REPORT A PROBLEM
"It's disgusting in here. This place is a mess! What do we even have student managers for, they don't do a damn thing other than sitting in the office playing computer games."
A woman in her fifties gesticulated wildly at the state of the room. Her nasal voice cut sharply through the air as she complained to her supervisor. While she kept rambling in her low-pitched piercing tone, her supervisor, seemed to have been stunned into silence. Granted, the floor was a little sticky, and some of the chairs weren't pushed in, but it wasn't the end of the world.
High wind and higher hopes.
The last day of classes was finally nearing its end. Unconcerned with his impending exam, the young man shunned the cramped classrooms and dim study halls for the openness of the outdoors. He didn't even mind the rainclouds looming on the horizon; freedom was nigh. Seated comfortably on the soft grass between the gnarled roots of a maple, he bent intently over the newspaper, engrossed as he was in figuring out today's crossword.
He was a misfit, out of place among prep students with collared shirts and designer backpacks. And he liked it that way.
Heading out into the night, they saw her. She sat on the low wall facing the doors, staring straight ahead, not blinking. Why she sat outside, they didn't know; had she been there the whole time?
"Why are you out here?" the tall girl asked. The seated girl blinked, glasses flashing as she turned toward the voice.
"Because I just realized it's ten o'clock," she snapped.
Taken aback by her response, the tall one glanced at her companion, then asked, "Do you want to come inside and pick shifts?"
The wall girl nodded and hopped down, jerkily, her anger obvious.
Twitching nose sniffles, then exhales, releasing a deep sigh. For a moment, nothing; then normal breathing resumes.
The body is curled up in such a way as would seem unnaturally contorted to most. But then, what else is a spine that long good for? The jaw, with its mischievous mouth lightly curved into an almost-smile, is wedged between the chest and the rump, creating a figure reminiscent of a fur-clad cinnamon bun.
Paws twitch suddenly, gently spastic in an otherwise motionless scene. The movement shifts, rippling next to the soft pink tips of the ears.
What do ferrets dream about?
Streetlights flickered by as the girl headed home. She wasn't exactly scowling, though she wasn't smiling by any stretch of the imagination. Something was bothering her, that was certain.
She turned over events in her mind. Standing before the counter, laughter and tugging coming from behind her. Had she suddenly started speaking Chinese, or had her coworker temporarily lost the ability to comprehend simple English? Was that it? No? Then what part of "Don't pull my hair" had been misunderstood?
The girl chewed her lip, frowning again. She felt bad for fuming, however mildly, at an insignificant incident like this.
The stress twisted his stomach. It was so hard to concentrate with the pressure churning in his abdomen. All the adrenaline was making him mildly nauseous.
He stared down at his paper, trying to concentrate. The words of the exam questions wavered and swam before his eyes. His brain was obviously turning to mush; a person can only take an organic chemistry final for so long before he or she starts to go insane.
He had to focus! He shook his head, hard, mumbling "No, be done with it," and rubbed at his eyes. Maybe it was time to quit...
So many things were the same. The chief medical examiner was the same as last time. So was the hat, and the specific examiner. Would this be like last time?
No, no. It couldn't be. Things would be different, this time around. That was the promise, it had to be. The number wasn't 47 today, it was 39. The group was three, not two, and all were strangers. Even the kid who'd shyly introduced himself, asking to be partners, stranger.
And the weather. Last time it'd been February, dry. Now it was cold, but rainy. Was that a good sign?
She breathed a contented sigh as she turned off the computer.
Work had been shortstaffed today, as one of the regulars had been absent. It had been busier than usual, but somehow more free and more enjoyable. Somewhere along the line, she'd realized that it was better because of that absence. The new guy was nice, and fit right in, but somehow she'd been seeing too much of him in recent weeks. The sudden breath of space and freedom created by the time without him had drained much of the tension from her. Things were back to normal once again.
There was work, but it couldn't be done. Something didn't want her to do it. There was a world outside this room, outside this house, but it was cold and uninviting. Something didn't want her to go. So she stayed in, sat and watched the walls melt around her.
She was going stir-crazy. The room was collapsing in on her, squashing her in the smallness of its confines. She longed for freedom, but somehow she knew that no place on earth could give her immunity from human ties. All forests were surrounded by highways, as good a cage as any.
A random walk, taken on a random afternoon. It was a nice afternoon, warm and sunny in spite of its arbitrariness. The course was not random; it was a path that had been traveled many times before. It was the purpose of the course that was random. A certain publication had to be found. It had been advertised, its presence at certain locations publicized. So the journey began, a quest which would ultimately end in failure.
But not all pursuits were doomed to defeat. After all, it is written "Seek and ye shall find." Perhaps next time. Perhaps.
"God, I wish that girl would make some friends other than me."
