Storytime

I’ll be updating this bad boy with my novel as it comes along. I will also be posting it into the blog, but in sections. This will have the whole shebang as it’s written.

Most recently updated: 5/19/15

Readysetgo:

 

I hold this anger inside me. It clutches and tears at my chest. It strangles my thoughts and lungs until my breath feels like poison – constricting each inhale. And she was there with her words. My fingers were grasping the steering wheel, the fog creeping along the windows. My ragged breath was making tiny clouds in the stiff air.

“I want now. That is what I want.” I said.

My face was hot. The car was rumbling with the motor as we sat. My voice choked at the words, “So, what is it you want then?”

“What do I want?” she put her hands on her knees, the knuckles turning white.  “I want to be done. I want out of this.”

I’m tired. I feel nothing. She was talking but I felt blank and empty. Where is my safety? Where is my harbour? I stared at the windshield focusing on the sky – each cloud, each speck on the window. If I remained calm this will just pass. This delusion will fade and the normalcy will return. I will be fine.

“Are you even listening?” I heard her but it’s as if she’s at the end of a tunnel, a shallow noise. I nodded.

She paused and she breathed. Her eyes closed for a moment and that’s when it happened- the nothing, the empty.

“I’m not doing this anymore, Aiden,” Her fingers now grasped the door handle. “I can’t. I’m sorry.”

The cold air bit at my skin when the door opened. But the empty, it stayed. So, I stared at the gaps in the steam on the window. I turned on the car and waited for the space in the windshield to grow. My heart was racing, each beat a reminder that I was here and this empty was fleeting. The anger would come back soon. I looked at the seat Marie had been in and waited for something, even the anger, to return but there was nothing still. Her face, her hands, the thoughts brought me the same. I put the car in gear and drove.

My apartment was small. It was a tiny, old place in downtown Portland. It was on top of an Indian restaurant called The Tandoor. Because of this, my place smelled like curry most of the time. Thankfully, I thought Indian food was delicious and none of my guests had felt like complaining about it. It took three flights of stairs and even more roaches to get to my door. Sofie was sitting on the couch; sandwich in hand, staring at the TV.

“Hey.” I said.

“Hey.” My roommate looked up in acknowledgement then back to the television. The room was sparse: couch, coffee table, tiny black and white television. Contrary to this moment, neither of us watched much, so the size and quality of this device meant little. A haphazard wooden lamp stood awkwardly next to the brown corduroy couch. It was the only piece of furniture I had ever tried my hand in. It was decent, modern. Chunks of wood and wire led to a bulb, the wood was bent at an angle so it shined over the wooden table.

I went straight to the kitchen. The cabinets were painted teal before we bought the place and we had just left it. It reminded me of my sister, her favourite colour being the same. The kitchen was the nicest part of the apartment. No cracks or chips in the wood or paint, the floor and countertops were actually tiled with large black pieces and it was big enough for four or five people to fit. I started a pot of coffee and stared at the photography lining the top of the cabinets. They were stuck in between white Christmas lights that Sofie had decorated with. Most of the work was inanimate objects; lights, buildings, food, and the rest were Sofie’s friends and her boyfriend William. This was Sofie’s life. Her work. She was so good that sometimes I ached with jealousy while she showed me her prints. She even made her rent with her passion. Sure, she was shooting real estate, but at least it was something. It was steady. It was part of her. And when she sold a piece, it was just icing on the cake.

I poured the coffee and checked the window. A glimpse of something? A shadow? Nothing. I took a drink and went to my room.

A contrast of navy and the white came from the bed with the blue comforter and scraps of paper torn from several five by seven notepads. Some crumpled, some carefully laid out. A keyboard was shoved under the window in one corner directly across from the doorway. Sheet music covered in pen marks was strewn across the stool in front of it. I put the coffee on my bedside table and checked around the room: dresser, window, bed, piano, nothing suspicious. Opened the bathroom door to find teal shower curtain (gift from Cecilia, my sister), sink and toilet. Ritual over. Back to coffee. I took another drink and pushed a pair of slacks from the bed to the floor. I had hoped the warmth of the coffee would dissipate the clawing and suffocating nothingness, emptiness that filled my chest. Silly to believe just liquid could do such a thing. But something had to. Had to.

I rolled to my stomach and picked up random papers. I picked up a pen from the mess and began adding words to poems, stories, bits of prose, some I just tore to pieces or crumpled again into a ball of failure.

Marie. We had gone for lunch. The day was foggy, cold, she had acted distant. I had said nothing to fix things. Just the same nonsense she didn’t understand with my drivel of “But I want everything.” And she was just done. Done with me: with this six foot, stumbling, shadow of skin and bone and muscle. Done with every piece of crazy. I had known from the moment I met her at Sofie’s party that she wouldn’t work. Did I date her for six months just for a steady fuck? What a laugh. Steadier if I hadn’t been in a relationship. Why then? She was barely a significant other, yet I kept thinking about her. She provided something. Something when there was nothing. She didn’t understand anything I said to her but she would be there if I asked. Was that enough?

No. Of course not.

I always had Cecilia. So what if I never had someone to hold, at least I would always have someone who cared. For twenty-four years she had always had me as her big brother: someone she looked up to. She had told me this once. And I, as the big brother, should have taken care of her but instead I did nothing. I took no interest in who she dated, the stories she told. I never played her imaginative games she always begged me to partake in. I didn’t read her one story, play one game of tag, help her with any of her homework. I was nothing of a big brother. But, her persistence preserved and, finally, when I was eighteen she broke down the barriers. I wouldn’t tell her anything important. I wouldn’t speak. But I would finally listen. And she was the only one who visited me. The doctors wanted my family all together for stupid bullshit. Me, my parents, Cecilia and Victor. All in one room: civil. What a lie. They wouldn’t come. Only Cecilia. And it was then that I could breathe. I was only calm around her.

I choked on the familiar gripping as the memory flooded through me. My throat, my chest, a tearing and clawing that needed to be brought out. My fists clenched. I pulled myself to a sitting position. I pressed the palms of my hands into my eyes and took a deep breath. This Saturday had to get better.

I went to the bathroom, splashed water on my face and looked into the mirror. Water dripped from my skin. Green eyes stared back at short, dark, brown hair, pale skin, and thin nose. Twenty-seven and where am I now? This. This is what I have to show for it? The anger is slow but I see it, I feel it. I open the shower curtain, all the way back, too much force and clips fall from the pole. No one is behind it. I breathe again, ragged and deep. Angry at myself. This is futile. This means nothing.

This. This is what I had to look forward to: my future. I stepped in and turned on the water with clothes still clinging to my skin. First, I put the water as cold as it would go. I allowed it to pierce my senses, then I changed to as hot as my body could stand. I pressed my palm against the tile, watching the water slide down each blue frame. This liquid, if it could just burn away each memory, each thought. My hand was turning red. The pressure against the tile was making my wrist ache, yet I didn’t stop. I pushed and held my gaze until the water became unbearable.

Tonight. Tonight I was leaving this place. I was going to Dean’s. I was drinking and I was fucking and I was going to forget all of this. This Saturday had to get better.

The bar was full of drunk idiots. It was too hot. The whiskey felt good as it burned down my throat. Maybe it would burn away the feeling. That was the goal of the evening. I picked up my drink and wandered around the bar. People touching, talking, laughing. I watched guys get shot down, girls laugh. Women stand at tables drinking martinis and talking over this awful noise, or maybe it was music. My gaze made its way around, checking for signs. So far, everything looked clear. I picked a girl and honed in. She let me buy her a drink. She spoke. I listened: boring stereotypical stories of, “I work at this menial job. I love it!” Sure. Sure you do. I bought her another vodka soda and hoped she wouldn’t notice my slight glances around the bar. She asked what I did for a living. Because, this, of course, defines you. Is this all people our age can talk about?

