"I had a dream."
He paused, biting his lip awkwardly and casting his eyes to the sidewalk at his feet. He glanced up at me furtively before looking away again.
"You were there."
"Okay… That's great." I began to inch away at a speed that would leave rabbits jealous. Maybe if I could escape the awkwardness will dissipate.
"Wait!" He shot out his arm, wrapping short fingers tightly around my wrist. "You can't go!"
"Who are you?" I shook my wrist and try to twist away. "Let me go!"
"I already told you," he said. His face twisted, and he still didn't look at me. "I had a dream, and you were there."
"In your dream? I don't even know you!" I really shouldn't have been encouraging him, but late-afternoon always had me a little weary, and his accosting was especially forceful.
"Yes." He leaned in, and his eyes were bright. He still wouldn't release my arm. "And you died."
Times like this I really wished I had taken up that cardiovascular exercise routine my mother had touted so encouragingly.
Running away from crazy dream-man? Difficult. Trying not to trip over slightly too large shoes? Worse. Realizing that even though he was two-thirds my height he was still faster than me?
I stopped and swung my briefcase in his general direction. He ducked, and the briefcase sailed niftily from my fingertips to land in the middle of the street. He glanced at it, then back at me.
"Get away from me!"
He startled. "What?"
I whipped out my cell phone and began madly to push buttons. Who to call? 911? But was it really an emergency? I found myself pausing as I debated the future conversation I would no doubt have with whatever hapless sap picked up the phone.
"911, what is your emergency?"
"Yeah, heeeey. This is Sammy? There's this really short guy chasing me… Think you can send the whole squad over? Thaaaanks."
I shook my head. Apparently I would have to be stoned to call. Well, it would be better than nothing. I turned back to punch the final digits into my phone only to see that it was gone!
"Hey! Give me my phone!"
He glanced up from where he was playing bubble Tetris. "One second, I just need one of those long bars."
I snatched the phone away and turned off the game. "No! No long bars!" I began to dial again when my phone blipped and went black.
I stared at it. I glanced up at my accoster, who was smiling.
"Your battery die?"
"No," I protested. I meekly pushed a few buttons, but it was useless. "Okay, fine, whatever. Stop following me."
I marched into the desolate street and retrieved my briefcase. He followed me.
"I don't know your name. Anyway, look, I just wanted to warn you that you'll probably be dying soon. You might want to get your affairs in order."
I blinked at him. He smirked back.
I headed off down the street.
He skipped after me like a puppy, and for a split second I was glad I lived in one of the housing developments so affected by the housing bubble bursting. It meant that I (and old lady Witherspoon) was the only one living along the whole street. No one would see a tiny man merrily skipping after me as I tried to straighten my tie.
"I have heard that before."
"What?" I'd already forgotten what we were talking about. Wait, I wasn't supposed to be encouraging him. I was terrible at avoiding serial killers.
"That I'm crazy. I've heard it all before." He shrugged. "I'm really not. I just have premonitions that come true. I saw you in my dream, you died, and then today I saw you on the bus so I thought I'd give you a shout-out." He broke into a huge smile. "You can thank me later."
"Won't I be dead later?"
"Oh, yeah." He frowned and paused his walking. For a moment I laughed internally—I was free! But he soon caught up again.
"I guess you can thank me from the afterlife, if there is one. And if there isn't, and you don't become a ghost, then you can just… not thank me. Or thank me a bit before you die. You know; whatever."
We reached my house and I marched angrily up the steps, yanked my key out, and shoved it into the lock.
"You can't come in," I told him as I opened the door.
He cast me with a look that was pure puppy-dog eyes and for a moment my resolve wavered. Aw, but he was such a cute megalomaniac… But no. I drew the line at letting a probable serial killer into my house.
"No means no."
"Please?" he begged.
Ten minutes later we were standing in my kitchen. I handed him a cup of orange juice.
"Sorry. It has pulp."
"That's cool." He took a sip and grinned at me. "So. Nice house."
We shifted awkwardly.
"Yeah, a little quiet."
More shifting. A bird tweeted outside.
He coughed and drank some more orange juice. "Well, I guess I should probably get going." He began to inch towards the door.
"Wait." Now it was my turn to grab his wrist. Unfortunately, my grabbing had the cascading effect of spilling orange juice all over his arm and the floor.
He leapt back. "Hey! Whoa…"
I frowned at the sticky orange mess. "Look, you can't just go around telling people they're going to die and the run off while exchanging base pleasantries." I turned my frown to him. "Life doesn't work that way."
He brightened. "Hey, soon you get to know how death works!"
I stared at him. He stared back, still all smiles. Finally I marched over to the sink and drenched a washcloth in city water. I began to mop up the spilled orange juice.
"You might want to wash your hand."
He nodded and headed to the sink as well. The water ran noisily as he talked.
"I realize that my methods of informing the public aren't exactly usual, but you have to admit my point got across." I slapped the juice-laden rag into the sink as he continued.
"Truly, I might not have told you at all. Not for lack of trying, but usually I don't meet my premonitions until after they've died."
"I'm one of those psychic detective types." He frowned. "One looking for work. You got a dead body you need examined? I can do that." He whipped out a business card that had a large eye with the yin/yang symbol as the pupil, a phone number, and then in small letters "P.H. Lang, Psychic Detective."
I giggled. "Your name is 'ph.'"
He was not amused. "Phillip Howard Lang, at your service."
I pocketed the card automatically. "Yes, well unfortunately I don't have any dead bodies at the moment. Terribly sorry."
"Oh, but you will!" He grinned. "Fairly soon, by my reckoning."
"Yes, well, Mr. Lang—"
"Phillip Howard Lang."
"Mr. Phillip Howard La—"
He frowned at me. I tried once more.
He sighed. "Just call me Phil."
