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Chapter 6
Buford's Big Bad Breakthrough

Chapter 6.A


Each day home from school I went to the front of the house for the mail. Hoping he didnt get to it before me. Then it came.

But it didn't come to our house. Mom called me one day after I'd checked the mail, relieved at not finding it. I answered the phone and looked out the window at a man mowing the lawn and I looked at him ordering his son around with a rake and a garbage bag. Then she asked. I lied. Then she said we needed to talk. No, goddamnit, this fucks up the whole plan.

I drove to the house, what seemed like miles away pounding at my chest wondering how she would take it out on me, by yelling or by silence or by frustration or tears and she was cleaning her room. She asked again. I lied again. Then she told me and showed me the summons. I sat down, faking fear and thumbing through the summons with shaky fingers, reading only the names.

I read it again, skimming all but the names, and she came into my empty room asking what I wanted to do. Get a test I said. We agreed to keep quiet until we knew what we were hiding. She said I could tell her anything. I said I know even though I didn't and stood and my work shirt fell from my knees. I picked it up and she stood waiting for a hug so I did and left shaking.

Chapter 6.B

I awoke in the evening to my roommate cooking rice and watching a game show on TV. It was dark out, the night creeping closer by the day. He asked how I was and I said fine. He asked what I was up to and I said about five-foot-ten and he let out a single chuckle and turned back to his TV show. There's rice in there if you want some.

I pulled a bowl from the sink full of dishes and rinsed it out and wiped it with a paper towel and started to dish out the rice. It was sticky and each spoonful tugged at the pot making it spin inside the cooker. I held it still with my hand and dished slowly, pressing the spoon clean with my finger before putting it back in the pot. Where's the salt I ask and he says its in here so when I go out to the living room he points while lying on the couch to the table where the salt and butter and pepper are waiting as if posed to fight against a violent shake from a half-sleeping human.

I stood while I poured the salt and pepper on and he asked why I stood up and said I should sit with him and tell him about my day. He patted the couch and called me pookie. Having nowhere to turn, I sat and he put his socked feet under my thigh. So, he says. So. Did you quit your job yet he asks. No not yet. What are you making there, like five bucks an hour he asks. Six. But I'm actually getting about seven from working overnight. Goddamn you're rolling in the dough, aren't you he asks. No, not quite. Whatre you making these days I ask. Shit I don't know, enough to buy some booze and bitches, he says. Really, I ask. Where are they, I dont see them anywhere, I say while lifting a nearby couch pillow to check under it.

Chapter 6.C

I wanted to tell him. Your roommate's been lying to you for months, you fool. And you don't even realize what your words can be taken to mean. Your feet stink, youre an anal prick and you've got women figured out. I filled my mouth with rice and he said so tell me about your day and I said I'm eating. He said fine, be an ass, but the next time you want someone to care, dont look at me. Yeh bastard. Im sorry I said. I had a bad day and I don't want to talk about it. I just want to sit here and eat in peace, is that so much to ask, I say. Whatever, dude. Sorry I snapped, I'm just not in the mood, you know. Thats fine, now give me some head and make it all better, he says, patting his crotch through the blanket. We both laugh and he says he was serious.

He goes back to watching his TV game show and I see how simple he is. His simple, figured-out life with a trust-fund cushion and Boy-Scout preparation. I always said it was pessimism. But he knew better and I learned with him as he showed up with jumper cables in winter months, pulled four box fans from closets during summer months, kept beer in the fridge and condoms at the ready by the box full. He was a walking save-your-own-ass kit. But when others only saw the ass he put up-front, I saw his battery charger and listened to its gentle hum outside his bedroom window while we sat talking under an electric blanket.

But hes not so simple. I can't peg him because he wont let me, because he's gone through what I'm going through, whether its a battery or a box fan. But not this time. He knows what he prevents.

Chapter 6.D

I don't have to work tonight, so I call Lil and remember its her birthday. A new CD she wanted will be released at midnight, so I thought I'd go over with something small and make an excuse to leave for a bit to give me enough time to get the thing and head back.

