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DISCLAIMERS

The works contained herein contain adult themes. If you are upset by harsh language, drug and alcohol abuse, sex, or untreated psychological disorders, then this is not the work for you. If you are upset by these things and you take a look anyway, please don’t complain to me if you don’t like what you see.

The circumstances contained therein are vaguely autobiographical, and the characters even more vaguely so. Many names, especially surnames, I made up on the fly, pulling them out of the ether—the ether being my long-term memory. There is rarely, if ever, a correlation between a name contained herein and the character. If you find it offensive, please let me know in the nicest way possible, and I’ll fix it.

Any parental characters contained herein are not, I repeat not representative of my parents, so please don’t ask me about it.

...also...

Jan. 1st, 2020 06:00 am
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(Note: Read either by scrolling down or clicking through the links, beginning HERE)

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SPRING BUDS

by Jeremiah Murphy



It started, as these things tend to, at a party. Someone on campus had finished a final and decided to celebrate with a keg or two. Sean wanted to help, but that was impossible without a few drinks in his head. This was complicated by the fact that he didn't do that anymore. He wasn't even twenty-one and he was counting the days of his sobriety. There were one hundred and forty-four of them so far.

Unfortunately, clarity was turning out to be really boring.

He should have been sitting in his dorm room and not studying for his own finals. Instead, Eugene had forced him out. Now he was stuck, leaning against a nearby wall and bobbing his head involuntarily to a thumping bass.

Eugene, who had been standing next to him for the better part of an hour, turned to him and asked, "Vlad grew bean pizza sets?"

Sean had no idea how to respond to that. He settled for saying, "What?"

"Taboo, clean, sheets of wet?"

"I can't hear you over the music," he shouted.

Eugene cleared his throat and spoke more clearly. "Have you seen Lisa yet?"

"That makes more sense." Satisfied he wasn't experiencing auditory hallucinations, Sean leaned back on the wall.

"Well?" Eugene asked.

"Well what?"

"Have! You! Seen! Lisa! Yet!"

Having conquered this conversational beast, they continued on, raising their voices to keep further confusion at bay. There was something Sean needed clarification on, though: "Who's Lisa?"

"My girlfriend."

"She has a name?"

Eugene's eyes glazed over, and he grinned. "Do you have any idea how amazing it feels to say that after all this time?"

"Yes," Sean replied, even though he knew full well his words were wasted. His presence was incidental while Eugene's mind wandered. He could trade places with anyone there, and he would never notice. This was bad.

"I was never much of a ladies' man," Eugene continued, unprompted.

"You don't say?" Sean could believe it. Eugene was roughly the size and shape of a bear. Puberty had apparently snuck up behind him one night, beat the holy hell out of him, doubled his size, and didn't bother to leave an instruction manual.

"But she is so beautiful!"

"Is she."

"You don't understand!" Eugene insisted. "She's really, really beautiful!"

"I've heard."

"I'm so lucky!"

"Evidently."

"Why would someone like her choose to go out with me?"

Sean had been asking himself the same question since the topic had originally come up a week or so ago. It wasn't because he questioned Eugene's ability to have a girlfriend. On the contrary, his good nature, fierce loyalty, and clumsy optimism were astonishing. "I'm sure she says the same thing about you."

"I doubt it. Have you seen her?"

"No, I haven't."

"She's really beautiful."

"She's a dead person too," he muttered, careful to speak below the music. Sean hadn't had a friend in a long time when Eugene had insisted on being one. Now this woman was taking him away. What the hell was he supposed to do?

Around him, people he recognized didn't acknowledge him, and Sean preferred it this way. He'd been around these people for years and hadn't bothered to introduce himself. He didn't even know how to introduce himself anymore. "I need to get out of here," he said.

"You can't go! You haven't met Lisa yet."

"There's plenty of time for that," Sean replied.

"But..."

"Can I have a cigarette?"

"I don't smoke."

"Since when?"

"Since ever."

"Interesting." With that, Sean waved and slipped into the crowd. His nose guided him to a room that had replaced all of its oxygen with fragrant smog. He peeked inside and could make out two figures, a male and a female, sitting cross-legged on a mattress on the floor. "Excuse me," he said, "do either of you have a cigarette?"

The female replied, "I really like all this smoke. It looks like an aura."

While he pondered that, he squinted through the cloud, noting several lava lamps and an ultraviolet light illuminating a poster of teddy bears fornicating. Despite the fascinating décor, he focused his attention on the male figure and repeated his question: "Do you have a cigarette?"

"After we're done here," the male asked the female, "can we have some sex?"

"I wouldn't be bothering you right now if I didn't have a serious addiction," Sean assured them.

"Of course," she replied. "But let's hang out for a little while. Doesn't this place have a good vibe?"

Sean insisted, "It would be a better vibe if I was smoking."

"I think the shrooms really loosen the tension around here," she added.

"Smoking would loosen me up even more."

The male asked, "Will you give me oral sex later?"

"Look," Sean said, "I can clearly identify two separate odors in here, and one of them is tobacco." He added, "And no, I won't give you oral sex."

"Only if I can have oral sex back," the female giggled.

"Am I even here?"

The male answered him by completely ignoring him. "Does it have to be me who gives it to you?"

Sean shrugged. "Thanks for the help, guys. I'll check elsewhere." He ducked out of the room, dodged dancing drunks, rounded a corner, and collided with his ex-girlfriend.

"Sean!" she shrieked. "Oh my God! What a surprise! I didn't think you'd be here! How are you!"

"Never been better."

"I'm so glad to hear that," she replied. "A little birdie told me you even quit drinking."

"Observant bird."

"I told him to keep it a secret, but Eugene's been keeping an eye on you for me."

"I wasn't aware you knew Eugene."

"Everybody knows Eugene."

"Of course they do. And how are you?"

"Do you know Glen?"

Glen, who Sean had been watching the whole time, finally released his hold on her waist to shake Sean's hand.

"I know Glen," Sean told her. He knew Glen because Glen allegedly provided alcohol to minors for a small fee. Allegedly, Glen also sold drugs. Allegedly, Glen also enjoyed mentally abusing heartbroken and often drunk young women.

His ex-girlfriend asked, "What have you been up to since I saw you last?"

Since he had seen her last, Sean had been recovering from an exuberant suicide attempt, salvaging his college education, visiting a support group, learning from a licensed counselor the difference between love and codependency, and ruminating. He wanted desperately to tell her all of this, but instead he watched each of her fingers intertwine with Glen's and said, "Five-foot-six, but I have bad posture."

"I'm so glad you kept your sense of humor," she sighed with a little smile.

His hands sought refuge in the pockets of his trusty cardigan sweater. He could never blame her for their breakup. By the time they'd had the actual conversation, it had merely been a formality.

"I need to go," he said, involuntarily scratching the still-healing scars on his wrists. A long night of imagining how he could have handled the situation better awaited him.

"It was great to see you again," she said, and he could tell she meant it. "Why don't you stop by my room sometime and we can catch up."

For a moment, he considered visiting her later and informing her of the allegations against Glen. Unfortunately, the evidence was entirely circumstantial. Also, it would only make Sean look like an asshole; almost as much as standing by and doing nothing.

"That would be lovely," he replied and walked away to resume his search for a loose cigarette with fresh urgency.

He sniffed around and quickly zeroed in on a cute tomboy. He'd never seen her before, which didn't really mean much. He'd never seen a lot of people before. The only things he knew about her were that she looked really good in jeans, and that she had a cigarette. If she had one, she might have more like it.

It occurred to him that she also might have mace. Still, mace would hurt a whole lot less than what he had just experienced. Emboldened by perspective, he pointed and asked her, "What would I have to do to get one of those?"

"I have a boyfriend," she replied.

"I guess that rules out cunnilingus."

"What is your fucking problem?" she asked him and stormed away before he could tell her. He completely forgot about the cigarette; now he just wanted to get a better look at her jeans.


To be continued...

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TOMORROW'S BUDS

by Jeremiah Murphy



Sean didn't get a better look at her until his one hundred and forty-fifth dry day, after his Art History final, when he had burst into Eugene's room to say goodbye before the summer. He didn't recognize her at first, because she was naked and sweating and moaning in ecstasy on top of an equally naked and sweating and ecstatic Eugene.

Since he'd been a boy, Sean had carefully rehearsed a number of reactions to a number of potential surprises, including a death in the family, so he could be trusted with the awesome responsibility of delivering a humorous remark at the most appropriate moment. This one, however, caught him totally off guard.

"I'm sorry I didn't knock!" he shouted. "I'm sorry I never knocked and I feel really bad and I'm sorry!"

"Sean!" Eugene hissed.

"Sorry," Sean whispered and left the room. In the hallway, he finally noticed Eugene's roommate perched on the floor. Mateo took his eyes off of the biology textbook in his lap, glanced up and down the hall, shrugged, and returned to highlighting lines. Something about the way he could strike the most expressive bodily poses without ever seeming to move made Sean want to feed him breadcrumbs.

He sat beside Mateo, who chirped, "I'm still getting used to it myself."

"Huh," Sean said.

"And I have a final tomorrow."

"Huh."

During the few minutes of silence that followed, Sean tried desperately to separate his memory of the glorious sight of female nudity from the uncomfortable sight of his friend's nudity. He couldn't, so he was relieved when someone else strolled round the corner with the poise and subtlety of a Panzer tank elevated by a pair of redwood trees. Its head swiveled in their general direction, aiming the brim of its baseball cap like a cannon. A steam-shovel arm waved, and a sound not unlike the side of a mountain being dynamited rumbled out of the tank's turret and said, "Hey. What's up."

Sean had encountered this monstrosity before, but had never heard it speak. The reaction it provoked in him was similar to that of a mouse in a field hearing an owl shrieking overhead. Without any cover around, he made himself smaller and hoped he could blend into the floor.

With a slight twitch, Mateo distracted the creature's attention by announcing, "Alert the troops, Lord Byron has arrived."

"That's not my name and you know it!" he growled.

"Yes, it is," Mateo replied.

"No, it isn't!"

"Yes, it is. I've seen your transcripts."

"No, you haven't."

Mateo took a completely still moment, then told him, "You're right."

This made the tank happy.

Mateo added, "I saw Byron's."

Steam whistled through all of the veins and pistons in the monstrous body standing over them. "Shut! The fuck! Up! Mateo!" At any moment, one of those steam shovels could easily reach down and twist Mateo's head off, and he didn't care. Instead, all of the moving parts powered down and the creature said, "Where's Eugene?"

"Occupied," Sean said to him.

The tank jumped, shaking the whole dormitory. "Jesus, man, I didn't see you there!"

"I have that effect on people," Sean apologized.

"This is Sean," Mateo told him.

"Rocky," the tank replied.

"Byron," corrected Mateo.

"Shut up!" Rocky rumbled. He turned his attention to Sean. "You're the guy I saw giving your philosophy notes to Eugene, right?"

"You remembered," Sean replied.

"Of course I remembered, man," he said. "I owe you my life. Those notes were the only things that made any sense in that class! I'm trying to read these shit books, but I'm all like, 'Plato, quit talking to people and just tell us what your goddamned philosophy is!' How did you get it so I could understand it even?"

"I took the class twice," Sean replied.

"You can do that?" Rocky asked.

"If you flunk it the first time."

"How? The final was, like, half the grade?"

"Thirty percent," Sean told him.

"So it's three quarters," Rocky admitted. "But you only had to show up to pass the final with full marks."

"Showed up hungover."

"Oh." Rocky concentrated on this fact and processed it for a while. When he was done, he said, "Hey, I showed up hungover."

"Technically," Sean told him with a shrug, "I was still drunk.

Rocky whistled. "That is impressive!"

The cap appeared on Mateo's highlighter. "You're a very interesting person, Sean," he said. "I like that in a man."

"It's too bad you have a penis," Sean said.

"Not really."

"I don't want to talk about Mateo's dick anymore," Rocky told them.

"Want to talk about Eugene's?" Mateo asked him.

"No," Rocky replied.

"Are you sure?" Mateo insisted. His thumb suddenly appeared, pointing to Sean. "Because this guy can tell you all about it."

Rocky blinked. "What?"

Sean clarified, "I walked in on them."

The awkward silence that followed was broken by a swinging door. Eugene shuffled out, avoiding eye contact with anyone in the hall, and announced sheepishly, "You can come in now."

Sean got to his feet. "Sorry."

Mateo fluttered into the room after Eugene, followed by Rocky, and then Sean, whose eyes preferred to study the floor directly in front of his feet to watching his best friend blush. When he worked up the nerve to look up, he finally recognized Eugene's sex partner, who was curled into a small but voluptuous bundle of flannel and denim on Eugene's bed. Her right hand tightly clutched a nylon bra, and her left hand loosely dangled an unlit cigarette. It was her scowl that tipped him off.

"Sean," Eugene said, "This is Lisa."

"You're the guy with the fucking problem," she said.

Sean faced her with mock surprise. "Oh, look," he replied, "It's the literalist from the other night. How's that temperamental thing working for out for you?" He'd been practicing that line all day.

"Guys ...?" Eugene asked.

"Honey," she told him, "this is the guy I was telling you about. The one that wanted to eat me out for a cigarette."

