“What the hell is wrong with you?” The volume of the voice was much too high, and so was the tone of the voice. There’s the normal annoying level of volume and pitch that someone has when they’re trying to wake you up from a deep sleep, but this was different. This was angry-chick pitch and volume.
“I think the main thing is that I’m too stupid to remember to disable that shit so you can’t start screaming at me first thing in the morning,” I mumbled. I rolled over, wishing that she would go away, but knowing that she wouldn’t. I started mentally going through the mini-fridge’s inventory, making sure that I had a couple of Hot Pockets in there. If you don’t have Hot Pockets waiting for you, getting out of bed isn’t worth it, no matter how long you have to deal with some lunatic chick screaming at you.
“Arnie called me up crying last night.”
“He does that sometimes, you know that. I blame it on the booze, because it’s too depressing to imagine a guy could be like that without having his body pumped full of brain poison.”
“He was really upset, Howie.”
“Well, then I’m glad that he called you instead of bothering me about it.” I climbed out of bed and walked to the mini-fridge. Ah, yes, Hot Pockets. I reached in and grabbed the box, but it was too light to be filled with crispy-crusted deliciousness. “Shit,” I said, pulling out the empty box.
“He said you told him that we weren’t friends.”
“Too early for this shit, Mandy. And I’m all out of Hot Pockets. You know how I am when I’m out of Hot Pockets.”
“I’m serious, man.”
“And I’m not? Hot Pockets, Mandy. Hot Pockets!”
“Look, if you want to spew your idiotic nonsense to me, that’s one thing. I have the common sense to know that’s you’re full of shit ninety-eight percent of the time. But for some reason, Arnie believes the crap you tell him, so knock it off, all right?”
I pulled out a pizza box and checked to make sure there wasn’t anything growing on the contents. I couldn’t remember when we had ordered pizza, but it looked fine, so I ate it while I started making coffee.
“What part of it is idiotic nonsense? That’s the real question.”
“All of it! Just because I haven’t been around very much lately, I’m suddenly not your friend?”
I poured a cup of coffee as it brewed. “Mandy, I’m not sure why you felt it was a good idea to bust out with this shit first thing in the morning, and I’m sorry to disrupt the roll you’re on—it’s very emotional, powerful stuff, by the way, and I think you’re a shoo-in for the drama club queen—but last night was our first night back out, and I’m tired as shit. I’m cranky because I’m out of Hot Pockets, and this coffee tastes like feet. There’s no one around to see your performance, so let’s just let it drop, okay? I’ll tell Arnie that you called all angry and shit, he’ll once again be convinced that you’re our best buddy, and we can get on with our lives, okay?”
“Are you serious?”
“Yeah, except for the part about being sorry to disrupt your roll. In truth, you’re kind of annoying when you get all screechy like that.”
“I saved your life once. Probably more than that, actually. But one time I got in a car, Arnie and I tracked you down, and we took you to a hospital.”
“I’m almost positive that I already said thank you for that, but if not—thanks.”
“Saying thanks isn’t the point, and you know it.”
“Then what is the point, Mandy? That you’re my real friend? Well that’s bullshit, dude. You can tell yourself that we’re good buddies and that’s why it’s okay for you to laugh at the fat guy and the alcoholic, because it’s all good-natured ribbing, but come on.
“And as far as saving my ass? Big deal. I’ve saved something like thirty lives as Portly Boy, and I don’t even like people. The only reason you saved me is the only reason I save other people—it’s because the guilt of just letting someone die would suck.”
“I can’t believe you!”
“Oh, cut it out.” I thought about refilling my coffee cup, but the coffee really did taste like feet, so I decided against it. Instead, I grabbed a can of Coke out of the mini-fridge and knocked it back in a couple of gulps.
“We’ve had nights dumping our hearts out to each other, Howie. Doesn’t that mean anything to you?”
“Yeah, it means that I live a pretty pathetic life. And it means that you didn’t have anything better to do those nights. We’re friends the same way that the douche bags who talk to each other on internet forums are friends, Mandy. The exchanging of information—personal or not—does not make a friendship.”
“So what does?”
“Trust me, babe—as long as you’re asking, you probably shouldn’t even worry about it.”
“Why are you being like this?”
I pulled a pair of jeans over my boxer shorts, and walked up close to the monitor. “Because I’m tired, I got no Hot Pockets, my coffee taste shitty, and I’m tired of being laughed at.”
I clicked off the monitor and went upstairs for some decent coffee.
“How’s it goin’, man?” Steve the Magnificent asked me as I stepped into the kitchen.