I head over thinking I might be able to get something to eat, but the only thing around is a half-chopped tomato, some Buttershots and a plate of burnt cookies. Her roommate was trying again, but the oven couldn't hold a steady temperature. She said something about having a headache and we went upstairs to her room. It was a mess of clothing and boxes and candles and books. Some of them we read in class, others were band tributes or obscure science fiction fantasy novels. Next to her bed was a chicken wire cage about the same size for her chinchilla and an aquarium with a lamp shining down on a pinkish-yellow snake with diamonds trailing its spine.

She walked through the mess, dragging some of it with her feet and she curled into a ball on her futon-turned mattress. I sat with her and she asked if she had a fever. She said I could stay if I wanted, but she wasn't feeling well. I decided this was my chance headed out for a few minutes.

At the CD shop there's a bunch of freebies and giveaways that the music industry pawned off on the shop to hype the next boy band or fantasy girl. And the lines are long. I'd never stood in a line in this store before. I run into people I know, many with the same CD and some with a few others they bought since they were here anyway. I realized why they decided to do a midnight thing and remembered why I don't buy from CD shops. But it wasn't for me so I said one please and left with the jangle of bells behind me as the glass door closed in the horde.

Chapter 6.E

I listened to a similar CD on the way back and it played the song that sparked this whole mess. I listened to it and had become used to its beats, its tempo, its tone. It no longer had the same effect on me of awakening some deep seething need within me and instead reminded me of just another CD I'd become used to but didn't completely understand.

I pulled up and sat in the car for a minute and replayed the song, trying to regain that mood it sparked when I first heard it, but it was no use. The flavor had passed so I grabbed the small plastic sack and walked upstairs where she was still lying down with a wet hand towel on her head. I said happy birthday and she said she completely forgot and took the bag I handed to her. I didn't have time to wrap it because I couldn't get it until just a few minutes ago. She said that's okay and opened it and put it in her boom box, also on the floor next to her bed. We listened and one of the songs sounded familiar already that I'd heard on the radio. She flipped through the little booklet that came with it and said this is so cool, thanks, and she put her hand to her head. I took the hand towel and went downstairs to soak it in hot water. It was already lukewarm, but the steam coming off of it when I was done felt good. She said she wouldn't be much fun and you don't have to stay if you don't want to. But I don't care either way. I said thats fine and left.

The next few days were a blur of work and worry about what would come once I was tested.

Chapter 6.F

Erik was in town the day I went in. I told him I had to work and instead went to the state clinic, circling it twice before finding it and again before going in. I had a legal appointment and thought I could just dodge the whole thing if I could just persuade Erik to take the test for me. My chest tensed and I got out of the car and walked what seemed a mile to the front doors. A woman came out and I held the door for her while she waved her two small children out ahead of her. Come on, guys, we don't have all day, she said and walked out without looking back or saying thanks.

Inside the clinic was unusually comfortable with nice chairs and was clean except for a mess of toys scattered across the waiting room. I told the woman at the front desk who I was and why I was here and she said oh. Her smile faded an she handed me a clipboard with questions to answer and pointed to a chair behind me as she picked up a phone and said fill this out over there. I said thanks but she was already asking the person on the other end of the phone how much did the child drink and ma'am you need to call poison control immediately.

I filled out the sheet and a mother came in with her newborn child asking for an office that was across the street. I felt over-dressed in my button-up shirt like I was headed to a job interview or another funeral. The difference would come with the results, I thought, and watched as the woman walked out in sweatpants with bands at the ankles and browned sneakers that used to be white.

Chapter 6.G

When I was finished with the clipboard I got up and handed it to the woman. She said thank you and the doctor will see you in a few minutes. I looked at the pile of magazines next to me, pushing aside Seventeen, Mother's World, American Baby and others in a vain search for a Maxim or Playboy or Harper's. Nothing caught my eye in the room except a nearly full water jug. I was thirsty and went over to take a drink, but the little cone cup dispenser on the side was empty. I pushed my finger up to see if maybe one was stuck up there and scratched my finger on something as I pulled it out. I looked around to see if anybody might be able to get me a cup but everybody was on the phone. So I pushed the button down once and let my finger trail off. The machine growled and a big bubble kachuged to the surface.