"You make it sound dirty," Sean said. "I was merely ruling out cunnilingus as potential barter. It was improbable, but it was still an option." He turned to her boyfriend. "If I had known you were involved, I never would have considered oral sex. Honest."

Eugene held up his hands and sat on Mateo's bed. "Leave me out of this."

Rocky joined Eugene. "Me too."

Mateo got comfortable. "This is great!"

After glaring the rest of them into silence, Lisa turned her attention back to Sean. "Who the hell do you think you are?"

"Some guy at a party?"

"What would make you say something like that to somebody you don't know?"

"I thought it was funny."

"What's so funny about that?"

"It was unexpected and well-timed. That's what funny is."

"What the hell do you mean, 'that's what funny is'?"

"I know funny. I'm writing my dissertation on funny."

She flipped open a brass Zippo and ignited it. "What is your fucking problem?"

Sean folded his arms. "I'm being funny."

"This is probably a bad time to point this out," Eugene said while cowering, "but you can't smoke in this room, Lisa. Sorry."

Lisa lit the cigarette anyway and left a trail of gray silk commemorating her dramatic exit.

When the tremors of the slamming door faded, Rocky noted, "I have never seen her run away before."

Mateo clapped his hands together. "I know! Isn't it great?"

Sean shrugged.

"Sean," Eugene asked, "what the hell did you say to my girlfriend?"


To be continued...

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AUTUMN BUDS

by Jeremiah Murphy



His life continued in a haze of beautiful numbness until his two hundred and thirty-fourth day dry. It was the last day he'd have peace in the dormitory before the incoming freshman class arrived to clog the parking lot with hoards of befuddled teenagers carrying miniature refrigerators. His throat burned, and his ear tingled from spending most of the day on the phone with the shipping company that had crushed his dreams of moving in early.

He'd expected to unlock his door and throw himself onto his naked bed in frustration and exhaustion. What he didn't expect was Lisa sitting cross-legged on his miniscule, college-owned dresser.

"What the hell are you doing in my room?"

"The R.A. let me in," she replied.

"Just my luck," he said, "I get the one you're fucking."

"You're the one who requested Eugene's floor, so I don't know what you're complaining about."

"I could give you a long list," he told her. "The word Lisa appears on it about forty-seven times."

She smiled. "Is that right?"

He leaned against the closet behind him, careful that he didn't obstruct the exit should she decide to leave in a hurry. He had every intention of provoking that. "I'd wanted to move someplace less hostile. Turns out I was wrong."

"Life is hard."

This was going to be more difficult than he'd expected. "So where is he?"

"Some educational bullshit about being a new R.A. or something." She shrugged. "That part of his life is his own business."

"You know what I like about you?" he asked her. "Your attention to detail."

"What is your fucking problem?"

"This isn't the first time you've asked me that question," he told her.

"You're the one who offered to eat me out."

"I've explained this already, I was ruling that out. I thought it would be amusing if I came up with a creative way to let you know I wasn't hitting on you. I was only asking for a cigarette."

"You said the word cunnilingus," she reminded him. "You should never say the word cunnilingus if you're not hitting on someone."

"I always thought you should avoid it when you are hitting on someone."

"Then why did you say it?"

"I was flashing my wit with a crass, inappropriate, crude, and stupid joke. That's what I've been trying to tell you."

"You haven't even apologized for it."

"I haven't had the opportunity all summer."

"Well," she said, "here I am."

He sat on his bed. "You've ruined the mood."

She pulled on her hair, "Do you even know why I'm here?"

"I couldn't begin to tell you."

"He has been waiting for you to get back all summer, and you, acting like the loner you think you are, haven't been to see him since once you've been back."

"So?"

"So," she sighed, "my boyfriend is the sweetest, most wonderful man I ever met, and I want more than anything to make him happy."

He sneered. "That has to be the most beautiful thing I've heard in my entire life."

"I swear to God I'm going to punch you right now."

"But you won't."

She gritted her teeth. "You probably don't even care, but he thinks you're really cool, and he loves hanging out with you."

He couldn't blush at that, but he wanted to. "There's no accounting for taste."

"No shit."

They both took deep breaths. It was his turn to speak, so he went ahead. "What does this all mean?"

She replied, "It means now we got to come up with a way for us not to kill each other."

"There's no way I can negotiate with you."

"Why the hell not?"

"Because you're always going to assume I'm hitting on you."

She began to pace. "But you were hitting on me."

"I asked you for a cigarette."

"You asked what you could do for a cigarette. That sounds like a line."

"Did you even consider that I may have meant loose change?" he asked her while pulling himself off of the wall.

"You were staring at my ass." Her fingers curled into a fist.

"Only because I'm humble. My eyes are always facing the floor. Your ass just happened to get in the way."

"Why didn't you just point your eyes somewhere else?"

He suddenly fought to keep himself from laughing. "Because you have a nice ass."

She tensed her fist and began to pull it back.

"Oh shit," he said, "you're going to hurt me." Not taking his eyes off of her, he slowly sat down on his naked bed and speculated which would take the most damage: his eyes, his nose, or his teeth.

She held the pose for a moment. "You've got to learn to start talking less."

"I will."

"I brought a peace offering," she said, finally relaxing and digging through her pocket. "Do you know what this is?"

Sean frowned at a wooden block half the size of a pack of cigarettes. "You already told me, it's a peace offering."

"You don't have to be such an asshole."

"You're right, I don't."

She closed her eyes, then unfolded it into a simple, wooden pipe. "Now do you know what this is?"

"A bad idea," he replied.

"This is the Dude. You haven't really lived in New Mexico if you haven't smoked out of it."

"They name them out there?"

"Sean," she pleaded while fishing for a lighter, "the only way you and I are going to get along is stoned."

Technically, getting stoned wouldn't mean falling off the wagon. It would mean diving off the front of the wagon and being crushed by a complete set of hooves and pair of wheels. That was the dilemma: marijuana was only a small wagon. Really, it was more of a cart. It never hurt anyone in the morning. It never inspired men to violence. It never even inspired teenagers to drive fast.

Besides, Lisa was a housecat. She might be pretty, and she might happily sit on the lap of someone special, but genetics designed her to be the cruelest of hunters. Once she identified Sean as weak, she would trap him in a corner and taunt him until he was too tired to run anymore. Then she would rip out his throat out with her teeth. According to the word around campus, she once dragged a guy through the window of his pickup truck. This was before she was old enough to drive. She drank grown men under the table on her days off from being inebriated.

Sure the men and women of his support group lauded the courage he drew upon to face the world with clear eyes, but to someone like her, rehab would be blood in the water. He would not allow himself to bleed for this woman.

"It's been nice knowing you," he said to her. With that, Sean took his first hit of marijuana with Lisa. And then he coughed it right back up.

She laughed and took the Dude back.

"Ouch," he croaked.

"You get used to it."

"I hear," he said. "You do this often?" Despite his lightheadedness, he managed to stay cool. That made it even more inconvenient when his ex-girlfriend burst through the door he hadn't bothered to lock behind him.

"Shit," he said.

"Sean," she said loudly, "it took me all day to find out where you lived, so you are not leaving this room until I talk to you." She sniffed the air and spotted Lisa. "Did I come at a bad time?"

"Funny you should mention that," he told her.

"That's weed you're smoking, isn't it? I cannot believe you! Here I was, so happy you quit drinking! I didn't know you just traded it for this." She massaged her eyes. "You got serious problems!"

He looked at Lisa for a second. "I get that a lot."

"Forget it," his ex-girlfriend said. "I'll come back later."

"Now's as good a time as any."

"Fine. Then explain to me why the hell you didn't tell me about him."

"Tell you about whom?"

"Glen."

Lisa sighed, "Oh, fuck."

Sean's ex-girlfriend ignored her. "You've known Glen since you were a freshman, and you've heard about every shitty thing he does to girls like me, and you could have stopped me. Why didn't you stop me?"

"Is there any way I could have?"

She almost replied, but didn't. She finally asked, "When did you stop loving me?"

He shrugged.

A tear slowly outlined her grimace. "You don't have to be this way." She slammed the door.

Sean listened to her stomp down the hall.

"I probably shouldn't have seen that," Lisa told him and left.

He squeezed his eyes shut. At least he was able to maintain his composure.


To be continued...

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WINTER BUDS

by Jeremiah Murphy



One hundred and twenty-one days had passed since he started smoking marijuana with Lisa. The ground hadn't opened up, the sky hadn't fallen, and his support group hadn't kicked him out. Of course, he'd never tell them about his new habit; but he went there for a drinking problem, and it had been three hundred and fifty-five days since he'd even smelled alcohol with more than a passing whiff.

This left him wondering for a moment if being twenty-one meant he had reached his peak for rationalization, or if he would actually get better at it. This in turn left him wondering if the weed was asking the questions now. This, then, left him wondering if there was any cake at this party.

A quick tally of the refrigerator revealed no cure for this craving: "Beer, beer, more beer, cheap beer, pretentious Irish beer, vodka, a bottle of tonic water with crumbs floating around in it, white wine, red wine--barbarians, margarita mix, vomit, beer, a set of velvet handcuffs, and more beer. No cake."

He silently cursed the shackles, which took up valuable space that could have been used for cake. He recognized them as a prop from the Theatre Department's Christmas production, which he had witnessed earlier in the evening. The problem with Christmas productions was that most of the faculty in the Theatre Department hated them and left them to student directors. The problem with student directors was that they tended to be very creative in their productions. This was because they also tended to be idealistic rebels with drinking problems, drug problems, or both. This also meant they threw the wildest cast parties.

Once again, Sean made it through one without throwing up.

"Wait," he announced to the empty kitchen, "was there cake in that vomit?" He opened the refrigerator again, unsure of what to do if the answer was yes. To his relief, he could identify only macaroni and corn in the mess.

When he closed the door and noticed his fellow kitchen occupant, it took him a moment to recognize her as the Ghost of Christmas Future. This because a sweater obscured the deep cleavage she showed off in the Creative Student Christmas Theater Production. This freed his eyes to look elsewhere on her body and see platinum hair pouring over her shoulders, turquoise eyes, a dazzling smile that seemed to take up the rest of her face. He blinked. "Um?" he asked.

"Is it true you don't drink?" she replied. "Because everyone thinks you're just doing it to get attention."

"Do they?"

"Yeah, but I don't believe them. They're just being shallow. I'm too thick to be shallow."

He considered this for a moment, concluding, "I believe you."

"Your name is Sean, right?"

"You've done your research."

"When you go to a lot of parties, people gossip. I like to find out what the real story is."

"I see. And you are?"

"Sorry," she said, "I'm Shannon. Did you see me in the play?"

"Of course," he replied, "you were the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. In a white leotard."

"The director said he wanted to try something new. I hope it worked."

He recalled her performance in the non-speaking role. "You were born for the part. You have enormous breasts."

"I know," she said. "Most guys really like them. What do you think?"

He frowned and asked her, "Does this conversation seem a little weird to you?"

Lisa chose that moment to storm in to the kitchen. "Sean," she growled, "you and me got to have a little chat. On the back porch. Now." She then stormed out.

Sean strolled to the doorway. "Talk to you later," he said to Shannon. "I have to go outside and get beaten."

Once on the back porch, he asked Lisa, "Now what did I do?"

"Nothing," she replied, igniting the Dude, "this time. I just had to get you away from her."

"I never figured you for the jealous type," he said, taking his turn with the Dude.

"There's something wrong with her, Sean."

"A rescue. How uncharacteristically humane." He handed the pipe back to her.

After she exhaled her hit, she croaked, "I've been seeing too much of her lately."

"You don't have to worry about that tonight, she's wearing a really big sweater."

"What does that have to do with anything?"

"Forget it." He put the Dude to his lips.

She glared off into space.

He coughed. "And how much of Shannon is too much Shannon?"

"She's taken an interest in my boyfriend."

"So?"

"What do you mean by that?"

"Has he taken an interest back?" He handed her the Dude.

"Of course not."

"So, what's the problem?"

She lit the pipe thoughtfully. "She's all over him."

"Does he even notice?" He snatched it back and took a hit.

"What do you think?"

"I think your boyfriend's cute when he's being unobservant."

She smiled. "He is."

"He's only got eyes for you. I wouldn't worry."

"I didn't come out here for a pep talk." She took back her pipe.

"You're being pretty hostile for someone with nothing to worry about," he said.

"I'm not being hostile, I know my boyfriend's loyal. She's psycho."

"Which probably explains why she didn't get upset when I pointed out that she has enormous breasts."

She snorted. "You said that?" she asked before she took her hit and handed him the Dude.

"Well, she does," he replied. While she held her breath, he added, "Don't judge. You have enormous breasts too."

While she coughed in shock, her right arm lashed out and punched him square in the sternum.

"Hey!" he yelped. "You hit me!"

"You said," she started, stopping to hack some more.

While she did that, he whined, "You're not supposed to do that!"

Through a ragged throat, she growled, "You're not supposed to talk about my tits."

"I don't recall agreeing to that."

She hit him in the chest again, which hurt worse because she zeroed in on the welt that had been forming from the last one. As he stood there and whimpered, she started laughing.

