am in this story, i am in nearly every scene, but i assure you i am not its protagonist. you see, i can only tell truthful stories if i was there to witness or participate in that story. if i attempted to retell a story that i had merely heard, i would be certain to miss details. often the details would be mundane, but occasionally the details would be colossal. so, for that reason, i will only tell stories that i know.
this story is about rose tennen, the lovely rose tennen. the sun was always high in the sky when rose was around and the clouds crowded the sky in her absence. if there was ever a man who didn’t believe in god, he would quickly confess after only seconds in her presence. she was pure enough to make angels envious and the devil bow his head.
the spot i stand in, beneath these quiet bleachers, is the very spot her and i used to meet every night. we would sit here from the moment our parents went to sleep until the moment we had to rush back home. if i knew the groundskeeper wouldn’t tear it down, i would have built a palace beneath these bleachers and spent eternity with her in my arms.
unfortunately, eternity is a myth, or at least that’s what i thought. i later discovered that eternity is as real as the pain in the deepest corners of my soul, but it’s not the same eternity we write about in novels. no, no, no. the eternity we write about is filled with love and hope and the ability to soak in it endlessly. however, real eternity is quite the opposite. it is still endless, but love and hope are nowhere to be found.
the day i discovered eternity was the day i lost both those things, love and hope. but i am getting far too ahead of myself. eternity is never where the story begins.
i examine the scratching’s below the bleachers; many sharpies have run dry down here. i spot hearts with initials and wonder if their new partners have the same initials as their old.
i continue walking, but i promise you my walk is not aimless--it is only delayed. i know exactly where the drawing i desire is located. it has been 37 years since i last walked these steel canvases, but i still dream about them nightly. if my mind was to be emptied of all things, i promise you the location of this drawing would be etched so deeply into my psyche that even with a blank mind i could still tell you exactly where to find it.
i am merely delaying.
drawings of unicorns and bicycles and gang symbols and artist tags enter and exit my peripheral, but still my mind can see only one thing: her.
finally, i summon the strength to change my path from delayed to intentional. i walk anxiously to the spot etched within me.
the drawing is of two interlocked cribs; i wish you could see the beautiful details rose put into them. her drawings never cease to amaze me.
i know, i know, you are wondering what this drawing means. allow me to explain:
rose and i were born only hours apart in the same hospital; this town only has one hospital, so there wasn’t exactly a plethora of options. our parents have known each other for years. her father and my mother went to high school together, met their spouses when they went away for college, and all became close friends when they returned to this small town.
this being so, our parents were always together. they liked to drink. they called it social drinking, i called it excessive. either way, no matter how you categorize their drinking habits, the results are still the same. they would put our cribs facing one another so we could keep each other company as they drank themselves nearly to death in the next room.
our baby eyes would spend most nights staring blankly at one another. i remember my parents once telling me i would sit and watch her with mesmerized eyes; i guess i was in love even then.
i wish i could recollect to you what my thoughts were as i stared at her day in and day out, but unfortunately my memories of that age are nonexistent. i like to imagine they are similar to the thoughts i have today when i think of rose. pure enchantment. pure wonder. pure thankfulness. pure love.
i suggested our first drawing be of two cribs, but it was her idea to interweave them. she said, “we should interweave them in the same way our souls have been weaved together, deeply and with such force that not even god could pull them apart.”
she couldn’t help but to speak so poetically. i am fully convinced that her bones were the transcripts of the original psalms, her skin the cover of the first bible, she was held by the foot and fully submerged into the soul of god. she was poetry.
a few canvases over is another masterpiece by rose, a tree with the number three carved into its trunk.
like i said, rose and i were together a lot as kids. one afternoon, when we were three years old and our parents were inside drinking away another day, we entertained ourselves in the backyard. we played every game we could think of, mostly tag or hide-and-go-seek.
one turn, as i hid so deceitfully behind her father’s bbq, i spotted a twig on the ground. i knelt down and picked it up. i decided i was better hidden on my knee, so i stayed in that position. i twirled the twig around and around.
i could hear rose nearing the bbq. then i looked down at the twig. my mind flashed back to a commercial i had seen recently. i remembered the man getting down on one knee, similar to the position i was currently in, pulling out a ring, shaped much like the twig in my hand, and asking a particular question.
rose came around the corner.
“rose, will you marry me?”
she yelled yes! and ran inside the house. i was unsure what the next steps were, the commercial had ended after the woman said yes and then moved on to the next.
minutes later, rose came out in one of her fairy dresses. she looked beautiful. she always looked beautiful.
we stood beneath the tree in her backyard and married.
a few paces over is a third drawing: a swing set.
one day after class, when we were in the second grade, our parents were late picking us up. i can only imagine what they were off doing, instead. either way, i am glad they were late. in fact, i wish they had never picked us up from school that day or any day after that. i could have stood by that swing set with rose until our bones rotted into the dust they were always intended to be.
after waiting fifteen minutes out front rose and i grew impatient. rose decided we needed some entertainment, so she began to chase me. she chased me through the basketball courts, around the tetherball poles, and throughout the schoolyard.
i headed straight for the swing set. as i reached it, i felt her hand grab tightly onto my shirt. she had caught me.
i turned around, panting for air. even at the age of seven, she was the most beautiful person i had ever seen. she, without warning, leaned forward and kissed me.
to this day, i cannot walk past a swing set without thinking of her. or that kiss. or all the kisses that followed. but, again, i am getting ahead of myself.
the next drawing is a simple one, but the tragedy behind it is complex: a frown with the number 8 written below it.
there was a time when rose and i didn’t see each other every day. in fact, there was a time when rose and i were countries apart. that time lasted eight years.
you see, her father and my mother knew each other since high school. it was only later that we, along with her mother and my father, learned exactly how well they had known each other. or how well they continued to know each other throughout the years. you could say that they, much like rose and i, were lovers.
their love began to fade when they went off to college. and it nearly faded away completely when rose's father met rose's mother and when my mother met my father. but the fading fire was sparked once more when they reunited. apparently, one night, after one of their many drinking rampages, her father and my mother were left alone in the same room.
that night started an affair that would last years. at the time, i would have never thought it possible, but after the damage had been done, when i looked back the signs had been so obvious. i remember my mother dragging me to rose’s house at the oddest of hours for impromptu playdates. i distinctly remember the two of them disappearing for hours on end, but i was so infatuated with rose that i didn’t care nor notice their absence.
this happened often. and the occurrences became more and more frequent. i didn’t mind, though, it just meant more time with my love. i guess you could say that the affair was mutually beneficial.
until it wasn’t.
one day, as rose and i played in the backyard, i heard a scream and a thud. rose’s mother had come home early from work and her purse had dropped hard on the floor with her discovery.
seconds later, my mother walked out to the backyard, her shirt only half buttoned, her hair a complete mess, her lipstick smeared onto her cheeks, and she pulled me by the arm. “let’s go!” she yelled, as if what was happening was somehow my fault.
i turned back to rose and said, so innocently, “i’ll see you tomorrow.”
but i didn't. i didn't see her for another eight years. after the infidelity had been uncovered, rose’s family moved halfway across the world.
i never understood why either of our parents remained married after such defilement to their relationships, but they did. kudos to them. i guess.
eight years later, rose’s paternal grandmother became terminally ill and rose’s father wanted to be home with her, so they moved back to this small town. i hate cancer as much as the next guy, but considering it brought rose back to me, i am perpetually thankful for cancer.
the disdain between rose’s parents and mine, however, didn’t cease in the slightest over those eight years. my parents sat me down, once the news had reached them that rose was back in town, and told me sternly i was not to associate with the tennens, especially rose.
as if they, mere humans, had the power to separate two souls that god had many years ago bound together.
we quickly decided that the bleachers i currently stand below would become our nightly meeting place.
as you can imagine, with two seventeen-year-olds madly in love meeting in the middle of the night, explorations were had and discoveries were made.
which brings us to our next drawing: a heart with the initials rt + mine within it.
i know, i know, i know. earlier, as i stared at drawings foreign of my own experiences, i laughed at hearts similar to this, but it’s because i walked the same campus as those other initials and i know for a fact that none of their loves ever reached the depths of ours.
this heart and our initials rested above the spot that rose and i--well, it is where our bodies merged and our souls officially became one.
the next drawing is where i met the true definition of eternity. it is where cribs untwined and collapsed.
this is the only drawing that was done by my own hand, and it is very obvious to the eye. it is a poorly drawn dress, or at least what was intended to be a dress, with a question mark beside it.
one night, i arrived a half hour earlier than our usual meeting time. the sky above was stirring, along with my anxiety. i began drawing the dress.
prom was coming up and i knew there was no better way of asking. this bleacher held all of who we were and i wanted those nights, that night and prom night, to be etched forever into the story of us.
i finished the drawing a few minutes before i expected her arrival. i waited eagerly.
an hour passed. rose was nowhere to be seen. another hour passed. then another. then another. nothing.
a few hours later, i awoke to the chirping of birds and the slow rise of the sun. rose never showed.
disheartened, i returned home. i dressed for school. i jumped on the bus. there was a strangeness in the air. the chatter was nonexistent. the faces were all filled with gloom.
i found a seat next to a buddy of mine and asked why everyone seemed so down.
“it’s rose,” he said, “she’s dead.”
at that moment, the sun disappeared and clouds rolled over the town. my heart stopped. i couldn’t think.
rose…. is dead?
the clouds opened as tears rolled quickly down my cheeks. a storm had begun.
the school circulated with many rumors, stupid rumors that i won’t even dare repeat, as they could taint the truth of the story.
police reported rose was driving near the high school around one in the morning. they were unsure of why she was on the road. but i knew. she was driving to see me.
a drunk driver hit her and fled the scene of the accident.
rose was discovered with a note in her hand that said, “remember us.” the police said it was nothing, but i knew it was everything. that note was the truth.
a few nights earlier, rose had come to the bleachers in a complete panic. i tried to calm her down, i told her it was nothing, she was only imagining it. i was so stupid. i could have saved her. but i didn't.
she told me her mother had seen her sneaking out. she knew we were seeing each other.
i cannot be certain, as i said earlier any story i wasn’t there to witness could never be told with full truth, but a part of my soul was there that night and that part of my soul is telling me the following is true.
rose’s mother caught her that night, but rose refused to go back into the house. she wanted to see me. she needed to see me.
she ran to her car and wrote a quick note: “remember us.” she recognized the look in her mother’s eyes and knew what was to come. she tried to reach me, but her mother reached her first. all she intended to do, or at least all i hope she intended to do, was stop her from reaching me. but instead, she ran her off the road and killed her own daughter.
the police never did consider me a reliable source. they told me, “your soul cannot witness.” little do they know, your soul is the only true witness.
we say that eternity is forever spent with love and hope, but that is not eternity at all. time spent in love and hope whizzes by. there is never enough time when love is involved. eternity is the time you spend where both love and hope have no chance of ever existing. they will never make an appearance. they are gone.
these 37 years have been eternity. moments filled with pain and agony, both of which i cannot escape. though to us it is only 37 years, these moments last forever. they are eternity.
i have returned to this spot so i can be filled once more with love and with hope. i have come here to end eternity.
i pull the sharpie from my back pocket, pull off its cap, and create a new drawing. i draw her face, her smile, her twinkle. i include every detail i will never forget.
then underneath i write, “i remember.”
and with that, the storm ceases.
my name is austin. i am quote, unquote popular. i fucking hate that word, but that is unimportant to the story i am trying to tell you here. the story i am trying to tell is about me. about my life. and about how fucking disgusting of a human being i am.
i am the quarterback who is, stereotypically, dating the hottest girl at my school. and she is, stereotypically again, the head cheerleader. i am currently playing usnavi, the lead, in our school musical in the heights. i live in a house that is far too big for a family of three. one of those houses with a movie theatre in the basement. the ones with a huge ass pool and two jacuzzis, just for the hell of it. and my parents are just slightly too perfect.
my life is like a fucking john hughes movie and i hate myself for it.
kids look at me with envy in their eyes. as they should. on the surface, my life is fucking perfect.
me? i am far from perfect.
this life seems to have been given to the wrong boy. because i sure as hell don't deserve it. i don't deserve the money and the love and the school that treats me like a god. i don't deserve these things my parents keep buying me and i sure as hell don't deserve my parents. you see, my mother got very sick when she was pregnant with me. the doctor told her to abort, but my mother stubbornly and foolishly refused. the doctor told her i would kill her and the chances of my survival were only 2%, she said i was worth the risk. like how the fuck can you tell me i deserve a mother like that? a fucking goddess. but somehow the goddess gave birth to the demon that is me. my parents call me their little miracle. but i am far from a miracle. i’m more of a… what is the antonym of miracle? a catastrophe? a cataclysm? an apocalypse?
i don't know. all i know is i'm no miracle. and i don't deserve the praise this world so foolishly bestows upon me.
my mother tells me i spend too many saturday nights alone at home. you see, my cell phone is always blowing up at the dinner table with party invitations. and my mother wonders why i never accept them.
it’s because i already know how the party will go. the same way it always does.
i’ll walk in and immediately all eyes will be on me. where they will remain for the duration of the party. i’ll get far too drunk, just trying to forget my horrendous existence. i’ll end up fighting with my girlfriend. she, rightfully so, doesn't trust a single bone in my pathetic body. she won't like the way amber or rebekah are looking at me. lustful eyes and bitten lower lips. shirts hanging a little too low. and skirts just a little too short. and my girlfriend will be right to not like their stares. considering i fucked them both just last week. we'll argue. she'll leave. upset. and i won't even bother chasing her. i never do. i'll be far too drunk and i'll probably have another girl or two under my arms before the door even fully slams shut with her departure.
guys will look at me with jealousy in their eyes. girls will look at me with sex on their mind.
i am a horrible human being.
and my girlfriend is not. here, i have named two girls who i fucked and i haven't even mentioned my girlfriend's name yet.
it is jenifer. that’s her name. and jenifer is fucking perfect. angelic. far too good for a person like me. like everything else in my life. but god keeps handing me more shit i don't need. nor deserve. and i just keep taking it. greed on my fingertips. i take and i take and i take.
so, i'd rather spend saturday nights at home.
though i'd be lying if i said i didn't respond to rebekah's text at 2 am. twenty minutes later, she was climbing through my bedroom window and we fucked a couple times.
and jenifer never once crept into my mind. i was too lost in rebekah's skin.
on friday afternoons, during football season, my school puts on pep rallies in the cafeteria. the bleachers fill and for thirty minutes my school treats us football players like royalty. me being their king.
the cheerleaders, including jenifer and amber and rebekah, all come out and dance. then the band plays a song. then the principal asks me to come out and lead the school in our rally chant.
they fucking worship me.
can’t they see?
i'm no god. just a pathetic excuse for a human being. sure, i can throw a football sixty yards, but does that really make me worthy of all this? this fucking rally and all these girls with my name painted on their shirts and all these guys who threaten anyone who looks at me slightly the wrong way.
and that's just friday afternoons.
you have no idea about the shit these people do on friday nights.
the entire stadium fills to the point of overcapacity. with boys who want to be me and girls who want to fuck me and parents who wish their kids would be exactly like me and my perfect parents who never miss even a single fucking one of my games. they will be there cheering the loudest. holding signs with my name on them. they fucking love me so much.
and all i do is spoil it.
all i do is spoil everything.
but not on the field. on the field, i am golden. i haven't lost a game in my four-year high school career. colleges from all over the nation won't stop calling me. offering me cars and clothes and shoes on the low. i have thirteen gold chains at home that i've never worn. all from colleges i won't even legitimately consider attending.
but i'll take every free thing they offer me. like i said, i have greedy fingertips.
and i always win. every goddamn friday night. the boys and the girls rush the field. the first one to hug me is always jenifer. every fucking time, it is jenifer. that girl loves me so much when she's sober. before the alcohol finally forces her to stand up for herself. before the alcohol reminds her that she is better than this pathetic affection i pretend to give her. when she's sober she is so goddamn insecure. thinking she deserves the bullshit i am constantly giving her. and i know i'm to blame. for her insecurities. before me, she held her head high and her shoulders back. before me, she was always smiling. so carefree. but of course, i fucked that all up. that’s all i ever seem to do. i made her insecure. made her feel like she needs to fight for love. when she shouldn't. she deserves the whole goddamn world. but she got stuck with me, instead.
