"And...yeah, that's how we met." I forced a smile to my lips as I let a quiet, slight laugh out.
"I see." Apparently she was more enthralled by the thought of twirling her hair. Or staring at the tablecloth. Or both.
"...Indeed..." My radiance degenerated into a frown on one half of the face; of course, that was unimportant since she wasn't even making eye contact anyway, but yeah.
"Hmm, I wonder if that waiter's ever gonna..." I asked, glancing around exaggeratedly and her completely evident lack of agreement about my budding thought caused me to shy down.
"...come...back?" I didn't want to seem too desperate for attention, but this was getting pretty ridiculous.
Still no eye contact. Not even a response this time, either.
I tried again. "So, what sort of stuff are you into?"
"Oh...mm...you know, a bunch of things." Yeah, great answer.
I was ready to commence eye-rolling when an annoyingly low "Psst!" shot across the room, getting my attention...and astoundingly, hers too. I didn't recognize the girl and apparently my "date" did, but…well, maybe I should have? As she slowly left my sight, I looked at her and she looked back at me…then away again, then back and so forth, until finally she was around the corner and out of sight.
Suddenly, back at the table my date beamed back up, tapping both her hands on the table in unison, "Hey, I'll be right back." Failing to even consider my response, she bounced up out of her chair and strode out around the corner.
Arm slinking down off the table, I...don't know how to describe it. I sort of leaned my head backward over the back of the chair. Staring at the ceiling, an indescribably familiar noise escaped my throat, best labeled as a "frustrated growl."
On one hand, it was unique, refreshing---perhaps even kind of nice to be treated this way by someone, especially after everything I'd been through in the past year or so. On the other, there was a limit to how much I could take of it...And one could say that limit was apparently five minutes.
I shook my head at the thought as my vision slowly leveled out ahead...and there she was again, that mystery girl. Only this time she was peering around the corner, looking straight at me. Perhaps a bit sluggish in noticing I discovered her, she pulled herself back out of sight...but not before trying to play it off by glancing around in every direction.
Already, I didn't like where this was going.
A few more moments passed before my so-called date bounded back to the table as if she just left...that is, hadn't spent several minutes ditching me to talk to her little girlfriend.
Aaaand back into her seat.
"So!" Her tone of voice shot to the highest it'd been all night. "Mm...Cody? Tell me more about yourself." This time, she was forcing the smile.
"I..." ...started to smile---wait.
My face sort of melted down, and I'm not sure but I think all the color left, too. I was upset...No...beyond upset. I was absolutely pissed, but at the same time dejected; given the choice between exploding furiously and breaking down and crying, I'd be at a crossroads.
"I'm gonna go now." I don't even remember how I looked here---and really, I didn't care. I pushed away from the table, standing up swiftly as I stomped past her; I wanted to sprint out the door, but also wanted not to make more of a spectacle than I already had.
I found myself back in bed.
"So! Mmm...Cody? Tell me more about yourself." Truth be told, I almost jumped in my seat, it was that startling. A vacant expression came across me as I stared at her, as her artificial bubbliness would have popped.
"Are you kidding me?" I raised a single eyebrow; it's a talent I'm somewhat proud of, anyway.
"What do-" I didn't care, she could have said anything; that's not important.
"You've been treating me like crap so far, then suddenly you and your friend, or whoever, have a little talk about your little 'blind date' and suddenly you want to get to know me?"
An awkward silence sets in.
"That's pathetic." Disgusted, I pushed away from the table, standing up swiftly as I stomped past her. And maybe I knocked over that damn glass of water. I didn't drink any of that, anyway. And the waiter still didn't come.
Better; I hated being so passive. But whenever I was on the spot, under pressure if you will, it seemed I could never stand up for myself.
"So! Mmmmm...Cody?" Jesus, was she asking or telling? "Tell me more about yourself." That stupid inflection and smile, ugh.
I stared at her, and if my eyes could shoot lasers then by this point she would've had a smoldering nub where her head was. And...uh...maybe her chest would've been charred up a bit too. I don't know.
"You're pathetic." No, wait.
Disgusted, I stood up swiftly. Then, "You're pathetic."
I pushed away from the table and stomped past nice and extra-loud for her.
Then, just short of the table's edge...I spat on her.
Okay, so maybe not that last part. But the rest of that would've been nice too...Someone'd probably see it as some sort of hate crime anyway.