“Street performer.”

She laughed. She was laughing idiotically at any comment I made. God, I’m an asshole and an idiot.

“I work at a bank.” Teller at a bank. Bachelor’s in Music, 27, and work as a teller in a bank.

“Do you like it?” She asked.

“Sure.” I lied. Her reaction was typical. Suddenly, she no longer cared what I did. She assumed I made more money than I did. She was into me. She kept touching my arm, my leg. I wanted to fuck her.

“This music is great.” She probably wanted me to dance but this incessant beat was giving me a headache.

“Yeah, these guys really know what they’re doing.” I was feeling the alcohol and I didn’t even know what I was saying anymore. My focus was on the patterns she was tracing on my knee.

I asked her about her, what she liked to do, normal stuff. Her shit was boring. “Work out, go out with my girlfriends, y’know.” No, I’d rather not know.

I nodded, seemingly interested. “That seems like fun.” The words were difficult to get out. The lie so ridiculous.

“How about you?”

I stared at her face, her hand, pulling the drink towards her lips. Red stained the rim as she pressed those lips against the glass. Her eyes were watching me as I followed the path of her neck, swallowing her poison. Her tits, shoved into a too-tight bra, pressed towards her face. A bra that lied. My fingers itched to grab her then. I looked away.

“Oh, just…” I focused on the bar, the condensation rings left from our cups. “The same things as any other asshole.”

She laughed again. I am not funny. I wasn’t trying to be funny.

“You’re cute.” She grinned again and grabbed my hand, “Come on.”

Then we were on the dance floor. Her hands were draped languidly over my shoulders, her hips swayed to the terrible thumping noise. The colored lights pulsed to the beats, their glow a haze between the smoke. I moved to follow her lead. My eyes focused on her face and the beads of sweat forming there. Her cheeks were flushed, her lips a half-grin, her eyes just a thin slit – barely open. I brought my hands down to her hip bones to feel their movement. I could feel the heat exuding from her skin. My focus now on the swarms surrounding us, the faces of fellow dancers, I studied each with squinting eyes.

“Looking for other girls?” She purred into my ear. My body was warm, buzzing, aching. What was her name again?

I smiled at her. “Never.” My fingers gripped the waistband of her skirt as our hips closed the gap between us, our dancing slowed.

I could feel the heat radiating from my body to hers. It was hard to focus on anything, with the music, the crowd, and this need to feel her bare skin.

“Let’s get another drink!” She shouted, too close to my ear, and pulled me towards the bar. Relief flooded through my limbs as we broke away from the throngs of people.

Vodka, whiskey, whiskey, vodka: each drink numbing the neurons firing through my brain. Each glass emptied increased her touching and slurring and laughing. I waited, patient, as she talked about her friends and the stupid shit they did when they were drunk. Her hands kept touching my leg, my hair, my face. I wanted my fingers in her mouth. I could feel her teeth, her tongue on my fingertips. My breathing caught, and I ordered another round. I focused on the ice as the bartender filled the glasses.

She was now speaking of her ex-boyfriend. Railing on things he did in their relationship, cheating, derogatory, typical. I am no better. I counted the faces closest to us. I kept an eye on the bartender, I tried to see the door but there were too many, too many strangers. I began to count my breaths.

“You’re so quiet!” She was basically yelling now. Was the music getting louder?

“Your ex is an asshole.” I had the right responses, the correct charade for this exchange but my heart was pounding again. I was getting tired of all this waiting. “How about we go somewhere?”

“What?” More yelling.

“Let’s get out of here.” My voice was a whisper, pressed to her ear. I helped her from her chair and we were outside.

I convinced her to have the taxi drop us off at her place. We were both intoxicated and I needed her. It wasn’t difficult to get her to take her clothes off. Her skin was slippery smooth, her hips were handles and afterwards she wanted to hold on to me. This sweaty mess. I couldn’t, didn’t want to stay. Too many variables. Too many rooms I hadn’t explored. I put on my pants and watched as she passed out, then left the building.

The walk home was long and cold. My fingers began to ache. The temperature sobered me. I ran my fingers across the concrete building walls, letting the roughness bring sensation back to my hand. The streets were barely occupied. I watched the cars and slowly let go of the air I was holding in my lungs. The feelings dissipated with the tension. The cold clenched my chest with each inhale, replacing the usual array of feelings that lived there. It was a welcome exchange.  My boots were all that I could hear. Even the occasional car seemed to be silent in its journey. The city seemed a haze, a frozen space devoid of people, devoid of light. The coolness of the air, the void of sound, I let myself get lost in this new world. Exhaustion began setting in, as if these absences were lulling me to sleep. Each foot fall began to feel tedious. I felt I could sleep just standing on the sidewalk. I continued to scrape my hand against the buildings until the skin began to tear. This new sensation caused my senses to focus on the pulsing in my fingertips. It was good. It was familiar. The burning would keep me awake. I forced myself to keep my eyes open, to stay alert as I passed each alley way. I had to peer into each one. Just to make sure. Just in case. And soon, I began to see the sun creeping over the horizon. I was on my street, almost to The Tandoor, my apartment, my safety. And with this, I had made it one more night, one more night without letting the anger tear me apart.

I awoke to a pounding headache, the lights from between the slats making me squint. I pulled the sheet across my eyes, turning away from the window. I could feel my heart and my blood pulsing within my skull. My eyes closed again, this time I was enshrouded in red, a play of the sun through my eyelids. I focused on breathing and tried to go back to sleep, but my head had other ideas. It ached to the point of ripping through skin. Grudgingly, I got out of bed and shuffled to the kitchen for a glass of water.

The tile floor bit at my bare feet causing me to do a half hop to the cupboards. Advil. Water. Put on coffee.

“Long night?” Sofie smirked at me, a bowl of cereal in her hands. She was giving me the up-down, as I was only in boxers and I’m sure I looked like I felt. She was already clothed, her short, pixie-cut red and black hair still wet from the shower. No makeup yet, just the normal Sofie: clean, thin face and small brown eyes.

“Don’t act like this is new,” A half grin crossing my lips.

She shrugged, shoveling a bite of soggy cereal into her mouth. “Only every other day.”

I nodded, swallowing the last bit of my third glass of water.

“You and Marie still up for tonight?”

I stared at her blankly until she said, “The show, my show? Come on.”

“Oh, right. Yeah I’ll be there.” The slow creeping of weight made its way across my chest. Focus, Aiden. I watched her put her bowl down. “I’ll be the one discussing how your work will look above my fireplace while simultaneously trying to figure out what it all means.”

“You’re an idiot.” She smirked.

“I get that a lot.” I poured myself a mug of the dark, aromatic coffee and made my way back to my room. Bathroom, check, window, check, under bed, check. Once the ritual was over I sat on the tattered ottoman in front of the keyboard, put my coffee next to me, and ran my fingers across the cool keys. I just sat. And suddenly all I wanted was to slam my fists into the keys, over and over. Deep breath. Drink coffee.

Cecilia.

The image held within my mind of Cecilia at fifteen, walking towards me in that white room.  Her face, her long blonde hair, her eyes the same green as mine. She placed her hand on my shoulder and the whirlwind inside of me blanketed. And I thought: Breathe. You can breathe.