"What's so funny."

"You, Sean," she replied. "You are such a girl."

"You should talk. You're the one with enormous breasts."

She hit him again. While he recovered from that, she added, "I don't want to hear you saying another word," she said.

As much as he enjoyed making her brain reel like this, he obeyed, but only because his ribs couldn't take another hit like that.

After a minute she added, "I should have left you with her. She seems to be taking an interested in you."

"Strictly empirical."

"Shit, if I had let nature take its course, I could have got rid of the both of you. God damn it."

"I don't think you're listening to me."

"I never do."

"Granted," he shrugged, "but your little Machiavellian scheme has too many careless flaws ..."

"No, it doesn't."

"… Like: I'm not nearly as charming as your boyfriend."

"For the love of God, would you just shut up?"

"Every time I do, you say something."

"You don't have to answer."

He sighed. "You're right, I should be hanging out with Shannon."

"That's what I've been saying."

"She's not what I would call normal, but at least she's really sweet. She was nice to me when everybody apparently thinks I'm an asshole."

"Now you're being an asshole," she told him while he took his hit.

"Stop it. You're hurting my feelings."

"Everybody thinks you're being dramatic about not drinking, that's all."

He asked, "Do they get that from the way I don't drink, so when they ask about it, I tell them I don't want to talk about it? Is that what makes me a martyr? Do they want me to walk around with a glass of apple juice and be an undercover alcoholic?"

She took back the Dude. "Now you're being a martyr."

"What could I possibly say that wouldn't piss you off?"

She blew smoke in his face. "You could shut the fuck up like I keep telling you to."

Carefully taking the pipe back in silence, Sean maneuvered it to his lips, adding, "Technically that's not actually saying anything."

"I'm serious," Lisa replied.


To be continued...

buds: (Default)

SUMMER BUDS

by Jeremiah Murphy



The more time passed, the faster it seemed to go. He didn't even notice the anniversary of being alcohol-free as it passed by, over two hundred and ninety-two days ago. His support group would have reminded him, but he had skipped that meeting to go to a party. In fact, he skipped most of the meetings to go to parties over the past nine months, much like the one he'd been avoiding this evening.

This also marked exactly four hundred and twenty-two days since the beginning of the truce between Lisa and himself. For the most part, it functioned as smoothly as child custody following an amicable divorce. Sean was even getting used to the idea of Eugene and Lisa cohabitating. He didn't like it, but he was used to it. Besides, they lived on the second floor of a rental house, and it had rooftop access. This gave him somewhere to escape to when he'd had enough of a party. He'd done this enough that Eugene even thought to stash a blanket near the window so he wouldn't be too uncomfortable.

The amount of solitude he needed following a party was directly proportional to the size of the gathering. Tonight required a lot of it. Unfortunately, Lisa wasn't letting him have any. He didn't know what had gotten into her, but she took control of him before a coherent thought could even form in his head. He couldn't resist her, even though a small, rational part of him knew how much of a terrible mistake he was making with his best friend's girlfriend.

His concentration focused on her brown eyes, sparkling with a bit more joy than he was used to seeing. Her attention was focused a little further south on his anatomy.

He took a breath and moaned, "I need a cigarette."

She bit her lip. "Wait until we're finished."

"When's that going to be?"

"When I'm satisfied."

"You're never satisfied."

"We should have done this a long time ago," she said. "I can't get enough of it."

They matched gazes for a moment. He asked her, "Do you really mean that?"

A smug grin crawled up her cheek. "I'd get enough if you were any better at it."

"You don't always have to berate me. Especially now."

"Yeah, I do. It's the basis of our relationship."

"I thought marijuana was the basis of our relationship."

"That and the physical stuff," she said.

That reminded him: "I have a cramp."

"Suck it up."

"I am sucking it up."

"Suck it up harder."

"Do I always have to be on top?" he asked.

"If you knew what you were doing, I'd be the one on top. Now shut up for once in your life."

A few more intense moments passed without a word between them, when she shifted her weight suddenly. He yelped and pulled out. After she let out a deep, throaty giggle, she told him, "That's two for flinching."

"Ah, fuck." Knowing that not cooperating only made it worse, he gritted his teeth and offered her his shoulder. She punched him twice in the exact three-inch area she'd been slugging since they'd made their way outside. One had to admire her accuracy.

"Again," she said.

"I don't like this game," he whined, moving from Indian style to a crouch to get circulation back into his legs.

"That's because you suck at it," she replied. "Maybe you'll get lucky and get to pound me this time."

"It's the only reason I'm sticking around," he admitted, extending his hands, palms-down.

She moved her own palms about an inch beneath his and waited. They stared each other down for a while until she shrugged. He held his ground this time, and was rewarded for his fortitude by her clapping her hands together, smashing all ten of his knuckles between them. The impact made him stagger backward off the blanket. This in turn made him slip on a shingle, lose his balance, and pitch off of the roof.

Before he could get too far, Lisa caught his flailing arm. "Easy there," she whispered as she hauled him to safety. "I think you need a break."

He blinked his bulging eyes and sat down very carefully on the blanket. A two-story drop onto a concrete driveway might not kill him, but it would hurt a lot. He gasped, "I think that's a fantastic idea."

"Cigarette," she said.

"That's another fantastic idea," he agreed and reached into his pocket.

"No," she clarified, "I meant, 'Give me a cigarette.'"

"Don't you have your own?"

"Yeah, but yours taste better."

"We smoke the same brand."

"I know," she told him, "but stealing from you makes them sweeter."

"Get your own," he said and put one to his lips.

She punched him again on the bruise.

"I see your point," he conceded and gave her a cigarette.

They smoked in silence. Sean thought about his own mortality. He didn't know what Lisa was thinking about as she gazed absently at some barely visible storm clouds in the distance. A low-pitched rumble rolled over them. He just assumed it was thunder until it occurred to him that there had been no lightning. A twitter coming from the same direction told him exactly what the rumble had been. "Rocky, darling, you are not nearly that drunk!"

"Then how come I can see two of you?" the rumble asked.

Mateo hopped out of the window. "You cannot see two of me," he shouted back.

"Seriously," Rocky told him as he pulled himself outside, straining the frame as he did. "You look like the number eleven."

Mateo gave up and turned his attention to the others on the roof. "How long have you two been here, cupcake?"

"Long enough for Sean to try to pound me," Lisa replied.

"He wouldn't dare!" Mateo grinned.

"He wouldn't dare to do what?" Eugene asked from the window.

"Try to pound her," Sean replied. "The operative word is try."

Lisa told them, "I pounded him first."

Eugene shrugged and sat on the blanket next to her. "She does like to take the initiative."

"I pounded him hard," she added, snuggling up to her boyfriend. "Glad you're here, sweetie. Did you bring the Dude like I asked you?"

"Sean has it," he replied.

Her knuckles slammed into Sean's injured shoulder. With a yelp, he dug it out of his pocket and handed it to her. She studied it for a moment and slugged him again. "You had it the whole time?"

"You didn't ask me for it."

She cocked her fist again and he flinched. "What if you dropped it?"

"I have a feeling I'd go down with it."

"Fuck, yeah," she replied. "I would have let you go."

"Then it's a good thing I didn't drop it."

Lisa grunted and started packing the Dude with some fresh weed.

"Guys," Eugene asked, "What the hell?"

"Your girlfriend's a spiteful, violent, trashy monster," Sean informed him.

"Your friend's a girl," Lisa retorted.

"I love this show," Mateo whispered to Rocky.

"I know!" Rocky agreed. "It's got tits and punching! What more could you ask for?"

Lisa rolled her eyes and put the pipe to her lips, which Sean noted were perfect. Also, for someone as promiscuous as she was rumored to be, she didn't put a lot of effort into showing off her figure. It didn't matter, though, because her clothes took care of it by wrinkling, bunching, stretching, and settling in the right places for maximum effect. He squeezed his eyes shut and tried to flush the thought from his brain. When he opened them again, she was blowing the hit through her boyish bangs. Women paid a great deal of money to salons get the ruffled hair she styled simply by running her fingers through it.

He shook his head and muttered to his aching libido, "This is bullshit."

"It's not bullshit," Lisa said.

Sean tended to forgot other people could hear him when he spoke aloud.

"You have no balls," she continued. "You're a girl."

"Guys," Eugene interrupted.

Sean ignored him and said, "That implies ovaries." He handed Lisa a cigarette and took the Dude from her in exchange.

"And a vagina," Mateo added.

"And a vagina," Sean agreed.

"Guys," Eugene interrupted again.

"Then you're a eunuch," she said.

"Guys!" Eugene shouted.

Sean shrugged. "Touché," he told her instead of pushing the issue.

The roof went silent, as the verbal tennis match was the only thing keeping most of them awake. But before anyone could doze off, Shannon popped her head out of the window. "Where did you guys go?" she asked them loudly.

"The roof," Sean informed her before he took his hit.

"Of course you're on the roof!" She gently slapped Sean on the shoulder. Nobody but him noticed Lisa snickering at Sean's wince. "That's not what I meant!" Shannon added.

"But that's what you asked," he said through gritted teeth.

She clutched the sleeve of his trusty cardigan sweater. "Please don't confuse me. Sean, I'm baked. Like a brownie. Once, the cast of Waiting for Godot baked an ounce of hydroponic weed into a dozen brownies, and we had two brownies--they were huge brownies--and we went to the state fair."

"You've got to be kidding," Lisa sighed.

Mateo laughed. "The state fair? What the hell were you thinking?"

Sean shrugged, "Probably: 'Why not?'"

Shannon passionately held his hands and looked in his eyes. "That's exactly it! 'Why not?' Why not go on the roller coaster? And we took the brownies with us and ate them and we tried to pace ourselves, you know?"

"Oh," Sean told her, "I know."

"But we ate them all while we were in line and by the time we got onto the roller coaster we were tripping and we saw hallucinations and stuff! And the whole time we were just going, Wow! And we did again, and we were still all, Wow!"

"Can you even trip on weed?" Mateo whispered.

"You have to have a lot of it," Eugene replied.

"Yeah," she giggled then grabbed his shoulder. "Do you have any brownies?"

"No," Lisa growled.

"I'll go check!" Shannon told them and slipped back inside.

Sean said, "That's probably the last person who should be getting high."

Peering off the roof and into the driveway below, Mateo said, "I wonder what would happen if she fell off this."

Sean replied, "She'd float away."

"I wonder what would happen if I fell off this."

"You'd bounce."

"What about you?" he asked.

Lisa said, "I don't think anybody would notice if Sean fell off the roof." Her smirk at the comment was reserved for him alone.

Again Shannon burst out of the window, "There's no brownies in this house, Eugene."

"Sorry you didn't listen to me," Lisa said.

"That's okay, I just feel like dancing. That party was just like the sixties."

Sean said. "The sixties were just a bunch of people getting stoned with a sitar, anyway."

She grabbed his hands again. "I know! But we didn't have a sitar!"

"Or brownies."

"I know!" she giggled. "That's what I've been trying to tell them!" She added, "You know what would be really groovy now?"

"What's that?"

"Sex." She floated over to Rocky and traced his collarbone with her pinkie. Then she looped his gold chain around it and pulled his face closer to her lips. "What do you say?"

"What do I say about what?" Rocky asked. "I wasn't paying attention."

Her hand lingered on his chest for a moment before she gently pulled him to the window. Sean watched the exchange with mild amusement. He tried to take one more hit off of the Dude, but it was cashed.

Lisa took it back and asked her boyfriend, "Do you want to go back to our room and fuck?"

"I think I can do that," he replied.

Sean lit a cigarette and waited until they were gone. "Looks like it's time for us to fall off the roof, Mateo."

"Possibly," he said. "Have you changed your mind about being heterosexual?"

Sean thought about it for a minute. "No," he replied.

"Then it looks like we're both going home alone tonight, raspberry cheesecake," Mateo shrugged before he crawled through the window.

Sean slowly finished the cigarette and tossed it to the driveway. "At least you have an excuse," he mumbled. After entering through the window of the tiny kitchen, he strolled through the rest of the house and was almost outside when he noticed Rocky on the couch, chewing on Shannon's neck. He moved quietly past them, yet couldn't help but notice the way his hips pushed into hers, and the way her left heel rubbed the inside of his right knee.

He almost made it when Shannon opened her eyes, and between moans, said, "Goodnight, Sean."

Rocky mumbled something.

"Yeah," Sean replied, and turned a corner to the front door, which he opened with his head.


To be continued...

buds: (Default)

CHRISTMAS BUDS

by Jeremiah Murphy



The second anniversary of his last drink did not pass unnoticed. A little perturbed about missing the last one, Sean decided to treat himself with a trip to The Holy Cow.

The Holy Cow was different than all of his other haunts. Eugene and Lisa's apartment had turned into a bit of a couples' retreat, now that Rocky and Shannon had paired up and Mateo started seeing Bobby. May's Café was too much of a social hub for the student body, and a cup of coffee there inevitably led to socializing. The pub was uninviting to anyone who was not with a group. The Holy Cow was a premium steakhouse, which meant that most of his fellow students were priced out. Most importantly, it tended to be full of strangers who never intruded on his solitude, but made enough noise to drown out the oppressive thoughts with which he never wanted to be left alone. It was here in the dim light, hiding among the brown, patent-leather seats that he truly could relax.