i wish she would just leave me, already. because i am far too weak to leave, myself. and i am far too selfish to give up somebody as incredible as her.
i fucking hate myself the most on friday nights.
because deep down, i think they're fucking right to worship me.
i am a god on that field.
but off the field, i am the fucking devil.
i break hearts and fuck anyone with a low enough self-esteem to climb through my window at 2 am. i wonder how the rest of the world doesn't see it. it’s so damn obvious. the whole goddamn world is either blind or naive or ignorant or maybe they just need something to worship. and foolishly they chose me.
my parents think i am some perfect child. my teachers think i'm some fucking prodigy. my theatre director thinks i could be the next leonardo, you know, if football doesn't work out. girls are always stuffing their panties in my locker. and guys are always fist bumping me every time i walk past them in the hall.
only jenifer knows who i really am. but she is too fucking insecure to do anything about it. she comes to my house every morning with a cup of iced coffee and a croissant. every fucking morning. without fail. then she drives me to school in the red bmw her daddy bought her on her sixteenth birthday.
she doesn't say a word about my antics that past weekend. she just goes on with the conversation as if everything were so fucking dandy. like our life was some fairytale and we're the prince and princess who live happily ever after.
she doesn't mention amber or rebekah or any of the other rumors circulating the school halls. all of which were probably true. there aren't many girls i won't fuck.
jenifer knows my flaws. the evilness that flows through my veins. the fraud behind the smile. but she does nothing about it. she just grabs my hand and parades me through the halls. as if our love deserved to be on some fucking pedestal. maybe she has watched too many movies--tricked herself into believing that she has no other choice but to date the hot quarterback. it’s just a goddamn john hughes movie. and we're just living the fucking american high school dream.
but i can't blame this all on her. i am a goddamn smooth talker. i could talk myself out of prison only moments after committing murder in front of the cops' and judges' and juries' very eyes. many times, jenifer has walked in on me mid-fuck. and every single time i end up fucking her before the night is over.
i am the goddamn snake that convinced eve to eat the apple.
or maybe jenifer is eve. and i am the apple she bit. and now she is stuck to live with her sin.
i should kill myself. i know that i should. it only makes sense. if the world refuses to see me for the piece of shit that i am, if jenifer won't leave me, if my parents won't stop drowning me with all this love, if god won't stop handing me the whole goddamn world on a golden platter, if i can't stop my silver tongue, then maybe it is my responsibility to rid the earth of me. before i burn the whole thing down.
i stole my father's gun a few months back. i have it lying loaded beneath my bed right this very moment. many nights, i have sat on my bed with his gun in my hand. staring down the barrel. trying to will myself to shoot my fucking brains out. but i just can't seem to do it.
i may fucking hate myself, but i am far too egotistical to end my own life.
i may be a devil, but at times i can be a fucking god.
and sometimes the world needs both.
or maybe they just need something to worship.
or maybe i'm just the apple eve decided to bite. and now the world must live with their sin.
love has always had a large presence in my life. from a young age, i often believed myself to be deeply in it, only to discover it was nothing more than a glimmer that quickly faded away. as life went on, the glimmers became brighter and brighter. these glimmers included: vanessa and jessica and april and skylar and others whose names i can no longer remember. but as quickly as the love came, it vanished, and the strangers turned lovers turned strangers once more.
but despite all these failed loves, i never once gave up. i pursued love diligently. i pursued it with my every step and breath and heartbeat. if i believed a certain route had the possibility of leading to love, i would take it. no matter what i was leaving behind. love always came first.
which brings me to emilia.
it was late in may when we first met. at the time, i was living out my final days in new york city. you see, i had just accepted a job in los angeles that i was scheduled to begin in two weeks. it was the job i had been striving for my entire life. my entire career. i was ecstatic and eager to begin. but there were still a few things left for me in new york.
so, i sat down and made a list. all the things i need do before leaving new york city. one of the things on that list was to finally walk across the brooklyn bridge. i had lived in new york for nearly eights years and had never even stood on the bridge. i had driven across it in a taxicab on multiple occasions, but the feeling of walking across it with the crowd, i soon found out, was incomparable. tourists from every corner of the earth walked across it with wonder in their eyes. the beautiful skyline towered behind me while selfie-sticks began to rise in front of me, almost mockingly.
as i reached the center of the bridge, i felt a tap on my shoulder. i turned.
“do you mind taking my picture?” the stranger asked me in the softest voice i had ever heard.
i was immediately mesmerized. lost in the intricate details of her irises. i couldn't even respond. my knees and lips and tongue were too weak. so all i did was silently stare.
the stranger lifted her hand to the loose hairs that had fallen over her face and brushed them behind her ear. she smiled small while biting her lower lip. then looked shyly off to the side.
i swallowed hard and finally whispered out, “sure.”
then her eyes met mine once more. i will never forget the sound of that first laugh. i came to memorize it over the years, but nothing will ever compare to hearing it for the first time. it was like hearing the sound of god. she handed me her camera then backed up, never breaking eye contact, until her back was against the railing of the bridge.
and with the snap of the camera, emilia entered my life.
a stranger soon to turn lover.
after taking her picture, i couldn't let her go. i asked if she wanted coffee. she said sure. so we walked the rest of the way across the bridge until we found ourselves in some quaint coffee shop in brooklyn with lattes in our hands.
that following morning, i turned down my dream job in los angeles and begged my old boss to rehire me. he did. i took a severe pay cut. totally worth it.
from that point forward, emilia and i were attached at the hip. the word love first slipped off the tip of my tongue after three weeks, but i felt it the moment our eyes first met.
after eight months, i got down on one knee. and told her everything i had wanted to tell her since that may afternoon.
late in july, emilia and i stood in front of all our friends and family and a few third cousins that our parents forced us to invite and declared our love to them all.
our reception was beautiful. it was filled with everyone we loved, and those third cousins i mentioned earlier, yet all emilia and i wanted was to be alone. it was an outdoor wedding, so we decided to go deep into the woods. where it would just be the two of us.
hand in hand, we ran until the disco lights and the sounds of others could no longer penetrate our private moment. we ran and we ran and we ran. until finally, we were alone in the woods. i grabbed her by the waist and we swayed back and forth to the music in our heads. i smiled at my wife. and swore to myself that there was nothing that could ever bring me down from that high.
but highs do not exist without lows. where it ebbs, it flows.
emilia and i had been taught about love all our lives. we were taught to find someone you love and to marry them. for us, marriage was the finish line. once we said the magical words i do, we had won the game and there was no longer anything left to play.
we stopped chasing the romance that once burned so fiercely within the both of us. i stopped holding the door open for her and she stopped falling asleep on my chest. i stopped reminding her of how beautiful she was and she no longer sent me loving text messages in the middle of the day.
we had mistaken the first lap as the entire race. so, as we slowed down and came to a stop, love and romance continued to run. and by the time we realized the race wasn't over, it was too late. our love had lapped us so many times that there was no way we would ever be able to catch it. we lost a race we thought we had already won.
i wish i could sit here and tell you that the end of our marriage was handled maturely, but i don't want to start lying now. we dragged lawyers into the room by the tip of their toes and had them write and rewrite novels about our possessions and to whom they would go to. neither of us wanted to live in the house we once called a home, so we sold it to another hopeless couple with a destiny similar to ours. we split the profits with a middleman to hand us the checks, as we didn't want to risk our hands touching the dust of what our love once was.
in just a few short years, i went from falling in love to defeating love to having it all slip away. my life fell apart before my very eyes and all i could do was watch as it collapsed. and as the dust covered my skin.
the story of emilia and i is old news. our love crashed and burned nearly seven years ago. since her, i have met many girls and even fallen in love with a couple of them, though those loves also ended with goodbye. it would be a lie to say emilia doesn’t still cross my mind every now and again. out of all my failed loves, my failed love with her will always hurt the most.
losing emilia was like discovering god and watching him walk away. the pain will always remain, but the pain never felt more real than it did the other night. i walked into a restaurant with a buddy of mine. as we headed towards our table, i saw emilia across the room, sitting at a table with another man.
time froze, as it did so often when emilia was involved, but this time it was agonizing. our eyes met and locked for multiple seconds. i smiled, but all she did was turn away. she looked at the man across from her and gave him that sideways glance i always loved so much. at that moment, our entire history flashed before my eyes: the bridge, our first i love you, the proposal, our wedding, and the war that ensued.
and with the slight turn of her head, i realized it was gone. forever erased from history as if it had never happened at all.
our eyes had locked once more, no longer as lovers, but as strangers.
i am a fraud. but i have crafted my mask so well that you can no longer see its seams; in fact, there are moments when even i look in the mirror and believe my own lies. but that’s all they are—lies.
i grew up in a rural town with a population just under 10,000. there were no separations further than two degrees, so if you messed up the word quickly migrated into every ear in town.
for instance, when i was seven years i was inside a convenience store with my mother. she was shopping for that night’s dinner, but i had wandered off to a more enjoyable section of the store—the section with trading cards. at the time, i was a pokémon junkie, so i searched through the decks until i found one that gave me that tingling sensation. i could feel the rare, holographic card calling my name from just behind the wrapper. i ran to my mother, deck held tightly in my hand, and asked her if she would purchase it for me. she, focused on her shopping list, shrugged me off with a quick no. but i was not about to let that card get away from me, so i slid the pack into the waistline of my pocketless athletic shorts.
after another twenty minutes, my mother and i were finally leaving with a few bags of groceries. i could feel the pack of cards against my waist, the tingling sensation returned to me, but this tingling was different. this tingling was the pack slowly slipping from my waistline. i swallowed hard and tried to secure the pack against my shorts, but my hands were full of groceries.
as the pack slid fully down my leg, we walked passed the owner of the convenience store. he waved hello to my mother. as my mother called back to him she was joined by the sound of the pack colliding with the gravel below. i quickly bent down and slid the pack into one of the bags, but i could feel their eyes piercing into me. by the end of the day, the entire town knew of my misdeed.
they called me pokémon thief until the day i finally moved away. i was ecstatic about the idea of recreating a new identity. not a single soul in this 638,000-person town knew a thing about me. i was free to be a new man. free to be something more than just the pokémon thief.
i was 14 years old when we made the move. a freshman in high school with a whole new world in front of me. i spent the first couple days just observing the kids. i discovered the cool kids, the jocks, the academics, the drama geeks, and every other clique imaginable.
at my last school, i was a drama geek. i participated in every play our school put on and often went to neighboring towns to participate in theirs. i loved theatre. i loved the feeling of being on stage and knowing, even though i had stage directions and lines and a very specific plan, that anything could happen. but i also knew cool kids didn’t mingle with drama geeks. and i also knew cheerleaders would never return the lustful looks thrust upon them by said drama geeks. i had been at the bottom of the food chain for so much of my life. i wanted to try something new. that is when i began to craft my mask.
i sat a table or two away from the cool kids and studied their behavior. i listened to their conversations and dug their notes out of the trashcan after class and memorized them as if they were written by shakespeare.
by time the school began to take notice of the new kid, my mask was ready for experimentation. the fantastic thing about this time in history is that social media was alive and well, so the presentation of my mask was easy. i filled my twitter feed with joy and wit that was nonexistent in my real life. i filled my instagram with photographs of vacations i loathed and of people i despised, but the locations were gorgeous and the people were proof i was worthy of other’s time.
after a couple weeks, though i hadn’t really made many friends on campus, i began to establish quite a following online. all the while, i continued to study their social cues. i studied their diction like it was a foreign language. i studied their fashion like an artist studies picasso and a musician studies ms. lauryn hill. i changed the way i talked and the way i walked and the way i thought, i changed the rhythm of my heart and i chipped away at my brain until i was indistinguishable from them.
after a month, i walked to my typical table for lunch and heard my name called out. i looked around for the source and noticed that it was coming from julia, a major player in the group of popularity. it seemed like my mask was working.
the nerves i felt as i sat by julia’s side quickly resided as i discovered there was nothing truly special or unique about this group of people. they were just like me, kids who desired to be loved. we spent that lunch in small conversation. i told them about my old town and told them lies about how i ran the school. they foolishly believed my every word. people want to believe in the greatness of others, or rather they want to believe that great people would want to spend their time with them.
then, after we had completely exhausted ourselves with human interaction, we returned to staring at our phones. we sent out tweets about how great of a day we were having, though our day consisted of merely staring at screens, so how great could it have really been?
as freshman year turned to sophomore year, i found myself dating the most sought-after senior on campus. she was a shoo-in for prom queen. it was unheard of that a woman of her stature would be dating a man as young as i, but my mask was praised more often than god around this shallow campus.
every time i wandered the schoolyard, i felt the lustful and jealous eyes from girls and guys alike. there were whispers and shouts around campus conversing my greatness. my name was inked into notebooks by drifting minds. i was a legend, which by its very definition is a lie.
for the longest time, the mask felt light on my face. the lies fell off the tip of my tongue and rolled off my fingertips. i was in bed with my deceit and dragged anyone who was willing to come with. i sat high on the throne and wore my crown of lies with pride. but kingdoms, no matter how large or how strong, always come crashing down.
it wasn’t until prom night that i first felt the weight of my mask. prom night is what people like me live for. i had the most beautiful girl on campus under my arm and every eye and spotlight was to be focused on us. but it didn’t feel quite right. i met up with my date early in the evening and the two of us exchanged corsages and boutonnieres. we smiled until our cheeks burned and our parents were finally satisfied with the photographs that would later gather dust in a photo album hidden beneath a pile of boxes in the attic. as we walked to my car she whispered seductively into my ear about what tonight had in store for the both of us—and that is when the mask first tugged.
when we arrived at our friend’s house we were greeted with a party bus and multiple bottles of liquor. my date instantly poured shots for the both of us. the bus was filled with loud music, disco lights, and aggressive dancing. i begin to feel disoriented, my girlfriend’s breath was warm on my neck, and my buddies looked at her and me with vulgar eyes. this was not where i belonged.
i felt this overwhelming weight on my shoulders. i felt the mask tugging on the tiny hairs upon my chin, trying to rip itself free. the soul within, which had been tied down and locked away, shoved its way to the surface. the past two years finally hit me. i used to be a kid who went on stage because i loved the feeling that anything could happen. i lived for unpredictability. i smiled, not in photographs, but in real life. the mask dug deeper into my skin.
for the first time i began to feel like a total fraud. i was not the man they thought i was. everything they knew about me was a lie. i was no longer myself, i was a persona; i was a fraud.
my girlfriend began kissing deeper into my neck, her fingers fondled my hair, and her body pressed harder against my own. it was as if the oxygen had been sucked from my lungs, my vision was slowly fading into blackness, the music quickly dissolving into static so loud that my screams couldn’t even pierce it. i felt myself, my real self, disappearing. i reached for the brim of my mask and attempted to rip it free, but i couldn’t—the mask had taken root so deep that it and i were no longer two, but one.