The sharpness of the memory spread to fill my eyes with bright white – the whiteness of the room, the beds, the walls, the unfamiliarity of it all. And this triggered the habits. I stood, peered through the window, under the bed, behind the shower curtain. I could feel my heart beating in my ears. At least it was something. I paced, eyeing the corners of the small room. The room was simultaneously confining while hiding figures in its corners. Breathe.

I forced myself to pull my beat up phone from my pocket. And Cecilia answered when I called.

“Hey, Aiden.”

One Mississippi, two Mississippi, three Mississippi. “Hi.”

“You all right?” I could hear music in the background. Her voice sounded muffled.

“Sorry.”

“What’s going on?”

“Remember that time at the hospital when mom and dad wouldn’t come? And you took a taxi to see me?”

She was silent for a moment, “I remember.”

“Thank you, Cec.”

“Did something happen?”

I pressed my fingers to the ivory keys in front of me, my hands played the chords harder than necessary.

“I can be there in an hour.”

“Just, will you go with me to Sofie’s show tonight?”

“Of course.”

And she asked again about my wellbeing, which I answered with the sound of the piano, feeling guilty for calling her at all. Feeling guilty for using her as my crutch. She asked about my medications, if I was taking them, which I was. Though, the question she didn’t ask were, were they working? The million dollar question and it doesn’t look to be so. After a few minutes of conversation, she told me she had to get back to her friends. Brunch: something that successful, normal people do. Like Cecilia: law school student, sister, normal person.

I felt remotely calmer after the conversation, which was the point after all. So, I played along the keys, trying to focus on just this, just this one thing. I began humming along to the song I had been working. It was a soft piece that I had been working on for months. I steadily played while making notes to the proper sheet music strewn across the music stand. The paper was thin and dirty from all the pencil and erase marks, but it seemed this time I was actually getting somewhere. And for almost an hour I was calm, focused and productive. The notes on the page came together, a harmony that collaborated the feelings of Marie. Which, I wasn’t even sure what those were. It seemed to always work that way, my emotions taking form in my art. My brain was just too slow to understand them first.

I set the papers down, spread them in order across the keyboard and played each note with purpose. Each finger placed on the smooth keys were a thought, a feeling, a reason. And I let myself be lost in this melody, an erratic, strange melody. But it was mine, I had created this. I allowed my eyes to close, to just feel the chords, the cold beneath my fingertips. And the breath filled my chest, my heart, I could feel each beat, each exhale. My senses returned. When the song was over, my hands felt lighter, the room seemed calmer. I gathered the paper and piled it on top of the others on the ottoman.

After a minute of watching outside my window, and enjoying this rare feeling of peace, I stood and began meticulously picking out the perfect shirt, the perfect pair of jeans. Dark fitted denim, grey t-shirt, dark grey pullover, navy slip on shoes. Splash water on face, brush teeth, stare at myself in the mirror. This is it, Aiden. This is you. Are you ready?

I held my hand against the doorframe and watched the living room. I watched Sofie as she picked up cups and clothes from the couch. Back and forth from the kitchen, her bedroom, living room. She was humming to herself as she cleaned. While I kept my disorganized messiness to my room, she would leave her belongings strewn across the apartment all week and then spend every Sunday putting it all away. I didn’t understand this ritual but I envied it. There seemed to be a purpose in taking her belongings and carefully placing them in different parts of the apartment, only to put them back when the week was over. It was a good, clean ritual: meticulous, planned, safe… normal. This completely sane act compared to my own rituals always left me with an ache, a yearning. So, I watched while she went about her tasks until I felt it had become too much to continue this way. I grabbed my keys and my belongings and left her humming and picking and moving about the apartment.

The streets were more crowded than I liked. People were buzzing about with their cups of coffee, shopping bags from the Gap and Powell’s bookstore. The noise was overwhelming at first: animated laughter, louder than necessary conversations. I didn’t understand this behaviour. Why they couldn’t just talk and laugh at a decent volume, why must they overact their lines? I counted and focused and checked over my shoulder and into the alleyways I passed. This kept me calm. I plowed ahead, hands in pockets, towards, towards, I don’t know. I stopped into a local music store just to place my hands along the strings of a Taylor guitar, to listen to the array of musicians trying out instruments. It was a clash of strings, piano keys, and the terrible overhead radio playing the latest boring teen pop artist. I picked up a violin and ran my fingers down the neck, the familiar itch ran down my arm, the itch to be able to play each instrument that involved wood and keys and strings. But, really, wishing I could just transport to a time where creativity meant something, where creativity was rewarded with anything at all. Just a scrap to live on would be nice. I made my way to the room filled with keyboards. Everyone seemed to be playing a different version of the same song. I played a few chords while standing. A little girl in front of me was banging out her own version of a melody. The couple next to me were shooting her parents dirty looks. I smiled at her while my hands played a short piece that I had written years ago. When I got up, I let my fingers slide across each key.

I left the store, my hands still smelling of wood and resin. And with the feeling of strings still on my fingers, I found myself in front of Marie’s loft. It’s like my brain was a constant deceiver, never keeping me in the loop. Thanks, Aiden. Thanks. I blinked at the door in front of me. All right, what is your next move? What do you want from me next, Great Deceiver?

I tried to see if her lights were on or if she had gone in early for her shift at the restaurant. The blinds were closed. Where would this get me anyway? What do I expect from this?

Before I could stop myself, my fist was rapping at the door. I had to focus on taking deep breaths, as my heart began to pound.

Her hair was a mess, a robe was slung hastily around her frame exposing one shoulder and the top of a breast.

“Were you taking a nap?”

She rubbed an eye, smearing old makeup, “It’s all right.”

“Can I come in?”

She sighed, studied my face for a moment, and then opened the door wider.

“Coffee?”

I nodded and followed her to the kitchen, glancing around the corners of the loft as I went. I pulled us down some mugs as she readied the French Press. I prepared our cups: three sugars and way too much cream for her and nothing for me.

When we had settled on the couch, she readjusted her robe and took a drink of her coffee. “So.”

“I know. I know I shouldn’t be here.” I let the liquid scald my tongue.

She waited and I could barely look at her. My eyes went to the coffee, the window, her bed. “Did you go out last night?”

“Oh, come on.” She smothered a frustrated laugh.

“I mean, I mean.” I stumbled. “Okay. Can we talk?”

She spread her hands, as if to say, isn’t that what this is?

A little help here, Great Deceiver, any time now. What am I doing here? “Why are we like this?”

“Dysfunctional?”

I shrugged, put my coffee down, picked it up.

“Come on, Aiden. That’s not fair.”

“But this was good. We were fine.”

“Are you kidding?” She looked genuinely concerned, watching me, as if I had forgotten our entire relationship.

“Then tell me.”

She looked at her hands for a moment, got up and came over to my side of the table. She put her fingers on my leg. “Oh, Aiden. You know why.”

I didn’t respond. I watched the pigeons outside of her window.

“We both know you didn’t want us. You can’t expect anything to work with…” She paused, took her hand away, “With how you are.”

Big surprise there, is that why you came here? For her to tell you that you’re too fucked up to have a relationship? For her to tell you that you didn’t want it to work? She isn’t going to tell you anything you don’t already know.

“But it was something.” I blurted.

She sharply stood, “And that is a good enough reason to be together?” And this time she let out the laugh, “I know you have your shit, but I’m not going to tiptoe anymore. Everyone just tiptoes. It’s not helping you. Nothing is.”