"Right. Mr. Phil." He sighed again and I suppressed a smirk. "I'm afraid you're just a bit too creepy for my tastes, so if you could just tell me how I'm going to die so I can avoid it then you can go on your merry way."
He shook his head. "I don't know. Dreams are very symbolic, you know."
I nodded. "Sure. But that isn't an answer."
He shrugged. "Hey, Bob, it doesn't have to make sense. That's the way it works with my dreams. I have them. I know who died—or rather, who will—but the actual memory of how they die isn't triggered until the actual murder part. Usually I remember at the exact time its happening and go to the police. It's earned me my share of jail time, let me tell you." He laughed.
I wasn't laughing. "Right. Well, you're not leaving until you remember."
He glanced up at me through his eyelashes. "That'll be when you die."
"Whatever!" I threw my hands into the air. "You can't just go around telling people you had a creepy dream about their death and the expect them to act rationally!"
He sighed, and after 39 long paragraphs he finally set the empty glass on the counter. "I guess I don't know what I was expecting. You seemed like a nice guy who deserved a little heads up on his impending doom." He shrugged. "Sorry, I guess."
I grumbled and crossed my arms angrily over my chest. My tie wrinkled and I frowned at it. "Yeah, well, don't do it again."
"You know what I mean."
He grinned. "You know, Bob, I think—"
"Sammy. My name. Sammy."
"Sammy, then." He swung his arm over my shoulder. He had to stand on his tip toes to do it. "I think this is the start of a beautiful friendship."
We stared out the window. I could practically hear the cheesy movie music playing in the background. Then he frowned.
"Too bad you're going to die."
It was nine o'clock. Phil was lounged out on my couch watching CSI: New York while I sat at my desk madly scribbling out my will.
"Are you sure I'm going to die?"
He muted the television long enough to answer with a quick "yep" then quickly un-muted it again. I sighed and returned to my work. Who would want my collection of thimbles from various states? Aunt Gertrude? I put down her name. But wait, she already was getting my box of old baseball cards… I scratched out her name and replaced it with the name of the guy two cubicles over at my office. He could use a few thimbles.
"This really came at a bad time," I commented. "I mean, any other day and at least I would have a moment to write my will, but today I have to get to bed for work tomorrow. What if someone gets something they don't want?"
He sighed and flicked off the television in the middle of a long-winded explanation in case any kindergartners were watching the show. "Look, Sammy, I can't help you. Really, I can't. I've never had the opportunity to tell anyone before."
"But on a Wednesday? I mean really." I huffed out a breath and gazed at my will. The scratch marks and dog-eared corners really gave it a little extra oomph, I thought.
"You'd rather it be a Friday night? How would you go out with the ladies?" He snickered.
I frowned at him and glanced over my shoulder. He was peeking over the back of my couch like a too-happy snake that needed a swift boot to the rear. Unfortunately, I'd left my boots by the door and didn't feel like walking all the way over there and getting them.
"Why are you even here?"
He smiled and leapt over the couch, landing smartly on his feet. I tried not to be impressed. "Because otherwise you would be alone with your own mortality. You can thank me later."
I didn't point out my impending death a second time. "Well, you're doing it wrong."
"Excuse me," he huffed, fanning his fingers over his chest in annoyance. "I think I know a bit more about mortality than you do."
"I mean…" I sighed. "You're horrible at keeping a man company when he his faced with his own—oh my God I'm going to be murdered!"
He blinked and stepped back. "That just hit you, didn't it?"
I leapt up. "Murdered! Death wouldn't be so bad, but murder? With the pain and the anguish? What the hell possessed you to tell me!?"
He stepped back again, no doubt trying to escape my craziness. "Well, uh, I hear death ain't all that bad. Why, I know this one guy, who I dreamed a pretty rough death for, but actually he went pretty peacefully. Coroner said he didn't feel much at all after the first couple blows."
"What!?" I screeched. I didn't even try to get myself under control. "I'm going to be murdered! Oh, God…" I sank to the ground, cowering in the fetal position against my desk. "Murdered. Why me?"
Awkwardly, Phil patted me on the head. "Uh, sorry dude. I guess that's the way the cookie crumbles."
I glared up at him. "That's it," I declared. "I'm calling the cops."
"Aw, don't do that." He frowned suddenly. "Oh no, wait. Yes. Do do that. They can protect you from the murdering!"
He reached around me and gathered up my desk phone, already punching in numbers. "You want them to send a bus now or later?"
"Oh what's the point?" I blubbered. "I'll probably just get murdered there instead."
I sniffled pitifully on the floor as he stood over me. He turned off the phone.
"Uh, are you sure? I mean, I could call and ask them to send a detail over to watch you." He shifted. "You know, save you the trouble of rooming with me."
"This may be my last day on Earth," I sniffled. He smiled nervously. "And I'm stuck here writing a will giving away stuff no one will want to people I hardly know."
"Wow… sucky. But you know it could have been worse. You could not have known at all and then left your relatives with a load of crap they didn't know what to do with."
I stood up and grabbed the phone from him, slamming it back on its jack. "Let's go."
"Go? Where? Lollipop Guild?"
"The Lollipop Guild isn't a place." I angrily donned my shoes. "It's an organization. A fake one, at that."
"I was just testing you." He slipped into his loafers and laced his thumbs through his belt loops, showering me with a rather sunny and creepy grin. "So, where are we headed?"
"If this is my last day on Earth I am not spending it elbow deep in paper work." I raised my chin. "We're going clubbing."
He started laughing as we headed out the door, and was still laughing when we reached the end of the block.
"It isn't funny." I frowned, more than a little miffed.
"Sorry, sorry man." He wiped away a tear. "It's just… you're going clubbing in a button-down shirt and Star Trek tie. Not exactly a pro at this, are you?"