It wasn't an intentional comment. How it escaped from between her lips into the air, she didn't know. But it did, and no amount of reaching would snatch the words back, keep them hidden. Guiltily, she glanced at her companion, and was surprised to find that he was nodding.
She dropped her gaze guiltily, breaking eye contact, and said by way of explanation, "Remember that... situation I was telling you about yesterday? Well... we're in it, right now."
Footsteps sounded behind her. "Yeah... we're in it," she breathed.
Could it be done?
It was time to play the avoidance game. In the past five months, a single day hadn't gone by without some form of contact. An email. A phone call. An instant message. What ever happened to personal space, either of the physical or mental variety?
Was it even possible to go twenty-four hours being isolated from just one person? It would be fine—no, more than fine, necessary—to see other people. The goal was just to avoid one single individual.
The answer? No. The day wasn't even half over when it failed. Maybe next time...
It was odd, waking up without an alarm. Her eyes fluttered lazily open as her mind slowly drifted back to consciousness. She glanced at the clock: 10:38. There was plenty of time; there was nothing scheduled for the day. Sweet, sweet freedom.
Stretching was ever so satisfying after a decent night's sleep. She rolled over and looked across the room at the form lying comfortably under a blanket. All was quiet, except for the measured sound of his resting breaths. His mouth was partly open, just a whisper of air fluttering through.
She smiled. She liked watching people sleep.
It was like coming home from travels which had lasted many years.
A warm, loving, hugging free-for-all. Sitting around a big table at a family restaurant, laughing and talking and eating. The table so laden with food that dishes were stacked on top of one another to make room for it all. People tasting, commenting, sharing, offering, passing.
After all the chatting and a brief stop for ice cream (even after all that food!), a discussion about pregnancy and jury duty in the car on the way back. Hellos and goodbyes. A game, and a long conversation, just catching up.
Shock hit. Not body-freezing shock; it was milder, but still enough to propel the hand to hover in front of the open mouth, seemingly of its own volition.
Oh, the poor girl.
It was a hopeless situation. Then again, both Love and its lesser cousin Attraction had a way of operating in those circles, to their satisfaction. He was two years older, a graduating senior, and had a steady girlfriend, one whom he'd known for years as a friend before they moved on to other things.
But she still liked him. And that, they feared, would surely end in heartbreak.
The little girl draped herself over her father's shoulder as he leaned back in his chair; the scene drew smiles from passersby. She stretched her arms forward as if flying, making her already-slim body appear more slender.
"I'm Boo Bair," she declared with authority. "I'm a superhero."
Under her father's doting gaze, she ran off, returning with a cluster of spoons clutched in one small hand. Her long hair fell almost to her waist, throwing late-afternoon shadows over her face. With an air of concentration, she laid the spoons in a curving row around the table, as she counted them.
All she wanted was a day of quiet contemplation. If the world would leave her alone, even for a moment, that would be perfect. But there were things to do, errands to run, assignments to finish. Amidst the whirlwind of activity, running from one place to another in search of ingredients and the like, she bought herself a Zen word magnet kit. A poor substitute for the breathing space itself, but at the very least, it would allow her to decompress.
It was not until later, when she returned home, that she realized she'd had her peace all that day.
The blue mustang pulled up in front of the house just as she closed her laptop. She had been waiting for it, watching from her high window as Rapunzel must have gazed from her high tower. Only this was not her prince, and there was no wicked enchantress keeping her captive.
Grabbing her keys, she ran down the stairs to meet her friend. He was just getting out of the car as she strode down the front steps, rendering his actions unnecessary. They stood across the car from one another, silent for a moment as their eyes exchanged wordless greetings.
They left the party early, sneaking out while everyone else was busy. They almost went unnoticed. Pausing only to grab some keys, they left the revelry behind and headed outdoors into the night. It was cool out, but not cold; the chill was merely that of late spring. Of the four, only two knew the destination. Down the path, around the corner at the fence, then another turn, this time onto soft sand. Their steps were muted, thudding in the dull hiss of fine grains, as they ran towards the playground's swings.
Later, they gazed at the stars in wonder.
Chatter filled the air of the little room in back where the punch cards are kept. It had been a long shift of setting up tables, serving, cleaning, and breaking down. For her, it had involved many oddities: getting a recruiter's card and being told that the Armed Forces may pay her tuition veterinary school (if she enlisted), and walking around with a "slosh bucket" full of old coffee and curdled cream, among others. It had been good, but she was tired, badly in need of sleep.
Lost in thought, she barely dodged an unwelcome swipe aimed at her head.
The tall one's appearance was unexpected. Surprised, the leader stifled the "What are you doing here?" threatening to spill from her lips.
Earlier, the spindly giantess had felt sick and left. Now, in time for clean up, when she wasn't needed, she'd returned.