I was watching her now, she looked so tired and deadpan, “I’m not going to stick around so that we can fuck if you’re lonely. I can’t handle…” She breathed, sighed, and murmured, “This. You.”

I stood and began walking to the door. Glutton for punishment I guess and that’s why I came here.

“Look, Aiden. I’m sorry, all right?”

I know I should feel something: anger, sadness, relief, something, but nothing came. “Thanks. Thank you for letting me in.”

“You’ll end up all right.” She put her hand on my shoulder and I jerked. I pulled myself away and shut the door behind me. My hands went to my face; I just wanted to remain under this pink darkness until this was all sorted. I was suddenly extremely tired. A plethora of sound from the city began rushing through the sound of blood in my ears. What was the point in all that?

I walked back to my apartment to get my car: a yellow Mazda Hatchback. When I was twenty, my various dead end jobs had finally paid off to purchase this vehicle. No more crowded buses full of people for me. I could still remember the smell of sweat and heat and so much, so much noise. The emotional turmoil to get to work every day was a constant struggle, with having to keep track of each person in their seats, who got on and off the bus, how close they were in proximity to me. By the time I would get to work in the morning I was already exhausted and jittery from the strain of it all. This car was my first and only safe space.

I still checked the back seats before getting in. But after I was inside with the doors locked – it was perfection. The familiar feeling of the black cloth under my skin, even the old, dusty smell of the interior brought a type of peace.

I put on something instrumental for the drive to Cecilia’s. The emotion of the music was palpable, emotion masquerading as guitar melodies and perfected drumbeats.  The music overtook my thoughts, invading my skin and spreading through me. I used it to keep me. As if the emotions of the music were holding me together: skin, and bone, and blood.

Twenty minutes of back roads and I was pulling into her driveway. Her red-bricked townhome loomed in front.

She answered the door with a phone in one hand, her fingers to her lips. She was asking about legal documents to the person on the other end of the phone as she waved me inside. I grabbed a beer from her fridge and took a swig as I checked out the kitchen and the rest of the bottom floor: The entryway led to the living room, which was one of those living room/dining room combos. Her furniture was a conglomeration of vintage green sofas, lamps with black shades nestled onto round, wooden side tables, and a grey, cracked coffee table. In place of a television there were framed pencil drawings, which I’m sure cost a fortune. A Christmas tree was in one corner, strung with unlit lights and a smattering of shiny, new red and green ornaments. She had put a framed photograph that I knew well into the tree. I picked it up. It was a small photo of the two of us at five and two years old, we were in our pajamas with shreds of Christmas wrapping surrounding us. She is squeezing the life out of a baby doll that is still half in the box. It is almost the same size as her. Cecilia’s face is lit up just like it should be on Christmas day. I am sitting next to her with a plastic monster truck and I am showing it off to the camera, grinning from ear to ear. This was before she got the scar across her nose and cheek. This was before.

I put it back as I noticed the photograph above the fireplace. We are older then, standing stiff for a staged photo. We are probably seven and four in this. Victor would be nine. Mom and Dad are all smiles standing behind us. Victor is in front of Dad, a slight smirk on his face. Mother’s hand is placed on my shoulder and Cecilia and I are standing together. Our eyes are the only green, as if to show we don’t belong. We look slightly awkward, standing closer together than the rest of them. Cecilia has a shy smile and I just look lost. And that is when I begin to feel sickness building in my stomach. Nausea intertwined with that familiar clawing, It is coming from my gut up through my throat, trying to make its way out. I drank the remainder of my alcohol in one hard swig and turned from the photograph, disgusted.

I tramped through the dining room and into the kitchen to grab two more beers. I swallowed, took a few deep breathes and made myself sit at her dining room table. This consisted of a small, rectangular table shoved against the window, with two turquoise chairs on either end. The sun was setting outside the window. I tried to count while I waited.

“Hey, sorry.” She gave me a side hug and pulled the chair closer to me.

“I got you a beer.” I said as I pushed it towards her.

She smiled and nodded appreciation before taking a swig. “Work things. Always work things.”

I sat, stiff and watched her, her face, the scar across the top of her nose all the way down the right cheek.

“What?”

I sighed and ran my hand across my eyes and down my face. “Nothing.”

“What is it?”

I shook my head, “I just don’t understand you sometimes.”

She laughed, “The same goes for you, Aiden.”

­­I took another drink and watched her put her phone onto the counter. I had to grip the edges of the table, my fingers turning white with the pressure.

“Thanks for the invite tonight, by the way.”

I drank another swallow and focused on the whiteness of my fingers. I willed my thoughts to steady, for the feeling to crawl back to wherever it lives inside of me.

“How’s Sofie?”

“Good.” I started slowly, allowing the words to pull the rest of the emotions into the air. And, if I was lucky, for them to evaporate in the space around us. “Still with William.”  This was progress, although it felt difficult to get the words from my lips. “She keeps getting booked for more shows. Soon, she will make even more money than you.” I tried to joke but the words seemed to come out wrong.

“With the type of stuff she shoots? I think you’re right.”

We took another drink and I found my gaze on the window again.

“What’s Marie up to tonight?”

I shrugged. “We broke up.”

“Aw shit. I’m sorry. Are you doing all right?”

I didn’t want to see her face and so I traced the lines on the table instead. “I guess? I think so.”

“Did something happen…?”

I laughed and looked at her then. “I didn’t expect it to work. Really, Cec.”

“What do you mean?”

I stared at her, like she just spoke the most idiotic words I had ever heard. I motioned towards my skull, “With this?”

She reached as if it to hug me and I tensed without meaning to. She let her hands fall. “Don’t be ridiculous.”

“Are you kidding?”

She paused and took another drink, contemplating her next answer. Yea, that’s what I thought, little sister. “It’s not–”

“Don’t.”  I interrupted. “Don’t lie, Cec.”

She looked at my face for a few moments and sighed. “Will you be all right?”

“I’ll be all right.”

“Should we go then?”

I nodded, swallowed the last of my beer, and stood. We made our way to the car in silence. I felt guilty for allowing the conversation to end the way it did. It seemed I couldn’t just react like a typical human and have a normal interaction.

Once I had started the car I tried to veer back into some sort of normalcy, “…How is work?”

“Oh, you know, scumbag corporations being scumbags. The little guy just trying to get compensation for shitty things the scumbag corporations do.”

“Wait, so, you don’t get the little guy trying to sue the big guy because they spilled hot coffee all over themselves?”

“Ha, ha, Aiden. You know we don’t take that sort of shit.”

I shrugged.

“I still love it though. Now we just have to get you into something creative.”

I stifled a laugh, “Don’t be crazy. I’m going to work dead end jobs until I die.”

She shoved my arm, “Seriously. I think you shit creative rainbows. Someone has to be willing to pay for that.”

This time I really laughed. I don’t even know where she keeps that sense of humour of hers. How it stayed intact after all those years of bullshit, I will never know. Though, I’m not really sure I really had one to start with.

“When you find someone who will pay me to shit rainbows let me know.”

She pulled down the mirror and began applying blush over her cheeks, smears of soft pink over her scar, over her good cheek. Then she had her lipstick, a shade of pink that she put on with one swipe. She mussed her hair and slumped back into the seat with a sigh.

“So, how is the dating life?”

“Douchebags left and right. Really.”

“Examples?”

She laughed again, “One guy, he pulled out his phone the second we got to the restaurant and put it on the table. About every five minutes he was checking in, taking photos of his food, texting. I think he was a teenage girl.”