Today, however, he was not alone--not by a long shot.

Chairs and booths overflowed with laughter and conversation that rippled throughout the wide dining area. Silverware rattled, accompanying the high-pitched percussion of dishes and glasses. The wait staff skated back and forth through the slalom course of tables, chairs, patrons, and unsupervised children.

He tore his eyes from the pandemonium and rested them on the host station. Behind it, a weary young woman in a bowtie pushed her dark hair behind her ear and stacked menus.

"Heidi," he said to her, "what the fuck?"

"Hey, Sean," she replied. "It'll be about fifteen minutes before I can get you a seat."

"What are all these people doing here?"

"It's Christmas Eve, Sean," she replied. "Nobody wants to cook tonight."

"I know what day it is, but I thought that everybody was on vacation."

"All the college kids are on vacation. These are the townies."

"We have townies?"

"Hey," she reminded him, "I'm a townie."

"I wasn't aware that townies had families."

"Don't you?" she asked.

"Yeah," he replied, "but nobody is perfect." After peering into the mouth of the chaos before him, he pointed. "Tell you what: I'll sit in that booth over there and you can send someone over with a cup of coffee when he or she has a moment."

"Whatever you say."

Sean waded through, nodding at every server who passed by. "Hey, Ronnie," he said. "Hey, Jake. Hey, Mari. Jen. Leanne. Whitney. Jeff." They all said hey right back before returning to their purgatory.

He reached the booth, which contained a thick textbook, a steno pad covered in letters and numbers, a plate with only trace elements of a meal left on it, and a half-finished beer. He sat down across from the occupant and was momentarily taken aback when his eyes rested on her cleavage. It occurred to him that he'd seen her naked before, but he'd never seen her in a low-cut blouse like this. He'd almost forgotten she was a girl.

"Sean," Lisa said to him without looking up from her steno pad, "I don't have time for your shit right now."

"Everybody has time for my shit," he replied.

"Sean."

"My shit is cheeky and fun."

"Stop it."

"My shit cannot be stopped. It's an avalanche of shit. It is, dare I say, a veritable shit storm."

"I'm serious."

"No shit?"

She growled, "Cut. It. Out."

"Fine," he sighed before reaching across the table and snatching the textbook away. "What are you working on?"

"Give it back!"

"Poli-Econ," he said. "Didn't you have that just this last semester?"

"Missed one of the papers," she replied. "Got an incomplete."

"Doctor Taylor?"

She nodded.

"He never gives out incompletes," he told her. "That's why I had to take the class twice."

"Way I heard it," she replied, "that was because you spent the first time around fall-down drunk."

He shrugged. "One and a half times, then. But that doesn't explain how you got an extension."

She finally made eye contact with him and cupped her hands under her breasts and pushed them upward, nearly spilling them out of her top. "These unlock a lot of doors."

He didn't dare look down. "Wish I had some."

"Ahem," said a voice above them.

Guiltily, Lisa's widening eyes moved up to see her waiter. "Uh," she replied.

"Dave," Sean said to him.

Dave stood between them, transfixed; the cup of coffee in his hand long forgotten. "Dave!" Sean repeated.

The spell broke, and he turned to Sean. "Didn't see you there."

"I can't imagine why," he replied.

Lisa released herself and hid her blushing face from the rest of the table.

"I'll have my usual," Sean told him.

Dave placed the coffee down, said, "You got it," and darted off.

She fanned herself and idly asked, "What's your usual?"

"New York Strip, medium rare, with creamed spinach and fries. Kobe beef."

"Isn't that shit kind of expensive?"

"You get what you pay for." He shrugged. "This place is pretty expensive in general. I'm surprised you could afford it."

"Saving up," she replied. "Christmas and all."

"Don't you have a family you can be with?"

She put a cigarette to her lips and lit it. "Less said about that the better."

"You know you can't smoke here."

"Says who?"

"The law," he replied. "This is the non-smoking section."

They glared at each other.

She tossed the cigarette into his coffee.

He continued to glare at her as he took a sip. "Can I help?" he asked.

"With what?"

"Your paper."

"I think I can do without," she replied.

"You sure?" he insisted. "I took the class one and a half times, you know."

"Stop asking."

He leaned back in his seat. "I thought I'd be nice for once."

She shook her head. "You're a real piece of work."

"That's what they said when they committed me." He wriggled out of the booth. "I have to pee."

"You just got here."

"What can I say?" He shrugged. "Coffee goes through me like a rumor."

She frowned and reviewed what he had just very carefully. "That doesn't make any goddamn sense."

"You're right," he conceded. "That was a pretty weak analogy. I'll work on it while I'm peeing."

Instead of heading to the restroom, he found Dave and handed him a credit card. "Her meal's on me."

"You got it."

When he sat back down, she was stuffing all of her things into a backpack.

"Leaving already?"

"It's not like I can concentrate anymore."

"I'll be quiet."

"I don't trust you."

"Then you're not as dumb as you look," he told her.

She couldn't help but smirk. "What are you doing for New Year's?"

"Same thing I've been doing since break started," Sean replied, "and the same thing I'm planning on doing for the rest of break."

"You really are pathetic."

"I have a reputation to maintain."

"Look," she sighed, "everyone we know is out of town."

"You know," he said, "there are better ways to enjoy the holiday than spending it with you."

"Yeah," she asked. "Like what?"

"Not being around you."

"See you around eightish?"

"I told you, I'm not coming."

"Of course you're not." She flagged down the waiter.

"Something else I can get you?" Dave asked when he arrived.

"Yeah," she replied. "My check."

"It's covered, ma'am."

"What the fuck?"

"Excuse me?"

"I'm trying to pay my bill here."

"It's been paid," Dave said.

"Have I paid it?"

"No," he told her.

"Then it hasn't been paid."

"Sean took care of it."

She squeezed her eyes shut in frustration. "Just go away."

Dave obeyed without another word.

She took a deep breath and asked calmly, "Why the fuck would you do that?"

"Because it's a lot of money that I have and you don't."

"I don't need your charity."

"Then think of it as a payment," he offered.

"For what?"

"For saving my life."

"Don't you think I've been punished enough for that?"

"You know," he told her, "it's the holidays, and we don't have any family to speak of, and I thought it would be a pleasant gift."

"Fuck you and your condescending bullshit."

"I'm not being," he tried to say.

She threw enough cash on the table to cover her meal and a generous tip for Dave. "What are you hoping to get in return?" she sneered. "My everlasting gratitude? Eternal friendship? A blowjob?"

"Hey!" he snapped. "Who the fuck do you think you're talking to?"

"An asshole."

"Look," he pleaded, "I'm trying ..."

She quaked in fury. "You want to know why I wanted to come to this fancy restaurant I can't afford?"

He blinked.

"Because all fucking year I have had to be a student and a girlfriend and a goddamned shelf-stocker at the goddamned drugstore. I spend so much time earning money for tuition and rent and gas and whatever fucking disaster gets thrown my way that I can barely keep my grades up to hold onto the half-assed scholarship the school gave me. And I had to dress like a whore this semester to pull that one off. I don't get any time to myself or even any sleep, I spend so much time trying to please everybody.

"And because all of that, I have been putting away a few bucks every paycheck all year so that I could come to this flashy restaurant and have a goddamned steak." She clenched her jaw as hard as she could, but even that wasn't enough to keep the tears back. "And it would have been my goddamned steak that I fucking earned. And you just fucking took that away from me."

"I didn't take anything from you."

"I know that money isn't worth much to you," she replied, "but it's worth a lot to me. You can buy a rib-eye whenever you have a hankering, but I have to work for it."

"That's why I tried to buy it for you," he explained. "Now you can have two steaks."

"Were you even listening to what I said?"

"Look," he said, "I'm sorry that I insulted you."

"Fuck you!" she hissed. "Just fuck you."

His mouth slack, he stared at the table while she stood and pulled on her jacket. After buttoning it up, she grabbed her backpack and started to walk away.

"See you next week?" she asked over her shoulder.

"Wouldn't miss it," he replied.

"And if you speak another word to me before the year's out, I will fucking murder you."


To be continued...

buds: (Default)

NEXT YEAR'S BUDS

by Jeremiah Murphy



Seven hundred and thirty-nine days had passed since he drank a bottle of whiskey that had changed his life forever, yet Sean still felt the dull ache of a hangover squeezing his head like a vice. He'd spent enough time in Eugene's kitchen that he knew where he could find a tin of coffee and a bag of filters--on top of the refrigerator--and the appliance needed to do the actual brewing--behind the toaster.

Sluggishly, the percolation began, and he watched it through dried-up eyeballs. He coughed, and he could have sworn he saw a tiny cloud of smoke float to the ceiling, despite the fact that this was impossible. "Fuck you, Lisa," he muttered. "Fuck you, weed. And fuck you, New Years, for bringing us all together."

To his left, a pair of feet shuffled into the tiny kitchen. "What are you doing here this early in the morning?" the feet asked.

Sean's head swiveled slowly to see what was connected to the feet. "Eugene," he said to them, "you're back!"

"And you're on my couch."

"Not at the moment," Sean replied. "Lisa told me I could sleep there. She didn't tell me you were going to be back this morning."

"Surprise," Eugene said without much enthusiasm.

"Indeed. Why didn't you wake me up when you got here?"

"Lisa wanted to wish me a Happy New Year her own way."

"Which way is that?" Sean asked.

"You must be a heavy sleeper," Eugene replied.

Sean digested this comment. "I guess I am," he concluded.

Eugene stood in the same spot for a moment while Sean turned back to the coffee machine that still happened to be sluggish.

Eugene finally spoke, "Is something going on between you and Lisa?"

The typical innocent reaction to such a non sequitur is to laugh, which is why Sean chose to do so. "What?" he asked as his smile dissolved into a carefully calculated look of shock. "What the hell kind of question is that?"

"A legitimate one."

"Not from you, it isn't."

"What did you guys do last night?"

"As far as I know, we smoked a lot of weed and watched a lot of commercials." Sean remembered one more detail. "Oh, and I fantasized about eating a half-gallon of vanilla ice cream with your girlfriend."

"What?"

"It was a lot of weed." Sean leaned on the counter near the sluggish coffee machine. "What the hell, Eugene?"

"What is the deal with you guys?"

"The deal is," Sean replied, "she buys the weed, we split the cost, and then we smoke a lot of it."

"That's not what I meant."

"What did you mean?"

"I want to know," he said deliberately, "what the nature of your relationship is."

"You want to know what?"

"You heard me."

"I heard you inquire as to nature of my relationship with Lisa Green," Sean told him, "so clearly I heard it wrong."

"Be straight with me for once."

Sean fought to regain his verbal footing. "I am straight. Just ask Mateo. He's been ..."

"No sarcasm!" snapped Eugene. "No dodging the question. No goofing around. This is serious."

"No, it isn't."

"Sean!"

"And if I refuse?"

Eugene replied, "Then you walk out that door and don't ever talk to me again."

Sean blinked, listening to the sluggish machine as it finished brewing. He wanted nothing more than to reach over, grab the pot, and chug furiously. But first thing's first: "Ask Lisa."

"I'm not asking her. I'm asking you."

"Eugene," Sean replied, "I have been your friend for two years. You have been crucial to my success in my recovery from ... my issues. I owe you my life." He headed to the couch to retrieve his sweater. "I don't owe you this."

Just as Sean opened the door, Eugene said, "Wait."

Sean should have kept going. It was the only thing that made sense. If there was one thing he had learned from the moment he hit puberty was that people were bound to let him down. Whether it be his father, physically; his mother, spiritually; his ex-girlfriend, both physically and spiritually; his drinking buddies in general; and even Rocky and Mateo, who had found romance recently--everybody left him. He could count on that. But he trusted Eugene. This is what that trust had gotten him.

"Please, Sean."

He closed the door and turned back toward the man in the kitchen.

"I'm sorry," Eugene said.

Sean remained silent.

Eugene rubbed his eyes. "I'm being that guy."

Sean finally spoke. "Which guy?"

"That guy who thinks his woman's a slut."

"Oh," Sean replied. "That guy. I fucking hate that guy."

"I don't know what got into me." Eugene stared at the floor. "Actually I do know what got into me. I just spent seven hours by myself in a car with a broken radio, and all I've been doing that whole time is thinking."

"Thinking?"

"You know," Eugene continued, "your entire relationship with Lisa confuses me."

"Me, too."

"I mean, you spent our entire junior year at each other's throat; really vicious stuff. Then, suddenly, this past summer, you start to actually like each other."

"Well," Sean muttered, "like is such a strong word ..."

"You were civil, at least."

"Civil I can work with."

"And then, out of the blue, she calls me on Christmas and starts screaming--literally screaming--about something you did, and she is so mad she can't even tell me what it is."

"What did she have to say?" Sean asked.

"The usual," he replied. "That you were a freaking jackass."

"She didn't say 'freaking jackass,' did she?"

Eugene shook his head.

"Let me guess: Two words, seven letters each, first one rhymes with trucking, the second one is a compound noun that ends in hole."