I frowned at my new tie. What was wrong with a little Enterprise action? "I may be a little out of practice, but I'm sure it'll come to me. Clubbing is like riding a bike, right?"
"Not even close."
"Well… I'm a fast learner."
He smirked. "Well, Mr. Fast Learner, how do you plan on getting to the club?"
"The bus?" I tried to make it sound like an assertion, but it was definitely a question.
"At ten o'clock? They aren't coming way out to the boonies just for your skinny a… butt." He frowned. "Got any other ideas?"
"I'll call a cab." I whipped out my cell phone and began to wildly push buttons, but nothing happened.
"You're phone still dead?"
"No," I protested. I meekly pushed a few buttons, but it was useless. "Okay, fine, whatever. You got any bright ideas?"
Phil whipped out his own cell phone, hit one button, and was soon talking animatedly to what I assumed was a cab company.
"Yeah, hey, Phillip Lang here. I need to request a cab for me and my buddy. Yeah… uh-huh. You got it, right on the money. Sure. And again later." He laughed, and finished by rattling off the address and clicking his phone shut.
"Should be about ten minutes. They're just down the street."
I stared at him. He smiled nervously back.
"You have a cab company on speed dial?"
"I have a couple. I don't drive, and sometimes I need to get from A to B pretty fast so…" He shrugged. "Who were you going to call?"
"I was going to look it up." I waved my still-dead phone. "3G coverage, baby."
He suppressed a laugh. "Wow, you're such a—never mind."
"What? Such a what?"
"Nothing. Hey, how come there aren't any other people in this neighborhood?"
I frowned, not wanting to let the conversation go. I decided to let it drop, however, and was soon explaining to him the intricacies of the housing bubble exploding into a million tiny pieces, and how rich uncles who die young are a God-send.
All that took about twelve minutes, enough time for the cab to finally appear.
We slipped in and it was about then I realized I didn't know where to go. Clubbing was not my forte. I stared at the back of the cabby's head for a moment before looking wild-eyed at Phil. He smiled indulgently.
"Meter's running, folks," the cabby informed us.
"107 East and Bend," Phil finally rattled off. He glanced at me. "Gotta have a good time on your last day."
And he winked.
107 East and Bend was, by any reckoning, a strip club.
I stared at the dingy brick building with brilliant neon lights flashing pink and blue. The lights told me something about pussy-cats before displaying the silhouette of a shapely naked woman. I blinked. Then I blinked some more.
"You'll thank me later."
I stared at Phil. "Phil. This is a strip club."
"Yeah, so?" He shrugged. "They have great beer here. Top quality. All the way from Boise, Idaho."
Before I could ask what the hell Boise, Idaho had to do with beer Phil was already moseying into the strip joint. I hurried after him.
"Phil," I hissed as he flashed his ID at the bouncer. "I've never been to a… place like this."
"I kind of gathered." He shared a long-suffering look with the bouncer. "Just show your ID."
I fiddled with my wallet and finally came up with a gamers-club card that had all the necessary information. The bouncer was not impressed, but he seemed to take pity on me and let us pass.
I stepped into the world of… stripping and was immediately accosted by a slew of head-trauma inducing music and flashing lights. I felt like having a seizure, but I managed to resist.
"Come on." Phil led me through the crowd. I tried not to stare at the lovely ladies all around me. It took a little effort.
"Where are we—oh. The bar." I stared as Phil pulled out a bar stool for me and grinned. I sat down stiffly.
At the bar we faced away from the glittering dancers, which made it much easier to ignore the way the flashing lights danced off their smooth skin in a dazzling array of—they were easier to ignore, anyway.
The bartender ambled up and leaned against the counter. He smiled blankly at us. "Can I take your order, gentlemen?"
Phil ordered something that sounded simple, but I was at a loss for words. "I'll have a—um…" I tried to think of all the drinks I knew. The answer was a resounding one. "Appletini?" I silently cursed my love of half-hour long sitcoms.
"Don't listen to him," Phil cut in before the bartender could either laugh or make my order. "He wants a rum and Coke."
The bartender nodded and left.
"What the hell, Sammy?" Phil shook his head at my plight. I offered him a shrug.
"Look," I said over the jackhammer-like music. "I don't get out much, okay? At least not for drinks."
"What do you get out for?"
"I'm a nerd." I shrugged. "Do with that information what you will."
As Phil contemplated what I meant by 'nerd' the bartender returned with a glass for me and a bottle for him. He took a long, slow swig.
"So, what? Dungeon master?"
"No." I rolled my eyes and fiddled with the ice in my rum and Coke. I hadn't even drunk it and I was already suspecting I was a light-weight. "I just go to cons and stuff."
"Oh." He took a nonchalant sip. "Are you one of those guys who dresses up like anime girls?"
"No!" I gaped at him. "Just… SciFi. That kind of stuff. Anime doesn't make sense to me."
"Cool, cool." He nodded, and quite suddenly the rest of his beer was gone. "Dude, Sammy, hurry up. You're falling behind."
I bit my lip and stared at my drink. It was hard to think of drinking when you knew there were ladies selling their bodies right behind you. "I…don't know."
Phil glanced over his shoulder. "Okay, finish that up and we'll head to another place I know. One that might be more your scene, yeah? There's a place within walking distance."
I nodded furiously and chugged my rum and Coke. It sort of burned going down, but also tasted sickly sweet. I left about an inch of liquid in the bottom. Phil slid a few bills onto the counter and we headed for the door.
"Oh," he said. "And you might want to take that tie off."
The second place was better, though I neglected to remove my tie and the music was literally deafening.
"What the hell is this place?" I tried to yell over the music. Phil just smiled, clearly not hearing me at all. I watched his mouth move in abstract fascination, realizing that the music was so loud I literally could not think.
It was kind of nice.