The woman at the front desk who took my clipboard held the receiver at her ear and called my name and said they were ready for me. Go down the hall and it's the first door on the right.

The room was empty except for a small toiletry basket with bandages on a counter with a sink. Some gray cupboards lined the walls and there wasn't one of those annoying beds with the paper linings on it. Instead, a table sat with a few forms and a Polaroid camera. I sat in a chair backed up against the wall and felt instantly uncomfortable. It was too late to pull Erik in here. He looked like me, but not enough to pass a Polaroid. His DNA would clear me, sure. A woman walked in who I'd never met before and would never meet again. She introduced herself and I was paying attention to her blue-jean shirt and wire glasses. She wasn't obese but I could tell she hadn't been on a bike for a while and her hair was beginning to sparkle with white.

Chapter 6.H

She said she forgot something and left the room. She came back in a few minutes with the clipboard I had filled out earlier and asked me the same questions I'd written on the form. When I'd answer she'd put a mark by the question. By the third question I said I already answered these questions, they're right there on that form. She said yes, she just wanted to double check that the form was mine. I held my hand out for it and she gave it to me. It had my signature at the bottom under some tiny writing I didn't read and all the answers to the questions were in my handwriting. My name was at the top in capital print letters.

I said it was mine and she said alright and took it back and put a hash mark by the rest of the questions. Just formalities, she said, then put the clipboard down on the table beside her. She slowly put on two off-white rubber gloves and asked if I'd ever done this before and I said no, wondering if she were going to give me a long briefing on the intensity of the situation and how much pain and suffering was at stake at the snap of the rubber glove. Instead she pulled two cotton swabs from pre-packaged wrappers, almost like band-aids, and said all I want to do is take a swab of the inside of your mouth so go ahead and say ahhh. I said that's it, no needles or urine or nothing. She said that's it, ahhh. She put the swab in my mouth and twisted one side along my inner cheek and it felt like being kissed by a snake.

She put the swab in a plastic ziplock bag and took the second swab out and did the same.

Chapter 6.I

I licked my mouth where the swab had tickled the inside of my cheek. She said, now, see, that wasn't so hard, now, was it. I said I've had worse things happen and she reached for the camera. She said now all I have to do is take your picture and you'll be on your way.

To her that's all must have meant just another attachment, a line item or paperwork requirement so she could say she did her job and didn't get suckered in any way. She lifts the machine and flips it upside down to flick a switch. To her the test was probably one of tens or hundreds that come through and clutter her day with soiled cotton swabs. She holds the machine to her face and looks out the small plastic viewfinder to get me in her sights. To her the 15 minutes was a quarter-hour to a state-funded paycheck at her nine-to-five-thirty job that I yearned for. She tells me to look into the camera and smile. To her I'm a shadow on the wall. She tells me to smile. To her it's just film, sign, stamp, mail. A bright flash pins me to the wall behind me. To her the job isn't any more fulfilling than mine, she just smiles more. The camera ejects a thick photo paper covered in brown. To her the process is over with the flash. She takes the photo paper in her hands and flaps it, blowing on it occasionally. To her my fears are hidden regardless of my efforts. The picture changes and she holds it to me and asks is that you. I say yeah without feeling and she smiles. That's all, she says, you're free to go.

I gather my things and stand to leave while she clips the paperwork and the photo to her clip board.

Chapter 6.J

There's little room to squirm now, I think and each step to the car is eager but forced at the same time. The asphalt is old and cracked where evergreen roots have taken their hold despite what an engineer planned years ago.

I kick a pine cone and follow it from my straight path to the car. I kick it again, trying to get it closer to the car but it spins off in another direction and I don't follow it. A few more labored steps and I'm fumbling in my pocket for my keys. They jingle out when freed and I stand there moving each away in my palm, the house key, the mail key, mom and dad's apartment, their mail key, the trunk key. They're sprawled in my hand like a steel tarantula and the legs dangle on the ring when I pick the one I want.