Eugene nodded, adding, "Then yesterday she tells me she thinks it would be fun if I surprised you by coming back from Idaho a couple of days early. What the hell was that all about?"

"I bought her dinner," Sean replied. "She didn't want me to. She had every reason to be angry."

"See?" Eugene exclaimed. "That! Buying her dinner! Admitting you were wrong! Her forgiving you! You guys never do that!"

"People change."

"Well," Eugene concluded, "It's really shook me up."

Sean admitted, "It's really weird, but you know what's weirder?"

Eugene shrugged.

"That you just stood there and accused me of fucking your girlfriend."

"I know," he moaned, covering his face with his hands.

"And really," Sean continued, "if you want to get into semantics, Lisa would have been the one doing the fucking."

Eugene laughed. "I need some sleep."

"Clearly. But that doesn't explain why you have adultery on the brain."

With a sigh, Eugene said, "Because it happened to me once. A woman flirted with me by insulting me. It went badly."

"I remember that."

Eugene shook his head. "I guess you would; you talked me off a ledge on that one."

Sean slipped past Eugene and began searching cabinets for a coffee mug. "I can assure you, that kind of thing doesn't happen as often as you think."

"Then tell me, what has she ever done to you to make you hate her so much?"

He froze. That was an easy question. She could see that his wit and aloofness were shielding a little boy who didn't understand the world around him. She could see that he was so terrified of being alone that he shunned the company of everyone. She could see that his privilege had left him adrift with no purpose, and that deep down inside, he had no idea what he was talking about. She could see right through his bullshit. He told Eugene, "She scares the fuck out of me."

"She scares the heck out of everybody."

"I intimidate easily."

"Buddy," Eugene said, "if that were true, then this conversation would have been over a long time ago, and we wouldn't be friends anymore."

Sean resumed his search of the cabinets. "You have no idea how close I came to leaving just now."

"You didn't." Eugene smiled warmly. "Thanks for that."

Sean ran out of places to look, so he crouched down and began searching under the sink among the cleaning supplies.

Eugene then asked in a low voice, "Can you at least answer me one question that's been nagging me for a while?"

"Shoot."

"Do you think she's pretty?"

Sean shot to his feet so fast he lost his balance. "What?"

"Sorry," Eugene sighed. "I don't know where that came from."

"Why would you ask me that question?" Sean hissed quietly. "She's in the bedroom!"

"She's sleeping."

"How much longer do you think she's going to do that?"

"She's slept through the rest of this."

"Why won't you let this go?"

Eugene breathed deeply. "I'm thinking that if you found her attractive, you'd push her away because you and I are really good friends, and that's exactly the kind of thing I'd expect you to do."

"Again," Sean said with a laugh, "this is not a romantic comedy."

"Forget it."

"She has an amazing ass."

"Excuse me?" Eugene stammered.

"Then she had to open her mouth."

Eugene grinned. "You think that my girlfriend has an amazing ass?"

She chose that moment to slip into the kitchen and wrap her arms around Eugene.

Sean said, "Shit."

She asked him, "You're still here?"

He pointed at Eugene. "I wanted to greet the man. Apparently you beat me to it."

She pulled up the hem of her long-sleeved T-shirt and scratched her upper thigh. "You must be a heavy sleeper."

Because the T-shirt was the only article of clothing she was actually wearing, Sean made sure he was glaring into her eyes. "I've heard that one before," he said.

She opened one of the cabinets he hadn't even noticed and removed three coffee mugs. This caused her shirt to hike up again, and it made Sean subtly avert his gaze.

"Nice of you to make enough for all of us," she said.

Sean poured the coffee. "This was supposed to be for him and me alone."

Eugene rolled his eyes and yawned his way out of the tiny kitchen.

"Learn to share," she told him. They stared each other down for a minute until she reached around him and grabbed two of the mugs.

"How much did we smoke last night?" he asked.

"Enough," she replied and shuffled after her boyfriend.


To be concluded...

buds: (Default)

YESTERDAY'S BUDS

by Jeremiah Murphy



It wasn't until he left later that he reached into the pocket of his cardigan and found the thing that reminded him exactly what happened.

The night before, he often had to remind himself who he was, where he was, and what the hell he was doing there. After some intensive concentration, he determined his identity to be "Sean," a senior in college. His location was the apartment that his best friend shared with his evil girlfriend. His mission was waiting for the year to roll over.

When he had initially arrived acting mute, he was just doing it to demonstrate that no act of sarcasm was too immature for him. She did, after all, tell him not to say a word. But as the night went on, he remained quiet because it was just damned funny. This was probably because the Dude had passed through his hands many times--enough so that the world became detached into a foreign documentary. Behind him the couch pushed softly into his back. Underneath him a carpet shoved his ass upward. To his left lay a vast desert of carpet leading to a tiny kitchen. To his right, Lisa's dangling feet cut through the air and sent shock waves crashing against his cheek. In front of him, a television strobed to a different channel every five seconds or less, always snagging a commercial, but never catching a plot.

The glowing people on the television spoke, but words had no meaning to him. Lisa's feet said something and jumped to the floor and strode between him and the speaking television. The feet continued to the vast desert of carpet beyond the couch and began an epic journey. Sean rolled his head to witness this historical event and check out the ass attached to it.

When she noticed him witnessing the historic event, but most of all, when she noticed him checking out the ass attached to it, which happened to be hers, he returned his attention to the television. As before, there were random, flashing images, but this time it was different. This time there was some semblance of coherency. The sensations from the little plastic box before him coalesced into a plot. It was the plot of a commercial, but it was a plot nonetheless.

Since the commercial contained humorous content, he laughed. There was much laughing. There was never much laughing when Lisa's dangling feet were present. That was long ago, in the distant past before the Era of Clatter in the Tiny Kitchen, or even the Era of the Unchanging Commercials.

He missed those distant times--known to historians as the Era of Tension. They gave him a reason to be quiet.

He focused all of his energy on getting to his feet so he could make the epic journey across the vast desert of carpet to the tiny kitchen. Once in the tiny kitchen, he opened the freezer and hauled out a half-gallon of vanilla ice cream. As he pried open the lid, Lisa handed him a spoon identical to hers. He dug in and savored the soft vanilla taste in his mouth for a moment before swallowing. The creamy glacier crept down his throat, dissolving only when he noticed he was really sitting on the floor in front of the speaking television.

He could never actually focus the energy necessary to get to his feet and make the epic journey across the vast desert of carpet to the tiny kitchen. But the phantom ice cream would remain with him as a vivid memory. He relived it many times before Lisa's feet returned from the tiny kitchen. He wanted desperately to tell her of the phantom ice cream. She of all people would appreciate being that stoned. But he chose to retain his vow of silence.

This time, instead of her feet, her whole body occupied the space to his right as she took a long, fresh hit from the Dude. She offered it to him.

He took it, and in his throat the hit was harsh and barbed--hell compared to the moist coolness of the phantom ice cream. Yet he took it again when she offered after her next hit. Then he took it again and again until she signaled it was cashed. She held it in front of him so he could fold it up and place it on the end table behind him which formed the border between the couch and the vast desert of carpet.

He did this, but her fingers unexpectedly remained wrapped around the Dude. These same fingers traced the contours of his hands, followed by feeling the length of his arms through his trusty cardigan sweater. Finally they brushed his neck, tickled his ears, then rested on his jaw.

Naturally, he kissed her.

She would have been well within her rights to punch him in the face for that, but she didn't. In fact, she kissed him back, hard. For an unbelievably long time, he ravenously consumed the lips that had taunted him for five hundred and ninety-four days.

When they pulled apart to catch their breath, he considered saying something. He decided against it for a couple of reasons. First off, he had taken a vow of silence, and there was no need to call it off now. Secondly, the fact that his best friend's live-in girlfriend was tearing his shirt off of him so quickly that a button popped off indicated that this could not actually be happening. Saying something would only bring reality into this, and reality was not welcome.

Still, as a fantasy, it wasn't particularly creative. Her fierce loathing being matched only by her fierce lust was as cliché as it got. He'd expected better of his imagination.

Also, if he was going to be seduced, did it have to be this painful? She shoved him to the floor hard enough to give him a concussion. She straddled his lap hard enough to bruise him. She ground her hips into his hard enough to leave a rash. She scratched his shoulders hard enough to break skin. This phantom fuck was going to put him into phantom traction. He had to admit, though, that this was exactly how Lisa Green would probably have sex with someone. Nothing about her could be described as gentle. He might as well enjoy the thoughtful details his mind employed, like the way her breath rasped in his ear.

His fingers did what they've always wanted to do, which was to tug her shirt out of her jeans and pull it over her head. Unfortunately, they never had much luck with unfastening clasps on a bra, so they settled for yanking the straps downward. She inhaled sharply through her teeth as his thumb massaged her nipple, and then she suddenly snatched his hands away and restrained them over his head.

The harder he struggled, the tighter she squeezed his wrists as she sat still and glared at him. The look of furious contempt in her eyes made his thighs squirm. This brought the tiniest smile to the corner of her mouth, and it softened her grip just a little for just a moment. He took the opportunity to free himself and flip her onto the floor. She sighed, and that only encouraged him to unbuckle her belt, unbutton her jeans, and slip his hand inside. His dominance lasted only as long as her gasp of surprise. After it passed, she grabbed a fistful of hair and dragged him off of her. By the time he figured out what had just happened, his pants were gone.

Her bra landed on the sofa, next to a shapeless puddle of yarn. She reached for it after she slipped out of her jeans. He'd told her at some point over the past couple of years that he always kept a condom in the pocket of his cardigan. He knew full well that his preparation automatically cursed his potential to employ it, but he preferred permanent frustration to permanent itchiness. He had never expected to use it. Most of all, he'd never expected to use it inside his worst enemy.

Instinct placed his hands on her hips to guide her, but her fingernails dug into his wrists and restrained them. She held them there for a long time, until she let him go to pound on his chest with her palms. This surprised him almost as much as the way she suddenly stopped rocking back and forth, went completely tense, and a released high-pitch grunt through her gritted teeth. She collapsed and rolled off of him, not even bothering to ask if he was finished.

They laid there in their humidity for a while, panting. Then she sighed and took his face in her hands again. He leaned forward to kiss her, but she stopped him. Their eyes studied each other, and she saw something she didn't like at all. She sat up suddenly, pulled her shirt on, gathered her clothes, and tiptoed back to her bedroom.

A chill settled in over the room after a few minutes, and he dressed. Once he cleaned up all of the evidence, including every little shred of wrapper and a stray button, he climbed onto the sofa and stared at a commercial, taking his mind with it.

Twelve hours later, he flung the condom and all of the other garbage into a public trash bin and said, "Oh, fuck."


The End

buds: (Default)

At least he wasn't at an Irish wake. The only thing worse than mingling sober in a crowd of drunks was mingling sober with a corpse in the room. Ordinarily, that type of thought would put things in perspective for Sean. At a college keg party, it only made things worse. A corpse would give him someone to talk to.

Around him, people he recognized from campus made complete asses out of themselves, but none of them acknowledged him. Even the man sitting on the other end of the chessboard said nothing. Of course, if that particular man hadn't invited him to the party, he would be alone in his room, not studying for his finals. For chess alone, that man got him out on a hundred percent more occasions than he would have gone out otherwise.

Unfortunately, such occasions became numbered since a few days earlier, when that man had acquired a girlfriend. While Sean never encountered the woman personally, he did have to live with her effect on him. Eugene--as that man preferred to be called--finally relaxed. Sean had to thank her.

Sean also had to destroy her. There was no real reason she should put an end to his extracurricular human contact, except that the idea of introducing himself to other people after being around them so long didn't go over too well with his stomach.

"What the hell have I been doing for the past two years?" he asked.

"Staring at the board," Eugene told him. "Move."

"Don't worry, it'll happen."

"When?"

"In a minute," Sean assured him. The board blurred slightly, focusing his eyes instead on a couple nearby. They were both smoking. "But first," he said to all three of them, "I must have a cigarette. Which one of you has the pack?"

The woman replied, "I really like all of this smoke. It looks like an aura."

The crouching man beside her possessed one of the few names he knew, so Sean specified, "Do you have the cigarettes, Nemanja?"

"After we're done here," Nemanja asked her in a thick Serbian accent, "can we have some sex?"

"Of course," she replied. "But let's hang out for a little while. Doesn't this place have a good vibe?"

Sean insisted, "Help me out here."

"I think the pot and the shrooms really loosen the tension around here," she added.

He begged, "Please."

Nemanja asked, "Will you give me oral sex, later?"

"I know one of you has them," Sean said, then added, "and no, I won't give you oral sex."

"Move," Eugene told him.

Sean turned to face his chess opponent again. "Do you have the cigarettes?"

"I don't smoke."

"Still?" Sean stood. "I need to find something to put in my lungs."

"But it's your move."

"I'll be back."

"But you'll forget!"

"Probably," Sean agreed before wandering off. He rounded the corner and bumped into his ex-girlfriend. Suddenly, the idea of introducing himself to people after being around them so long didn't seem quite so discomforting.

"Sean!" she giggled, "Oh my god! What a surprise! How are you?"

"Never been better."