A mass of bodies that could have been human was writhing on the dance floor. All this, on a Wednesday night? I was impressed. Phil pushed me towards the dance floor and wandered off.
I stared at the dancing bodies for a moment, knowing I would not be joining in. Even if it was my last night on Earth—something I was beginning to doubt—I was not going to "bust a move" or otherwise embarrass myself.
There was a tap on my shoulder and in the next second I was being snogged by a woman with half a shirt who had clearly had a bit too much to drink. I managed to peel her off of me.
"Sorry," I shouted over the music. "No kissing here."
She frowned and said something before throwing herself at another, much more receptive man a few feet away. I stared at the spectacle as I felt another tap on my shoulder. I braced for impact.
Phil handed me a beer. He leaned in and shouted right against my ear.
"What was that?" He sounded like he was whispering.
I shrugged and sipped my beer, nearly choking on it. I coughed at the awkward taste, grimacing. I tried to hand the beer back, but Phil just smiled and pushed it into my hands.
"It's good for you!" he shouted into my ear. "Drink!" He said something that could have either been "lighten up" or "find the hose, its party time." At this point, either option was equally possible.
I frowned at him. I held my disgusting beer up and gave him a questioning look. He nodded, so I took a reluctant drink. The second sip wasn't so bad, and by the third I couldn't taste it anymore.
Then the dancers engulfed us.
I tried to wiggle away but was unsuccessful. The crush of bodies pushed against me and I watched as Phil happily let himself be carried away.
I decided to go with it, and managed to find a sort of half-rhythm that was less like a rhythm and more like me flailing my arms around and twitching my knees. I could barely move any other part of my body, but it didn't seem too far off from what everyone else was doing.
Another woman, this time one that smelled like marijuana, pressed herself against me and did a dance I supposed was sexy. I just smiled at her and slinked away, allowing the crowd to pull me along like the currents of a river.
As the music pulsed and the dancers swayed I found my brain rumbling steadily on. I wondered if drinking all night would wreck me for tomorrow's work day, before realizing that I may very well be dead before the night was over. That was probably going to suck, but it certainly took a huge weight off of my shoulders.
In fact, being murdered didn't sound so bad when I had a few beers in me. Speaking of which, I finished the rest of the bottle. In fact, murder may not be the best way to go, but it was certainly better that not knowing I was going to die. In fact, a burden I hadn't even known existed had been lifted from my shoulders. I knew I was going to die, and soon, but it didn't seem to bother me.
I caught sight of Phil doing some sort of weird grinding dance a few meters away and gravitated towards him. I wanted to share my new sense of well being with the world.
I poked the woman in front of him away and she cast me a nasty look before going on to greener pastures. I started to extol my thoughts to Phil before simultaneously realizing he couldn't hear me anyway and catching sight of the guy grinding behind him.
"Hey." I pouted and pried Phil away. The guy looked frustrated as people elbowed him all around.
I wasn't one for reading lips, but the question he posed to Phil was clearly "boyfriend?"
Phil just shrugged and the guy stalked off. I frowned at Phil and leaned in.
"It's too loud!" I shouted. He nodded and grabbed my wrist, leading me through the crowd like a practiced ice dancer.
We headed for the door, and I felt like asking what was up but I didn't. Instead, I threw my beer bottle into a nearby garbage can and we stepped outside into deafening silence.
The third place was the best, though my tie remained on and questions remained unasked.
Phil led me into a bar that was so silent I could hear the bartender clinking glasses as he cleaned them. Something soft, like country, was playing in the background and the bar was swathed in darkness.
We sat at a table with booths that had high backs for privacy and a pretty young waitress came up and took our order. By this time my two drinks were doing line-dances inside my stomach, so I ordered a basket of fries and a Guinness.
"You and clubs really don't mix," Phil said a few minutes later, stealing a fry.
"I guess not." I slathered my fries in ketchup and dug in, leaving my Guinness untouched for the moment. "I really thought it would be a nice way to go…"
He laughed, sipping his own rum and Coke. "It could have been worse. I could have taken you to a real strip club, or the Goth club."
"That wasn't a real strip club?"
"No. Well, yes, but no. I mean a strip club where the ladies entice you with a little something extra." He waggled my eyebrows and I tried not to giggle.
"Okay, and what's a Goth club?"
"The Goth club is where everyone wears black and tries to make out with you. It's really hard core, actually. We'd have to paint your nails and paint your face white. It really wouldn't have gone with your awesome Star Trek tie."
I glanced down at my tie. "Thank you for not taking me there."
"No problem." He laughed.
I munched a few fries and took a sip of my Guinness. "So, what now?"
"Now? Well, I suppose we can try to get you as drunk as possible. That shouldn't be too hard, actually. You're halfway there already." He snickered.
I pouted again. "Don't laugh; I've never done this before."
"Oh, it's painfully obvious that you've never so much as touched a beer before today. Makes me wonder how else you've been deprived in this life." He frowned thoughtfully and leaned in, stirring the ice in his drink around. "Hey, you wanna play a drinking game?"
"A little game. Never have I ever. I say something I've never done, and if you have done it you take a drink. Then vise versa. It'll speed up the getting wasted thing by a factor of a million."
"You can't have a factor of a million. That's like… way too much."
He rolled his eyes. "A smaller factor, then. You game?"
I frowned at my drink. Since getting the Guinness I had literally taken one sip, and it was still touching the rim of the glass. I would definitely need help if I was going to get drunk this night. And really, who didn't want to get drunk on their last night on Earth?
"Sure, I'm game."
Phil leaned way back, still toying with his rum and Coke. "The first one… Hmm, okay. Never have I ever attended a con dressed as a character from a TV show."
I frowned and took a drink. "Unfair advantage."
He snickered. "You really did? What character?"
"Not telling. Okay, never I have I ever predicted someone's death."