With the other hand in my pocket and feet firmly planted I press the key to the lock. Its edges are worn slightly but still fits, one slow click after another. It gets stuck and I move it around until it goes in all the way and turn it until I feel the lock turn in my favor. The key is ejected almost as hesitantly as it went in as if each click before now works to hold it back.

But the door opens as if not doing so would violate some rule of nature. I step in to take the seat and lift my other foot in as if from sludge and close the door behind it. The car turns over and my head falls back against the headrest.

I exhale through closed lips and the air floods my nostrils. Looking around I almost forget where I am and put the car in gear. I pull out slowly and use my blinker. No one is coming and I let the car roll out of the parking lot into traffic and it gains speed down a hill ahead.

Chapter 6.K

I roll down the window while coasting and let cars drive past on my way home. I wonder where they're going and if any could guess that I'm going home for the day. It's early afternoon and many were sleeping while I was at work, but now I get to take my time and watch as I approach my apartment how the wind rustles new buds and plucks blooms from trees above and showers them down on the hood of my car like a summer snowfall.

When I get home I park and step out of the car just as carefully as I stepped in and walk around to the front of the house even though the glass screen door just feet from my car was unlocked. It was a force of habit by now and realizing it half way to the front door I gave up the idea of turning around. I lifted the mailbox and took a handful of letters and a magazine folded over them inside and set them on the table. I set my keys on the bedside table and they slide somewhat just shy of a plywood cliff. I step in and sit on the bed to untie my shoes. I get one off, but the other knots up and I fall backward onto my pillow.

A few hours later I hear Ryan showering. He just got hired on as a technician at work part-time and now comes home much dirtier than the neatly-pressed customer service guy I'd gotten used to. As I walked out of my room my mail had been sorted and neatly piled at the foot of my door. I pick the pile up and set it down on my bedstand, knocking off a candle nearby. The magazine I'd grabbed earlier was mine and I opened it to sift through for my favorite page of jokes and editorials.

Chapter 6.L

A knock comes to my door and Ryan says hey prince charming, get your ass out of bed, were going to dinner. I say go away, I dont have any money. He opens the door with one hand and is drying his head with a towel in the other. He lets go of the towel and it drapes around his shoulders and he says where the hell do you spend all that money you make, he says. Going out to dinner with you. He laughs and says whatever, lets go.

I throw on a hat and he spends another half hour choosing a shirt and debating on whether or not to use a tie. I say wear a t-shirt and he walks to my room and takes a shirt down and asks why none of his shirts are as cool as mine and looks at me and asks if I'm sure I'm not gay. I say I think so and he glares at me. Well, where do you want to go. Someplace cheap. Red Lobster it is, then. Hell no. How about that place we went last week. They've got pretty good fries. And the waitresses aren't too bad, either. He says damn right and after putting on the shirt he'd grabbed from my closet we were driving to the restaurant and he's asking me again about my day. I hesitate, debating weather or not I should tell him now. I know only so much, but is it worth putting out there where he can flail at it like my mail or my job or my clothes. If he knew, would he understand or expect me to understand. Would he stop dragging me out to dinners I can't afford or start picking up the tab or stop inviting me all together. I tell him my day was fine, nothing special. He says come on, there's got to be something. How are things with Lil, has she dumped you yet he asks. Not yet, I say, and look out the window at neon lights of fast food restaurants approaching then getting close enough to spread a glare then fading back into those behind us.

Chapter 6.M

We pull up to the steak house and he says come on, come on ahead of his hustled walk as I feel my feet land securely with each step. Why do you walk so slow all the time he says and I ask why he walks so fast. He tells me he's hungry and a gust of wind sends the scent of his cologne my way. I used to wear the same kind and thought I was ready for anything, then remembered I'd just gotten up, hadn't showered and didn't bother to put on cologne at all.