The leader decided against pointing out the discrepancy. As she passed the doorway, she ducked a blow aimed at her head. Next, the lanky girl's arm slapped into the leader's back, hard. That was going too far. Swinging around, she faced her attacker.
"Hit me one more time, and I swear I'll punch you in the face."
Oh, bittersweet commencement! Semisonic's lyrics rang in her mind as she worked, searched, and watched: "Every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end."
Still, though it seemed her world was crashing down around her, she couldn't suppress the fierce pride welling in her chest as she watched her senior friends graduate. She could only sit an applaud, a wide, goofy grin plastered across her face, as she watched their four years of hard work come to full fruition.
Most would stay in the area, she knew; no one was going far. But things wouldn't be the same, not ever.
How she foretold that he would call, she didn't know. It was just a feeling. And lo and behold, call he did, while she was at the laundromat. Together they made plans for that night.
It was good to see him again. She had missed him, and from what she could tell, he had missed her as well. He greeted her with a kiss, and she savored the taste of him and the feel of his mouth on hers. Content, she sighed happily and curled up against him on the couch, nestling her head in the crook of his arm.
There's nothing quite like falling asleep curled around a warm body, or waking up with someone next to you.
Neither spoke for a while after the alarm was silenced. They lay in bed, snug under the blankets, spooning and enjoying each other's company. Neither wanted to leave the toasty confines of the thick blankets. For a long time they simply lay there in complete contentment.
It was he who broke the comfortable silence. "Thank you for last night," he said as he kissed her neck. She rolled over in the protective circle of his arms and nuzzled against his chest.
The silences on the phone were awkward, filled with the depth of distance and time. Every now and then, neither knew what to talk about, so for several seconds they just listened to each other breathe. Perhaps nothing needed to be said, but it was difficult to tell.
When she hung up, she worried. Had they grown too separate now that they rarely saw each other? Had they drifted so far apart that there was no going back? They still had much in common, given the fact that they had known each other for years. But would it be enough?
He was frustrated.
He'd given her the landlord's number a week ago, so she could call him and verify that it was okay to move furniture in early. Only now did she tell him she hadn't called, and only because he asked her whether she had. And when he asked her why, she only said that calling people is scary and uncomfortable, before she changed the subject.
She hadn't done a single thing when it came to securing the apartment; she'd left it all to him. And the fact that she'd waited so long to tell him... that really rankled.
She should be packing, she knew. Her father was coming tomorrow morning, at eight (an ungodly hour on a Saturday!), to help her move furniture to the apartment. But she was sick of packing. The toil of shoving her life into boxes was taking its toll on her, she feared. But then, what choice did she have? The lease would be over in two days.
Taking a break, she turned on the television. It wound up being the gravest error she'd made, for she was soon swept up in the plot of one of her favorite movies of all time.
The trip was lengthy, but far from being dull, it was a glorious three-hour car ride, with good people, much laughter, and more classical music than she could sing along to. Ere long, her throat was raw, but she couldn't stop herself from humming.
Her "kidnappers" had taken her to family which she hadn't seen in a long time, and she had come more than willingly. It wasn't until the end, sitting on a living room floor and stroking the sleeping dog at her feet, that she realized the irony of celebrating her birthday on the day of her ex's.
The phone rang, jarring her from sleep. Without opening her eyes, she reached across her body and snagged it from its resting place by her pillow. She opened it with a flick of her wrist and put it to her ear, just managing a groggy "Hello?"
"Hiiii!" The bright cheery voice made her eardrums ring. She winced.
"Oh, sorry, did I wake you up?" The voice continued, unrelenting. She groaned, and regretted having packed her clock. "Uh... yeah. What time is it?"
"Eight. I just wanted to say thanks for the present." This brought a grin to her sleepy face.
The first time she came downstairs, half the food was gone. Next the pots and pans disappeared, then the microwave.
The rooms upstairs had already been emptied in a similar fashion. Even she had moved her things down one floor to facilitate transport. Looking over her bedroom, now swept clean, she indulged in a few moments of nostalgia. She had made many good memories in here, yes; but it was time to move on. Still, the aching emptiness of the room bothered her somewhat. Aside from the color of the walls, it was as if she had never lived there.
Change: house, once full of
Silent as the grave.
Footsteps and laughter
Filled the rooms and the hallways,
Made this place alive.
Now, the only sounds
Are of lawnmowers and birds
The ferret yawned wide,
Shifting under her blanket
To a better spot.
She was just as bored
As her owner was just now.
There's nothing to do.
She'd love to explore,
Or just run around the room.
But the cage is closed.
So instead she sleeps,
Accomplishing in her dreams
What she now cannot.
Thus everyone waits.
Time marches ever onward.
Today will soon end.
The Tip Jar