“i am the pokémon thief!” i yelled at the top of my lungs. “i am the pokémon thief!” the music was too loud. “i am the pokémon thief!” my girlfriend moved her lips up to my own and sealed my mask forever with a gentle kiss and slip of tongue. my shouts turned to whispers and eventually faded out with the wind.
i was the pokémon thief.
but i am no more.
sometimes the stars align perfectly. sometimes you miss your bus and find yourself with an additional twenty minutes to kill. sometimes there is a coffee shop on the same corner as your bus stop. sometimes the love of your life is sitting in the corner booth of said coffee shop. and sometimes you have just enough courage to walk over and say hello.
well, today is october 3rd and none of those things happen for kamron.
instead, clouds fill the sky and cover every desire of the stars. kamron wakes right as his alarm goes off. he has mastered his morning routine. he arrives at the bus station thirteen seconds before the bus pulls up. he hops on and begins his morning commute. the love of his life, her name probably something like scarlett or lizabeth, really is sitting in the corner booth of that coffee shop this morning, but kamron isn’t much of a coffee drinker and, let’s be honest, scarlizabeth would never allow a man like kamron to even consider talking to her. he is not exactly genetically gifted. cursed? maybe. probably. most certainly. plus, there isn’t a courageous bone in his lanky body. just anxiety flowing through his genetically cursed veins.
october 3rd is not a day for fairytales. there is no once upon a time and there is absolutely no happily ever after. in fact, you can forget all about scarlett or lizabeth or whatever other crush you are imagining in your head, because neither kamron nor you are ever going to end up with any of them. forget the happy endings your mother read to you as you dozed to sleep as a kid. they are all bullshit. just like this smelly, overcrowded bus kamron rides every day to work.
after an hour has vanished from his life, kamron finally finds himself in front of his office building. he exits his bus and contemplates every decision that has led him to this very moment, then lets out a sigh for no reason other than it slightly delays his entrance to work. once the sigh has ended, he walks inside.
he finds himself in the familiar cubicle prison on the eighth floor. he says nothing to his coworkers as he walks by and they say nothing to him.
on kamron’s desk, he finds the familiar mountain of manila folders. inside each of them, is a stack of paper filled with words that would put even the most passionate historian to sleep. he sits, grabs the top folder, and then drifts into daydreams.
at noon, kamron makes his way to the cafeteria. on a cracked tray, kamron gets some mashed potatoes from a box and microwaved turkey. he says no to the side salad, but yes to the soggy garlic bread. just as he did yesterday. and just as he will tomorrow and the day after that and the day after that. it is tuesday, in case you were trying to figure it out.
he eats slowly, savoring every bite. not because the food is tasty in any way, but rather because his corporate overlords have sent many emails recently about employees who sit idly by in the cafeteria after they have finished their lunches, when they should instead be contributing to making the company more successful. in other words, once you’re done eating, get the hell back to work, my sheep!
if kamron was wiser he would say yes to the side salad, more food equates to more time spent eating. but, then again, if kamron was wiser he would not be stuck in this hellhole. kamron is constantly hindering himself with his own stupidity.
eventually, kamron finds himself back in his cubicle. in his absence, he was assigned a few new manila folders to work on. his stomach grumbles, even after years of consuming the same daily meal it has yet to adapt. kamron’s eyes gloss over the folder’s content, but his mind retains none of it. the clock overhead ticks and ticks and ticks and ticks.
finally, it strikes five. kamron is the first one out the door. he walks briskly to the bus stop, says nothing to the familiar faces, and begins his commute back home.
everything, all of october 3rd, goes exactly as it always does.
oh, just a side note, scarlizabeth met her future husband three days later on october 6th. they got married the following may. then divorced two decembers later.
but kamron will never meet her. not in a coffee shop. not at a bar. not anywhere.
because, like i said, fairytales are bullshit.
I’ll never forget the time Ana and I first met. We were in an art gallery filled with Picasso, Van Gogh, Monet, and yet it was her who shined brightest. I was there with a couple buddies of mine, we were new in town and it was a place that came highly recommended.
I have always considered myself an artsy person. I love fashion and abstract films, but for me, museums often take the artsiness miles too far. I remember walking around one section in particular where the wall was filled from floor to ceiling with "original Picasso's." I get it, Picasso became one of the greatest artists of all time, but that doesn't mean his stick figures and clearly meant for the bottom of a trash bin original drafts belong on the wall of a museum. I dabble in writing. I have written my fair share of poems and love letters, but even if I turned into the next Shakespeare I can't see any reasons why my poems scribbled on the back of napkins would belong in a place so prestigious as this.
I voiced this opinion to my nearest buddy. "Can you believe this is on a wall in the same museum as the American Gothic?” I extended my finger out towards a Picasso drawing that was literally a straight line in the middle of a white page.
Up until that moment I had never experienced a true scoff, but my buddy scoffed at me so hard I nearly flew back and knocked the original Picasso line down to the ground. "That is a Picasso! You ever heard of him? Only of one the greatest artists that has ever- no, he is the greatest artist that has ever lived... So I guess my answer is yes, I can believe that this masterpiece is in the same museum as the American Gothic. And if I’m being honestly here, the American Gothic should feel honored to share the same oxygen as this masterpiece."
"Okay, even if I accept the fact that this… thing is as good as the best Picasso ever created, the American Gothic shouldn't feel 'honored.' It's earned its place on these walls... And now that you've brought up the American Gothic-"
"You brought up the American Gothic."
"Either way, now that it has been brought up, what makes it so damn special? It's just a painting of two farmers... This is what I don't understand about art. How come something like the American Gothic, or the Mona Lisa for that matter, can be so well known around the world and nobody knows what art like the Veiled Christ even is?"
"The veiled what?"
"That's my damn point. We just accept art as good art because some art expert told us it was good art... It's ludicrous." At this point I was so fired up that there was no stopping me. "I get it, painting is difficult and the American Gothic and the Mona Lisa are great... but there are countless masterpieces gathering dust, masterpieces that nobody but their creator will ever get to see, yet everyone in the world has at least seen a picture of these paintings. It’s like if we took all of Shakespeare's plays and said, 'Okay, we're good. We don't need any more plays.' Then we wouldn't have any plays like… like ... Well I don't know any plays, but my point is-"
Out of nowhere a voice, which I later came to know as Ana's, decided to join in on the discussion. "Death of a Salesman, You Can't Take It With You, Angels in America, Jonesy Get Off the Roof, Amber Needs to Calm Down, Your Rent is Due…"
"Exactly! Thank you, exactly. If we gave up on plays after Shakespeare we never would have had..." I had completely lost all of the names somewhere in her eyes. "Any of them... And if we stop accepting art after Picasso or the damn American Gothic, then we will never get good art again!"
At this point my buddies had gathered so much distance between them and I that it appeared I was just yelling at myself. In fact, the entire museum besides Ana had spaced themselves far away from me. But I didn't mind. I turned to Ana.
"Thanks for that... I've never heard of any of those plays, by the way, but I appreciate the help."
"Don't worry about it, I ran out plays after Angels in America and just started saying random words... I don't think anyone here really knows about plays... or art in general for that matter."
"Right? Real art connoisseurs don't walk around museums like these."
"I totally agree, museums are meant for people who know nothing about art and need to be told what to like."
She laughed. I will never forget the sound of that first laugh. I came to know it so well over the years, but there is nothing quite like hearing the sound of God for the first time.
I have often tried to figure out the perfect words to describe how I felt in that moment and the best I can find is when God describes how the second coming of Christ will look to all of his followers; feelings of eternal hope and joy as you watch your soul rise to eternal paradise. That is how I felt as I soaked in her first laughter.
"My name is Darrell, by the way."
"Ana." The heavens opened as my hand and her hand touched for the first time.
"By the way, the Veiled Christ is my favorite sculpture."
"You know of it?"
"I do know of it. I actually saw it when I traveled to Napoli."
"You have not seen it!" My curiosity was growing exponentially.
"Yup. I traveled all over Italy with my family a few years back. We saw many sculptures: The David, the Fountain of Trevi, Disillusion, but none of them even came close to the Veiled Christ."
"Wow... So if you have seen all of those, what are doing at a place like this?"
"These paintings are still pretty spectacular."
"I guess... but the Veiled Christ!"
Her laughter once again blessed me with its presence.
Ana and I roamed around the entire museum three of four times, though I don't think my eyes ever wandered to any of the paintings, I was too perplexed by the greenness in her eyes. We spoke about our favorite writers; hers were Toni Morrison, Jane Austen, Mark Twain, and F. Scott Fitzgerald. We talked about the history of theatre and the development of Broadway. We discussed our love for Hamilton in such detail that we could have filled a book, though it would have mostly been filled with me repeatedly saying things like, "How great is Lin Manuel Miranda?" "Lin Manuel is a genius, a complete genius!" "I love Lin Manuel Miranda." I am sort of a fan, Lin.
We spoke of music and politics and poetry and I am fully convinced that I learned more in that one conversation that I ever did in all my years of schooling. We walked and talked for so long that the guards had to practically kick us out of the museum, but before they did, we spent another fifteen minutes staring at Picasso's drafts.
By the time we left the museum we had spent over 6 hours together, but still we weren't done being with one another. We went to an ice cream parlor and sat there for another 3 hours discussing our families past and our life plans. She told me she wanted to travel the world. She had already gone to Italy, England, Greece, Brazil, Costa Rica, South Korea, and Canada, but she wanted to see more.
"The greatest thing about traveling is that you get to see how other people live. You see other cultures and can discover the pros and the cons of each and every one of them. So, by the time you come back, you have learned a new way to make the world you live in a better place and you can share with them ways that your world has made life easier... Does that make sense?"
Nothing had ever made more sense to me in my life. I looked at her with such passion that she couldn't help but take notice. She smiled and looked away coyly. Every nerve in my body was pushing me toward her. My lips cried out for hers. So forward I leaned.
The most terrifying moment in a man’s life is the first time he leans toward a person that he desires. Because, for at least that moment, you are the only one leaning and all you can do is pray that they will join in on the leaning. Thankfully, she did.
The kiss lasted only a few seconds, but I swore time slowed down and I lived in that kiss for a lifetime. I felt myself grow grey. I felt my life whizz by and at no moment did I try to stop it, because in no way could I have made that life any better. This was the highest I had ever felt in my life.
There are very few things in life that make me feel as alive as I did that night. It was only her and I and a long patch of sand, the waves encouraging us to explore and discover all of who we were. The moon and the stars guided our every steps and God magnetized our hands together. We couldn't pull apart even if we desired, but the fire in our hearts were too strong for either of us to desire anything but one another.
Her eyes had extracted all of the blueness from the now black ocean. And her lungs had extracted all of the oxygen that once belonged to me, but now everything that was once mine is forever hers. Words swirl around inside of my head, but none of them are worthy to infiltrate her ears. So silent I remain.
Our hands remain intertwined and our spirits fly high above our heads and look down upon us with eternal joy. It hasn't been long that our souls, or our bodies for that matter, have known of each other. In fact, we had only introduced ourselves to one another earlier that night. But what a night it has been.
Many beautiful women have crossed my path over the years. I have felt my heart race and the anxiety flood through my veins, but never in my life have I felt what I felt when she first walked into that busy room. Though there were many groups and tables and plates of half eaten deserts in between her and I, I swore it were just the two of us surrounded by nothing more than the presence of God.
I have never and will never be a confident man, so I wasn't quick to engage. I rather let the night and the moment and the destiny of our meeting develop, until the urging in my soul was too strong to be ignored.
I took a long sip of whiskey and let it attempt to warm up my already warm body. It tried to drunken my veins but they were already drunk with something much stronger, love and hope and desire. I set the now empty glass down on the table and made my way over to my soul's mate.
I tap her on the shoulder and wait for her to turn. Though it took only mere seconds, I witnessed eternity pass by so many times that I had all of eternity memorized. And in that eternity I saw her and I and God in celebration.
"Hi there, I don't believe we have met... My name is Matthew." The words came out much cooler than I felt inside, but then I thought back to eternity and calmness fell over me.
"Matthew..." She extended her hand toward me and I took it, "My name is Tiffany."
We spoke for hours about everything under the sun and beyond the entire galaxy. We spoke of our families and of our deepest desires. We spoke until there were no longer any combinations of words left that would express exactly how we felt about the moment. We spoke for so long that we hardly even realized that the only ones remaining in the venue were us and the night cleaners.
Long ago I had given up on love, but tonight God proved to me that love is the only reason for being alive. All of my possessions and accomplishments and journeys mean nothing when compared to this love. Sure, they all brought me momentary joy, but nothing brought me anything even close to what this eternity with Tiffany has brought me and will continue to bring.
I look out at the dark sea, the bright sky, the full moon, and her. And, for the first time in my life, everything is okay.
Sangria floats into the air, creating an alcoholic cloud over thousands of sweaty bodies. The crowd jumps up and down in a comically unsynchronized motioned. Elbows hit faces, knees hit backs, shoes are trampled.
I can’t move, I can’t breath, I am covered head to toe with Sangria, and I am amidst the second craziest experience of my life. The craziest would come the next morning, but lets not get ahead of ourselves. Lets talk about this city center in Pamplona.
Seconds before the sangria went flying and our shirts turned from bright white to drenched sangria, the mayor had announced the start of The Fiesta of San Fermin, more commonly known as Running of the Bulls. The mayor walked out on the balcony and every person in that, mostly men, total sausage fest but its cool, crowd lifted their red bandanas into the air. The mayor did a couple Spanish chants and half of the crowd interacted with him. I was amongst the non-participatory half, not because I am too cool, but because I don’t understand Spanish. Also, I was way too drunk for 8 o’clock in the morning.
As soon as he spoke the magic Spanish words, we wrapped the bandanas around our necks, shouted out in celebration, grabbed our bottles of Sangria, and let its remnants fly into the air.
I won’t lie, I was extremely selfish when this took place. I showered in the Sangria that others so kindly tossed into the air, but I’d be damned if I lent them even a drop of mine. I instead chugged my bottle while other’s Sangria became best friends with my skin, my shirt, and, unfortunately, my socks. This hectic Sangria tossing, sweat exchanging, borderline orgy continued for the next hour.
I feel like you guys aren’t picturing this quite right. Imagine you are standing in the center of an empty courtyard that extends about twenty yards in an all directions. Now imagine thousands of sweaty, drunk, Sangria filled bodies squished into that tiny center. Feel your neighbor’s arms against yours, the stomachs of the belligerent tourists behind you, and your less ab-filled than desired stomach against the backs of the jumping men in front of you. Now, that is where I stood. Sangria filling the air above me, pelting the top of my head, flooding my arms, drenching my shirt, and blinding my eyes. I have never felt more alive.
When this incredible fiesta, party, celebration came to an end, the courtyard slowly emptied. The disappearing crowd revealed the mess that we had left behind. Hundreds of empty bottles floated atop the red sea we; lost bandanas floated down the stream and through of the cracks of the now slippery cobblestone road. The party had ended and yet it had just begun, because tomorrow is Running of the Bulls.
My crew, which consisted of people I had only just met, and I walked through the small town of Pamplona. Everywhere we looked we spotted drunken men and women, children and infants, cats and dogs passed out in the gutters. They laid against restaurant walls, in the walkway of bars, in the middle of lawns, atop patio tables, and anywhere and everywhere in between. We, however, walked into a nearby grocery store and bought one more bottle of Sangria for the each of us.
It is incredible how affordable getting drunk is in this town. We were able to reach a level of incoherent obliteration for the cost of a single Big Mac. Like I said earlier, I don’t know a lick of Spanish, but at this point I assumed Pamplona was Spanish for heaven. (I just googled it and heaven in Spanish is actually cielo… So, if anyone reading this knows anyone in charge of the Spanish language, please forward them this request: Hello, my name is unimportant, but this here is a formal request to change the definition of Pamplona to heaven and the definition of cielo to something else… I don’t, maybe hot dogs or something like that. Sincerely, Bye.)
We walked around the streets of Pamplona, stepping over drunken bodies that now served as sidewalks, and continued to throw back Sangria after Sangria. We did this for a few hours, until we too became the passed out bodies in the middle of walkways.
When I returned to semi-consciousness, it was time for the festival’s nightly firework show.
We rose like zombies and followed the crowd like blind mice. We walked throughout the puke filled city streets until we found ourselves facing a large, empty lawn.
We found seats and opened up our fresh bottles of Sangria. Oh, I forgot to mention, we broke off from the crowd when we saw a grocery store and bought another bottle of Sangria. After all, the party must go on, baby!
As the Sangria touched our lips, the fireworks were sent high into the sky. The first one burst bright green, followed by bright red. The popping noise, to be completely honest, was a little loud for my liking, but my god was it beautiful.
We stared at the night sky mesmerized, the drunkenness certainly helped, by the beauty in front of us.
The show, unfortunately, came to an end. The crowd stood up and we made our ways back to wherever it was we were staying.
We need to get some rest; Running of the Bulls is tomorrow.
My alarm goes off at 5 o’clock the next morning, but I haven’t slept for a second. My mind has been racing all night. The anxiety has overflowed my veins and leaked out through my pores, along with the smell of yesterday’s festivities. I cannot believe the stupidity I am about to participate in.
Running with bulls, I must be out of my goddamn mind.
My vision is flooded with videos I watched religiously before coming here. Strategies of runners, disasters that had come from recklessness, the gory imagines of bull horns slicing into the human hip; entering through the backside, disappearing, then reappearing through the stomach. I saw tragedies, some that were preventable, but others that were caused by a mixture of unlucky circumstances, like being bumped by a nearby runner, and pure bad decisions, like deciding to run down a narrow street with full-grown bulls.
I must be out of my goddamn mind.
I slowly rise from bed and throw on my uniform. White karate-esque pants, a brand new white shirt, and a red scarf around my waist. Finally, I pick up my bandana. The same one I, just one day earlier, raised toward the sky to signify the beginning of the festival. I tie it now around my neck.
