[5]

"Thanks for inviting me," Scott chattered animatedly. "I've never seen a play before!" It was that Saturday, the day of the play, and I stood in the lobby of the theatre.

I had done all I could to try and get rid of the tickets. I asked the security officer in my building if he and his wife would like to go, but he was too busy. It didn't seem like the type of play Mrs. Finnegan would enjoy. I considered selling them or scalping them, but I just didn't have the energy for something like that. And Joe was out of the goddamn question. I hadn't spoken to him since the day in the coffee shop. So, by some slip of my sanity, I offered the tickets to Scott who had enthusiastically accepted. I think I felt that by inviting Scott instead of Joe I was somehow getting back at him.

Scott, however, was blissfully unaware of any of this and was looking around the theater lobby like a preschool kid in a candy shop. People were staring at his
odd attire, but I was used to that by now. Nonetheless, I grabbed his arm before he could run out of my reach and muttered, "Did you have to wear that outfit in here? People usually dress up for this kind of stuff." I was wearing a suit myself.

Scott blinked at me, grinning his lopsided grin. "Oh, don't worry, Robin. I wash it every day." He darted away again, running up to a marble statue of a lion and examining it at its eyelevel. "Look how real this looks, Robin!" People stared at me as I walked over to the sculpture and pretended to inspect it in order to appease Scott.

"Really cool. You might want to keep your voice down."

"Did you see the rugs?" Scott pointed for emphasis. "There's lions on them too! I wonder if they did that on purpose."

"Probably," I mumbled, trying not to sound too sarcastic. "The theater is called the Lionheart Theater." I realized I was talking to myself because Scott had bounced off to the other end of the room and had become fascinated by a painting of a stiff looking old man. "Look at this!" I ran forward and grabbed his hand before he could touch the canvas.

"The sign says not to touch the painting! Can't you read?" I scolded. With embarrassment, I saw children running around the room with parents chasing after them in the same manner as I was.

"Yes," Scott replied happily. He started feeling an intricate pattern carved into the wall. "Did you see the ticket lady?" He asked while tracing the indents. "She's very nice. Her name's Jeanne."

"Yeah." I dragged him away from the wall and into the middle of the room where I was pretty sure he wouldn't be able to cause any damage.

Scott stood there contentedly, then he caught sight of the chandelier directly above him. He let out a little gasp and pointed excitedly. "Look! It's so pretty!" Everyone else in the room couldn't help but look up as well because Scott sounded so excited about it.

"Yeah, it's really great." I tried to sound patient because I knew other people were listening to me. "Can you please just stand here and not say anything?"

"Okay. If it will make you happy," Scott replied. And he started whipping his head around the room like he wanted to take in everything at once. I could tell he was having difficulty not speaking. He was wearing his glasses today, which was good because I was pretty sure they might not let him in if he was wearing a mask.

Just then the lights flickered on and off and people started lining up at the ticket line. "Oh! I think we get to go in now," Scott told me unnecessarily.

"Yup." We got into the back of the line and I steadfastly ignored everyone that was leaning over to take a look at Scott. Haven't people ever seen somebody dressed up in a superhero costume? Geez. They're probably tourists. I see crazy people like Scott in the city all the time.

Scott nervously smoothed out the folds in his cape and his shirt, as if brushing out the wrinkles would make him appear any less oddly dressed. As we approached the front of the line I began to feel a little anxious myself. Maybe there was some attire requirement you had to pass in order to be let into the theater.

The man collecting the tickets took a look at Scott, and then looked to me as if he expected an explanation. As he handed us the playbills, I tried to give him an apologetic look, but he let Scott go by nonetheless. As Scott went ahead, the man pulled me back and asked in a low tone, "He won't be any trouble, will he?"

"No," I said. "He's fine." I felt almost defensive of the costume clad kid, which confused me because I was pretty sure I had decided I hated him.

