Honesty made her pretty. She looked really honest ever since her father got cancer and her mother started drinking.
I had a soft spot for honest girls.
Maybe in comparison I was not such an honest guy. Maybe living the life behind hardcover books and coffee mugs was something that made me sprout fangs. Made me hold the venom that most writers love to talk about, maybe I read so much fiction I started to create my own. I'm not sure.
I could always be wrong.
I have a soft spot for big eyes. Honest eyes. I guess I'm hung up on that subject now. I don't know.
The morning of September 3rd rang its heavy bells out of a thousand alarm clocks in every home in our town. I woke up excited for work that morning, because this was a Wednesday and every Wednesday Marley came in.
I climbed out of my springboard bed with the wholehearted grin I liked to think was on everyone's face that morning. I remember brushing out my blond hair, I remember putting on a jacket and scarf and jeans. But I don't remember making my bed the way I always do. Maybe that was what threw the day off.
The car started the way it normally did every day, it hummed along with a tune the road knew about and I did not, but I liked to pretend to sing along in the car. When I got to work everything went as usual.
The thing was that that day, September 3rd, made my girlfriend walk in late, her hair messy, her heels clicking off beat and her eyes red.
"Five second increments, Marley," I said to her leaning over the counter where I stood in green apron and coffee spills, to give her a kiss. She turned her head to the side.
"What?" Her voice wasn't new the way it is when someone wakes up in the morning. When a person wakes up after a good rest their voice is soft and clean. She had been awake all night, I knew.
"You normally walk in five second increments. Are you alright?"
She pressed her lips together and her lipstick was not fresh. "I slept with him."
I don't remember if I stuttered out a question or if I just blinked it out. Anyway it was still a movie script reaction, the kind I knew I should make.
I sometimes wonder if I was surprised or just in disbelief.
"I slept with Michael and I don't care and my father is fine and there is no more beer in the house and I don't need you anymore." This all came out fast from her; it came out in breathe-in breathe-out ways like she wasn't wasting any air at all. Which was good. I would feel bad if this wasted air.
I guess I said I didn't understand, placing my hand up on the counter as eyes glanced over. People could hear this conversation and maybe if they kept their ears stretched a little farther they would have heard my muscles stretch in tension.
"If you don't understand what I'm saying maybe it would be better if you just stuck your head in some sand and forgot about me."
"Michael… Michael Langston? You slept with him?" This is how I lost my job. I think I threw the whole batch of hot coffee on her. But it could have just been a day dream.
Consequences are the only things that really matter.
Today, September 10th, I woke up with the thought that, after it being a week of habitual reconstruction, I would be fine with finding another place to work.
"Good morning, Mr…" the man pauses and waits for me to give him my name. I figure he's probably one of those forgetful old men. He's got a round stomach and small eyes that magnify normal through his glasses.
"Mr. Berkley. You can call me John." I grin the way I'm supposed to and he nods in approval. My name always did sound like it would fit into this kind of job.
"I like your face, John." His eyes are frosty and grey. He blinks a lot. "I like the way you smile. And you look like you have had a lot of time for school."
I shrug. "I was always pretty horrible until I realized that I was being bad for no reason in particular and made my way back up again. I really wanted to be something professional to balance out what I did before."
"How old are you again?"
"Only 20. 20 years young." I smile again and he looks down at my sheet of recommendations and I wonder if he has a wife at home. The desk he sits behind likes to creak and seems like it was made out of a glass wood.
"I'm not sure whether to be impressed or worried," he pauses, lights a cigarette.
"I'm hoping the former."
"I am too."
Absurdity came too late in the game, I think, too late to realize that being a school counselor meant sitting around and listening to whining girls who want their grades to be better or their brains to work better or their boyfriends to be better.
Gabriel was the first guy to ever come to my office. He was tall, maybe too tall for his age, and his eyes were very wide and ever confused. He liked to narrow them to make them look more interesting but it never did work for him. He also liked the term 'nowhere'.
This is the first thing he told me.
"It's my favorite phrase." He lifts a hand to his forehead and lets his eyes close as he leans back in a cheap chair opposite mine. It's got duct tape all along the bottom and I'm always afraid it might fall over when he does that.
"It's like, there is no place that's nowhere because you're always there. So it has to be somewhere right? And if it's somewhere then it can't be 'nowhere'. So I like to say I'm going nowhere which means I'm not going at all." He grins because he knows he's smarter than me in some things.