“Mandy’s trippin’ out, trying to convince me that we’re bosom buddies. I’m out of Hot Pockets. I’m tired. My coffee tastes like feet.”
He pulled a cup out of the cabinet, filled it with coffee, and handed it over to me. “Here, man, have some of this. It should cure the ‘foot-coffee’ problem as well as the ‘being tired’ problem.”
It smelled awesome, and I started to take a big drink, before I realized who had handed it to me. “Are there any drugs in here?”
“Well there’s caffeine, man, and I don’t know if you count that as a dr-”
“Are there any narcotics, Steve the Magnificent?”
“No, man. You don’t mix drugs and good coffee—that’s bad hooka.”
“Whatever,” I said, and knocked back a few swallows.
“So this Mandy thing?”
“I don’t want to talk about it,” I told him. “Even if it was relevant, it’s chick stuff.”
“Meaning that people are freaking out about nothing.”
“Even if it was nothing to begin with, it became something the instant that people began being upset by it.”
“Yeah, that’s deep. Hey, this is really good coffee.”
“I learned how to make it from a spiritual Gah-hamatua long ago.”
“Yeah? Well tell him his coffee rocks ass next time you see him.”
Steve the Magnificent shook his head at me, smiling a little. “You know, I’m not saying that you would do something like this, but a lot of times, people that get their feelings hurt hide those feelings behind a wall of anger and sarcasm.”
“The hell are you talking about?”
“Why don’t you just tell her, man? Tell her that it hurts your feelings that she’s been gone so much.”
“That’s beautiful, Steve the Magnificent,” Arnie said from the doorway. “Yeah, Howie, why not just tell her that?”
“Because that’s bitch, and it’s a lie. There’s a difference between hurt feelings and annoyed. I am annoyed. Don’t you ever get tired of being like a court jester for the world?”
“No, man,” Arnie said. “That’s kind of my thing, you know? I like making people laugh.”
“They aren’t laughing with us, Arnie. They’re laughing at us.”
“Well, they’re still laughing, right? Like my grandpa used to say—it’s better to have them laughing at you than throwing vodka bottles at you.”
“And you’re missing the point, anyways—the fact that Mandy’s laughing at me doesn’t hurt my feelings. I’m just tired of dealing with it.”
“It’s this other girl,” Dorothy said, standing in the same doorway Arnie had been standing in just moments ago. I looked around for Arnie, and found him leaning against the sink, casually sipping a bottle of rum. “You don’t want her to think you’re stupid.”
“I thought you slept until at least two in the afternoon,” I said.
“I went to bed early last night,” she said. She was wearing a wrinkled pink bathrobe and giant-ass cop sunglasses that covered most of her face.
The fact that Dorothy and Steve the Magnificent had moved in with us was much less irritating than I thought it would be, mostly because he just sat out on the back porch reading or writing in his notebook, and she slept most of the time. During the day, I mean. At night, he roamed around the house, quoting poetry (which didn’t matter to me because I was always out on patrol or down in the Drunk Tank), and she went out to clubs.
Strange thing about Dorothy—she loved to party. She would usually crawl into the house around eight in the morning, eat some cereal, and then go to bed until ten p.m. I doubt it’s the way she should be living, but since it was keeping her out of my hair, I was all for it.
We actually tried to go out with her one night, but I ended up puking most of my innards out in the gutter while she bitched at me to hurry up or we would miss her favorite DJ, and Arnie—while trying to match her shot for shot—ended up getting so wasted that he wandered off and got a job at Taco Bell. He worked the night shift for almost a week before he sobered up enough to remember who he was and where he lived.
“Well can you just keep quite until we’re done having our discussion?”
“Get me a cup of coffe and I will,” she said.
I poured her a cup of coffee and tried to hand it to her. She wouldn’t take it.
“I need cream in it. And sugar.”
I grabbed the little carton of cream out of the fridge, dumped it in until she signaled for me to stop, and then grabbed the sugar bowl off the counter and did the same.
She took the cup of coffee, sipped it, and gave me a thumbs-up. “Okay, so back to what I was saying-”
“You were supposed to be quite if I got you coffee.”
“I’m supposed to do a lot of things, Howie. For instance, I’m pretty sure I’m supposed to be doped up out of my mind in a nursing home right now, instead of nursing a hangover and offering expert advice.”
“I haven’t heard any expert advice.”
“That's because you won't shut up long enough to hear it. The expert advice is, make up with Mandy—she can do more to help you win this new girl over than anyone. I mean face it, bud—even if you had a chance to edit all of your footage, you still wouldn’t be able to do as much good as one girl telling another girl about how great of a guy you are.”