I look into the mirror and take in my reflection. Game time.
I walk out of the hotel and into its tiny lobby. I see many people just like me, dressed like a red belted karate kids with fear stricken faces.
We must be out of our goddamn minds.
We walk out of the lobby and join the march of stupidity, leading us to that same city center that we partied so hard in the morning before.
When we arrive, we arrive to a similar setting. An overly crowded center with far too many tourists, but the mood has completely changed. What was once an eager crowd has now transformed into a crowd of terror.
Also, they have put up these walls that restrict the runners and the bulls to a tiny path. This path is about ten feet across, just big enough to fit a bull and a couple people clinging to its walls for dear life. Other than that, space is limited.
The crowd sits in the city center in nervous anticipation.
A rule, that I still don’t understand about the festival, is that you cannot leave the city center to reposition yourself anywhere else on this quarter mile or so long path, until only moments before the bulls are released. So, just because you stand in the city center now, doesn’t mean you will stand there at the time the bulls begin to run towards you.
I, however, have an airtight strategy. Like I said earlier, I studied past runnings religiously. I figured out what the safest routes were and which routes would lead to certain death.
The best strategy was to stand near the beginning of the run. This seems sketchy, because it is probably the narrowest part of the path, but it is also when the bulls are still running together.
You see the bulls are not likely to attack unless they are scared. So, when they are all together at the beginning of the race they feel safe. Their only mission is to keep running forward. It isn’t until the bulls are separated that they become dangerous.
This often happens at a place called Dead Man’s Corner. Dead Man’s Corner is around the half waypoint of the run. It is a ninety degree turn, a turn far too sharp for a large, full speed bull to make. So what often happens is they slip, slide into the wall, become separated form the others, and, often, begin to panic.
This corner is where people get impaled. This corner is where bulls charge after crowds of horrified and idiotic runners. This corner is where the blood is spilt and the lives are forever changed. This corner is where I learned what panic truly is.
Here is how it went down. About four minutes before the bulls were released, a line of cops began to push the crowds back. They were placing us into our starting positions.
I was ready for this, so I began to slide up in the crowd, trying to get closer to the front. Unexpectedly, everyone else had this same plan in mind. So, as I attempted to shove myself to the starting point I desired, I felt myself moving nowhere. My heart began to race. I began to sweat. I began to feel, what I thought at that point was, panic.
I watched as the police neared, continually shoving those in front of me further back. I tried to slide against the walls, but to no avail. Instead, I was only pushed backwards.
No. No. This cannot be happening. I had this all planned. I was going to be in the front. I was going to be safe. I was not going to die today. Why god have you forsaken me? Why did I come to Pamplona? This isn’t cielo, no, this is hell. Oh, lord, please make this stop!
He didn’t. I felt myself being pushed further and further away. I looked around to discover I was now closer to Dead Man’s Corner than I was to the beginning of the race.
3 minutes until they release the bulls.
I try to force myself into a crevice in the wall, I will hide here as the police walk by, this place is at least safer than where I could end up.
The police grab me tightly around my arms; I can feel their grips deep in my bones, as they drag me further from safety.
I am only a few yards away form Dead Man’s Corner.
The shot of the gun goes off. The bulls have been released. Fuck. Oh, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck.
I look around; the life in every face around me has vanished. I now stand in a crowd of pale faces.
If I didn’t know exactly where I was, I would have thought I was in the middle of train tracks, because the sound of a train was certainly coming my way. The ground below me began to shake. This was no longer a video I watched safely from behind a computer screen. This was real. This was happening.
I see the crowd in front of me begin to part. Soon, two massive bulls immerge in the middle of them, parting the crowd that now dives for safety. These are the pacing bulls, the bulls that keep the 6, soon to be coming bulls, in line.
I stay in my spot, as the rest of the people around me do, as the two bulls approach. You are not supposed to start running until the two pacing bulls have passed you and the 6 raging bulls are in sight.
We leap towards the wall as the pacing bulls pass. And then, my heart stops. Literally, my heart was so terrified that it forgot to beat. Now, in plain sight, were 6 bulls larger than I had ever imagined. 6 Bulls, large enough to destroy cars, came rolling through the crowd. This is when everyone began to run.
I take my first steps, my first steps away from the bulls, my first steps closer to Dead Man’s Corner. What at the time I believed to be panic once again surged through my veins. It screamed into my subconscious. It became all of me. I continued to run.
I reach Dead Man’s Corner, the 6 bulls are only feet behind me, I make a sharp turn and watch as the person behind me is clipped by the horns of the leading bull. He falls to the ground and covers the back of his head for protection.
I turn back, I want to help him, but I cannot. I keep moving.
I look over to my left to the see the first bull slam into the corner. He stands up quickly, more quickly than I anticipated, and continues running forward.
I should not stay in the middle of the road, it is far too dangerous. I need to find shelter, safety, anything. I continue running as I inspect my surroundings. A few yards in front of me, I spot a crevice in the wall. I head for it.
This will keep me safe. I must let them run passed me, that is the only way I will survive.
I press myself into the wall as I watch the bulls one by one hit the corner and continue on their way. The last one slides into the wall. He hits much harder than the previous 5. He takes much longer to stand than the previous 5. He seems much more disoriented than the previous 5. He turns to me and I see, he is much more afraid than the previous 5.
I gulped deeply as the eye contact between this bull and I continued for far longer than I desired. His stare turns angry. He begins to flare his nose. He lowers his head as he growls. He begins to scratch his horns on the cobblestone. His front leg paws at the street.
And, before I could even finish muttering the word “fuck,” he begins to charge. This is when I learned what panic truly is. It is when your heart says fuck beating, there is no longer a point. It is when the blood stops flowing through your veins, because all it can do is stop and stare at the disaster in front of it. It is when your brain shuts off. And it is when your body is left to fend for itself.
Without me even instructing it, my body collapses into a crouch. I feel my head duck down only milliseconds before the bull’s horns crash into the wall I once leaned on. He backs up a few steps, and then lunges at the wall once more. This time I feel his horn scrape the skin of my forearm that covers my head. I see a small drop of blood trickle down onto the street. The same street that was red a day earlier with Sangria, is now red with my blood.
The bull, frustrated with two failed attempts, backs up again. This time a few feet further. Again, without instruction, my body dives to the left and towards Dead Man’s Corner.
I look behind me to see the bull, his head now ducked to the ground, hit the wall at the exact spot I so recently crouched. His nose only centimeters above where my blood had spilt.
He turns towards me, how dare I attempt to flee. He kicks once more. He flares his nose. His eyes squint with determination. But I keep running.
I see a couple locals jumping over the railings as I run towards them. They grab the gates that close Dead Man’s Corner, intended to prevent bulls from running backwards on the path, and yell out encouragement to me. (Again I am only assuming, since I don’t speak Spanish.)
I get closer and closer to them, the gate closing as I approach, the bull closing in on me, their yells only getting louder. I am maybe fifteen feet away from the gate, I turn back to see the bull only fifteen feet from me.
I turn back towards the locals. Their faces have changed. Their expressions have gone from hopeful to regretful. They look sad. They look… they look helpless.
They have changed their actions from closing this gate to protect me and are now closing it to protect the others who are already safely behind the gate. Those are the ones who need protecting. Those are the only ones who can be still be protected.
I am now ten feet from the gate. I see the gap shrinking. It is barely large enough for me to fit through, even if I made it in time. Again, I panic. Truly, truly panic. My heart stops. My blood stops flowing. My brain stops thinking. My body, with no acting captain, seizes control.
I feel myself striding longer and quicker than before, now only five feet from the closing gate. I feel myself lunging forward as I dive through the small opening. My arms make it through the gap, followed by my head, then my upper and lower body, then my feet. I turn around, just in time to see the gate close and hear a loud thud from the bull ramming hard against the gate.
My heart begins to beat again. The blood flows. My brain switches back on. They all write letters of thanks to my body, for not panicking, and for saving us all.
I have survived. And I think only one thing.
I must be out of my goddamn mind.
The path to love in 1962 and the path to love in 2016 are very different paths. This story is about Justin and Amber's path in the year 2016. I hope you enjoy.
Justin and Amber met one Saturday night at a club in downtown Los Angeles. Justin arrived to the club with a few old college buddies, while Amber arrived with a couple of her coworkers. They both made their way to the bar area and ordered their respective drinks. Justin ordered a round of IPAs, Amber ordered a round of vodka cranberries.
The bartender hands Amber four IPAs and hands Justin three vodka cranberries, they both look down at their drinks in confusion. Justin and Amber then notice their drinks in the wrong hands and laugh. Amber turns to Justin and says, "This round is on me," pays the bartender, gathers her three vodka cranberries, and makes her way back to her coworkers. Justin grabs his beers and makes his way back to his college buddies.
After Justin and his buddies finish their drinks, they are ready for round two. Justin volunteers to go and buy them, but first he wants to find the mystery woman who bought their first round. He walks around the club, around the dance floor, and around all of the tables. Finally, he spots her. He makes his way up to the table, confidently nervous.
He reaches the table and asks with a smile, "You girls ready for a second round?" Amber's coworkers look up at Justin confused, but Amber responds with a smile of her own. "Three more vodka cranberries."
"You got it."
Justin, with a little more pep in his step, makes his way to the bar. He joyfully pulls out his credit card, orders four more beers and three more vodka cranberries, and gives the bartender a generous tip. He reaches for a nearby napkin and, using the pen he was given to sign the receipt, writes down: "I'll be on the dance floor waiting for you."
He walks back to the girls, hands them their three fresh drinks, and slides the napkin over to Amber. He then returns back to his table and enjoys this beer even more than he enjoyed the first. He drinks it with a sense of urgency, ready to make his way to the dance floor, hoping that she will be waiting for him with an eagerness as large as his own.
Amber's glass has only a tiny sip left, while her two coworkers have barely taken one small sip of their own. One of her coworkers, noticing Amber's anxious tapping fingers, comments, "You're thirsty, aren't you?"
"Yup," Amber says through her last sip of vodka cranberry, "So who wants to dance? I want to dance. I need to dance."
"Okay, okay. Let us finish these drinks real quick." They slowly sip their remaining vodka cranberries. Amber grows impatient and helps the slower coworker by grabbing her glass and chugging the remaining juice.
"Okay, let's go."
The dance floor is large and crowded. Justin and his buddies stand in the middle of it all. His buddies scope the floor for tonight's hunt, while Justin searches the dance floor for Amber with a racing heart. Finally, he spots her briskly walking through the dance floor with her coworkers following slowly behind. Her head, like an owl, looks in all directions for her mystery man.
Their eyes finally meet.
A spotlight doesn't turn on out of nowhere and shine upon them as they walk up to each other. The music doesn't suddenly switch from EDM to slow jams. The crowded floor doesn't part a perfect path for the two to walk. None of that cheesy, romantic movies, Hollywood effects take place that night. Rather, the opposite. The floor remains crowded with grimy, grinding bodies. The lyrics of rough sex and twerking fill the air so loudly that you can't help but hear them. They bump into sweaty, thrusting bodies as they squeeze their ways toward each other. And yet, the moment is perfect.
They shake hands and yell their introductions.
"My name is Justin!"
"It's nice to meet you!"
"I said, it's nice to meet you!"
"Never mind! Want to dance?"
They dance the night away. They watch as each one of their friends meet, grind, and leave with their night's conquest. They watch as the DJ fist pumps to his own mix of music. They watch as the club slowly dies down. They watch as the club lights turn on. They watch as the sadness of the night ending enters into each other's eyes. They watch as they enter each other's numbers into their phones. They watch as they get into their separate Uber's home. They watch as the butterflies within flutter a little faster, a little harder. They watch as their smiles remain throughout the rest of the night. And they watch as the smile has remained the next morning.
It's Monday morning and Amber has still not heard from Justin. She checks her phone every five minutes. She turns her phone's WiFi off. She resets her phone a couple of times. She texts herself to see if her texts are going through. They are. But still no text from Justin.
It's Monday afternoon and Justin stares down at his phone. He has his texting app open and has drafted out yet another text to send to Amber. "Hey Amber! It's Justin from Saturday night! How's it going? 😄" He stares down at the text, as the smiling emoji stares deeply into his soul. He backspaces the entire text and stares down at the blinking cursor. It mocks him. It laughs at him. It taunts him. He closes the messaging app and throws his phone onto the couch across his room.
It's Monday night. Amber is out eating dinner with her mother. She goes on and on about how much she wants a grand daughter, and considering Amber is her only child, the pressure is really on her to provide her mother with one. Amber, having heard this same spiel hundreds of times, stares down at her phone. Still nothing.
It's Tuesday morning. Justin lies in bed with eyes wide open. He didn't sleep at all the night before. He stares at his phone, his messaging app again open. The same damn blinking cursor stares him again in the eyes. Questioning everything Justin once believed about himself. "Just text something you idiot. Anything! Just text her!" The cursor screams out at Justin. Justin stares back, speechless. "You've got nothing to say to me? Shocker! Looks like you have nothing to say to Amber either, do you? Either text her... or delete her number. Pansy."
It's Tuesday afternoon. Amber sits at her cubicle, working away. She works on a big project, possibly the biggest of her career, yet the only thing running through her mind is, "Why hasn't he texted me? Did he lose my number? It's possible that it didn't save properly when I typed it in. Should I text him first? Would that make me appear desperate? I thought we had a good night, maybe he didn't think so. Should I have gone home with him that night? Maybe that's why he won't text me. I thought I was more than just a one night fling for him. This is what I get for believing in love. What was I thinking? It's 2016...love is dead."
It's Tuesday evening. Justin sits at home with a large box of pizza. In his grease covered fingers he holds his phone. In the other hand he holds a slice of pizza. He takes a bite as he stares at his empty text screen. He thinks, "What is wrong with me? Why am I such a pussy? Just text her, you idiot! What's the worst that could happen? She doesn't text back, that's it. That's not even a big deal! Okay, yes, this girl is perfect, so what. There are plenty of fish in the sea. Just say something simple at this point... But don't girls want clever? What if I send something I think is clever and she thinks it's dumb. Dammit, Justin, just send her something! Anything! If you don't send her something tonight then it is over. Just man up and text her."
It's Tuesday night. Amber has decided that if she doesn't receive a text from him by the end of the night then it is over. It's okay, there are plenty of fish in the sea. She is a beautiful woman, she'll find another. She's sure of it... She's sure of it... She's sure of it... She's not so sure of it... She's losing hope. She's losing faith. She's losing-- Her phone goes off. She quickly grabs it and sees it's a text from Justin.
She smiles large. She let's out a giddy laugh. She waits 11 hours and texts back.
Click here for Peter's Perspective.
I just don't understand boys sometimes. One minute they're staring intensely into your eyes and leaning in for a kiss, and the next moment they're punching you on the arm and calling you "bro." I've always heard this saying tossed around, "Boys and girls can never be just friends." Either the boy or the girl are always bound to catch feelings. Well, I guess I was the fool who caught feelings. My daddy always tells me, "That Peter boy, he's in love with you, he just doesn't know it yet." Well, I'm sick of waiting. Just realize that you love me so that we can be together already. I need you.
Peter and I have been friends for a while now, almost seven years. My crush for him extending much longer than that. I remember the first time I laid eyes on Peter, it was during our school play in the fifth grade. I don't really remember what the play was that year, but I remember that he was the lead role. His Blonde, spiky hair and his bright blue eyes had butterflies fluttering ferociously in my stomach. I don't think he ever noticed me, though. I was only a tree, I never was any good at acting; plus I was always a chubby kid, so I don't think my teachers wanted me exactly front and center. I wasn't a cute little kid. I wasn't like Peter. That's why I didn't have the nerve to go up and talk to him, why would somebody like Peter want to talk to some chubby kid like me? He wouldn't.
The next year I walked out to a snowy recess. I saw across the way a bunch of kids starting an all out snowball fight. I ran over as fast as my chubby legs would allow me and began to roll up a snowball. I looked around to see who my target would be, and then I saw him. Peter. His blonde, still spiky hair sticking high into the air. I took a couple steps forward, I didn't want to miss. I loaded and let the snowball fly through the air, it hit him right in the back of the head. He was shocked, he looked around to see where the snowball came from. He didn't see me. So I made another snowball and threw it in his direction; it hit him directly in the face. I threw another one at him and he moves out the way. I stand there, waiting for him to attack back, but he just stands there, staring at me, as if he is contemplating something. But I wanted to go to war with him. I wanted him to pay attention to me. So I get another snowball and chuck it in his direction. He dives out of the way towards his large stack of prebuilt snowballs and begins hurling them at me. Here is my chance.