He rolled his eyes and took a swig. "That's completely unfair. It's supposed to be stuff you don't already know. Okay, never have I ever worn a mullet."
"No drink, mullets are nasty." I wrinkled my nose in disgust. "Never had a hamster."
He drank. "Never lusted after a roommate."
I frowned and took a drink. He grinned. "Shut up. Never fallen asleep on the bus and ended up in Arkansas."
He took two drinks. "And a third time, but then it ended up working out. Never had sex with a roommate."
"No drink. Never been arrested."
"You know I have." He drank. "Never been to prison."
"Does it count if you just visited, because—"
I took a drink. "Never lusted after a friend's significant other."
He took a drink. "Never wished Uhura and Yeoman Rand would get it on." He went misty-eyed and took a drink. "I did just now, I guess."
"I—huh." I blinked at the burning mental image and took a drink. "Well, all right then. Never caused someone to have awkward sexual fantasies."
"Yes you have." He drank anyway. "Never been called 'awesome' by a pre-teen."
It went on like that until I had three deliciously empty glasses in front of me. Throughout it all I found out that Phil had done anything remotely awkward or sexual in nature, and he found out that I was going to die a sad lonely virgin.
"We should… stand. Go. Go stand." He stood up, looking more than a little wobbly on his feet. Or maybe that was me wobbling. I couldn't tell.
"Why, Mr. Lang, you're drunk!" I giggled.
"You're worse. I have to pay." Thankfully the waitress came over and took his money, thus saving him the trouble of crawling over to the bar.
"I'll call you boys a cab," she promised. "Please wait outside?"
Phil pulled me from my seat and slung his arm over my shoulder. "Come along, Sammy," he declared. "We have a cab to wait for."
We stumbled outside and searched for the ground. We managed to find it.
"This… Is so weird."
"I know, right?" He laughed. "I haven't been like this in…" He pondered the thought. "Years. A long time."
"Drunk is weird." I smiled and we leaned against each other, shoulder to shoulder for support. "Too bad I can't get used to it."
"Bah, you'll do fine."
"I'm going to die, silly." I found myself giggling at the idea, and Phil raised his eyebrow at me.
"So? It could be worse. You could have lost your tie."
I glanced down at my tie. It was now be-speckled with small drops of alcohol and was loosened beyond recognition, but it was indeed still around my neck. "I want to be buried in this tie."
"I'll see what I can do."
We blinked at each other, each lost in our own alcohol-induced stupor. I felt like saying something but my mind was blank. I groped for words.
"I'm glad I met you," I said finally. "Even if you just told me I'm going to die."
He opened his mouth to respond but the cab drove up and interrupted him. We each helped to haul the other into the cab, and Phil gave the cabby directions to my house.
The ride was silent and a little nauseating, so I was glad when I finally got to pay the cabby and stumble up my walkway. Phil followed me, his hands stuffed deep into his pockets.
"You can come in this time," I told him as I turned the key and opened the door. "You know; if you want."
"Sure." He shrugged. "It's only… two a.m.," he said, glancing at his watch.
We managed to make it up the stairs and down the hallway to my room.
"You got a place I can bunk?" he asked.
I pondered the question. "Well, there's always the guest room."
"Really? Cool. Which way is—"
"But it has no bed and is filled with boxes." I considered the predicament further. "Then there's the couch."
He scoffed. "Your couch is less 'couch' and more 'slightly too-large easy chair.'"
"Don't diss my couch." I pouted at him and he rolled his eyes. We wobbled there for a moment. Finally he spoke up.
"What about your bed?"
It sounded like a brilliant idea, especially as the last Guinness hit me full blast. "Sure," I warbled. "It's a king, so pretty big."
I opened the door and led him into my room. The bed was only half-made, but he didn't comment. I managed to pull of the residual cloth of my tie and unbutton another button on my shirt. He pulled off his left sock, but not is right.
"Good night," he said as we sleepily climbed into bed. I flicked off the lamp and plopped my head down on the pillow heavily.
The next morning at 6 o'clock I awoke with a headache and Phil wrapped around me, snoring loudly with his face pressed against my neck.
I stared at the top of his head for a moment as I tried to will my headache away. Finally I gave up and managed to wiggle away from him. I found a new position and raised my foot to his stomach. Then I kicked him off the bed.
He flew off in a rather spectacular tangle of limbs and landed with a thump on the floor.
"Hey!" He crawled up to glare at me over the blankets.
"Time to get up," I informed him. "For you, anyway."
He rolled his eyes and stalked off, grabbing his errant sock as he went.
My headache began to pound loudly in my temple, so I simply rolled over and fell back asleep.
About an hour later the smell of food awoke me again. I didn't have to be at work until nine, so I decided to investigate.
I switched one button-down shirt for a cleaner one and shuffled my way downstairs to the kitchen. I startled at what I saw.
Phil was there, with an apron I didn't remember owning tied around his waist, a pan of eggs in one hand, spatula in the other, and a waffle iron steaming away beside him. He grinned at me as I entered.
"Hey," he greeted. I nodded back, still trying to blink the sleep out of my eyes.
I sat down at the island in the middle of my kitchen and stared at him. "What are you doing?"
"Cooking." He placed a plate heaping with scrambled eggs and waffles in front of me. "Enjoy," he said with a grin.
I took a small bite, still feeling a bit queasy. I blinked. "Hey, these are blueberry. I don't remember having blueberries."
I grimaced. "Uh…"
He rolled his eyes. "Don't worry, they're still blueberry. You didn't really have anything remotely like food here, so I had to improvise. I was going to go shopping but that would have taken to long. Thankfully," he said, flipping more eggs around. "Mrs. Witherspoon, that little old lady? Yeah, she was outside. I borrowed some stuff from her and in exchange helped her prune her trees."