Anyway...To be fair and technical, I'd already gotten out of bed, sitting cross-legged and facing my mirror and all. But even considering that fact, I didn't want to get out of bed.
To be honest, I absolutely dreaded being myself, as much sense as that made. For someone like myself, paranoia isn't just a condition one can engage and disengage on a whim with presence of mind…No…For me; "way of life" would be a far more appropriate definition.
I had so much trouble dealing with people. It'd been like this for about a year; nobody could be trusted: Strangers, acquaintances, friends…not even family. To be used and promptly abandoned, odd as it may seem, was my primary, utmost fear in this world, and I went to any length to avoid it---if I wound up living as an unwilling recluse…well, then so be it. I guess I didn't have much of a say in the matter anyway.
There were those who often said I was lucky… fortunate…to be where I am, maybe even who I am. But they didn't know; maybe they'd never know. The entire world was against me, and if being a social pariah was their definition of fortunate, then I'd hate to be on the other end.
I found myself back in reality.
With an absolute zero deadlines to meet, and very little pressure mounting about anything...I couldn't have felt more apprehensive about starting the day. And it was only...I checked my alarm clock.
11:30 AM. Hmm, why the hell not. The moment I'd step outside of my...bed zone, it always seemed to get ten degrees colder in the room. Getting out of the shower produced the same effect, but for far more obvious reasons.
Applying the finishing touches to my...how you say...ensemble for the day, it turned out my timing could not have been more impeccable, as the door was assaulted by four rhythmic knocks. The peephole obscured by a giant thumb, I simply opened the door.
"Sups." A single handshake, our fingers hooked together, and we tapped fists.
"Cody! S'happenin?" He always sounded like he was so surprised to see me. "How'd things go with Amanda last night?"
"Eh..." I shook my head.
"That bad, 'uh?"
I looked over at him. "...She knew."
"Yeah," I paused, shrugging. "But hey, what're ya gonna do?"
"'Ey, look man, I didn't tell h-"
I waved an open hand, "No. No, no, no, Art...wasn't you. Someone was there and...well, one minute she was treating me like crap, and then she left to go talk to this friend of hers, and...yeah." I trailed off at that thought, bobbing my head a few times.
He nodded. "Ahhh I see. But even without that...?"
"Would've still sucked... But with dinner included." I chuckled softly. Then he chuckled too. Then we were both laughing.
"Heheh, sorry...Y'know, I thought that...y'know..." His hands did this 'level' thing, "maybe you 'n Mandy coulda-"
"Ahh, don't worry about it." We both went our separate ways: Art to the fridge, and me to the couch. Just then, I remembered something.
"Hey Art!" Like he needed to know I was talking to him.
"Last night, did I pick Amanda up at her house?"
"Wha? I dunno, you tell me."
"No, I mean..." Under my breath, the thought of 'Okay, that question sucked' escaped. "The address you gave me...Was it for her place?"
He stared at me like I was out of my flippin' mind. "Uhh...Yeah, but...why? You gonna throw a brick through 'er window 'uh somethin'?"
I had to laugh at that one. "Nooo."
"Then why 'eh?"
"Well..." I loudly some air out, for no real reason. "It's complicated." I stopped and, noticing he was listening, continued. "Y'see, I kinda...exploded on her friend." He didn't even have to know, but it really didn't make a bit of difference.
"Ohh, I see."
"Yeah, alright. Well, anyway Art, I'm outta here; gonna get started on all that." Just as soon as I'd sat down, I rose back up and headed out the door. "You got keys, right?"
"Arright, cool deal. Later on!" I waved at Art with two fingers as I bowed out of the apartment. As it recalled, my car was running on fumes. I was also kind of thirsty, too.
The gas was pumping and I'd finished paying for my fountain drink. On the way back to my car, an unfamiliar voice grabbed my attention.
"Hey!" Must've been for someone else; I kept walking.
"Heyyy!" I looked over my shoulder only to see this guy sprinting toward me and coming to an almost panicked stop.
"Um...hello?" Wasn't one hundred percent sure if that counted as a question, but the upward inflection sure as hell made it sound like one.
"Jack Kramer...is that you?"
"Yeahhh..." But only legally. Or, more specifically, in that damn digest.
"It's been a while!" He extended a hand and I half-heartedly shook it. "I don't know if you remember me, but we went to high school together; my name's-" Irrelevant, that's what your name is.