“What makes you think any of this has shit to do with a girl?”
She knocked back the rest of her coffee, lifted up her shades to make real eye contact and said, “It’s always about a girl, Howie, whether you know it or not.”
“You look like Cyclops from the X-Men, Dorothy—put your shades back on before your eye lasers start wrecking the kitchen.”
She dropped her cup into the kitchen sink and muttered, “Youthful punk ingrate.”
“Lousy geriatric club-kid,” I muttered right back.
“I think she has a point, though,” Steve the Magnificent said.
“I’m done talking about this.” I poured myself another cup of coffee and waddled back down to the Drunk Tank.
“You’ve got the entire Goof Troop on my back, you know.”
“You deserve it, dick.”
I look at the empty cardboard box and try to figure out how many beers were in it at the beginning of the night. The math is too difficult, so I try to count all the empty bottles on the floor. It’s still too difficult, so I let it go.
“By that, I’m going to assume that you mean apology accepted.”
“I didn’t hear an apology offered.”
Our second night back out was as boring as the first, nothing happening except for the occasional taunt and the occasion harassment.
Back in the Drunk Tank, I thought it might be a good idea to have a couple of beers and think about things. It got out of hand, either because I was trying to think too much, or maybe just because I was trying to drink too much. Dialed up Mandy without really meaning to, without really thinking what the conversation would be like.
Several moments of silence, I don’t have any idea about this whole concept-of-time thing, so I don’t know how long I waited in that silence.
“Okay,” she finally says. “What was with the sudden emotional outburst?”
“What’s with diving on us all the sudden?”
“I’m not diving out on you, Howie. It’s just that I have other things to do, you know? I mean, you and Arnie, you’ve got this Portly Boy thing, and that’s all you have to worry about. I have rent, man. I have a job to worry about. I have my life to worry about, you know?”
“You should just move in—everybody else does.”
“Seems like that would be a pretty short-term solution to a long-term problem.”
“Shit, man—you could put on a costume and come out with us—you’d be amazed how long-term it feels when you’re ducking bullets.”
“I play with you guys, Howie, you know? You run around, you dodge bullets, jump off of buildings, get drunk, whatever. And I like being a part of that, I like helping you guys out and contributing to the banter and whatnot. But I’m not in your world.
“You guys stay out until midnight, then you stay up drinking and partying. I have to go to bed, you know? I have to go grocery shopping, I have to do laundry. I can’t hang out all the time. It was great while I was living my slacker life, going in to work my shit-ass retail job at two in the afternoon, getting off work the same time as you and knocking back booze until I didn’t have to think about my miserable life anymore.
“But I have to do something else, you know? I can’t be like you forever, Howie. I can’t live a slacker’s life forever.”
“What if I get pregnant?”
“What?” I look at the beer bottles again, wondering if maybe I blacked out or something since her spiel about slacker life. The bottles haven’t doubled or anything, so I haven’t unwittingly drank another case of beer, but I’m still confused. “The hell are you talking about?”
“I’m talking about the fact that I’m getting older.”
“But did you say something about pregnant?”
“It was just an example. It could have been what if I get cancer or what if I get hit by a car. Just an example of shit that I wouldn’t be at all prepared for. How would I pay my medical bills? I have to do something else with my life.”
“So you got pregnant? That doesn’t make much sense.”
“I didn’t get pregnant, Howie. It was an example. I decided to go back to school. I’m taking night classes, okay? That’s why I haven’t been around.”
“Why couldn’t you just tell us that, then?”
“I didn’t want to tell anyone.”
“Because I wasn’t sure if I would be able to do it. I wasn’t sure if I would be able to make it work out.”
“You’re a genius, though. Why wouldn’t it work out?”
“Financially, Howie. I’m broke-ass, man, which is why I so desperately need to make a lifestyle change.”
“You’re a hacker, dude. Just, you know, hack some money.”
“I’m not a thief, Howie. I don’t steal.”
“You should,” I say, as I feel the darkness overtaking me. It’s like going to sleep, but really fast, and the next day, you don’t remember doing it. It’s called blacking out.
“Go to bed, Howie.”
“Yeah, I will. Or something like that. I’m sorry, Mandy. I don’t have many friends, you know? So it really sucks when I lose the ones that I do have.”
“Done and done, buddy. Still friends?”
“Yeah, man,” I say, curling up on the floor. “Remind me tomorrow, if I forget.” My words are so slurred, I’m surprised she can understand me.
“I’ll remind you even if you don’t.”
“I miss you.”
“I know, man. I miss you. Goodnight.”