By then half of my waffle was gone, and my eggs had disappeared. My stomach and headache were beginning to calm. "You did all that?"
"Sure." He shrugged and sat down with his own plate, inhaling his food just as fast as I had inhaled mine. "She needed help, I needed food. Win-win."
I nodded and cleared my plate. I threw it in the sink along with the pans and started running the water to wash them. Phil rolled his eyes at me.
"What are you doing?"
"Dishes?" I grabbed the sponge and frowned at him.
"Dude, it's your last morning on Earth. No dishes." He placed his own empty plate in the sink and switched off the water. "Leave it for later, yeah?"
"Fine…" I pouted. "I have to get ready for work anyway."
Phil gaped at me. "Work? You're going to work?"
"Uh, yeah? What else would I do?"
"Oh, I don't know, maybe not go?" He scoffed. "You want to spend your last precious hours in a cubical?"
I didn't ask how he knew I worked in a cubical. "You're pretty sure today's the day, huh?"
"Yeah." He shifted uneasily. "More sure than any other premonition I've ever had."
I nodded. "Well, then I might as well go in to work. Not much else I can do with only one day left."
Phil sighed and scrubbed a hand through his hair. "Fine, I'll do the dishes for you."
I wandered off to grab a shower. I didn't want to go into work smelling like alcohol.
The shower did me a world of good, and soon the warm water had obliterated the last of my headache. I ran a haphazard brush through my hair and dried off before wrapping a towel around my waist and stepping into the kitchen. Phil was still doing dishes, scrubbing slowly at the plate with his back turned to me.
"You can take a shower if you need one."
Phil turned to look at me and the plate slipped from his fingers, crashing to the ground and shattering into a million tiny pieces. I jumped away as the glass shot after me.
"Shit." Phil blushed and didn't look at me as he bent to clean up the shards of plate. "Yeah, sure. Maybe later. Let me get this."
I nodded even though he wasn't looking and held the towel a little tighter around my hips. I trudged upstairs and threw on the nicest work clothes I owned. I wanted to look good on my last day.
I was searching for the perfect tie when there was a knock on the door.
"Come in," I offered, and Phil nervously stuck his head in.
"Hey," he said, shuffling in with his hands in his pockets. "Do you—I mean, are you planning to go to work on your own?"
I frowned at the handful of ties I had to choose from. "Well, I don't know. Did you want to come? That might be a little weird."
"Yeah." He shrugged. "I guess, but maybe it'll trigger the dream memory before you actually… you know."
I smiled. "Yeah." I glanced at him. "You can certainly come. Hey, what tie should I wear?"
"I thought you liked that Star Trek one?" He picked the wrinkled mess that was once my Star Trek tie off of the floor and held it up enticingly.
I shook my head. "I can't wear that to work. It's against dress code."
He raised an eyebrow. I frowned. We got into a staring contest for a long moment until finally I blinked.
"Okay, fine." I took the tie from him and undid the wrinkles as best I could before stringing it around my neck. I gave it a quick half-Windsor knot and smoothed it against my chest. "The bus should be here in about ten minutes."
The bed creaked as Phil sat on it. "Cool. Hey, you got a shirt I could borrow?"
I glanced at him. "Maybe, but they might be a little long on you." He mumbled something about being taller than he looked as I opened my closet. "What color?"
"Color?" He stood and glanced over my shoulder, gaping. "Is everything you own a button-down shirt?"
I stared at the row of neatly pressed work shirts. "Huh, I guess so."
"No t-shirts? Nothing?"
"I have the kind of t-shirt you wear under a dress shirt, but other than that, no." I pulled out my least dressy shirt and handed it to him. "Try this."
He grumbled and ripped off his tattered shirt before pulling on the new one. He awkwardly buttoned the buttons, missing a few along the way.
"Here," I sighed in exasperation and undid his piss-poor attempt at buttoning a shirt. I deftly buttoned the rest of the buttons and smiled. The shirt was a little long, but it could have been worse.
"Thanks." He inched away and undid the sleeves before rolling them up.
"Hey!" I batted his hands away. "You'll wrinkle the shirt."
He pointed at me. "Last day on Earth." He pointed at himself. "Needs comfort."
"Phil, please?" I whined.
He sighed and rolled his eyes. "Fine, let's just catch the da—the bus."
The bus ride was mostly silent. I stared out the window and Phil fiddled with his sleeves. About halfway to work I glanced over at him, craving conversation.
"So you think you can predict when I'll die?"
He shrugged and stopped tugging on his sleeves. "I guess. Like I said, it usually comes to me when the murder occurs. But if I'm right there I might be able to see something ahead of time and redirect the incident."
I nodded. That made sense. "So… what did you see? Do you remember anything else?"
He glanced around the bus. "Well, I saw you. And you were pretty distraught. But I don't know how you died or who killed you." He glanced at me. "Who will kill you, sorry."
"It's fine." I shrugged. "This must be pretty weird for you, meeting someone who is going to die."
He laughed. "Weird for me? You're the one actually doing the dying, you know."
A few minutes later the bus dropped us off and we stomped into my work. I nodded at the security guard on my way in, and he didn't even notice Phil. We rode the elevator up to the twelfth floor and got off.
"My cubicle's this way."
We got there in record time and I sat down, booting up my computer for a day of pure unadulterated joyless working. "I don't know what you'll want to do," I said as my computer powered on. "There's not much around here."
He laced his thumbs through his belt loops and glanced around. "Tell me about it."
"Can you hand me my messenger bag? I forgot it here last night."
He glanced around and finally came up with my messenger back. "I can't believe you have a messenger bag." He snickered.
I rolled my eyes and pulled out the charger for my phone. I ducked under my desk and plugged it, and when I came up for air I saw Phil with a book in his hand.
"What's this?" He grinned.