A grin lighting up the right side of my face, I decided to humor this guy. "Oh yeah, oh yeah, I remember you. It's been, what, a few years now? We had all those...classes together and junks." Never even seen the guy in my life before, really. He nodded smiling excitedly... Perhaps even...creepily, dare I say.
"So! What's been goin' on with you?"
"Eh, nothing really. Just been losing friends, trying to get my life in ord-"
"Hey! I heard you won the lottery a few months ago!" I nodded but he wasn't paying attention; actually, it was almost a year ago, but who's counting? "How much did you get? Wasn't it like-"
"That's not important."
"Well, that's true---Hey! Anyway Jack, it was nice talking to you again, but I gotta go now. Take it easy!"
"Hey! We should totally get together sometime!" No thanks, I'm clearly heterosexual. I also happen to have some f'ing common sense.
"Errrr...yeah. Alright! Seeya." I wove him off with two fingers as I headed to my car. It wasn't until later that I noticed Irrelevant forgot to one-sidedly give me his phone number, given all of his excitement, but it was...well, irrelevant.
This was exactly why having friends was so goddamn difficult. As a normal person, trying to perceive who was truly "there" for me was enough of a challenge thanks to my...hmm...state of mind. Of course, the notion of becoming significantly richer only seemed to slightly exacerbate things.
As mostly anyone can tell you, people are largely out for themselves in this world. Naturally, going to great lengths to profit from a financially capable 'friend' isn't out of the question. Weeding them out was so easy at first...but all the self-doubt that followed only led to mind-games causing me to push away all but my closest friends...that is, assuming I even had one aside Art. I didn't even know.
I couldn't trust strangers. Or friends. Not even my family.
Fixing the collar of a casual button-up shirt, I casually placed its hanger back in the closet as I slid it on. Just then, I noticed she'd crept into the room.
"So I was at the bank, and they told me you tried to get in my account yesterday…what was it…three times?"
She looked at me, half-surprised that I'd caught her. Or maybe she just assumed I didn't care. "Cody, we need the money for that new car."
"Mom! You don't need a new car; the one you have now is perfectly fine." Wait, and she's the parent? "What you need are some shocks. You bought that car brand new…Two years ago."
"Cody, it's not like you're pressed for money or anything…Why did you have your account switched over, an-"
"This is exactly why, mother. It's so you guys aren't even able to steal it." I felt a need to continue. "Steal, as in, take without asking."
She paused, borderline furious, before her tone of voice ramped back downward. "Cody...Son...We just want to spend it on constructive, positive things. In your hands, you'd easily waste it-"
Meanwhile, I was becoming frustrated in ways only a parent could evoke. "What, why? Because I'm just some kid? I told you guys my plan already, I'm just going to deposit it and live off of…yeah." My hand did this circling thing as I trailed off.
"So that's it? You were given this incredible opportunity and you're just going to sit on it for the rest of your life? Not share it with anyone else?"
"I told you already, I'm splitting it with Art. And anyway…If it means financial security...then yes, mom. Yes, I am going to," with a mocking voice and quotation marked fingers, "Sit on it."
"Well, what about the rest of your family?" She took a melodramatic step forward, likely expecting me to shuffle backwards in response. "What about your father and I?" Ha, or maybe…My brother and sister too? Great job thinking of them, mom.
"What? So you think you're just…" Rubbing my forehead, I grinned and took a stylistic breather, "Heh…Just entitled to steal it just because you gave birth to me?" I stood firmly, semi-weirded out that I hadn't yet caved for the seeming first time in my life.
Another pause. "Cody, I don't think you realize just how lucky y-"
"Oh spare me! You always talk about how I'm so fortunate like...like...I had some sort of choice in being your son. If that went for anything, it'd be the fact I won: nothing more and definitely nothing less. But really, if I had a choice? I'd love to go the other way, just to shove it in your guys' faces." By this point, we were obviously just about screaming.
"So you're just going to...hoard all your money?" She conveniently forgot to mention the fact that I effortlessly put my brother and sister through college, and really, that neglect put me over the edge.
"You tried to fucking steal from me. Theft. Do you realize how pathetic that is?!" I dropped back down to my indoor voice; realizing I had nothing more to fear from this woman produced an almost euphoric effect. As she started to talk, she may very well have realized that I knew this.
"If you're going to sit alone…be afraid of everyone screwing things up …then just leave."