"I'm so glad to hear that," she replied. "A little birdie told me you even quit drinking."

"Observant bird."

"I told him to keep it a secret, but Eugene's been keeping an eye on you for me."

"I wasn't aware you knew Eugene."

"Everybody knows Eugene."

"Of course. And how are you?"

"Do you know Erik?"

Erik, who Sean had been watching the whole time, finally released his hold on her waist to shake Sean's hand.

"We've met," Sean told her. He knew Erik because Erik sold drugs. Apparently Erik only sold drugs for the thrill. Apparently, Erik liked to have sex with drunk, stoned, and often rebounding women, also for the thrill.

"I haven't seen you all semester," she said. "What have you been up to?"

He could have gone a little while longer without seeing her again. In fact, he referred to the past semester as "detox." He thought he was in love for almost a year and a half, but it turned out he was just codependent. And when it was explained to him that her friends were not really his, he also became an alcoholic. It wasn't long after that he was nearly kicked out of school. So when she dumped him, it had merely been a formality.

He watched each of her fingers intertwine with Erik's and told her how he spent detox, "Class. And you?"

She shrugged, "I've been around."

Sean's hands sought refuge in the pockets of his trusty cardigan sweater. "I can see that." For a moment, he considered popping by her room later and filling her in on Erik's legendary exploits. He could never blame her for her what happened between them, and she didn't deserve Erik. But telling the truth would only make Sean look like the asshole. Almost as much as standing by and doing nothing.

"I need to go," he said. A long night of sitting around and imagining how he could have handled the situation better awaited him.

"It was great to see you again," she said, "why don't you stop by my room sometime and we can catch up."

"Yeah," he replied and walked away to resume his search for a loose cigarette with fresh urgency.

He quickly sniffed around and zeroed in on a cute tomboy. He'd never seen her before, which didn't really mean much. He'd never seen a lot of people before. The only things he knew about her were that she looked really good in jeans, and that she had a cigarette. If she had one, she might have more like it. She also might have mace.

He carefully pointed and asked her, "What would I have to do to get one of those?"

"I have a boyfriend," she replied.

"I guess that rules out cunnilingus."

"What is your fucking problem?" she asked him and stormed away before he could tell her. Then he completely forgot about the cigarette. Now he just wanted to get a better look at her.

* * *

Sean didn't get a better look until a week later, after his philosophy final, when he burst into Eugene's room for their last game of chess before the summer. He didn't recognize her at first, because she was naked and sweating and moaning in ecstasy on top of an equally naked and sweating and ecstatic Eugene.

Since he'd been a young boy, Sean had carefully rehearsed a number of reactions to a number of potential surprises--including a death in the family--so he could be trusted with the awesome responsibility of delivering a humorous remark at the most appropriate moment. This one, however, caught him off guard.

"I'm sorry I didn't knock," he shouted, "I'm sorry I never knocked and I feel really bad and I'm sorry!"

"Sean!" Eugene hissed.

"Sorry," Sean whispered and left the room. In the hallway, he finally noticed Eugene's roommate, Mateo, sitting on the floor, highlighting notes from a biology textbook.

Mateo shrugged.

He sat beside him and remembered to blink. "Oh, damn," Sean said.

"I'm still getting used to it myself," Mateo said. "And I have a final tomorrow."

"Oh, damn."

When Rocky strolled around the corner, Mateo waved and said, "Hello, Lord Byron."

"Shut-up, Mateo," Rocky snapped. "Where's Eugene?"

"Occupied," Sean said to him.

Rocky jumped. "Jesus, man, I didn't see you there."

"I have that effect on people."

"You're the guy who coached Eugene and me on the Plato's Republic, right?" he asked.

Sean replied, "You remembered."

"Of course I remembered, man," he said. "I owe you my life. I tried to read it, but he never got to the point. And what was the big deal with that cave? Shut up about that freaking cave! I can't believe you read it. Not that I'm not grateful, but ... damn." He concluded with, "I mean ... damn."

"I had a lot of spare time this semester."

Rocky wouldn't take that for an answer. "No, man, you're on top of this philosophical shit. And I thought Eugene was on top of that philosophy shit, but Mortenoir doesn't even like him. But you're like ... damn."

Sean watched him.

"I just don't understand where you get it from."

"I flunked the final last semester," Sean replied.

"Oh." Rocky looked away for a second. "So that means you're retaking this class?"

"Correct."

"Oh. And doesn't that mean you flunked the final we just took?"

"Correct."

"How'd you pull that off? You only had to show up."

Sean shrugged.

"You ditched the final?"

"Showed up drunk."

"Oh," Rocky looked away for a second. "Hey, I showed up drunk."

"Did you have a will to live?"

"Well ... yeah?"

"There you go."

Mateo put the cap on his highlighter. "You're a very interesting person, Sean."

"Well, I have a will to live now."

"Oh." Rocky frowned.

Mateo grinned like a cat. "Mysterious and brooding, I like that in a man."

"It's too bad you have a penis," Sean said.

"Not really."

Rocky sat between them. "Can we change the subject, please?"

"Help yourself," Sean told him.

"Why are you guys sitting in the hall?"

"Lisa," Mateo said.

"Oh." Rocky looked away for a second. "Oh!"

Sean cautiously looked back at the door to Eugene's room. "I'm in still shock."

Rocky laughed. "You, too? A month ago he was too scared to speak to her and now they fuck like rabbits. I can't figure out what happened."

"I can give you a detailed description."

Mateo clarified, "He walked in on them, Rocky."

"Oh," Rocky said, "damn."

Eugene's door opened and he announced sheepishly, "You can come in, now."

Sean lifted his duffel bag. "Sorry."

The four shuffled into the room, and Sean finally recognized Eugene's sex partner, curled into a small bundle of flannel and denim on Eugene's bed. Her right hand tightly clutched a nylon bra, and her left hand loosely dangled an unlit cigarette. But it was the scowl that did it.

"Sean," Eugene said, "This is Lisa."

"You're the guy with the fucking problem," she said.

Sean faced her with mock surprise. "Oh, look," he replied, "It's the literalist from the other night. How's that temperamental thing working for out for you?" He'd been practicing that line for a week.

"Guys?" Eugene asked.

"Honey," she told him, "this is the guy I was telling you about. The one that wanted to eat me out for a cigarette."

"You make it sound dirty," Sean said. "I was merely ruling out cunnilingus as potential barter. It was improbable, but it was still an option." He turned to her boyfriend. "If I had known you were involved, I never would have considered oral sex. Honest."

Eugene held up his hands and sat on Mateo's bed. "Leave me out of this."

Rocky joined Eugene. "Me, too."

Mateo got comfortable. "This is great!"

After glaring the rest of them into silence, Lisa turned her attention back to Sean. "Who the hell do you think you are?"

"Some guy at a party?"

"What would make you say something like that to somebody you don't know?"

"I thought it was funny."

"What's so funny about that?"

"It was unexpected and well-timed. That's what funny is."

"What the hell do you mean, 'that's what funny is'?"

"I know funny. I'm writing my doctorate on funny."

She flipped open a brass Zippo and ignited it. "What is your fucking problem?"

Sean folded his arms. "I'm being funny."

"This is probably a bad time to point this out," Eugene said while cowering, "but you can't smoke in this room, Lisa. Sorry."

Lisa lit the cigarette anyway, leaving a trail of gray silk commemorating her dramatic exit.

Rocky pointed at the slamming door. "I have never seen her do that before."

"Do what," Eugene asked, "slam the door? She does that all the time."

"Run away," Rocky said.

Mateo clapped his hands together. "I know! Isn't it great?"

Sean cracked a smile and shrugged.

Eugene pulled his face from his hands. "Sean," he asked, "what the hell did you say to my girlfriend?"

* * *

Three months later, Sean threw his duffel bag to the floor. "So," he said to Lisa, "what exactly are you doing in my room without my prior knowledge?"

"The R.A. let me in."

"Just my luck," he said, "I get the one you're fucking."

"You requested Eugene's floor."

"I wanted to move someplace less hostile. Turns out I was wrong."

"What is your fucking problem?"

"This isn't the first time you've asked me that question," he told her.

"You're the one who offered to eat me out."

"I've explained this already, I was ruling eating you out ... " he had to pause for a moment, " ... out. I thought it would be amusing if I came up with a creative way to let you know I wasn't hitting on you. I was only asking for a cigarette."

"You said the word 'cunnilingus,'" she reminded him. "You should never say the word 'cunnilingus' if you're not hitting on someone."

"I always thought you should avoid it when you are hitting on someone."

"Then why did you say it?"

"I was flashing my wit with a crass, inappropriate, crude, and stupid joke. That's what I've been trying to tell you."

"You haven't even apologized for it."

"I haven't seen you all summer."

"Well," she said, "here I am."

He sat on his bed. "You've ruined the mood."

She pulled on her hair, "Do you even know why I'm here?"

"I couldn't begin to tell you."

"He has been waiting for you to get back all summer, and you, acting like maverick you think you are, haven't seen been to see him since once you've been back."

"So?"

"So," she sighed, "my boyfriend is the sweetest, most wonderful man I ever met, and I need you to help me share him with the rest of the world."

"That has to be the most beautiful thing I've heard in my entire life," he said.

"I swear to God I'm going to punch you right now."

"But you won't."

She gritted her teeth. "You probably don't even care, but he's starting to poke his head out of his shell because of you."

Sean stared at his bare mattress. "How did I do that?"

"I don't fucking know, but it works. And now we got to come up with a way for us not to kill each other."

"There's no way I can negotiate with you."

"Why the hell not?"

"Because you're always going to assume I'm hitting on you."

She began to pace. "But you were hitting on me."

"I asked you for a cigarette."

"You asked what you could do for a cigarette. That sounds like a line."

"Did you even consider that I may have meant loose change?" he asked her while standing. "You were staring at my ass." Her fingers curled into a fist.

"Only because I'm humble. My eyes are always facing the floor. Your ass just happened to get in the way."

"Why didn't you just point your eyes somewhere else?"

He suddenly fought to keep himself from laughing. "Because you do have a nice ass."

She tensed her fist and began to pull it back.

"Oh shit," he said, "you're going to hurt me." Not taking his eyes off of her, he slowly sat down again and speculated which would take the most damage: his eyes, his nose, or his teeth.

She held the pose for a moment. "You've got to learn to start talking less."

"I will."

"I brought a peace offering," she said, finally relaxing and digging through her pocket. "Do you know what this is?"

Sean frowned at a wooden block half the size of a pack of cigarettes. "You already told me, it's a peace offering."

"You don't have to be such an asshole."

"You're right, I don't."

She closed her eyes unfolded it into a simple, wooden pipe. "Now do you know what this is?"

"A bad idea," he replied.

"This is the Dude. You haven't really lived in Gallup, New Mexico if you haven't smoked out of it."

"I see you name them out there."

"Sean," she pleaded while fishing for a lighter, "the only way you and I are going to get along is stoned."

He took the accessories in his hands. "Prophetic," he agreed. "And wise." Briefly considering the consequences, but not caring, he added, "It's been nice knowing you." Sean took his first hit of marijuana with Lisa then coughed it right up.

Lisa laughed and took the Dude back.

"Ouch," he croaked.

"You get used to it."

"So I hear," he said. "You do this often?" Despite the lightheadedness, he managed to stay cool. That made it even more inconvenient when his ex-girlfriend burst through the door he hadn't bothered to lock.

"Shit," he said.

"Sean," she said loudly, "it took me all day to find out where you lived, so you are not leaving this room until I talk to you." She sniffed the air and spotted Lisa. "Did I come at a bad time?"

"Funny you should mention that," he told her.

"That's weed you're smoking, isn't it? I cannot believe you! Here I was, so happy you quit drinking! I didn't know you just traded it for this." She massaged her eyes. "You got serious problems!"

He looked at Lisa for a second. "I get that a lot."

"Forget it," his ex-girlfriend said. "I'll come back later."

"Now's as good a time as any."

"Fine. Then explain to me why the hell you didn't tell me about him."

"Tell you about whom?"

"Erik."

Lisa sighed, "Oh, fuck."

Sean's ex-girlfriend ignored her. "Everyone says you know Erik, and every shitty thing he does to girls like me, and you could have stopped me. Why didn't you?"

"Is there any way I could have?"

She almost replied, but didn't. Then she finally asked, "When did you stop loving me?"

He shrugged.

A tear slowly outlined her grimace. "You don't have to be this way." She slammed the door.

Sean listened to her stomp down the hall.

"I probably shouldn't have seen that," Lisa told him and left.

He squeezed his eyes shut. At least he was able to maintain his composure.

* * *

The problem with Christmas Theater Productions at Sean's college was that most drama professors hated them and left them to student directors. The problem with student directors at Sean's college was that they tended to be very creative in their productions. This was because they also tended to be idealistic rebels with drinking problems, drug problems or both. This also meant they threw the wildest cast parties, and once again, Sean made it through one without vomiting.

Most of his peers weren't so lucky, and this reminded him he had the munchies. He quickly motivated himself to search the refrigerator for a cure. He tallied his findings, "Beer, beer, more beer, cheap beer, pretentious Irish beer, vodka, whiskey, a sock, margarita mix and a bottle of seltzer water with bread crumbs floating around in it. And a beer. Damn."