I roll my eyes.
My office is only the size of a large closet, and my desk touches both walls. I have to climb over it to get to my seat. When a normal epileptic girl in this school has a seizure they bring her to my room to lay on the desk because it's long enough and they don't have a bed for her. Sometimes Gabriel and I have to talk around her.
September 13th I go out to the beach to think. It's cold outside and the air around me makes a bubble of hot breath and I wonder if I'm the only one in the world right now thinking so hard. I miss Marley, the way she smelled like bath oils and kept her hair curly. The ocean waves back and forth to itself without ever starting a conversation.
I've got on a heavy scarf, I remember being a younger boy and thinking that being cold was a cool thing. Now I stay warm every chance I get.
I fall asleep on the beach soundly, until something tugs at my right leg. I open my eyes slowly to where I can see only blue sky and air, then look down fast. Gabriel is posed just a step below me, keeping his feet in the ready-to-run position. I sit up in caution and his eyes become a doe's.
"Gabriel, why do you have my right shoe?"
"You don't need a shoe to be sulky, I need it."
"To make a nest."
"What?" I run a hand through my hair and motion for him to sit down. My sock is full of holes.
Gabriel reluctantly takes a seat in front of me and his hair is lined in the sun. "I'm making a nest for my new bird and I need a right shoe."
"My right shoe? You're 18, by your own shoe."
"She doesn't like mine. She'll like yours."
"What makes you think that?"
He looks straight at me and white smiles me into looking down. "I like the way you talk." He says shortly. "I like the way you put your words together."
"I wish I knew what you meant."
He grins. "I wish I did too." And then he stands up. "My mom is dying. Can you make that stop?"
I shake my head, still stuck where I am, still swallowing and breathing.
"I didn't think so. I'll see you later, Mr. Barkley." And he walks away.
It's only when I'm walking home that I realize I didn't get my shoe back.
The next time he comes into my office we both silently agree not to bring up our meeting again. He talks about how his bird likes to sing to her reflection.
"She's a songbird I know but it's like she's playing music from in her head. I wish I could do that," he looks over at me, but I'm sure my look is absent. "The thing about Georgette is that she's… she's a widespread kind of woman, you know?" This is the grouping of words he just makes up to see if I'm listening, which I'm not.
I nod, distracted.
"Mr. Barkley, do you play an instrument?"
"The radio," I answer with a grin. "How would you say, 'I wish I'd never met you' with out sounding dumb?" Maybe being a counselor is asking your own questions.
"I wish I'd met you nowhere." Gabriel smiles and I can't help but like the way it is, his smile. "Whatcha writing?" He leans to look down at my paper.
"A goodbye letter," I tell him. "To an ex girlfriend."
"Yeah. An ex."
He seems to like to look up with his head tilted down, the way a child would, though it makes his eyes bigger. "Do you think you'll move on?" he asks.
"In a hundred years from now," I tell him and his small smile becomes smoke and filters into the background.
"Can I start it?" he asks me, leaning over the desk to where he can read over my shoulder.
"No, your one hundred years from now."
If I had slipped into a reverie of how softness was, how easiness was, I would have let him kiss me for hours. I don't move at first, sinking into what I like to call fiction though in reality it isn't.
He leans deep over the desk and I let him snake his way over it the way an antelope lets a cheetah pull it down after the first scratch. He lets his hands move up to my hair, and I never thought the word pretty fit with him the way it did now.
I pull back if only to utter, "I'm sorry," and begin again.
I finally stand up out of my chair and smile gently, I don't remember if the words came out or not but I remember leaning him back against the desk and thinking about the epileptic girl and about counting her shakes. This time Gabriel shivers once and settles down over the desk to let me kiss him. I don't remember how many times I kissed him.
Leaning over, I realize that if I had mentally established him as someone normal I wouldn't be doing this at the moment. If he hadn't stolen my shoe or barked into my office or had smiled unimaginatively I wouldn't be in this position.
I break the kiss.
"A glimpse of a hundred years from now?" He asks me and his doe eyes make me look down quickly, make me sit him back up and swallow.
His honesty may be a work of my own fiction, his need for my attention may be a work of his mother's sickness, but at least I believe he was always honest. I nod.
"Maybe. Maybe in a hundred years."