Inside the restaurant a young woman seats us and Ryan nudges me with an elbow and makes sure I'm seeing what he's seeing. I yawn and nod and after we're seated and served menus he watches her walk away. That shouldn't be legal he says and I say it's not, so dont even think about it, you pervert. He says what, you were looking, too. I say well and he stops me short of finishing the sentence with a see, I told you so, don't even deny it. I shake my head and look at the menu and he does the same.

After we order he watches the waitress leave and interlocks his fingers like a praying child and sets his chin atop them. So, he says. Come on, come on, tell me about your woman. I don't know I say. I don't know how much longer it's going to last. She's always in pain because of this new job. He asks how delivering pizzas could be painful and I say she got a different job landscaping and is always sunburnt so she's never in the mood. He says that sucks, what else. I don't know, I say. There's just not as much there any more and I'm starting to wonder if there ever was. He nods and sips on ice water sweating through the glass. Its cardboard coaster sticks to the bottom when he lifts the cup and I reach over to pull it off while he's looking at another waitress.

Chapter 6.N

He says well, she's bored with you. I'd give it a few days, he says. I look at him and he says she dumped one boyfriend of five years just because he bored her. I say yeah, she told me about that when we went to Oregon. He nodded and said yep. A few days. Tops.

I was upset and ignored his warning, but was more upset when he turned out to be right. She called me on the way to my parent's before work one afternoon while it was still light out. I yelled and she said I promised I wouldnt be mad, but I said I was, what are promises worth now anyway and she said well, I guess you're right, bye. I got to think about it for the rest of the longest day of the year. Dad was sitting at the couch tying flies on a small board with a clamp and pieces of feather and fur and string strewn across the couch. He waved a hand over the pile as if he were trying to hide it and stopped to look up at me over his reading glasses before dipping into the pile like the grabber of a vending machine. Hey, bud he says. I walk over to him and say hey, what you got there. Just my toys he says and a spool of thread dangles from a fishhook clamped to the board while he puts a pinch of elk hair into a small metal tube and taps it on the board. You headed to work, he asks and I say in a little bit. I thought I'd stop by to hang out and see what you guys were up to. He says mom was working tonight, then picks up the remote and touches a button to reveal the time, but she must be out getting groceries or something because she was supposed to be off an hour ago. I say hmm and we watch the rest of a fishing show and he doesn't find out about the breakup for another week or two when it comes up at dinner when someone asks how she is.

Chapter 6.O

A few hours into work that night Theresa comes up to me and asks if I'd heard about Donovan getting divorced and I shake my head. I've been off the last couple days, I say and scan the next item and wait for the machine to beep at me. I look back at her still standing there quietly and she raises her eyebrows. One of us should talk to him, she says and I say go ahead. She says she can't because her religion forbids it and that might not be what he wants to hear. What about Adam, I ask and she says he's at lunch. And Miguel, what about him. He just got married and his wife's pregnant, she says. That's the last thing he needs to hear. Yeah, I say. Sure. Ill talk to him.

I finish the batch I'm working on and see he's working on something in small appliances, filling carts faster than he can keep them coming. I hear a clop-clop-clop and watch as I turn the corner of his aisle as a box hits a corner on another box below and spins out of control and lands on the floor pushing out a small cloud of dust from the cement below. He sees me and says, woops, and laughs. I smile and he says what's up. Nothing. Looks like you need a cart to put all this in. He looks down from where he stands on a ladder at the trail of similar boxes, some with dented corners and opened lids, and says looks like before scanning the next box. I walk to another part of the stockroom and grab a flat and wheel it back. On the way Theresa looks down at me from an aisle and gives me a thumbs up and I look ahead as another box drops and slides out the aisle.