“So, you’re saying you haven’t found the one yet then.” Attempt at joke number two.

Another laugh. Where did she keep these? Was there a stockpile contained between the lungs inside her chest? “I did go on a date the other night with an actual normal human. That was pleasant.”

“Going to see him again?”

“I hope so. He was nice. Kate has threatened if I don’t get in a relationship soon she is going to set me up on a blind date.” She groaned, “And you know how that will turn out.”

Kate was Cecilia’s best friend that she had met in college. She only started making friends after we moved out together.  We both really only started making friends at that time and though my friend count remained at about a handful of people, hers had grown quite tremendously. Kate was my favourite out of all of her friends. She was always there for Cecilia even when I couldn’t be. Maybe it was because she was a bit crazy like us and that’s why she knew what to say and when to say it.

“Nobody wants that.” I replied as we arrived at Sofie’s art show.

Once we entered the small gallery, I gathered us some champagne from the bar. After a quick glance around the room, I made my way to Cecilia.

“It seemed only appropriate. It is a celebration of Sofie kicking ass after all.” I said as I handed the bubbling glass to my sister.

She thanked me and we wandered down the gallery, some of the work I had seen and some I hadn’t. We stopped at one photograph: overexposed, lines of desolate farm road in the background, grass on either side of the subject, and William standing off to the right side of the road, hands in pockets, hoodie on, bits of snow just starting their descent.

“I really like this one.” Cecilia studied the art.

I nodded. “I think she has that one in her room. I like it.”

“Hey guys!” Sofie came up to us, a glass of red wine in her hand, William by her side. “I’m so glad you came out.”

“Of course. Thank you for inviting us.” Cecilia smiled at her.

William nodded at us in recognition, “Have you been here long?”

“Nah, we have only seen a few so far, but I really like this one.”

“Thank you.” Sofie squeezed William’s hand a little before letting it go. “I just sold it for seven hundred dollars.”

“What? That is amazing!” Cecilia smiled and we continued on this path of chatter. Sofie, apparently had already sold three photographs that night, which would pay all of her bills for the month. She was drinking in celebration. They took us around the gallery to show us the rest of her work. She was excellent. It really was no surprise that she made money at this.

“This one was a collaboration with Todd, do you remember him?” She asked the air as we stood around her, staring at some sort of fashion piece with three girls in extravagant green and pink dresses, frizzy hair, deep cleavage and pink painted cheeks. Two were slumped languidly over wooden chairs, lazily watching each other, while the third daintily kissed the top of one of their hair.

“I like the contrast.” I said, studying the photo. The dilapidated shack and furniture around the women was dark and melancholy while the brightness of their dresses and cheeks drew your attention directly to them.

“Thanks. Yeah, Todd did all the hair and makeup. He’s so talented.”

“Like you,” I heard William chime in. She looked at him and smiled, he kissed her. They had been together three years. Their personalities were opposite with him as the introvert, she the extrovert. They barely fought, and he was always saying positive and uplifting things to her. I liked him.

We continued down the gallery. People that I had never met kept coming up to Sofie to congratulate her, to ask her what certain pieces meant, to talk with the artist. She was always so polite, she would speak with her hands, explaining her inspiration, her ideas for future projects. She was patient and bubbly with every new face, even if they asked something ridiculous. Every time she was finished talking, she would return her attention to us. Ever the perfect host.

I tried to lose myself in the socializing and just relax and be with my friends. But my eyes wouldn’t have it. In every framed print, there would be glimpses of me and my little sister, Victor’s smug face. With every new photograph of people I had never met, I could feel Mother’s fingers on my shoulder, see my father’s empty smile. I just wanted to grab Cecilia’s four-year-old hand and hide underneath the table cloth. I kept watching her, laughing, socializing. This was the grown up Cecilia. She saw nothing but art inside these frames. She saw nothing but good in these people. There wasn’t anyone lurking in her doorways. She didn’t need me to protect her.

And every time I saw a waiter with a tray of champagne, I would take a glass. I could feel my sister watching silently as I took each drink. I had tried to pace myself since I was driving Cecilia, but with every bubbling glass that rolled down my throat, the visions and desire to hide underneath a table faded a little more. I found comfort in the warmth from my cheeks. Cecilia had made her way to the opposite end of the gallery. She was talking to two different men and I watched as she touched people on their backs, as she threw her head back to laugh. She had no need for a blanket of alcohol to surround her. I pressed myself between two photographs and leaned against a wall to stop the swaying. Sofie was talking animatedly and loudly to a group of people, sloshing her wine on the tile floor. Her face was red and full of smiles. She was the center of attention and the happiness was radiating from her skin. I felt proud for her.

William was sitting at a chair and desk near the front doors. He had turned the chair around to face the crowd and was watching with interest at the people and conversation surrounding him.

“Hey,” I slurred when I got to William, leaning against the desk for support.

“Hey.”

“Sofie, man. She’s going to make more money than all of us combined.”

He smiled and nodded, “I have no doubt.”

I tried to cheers with him but then realized he had no glass.

“Hey, do you want to sit down?” He stood and motioned towards the chair. I must’ve been swaying even using the table as support.

“Thanks.” I slid into the chair.

“I’m going to get you some water.”

I sat my champagne glass on the desk and put my chin in my hands to watch the crowd, just as William was doing a moment before. The people were blurring together into a mass of colours and sounds. And just within the pieces I could catch Victor’s blue eyes. I reached for my glass, knocking it slightly before recovering and drinking the contents.

“I think it’s time to go, Aiden.” Cecilia was now in front of me, her arms crossed in front of her. I nodded, stood.

We sought out William and Sofie, now standing together, William with the cup of water still in his hand.

“We are going to go.” Cecilia announced and we waved our goodbyes. Neither of us were the hugging-our-friends type people.

As we walked towards the car, I kept stumbling on the sidewalk. “Fuck, Cecilia, I’m sorry.”

“Just give me your keys.” She sighed. I dug them out and handed them to her.

She was annoyed as she drove towards my place. I held onto the glove compartment, staring at the space between my fingers.

We drove in silence until she finally said, “You can’t do this. You’re an adult now.” Even her words were tense.

“You’re not even supposed to be drinking. Your liver is going to fall out of your body with all the shit you’re on.”

I watched the snow hit the windshield, the cold darkness ahead of us. I could physically feel the frustration in the air and all I could think of was – why does she do this?

“Why do you keep that photo?” I blurted without meaning to.

“What? What photo?”

My chest felt heavy and the stream of cars passing us made me dizzy. “You know, the one on the fireplace.”

“Is that what this is about? Aiden.” My name was a reprimand.

I gripped my pant leg, my fingernails clawing into my thigh.

Her words came out carefully, quietly, “Because it is our family.”

I laughed, choked, leaned my head against the cold window and closed my eyes. It took me a few seconds before I said, “Family.”

“Look, we can’t-“

“We are family, Cecilia.” I opened my eyes, but didn’t move. “You and I.” Each word was bitter, angry.

She sounded tired, tired of this constant fight, “We are. You’re right. But you can’t just-“

“Please don’t. Please. I’m sorry I brought it up.”

“Aiden, it’s not doing you any good to-“

“Please, C, I’m sorry, okay? Not tonight. Please.”

She exhaled loudly, shook her head slightly and said, “Fine.” The word was tense and short.

“I shouldn’t have said anything.”

She didn’t respond and we rode in silence until we made it to my apartment. She stood on the sidewalk, keys in hand.

“Do you want to just stay?”

She was shivering and watching me.