We throw snowballs back and forth, back and forth. I move closer with every throw. There is nothing but white snow filling the air between us, I could hardly see the outline of where he was standing. So I thought this was a good chance to move even closer to him. I go into a slight jog, through the snowy mist, and tackle him to the ground. I always saw this in movies, couples tackling each other in the snow, laughing and grabbing a big pile of snow and rubbing it in each other's faces. It was romantic. I wanted to be romantic. So, as I sit on top of him, I grab a pile of snow and rub it into his face. I then hear the sound of the school alarm going off, that was the cue that the war was over. I debated if I should stay there with him, help him up, introduce myself, but I got nervous. I'm not the type of girl somebody like him would want to be friends with. So I stood up and ran. I didn't look back. I didn't slow down until I sat down in my seat in my warm classroom. The smile never leaving my freezing face.
I saw Peter a couple times across campus over the next week, but I never went up to talk to him. But after a couple days one of the greatest moments of my life happened. I was sitting alone in the cafeteria, I wasn't exactly a social butterfly at the time, eating my lunch, and out of nowhere I see Peter walking towards me. He was with two of his friends Danny and Ray, I never really liked Danny and Ray, but they're not very important to this story. They sat down at the table across from me. I was so nervous, I didn't know what to do, I didn't know what to say. A few seconds past and I realized I hadn't said anything, so I laughed nervously then said the first thing that came to mind.
"How's your face?" How's your face, really? That was the first thing I was going to say to him, how's your face? I looked down in embarrassment, but he just laughed it off and said his face was fine. Apparently I was wearing a Harry Potter shirt that day, the day of the snowball fight, so we sat there and talked about Harry Potter for the entire lunch. I never really liked that shirt all that much, I never even really liked Harry Potter all that much, but from that day forward that was my favorite shirt, and Harry Potter was my favorite book and movie series. I remember I read every book twice that year and watched every movie at least ten times. I became religious about Harry Potter, well, maybe I was more religious about Peter.
The next two years, in middle school, Peter and I were always together. We ate lunch together everyday, we hung out everyday after school. We went to movies, we walked around parks, we sat and watched TV, it was amazing. But, even after always being together, he never made a move. Not even once. It was like I was just another "one of the bros." I put that in quotations because he would literally call me "one of the bros." So, I thought I had to make a change. I had to make it obvious that I wasn't just another one of the bros. So that summer, after eighth grade, I went to the gym everyday and went on a diet that my mom had been suggesting I go on for years now. By the end of the summer, I have to admit it, I was looking hot. I would deliberately walk back and forth between my bedroom and living room, just so I could catch my reflection in the mirror. I was going to make Peter mine.
Homecoming dance was coming up, our freshman year in high school, and I would continuously mention how I was still dateless, hoping that he would take a damn hint. I kept getting asked by all of these freshman boys who would gawk at me in my volleyball spandex to the dance, but I told them all I already had a date. I felt bad lying to all of these guys, and I felt so flattered to be wanted by all of them, but all I wanted was Peter. Finally, with only about a week to go, Peter casually turned to me one night while we were watching a movie at his house and said, "So, you still don't have a date to Homecoming, right? We should just go together." It wasn't exactly the romantic gesture that I was hoping before, but I would take it.
I spent hours getting ready that night. I slid into the tightest dress that I could find, one that would really show off my ass, and did my hair four different ways before I was finally satisfied with one look. My mom brought out one of her favorite pair of heels and handed them to me. They were tall heels though and I knew that they would make me taller than Peter, so I told her no. After a thirty minute argument I found myself wearing the heels. I also found out that my mascara worked flawlessly, as the tears didn't make it run at all.
When Peter picked me up that night, my breath was taken away. He looked so incredibly sexy in his white shirt, slacks, and red and blue striped tie. Tonight is my night, I could feel it. When we got to the dance, I dragged him to the middle of the dance floor. I looked around and saw that everybody was grinding, so I turned around and started to grind on him. I won't go into any details, but I have a feeling that he was enjoying himself. I just...had a feeling. Wink. After a couple hours of that, the DJ, bless his soul, finally played a slow jam. Linger by the Cranberries, my new favorite song. I turned around and wrapped my arms around his neck. I noticed that a lot of the dance floor had thinned out, most kids at that age only want to grind, they didn't want to slow dance, but I wanted nothing more than to slow dance. We stared intensely into each other's eyes the entire song. My heart was racing out of control, I was afraid he was going to see it through my dress. I knew that was foolish, but I had never experienced my heart racing this fast before, I had no idea what could happen. Kiss me, kiss me, kiss me, kiss me. I repeated this in my head the entire song, but apparently he couldn't hear me. The song comes to an end and the dance floor clears out, but I wasn't ready to let go of him quite yet, so I keep my arms wrapped around his neck, him keeping his arms around my waist. Kiss me, dammit, just freaking kiss me already. I smile up at him and he smiles back at me. JUST FUCKING KISS ME!
"Hey, uh, Peter, Emily, we gotta go. The dance is over." Danny, dumb cock blocking Danny, says to us as he wraps his arm around Peter's shoulders. I feel his grip loosen around my waist, so I loosen mine from around his neck.
I guess it's just not meant to be.
After the dance we went to some party and had a few drinks, he was flirting with other girls the whole night and went back to punching my arm and calling me "bro." I cried myself to sleep that night.
I was pretty sad for the next couple weeks, I was finally coming to terms that Peter and I were never going to be a thing. He obviously wasn't in to me. Even after the dramatic body change, he still didn't see me as anything more than another one of the bros. I started dating the running back on the football team, his name was Justin, in hopes that it would make Peter jealous. He didn't seem to care. The entire time I was with Justin, almost three years, all I ever wanted was Peter. Just say something Peter, anything, and I am yours. But he never did.
Once Justin went off to college I received a text from him, "Hey babe, so I think we should like, not be together anymore. You understand, right? But this was fun." I didn't even reply to the text, instead I called Peter and he said he was coming over to comfort me. When he pulled up to the house, I ran out and before I even sat down I began to cry. I was crying for so many reasons, obviously one of them was because of Justin, I was with him for three years and he broke up with me over a text? What an asshole. But I was also crying because I knew I would never be with Peter. I was crying because this moment, in my most vulnerable stage, was the greatest feeling I had ever had. For two hours, Peter just sat there, rubbing my back, wiping away my tears, keeping the hair out of my mouth. He didn't say anything, but he didn't have to. I have never felt so comforted in my life. After about ten minutes, I no longer felt sad, but I was so in love with the moment we were having that I forced myself to continue to cry.
That next summer, I got back together with Justin. It wasn't because I had missed him, it wasn't because I had low confidence, it was because I knew he would dump me at the end of summer and that would mean another crying session in Peter's car. I needed another crying session in Peter's car. And, as I predicted, that moment came the day that Justin went back to college. I called Peter, he drove over, I cried, he comforted. What I wouldn't do to have that moment repeated right now.
At the end of that school year, our senior year, prom was quickly approaching. I refused every person that asked me to prom that year, it had to be Peter, it just had to be. I prayed every morning and every night and every passing moment until God finally gave me what I asked for.
Peter picked me that night at 6 PM. The look he gave me when I opened the door made me the happiest I have ever been.
"Oh my god, you look amazing, Em." My heart stopped for a moment.
"Thank you, you look very handsome yourself, Petey. But come here, let me straighten up your tie." Girls are always fixing guys ties in the movies.
We piled into the limo, filled with a bunch of my volleyball teammates and their dates, but the only person on the limo I cared about was Peter. This was my last chance to make our relationship change. This was senior prom for crying out loud, the most romantic night in a high schooler's life, there is no way that he doesn't at least kiss me tonight. We begin our drive to dinner and somebody plays their burned CD over the loudspeaker. Somebody snuck on a bunch of champagne bottles and begins to hand them out, one per person. We pop the corks and the night is off.
As I get halfway through my bottle I begin to do my "drunk dance," Peter is the one who gave it that name. He always laughs and says he loves that dance, so I continue to do it. I know it looks silly, I would never do it if he didn't like it so much, but he does, so I do it. The dance starts with me throwing my head back and closing my eyes, I then wiggle my arms up and down. I can feel his eyes on me. Then, as if God was reaching down and telling me You got this, Linger by the Cranberries came on over the loudspeaker. This is our song. This is my moment. I look over at him and he is already smiling down at me. His eyes are a little glossy, they always get glossy when he starts drinking. His cheeks a little rosy, as well. I smile back at him and we just stare at each other for a few seconds. Then, oh my god, I feel his hand grab mine and I grab it tightly. I am never going to let this hand go. My heart is racing like it did that night. This is the moment. I can feel it. I begin to lean in towards him, he leans in towards me. My heart is racing, I feel like it is going to explode. Don't give up on me now heart, this is our moment, do not ruin it. You can have your heart attack tomorrow, but not tonight. Let me have tonight, that's all I ask. We continue to lean in towards each other slowly. Our lips are so close, I can feel his breath on my lips. And then, as if the devil backhanded me across the face, the limo comes to a stop. Everyone in the limo begins to stand up, somebody bumps into Peter and knocks him off track. Shit shit shit shit shit shit shit! Everybody continues to pile out and I look up at him with a small, forced smile and a shrug. We never did end up finishing that lean.
Now I sit here in my dorm room staring at my photo collage of Peter and I. Photos from Homecoming and prom, photos from casual hang outs, his senior photos. I have other people in the collage, like family and other friends, but tonight, and every night, I only focus on the photos with Peter. We have been apart for this entire semester and it is heartbreaking. I thought that this distance would be good for me, that I would finally be able to meet somebody else and move on from Peter. From freaking Peter. But, the thing is, I don't want to move on. Peter is all I want. He is all I will ever want. He is my motivation and my inspiration. He is so much more than just my best friend. I feel so empty and lonely and blah without him here in my life. I don't even want to get out of bed in the morning, because I just don't see the point. I know even if I get out of bed and go on with my day I still won't get to see him. And what's even the point? I want to tell him this, I want to tell him all of this, but I'm afraid that I will lose him as a friend. And I cannot afford to lose him from my life.
I guess I'll just continue to pray and hope something changes.
Click here for Peter's Perspective.
Click here for Emily's perspective.
Growing up I always heard the phrase, "Girls and guys can never be just friends," and until very recently, I thought this was absolutely absurd. Of course I can still be friends with a girl without one of us gaining feelings. My go to example has always been my best friend Emily. We have been best friends for nearly seven years now and, until recently, the feelings were nothing more than just friends. Well, as I sit here staring at this letter that I have written to her, I am starting to be a firm believer of that old saying. Girls and guys can never be just friends.
To explain our relationship I will start it at the beginning, seven years ago. I don't remember the exact date, but I know it was winter time. We both went to the same elementary school, but we never had classes together, not yet at least. It was recess time and the night before we had our school grounds flooded with fresh snow, so, naturally, we started a school wide snowball fight. My two buddies, Danny and Ray, and I built a bunker where we hid as we built our ammunition. We built snowball after snowball and stacked them up as high as we could and as fast as we could.
As I worked on another glorious snowball, I felt a sudden coldness on the back of my head and sliding down my back. I had been pelted by a snowball. I turn around to find the culprit, that was a bad idea. As I turn I get pelted in the face with another, incredibly cold, snowball. I wipe the snow out of my eyes just in time to see another one flying towards me, I quickly maneuver away from the snowball and spot my new enemy of war. It was a short, kind of chubby brunette girl that I didn't recognize. She wore a Harry Potter shirt, Ravenclaw logo in the corner with a large picture of Luna Lovegood. I was a huge Harry Potter geek at that time and I felt sinful about going to war with another Harry Potter fan, but that guilt quickly went away once she flung another snowball at me. I dive out of the way and towards my ammunition. I begin to throw snowball after snowball towards her and she does the same towards me. Eventually the air between us was nothing more than flying snow, all I saw was white. Then, all of a sudden, out of the whiteness, all I see is a blur right in front of me and then feel myself fall back into the snow, knocking down a part of our bunker, which I kind of forgot was there and I felt like an idiot that I wasn't using it for protection.
I look up to see Luna Lovegood's face and my enemy laughing above her. She takes a pile of snow and rubs it into my face, I don't think I have ever been so cold in my life. The sound of the school bell going off is barely loud enough for me to hear over my own shivers. Recess was over. The girl stands up off of me and begins to run back to her classroom. I laid there, confused about what just happened, and look over to see that Danny and Ray had already left for class, as well. I was alone in the snow.
It wasn't until later that week that I found out who that Luna Lovegood fan was, it was Emily, but I'm sure you were able to figure that out. I saw her sitting alone in the cafeteria, so Danny, Ray, and I went over to sit with her. She was eating a peanut butter sandwich with the crust cut off, a bag of Doritos, and an apple. I sat down with a brown bagged lunch of my own. She looked up at me and, after a few seconds, remembered about our snowball fight and began to giggle.
"How's your face?" She said with a mouthful of Doritos and lets out another chuckle, a few bits of Doritos flying towards my face and landing on my shirt. Those were the first words that she ever said to me, a taunting how's your face? and then hit me, again in the face, but this time with Doritos. We ended up having lunch together every single day for the next five years, up until this year when we went off to different colleges.
Freshman year of high school our Homecoming dance was coming up and I had no idea who to ask. Luckily, Emily was also dateless, so we decided that we would go together. As friends, of course, nothing more. I picked her up the night of the dance around 6 PM, she was wearing an incredibly gorgeous pink dress that went down to her feet, but not low enough to cover up her sparkly, white high heels that made her ever so slightly taller than me. Freshman year was the beginning of Emily's transformation. The summer going into high school she lost her few baby pounds and decided to try out for the volleyball team. Even at that time I enjoyed watching her jump around in her tight uniform and spandex shorts, but I never thought of her as more than a friend. Just a friend who happened to be getting very attractive. And she was looking incredibly attractive at the Homecoming dance.
Our group was small that year, just Emily and I, Danny and his date, and Ray and his date. The four of us, Emily, Danny, Ray, and I, were still extremely good friends at the time. But, unfortunately, Danny and Ray would soon become strangers to us, but that part of the story isn't very important. We went out to dinner before the Homecoming dance at a local restaurant that I knew Emily loved. I remember gazing into her eyes as she took a small bite of her chicken Alfredo pasta and feeling my heart skip a beat. The glimmering of her green eyes and the slight redness of her cheeks as she was embarrassed that I was watching her eat was so perfect. I loved her, I just didn't know it yet.
That night at the dance we grinded for quite some time, as you do at high school dances, but towards the end of the night a slow jam came on. The Cranberries "Linger" played loudly through our school's gymnasium as I wrapped my arms around Emily's waist, her arms wrapping around my neck. We slowly moved back and forth, staring into each other's eyes with small smiles on our faces. The light hit her eyes perfectly so that I could see every shade of green. You know I'm such a fool for you. I felt this urge to lean in and kiss her, I wanted to hold her tightly against my body, eyes closed and kiss her as the music faded away and my head was filled with nothing but thoughts of her. I saw her bite her lips slightly and felt my knees weaken. You've got me wrapped around your finger, ah, ha, ha. I continue to stare deeply into her eyes, as we continue to move back and forth, back and forth, back and forth, until the song stops, and the dance floor slowly empties. We still hold each other in our arms, never breaking eye contact. She smiles up at me, I smile back down at her.
"Hey, uh, Peter, Emily, we gotta go. The dance is over." Danny puts his arms around my shoulders, just above the arms of Emily. I shake out of it and loosen my grip around Emily and she does the same.
"Sorry, I thought there was gonna be another song or something." I say, trying to justify why Emily and I remained in the middle of the empty dance floor.
After the dance we went to a small party that some upperclassmen were throwing. Emily and I had a few drinks, and it seemed like everything had gone back to normal, the way that it had always been, the way that I shouldn't have allowed to be.