"You know what …I'm not even going to argue with you." Nonchalantly, I walked out of the room, and then out of the house. Waving behind me with two fingers, I wasn't certain if I'd ever come back.
I walked up onto Amanda's porch, trying my best to appear anything but nervous. Knocking exactly seven times, my heart rate seemed to jump exponentially with each attack on the door.
A seeming eternity took place to the accompaniment of much shuffling and background noise but there was no response. Then, suddenly...
"What do you want?" From behind. Again she startled me good.
I fumbled around for words, "Uhh...um...hey. Yeahhh, hi, Amanda." I grinned nervously, trying to appear as what one would call 'cute' as I possibly could.
"Okay…Cody? Seriously...What are you doing here." She clearly wasn't amused. Or in the mood for bad humor, either.
"Arright, look. I know…this is gonna sound weird, but I'm here to ask about your friend. I want to apologize to her for what happened last night."
"Because I got really angry at her for no r-"
"No. Mmm...I mean, why as in why? You don't even know her, and frankly, I don't think you deserve to." The more I knew of her ways, I couldn't help but wonder how the hell she was friends with her. Or Art. Or anyone.
"Wait, wait, let me get this straight. You...agree to go on a blind date with some guy you don't even give a single chance to, until-you-figure-out-he's-loaded...and now, when...he comes back to try and right things with someone else...you don't let him?"
"Right." I give her that and she comes back with one word?! Give me a break.
I rubbed my temples and drew in a deep breath…It was more for effect than anything else. "Amanda...Let me ask you something. Have you ever considered what it's like to be in my position? For christ's sake, there are people coming out of the woodwork claiming to know me, trying to be my best friend, or whatever…because suddenly I have money? I can't even tell who is or isn't my friend because the moment someone starts acting better to you, the idea of "kissing up" comes in. Sometimes, even the people I meet who claim not to know me actually do know me and act like they don't so they have a better chance at getting something for nothing. Mandy, do you know what it's like when people don't even view you as a human being, but as some sort of potential reward? An objective? DO YOU?"
...Surprisingly, she said nothing. To say she was thinking about everything that'd just been said wouldn't be too bad of a guess. Then I thought about it too.
"Go cry some more…Just not on my lawn." Was she kidding? I'd had enough with the short counters; you know what, patience is an overrated virtue anyway.
Thoroughly humbled and exhausted, I kept on anyway. "I have enough trouble with friends, Amanda. Really, the last thing I need is another enemy." Okay, so enemy was kind of an exaggeration about her, but the general idea was still true enough, yeah? "Please, just help me out…?"
She closed her eyes and let out a deep breath; for the first time, I saw an actual look of compassion cross her face. Then again, the notion that I'd known her for less than a day sort of negated this feat, but it was refreshing compared to her two other looks, "stoic" and "irate".
Her lips parted and tongue started up, but there was a delay before anything actually came out. "…Look. Check out the market on Third. She should be working there. But I didn't tell you…okay?"
Not entirely sure why my last sentence worked, but it did and elation set in. "Oh my god, thank you!" I felt like hugging her, but really…yeah, no. I did sprint back to my car, though.
It was funny…Despite letting it all out, I felt more weighted down than ever; seemed that every time I'd ever come to terms with some facet of my mental issues, another would crop up. Then when that's all said and done… another. And another, and another, until suddenly old is new again and I'm fighting a constant loop; it's a vicious circle.
They say that money changes people. But could you really blame them?
On the way out, I slowly turned to the left. I guess I made enough of a scene to get her attention, because there she was, standing just outside of the line's end, staring innocently at me. I looked back at Amanda, who hadn't made a single effort to stop or even watch me as I stormed out (figures as much)...then back at mystery girl.
I put on my most scornful, condescending tone. "What the HELL is wrong with you?" I asked, darkly, almost rhetorically even.
A look of concern filled her face, which slowly turned into sadness---or maybe it was disgust---No, it was sadness. "I…uh…I'm-"
I cautiously raised a hand to try and stop her from talking---not for my own sake, mind you, but something kicked in upstairs, and now upsetting her was a much greater fear, one I was dangerously close to encountering; she'd given up on talking by now and her cheeks had flared up…Fortunately, no tears came out. Just seconds ago furious was the way to be, yet, now, 'Cornered' would be a spectacular word to describe my state of mind at that moment.
"I'd better go now." With that, I shot an intentionally awkward smile and walked as fast as my legs would allow; running was still out of the question.