Chapter 6.P

So, I say, I've been chosen to represent the clan in finding out how you're doing. With what, he says with a chuckle and looks down at me from above and I say well, I know the rumors can get pretty bad around here, but Theresa seems to think you're getting a divorce. He looks down at his LRT and hits a button and it beeps at him. He sets it in the holster at his waist and steps down the ladder and jumps over a few boxes. He lifts one and hands it to me, yeah, he says, my wife, or ex-wife I guess, decided she wanted to go live with her mom and fucking see other people. I reach over for the box and turn away to put it on the flat with a few others I'd already stacked up. That sounds like a crock of shit, didn't you say something about her just landing some killer job as a manager or something. Yeah, he says, she fucking quit two weeks into it. I say hmm and he says but there's no way she's getting my daughter. She's way too unstable. Well, I say as he hands me another box. So yeah, it's true, but Im fine. If she wants to go around acting like a fucking twelve year old that's her problem. But no, I'm fine. I'm cool with it.

He hands me a few more boxes and says what about you, how's you and your girlfriend doing. I tell him we broke up and he wonders when, counting back the days since we last saw each other and trying to take guess. I look at my watch. About six hours ago. He laughs and says damn, that fucking sucks. Did she at least take you out to dinner and I shake my head. Did she write you a dear john letter he asks. Nope, she called me while I was driving to my parents before work. He laughed again and said god damn, that fucking sucks. I've done that to people he says and puts the last box on the flat, carefully balancing it with several others to make sure it doesn't tip over. And it wasn't pretty, he says.

Chapter 6.Q

By the time I watch him walk away and maneuver the flat out the door I wonder as I'm standing half way from relief of telling someone and half way from regretting it all together. Donovan cared in a different way. But later that morning when the managers walked in with Starbuck's coffee in hand he was pulled aside. I watched as he shook his head at what they were saying and raised his voice at the people who held his job. I wondered if they were asking about his divorce until he said something like if anything you should be giving us more hours so we can keep this going and walked off while they called his name. He shook his head as he walked by and I asked what was up but he didn't turn to me and said as he walked away I'll tell you later. Let's finish up these batches first.

A few hours later Theresa and Adam and Miguel and I stood waiting to go home but he told us to wait a bit so we could kick back and milk the clock while he told us. The overnight team would be cut, along with our pay and our guaranteed hours. It was routine after the holiday season, but they couldn't keep their numbers straight so we're the first to go. We had few alternatives, being either to take whatever hours come up from the four a.m. shifts or go to the sales floor we all despised or spend the next two weeks looking for work while they phased us out. Theresa and Adam called bull shit, but Theresa said bull honkey instead. Donovan said he knows, we've kicked ass the last few months with little or no recognition. He says he's going to transfer back to the store he came in from shortly after the team is split up.

Chapter 6.R

The next few days dragged on as tensions grew and people stopped showing up for work or took their time coming in. It made things harder for the ones who stayed, but no one could blame them. They'd apologize to me sometimes for ditching the crew the night before, but they had an interview and needed sleep. Any anger or frustration faded with their cause and I shook hands as others left thinking how much fun we had, but also how their leaving would make room for a few more hours I could pick up.

Theresa went first to work for her dad, then Miguel took a job with better wages, benefits and full night sleeps. Adam and Donovan and I stuck it out the longest.

When we went to mornings we had hundreds of unusual eyes on us, each pair seemingly worse than the last until they came to the vile essence of decay of the supervisor who tightened his reign over the stockroom peons. Soon being five minutes late was a cardinal sin filled with hollow threats, even though I knew he couldn't get half his workload done without me. Sometimes I'd see Donovan in the distance and would make an excuse to change out batteries at the same time and we'd bitch together about how we could never get a good battery. After feeling one after another for warmth that we can drain out with our handheld machines. A couple of hours later he was gone and my supervisor walked up to me trying desperately to make small talk. Instead it just came out as insults. As Donovan left for the day he said later homes and when he was gone my supervisor asked if I'd ever seen a sadder excuse for a worker and I looked at him and said yeah. I have.