I followed Scott and watched as he bounded up the stairs to the balcony much faster than I was able to. Our seats were pretty far in the back, but that was unsurprising. Since I'd gotten the tickets at half price, I hadn't expected great seating. Scott didn't seem to care though. He squeezed into the middle of the row and plopped himself down. I sat next to him and started examining the playbill, faking interest so that I wouldn't have to talk to Scott who was now bouncing up and down in the folding seat, his eyes fixed on the stage. He watched the closed curtains with almost as much attention as he did when he looked out the bus window. Annoyed, I turned to him. "The play doesn't start for another ten minutes, you know. You don't have to start looking at the stage."

Scott grinned at me. "Oh, but look at the curtains, Robin! They're red, yellow and blue!"

"So?"

"So?" Scott repeated, as though surprised at me. "Those are Superman's colors!"

I rolled my eyes. "Okay…You know, a lot of things are red, yellow and blue but that doesn't mean they have anything to do with Superman."

"I know that," Scott replied, still smiling at the curtains, "But they're still nice to look at, I think."

I rolled my eyes again and turned my attention back to the playbill. None of the actors were very well known but the reviews scattered throughout the pamphlet boasted performances that would "astound" and "inspire." I read the synopsis of the play to myself.

"'Soul' is a groundbreaking show about a man's struggle with himself and those around him. Throughout the play, the decisions that he makes not only affect himself, but they affect the lives of his children and his wife. In a desperate attempt to make him undo the wrongs that he has committed, his own soul takes a physical form and reasons with the man to change his ways. An examination of what makes us human and how the decisions we make change the lives of others, 'Soul' will no doubt leave you on your feet with applause, wanting more."

"Robin," I heard Scott say just as I was reading something interesting about one of the actors.

"Huh?"

"Stand up. Someone wants to get by."

"Oh." I looked over and saw that he was right. A woman was trying to get to her seat and I hadn't even noticed. "Sorry," I said, standing up and letting her pass by me. She sat down two seats to my right.

Within a few moments, the lights began to dim gradually. Scott inhaled sharply and abruptly stopped bouncing up and down on his chair, remaining still in anticipation.

"Good evening, ladies and gentlemen," a cool female voice announced through the overhead speakers. "Welcome to the Lionheart Theater. We ask that you turn your cell phones off now."

Scott leaned toward me. "Did you turn your cell phone off?" he whispered. I hurriedly did, so as to not upset Scott who would probably cause a scene if I didn't.

"We'd like to remind the audience that flash photography is prohibited," the voice went on, "as it is a distraction and a danger to the actors."

"You didn't bring your camera, did you?" Scott whispered to me.

"No," I hissed back, annoyed. "Since when did I ever have a camera?"

"Should you have to leave any time during the performance, wait for an usher to open the doors for you. Please note the emergency exits located at the rear, sides, and the front of the theatre." I saw Scott twist around in his chair and look over both his shoulders, no doubt obeying the announcer's words. "Thank you for your cooperation, and we hope you enjoy the show."

With that, the lights dimmed further and a hush fell over the crowd. Scott adjusted his glasses nervously and sat on the edge of his chair in anticipation of the curtain rising.

And so the play began. It was good enough, I suppose. Probably one of the better plays I'd seen in a while. The staging was clever, especially the way they incorporated the protagonist's soul. The story was good too, and engaging. Every so often I'd sneak a sideways peek at Scott. He was leaning forward slightly, staring intently at the stage, blinking too much as he always did. The stage lights cast colored reflections on his round glasses. He looked like a little kid sitting there, absorbing everything and paying attention to each detail.

Presently, I became aware of the woman sitting two seats to my right making an annoying noise with her nose. She kept sniffing every few seconds somewhat loudly, and it was disrupting my concentration. I felt like asking her to stop, but there was a man sitting next to me blocking the way so I couldn't see myself making the effort. But she kept on sniffing and it became so annoying that I felt I had to complain to someone. So I turned to Scott and whispered to him, "Can you hear that woman sniffling? If she has a cold or something, she should go to the bathroom and blow her nose."

Scott tore his eyes from the stage and looked at me with a sad expression. "Robin, she doesn't have a cold. She's crying."

I fell mute for a few seconds and listened to her sniffling. Now that Scott mentioned it, it did kind of sound like she was crying. How did he know that?