It felt like the entire restaurant had their eyes on me that night; maybe I deserved it. Maybe I was a terrible person; at any rate, thinking about it only made things worse.
I pulled upside the curb and made what must have been like a nineteen-point turn, edging my way in between two pickups. Stepping out of my car, I uttered to no one in particular, "Today…Things are going to be alright."
I felt like I was the only person in the world that mattered, and I could've just busted down that door, I was so empowered. I was ready to fight the entire mob of shoppers at the corner market…
…When I actually got inside, and found the place completely devoid of people, save for her sitting in the corner behind the counter…Or was she standing? It was tough to tell.
So anyway, I proceeded; her innocent eyes watched me with every step of the way. Regulating my facial expression and posture on command, I came in front of the counter and we matched eyes.
"Hi…" I looked at her name tag, "…Rachel. I dunno if you remember me, or if you even want to, but I more or less…acted like a complete ass to you last night.
She looked down, then back up at me. A smile slowly formed on her lips. "Don't worry about it...I know exactly how you feel." Are you kidding? Was it that easy? Well, while we're on such an easy, clean slate…
"Would it be okay if I started over then?" She just nodded slowly, as I extended a hand. "I'm Cody Kramer."
She met my hand and we shook on it. "Rachel Lynn…Nice to meet you."
Without even realizing it, a genuine smile came to my lips for what must have been the first time in… almost a year.
"So…how much longer you working for today?"
"I close in fifteen." I looked at the clock up on the wall…12:44. It was a kind of weird time to close, but I wasn't about to complain. Honestly.
"Well…um…You know, if you're not doing anything…I'd like to make it up to you…er, what happened last night, that is."
"I'd love to." She let out a giggle, and I snickered at it; not out of hilarity, but it was just…cute.
"Well! I'll, hmm…See you in fifteen?" She nodded and giggled again, and I turned on my way out, hand on my chest. Not entire sure what happened just there, but for the first time in a great while, over-analysis was the last thing I wanted to do.
Yup. Today…Things are going to be alright…
"'Ey John. 'Er, Jack 'uh Jill 'uh whatevah'. Y'ever get ya' name changed back?"
I laughed. I'd almost forgotten to do so. "Nah, not yet…I'll do it next week." Or so I said, anyway. Not too big of a deal.
The two girls simply stared at each other, and Amanda shrugged. Smiling, I continued.
"Oh…Yeah…Girls, back when I won, I had my name changed before I claimed my prize…Did you know you're required to pose for that goofy lotto digest-magazine thingy?"
Rachel perked up. "Did you have to pose for the cover, too?"
"Yeah, in f-"
"Ah man, 'eah you shouldah' seen this guy, 'uh? He gots that whole GQ thing goin' on, 'is brilliant!" Hand over my eyes, I stared down at that tablecloth and grinned, cheeks flush with humility.
"Oh yeahhh, I'll have to show you guys when we're done here." My date was laughing, and so was my best friend. Amanda didn't seem amused…as always…but seeing the three of us so upbeat here at the table too infectious for her stoic state of mind to bear, as she finally opened up with a smile. Maybe someday I'd get to see her laugh? Who knew.
A comfortable silence set over the four of us as laughter died down to happy sighing. I looked out to my left toward the enormous glass window…or maybe wall was a more appropriate word to describe it…I don't know.
For the first time in my life, I felt free. Back at the Third Market, one week ago…I don't know how, or why, but there was something about a simple, mundane, trivial apology I received that completely changed my way of thinking.
There were those who often said I was lucky… fortunate…to be where I am, maybe even who I am. But what they don't know is that fortune is simply what you make of it.
There's no denying that out of sheer chance, I became much, much richer a year ago; no one could deny that, but everything happens for a reason. Without my best friend dragging me to the grocery store that one night, I'd never have won all the money.
And…if I'd not been so fortunate as to be fortunate, causing me to explode on the friend of my best friend's friend…well, then where would I be then, and now? Would I still be so fortunate as to be just as miserable now as I was that night?
I felt something on the back of my right hand.
"You okay?" Rachel was slapping my hand.
I couldn't help but smile in response, snapping out of a daydream and back into reality. "Yeah, I'm great…"
By this point, I was dismissing such thoughts now as swiftly as they came; there were far more important matters to worry about, like-
"Hey, is that waiter ever gonna come back?"