“You could take the bus in the morning.” I mumbled, exhausted and drained.

She ran her fingers through her hair.

“It’s late. Just stay.”

“Fine.” That word again. She threw the keys towards me, which I missed, and picked up.

“You can have my bed. I can sleep on the couch.”

“Don’t worry about it.” She followed me up the stairs and into the apartment. I pulled out the spare blankets and pillows and clumsily piled them on top of the couch. She poured two glasses of water and set one on the side table and gave me one. “Just drink this and get some sleep.”

“Are you sure?”

“Bed, Aiden.”

And so I followed her orders. I stumbled into my keyboard when I first entered, steadied myself and focused on each corner. Under the bed: check. Bathroom: check. I fell face forward onto the bed and lay there. I closed my eyes and let the room spin around me for a few moments. I opened them again, turned over and stared at the ceiling. The room was too dark. I turned on the side lamp and again checked around me. I pulled off my clothes until there was nothing left and got underneath the covers. The sheets tickled at my bare skin. The feeling shot pulses through my arm and memories through my skull. I pulled the sheets back and got out of the bed again. I stood there, swaying, and staring at the nemesis, the crawling on my skin kept buzzing.

“Fuck.” I pulled my clothes back on moved the comforter from the bed to the floor. I made a space close to the keyboard and pulled the covers around me. Can’t even sleep in a god damn bed. I watched the shadows of the trees outside of my window until the dizziness began to fade away. The tingling on my skin slowly dissipated and I turned to face the door. Each time I closed my eyes I could hear the creak of it opening, but every time I opened them, it was still closed. After a few times, I got up and checked the lock once more. It was definitely locked. I lay again in the same position and the same scenario: creaking from an opening door. When I opened my eyes again and saw a shadowy figure, I shoved my fists into my eyes and took a deep breath. When I took my fists away, there was nothing. I kept my eyes on the door even as I faded into sleep.

The morning brought an aching back and a severely parched throat. My vision was blurred as I fumbled with the lock on my door. Cecilia had gone from the couch, the blankets neatly folded in a corner. I watched the empty space, regretting last night and our argument.

I made coffee, chugged a glass of water and stood sleepily next to the fridge. I took a few sips of the warm liquid and allowed myself to wake up a bit before moving. The warmth of the coffee awakened my senses enough to where I felt confident to go back to my room. Time to get ready for the day.

I spent too long in the shower. I had to fix the curtain after pulling it from the rail the other day. It was difficult to motivate myself to get out once I was within the comforting warmth of the water. It was like an enveloping blanket, blocking out the world surrounding me. Blocking out all the stupid shit I did last night, and all the nights before. I stayed in the quiet solitude of the water until I was at the maximum amount of time I could waste and begrudgingly dried myself off. At this point, I had to rush the rest of my morning routine. That took breakfast and shaving out of the equation. I smoothed my hair to the side, picked out fitted grey slacks, white, crisp button up, cheap black tie, black V-neck pullover, dress shoes. Work ready. I rushed out the door and into my car.

The fluorescent lights of the Chase building always tried to mess with my mood. It wasn’t a pleasant way to begin the morning. I waved and smiled to my fellow Tellers. There was Anita, a Spanish woman in her late forties who was always extremely nice to the younger employees. Basically, anyone under thirty was treated like her child. She was generally friendly and sweet to anyone. She made me nervous. Then there was Ashley. She was around the same age as my sister, skinny, short, and insanely self-involved. I’m not sure anything came out of her mouth that didn’t begin with a personal pronoun. We didn’t have much to talk about. And Daniel, he was thirty-years-old, Chinese, sarcastic, funny, and besides my sister, he was the closest friend I had.

Anita and Ashley were mid-conversation about, it sounded like, Ashley’s latest boyfriend. Anita was giving her advice. I caught words like, “relationships” and “difficult” From what it seemed in my three years working at this position, Ashley had a new boyfriend for every month of the year. Anita was always trying to give advice to Ashley about how to make a relationship work. She would tell her to be more giving and thoughtful but Ashley was stuck on the idea that all these men were just wrong for her and would treat her better if they really wanted to be with her. I knew so much more than I wanted to know about her. I’m not sure she knew at all how to filter. Just hearing Ashley speak made me tired.

“Hey, man, how was your weekend?” Daniel asked as I got my station ready for the day.

“Good, all right.” I shrugged. “Sofie had another show.”

“That’s awesome. Did she sell anything?”

I nodded, “I think she could do it full time now really.”

“Maybe she just really likes taking photos of the inside of houses.”

I shook my head. He made the worst jokes.

“How’s your morning?” Anita had finished her conversation with Ashley without me noticing. She was right next to me and this was unnerving. How did she get so close without me noticing?

“I don’t know yet.” I said through gritted teeth. I knocked into the desk in front of me in an attempt to get away from her, spilling documents onto the floor. I made towards the coffee machine. Daniel followed.

When we were in the backroom he said, “You know how she is. She’s just being super motherly.”

“I don’t want a mother.”

He shrugged, “She doesn’t mean anything. She’s just being nice.”

I didn’t bother to answer. He had pulled out a croissant from the pastry tray and was taking bites too big for his mouth. Our manager, Chris, brought in a tray every morning before we arrived. He was older than all of us, in his fifties, and mainly let us work without breathing down our necks.

I handed him a cup of coffee, took my own, and went back to my station. Anita and Ashley were actually doing work at this point so I began my own. Had to get everything sorted before the first customer came in.

The monotone, in-out of the customer service life dragged on as money exchanged hands over and over. The fluorescent lights made everyone that came in seem yellow and sick. This was my distraction for the day, to take note of how each person’s complexion changed upon walking into our merry white-collar workplace. I feel like my hours were filled with, “Hi, how may I help you?” and “Is there anything else I can do for you?” and, ”Have a great day!”

The coffee that I drank like fuel wasn’t the best choice to keep me going. With each refill of the cardboard cup, came a little more of a tremor in my fingertips, an extra beat of the heart, a rise in my already anxious state. So when Anita approached me during midday and asked if I wanted to go to lunch, I felt like exploding on her. I had no idea why she couldn’t figure out how uncomfortable she made me.

“I don’t think so, Anita.” I avoided her gaze and began stuffing my phone and keys into my pockets.

“How is your sister doing?” She tried again as I began to walk away. I swear, she just gets her information based on what she overhears from Daniel and my conversations. I sure as hell wasn’t providing her any details about my life and I especially was not sitting around talking to her about my sister. “Great. Good.” I said without turning around. I took a deep breath as the sunlight hit me. The drastic change from the fake yellow light to the actual sun always took me off guard. It felt as if the sun’s tendrils wrapped around me, encasing my thoughts with a warm calm. I made my way around the building and to the roof of the parking lot. There was a section in the back corner that I always took my lunch. For some reason, there was a small piece of concrete connecting where the corners met. It was a perfect place for me to sit and watch the world below. This was the highlight of my workdays. I was at a perfect vantage point to see everything around me, yet I was away from social interaction. I pulled a granola bar from my jacket pocket and watched a man and woman below me. They were gesturing angrily, obviously having a heated argument in the middle of a strip mall. I guess when the need for an argument arises, you just have to go with it. I watched them for a few more minutes while I finished my lunch. I scanned the parking lot quickly and pulled out my pocket notepad and pen.

Could you, just
within the moment of your
weakness
take hold of-

I stopped, put the pen to my lips and chewed along the cap.