A few weeks after the dance, Emily got her first boyfriend, Justin, starting running back on the varsity football team. She dated him for nearly the next three years, until half way through his freshman year in college where he found an older, college girlfriend. I'll never forget the night that he sent that text, "Hey babe, so I think we should like, not be together anymore. You understand, right? Cool. But this was fun." What kind of asshole sends this text to a girl like Emily? It made me sick. She called me as soon as she got it, around 1 in the morning on a Wednesday, well technically a Thursday. I drove to her house and she came out to my car and, as soon as she sat down in my passenger seat, began crying and crying and crying. I didn't know what to say, so I sat there in silence for two hours, rubbing my hand on her back, wiping the tears from her face, and brushing the hair out of mouth. I made a vow to myself that night, I will never make this girl cry, and I will do anything in my power to make sure nobody else ever makes her feel like this again.
That summer, the end of our junior year, Emily got back together with Justin. I said nothing, she wasn't mine to control. So I sat in the background, praying that she wouldn't get hurt, but unfortunately knowing she eventually would. I many times contemplated walking up to Justin's front door and kicking the shit out of him. But then my common sense told me that my 150 pound body probably couldn't do much damage to his 220, 6' 3" frame. So I sat there, waiting to comfort her when she needed it. And, when Justin left to go back to his Sophomore year of college, my phone rang. I got into my car and drove to her and repeated what we had done only a few months prior. I wiped her tears and rubbed her back.
The end of our senior year was approaching and so was prom. I had this feeling in my gut that told me I needed to end my high school career with Emily. My first dance was with her and my last dance should also be with her. At this point I was head over heels in love with this girl, she was my everything. She was the reason that I woke up in the morning and the reason I pushed myself so hard to be the man that I was becoming. She was my inspiration and my angel. Yet I still had no idea that I felt this way, how could I be so oblivious? Luckily, I had at least the desire to ask her to prom, which I did.
I picked her up again at 6 PM. I think that I died for a few seconds when Emily opened up her front door that night. She opened it up to expose her and her flowy white dress that ended right above the knees. Her legs had an angelic sparkle to them as they reached down towards her high heels filled with fake diamonds. Fortunately, I had grown at this point and, even with the high heels, she was still a few inches shorter than me. She smiled her sparkly white teeth at me and I fell down to one knee; she made my knees so weak that my right knee literally gave out. I quickly thought of a way to save myself and decided to retie my already tied left shoe, then stood back up.
"Oh my god, you look amazing, Em."
"Thank you, you look very handsome yourself, Petey. But come here, let me straighten up your tie." She leans towards me and adjusts my tie. I get a whiff of her perfume and feel my knees weaken again, but this time I fight enough to remain standing. And I still had no idea I was in love with her. I am such an idiot.
Being our senior year, we decided to go all out for prom, so we got our group a limo. This years group consisted of 14 of us in total, mostly Emily's friends from volleyball, Danny and Ray were long gone by this point. One of the girls in our group had burned a CD for the night and put it in as soon as we closed the door. We then started to pop the champagne, somebody was sly enough to sneak them past all of the parents, and we started drinking. The first song plays and ends, the second song plays and ends, and the CD continues. We continue drinking. We were taking the limo to a town about an hour and a half away for dinner, mostly for an excuse to need the limo. As some time goes by I am feeling a little more than buzzed, Emily is beginning to do her drunk dance that is mostly just her throwing her head back with closed eyes and wiggling her arms. I always loved that dance. It hasn't always been an exclusively drunk dance, she used to do it all the time years ago. But as we got older, she realized just how silly it was and stopped doing it, but with alcohol in her system she didn't seem to care about silliness.
The current song comes to an end and there is a slight pause in between songs, and then on came "Linger." If you, if you could return, don't let it burn, don't let it fade. I turn to look at Emily and she is looking up at me with a smile as she continues to wiggle her arms around. My heartbeat increases so much so that it feels like it is trying to escape my chest. All this time she could make my heart stop and then make my heart beat so fast that it nearly explodes, and I never knew I loved her.
I reach my hand over to grab hers, I didn't even think about it, it just naturally happened. It was as if my heart was saying, if you aren't gonna do it, then we're gonna do it ourselves. Alright hand, let's do this. She gives my hand a slight pinch and then smiles bigger at me. Holy shit, are we about to kiss? No, Emily and I wouldn't kiss. She's my best friend, she's like a sister to me, isn't she? I can't kiss her. That would just make everything so weird...wouldn't it? Oh my god, I'm leaning in towards her. What is happening?? Is she leaning in towards me, too? Holy shit. We are getting kind of close now, is this really happening? My heart is beating faster and faster as I lean in closer and closer. Our lips are only inches from each other when the limo comes to a stop and everybody begins to stand up. The person next to me bumps into me and knocks me further away from Emily. I look up to see everybody is standing up and pushing towards the front of the limo, I look at Emily and she shrugs towards me and stands up to exit. We never got another chance to finish that leaning moment.
Now I sit here in my dorm room with a pen in my hand and a piece of paper in front of me addressed towards Emily. It has been a rough first semester for me here at university, it's the first time I've ever been this far away from her. My friends tell me that I'm just homesick, everybody gets homesick their freshman year of college, but I know for a fact that I am not just homesick. I am Emilysick. I need her, I cannot live without her, and it has taken me almost seven years to realize that that is true. I feel so foolish for not seeing it earlier, it was so obvious. It was all so obvious. But I missed the signs that my heart was always giving me. Fool.
I have no idea how Emily feels about me, we haven't really talked much since we have gone away for college. For all I know she is having the time of her life with the man of her dreams, not evening thinking about me. But all I know for a fact is that I cannot stop thinking about her and I need to do something. I must do something. And the best thing I can think of is writing her a letter, an opportunity for me to gather all of my thoughts and say what I truly feel. I've never been good at saying how I feel in normal conversation. I get all nervous and leave out large chunks of what I want to say, so, to me, a letter sounds like the best idea.
I know that we haven't talked much this semester, but I have been thinking a lot about you. School is going well, my roommates are a little messy, but it's okay. Moving away from home is such a strange feeling, I don't think I'm dealing with it very well. I've spent the last couple months really trying to figure out why this move has been so difficult for me and I think I have finally figured it out. It's you. It's the fact that I don't have you by my side 24/7. It's the fact that you are not a 5 minute drive away. It's the fact that I don't get to see your smile every single day. It's the fact that I don't get to hear your laugh and watch you as you gaze into space while you daydream about who knows what. It's the fact that I am madly in love with you and have never said anything about it. To be honest, I didn't even know it myself until recently. I thought you were just my best friend, but now I realize that you are much more than just my best friend. You are my everything. You are my inspiration and my motivation. You make me want to be a better person. Without you here in my life, I feel empty. I feel this gaping hole in my chest. I can't even get myself out of bed, because I know even once I'm out of bed I still won't get to see you. I'm not sure if writing a letter is the best way to confess my feelings, but it's the best way that I know how. I hope this doesn't ruin our friendship or anything, because you mean the world to me. You will always mean the world to me. After all, you are my world. You are the only thing that matters to me.
Click here for Emily's perspective.
It's not that I enjoy being an asshole, it's just who I am. I am an asshole. The asshole-ery that is me just rolls off the tip of my tongue so naturally. It's like my asshole-ery is always just sitting there, waiting, and then when somebody says or does something just absolutely and undeniably idiotic, and somebody is always doing something idiotic, my tongue strikes at the opportunity. And then it joyfully slithers back into my mouth, and leaves me to explain why I just said just an asshole-ery thing.
There was this one I was on a date with this gorgeous creation of God. Her long, brunette hair dropped low, like my eyes always would, down to her rumptious ass. She had these large, green eyes that made the Northern Lights envious. I think God knew He would have to give her beautiful eyes to get my eyes from looking down at her glorious chest. Sorry, like I said, I'm kind of an asshole. But it's not my fault. Fuck, where was I even going with this?...Oh, right. So it was our third date, maybe it was our fourth...that part of the story isn't important. So, we were on this date, I took her out to her favorite restaurant. It was someplace called Natural And Fresh, I had never been there so I didn't know what to expect. I should have been able to fucking guess from the name that it was going to be horrible, but I'm also an idiot at times, so I didn't think about it.
Anyway, we walk into this restaurant and got sat in a booth towards the back. I pick up the menu to look at my options, again this is the first time I have been to this particular establishment, and I see in big, bold letters, "WE ARE PROUD TO SAY THAT EVERYTHING ON OUR MENU IS ORGANIC AND VEGAN." Organic and fucking vegan?? Are you kidding me. I reread this horrific statement over and over and over again. This is going to be a bad night, I think to myself. I need to do something immediately.
"I need to go to the bathroom," I awkwardly, and apparently loudly, blurt out. Half of the restaurant turn to stare at me and my date, the guys eyes linger a bit longer than the girls once they see my dates very large and beautiful...eyes.
"Is everything okay?" My date, let's just called her Margaret. Actually that's a horrible fucking name, let's call her Daisy. Yeah. So, anyway, that's what Daisy said back to me, in a voice of concern.
"Oh, yeah, everything is fine. I don't know why I yelled... I saw this menu written in it's big, bold letters, and thought maybe we all had to talk like that since we're here."
Daisy let's out a laugh and a snort at that one, guess she bought that excuse. Also, I'm fucking hilarious. I stand up and walk quickly to the bathroom. I throw the door open and check the stalls to see if anybody is in the bathroom, I see one stall is taken. So I patiently sit there and wait for him to leave. When he is still in there two minutes later, I knock loudly on his door and yell, "Get the fuck out! This place is on fire! The fire alarm is broken, so it is my job to get everyb-" I didn't even need to finish my dumb ass story, he threw the stall door open so hard that it nearly flew off of it's hinges and ran out of the bathroom with his pants still wrapped around his ankles. I locked the door behind him and walked quickly to the mirror.
"Listen, you little asshole tongue, you better not fuck my date up tonight. I really like this girl."
"Of course you like this girl, have you seen her fucking tits?"
"That's not the reason I like her, you piece of shit, I like her for her personality. She is so sweet and so pure. The hope and love she has for this world continues to- okay fine, yes, I like her tits. So what? Just don't say anything that's going to ruin my date with her. Okay?"
"No, fuck you!"
There is a knock on the bathroom door and the man from earlier yells, "There's no fire out here! Can I get back in?"
"One second!" I turn back to the mirror and say softly, "Please, don't fuck this up for me." I go and open the door back up, for some reason his pants are still around his ankle. He sees me staring at his pants.
"I figured I was just gonna take them off again, so I didn't bother pulling them back up." I don't respond, instead I just walk past him and back to the table where Daisy sits. Goddamn, she is beautiful. I sit back down and she looks up to me with a smile. I pick up the menu and flip it open, instantly the anger comes back to me once I reread, "WE ARE PROUD TO SAY THAT EVERYTHING ON OUR MENU IS ORGANIC AND VEGAN."
I feel my tongue getting slimy. Oh, shit. Before I could do anything to stop it, I feel my tongue vomit the next couple of sentences into the air. I try to catch them before they reach Daisy, but to no avail.
"This restaurant fucking sucks. Vegan this, vegan that. What kind of person says this is their favorite fucking restaurant, I mean really? It's all vegan bullshit." I look up to see Daisy's eyes filling with anger, beyond her I see the rest of the restaurant has turned and stared at us once more. Shit.
I think it goes without saying that that was our last date. In fact, the date ended right then and there. Well, actually my asshole-ery was encored by her yelling at me for a solid five minutes. It was terrifying. Calling me a dick, an asshole, scum, and other things that I have tried to block out of my memory. But, the point of that story was that my asshole-ery tongue is out of my control. And it affects my life as much, if not more, than it affects your precious lives. You guys hear me be an asshole one time, maybe twice, then you have the option to leave forever and never speak to me again. But I don't have that choice. I have to live with this fucking thing for the rest of my life.
I've become pretty good friends with walls. I've become friends with couches that hide in the shadows. I've become friends with the back of heads—only daring to study their fronts from a distance. It's not that I'm antisocial or shy or think that I'm too good to socialize with other people. It's not that. It's more that I don't really fit in with these people. I fit in much better with the flowery wallpaper or the sinking couch cushions or the lingering shadows. They understand me, unlike the people that crowd this small room I am currently in.
Like the walls and the couches, I feel more comfortable as an observer, rather than a contributor. I love listening to the interesting stories that people are always sharing. I love watching people's reactions to their surroundings. I love watching their faces light up when they see their friend walk through the front door. It's fascinating, unlike myself.
I am a seventeen-year-old nobody. My mother likes to tell me that I'm special, but her eyes tell me that not even she believes her words. I'm a nobody and I'm fine with it. Honestly.
I wasn't really invited to this party, at Sarah Hymer's house, but I overheard her as she invited a couple people in class and thought I would stop by. I slipped in unnoticed and immediately made my way to the back corner of the house, it seemed to be the most dim. I'm not really sure what people think of me when they see me sitting in this folding chair that I brought from home, all alone, in the darkness of Sarah's house, but something tells me they haven't even noticed my presence. Which is exactly what I want. Again, it's not that I’m antisocial, it's just conversations go better when I don't partake in them.
I scan the room for interesting groups talking about interesting things. A couple girls talk about the homecoming dance coming up and they wonder who is going to ask them. Some guys talk about the football game that just happened tonight and about how big of a dick their coach was at practice this week. Jeremy did a road trip last weekend down to Disneyland. They waited two hours in line for Space Mountain and then right when they got to the front, the ride broke down. They sat there for another thirty minutes before a worker finally came out and offered them vouchers for a free snack at the snack bar and a front of the line pass for when the ride is back up. On his way to get his free funnel cake, he saw Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson walk by. Apparently he had a couple bodyguards with him, even though he was way bigger than they were. It was crazy. Plus, when he went to get his funnel cake, they messed up the order and accidentally put strawberries on top, when he didn't ask for strawberries. So they let him keep it and then gave another one. Two free funnel cakes! Plus, he didn't tell the workers this, he loves strawberries! It's his favorite fruit. Unfortunately, he spent so much time getting his funnel cakes and stalking The Rock, that he never got to ride Space Mountain.
I don't take these vicarious experiences as a substitute for living my own. No. I've been to Disneyland. A couple times, actually. I rode all the rides, I threw my hands up in the air as the roller coasters plummeted towards the ground, I posed for the Splash Mountain photo, I did it all. But that doesn't mean I can't take others experiences, too. I mean, after all, isn't that the entire point of storytelling, to share stories? To share lives?
There are so many experiences to be heard at Sarah's tonight, so many lives to be shared, so many lessons to be learned. I scan the room some more, looking for more experiences I can gather. The room is very loud with storytelling. That's another reason I glue myself to the walls at parties like this. There is so much going on, I don't want to restrict myself to just one group. To just want one thing. As I rest my back against this chair, I am able to put myself into any situation I desire. Place myself within any group.
This guy Robert from my algebra class has been hitting on this blonde girl that I don't recognize for a while now. She's starting to look uncomfortable, she's looking around for the friend that she came with, but she isn't in the room. Maybe she's in the kitchen getting a drink. Or maybe with Albert, I saw her talking to Albert earlier. They were bonding over the fact that their parents both rode horses as kids, weird thing to bond over, but I guess a bond is a bond. I should probably walk over and get her out of the situation. I slide my chair along the wall towards the corner of the room they are in. She's resting her back against the wall and he is leaning in towards her, with his hand against the wall beside her head to help him balance. But also to trap her in. They are really close to the corner, so I'm only a couple feet away from them, but I'm not sure they see me. No matter how close I get, nobody ever seems to see me. I set my chair down and listen in as I think of a way to help.
"Your eyes are seriously so blue, like how are they so blue?" Robert says in a voice I've never heard from him before, it reminds me of this one time when I was surfing down in Hawaii. It was a huge swell, I mentioned that I'm semi-pro, right? If not, I'm semi-pro. Anyway, your eyes are bluer than the ocean was that day, baby."
She laughs an uncomfortable laugh.
"So what do you say we-"
I was leaning in to listen to the conversation and accidentally slipped off my chair, this apparently distracted Robert from his question.
"Can I help you?"
"Oh, uh," I didn't know what to say. "No. I'm okay."
"What are you doing over here, then? Can't you see I'm talking to beautiful..."
"It's Lizzy," the blonde girl, or uh I guess Lizzy, let's out in a sassy tone.
"I know your name, cutie. I just-" Robert doesn't bother finishing his thought to Lizzy. Instead, he turns back to me. "What are you still doing here?"
This is why I don't like getting involved with people and their conversations. Before I was standing here, we were hearing Robert's cool stories about being a professional surfer in Hawaii. Now it's just filled with awkward silences and people staring at me like I'm some weirdo. This is why I stick to walls. This is why I don't intervene. This is why I live in shadows. This is why I don’t speak!
