Friday, July 1, 2011

Long time a'coming

So I realize I haven't actually posted anything here in awhile. My bad, I'll try to work on that. I also realize I can't actually write stories with happy endings too well. Fortunately, this new bit doesn't have anything even resembling a happy ending, so we're good. Inspired by some conversation held earlier this evening, this one owes a lot of thanks to Kuisti. Near as I can tell, my experiences during the Days of Discordia were generally too wacky and unbelievable to use directly, so I smashed them together with Kuisti's, made some shit up, and stole a character name from Salinger. Also, it's decently long, so I'm going to post a download link so you can read it elsewhere without burning your eyes out, as well as copying the whole thing here. Enjoy, folks.

Also, as always, this hasn't been re-read, spell checked, or anything else. What can I say, I'm lazy.



His hands were pale and nearly useless as he fumbled for a cigarette, awash in a sea of downtown neon and orange. Lane hated the things now, his favorite horrible habit, but they were still the best and only thing he knew to do at times like these. As he managed to free a smoke from the dangerously crumpled pack, the wind kicked back up, a harsh reminder that, yes, it was winter, and, no, he hadn't dressed warmly enough. He took shelter under the overhang of a vacant shop, trying both to remember what had once occupied the now bleakly vacant hole-in-the-wall and force his chilled thumb to work the wheel of his lighter. After a few discouraging failures, the dingy old Zippo finally gave birth to a flame, dancing terrified in the night air before embracing the tip of Lane's cigarette. He blew out the first mouthful of smoke, then took the first drag, the first—and likely the only—satisfying thing of his nightly vigil.
He made the mistake of relaxing for a moment as he exhaled, smoke tumbling out of him in ornate rolls and spirals. His body instantly felt the cold again, and he hunched his shoulders back up and crowded closer to the brick wall behind him. For a moment, the first rush of nicotine from an abandoned habit coaxed out a bitter smile. He thought of how he must look to anyone who had seen him standing here more than once; a single kid, standing alone in a shitty neighborhood, chain-smoking and just loitering.
You've lost it, Lane, ol' buddy. You look and act like a nutjob, and all for something you know just isn't gonna happen.
He snapped out of his self-deprecating humor as the loud voices of a group of people at the end of the block reached him. All four of them were drunk, laughing and swaying slightly as they walked. They were probably college kids just like him, just leaving the bar around the corner, The Grove. It was one of those trendy college bars that just naturally attracted theatre majors and hipsters and everyone else cut from that same cloth that Lane generally just couldn't stand. Oh sure, he'd been in there before, dragged by friends who just wanted a place with a later last call or were, themselves, a part of that pretentious fabric, but he'd hated it. Not just, he assured himself, because she had worked there. No, he also hated how packed it always was, the blaring indie music, the groups of guys in knit beanies and obscure band t-shirts talking about equally esoteric drinks and movies, and so on. And because she had worked there a year ago, and maybe still did.
“Hey bro, can I bum one'a them off you?”
The voice jarred his train of thought off the tracks. He nodded, throwing in an absentminded, “Oh, yeah sure, man.” He didn't even bother risking embarrassing himself with an attempt to use his half-numbed hand to fish a cigarette out for the tall, frat bro who's lady friend was looking longingly at the curb. Instead, he just extended the open pack and a forced smile. The bro took two and left without so much as a thank you, or even a nod. It would have, seemingly should have pissed Lane off, but he found himself oddly apathetic. It's not like he was going to finish the pack anyways. At the end of the night, he always just threw the pack, along with however many cigarettes were left in it, in the trash somewhere on the long walk home.