Could you, just
within the moment of your
weakness
take hold of-

I didn’t like how this was going. So, I tried again:

In the moment of your
weakness
just listen, just remember to take, to keep
your words, locked. You good-for-nothing, listen:
your fists, your ugly lips, they will
destroy
you
rip you limb
from
limb
do you understand?
couldn’t you just-
keep your mouthfuckingshut
and the blood and cracks along your fist-
this
this is why, it’s called self-inflicted
a purgatory, the cycle
you deserve
of sweat and skin
and her breath on your neck, “tellmehowmuchyouwantme”
this voice in your ears, a hornet’s nest of sound
filling your bloodstream
and don’tyoufuckingdare, don’tyoueventhink
and these come as poison, a slow burn
from now on
brought to you by: yours truly
every time you even god damn blink,
every time you think you deserve to breathe, the poison spreads
a reminder: this is what you fucking get
I pressed my fingers to my forehead, palms against my eyelids. I swiped, hard, picked up the paper again, crumpled it and tossed it across the lot. There was an ache behind my eyes. My face was hot as I made my way back to work.

How was I going to pretend to be normal eight hours a day for five days a week to keep this piece of shit job? The crazy seemed to go in waves, but lately, my drawer full of medication didn’t seem to make any sort of dent in all this mess. I ran my fingers through my hair, took a long drink of water and tried to keep my brain from heading down into the fog of negativity.

Instead of this spiral, I allowed my thoughts and emotions to be lost in what was left of my workday. The mundane tasks were enough. It ended up being extremely busy –  everyone wanted to take care of their money before the week got into full swing. It always seemed to be the case. And it ended before I expected, with no more confrontations from Anita.

I felt better during the drive home. My fingers kept tapping the steering wheel, a beat to my untitled piece on the piano. I drove in silence, with the sound of my own composition filling my ears. The rays from the sun broke through the clouds in specific blocks, perfectly straight lines of firey orange and this last gleam of light as the sun made its descent filled me with peace – a calm that attached itself directly to my creativity. With this rare moment, I ached to focus all of my attention on my passion. In the meantime, I tried to remember each note and melody as my fingers kept rhythm. By the time I reached my apartment, my head was full and could hold no more. I didn’t even make it to my room. I grabbed a handful of take-out napkins from the coffee table, threw my bag next to me and crashed onto the couch. My chicken scratch drawings of makeshift sheet music looked ridiculous. It would have probably saved time to have gone the few extra feet to my bedroom and gotten real sheet music but I couldn’t stop now. My notes were furious, slanted, sloppy – anything to just get it down. I had to write it out before I even touched the keys because who knows how long my brain could remember this. I don’t even know how long I had been in this position when I heard the door slam. Sofie flopped onto the loveseat next to me. A loud, exhausted sigh came from her corner. I couldn’t look up.

“What’s got you so worked up?”

“Hold on.” I scratched out the last few notes and then detangled myself from the hunched position. My upper back and neck was stiff. I rolled my head from left to right to stretch it out.

“Sorry.” I leaned back, noticing immediately that it was now dark outside. “Couldn’t stop.”

She glanced over the pile of napkins. “Work was inspiring I see.” She smiled. “How long have you been working on this one?”

“Way too long. Three months? Six?”

“And when will you unveil the masterpiece?”

“I guess hearing me stop and start the thing a hundred times in my room doesn’t count.”

“No. Not really.” She laughed.

“Let’s go with three years from now.”

She rolled her eyes and took off her heels. “So, today was a shitshow.” Her heels fell to the floor and she began massaging her arches.

“Hungover?”

“Fuck, A.” She used one of the few nicknames Cecilia had given me. A- Allowed usage: Cecilia + People Who Gave A Shit. “I swear I’m still drunk. I couldn’t get out of bed this morning. Seriously could not. And then I got half way to my new client’s place and realized I forgot my lenses. I was an hour late. They were pissed.”

“The good news is, you’re now rolling in cash.”

She snorted, “The bad news is, I feel like shit and I probably lost my biggest client this year.”

I began pulling together the stray napkins and putting them in order.

“How are you feeling? Rumour has it, you were feeling pretty great by the end of the night as well.”

“Probably felt as good as you did this morning plus I think C is about ready to disown me.”

“Whatever, Baby. You know she never would.”

Sofie had a thing for calling people “Baby”. When we first moved in together three years ago, it made me extremely uncomfortable but now I found it endearing. I was about to respond when my phone began vibrating in my pocket.

I answered to an extremely loud conglomeration of voices and Daniel’s saying, “Um, where the hell are you?”

“Shit.” I stood up and looked at Sofie, pointed to the phone, made an apologetic face and took my notes with me to my room.

“Get over here. Don’t leave me with these people.”

Daniel had invited me out to a local bar to watch a sporting event that I gave zero fucks about. The Blazers vs. some other team. Miami Heat? Maybe. He knew I didn’t give a shit about sports but he kept inviting me. And coincidentally, I kept going.

“I’m coming. Order me a shot. And a beer.” I hung up and quickly spun around the room to check each nook before throwing my clothes in a heap on the floor. I changed quickly into more dark, fitted denim, a soft grey t-shirt, same blue slip-on sneakers, cologne and I was on my way. I walked five blocks to the bar. Our usual sports-and-getshitfaced bar was an interesting mix of hipsters, dude bros, and just regular men in their forties who want to drink and watch the game without their wives. Daniel was sitting at a barstool table with two of his friends.

“Finally! I thought you were going to bail.”

“Sorry.” I said as I slid into a seat.

“Aiden, this is Thomas and Carrie. Guys, this is Aiden.”

We shook hands. They looked to be older than us, thirties, and definitely not fitting the hipster or dude bro stereotype. They were just a normal couple out to watch a game with their friend.

“You just missed this ridiculous layup.” Thomas said. I grabbed my beer and took a swig. The usual scan was quick: bar, nearest exit, doors for bathrooms. Every face around us was either watching the game or animated while talking loudly to their group of friends. I took the shot. Tequila. I grimaced and swiped my lips with the back of my hand. Beer chaser.

“Who are they playing?”

Thomas looked at me then at Daniel and back at me with an incredulous look.

“The Spurs.”

Carrie looked bored. She was sipping her beer, her eyes roaming the crowded bar.

“Into basketball, Carrie?” I asked. She smiled, shrugged, looked at her boyfriend, back at me.

“I’m just here for moral support.”

“Me too. Let’s do a shot. Thomas? Daniel?”

They were groaning and staring at the screen. The Blazers had just missed a foul shot. I ordered tequila for Carrie and I, as we would need it to give our proper support.

“You work with Dan?” Carrie said after we downed them. “He’s talked about you a lot.”

I nodded, looked back at my friend, the screen he was staring at, back at Carrie. “I don’t even want to know.”

She smiled, “Nah, good things. “

“Hey your roommate is Sofie Gallagher isn’t it?” Thomas had broken away from the screen and was drinking his beer while staring at me.

I nodded.

“Carrie and I just found a flyer to her show the other day. We went to the one at Lankford Art Gallery this weekend. Damn, she is crazy talented.”

“I was talking to Daniel about it and he said you were her roommate. Seriously small world.” Carrie added.

I smiled, “She is really talented.”

“How long has she been doing it?” Carrie asked.

“I think since she was fifteen? So, eleven years.”

“Shit, man, I wish anything I did was half that good.”

Carrie gave Thomas a look and said to me, “Thomas is an accountant. He’s creative in his Instagram photos of food.”

“Hey!” He grinned at her, “My accounting paid for that food.”

She threw her hands in the air with a laugh, “All right.”