When he closed the door and noticed his fellow kitchen occupant, it took him a moment to recognize her as the Ghost of Christmas Future. This because a sweater obscured the deep cleavage she showed off in the creative Student Christmas Theater Production. "Is it true you don't drink?" she asked. "Because everyone thinks you're just doing it to get attention."

"Do they?"

"Yeah, but I don't believe them. They're just being shallow. I'm too thick to be shallow."

Sean considered this for a moment, concluding, "I believe you."

"Your name is Sean, right?"

"You've done your research."

"When you go to a lot of parties, people gossip. I like to find out what the real story is."

"I see. And you are?"

"Sorry," she said, "I'm Shannon. Did you see me in the play?"

"Of course," he replied, "you were the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. In a white leotard."

"The director said he wanted to try something new. I hope it worked."

He recalled her performance in the non-speaking role. "You were born for the part. You have enormous breasts."

"I know," she said. "Most guys really like them. What do you think?"

He frowned, then asked her, "Does this conversation seem a little weird to you?"

Lisa chose that moment to storm in to the kitchen. "Sean," she growled. "You and me got to have a little chat. On the back porch. Now." Then she stormed out.

Sean strolled to the doorway. "Talk to you later," he said to Shannon. "I have to go outside and get slapped around."

Once on the back porch, he asked Lisa, "Now what did I do?"

"Nothing," she replied, igniting the Dude, "this time. I just had to get you away from her."

"I never figured you for the jealous type," he said, taking his turn with the Dude.

"There's something wrong with her, Sean."

"A rescue. How Amnesty International." He handed the pipe back to her.

After she exhaled her hit, she croaked, "I've been seeing too much of her lately."

"You don't have to worry about that tonight, she's wearing a really big sweater."

"What does that have to do with anything?"

"Forget it." He put the Dude to his lips.

She glared off into space.

He coughed. "And how much of Shannon is too much Shannon?"

"She's taken an interest in my boyfriend."

"So?"

"What do you mean by that?"

"Has he taken an interest back?" He handed her the Dude.

"Of course not."

"So, what's the problem?"

She lit the pipe thoughtfully. "She's all over him."

"Does he even notice?" He snatched it back and took a hit.

"What do you think?"

"I think your boyfriend's so cute when he's being unobservant."

She smiled, "He is."

"He's only got eyes for you. I wouldn't worry."

"I didn't come out here for a pep talk." She took back her pipe.

"You're being pretty hostile for someone with nothing to worry about," he said.

"I'm not being hostile, I know my boyfriend's loyal. She's psycho."

"Which probably explains why she didn't get upset when I pointed out that she has enormous breasts."

She handed him the Dude and exhaled, "You said that?"

"Well, she does."

"I don't want to hear you saying another word," she said.

He obeyed.

After a minute she added, "I should have left you with her. She seems to be taking an interested in you."

"Strictly empirical."

"Shit, If I had let nature take its course, I could have got rid of the both of you. Dammit."

"I don't think you're listening to me."

"I never do."

"Granted," he shrugged, "but your little Machiavellian scheme has too many careless flaws ... "

"No, it doesn't."

" ... like: I'm not nearly as charming as your boyfriend."

"For the love of God, would you just shut-up?"

"Every time I do you say something."

"You don't have to answer."

He sighed. "You're right, I should be hanging out with Shannon."

"That's what I've been saying."

"She's not what I would call normal, but at least she's really sweet. She was nice to me when everybody apparently thinks I'm an asshole."

"Now you're being an asshole," she told him while he took his hit.

"Stop it. You're hurting my feelings."

"Everybody thinks you're being dramatic about not drinking, that's all."

He asked, "Do they get that from the way I don't drink, so when they ask about it, I tell them I don't want to talk about it? Is that what makes me a martyr? Do they want me to walk around with a glass of apple juice and be 'Undercover Alcoholic'?"

She took back the Dude. "Now you're being a martyr."

"What could I possibly say that wouldn't piss you off?"

She blew smoke in his face. "You could shut the fuck up like I keep telling you to."

Carefully taking the pipe back in silence, Sean maneuvered it to his lips, adding, "Technically that's not actually saying anything."

"I'm serious," Lisa replied.

* * *

A few days before his senior year in college began, Sean ran several scenarios through his head and all of them ended badly. Therefore, he chose to act on sheer impulse. Setting the chessman down, he considered the option of nuking the board. Unfortunately, the pieces would roll off the roof of Eugene and Lisa's new experiment in cohabitation, and be lost forever. Also, it would be uncivilized.

He and Eugene both studied the board and traded hits from the Dude while another survivor of the party appeared.

"Which one of you stole my pipe?" Lisa asked.

Eugene pointed at Sean, who had to give it back.

The Dude's rightful owner and curled up next to Eugene. "Honey," she asked, "who was that fat man?"

"You mean the one who thought he was Elvis?" Eugene said, "He was with Sean."

"I just ran into him."

"Who was he?" she asked.

"Some guy at a party."

She narrowed her eyes, "Don't you dare get philosophical on me."

"I'm not sure we're talking about the same thing."

Eugene lifted an arm for silence. "Guys ... "

"Sorry, honey," Lisa said sweetly and kissed him on the cheek. "The fat man left, so the party will break up any minute. Time to go to bed?"

"Time to finish the game," Eugene replied.

She snuggled close to him.

"That was the best housewarming party ever!" Rocky declared, pulling himself through the window.

Mateo slipped out after him. "How the hell did that happen?"

"Sean's the one who gave the fat man the guitar," Rocky told him.

Sean said, "We should all pay attention to the fat man. He could teach us a thing or two. The fat man was breaking it down."

"You didn't have to egg him on," Lisa told him.

Rocky asked, "So where'd you get the guitar, man?"

"Found it lying around," Sean replied.

"I don't own a guitar," Eugene said.

Sean shrugged and put a cigarette to his lips.

"What is it with you?" she asked him, then pointed at his cigarette. "And what would I have to do to get one of those?"

"Fellatio," he replied and dug through his trusty cardigan sweater for his not-so-trusty disposable lighter.

"You'll have to take a rain check," she said, packing a fresh hit into the Dude.

As she put the pipe to her lips, it occurred to him they were perfect. And she'd apparently gone through her entire life not realizing how easily her figure encouraged dirty thoughts. It didn't matter, because her clothing knew, and went through extra trouble to bunch and wrinkle and stretch just to show it off. On top of that, it was doubtful she'd ever opened a bottle of conditioner, but her hair happened to grow naturally into that ruffled look people pay a great deal of money for. "I don't like the way this is going," he told his brain.

"Don't like the way what is going?" Lisa asked.

Sean tended to forgot other people could hear him when he spoke. "I have a shoebox full of your rain checks," he said. "I'd better remember to cash them all in before we graduate. That is, if your boyfriend wouldn't mind."

"Leave me out of this," Eugene mumbled, "I need to concentrate. I'm really close to figuring out whose move it is."

"Yours," Sean told him and handed Lisa a cigarette, taking the Dude from her in exchange.

"I used to pimp myself out for cigarettes," Eugene muttered as he thoughtfully touched all of his pieces. "You took my queen, didn't you?"

"Fourteen moves ago."

"Damn," Eugene replied.

"Where'd you guys go?" Shannon asked loudly, pulling herself out through the window.

Sean memorized the positions of the pieces and took his hit. "The roof," he replied.

"Of course you're on the roof!" She slipped past her boyfriend, Rocky, so she could gently slap Sean on the shoulder. "That's not what I meant."

"But that's what you asked."

She clutched the sleeve of his trusty cardigan sweater. "Please don't confuse me. Sean, I'm baked. Like a brownie. Once, the cast of Waiting for Godot baked an ounce of hydroponic weed into a dozen brownies, and we had two brownies--they were huge brownies, and we went to the state fair."

"You've got to be kidding," Lisa sighed.

Mateo laughed. "The State Fair? What the hell were you thinking?"

Sean shrugged, "Probably: 'Why not?'"

Shannon passionately held his hands and looked in his eyes. "That's exactly it! 'Why not?' Why not go on the roller coaster? And we took the brownies with us and ate them and we tried to pace ourselves, you know?"

"Oh," Sean told her, "I know."

"But we ate them all while we were in line and by the time we got onto the roller coaster we were tripping and we saw hallucinations and stuff! And the whole time we were just going, 'Wow!' And we did again, and we were still all 'Wow!' So where'd you get the guitar anyway?"

"Magic," he replied.

"Yeah," she giggled, then turned and grabbed Eugene's shoulder. "Do you have any brownies?"

"No," Lisa growled.

"I'll go check!" Shannon told them and slipped back inside.

Sean said, "That's probably the last person who should be smoking pot."

The other men snickered, and even Lisa joined in for a second.

The first to speak was Mateo. Peering off the roof and into the driveway below, he said, "I wonder what would happen if she fell off this."

Sean replied, "She'd float away."

"I wonder what would happen if I fell off this."

"You'd bounce."

Rocky looked cautiously over the edge, then backed away.

Mateo smiled wickedly, "And what about Lord Byron?"

"Shut-up, Mateo!" Rocky snapped.

Sean assured them, "He'd leave a crater, but otherwise he'd be fine."

"What would happen if my bitch fell off?" Lisa asked as she ruffled Eugene's hair.

Eugene's arms responded appropriately, but his eyes were glued to the chessboard. "I'd probably just lie there and say, 'Figures.'"

Sean smiled.

"And me?" she asked.

"You'd find somebody's ass to kick," Sean replied.

"Probably yours," she said.

"Probably."

Again Shannon burst out of the window, "There's no brownies in this house, Eugene."

"Sorry you didn't listen to me," Lisa said.

"That's okay, I just feel like dancing. That party was just like the sixties."

Sean said. "The sixties were just a bunch of people getting stoned with a sitar, anyway."

She grabbed his hands again. "I know! But we didn't have a sitar! We had the fat man. He was better than a sitar."

"That's what I've been trying to tell them."

"I know," she giggled, and added, "you know what would be really groovy now?"

"What's that?"

"Sex." She floated over to her boyfriend and traced his collarbone with her pinkie. Then she looped his gold chain around it and pulled his face closer to her lips. "What do you say, Rocky?"

"What do I say about what?" Rocky asked. "I wasn't paying attention."

Her hand lingered on his chest for a moment before she gently pulled him to the window. Sean watched the exchange with mild amusement.

"What about you, Sean?" Mateo asked and sat down.

"Me?" Sean replied.

"What would you do if you fell off the roof?"

Lisa said, "I don't think anybody would notice if you fell off the roof, Sean."

He lit a new cigarette. "I think you're right," he said, offering the Dude to Mateo, who declined.

Eugene took it after moving a piece, seemingly at random.

Sean viewed the carnage and noticed he was in checkmate. "Son of a bitch."

Eugene gave a cocky shrug to Sean, and a sloppy kiss to Lisa.

"Hail to the king," she purred. "Shall we retire to the royal bedchambers?"

"With great pleasure, Milady," he told her. To the other two, he said, "Goodnight, gentlemen. You know where to find the exit."

Sean swept the chessmen into his duffel bag. "Looks like it's time for us to fall off the roof, Mateo."

"Possibly," he said. "Have you changed your mind about that heterosexual thing?"

Sean thought about it for a minute. "No," he replied.

"Then it looks like we're both going home alone tonight," Mateo shrugged before he crawled through the window

Sean slowly finished his cigarette and tossed it to the driveway. "At least you have an excuse," he mumbled. After entering through the window of the tiny kitchen, he strolled through a vast desert of carpet. Near Lisa's couch, the first thing he saw was Rocky chewing on Shannon's neck. He moved quietly past them, yet couldn't help but notice the way his hips pushed into hers, and the way her left heel rubbed the inside of his right knee.

He almost made it when Shannon opened her eyes, and between moans, said, "Goodnight, Sean."

Rocky mumbled something.

"Yeah," Sean replied, and turned a corner to the front door, which he opened with his head. He had no problem surviving nights like that. The challenge was making it look easy.

* * *

A few months later, Sean peered past the host station at May's Cafe. His usual booth in the smoking section was occupied, as were the rest of the seats in the restaurant. In the absence of a hostess, he leaned on the cash register and studied the pandemonium before him. The house staff strode back and forth, balancing trays and water pitchers with military grace and efficiency. One bolted by with a burning glare in his eyes, as if he were serving God, while another waiter didn't move his shoulders once during the whole time he placed drinks on a table and took four orders.

At the closest booth to him, a Zippo lighter had not stopped making noise since the customer had taken it from his seat mate. Sean couldn't hear a word, but their voices were solemn. Her voice was also peppered with reassurance, while his consistently halted the sound of the Zippo. Sean whispered, "I could use some of that tension."

The hostess appeared in front of him. "We're full."

"I'll sit with the person in booth seventeen," he said.

She pointed to the spot in question. "How do you know that's booth seventeen? Did you used to work here?"

"No," he replied, "Somebody I know did. Eugene."

"Wow," she said, "everybody knows Eugene!"

"I've heard. And if you get me a cup of coffee," he told her, "I won't bother you ever again."

She winked. "Sure thing!"