He remembered when she found out he smoked. He'd tried to hide it as best he could for the longest time, knowing full well that it was a dirty habit and it probably wouldn't help his chances of asking her out any. Back then, they lived three floors apart in a shitty dormitory complex, and they had gradually realized one day that they shared the same walk home from class at the end of the day. After their first conversation, he had made a point to not smoke before his last class or at any point immediately after so he could spend the ten minutes or so of walking conversation without smelling like an ashtray.
All went according to plan until the night he had to cram through an obscenely long and pointless paper and went outside for a cigarette to think his way through it. He was standing in his usual spot behind their building, watching the night's fading traffic, when his phone sprang to life in his pocket. The text message had read: Are you awake/did you just go outside? Lane hesitated, looking around as if he expected to see her jump out of the shadows shouting “boo” before responding: I am and I did. If you werent so easy on the eyes the stalker routine would just be creepy.
Too excited to notice, his cigarette had burned down long enough for the heat to start searing his fingers. He jumped, surprised and dropped it, grinding the already dying cherry into the dirt and patchy grass beneath his feet. As he was lighting another, halfway through his second pack of the day, he got her response: Color me offended. Mind some company or would that be creepy too ;). He hesitated again, this time because he was forced to choose between his secret addiction being revealed or passing up on an opportunity to spend time with her. He didn't particularly like either option, but wasn't about to lose ground with a girl he was rapidly realizing he was falling hard for. He texted back a simple Sure thing and started to walk back towards the entrance. Bringing the cigarette to the grin he just couldn't help but wear, he took another drag, thinking he had ample time to finish this smoke before she came out.
As if on cue, however, she peeked her head around the corner of the building at him. Lane would never admit it, but he jumped back, shocked. She laughed, and then hung her head and pouted, “Aw! I am creepy” before walking over and leaning against the wall next to him. Shocked and too confused to know better, Lane stood and talked with her, his cigarette still burning in his hand. He wasn't sure if she had seen it, and he wondered if it was possible she really hadn't noticed him smoking considering she hadn't said anything about it. So, as they talked, he kept the smoldering cigarette close beside him, pretending as best he could that it simply wasn't there.
After talking for a few minutes, he, again, felt the burning coal meet the filter by his fingers, the heat quickly going from mild to painful. Lane stood, partially listening to a story about her home town hundreds of miles away, mostly trying to figure out how to discreetly dispose of the wad of embers in his hand. His mind raced, and before he had time to stop himself, instinct took over. He pointed across the lawn on which their dorm stood and said, “Hey, look, wild rabbits.” In his mind, as the stump of smoked tobacco fell from his hand, he cursed himself in every way he knew.
Really? Really, asshole? That's the best you can come up with, the old 'Hey, look over there' bit that ran out of gas somewhere back in 3rd Grade? Fuck you, man, fuck you.
And yet, surprisingly, borderline unbelievably, it seemed to have worked. She had turned, staring off into the distance, and by some miracle, had spotted a rabbit staring silently off into the distance. She fawned over how cute the rabbits that wandered into town were, and he just smiled and agreed, thinking about how he'd never eat a rabbit now. He owed the furry little bastards too much.
For over an hour, they stood and talked. He reveled in every word she said, drinking in every new thing he learned about her. She talked about how lonely it got having a single room, what her classes were like, where she came from. It was there, listening to her make idle small talk about nothing of real importance on a dark, early fall night that Lane had realized for the first time that she was different somehow. It was a potent, wonderful, and dangerous sort of different, the kind that he knew could slip right into his heart and his mind and stay there, either blossoming or festering, forever. And he knew he was going to let it.
He wasn't sure he ever wanted to get back to homework, but gradually the realization that flunking a class wouldn't exactly help his cause forced him to end their conversation. He wished her a goodnight, and she smiled and returned the sentiment before stunning him, stepping right up to him. She kissed his cheek with a smile, her deep blue eyes locked with his dull browns, and said, “You should quit those, you know. You'll live longer.” Before he knew what to say, she was already walking away.

Standing there, cold and alone, he realized that was the tone of the whole affair. Throughout it all, she had remained impossible to get a grasp on, and she was always taking the lead. He knew now, when his friends, family, and better instincts all said it was far too late, that it was because she was tied down in the rest of her life—no, in her real life. He winced at that, at the very thought that he was really never a part of her real life, just a diversion, like a vacation or, at best, a dream.
Michelangelo’s—that was the place. Lane gave the cold stone behind him a reminiscent pat, content with having remembered, at last, what the now vacant building had once been. Michelangelo's had been a sort of curiosity shop, selling antiques, books, homemade arts and crafts, and the like. He remembered the old lady who ran the place, her aged frame twisted and hunched with the weight of a long life of joys, sorrows, and likely osteoporosis. She had accused him of trying to shoplift when he had come in before the first date. He was all nerves so he had shown up half an hour before her, deciding to occupy his time looking around the shop across the street from the cafe where they were going to meet.
For half an hour, Lane wandered the aisles of miscellany, occasionally stopping to pick something up and look at it before checking the time and out the storefront window. When he met the stern gaze of the store owner, he had looked away, and had been all the evidence she needed, apparently. She marched right up to him and started laying into him. Lane stood a foot and a half taller than her, weighed probably twice what she did, and was probably close to a quarter of her age, and yet, here she was, right in his face yelling at him about how, if he planned on stealing anything, she would personally kick his ass out into the street. He tried to apologize and explain himself, but that only seemed to confirm his guilt in her eyes. She started taking swings at him with her cane, her face built out of a sort of rage and hatred Lane had never before witnessed.
Under her hail of determined, yet sadly ineffective blows, Lane decided it was best not to make things worse and beat a hasty retreat. Bursting out of the front door and out onto the midday sun, he was greeted first by the surprised face of his date and second by a sharp pain in the back of his head. Dazed, he heard the thrown cane clatter to the concrete as the old crone shouted, “Come back and I'll call the cops, you hooligan!”