Chapter 6.S

Donovan walked up to me as he was leaving for the day a few days later and asked if I'd heard the latest rumors. Not yet. Well, if anybody asks I've put in my two weeks notice. He wasn't kidding around and I was almost proud that he'd finally managed to get out after giving seven years of his life to the company. I nodded and he said yeah, time to get the hell out of here. He said he was going to take his daughter to the Tri-Cities where he'd been transferred from originally. He wasn't sure what he'd be doing, but wouldn't even look back and would never wear red and khaki again. I walked him back to the breakroom and wished him luck and asked if he needed help moving. He shook his head and said there's nothing that can't be broken and I nodded as he said well, bye and we went in different directions.

When I got back into the stockroom the supervisor thought I was late, but I told him I was at the front of the store helping a customer. He nodded but didn't look at me and asked if I'd heard Donovan quit. I said yeah and he said I don't know how were going to get all this stuff done. He exhaled and looked around. I saw the job wearing into him, adding wrinkles to his already wrinkled face. Defining those he had. He lived alone miles from town and ate lunch in his car each day. He used to sit with some of the ladies from the truck team to smoke and gossip and be a dirty old man. But hed apparently been banished, either by his own leave or by theirs. But it didn't matter. Well, I said, may as well just keep plugging away and I walked off heading for the next spot to scan.

Chapter 6.T

The metamorphosis from night shift to day kept playing tricks on me, weather it was looking too far into the people around me or finding myself recoiling from any touch or pat on the back from a friend. It was too much to take in, too much. The worst part was going from the stockroom in the back of the store through what seemed like acres of retail space to the front where I might find food or a drink or nothing at all but a breath of fresh air. It wasn't the distance that bothered me as much as the hordes of people in the way, people that all wanted something from me. They were attracted to the little thing at my side like moths and at times I wanted to just throw it off into the distance to see how many would run after it like dogs to a stick.

One older woman awaited me as I came between the two-way doors, her little cotton-swab skull peeking up over the safety windows, watching. She waved at me to stop and said you there, do you work here. I grabbed the machine from its holster at my side and wondered if she realized what a stupid question she just asked and said yes and punched a code into the machine. I was looking for one more of these, she says as I scan the barcode of a can of dog food thats more expensive than the tuna I brought in for lunch, and was wondering if you might have some in the back. The machine beeps at me and I say, yeah, hold on, I'll be right back. She says please hurry as if her dog were wailing just outside. I laughed and thought to myself it probably is and took the can to her. She thanked me and walked off without hearing a you're welcome. I got past the doors this time, past the main aisle and was nearly at the last turn when I saw somebody. It was a man. It was Grampa. No. Uncle Rich. No, he's in Seattle. The man turned to his wife and I didn't know him at all and I stared at him until he walked into an aisle out of my sight and went upstairs to eat and drink slowly.

Chapter 6.U

When I got off work that afternoon Lil called me wanted to watch a foreign film as a sort of a post-breakup ice breaker to show me she could still be a friend and that there were no hard feelings. It was bizarre and the subtitles were blurred yellow and hard to read. But it took my attention off of her and made it easier to sit next to her without touching. We watched it and she left right afterward as Ryan came home from work. They said hi and bye to each other, but nothing beyond courtesy and after she left he asked if we were still together, what's going on. I told him no and he said oh, finally. You have no idea what a nightmare it's been the last few weeks while you guys have been going out. I said aw, come on, it hasn't been that bad, has it. He said that's not what he meant. Man, I've got to tell you something and I'm so glad I can get this off my chest. Get what off your chest I ask. For the last few weeks I wanted to tell you so bad that we used to date. He told me how he had been where I'd been. The little things he always seemed to know and his distance when she came around made more sense by the second.

He blew off my jealousy with logic and as I fell into sleep I cared nothing for direction or cause or another woman. I didn't care for weeks afterward as I waited for word on the test results. With each day my chest grew heavier each time he talked about Lil and said he was so glad he didnt have to hide it from me any more.

Next Chapter


The narrator keeps his secret, though, after the breakup, even from his closest friend at the time, a bisexual roomate that knows almost all details about him. He's been through the briar patch of emotion himself, but the narrator is weary of risking his room and board for the truth. But when his mother finds out, she encourages keeping the secret.