Without saying another word, I pick up my chair and move across the room to a new position. I set my chair down next to one of those plastic trees and scan for new stories. Kelsey is talking about her trip to Europe again. At this point I think I've heard every story she has to tell about Europe. It was mostly just drinking and hooking up with random Europeans.
To Kelsey's left, Amber is complaining about her boyfriend again to her friend Eric. She always seems to be complaining to Eric, I've never seen her complain to anybody else. She talks about how her boyfriend cheated on her again or how he made her pay for their bill at Red Lobster or how he won't even hold her hand in public anymore. Eric always seems to be very supportive. It's sad, though. When Eric isn't busy listening to Amber complain, he is over talking to Andrea about how much he likes Amber and hates seeing her upset. He says he wishes she would see him as more than just a friend to complain to. He says he could be the best boyfriend to her, but she won't give him a chance. Andrea then turns to one of her guy friends and complains about how Eric complains about Amber complaining. Andrea says she is the best girl for Eric, but he won't give her a chance. Yet, somehow, none of them know about how one has feelings for the other. Sometimes I wonder what would happen if one of them just told the other how they felt. Maybe all the complaining would stop. But what do I know? I’m just a boy hanging out by the wall in a chair that he brought from home.
I look down at my watch and see that it is 12:38, I'm sure the party will start winding down soon. Only so much more time for stories. At this time, it is much harder to find anything of substance. Most of the stories are being slurred and make no sense. I fold up my chair and begin to walk around the party, slowly. I hear one guy yelling about how drunk he is, a group of girls yelling "SHOTS, BITCHES," a couple makes out on the couch. Nothing. I hear nothing.
All of a sudden, the front door flings open and a woman, I'm assuming Sarah's mother, yells, "What the fuck is going on in here? Sarah, you sonofa-, get your ass over here." The room quiets down, the couple on the couch stops making out, instead they're just lying there in each other's arms. Honestly, I think that is more awkward than if they just continued to make out. Sarah's mother begins to slither through the room, yelling out Sarah's name. The partygoers slowly slip past Sarah's mother and begin to flood her front yard. I remain in the corner.
"Sarah!....Sarah!!...." Finally Sarah comes running into the room with messy hair and her shorts unbuttoned. A guy comes walking in slowly behind her, slips past her, and speed walks out the front door with his head down.
"Mom, uh, what are you doing here? I thought you weren't coming home until tomorrow night.... Where's Dave?"
I have no idea who Dave is, but that name seems to trigger a reaction from Sarah's mother. The anger drops from her face and is replaced with deep sadness. She sulks down onto the couch that is no longer occupied by the couple, and drops her head into her hands and begins to cry. Sarah comes and sits down next to her mother and puts her arm around her.
"Mom, what happened?" I feel like I shouldn't be here anymore. Yet I can’t convince myself to get up. One more story, I tell myself, just one more.
"He was fucking his fucking secretary!" Yup, I definitely shouldn't be here anymore.
Unnoticed, I walk through the living room and out the front door, as Sarah's mother begins to tell the details of Dave's betrayal. I walk out to the front yard where most of the kids are still waiting for rides home. There are a few groups scattered around the lawn, continuing their loud, drunk conversations. Another group takes claim of the driveway, a couple others share the street. I walk over to the curb in front of the house, open up my chair, and sit down. I sit there for a few minutes and watch as the kids slowly get picked up, one at a time.
Eventually, it is just me sitting alone in the front yard. I turn around to see the lights have gone out in Sarah's house. I stand up, throw the chair over my shoulder, and begin my walk home.
The school bell echoes throughout the university as students scurry late into their classes. In one classroom, David Kyne, age 19, sits front and center as his classmates hurry for their seats in the back.
David is dressed in his nicest, yet ripped, black sweats and wears one of his few, also ripped, white tee shirts. His beard is thick and unkept, covering up most of his face and neck. His green eyes look eager, yet exhausted as he awaits the arrival of his professor. He has his notebook, which is filled cover to cover, lying in front of him on the desk. He has had to resort to writing in the margins and in between the lines of other notes just to fit in everything, as a result the pages are beginning to look solid blue. He anxiously taps his pen on the table as he avoids the magnitude of conversations going on around him.
Finally, the teacher arrives and the lecture begins.
The professor dismisses the class a few minutes early and the classroom goes up in a flurry as every student darts towards the door. Even the professor missiles out through the backdoor. David slowly goes over his notes from the day, making some edits where he sees necessary.
After he is satisfied, he places the notebook and pen inside of his dirty backpack and leaves the classroom.
David walks through a busy downtown street. It's a big city, a concrete city. Their downtown is filled with skyscrapers and large business for miles and miles in every direction.
David walks, with his head down, until he reaches the near end of a street and sits down against a shaded wall. He reaches into his backpack and pulls out a rusted tin can that he places in front of him. He digs back into his backpack and pulls out a sign that reads, "College student. Hungry. Anything helps. God bless." and places it on his lap.
David reaches back into his backpack and pulls out his notebook and begins to read it from front to back. He has trained his mind to know which line is for which class, but to an untrained eye it just looks like a bunch of jumbled nonsense. He reads through his notes from calculus to business finance to biology. A few quarters and dimes have been tossed into David's tin can, David looks up and gives them a smiling nod.
After about fifteen minutes of sitting against this wall, a couple teenagers turn the corner and begin towards David's direction. There are three of them, they look to be around thirteen years old. They wear their saggy pants and American Eagle tee shirts, like all middle schoolers do and then later regret.
As they get closer to David, the fat one lets out a, "Hey bum! Why don't you get a job? Fuckin' lazy ass!"
Then one of his sidekicks, cleverly echoes with, "Yeah! Get a job, lazy ass!"
The other sidekick isn't as clever, so he just lets out a simple, yet obnoxious laugh. The three of them continue down the street as they high five each other and celebrate like they just won the world series.
David never even looked up from his notebook as they jeered him, but when they are gone he sets his notebook down onto his lap. His eyes slowly water up as he looks down at the ground that he calls his home. He lowers his hand onto the hard, cold concrete and gently rubs the concrete that he will be sleeping on tonight. He sits there, frozen for a moment, then wipes his eyes and picks his notebook back up. He goes back to reading.
A couple hours pass, his tin can now holds twenty-seven dollars and some change. David has already read through his notebook twice and is about to start round three when he sees a man in a navy blue suit walking towards him. He gets closer to David as David looks up at him. He is a well dressed man, clean shaved. He is wearing a Rolex on his wrist and expensive glasses on his face, even though the sun set over an hour ago. On his side he holds a backpack. Then man doesn't look at David at all, just stares straight ahead.
As the man approaches, David pulls the money from the tin can and puts it into his pocket. He places the can, sign, and notebook into his backpack. He digs into the bag and pulls out a yellow, fully stuffed envelope. He then zips up the backpack.
As the man walks past, he drops the backpack onto David's side and takes the envelope from David's hand. He then continues walking down the street like nothing happened. David looks into the side pouch of the backpack and pulls out a 100 dollar bill. He puts it into his pocket with the other twenty-seven dollars then picks up both backpacks, stands up, and leaves.
Later that night, after the city has been asleep for hours, David begins his way up a shaky apartment fire-escape. On his back he wears the backpack he received from the man downtown, along with his own backpack smashed underneath it. David is wearing the same black sweats as earlier, along with the white tee shirt, a black sweatshirt, and a black beanie. He is speedy up the ladder.
When David reaches the top of the building he walks over to the far corner of the roof. He pulls a panel off of the wall and grabs the envelope from inside and places it in his own backpack. He then places the other backpack into the hole and puts the panel back over it.
David begins his decline back down the fire-escape. He is about two-thirds of the way down when he hears a loud, "Freeze!" But David didn't freeze.
Instead, he quickly thrusts his feet forward into the window in front of him into an unknown home. He jumps into a living room filled with a family watching television. The kids let out a scream, but David is out the front door before the family can react anymore than that.
David finds himself in an empty sixth floor corridor. He looks around quickly, then darts towards the end of the hall. He finds the stairs and begins up them. He hears footsteps from a few levels below him, but their footsteps are much slower than David's.
As David speeds up towards the roof, he hears many shouts of, "Stop immediately or we will shoot!" and "We need backup!" and "He's headed towards the roof!" David doesn't quiver at all as he continues his incline.
When David reaches the top of the staircase, he opens up the door onto the roof. He listens to the footsteps and screams from below and knows they are coming from exactly six levels below. He looks around for his next move. He hears cops climbing up the fire-escape, also screaming threats at him. The sirens from cop cars below are lighting up the buildings around them. He grins.
David begins to sprint towards the edge of the building and leaps into the air. He lands onto another building top. He continues from landing to sprinting without losing even an ounce of momentum and jumps onto the next building. From this building he looks around and notices that the surrounding buildings are much taller than the one that he currently stands on top of. He looks around for any fire-escape facing him. He finds one.
David backs up to the opposite end of the building, then begins his sprint, his leap, and his landing onto the fire-escape. His right hand lands cleanly on the left side of the ledge, His left hand airmails as it reaches for anything to grab onto. David is now dangling 15 stories in the air, or about 160 feet. He looks down at the ground and allows himself to dangle for a few seconds. The air flows through his hair. He takes a deep, peaceful breath in and then out. A small smiles begins to creep onto his face as David dangles in the air momentarily.
After David enjoys a few more spurts of air across his dirty face, he pulls himself up with his right arm and grabs the ledge with his left hand. He pulls himself up onto the fire-escape, then turns to look upon the city that he lives. After a few seconds of admiration, he begins down the fire-escape and down onto the street.
Down the street, the cop sirens are still lighting up the sky, more and more cars coming in every minute. The cops flood the building and the rooftop looking for David, who is nowhere to be found. David laughs and walks down an alley opposite from the building.
David walks down a couple more alleyways, looking for a good place to settle down for the night.
He finds one that will suffice and sits down against the wall. He places his backpack to his side and takes out the envelope. He opens it up and sees that it is filled with thousands and thousands of dollars. He fights the urge to take a share of it and goes to put it back into his bag. As he does, he feels someone pull him up by the shoulder and throw him against the wall.
Two men stand in front of David. These men wear dark, raggedly clothes. The knives in their hands glimmer from the moonlight and shine onto David's face. The fatter man reaches for David's bag and starts digging through it. David leans out towards the bag and is then thrusted back into the wall, banging his head. The bigger man now holds a hand to his chest and a knife to his neck.
The fatter man pulls out David's tin can and throws it to the ground. He begins digging more, when a look of satisfaction comes over his face. He pulls his hand out and he is holding the envelope full of money in his hand.
The bigger man loosens his grip on David as the two of them let out a sigh of relief and a chuckle. David quickly leans towards the envelope, grabs it out of the fatter man's hand, and turns to run.
The bigger man reaches out and pulls David back and throws him to the ground from the neck of his shirt. He then lowers his knife onto David's chest, then loads his hand backwards ready to strike.
As the man gets ready to lower his knife into David's chest, sirens are heard as a car begins down the dark alley. The two men hear it and book it down the other end of the alley, leaving David alone, with his emptied backpack and envelope of money clenched tightly to his side.
The car isn't a cop car, but rather a regular black Hyundai. Out steps a man about 6'2" dressed in a casual jean and graphic tee. He is clean shaven with bright blue eyes. His brown hair is beginning to grey, he is and older man, compared to David, at the age of 43. He reaches for the siren atop the car, removes it, and throws it back into the car.
As he begins to walk towards David, David stands up quickly and begins to throw everything back into his backpack. He turns to run, when the man shouts out to him, "Hey man, don't worry. I'm not a cop. I bought this siren online for like twenty bucks." He then let's out a chuckle as David stops in his track, back still to the man.
The man continues walking towards David, who is still stopped in his tracks.
"My name is Jaden, I saw you when I was driving by, thought you could use some help." He continues down the alley towards David, "What are you doing down this alley, anyways?"
David takes a few deep breaths then turns towards Jaden, who now stands only a few feet in front of him. David clears his throat, "I was, uhm, just walking home. This is a shortcut."
Jaden laughs, "Probably not the safest route home, is it?"
"I guess not," David says stone faced as he straps the backpack tighter to his back. He then turns down the opposite end of the alley and begins walking away.
"Where you going?"
"Home," David yells back as he continues to walk away.
Jaden runs over to David's side and begins walking side by side with him.
"Let me give you ride home, it's clearly dangerous out here."
"Okay, then let me at least go buy you a meal, you look hungry."
"Come on, it's on me. Whatever you want."
"No." David then picks up the pace to try to get away from Jaden, but Jaden quickly catches back up.
"Don't make me eat alone. I hate eating alone. Come on, man." Jaden puts his hand onto David's shoulder and turns him towards him. "One meal, then you'll never hear from me again."
David contemplates it for a few seconds, then feels the grumbling in his stomach. "Fine."
A smile takes over Jaden's face, "That's what I like to hear!" He puts his arm over David's shoulder as they turn back towards his car. "What's your name by the way?"
"Well, it's nice to officially meet you, David."
In front of Jaden sits a plate with a burger and fries, he's only eaten a bite of burger and a few fries. Jaden's eyes, however, are fixated on David who sits across from him. In front of David sits three different plates. On one plate their is a half eaten burger with only a few fries remaining. He has a plate with yolk that is leftover from a couple eggs and only a bite or two left of hash browns. The next plate holds a mostly eaten biscuit smothered in gravy. In front of those plates is an empty cup with residue of milkshake, next to it sits another cup filled half way with more milkshake, which is getting lower and lower as David takes huge sips through the straw.
David then picks up the burger and finishes it with three huge bites. Looks of shock and mesmerization are painted onto Jaden's face as he looks on.
Jaden lifts a fry to his mouth, then lets out a laugh as he stares on at David. "And to think I had to beg you to come to dinner."
David takes another big drink of milkshake then a large bite of biscuit.
"When was the last time you ate?"
David, with a mouth full of biscuit, "Two days ago I had some leftover Chipotle."
"Your parents don't feed you?"
"I don't have parents."
"You don't have- who do you live with?"
Takes a large bite of biscuit, "Just...a buddy."
Jaden looks across at David with a look of confusion, then pushes his plate towards David as he has now run out of food on his own plates. David picks up the burger and takes a big bite.
"So," Jaden tries to think of the right words, "Do you have a job? You know, so you can eat again?"
"I do, but all of my money goes towards paying for me to go to school," another large bite of burger, "If I have leftover money then I eat."
"What work do you do?"
"I'm a late night delivery man. I was walking home from work when you-" cuts himself off with a mouthful of fries, "found me in the alley."
Jaden looks onto David as he continues to shovel in the food, then let's out a small, "Hmm."
Some time passes with just the sound of David chewing, then David looks up at Jaden, "So what do you do for a living?"
"Me?" Jaden takes a sip of Coke, "I'm an accountant. Nothing too exciting."
"I'm actually studying to be an accountant right now at university."
"Yeah, maybe you can hook me up with a job after I graduate." David jokes.
Jaden let's out a small laugh then reaches across the table and grabs a fry, "Yeah, maybe."
After David refuses for five minutes, Jaden finally convinces David to allow him to give him a ride home. David instructs Jaden to just drive towards downtown.
As they reach downtown, David tells Jaden to drop him off at the next corner.
"What? No, I'll drop you off at your house. I don't want you walking around this late."
"This is close enough."
"There's not a house even-"
"Just drop me off here!" This outburst startles Jaden, so he pulls over to the side of the road, David gets out, and begins walking down the street. Jaden then puts the car into park, turns it off, and gets out.
"Where are you going?" He shouts out after David, but David ignores him and continues walking. Jaden runs up to David's side and repeats, "Where are you going?"
"I'm going home," David says softly.
"Just let me take you all the way there, David."
David stops and quickly turns to Jaden with anger in his eyes. He walks up close to Jaden and gets in his face and says firmly, "I am home, okay? I am home. Now leave me the fuck alone." He turns and continues down the street.
Jaden turns and walks back towards his car as he sees David turn down an alleyway.
David walks a few feet down the alley and sits down in a dark area. Before he can set his backpack down he sees Jaden's car turn the corner and begin towards him.
Jaden brakes only feet in front of David, rolls his window down, and yells out, "Get in the damn car. You're staying on my couch tonight. No way am I letting you sleep out here."