Lane couldn't help but laugh, his breath escaping in thick white puffs in front of him. A wiser man would have seen that as an omen, but he had just been too happy that the date hadn't been ruined to think straight. The real kicker was that hadn't even been the only incident in their relationship. There had been the dinner date at Luigi's where their waiter had thrown up on their table, the Halloween party at his buddy John's house where they had bolted out a back window together when the cops showed up, the lunch at Olmec Park that was ruined by a freak hailstorm, and so on. Hell, the first time they were going to have sex, his roommate had come home drunk—fortunately taking just long enough to figure out how his key worked. Somehow, though, despite all of it, he was sure they'd both had a great time, every time. They'd narrowly escape some sort of awkward situation or tragedy, laughing the whole way.
Lane was smiling, wrapped up in the ephemeral warmth of selective memory. But, as the first flakes of snow began drifting down on him, it faded. Slowly, he started seeing things, now as they were only weeks ago, but as they now stood. The memories that he had been so fond of, the little funny stories that had grown out of places all over town like little flowers were all thorns now. Every happy memory with her seemed like nothing more than a reminder that it had all been a lie. Or maybe it hadn't, and she really was going to walk back into his life tonight.
As the clock struck midnight and he still stood alone, the same way it had happened the last two weeks, he wondered where she was at that very moment. It was a thought he immediately regretted. He could see her, sitting warm in a living room somewhere, reading a book while the TV glowed a digital fireplace beside her. She was probably snuggled up tight under the quilt her grandmother had stitched for her when she was ten, the one with all the red roses woven together on it. She was probably snuggled right up to him, her head on his chest while she read, him giving her little kisses on the forehead every so often.
His name, as he had learned, was Sol, short for Solomon, and she had really been dating him the whole time. The first time Lane said those accursed magic words, “I love you,” he had waited until they had been going out for three months. He hadn't wanted to make a big deal of it, and hadn't wanted to freak her out, so he figured he'd wait until it just seemed too natural not to. They had been making out in his new apartment, a movie both had long forgotten about playing in the background, and when they broke for air, he had said it. Immediately, the color faded from her face. She backed away from him, looking sick. It had been his mistake to ask what was wrong—perhaps, he had thought at first, if he had never asked, they could have just gone on as normal with him in blissful ignorance.
But he had asked, and she had laid it all out for him. She said she was sorry, but that she just couldn't say it back, that there was someone else, another man, an ex-boyfriend she just couldn't get out of her head. She had said once before when the topic of his smoking had come up that she didn't blame him, that everyone had an addiction or two, even her. Finally, he understood, and he would rather she had been addicted to crack. Instead, she was addicted to another guy, and she made it very clear that, while she cared for him deeply, she wouldn't, couldn't chose him over Sol. And, before the shock of his completely unexpectedly broken heart could turn to rage, before he could do anything but fumble with words, she was gone.
A day went by before he could even think clearly, and a few more slipped away before he wanted to talk to anyone. Friends and family gave condolences and called her every harsh word they could come up with, but he stopped them. He did, after all, still love her.
On the sixth day, just when he was sure she'd never call again, his phone rang. Just seeing her name glowing on the screen of his cell phone made his skin tingle and his chest hurt. He sat, staring at it for three rings before answering. Neither of them said anything at first. Lane could feel the silence, powerful and strange between two people that had always been able to talk for hours, filling him up. Then she spoke, simply asking if he would meet her somewhere to talk, adding without hesitation that she understood completely if he said no. They both knew he wouldn't say knew, and he hated her for it.

Under the first snowfall of the year, they had met outside of the cafe where they had their first date, right where Lane now stood. He could see the two of them talking, screaming, crying at each other like shimmering neon phantoms in the night air. She told him everything, about how horrible she felt around Sol, about how she had just needed an escape, about how much happier she had been with him. He told her he couldn't stand just being her vacation, that, if all he had ever been was a distraction, she could fuck off, and that, if he had been more, if he still was more, he couldn't help but want to work this out. Because, despite feeling used, despite feeling like garbage because of her, he loved her. She was special in ways no one had thought of words for yet, but that poets and artists had tried desperately to capture. She was every cliché that shouldn't exist in his life; she was love at first sight, she had him at hello, she was why cavemen painted on walls. In his arms, she had felt like the last puzzle piece, the one you thought you'd lost somewhere a long time ago.
Through her tears she tried to speak, but the words were gone. Instead, she only shook her head before turning and running away.

Now, what felt like an eternity later, he stood watching it all play out again in his eyes that only saw the past. He had tried calling once, and had left a simple message: “I'll be waiting there, every night at midnight until I can't wait any more...until you come to take me back or tell me to give up...because I don't know what else to do.”

Lane pitched the last cigarette he could stand to smoke into the street, watching the tip burst angrily into a dozen orange sparks that drifted gracefully with the drifting snow. He laughed at himself. He had picked that day, of all days, to finally quit smoking. “You'll live longer,” She'd said. It sounded more like a curse to him now.