I blushed. "Give me that! I tried to swipe the book away but to no avail. He danced away, reading the cover.
"Long Harvest. This is a romance novel." He pointed at the rather buff man and seduced woman on the cover. "You read romance novels?"
"Where'd you get that?" I finally ripped it from his grasp and dusted off the cover nervously.
"Fell out of your bag. Hey, can I read it?"
I eyed him suspiciously and he shrugged. "I've got nothing better to do."
Reluctantly I handed him the book. He sat down cross-legged on the floor and flipped it open. Immediately, he shut the book again.
"If I laugh, don't take offense. Okay?"
I sighed and logged into my computer. "Fine, whatever. Just be wary of the last chapter."
"Oh? A steamy book our little Sammy reads?" He snickered and started reading. "Don't worry," he said.
"I'll be careful."
A few hours later Phil left to get a soda.
"Don't get yourself killed," he joked. He sounded nervous.
"I won't." I gave him an unconscious wave as he left. I started to turn back to my work when I was accosted by the guy two cubicles over.
"Hey, Sammy." Mike sat on the edge of my desk.
"I was wondering if you came to a decision."
"Oh." I bit my lip. "I—I really don't know, Mike."
He frowned. "Are you not—"
"No, that isn't it. I just don't think this is the best time, you know?"
Mike sighed and slid off my desk to stand over me. "Sam, I really think this could work. I mean, I know you're pretty much a loner."
"That's an understatement."
He smiled at me. "But I still want to get to know you, you know? Maybe over drinks, if you're nervous."
I worried at my lower lip and stared up at him. His features were soft, though guarded. I knew what he was asking, but I just didn't know what to say in response.
"I'm not very good at drinks," I said finally.
He smiled and leaned down a little. "That's okay. We can skip them."
"And I'm not very good at conversation."
"That's okay, too."
"Or any kind of relationship stuff."
Mike just smiled. "I'm sure we can work around it." He leaned in until our noses nearly touched. I sat there, frozen, completely unsure of what to do. On the one hand I felt sort of exhilarated, but on the other hand I felt completely lost. On the third, metaphysical hand, I was going to die soon. But that really didn't matter because Mike was an inch away carrying my first kiss.
I heard a thunk behind me. Automatically, I turned to look and saw Phil picking up a can of sprite. His sleeves were rolled up.
"Geeze," he said breathlessly. "Good thing it wasn't open." He laughed.
Mike frowned, but he didn't seem that angry. "Hello?"
"Hey." Phil stepped forward and stuck out his hand. "Phillip Howard Lang, Psychic Detective. I'm with him." He pointed in my general direction.
"Psychic detective?" Mike shook his hand but glanced at me. "Why do you have a psychic detective?"
I twitched at the awkwardness. "Oh, you know. Phil predicted my death."
Mike's eyebrows shot up and he stared at Phil. "And you believed him?"
"Hey, I'm totally a legit detective," Phil protested.
"Right." Mike frowned. "Well, I'd better go." He glanced back at me. "Would you like to go out tomorrow?"
I shrugged. "If I haven't died. Talk to me in the morning, we'll see how it looks."
He laughed and shook his head at the spectacle. "Okay, I'll see you tomorrow. Nice to meet you, Mr. Lang."
Phil didn't correct the choice of names as Mike left. He stared after my coworkers retreating form before looking at me with wide eyes.
"What the hell was that?"
I shrugged. "That was Mike."
"That is not even what I meant."
"What?" I frowned. "What did you mean?"
He gestured from me to the door where Mike had left. He spluttered inarticulately. "You—you were about to kiss!"
"Oh." I blinked. "Oh! We were, weren't we?"
"Oh, dear lord it's like talking to a third grader." He scrubbed a hand through his hair. "Yes, you clearly were. Who is he even?"
"Mike." I shrugged again. "My coworker. He works two cubicles away. I left him my thimble collection in my will."
Phil sat down heavily on the edge of my desk. "I can't believe this didn't come up in 'never have I ever.' How long?"
"How long what?"
"Have you…" He tried to turn "been getting it on" into a hand gesture and failed. "You know."
"Never at all. He asked me out a week ago and I said I'd think about it. This was the follow up visit." I started typing at my computer again.
"Follow up—" He sighed. "And you went and said yes."
"Ah." I waved a finger at him. "I said a resounding 'maybe.' I'll probably be dead before the day is out, according to you."
"I know." He seemed to deflate a little bit. "Well, hopefully you don't die. Then you can… whatever."
"Go on a date?"
He winced. "Yeah, that."
I pulled away from my computer to stare at him. "Phil, are you… Like, against the gay or something? Because I have to say after last night I didn't expect that from you."
He went pale. "Last night? What happened; what'd I do?"
"You and that one guy." I tried to perform the same "getting it on" hand gesture and failed. "With the dancing?"
"Oh." He frowned. "I remember that. I'm not against 'the gay' or whatever; I just don't think it's a good idea for you to promise a guy something when you know you can't deliver."
"I didn't promise anything," I explained calmly. "He knows full well that I'll probably die."
"Stop saying that."
"That you're going to die."
I stared at him. "Phil, you're the one—"
"I know!" He waved my logic away. "It's just depressing when you say it like that." I started to respond but he cut me off. "You should probably get back to work."
I nodded. "Yeah. Back to work." I frowned at him, completely unable to understand him.
"By the way," I said as I turned back to my computer. "Roll the sleeves down."
"Your shirts need to breathe a little." He smiled shiftily at me, glad the tension was broken at least a little. "It's good for them. You'll thank me later."
I rolled my eyes. "Sure," I said. "Whatever you say."
"Okay." I let out a yawn and stretched my arms out, reveling as my back popped back into place. "It's lunch time. You hungry?"
Phil glanced up from the book and nodded. "Yeah, sure." He marked his page and tossed his empty soda can in the garbage. "Where to?"