He strolled to the booth and pulled a notebook from his duffel bag without taking his eyes from the other occupant. "Hola," he said to her.

She finally looked at him. "This is a surprise," Lisa said.

Their mutual, silent glare was broken by the hostess. She placed the cup and saucer on the table and asked Lisa, "Do you know Eugene?"

"She's fucking him," Sean replied.

"Wow!"

"But not right now," Sean added.

"Wow," the hostess repeated as she wandered away.

"What the hell was about?" Lisa asked.

"I don't know," he replied, "something about your boyfriend knowing everybody."

"He does. So what are you doing in my booth?"

"I needed a place to sit and the smoking section's full."

"It's Christmas, Sean. We're the only students in town. You don't have to act like you hate me right now. I won't tell."

"There's obviously been a misunderstanding," he informed her. "I really do hate you. Would you like my dehydrated, low-fat, milk substitutes?"

"Whatever," she said, taking the cream packets from his coffee saucer. "You know you chose to sit in this booth with me, don't you?"

"It's because you're here," he replied. "Which reminds me: what the hell are you doing here? It's Christmas."

"Some of us have to work."

"Those same people, I noticed, hold a grudge against those of us with trust funds."

"Don't tell me you couldn't afford to see your family."

"The divorce settlement and subsequent trust fund says I have to spend the holidays with my father in Jersey City."

"Where's that?"

"Jersey."

"Right," she said. "So what are you doing here?"

"So I told him I had a paper due. It's hard to be academic when you have to make so many public appearances."

"You make it sound like such a chore. I remember when you didn't have any friends."

"I don't have any friends now."

"You got to be kidding me."

"I'm serious. Certain people I'm more comfortable with, but I wouldn't call them friends."

"You are the most depressing person I know," she said, lighting a cigarette.

"Lisa," he said, "you probably shouldn't do that in the non-smoking section."

"What are they going to do? Throw us out?"

"That's exactly what they're supposed to do, Lisa. I believe that is the very purpose of the non-smoking section."

They glared at each other.

She tossed the cigarette into his coffee.

He continued to glare calmly.

"I don't understand why people don't see through you, Sean," she said. "You act like you're this wounded bohemian loner. But you really just want people to take care of you and love you. I've never seen anybody more scared of being by himself."

"I've honed being by myself to a beautiful art form. You should try it sometime. Especially when I'm around."

"What the fuck is your problem?"

"I thought we'd finished discussing that months ago." Actually he never did tell her what his fucking problem was. It had to do entirely with her. She could smell fear, and if he let his guard down for one moment, she'd storm past his painstakingly constructed facade and see how badly decorated the rest of him was. He couldn't get within swinging distance of someone like that. He took his eyes from her to inspect the damage to his coffee. After removing the soggy cigarette and taking a sip, he asked, "And where is our mutual friend?"

"On his way back here."

"At which hour does he arrive?"

"Four."

"In the morning?"

She nodded. "He wants to be here for New Year's."

"The clock's ticking."

She put a cigarette to her lips, noticed it, then put it away. "I think you should come to our apartment tonight and wait for him to get back. He'd love to see you."

"Sure you can tolerate me that long?"

"We'll smoke a lot."

"That'll help. I'll be there."

"You obviously care for him more than you hate me."

"That's not true. I'm going because you got the weed."

She grinned. "You'd anything for each other, that's what friends are. Admit it."

"I wouldn't give him a hand job, so I guess that you're just a little more important to him than I."

The grin disappeared and she rolled her eyes instead. "Try not to be such a martyr tonight."

"I'm not being a martyr. I'm just stating a fact."

"Shut the fuck up, Sean," she said, sliding out of the booth. "And don't say another word to me until my boyfriend gets back. You understand?"

Sean glared at her again then watched her leave. He opened his textbook, but didn't read it.

* * *

The next day, Sean stared through dried-up eyeballs at the coffee machine before him, which happened to be sluggish.

To his left, a pair of feet shuffled into the tiny kitchen. "What are you doing here this early in the morning?" the feet asked.

Sean's head swiveled slowly to see what was connected to the feet. "Welcome back, Eugene," he said to them. "I hope you don't mind, I slept on your couch."

"You were on my couch?"

"I wanted to be the first to say Merry Christmas."

"Lisa beat you to it."

"She what?"

"You must be a heavy sleeper."

Sean digested this comment. "I guess I am," he concluded.

Eugene stood in the same spot for a moment while Sean turned back to the coffee machine which still happened to be sluggish.

Eugene finally spoke, "Is something going on between you and Lisa?"

The typical innocent reaction to such a non-sequitor is to laugh, which is why Sean chose to do so. "What?" he asked as his smile dissolved into a carefully calculated look of shock. "What the hell kind of question is that?"

"A legitimate one."

"Not from you, it isn't."

"What did you guys do last night?"

"As far as I know, we smoked a lot of pot and watched a lot of commercials." Sean remembered one more detail. "Oh, and I fantasized about eating a half gallon of vanilla ice cream with your girlfriend."

"What?"

"I must not have been paying attention to the sex." Sean leaned on the counter near the sluggish coffee machine. "What the hell are you thinking, Eugene? Lisa hates me."

"What were you guys doing alone in my house at night?"

"I told you, we smoked a lot of weed and said nothing to each other. Do you interrogate every guy who is alone with Lisa or just the ones she dislikes?"

Eugene rubbed his eyes. "Great," he said. "I'm being that guy."

"Which guy?"

"That guy who thinks his woman's a slut."

"Oh, that guy." Sean opened a cabinet and peered inside. "I know you're really not that guy. Would you care to explain why you're acting like him, though? Because that guy's kind of a prick."

"I know," Eugene sighed. "This is crazy. I once knew a woman who hit on me by insulting me. You'll understand if I'm a little paranoid."

"Dude," Sean said, peeking into another cabinet, "that doesn't happen as often as you'd think in real life. However, if this is was one of those films you apparently watch too many of, this would be the part when we start shouting at each other, and I'd demand that you choose between her and me and I'd storm out the door and go to the park and reflect on my behavior while a ballad plays by a band which will be forever known as 'That Group that Did that One Song in that One Movie.' I don't know if I could live with myself if I did that."

"I see what you mean. So how do you feel about her?"

Sean hadn't expected that. "What?"

"The truth."

"You want the truth?"

"I'm expecting a bombshell."

"Okay. She's pushy, rude, unrefined, and really bright. Fair enough. But she insists on pointing out all my faults. And never the ones I can live with. And she hasn't said a nice thing to me since the first time I spoke to her."

"You offered her oral sex."

"I did not! It was an icebreaker."

"You call that an icebreaker?"

"I don't get out much."

"You could get arrested for saying that."

"Could we get away from that defunct subject, please? I'm trying to say mean things about your girlfriend."

"Do you think she's attractive?"

Sean massaged his eyes. "Why are you asking me these questions? She's in the bedroom."

"She's sleeping."

"How much longer do you think she's going to do that?"

"This is why I'm not raising my voice. I suggest you do the same."

"You make it sound easy."

"I'm thinking that if you found her attractive, you'd push her away because you and I are really good friends, and that's exactly the kind of thing I'd expect you to do."

He laughed again. "Did you take a psych class last semester?"

"Sean ... "

"Eugene."

"I know you. You guys are so alike. I don't understand why you hate each other so much."

"Has it occurred to you that we hate each other because we're so much alike?"

"That doesn't make any sense."

"To you it doesn't."

Eugene breathed deeply, and said, "You still haven't answered my question."

"I don't plan to."

"Do you find Lisa attractive?"

Sean smiled for a moment. "Between you and me, I remember when I first saw her, I couldn't help but notice she had the most amazing ass."

"She does."

"Then she had to open her mouth."

Eugene chuckled. "She said the same thing about you."

"Your girlfriend said I had an amazing ass?"

She chose that moment to slip into the kitchen and wrap her arms around Eugene.

Sean said, "Shit."

She asked him, "You're still here?"

He pointed at Eugene. "I wanted to greet the man. Apparently you beat me to it."

She pulled up the hem of her long-sleeved T-shirt and scratched her upper thigh. "You must be a heavy sleeper."

Because the T-shirt was the only article of clothing she wore, Sean made sure he was looking her in the eyes. "I've heard that one before," he said.

She opened one of the cabinets he hadn't even considered and removed three coffee mugs.

Sean subtly averted his gaze.

"Nice of you to make enough for all of us."

Sean poured the coffee. "This was supposed to be for him and me."

Eugene rolled his eyes and yawned his way out of the tiny kitchen.

"Learn to share," she said. They stared each other down for a minute until she reached around him and grabbed two of the mugs.

"How much did we smoke last night?" he asked.

"Enough," she replied and shuffled after her boyfriend.

Sean narrowed his eyes. "Now I really hate you," he whispered after her.

* * *

It wasn't until he left a few hours later to stroll home that his mind felt comfortable enough to tell him what happened.

The previous night, he often had to remind himself who he was, where he was, and what the hell he was doing there. After some intensive concentration, he determined his identity to be "Sean," a senior in college. His location was the apartment his best friend shared with his evil girlfriend. His mission was waiting for Eugene.

When he had initially arrived acting mute, he was just doing it to demonstrate that no act of sarcasm was too immature for him. She did, after all, tell him not to say a word. But as the night went on he remained quiet because it was just damned funny. This was probably because the Dude had passed through his hands many times.

Enough times so that the world became detached into a documentary. Behind him the couch pushed softly into his back. Underneath him a carpet shoved his ass upward. To his left lay a vast desert of carpet leading to a tiny kitchen. To his right, Lisa's dangling feet cut through the air and sent shock waves crashing against his cheek. In front of him a television strobed to a different channel every five seconds or less, always snagging a commercial, but never catching a plot.

The glowing people on the television spoke, but words had no meaning to him. Lisa's feet said something, then jumped to the floor and strode between him and the speaking television. The feet continued to the vast desert of carpet beyond the couch and began an epic journey. Sean rolled his head to witness this historical event and check out the ass attached to it.

When she noticed him witnessing the historic event, but most of all, when she noticed him checking out the ass attached to it--which happened to be hers--he returned his attention to the television. As before, there were random, flashing images, but this time it was different. This time there was some semblance of coherency. The sensations from the little glass box before him coalesced into a plot. The plot of a commercial, but a plot nonetheless.

Since the commercial contained humorous content, he laughed. There was much laughing. There was never much laughing when Lisa's dangling feet were present. That was long ago, in the distant past before the Era of Clatter in the Tiny Kitchen, or even the Era of the Unchanging Commercials.

He missed those distant times--known to historians as the Era of Tension. They gave him a reason to be quiet.

He focused all of his energy on getting to his feet so he could make the epic journey across the vast desert of carpet to the tiny kitchen. Once in the tiny kitchen he opened the freezer and hauled out a half gallon of vanilla ice cream. As he pried open the lid, Lisa handed him a spoon identical to hers. He dug in and savored the soft vanilla taste in his mouth for a moment before swallowing. The creamy glacier crept down his throat, dissolving only when he noticed he was really sitting on the floor in front of the speaking television.

He could never actually focus the energy necessary to get to his feet and make the epic journey across the vast desert of carpet to the tiny kitchen. But the phantom ice cream would remain with him as a vivid memory. He relived it many times before Lisa's feet returned from the tiny kitchen. He wanted desperately to tell her of the phantom ice cream. She of all people would appreciate being that stoned. But he chose to retain his vow of silence.

This time, instead of her feet, her whole body occupied the space to his right as she took a long, fresh hit from the Dude. She offered it to him.

He took it, and in his throat the hit was harsh and barbed--hell compared to the moist coolness of the phantom ice cream. Yet he took it again when she offered after her next hit. Then he took it again and again until she signaled it was cashed. She held it in front of him so he could fold it up and place it on the end table behind him which formed the border between the couch and the vast desert of carpet.

He did this, but her fingers unexpectedly remained wrapped around the Dude. These same fingers traced the contours of his hands, followed by feeling the length of his arms through his trusty cardigan sweater. Finally they brushed his neck, tickled his ears, then rested on his jaw. Naturally, he kissed her.

As she pushed him to the floor and crawled on top of him, he couldn't help but notice that everything was going exactly as it should. Like the accurate amount of force from her lips, or the well-tuned raspy breathing in his ear as his mouth discovered the correct balance of softness and firmness in her neck and shoulders. Or the way his hands smoothly slid her long-sleeved T-shirt over her stomach, breasts, face and arms while she pulled off his shirt without any sort of awkwardness.

Things went perfectly for quite a while until Lisa inhaled sharply. She shuddered and squeezed him with every part of her body equipped for squeezing. Then she collapsed and rolled onto the carpet beside him, breathing in deep gasps.

They both laid there for a few minutes in just the right amount of humidity. He didn't say a word. Suddenly, she sat up, pulled her shirt back on, and tiptoed back to her bedroom. Once alone, he climbed onto the couch and stared at a commercial.

He finally chose to break his sacred vow of silence. "Oh, fuck," he'd said.

When his mind finished with the disclosure, Sean stopped walking long enough to frown. "I really, really hope that didn't actually happen." He took a few steps and added, "Oh, fuck."

July 2017

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