“Didn’t you go to that, A?” Daniel said as he waved over a waitress for more beers.

“She sold a lot of work that night.” I confirmed, distracted by the waitress who was now uncomfortably close to my seat.

“No shit? See baby, maybe my phone pictures could pay the big bucks.”

She rolled her eyes, “Excuse him. He is an idiot.”

The waitress had now come and gone with four more beers gracing our table. The rest of the group, including Carrie, again became entranced by the game. I nursed my beer, hummed a few chords of the song I didn’t get a chance to practice, regretted this fact, began peeling at the beer label.

“Dan told us you’re an artist as well?” Carrie asked when I looked up.

“Not really.” I peeled a little more, forming the strips into little balls between my fingertips.

“Don’t you play music?”

“Oh, just for fun.”

“Come on.” I guess Daniel had overheard us. “Don’t be so ridiculous. This guy is a genius. Seriously.”

“What do you play?”

I shrugged, “Piano, mainly. Guitar. Cello in college, not so much anymore. Some drums.”

“Cello? I think you just won Carrie’s heart. “ Thomas piped in.

“You play the Cello?” Carrie said, her mouth hanging half open.

“Played.”

“She is going to make you play it now.” Thomas chimed, not moving his eyes from the television.

“Oh, no, I don’t play anymore.”

“You should. I love the way they sound. I’m kind of obsessed.”

“Kind of.” Thomas added sarcastically.

“Okay, pretty obsessed . Why don’t you play anymore?”

I took a long swig of my beer, wishing I already had another. “It wasn’t mine. I couldn’t afford one. A girl I was dating in college used to play it in high school. Her parent’s made her play it or something. I can’t really remember. But she didn’t play anymore.” I paused, tilted the liquid in the bottle from side to side. “Which is crazy.” My voice came out softer. “But she let me use it so I could be in the orchestra.”

“Damn, that was nice of her.” Daniel’s voice.

“Yeah.” I continued to tilt the bottle between my fingers.

When I finally looked up, I realized they were all watching me. I don’t know how long I had been quiet.

“And?” Carrie asked when she caught my eye.

“It broke.” I said, flat, and drank the rest of my beer.

“What?” Daniel asked. They were staring at me like I was telling the most interesting story in the world.

“I broke it.” The surroundings seemed to be forming a thick dust on the faces of the strangers around me. I had to peer into each face to remind myself that this was all in my head.

“Shit.” Daniel again. “What did she do?”

The replays of my mother were like a projector to the back of my skull: her surprise visit to my dorm room, the argument.

“Well, I no longer had a girlfriend.”

The projector was now a vision of the cello’s body, dented and pierced, fresh splinters of wood covering the floor. I could hear the sickening crunch of metal on wood. I could see her face: red and sweaty. And, like a movie, I could see myself sitting on the bed, my own face in my hands. The feeling of defeat pervading every inch of my senses.

“Damn, I’m sorry.” Daniel said.

“That is shitty.’ Thomas added.

I brought the bottle to my lips before realizing I had already finished. Without acknowledging the group, I got up. The ominous blanket of dust was now covering floors and walls. I focused on stepping carefully in spots devoid of blackness. It seemed that each person in the bar had their eyes on the back of my neck.

A shadowy figure sidled up behind the bar with a grin full of white teeth. “They are waiting for you.” I couldn’t tell if it came from the shadow in front of me or from somewhere else.

“Hey, you okay?”

Daniel was standing next to me, a smattering of dust covering the left side of his face.

“Just needed a drink.”

He turned to the shadow figure and said, “Two more Full Sail IPA’s please.”

I pressed my hands into the sticky counter and tried to focus on what I knew was real – the pressure of my palms on wood.

“Here.” He handed the bottle to me.

We went back to the table where Carrie was giving me a sorry-I-Asked look. I smiled, raised my beer and clinked it against hers.

“Hey man….” Thomas began some sort of apology.

“It’s fine.” I waved him off. He stopped and we sat taking glances at the television and each other in silence.

“So, how long have you been together?” I directed the question to Thomas.

“Four years.” He seemed relieved that someone broke the silence.

“How long have you known Daniel?”

“We met a few weeks ago at Rob’s birthday. Do you know Rob?” Carrie asked.

“No, Aiden and I didn’t go to school together. Rob’s a friend of mine from college.” Daniel chimed.

“Where did you go to school?” Carrie asked me.

“I went to Oklahoma State. Bachelor’s in Music.”

“Oh are you from there?”

I nodded.

“What did you want to do with your degree?”

I shrugged, “I thought I’d be more accomplished by now.”

Daniel laughed at that, “Didn’t we all.”

“Definitely didn’t plan on working in a bank.” I grinned.

“Yeah, whoever said getting a degree in Business was a good idea…” Daniel shook his head.

“So much for degrees.” I grinned.

“Worked for Cecilia.” Daniel smiled.

“Of course it did.” Cecilia was so head strong that she could get anything she set her mind to.

“My sister, Cecilia.” I clarified.

“Yeah, she’s in law school now. How long does she have left?” Daniel asked.

“A year. Then the bar.”

“She works for some hot shot lawyer downtown. Do you think she would marry me? She’s basically rolling in it already. Then I wouldn’t have to worry about my degree meaning nothing.”

“I think a hundred times is her limit of being proposed to, Daniel.”

“She loves me.” He winked at his friends and I could tell by his silly and childish manner that he was working towards drunk.

“In your dreams.” I smiled at him. This was a running gag between Cecilia, Daniel and I.

“So, how long have you been in Portland then?” Thomas asked.

“Since Cecilia’s graduation. Three years? Yeah. She loves this city.”

“What do you think of it?” Carrie.

“Oh, it’s amazing. And far from Oklahoma. Which is perfect.”

“I hear ya. I’m from the smallest town you can find in Illinois. I moved here the second I turned eighteen.” Thomas said then turned towards the screen again.

“How is Cec doing?” Daniel asked.

“Good. She likes her job. She’s trying out dating.”

“Man, why didn’t you set me up?”

I shook my head, “She is way too smart for you, Dan.”

He laughed, “That’s true.”

The conversation began to drop and their eyes made their way to the screens. The game ended with groans from the bar and people began to finish their drinks and meander out. I watched the crowd of stranger’s faces during a quiet lull, my group were now talking among themselves. The bar had started to become quiet. I let my mind just hold this place: here, now, with my closest friend and his friends and the bar in front of me. The content feeling of being partially dizzy, a little drunk, a little dulled. My hands felt tingly. I took note of the people around me: a head thrown back in laughter, a couple in the corner getting too handsy for public, and a group of guys in business suits discussing something serious. It was good to just observe. When I was young, I was always in the middle causing drama and fights but now my time was full of observations. I took in one of the bartenders: a woman in a low cut top – small mounds of skin pressed so hard together that they looked entirely too large for the skinny girl whose body they graced. The sharp tinking of glass against glass, the slow rumbling of voices overlapping each other – this was the chorus surrounding me. I let myself be lost inside of it. Within this buzzing, I began to hear a pattern, a steady beat that my fingers drummed against the counter. The melody was instantly so strong that I could physically see the notes when I closed my eyes and my throat began to hum. This melody was less wistful than the one earlier. It had a cello’s strong baseline and if I strained just enough I could hear an orchestra of violins singing over the bass. It was so peaceful, my own private concert. The playful orchestra drowned out the faces in the bar until my senses were only strings and chords and notes. I followed the ups and down with an intense interest, as if reading a novel, anticipating what was to happen next. It did not disappoint.

 

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