I grabbed my messenger bag and slung it over my shoulder. "There's a diner down the street. I've got enough of a lunch break to go there, if that's okay?"
I checked out for my lunch break and we headed down the street.
"This place has pretty good burgers," I told him.
Phil laughed. "Good, I can't resist—" He froze, and his eyes went wide. He tried to stumble forward only to crash against the wall.
"Phil? Are you okay?" I grabbed a hold of him, holding him up as he panted into the brick wall.
"Yeah, it's me. What's wrong?"
He twisted around and I looked where he was staring. A tiny young woman with flowing black hair was marching towards us with purpose. Phil shifted in front of me.
"You need to leave."
"What? Is this…?"
Phil was shaking. The woman was practically on top of us. "Please," he whispered. "Just don't be a fucking hero."
She pulled out a handgun and pointed it directly at Phil's heart.
"You son of a bitch!" she screamed. Phil cowered.
"Don't you dare speak!" The other pedestrians dispersed like rabbits. I hoped some of them would at least have the courage to call the cops. "You killed my brother!"
"Shut up! You killed him! I know you did. How else could you know so damn much about what happened to him?" She jabbed him in the chest with the gun and grimaced at him. "They even had you arrested, but they let you go."
"I didn't kill anyone!" Phil protested.
"Shut up! Just shut up!"
"Please! This isn't necessary." I carefully nudged Phil away and stood beside him, fully aware of the gun hovering inches away from us. "Let's just talk this through."
"No." She was shaking, tears streaming down her face. "He-he killed my brother. He deserves to die."
It was like slow motion. Her eyes fluttered shut. Her finger twitched against the trigger. She pulled the trigger millimeter by millimeter. Phil gasped. He tugged me away.
I swiped at the gun and it went off.
I fell backwards, my hands moving automatically to the pain erupting from my stomach. The woman took a step back, then another, before running away.
"Jesus Christ, Sammy." Phil dropped to his knees, staring at me.
"She shot me."
"I know. Oh God, I know." He pressed the palm of his hand into the wound and I hissed. "Just hold still. God damn, just hold still." He looked up. "Someone call a damn ambulance!"
I looked down at myself, gasping at the plume of red escaping through Phil's fingers. "It—I can't." I fell back. "You knew."
"Just now." He was crying. "I warned you. Fuck, Sammy. I said don't be a hero. You just had to try and knock the damn gun away."
I reached up and grabbed his shirt, entangling my fingers between the buttons and cloth. "I'm going to…"
"No!" He shook his head, pressing harder into my wound. I could hardly feel it anymore. "You can't die."
"You saw it."
"I did." He nodded. "But it doesn't have to happen. You don't have to die."
"I…" I smiled. My vision felt fuzzy. "Phil, look at me."
He gasped, staring at me intently. His fingers spasmed as he tried to keep my blood from escaping. My grip on his shirt loosened.
"What?" He shook his head and leaned in as if he'd heard me wrong.
"I'm thanking you now."
He was saying something else, a protest, a promise, an apology. I couldn't hear him. My ears roared as I leaned back, relaxing against the cool concrete. I felt nothing. My vision went dark and the last thing I saw was his worried face hovering over me, calling my name in desperation.
And I died.
It was like swimming, up and up, to try and reach a light I didn't even know was there. I didn't know which way I was going. I may have been sinking, or floating, inches away, or miles away. I was just… there.
I opened my eyes.
The hard fluorescent lights greeted me. I blinked at them woozily. My head flopped to the side of its own volition and I stared at the rows and rows of tubes sticking from my arms.
There was a thunk to my right and I barely managed to turn my head to look. Phil leapt from a chair and dashed over to me, hovering nervously.
"Yeah. Who else would it be?"
My stomach hurt like crazy. I draped an arm over it as if that might help. I could feel a square of gauze beneath the sheet covering me.
"I didn't die?"
Phil coughed nervously. "Well, technically you did. Three times, actually." He smiled brilliantly. "But then you came back."
"Oh." I winced. The needles in my arms tried to tug away. "What… What happened?"
"You were shot."
"The paramedics resuscitated you. You died again on the way. You went into surgery and almost got lost again." He worried at his lower lip and reached out his hand, interlacing his fingers in mine. "They said you didn't have any family that could make it out here. Just an aunt and she doesn't fly. So I… I stayed for you."
I smiled queasily at him. "Thank you."
He winced. "I… of course. Waking up alone… That would have sucked." He held onto my hand tightly as I blinked up at him. He started to shake.
"Sorry." He pulled away. "Just… Sorry. I never thought that I'd—that I'd meet someone and… this." He gestured at himself. "And then I almost lost you."
"I don't—" I winced. "Please, explain."
He dropped to his knees and leaned against the bed. "At first I was surprised. I knew I would have something to do with your… But I thought it was just because I got to warn you." He glanced up at me, his eyes shining. "Then I got to know you. I could tear away. I got too invested. Way, way too invested."
I nodded slowly. "You… what? What happened?"
"I think I fell in love." He didn't look at me. "But I didn't want to love someone who was going to die. Someone I was going to lose. Christ… Sammy, it's my fault you got shot!"
"No." My head swum. He fell in love? "You didn't know that she would do that."
He nodded mutely and stood up. "I should go. You need to get back to your life."
"Please don't." I stared at him, and he stared back. "I…" I groped for the right words. They had to be there somewhere, but they seemed to be hiding. "I need you to stay."
He nodded. He didn't move an inch. "What do you want me to do?"
I reached up my hand and grabbed his shirt, a weak mirror of the events that had ended my life and started it up again. He was still wearing my shirt.
I tugged him down into a kiss.
He kissed back, soft as silk, before pulling away enough to stare at me wide-eyed.
"What about Mike?"
"Tell him I died."