"I said leave me alone." David says as he stands up and walks down the alley.
Jaden slowly follows behind and continues yelling out at David.
This continues down multiple alleys, until David finally turns back to Jaden and shouts, "Fine! Fine! One night."
The next morning, David wakes up to the smell of breakfast in the air. He jumps up and goes into the kitchen to see Jaden has placed eggs, bacon, pancakes, syrup, and OJ onto the kitchen table.
"I know how much you eat, so I made a lot," Jaden says as he adds a tall stack of toast to the already crowded table.
David sits down and begins to fill his plate as high as possible. After David finishes stacking his plate with a food pyramid, Jaden places a scoop of eggs, two pieces of bacon, and two pieces of toast onto his plate. They eat in silence for a few moments.
"So how'd you sleep?" Jaden asks to David in between bites.
"Good, I'm glad. You're free to stay on it as long as you want."
"I think last night was enough."
Jaden takes a couple bites of eggs and toast. "Can I ask you something?"
David gives a sound that sounds like "yes" through a mouthful of pancakes and syrup.
"What happened to your parents?"
David stops chewing and looks up at Jaden. He sets his utensils down and swallows the food in his mouth, then sits in silence for a moment. After a while, David takes a sip of OJ then says softly, "They died when I was sixteen."
"I'm so sorry"
David takes a deep breath, "Uhm, they were driving me to baseball practice when a car veered into our lane from opposite traffic and smashed into us. He was texting and driving. My mom and dad died instantly, I was knocked unconscious for a few hours. Spent a couple days in the hospital...and, yeah."
"That's terrible. Do you have any other family that you could live with?"
"I lived with my grandparents for a couple months, but they kicked me out. Then I moved in with my buddy, Alejandro, but we had a falling out a couple years ago."
"So you've been out on the street since then?"
"Yeah, about 3 years or so."
The sounds of biting and chewing fill the room for the next couple of minutes.
David has Jaden drop him off at the university, but today is actually one of David's days off of school. Instead, David walks downtown to his regular street corner and sets up post.
It didn't take long before the man in the suit walked by to grab his envelope and drop off David's new backpack for the night. David looks onto the side of the pouch and sees his 100 dollar payment, which he slides into his pocket.
David begins his journey to his usual fire escape. It's another cold night in the city and he has nothing more than his beanie and thin sweatshirt to keep him warm. He throws on his hood, which doesn't make much of a difference with the wind. His breath fills the air as the fog slowly rolls in in the background of the city.
David digs his hands deep into his pocket for more warmth. The two backpacks on his back help a little.
The city sidewalks are filled with many others who call the streets their homes. Signs can be seen on every corner, street lights reflecting off of other tin cans.
A cop car rolls slowly past David on his left, David puts his hood further over his face and looks over in the opposite direction. The car slowly passes him then continues down the road. David turns down a nearby alley.
When he reaches his normal building, he senses something is different. The street, it's quieter than usual. He looks around, the streets are empty. They are never empty.
He continues down the street, towards the building. He pulls his beanie down and digs his head deeper into his hood.
As he gets nearer to the building, he looks down an alley and sees the tip of car hoods from both sides. He looks in the opposite alley and sees the same. Cops.
David picks up his walking speed, but tries to be as sly as possible about it. He continues past the fire escape and down the street. He makes his next right, then goes into an all out sprint down the next couple of blocks. He knows nobody is chasing him, but you can never be too safe.
David wanted to get as far away from the fire escape as possible and finds himself wandering around the other side of downtown. This part of town doesn't have any alleys for him to sleep in. He looks around and sees people sleeping on nearby benches and against walls. He feels the two backpacks on his back and knows he can't leave them simply lying around. So he keeps on walking.
After a few blocks, David finds an empty bench facing out towards the street and sits down, placing the two backpacks on his side. He lays down on the bench and tells himself repeatedly, "Don't fall asleep. Don't fall asleep. Don't fall asleep."
David feels a tapping on his shoulder and hears, "David, David. Wake up. David."
He looks up groggily and sees a blurry figure standing over him. The figure starts to clear up and turns out to be Jaden.
"I've been driving around all night looking for you. Why don't you come sleep on my couch, get another good night of sleep?"
"Jaden, uh" David says half awoken, "Thanks."
The next morning at Jaden's started off very differently than the day before. Instead of waking up to the beautiful smell of breakfast, David wakes up to a backpack being slammed into his stomach with screaming from Jaden.
"What the hell is this? Huh?" Jaden yells as he points down at the backpack now in David's lap.
David wipes the sleep out of his eyes, looks down at the backpack, then up at Jaden, "Cocaine."
"Cocaine. Cocaine. That's not just cocaine, that's like 20 pounds of cocaine."
"What the fuck are you doing with 30 pounds of cocaine, David, what the fuck are you doing? I thought you were a delivery man."
"I am a delivery man," David says, "I just happen to deal cocaine. And lot's of it."
"You think this a joke? There is nothing funny about this. What the hell are you doing?"
David goes from amused to annoyed very quickly and steps up to Jaden's level, "Who the hell are you to judge me? You don't even know me! You think you're all high and fucking mighty because you let some homeless kid sleep on your couch for two nights. No, fuck that. You're not better than me," then with a loud cry, "You don't know me!"
David and Jaden's faces now rest only a foot or two away from each other. Fury filling their red, veiny faces as their eye contact is unbroken for nearly half a minute. Jaden finally breaks the eye contact and begins in a slow pace.
"Why do you do it? Is it for money? Because if that's all it is, I'll give you the money. Is this how you pay for school? Fine, I'll do it. I'll pay for your schooling. Will that make you stop?"
The anger leaves Jaden's face as he sits back down on the couch. He looks up at Jaden who is now in a quicker pace. Silence fills the room.
"It's a lot of money." David says finally.
Jaden lets out a laugh of relief as he stops pacing and sits down next to David. "I have the money. I've always wanted to pay for someone to go to college,but I've never had the opportunity."
David let's out a small chuckle, "Okay, fine. I'll let you pay for my college."
"On one condition, you need to promise me that you are done selling drugs."
"And if I find any sign whatsoever that you are still dealing, I will put you back on the streets."
David let's out a laugh, "Don't worry, I'm done."
"Good, I'll make us some breakfast."
After 15 minutes, breakfast has been served. David and Jaden sit around the table and fill their plates.
A minute or two of eating in silence goes by before Jaden decides to break it, "Okay, this is the only time we're going to talk about it, just because I'm curious, how did you start dealing drugs?"
David let's out a laugh, "Well, after my parents died and my grandparents kicked me out of the house, I had absolutely no money. I moved in with my buddy Alejandro, whom I've mentioned, and he told me about this business he was in. Selling drugs. And ever since then, I've been distributing."
"You said you had a falling out with him last time you mentioned him, didn't you?"
"Yeah, after a few months of working with him, I started to take a lot more of the deliveries. The cops got really close to us a few times when Alejandro was on the job, so our boss started giving me more jobs. Which meant I was taking opportunities away from Alejandro and, most importantly, money. He got frustrated, we got into a big brawl, and our boss kicked him out of the business and I became his number one guy, which used to be Alejandro for years. I haven't seen him since."
"What's your bosses name?"
David chuckles, "You are way too into this."
Jaden laughs, "I'm sorry, I'm just curious. I've never known a drug dealer before."
A couple months later
David has spent the last couple months studying hard in school and loading up on his classes. He is nearing his finals week and has spent the last week or so in the library, day and night, preparing. He is still living on Jaden's couch and has kept his promise of no longer dealing drugs.
He is in the middle of another late night at the library. He finishes up his last page of reading and closes the textbook. He places it into his new backpack that Jaden bought him. It's the classic Jansport that nearly everybody on campus owns, but it is a luxury to David. He zips it up and places it on the back of his also new, and very thick, peacoat and tightens the straps. He rubs some dirt off of his new Levi's that his new dress shirt from Macy's is tucked into. He notices that the shoe laces to his new Nikes are untied and bends down to tie them. Point is, he is looking fresh in his new gear.
It is two in the morning and David is the last one to leave the library that night. He walks out into the cold air, but he is fully prepared to handle this weather.
As David reaches the car that Jaden is letting him borrow for the time being, a hand grabs David and turns him around. The hand then slams Jaden back against the car. It's the man in the suit.
"Where the hell have you been?" He yells at David, as they stand alone in the empty parking lot on the empty campus.
"I told you, Jason, I'm done with this business," David yells back as he grabs Jason's hand and rips it off of his shoulder.
Jason quickly punches David across the face, knocking him to the ground. Jason kicks him once in the stomach, forcing a cry out of David. He then crouches down so he can be eye level with him. "You're done?"
David let's out a quiet whimper as he clenches tightly to his stomach.
Jason stands up and kicks David again in the stomach as he yells out, "You're done?!" David let's out a louder cry and spits out a mouthful of blood.
Jason crouches down to David, "No, no. I'll tell you when you're done."
"Fuck you Jaso-" Jason kicks David underneath the chin, splitting it open and spilling blood onto the street.
David digs deep for air, but feels nothing coming for some time. He tries to scream, but can't seem to make a sound. He lies there, helpless.
Jason turns and walks a few paces, then picks up 3 backpacks off of the ground and throws them at David. Then walks back over to him and crouches down.
"We have a bigger drop off than usual and I need my best man on the job." He gives David a playful tap on the face, "And that just so happens to be you." Jason stands up and pulls a box of cigarettes out of his pocket and lights one up. He takes a deep inhale.
"It's a new drop off spot, the fire escape is too dangerous now. It's always surrounded by fucking cops." Jason takes another drag, "All the information you need to know is in on a piece of paper in one of the side pockets, don't fuck it up."
Jason takes a big drag, then crouches down to extinguish the cigarette on David's jeans. "You look like shit, you should call somebody." He lets out a laugh and walks through the empty parking lot and eventually disappears in the distance.
It takes David half an hour before he can muster up the strength to stand up and drive himself home. When we walks in through the front door, Jaden is sitting at the coffee table. He stays up every night waiting for David to get home to make sure that he arrives safely. A calm face quickly turns to panic when he sees David's beat up face walk in through the door. He quickly stands up and rushes over to David, who is now bent over by the door.
"What the hell happened?" Jaden shouts out in a panic as he puts David's arm around his shoulder.
David picks up the three backpacks from his side and drops them next to Jaden's side.
"That motherfucker." Jaden says under his breath. "Let me grab my keys, I'll drive you to the hospital."
David returns home after a night in the hospital. He has 4 stitches on his chin, a broken nose, and some internal bruising in his stomach region. The doctor ordered him to take 2 Vicodin a day (one in the morning, one at night), but he already plans on upping that dose to 4.
The first thing David does when he walks in the front door is pull out the paper from the side pocket of one of the backpacks. It gives David a new address and a date, February 3rd, which is tonight.
Jaden walks into the room with the bottle of Vicodin and a glass of water, David quickly throws the paper into his pocket.
"Here, take these," Jaden hands him the Vicodin and the water, "Now you want to tell me what the fuck happened?"
David grabs the bottle and pours out his 2 morning Vicodin. He throws them in his mouth and takes a gulp of water. "My old boss came up to me in the library parking lot and told me he needed me for one more drop. Then, after he beat the shit out of me, he threw these backpacks at me."
"When's the drop?"
David looks off to the side, trying to avoid answering the question.
"When is it, David?"
"Tonight," He snaps towards Jaden.
"I'm going with you. It's not safe for you to go by yourself."
"No, I'm not putting you in danger!"
"It wasn't a question. I wasn't giving you an option. We're not going to debate this. Okay? I am telling you, that I am going with you. And that's that."
David takes a big sip of water, "Fine, whatever. I need to get some sleep."
David puts on an all black outfit and advises Jaden to do the same. They grab the three backpacks and drive to the new location. The car ride is filled with complete silence.
When they arrive to the address they see an empty, locked up parking lot in front of a large abandoned warehouse. They park outside of the gate and climb over it, throwing the backpacks over first then jumping the fence.
The parking lot extends over a quarter mile before the warehouse, and the drop off zone is in the middle of the warehouse. They begin the walk.
"So, like, what should I expect? Should I be doing anything special? I've never done a drop before." Jaden says nervously.
David laughs, "It's simple. You walk in, you find the hiding zone, grab the envelope, and replace it with the backpack."
The parking lot is dark, with spread out lights throughout the lot. When they walk underneath one light, Jaden goes to adjust his sweatshirt and David sees the light reflect off of something in Jaden's waistline.
David stops in his tracks for a few moments as Jaden keeps walking without realizing. Then, it hits him. "Jaden, what the fuck is underneath your belt?"
Jaden turns around slowly and looks at David, "What?"
"You heard me, Jaden," David nervously moves closer, "What is underneath your fucking belt!?"
Jaden doesn't respond.
David begins to shake, "You're a fucking cop? That's a police badge, isn't it? How did I not see this? What the fuck, Jaden!" David's heart begins to pound faster and faster and faster. His hands are shaking. Jaden stands there calmly, with this head down to the ground. "Were you just using me? Goddammit, man, goddammit. I fucking trusted you, man. I told you everything. I told you everything!" David is yelling into Jaden's face at this point. Then turns and starts pacing back and forth. "Shit, I told you everything."
"I haven't been using you, David." Jaden finally says softly.
"Oh, yeah? Then can you tell me what exactly is going on? Because the way I see it-"
"Okay, I'll admit it. I know who you are. I know you're the guy we've been chasing up that fire escape and on top of rooftops and through alleys and the whole nine yards for years. I know that. You are on the radar of every police officer in the city. That's how I knew to find you that night in the alley. And that night on the bench. But that's not why I took you in."
"That's fucking bullshit, Jaden, and you know that! Fuck that. I'm not doing a drop with some cop," David throws the backpacks at Jaden's feet, "You do it." Then turns around and starts walking back towards the gate.
"Fuck you, Jaden!" David yells back and continues walking.
Jaden watches on as David continues to walk away. He realizes that he's not going to turn back, so he picks up the three backpacks and continues into the warehouse.
David now sits there leaning up against the gate, near the car. He looks on as Jaden finally reaches the front of the warehouse and walks inside. David begins to slam his head back against the gate repeatedly. He has no idea what his next move is going to be. He puts his head down into his lap and begins to cry.
And then, all David hears are five consecutive gunshots from the warehouse.
"Jaden," David says to himself. He then begins to sprint towards the warehouse as fast as he can.
David feels sick to his stomach as he enters into the warehouse and begins looking around. Then he hears a, "David, David. I'm over here."
David runs over to see Jaden lying in a pool of blood, next to the three backpacks and a yellow envelope.
"Jaden! No, no, no. Fuck. No. Jaden. Goddammit. No." David begins to cry atop of Jaden.
Jaden then lifts up David's head, "You want to know why I did what I did, David? It wasn't so I could bust you or your crew. It wasn't cop related at all. In fact, I would probably lose my job if my Chief new I was housing you. No, I did it because I saw potential in you. I did it, because you reminded me of my son."
David wipes a tear from his eye, "But you don't have a son."
"I did." With this, David's heart sinks. "He died seven years ago, he was 11. Him and my wife were shot down in the streets, that's why I became a cop."
David sits in silence for a moment, "Tell me about them."
Jaden's eyes begin to glow as he speaks, "My son, his name was Derek, he loved football. He was obsessed, he never put the football down. And he was smart, oh he was smart. He won his 3rd grade spelling bee against a bunch of sixth graders."
"He sounds amazing." David says with a smile from ear to ear, tears rolling down his face.
"He was. He got that from his mother, though. She was one of a kind. God never made one better, let me tell you. She was the most caring, thoughtful person I have met." Jaden's sentences begin to tail off as his head drops down onto his shoulder.
David wipes his eyes before he can deliver this next sentence, "Go be with them, Jaden. They miss you."
"I love you, David."
David can't help but to break down at those words as he drops down to Jaden's bloody chest and begins to cry. "I love you too, Jaden. I love you too." And continues to bawl into his chest.
Jaden lifts up his right hand and begins tapping on David's head. Once, twice, thrice, and then the tapping stops. And the hand comes to rest atop David's head.
David let's out a loud cry that echoes throughout the emptied warehouse, where no other soul but David's remains.
After sitting in silence for an hour, with Jaden's body lying next to him, David grabs the yellow envelope and rips it open. Only a note rests at the bottom of it, it reads: "Looks like I'm the number one man now, bitch. Love, Alejandro."