Eventually the first act ended and the lights rose on the house for intermission. Immediately, Scott sprung up and moved to my right. "Excuse me," he said. "I'm going to see what's wrong." I watched him from afar as he took the woman aside in the aisle and spoke to her in a hushed tone. He offered her a tissue from his belt (this surprised me because I'd never thought of his big yellow "utility" belt as actually having anything in it) and she took it gratefully. Then she left, to the ladies' room I assumed. Scott returned and took his seat next to me again.

"Well?" I asked. "Did you find out what was wrong?"

"Oh, yes," he replied, and he wiped his glasses on his white shirt. "She said that she invited her boyfriend to come see the show with her, but he never showed up. That's why the seat next to her was empty. Plus, she said the play was sad too."

I shook my head, disbelievingly. "Why do you do that all the time?"

He tilted his head questioningly. "Why do I do what?"

"Why do you always ask people what's wrong with them whenever you think there might be a problem?" My voice sounded bitter.

I felt like I should have expected his answer. "Because I want to help people."

Smacking the playbill on my lap, I responded, "But sometimes people don't want help. Maybe they don't want you prying into their business."

I thought I'd gotten Scott there but he answered me fairly quickly. "You're right, Robin. Sometimes they don't want help. But more often than not, if you show that you care about them, even in the littlest ways, sometimes that's enough."

Shaking my head, I turned back to the playbill. "Yeah, I don't know what that means."

"It means," Scott began, in a surprisingly serious voice, "Exactly what you think it means." I saw him staring at me with his blinking eyes and I felt uneasy. I felt like I'd disappointed him. But I felt even more uneasy that I actually cared that I'd disappointed him.

After what seemed like an eternity of sitting in an awkward silence with Scott to my left, the lights dimmed once more and the second act began. Scott leaned forward and put his elbows on his lap, propping his head up. He looked like a little kid in a candy shop again, and I hoped that he'd forgotten my comments since he was so lost in the play.

It reached an exciting climax, where the main character's soul thought it was going to save his body, but in the end his body murdered his soul. Subsequently, he had to live the rest of his life, empty and without meaning. It was a pretty depressing ending, if you ask me. After the curtain call, (where Scott gave the cast a standing ovation) I grabbed my jacket and started to ford my way toward the exit. Then Scott saw the woman who had been crying and waved, smiling at her. She smiled back through her watery eyes. Feeling a sudden impulse, I smiled at her too. She noticed and her smile doubled in size. Scott, his cape flapping after him as he walked, looked very contented as he headed down the stairs and back into the lobby.

"What did you think?" I asked him, although I didn't really feel like it was necessary for me to ask in order to know what his opinion was.

"It was so great!" he exclaimed. "I thought the actors were talented. The script was brilliant. Did you notice the way the main character would twitch whenever someone said the word 'love'? I thought that was an interesting character trait."

"Yeah, well…" I stuck my hands in my pockets as we headed outside. "I thought the ending was a bit of a downer. You know, with him murdering his own soul and whatnot."

"Oh, but it wasn't all sad," Scott replied. "Don't you remember what the old woman said about how souls can't be destroyed? And that little girl was playing with the rubber ball in the end? That was the same ball his soul had in the beginning. So it hinted that his soul had been reborn in someone else."

I watched as fog came out of my open mouth when I exhaled. "Yeah, I never really got into English when I was in school."

Scott shook his head and kept on rambling about the significance of certain things in the story and how they were important to the overall message. I wasn't really listening and I just kept nodding at regular intervals to make it seem like I was interested. We drew up in front of my building almost before I realized we were there. I stopped and put a hand on one of the doors. "So I guess I'll see you later," I said.

Scott grinned and stood there waving at me, even though I was right in front of him. "Okay. Thank you so much for the ticket, Robin. It was a lot of fun. I've never seen a play before!"

"Sure, no problem," I mumbled and entered the lobby of my apartment building. Instantly, I realized what I'd done. I had shown Scott where I lived. I whipped backward to see if Scott was still there, but he had vanished into the streets. Cursing myself for my stupidity, I started to move past the security guard.

"Was that your friend?" he asked, smirking, no doubt, at Scott's attire.

"No," I mumbled quickly and hurried up to my room.

Flipping through the TV channels, I felt pleased that I'd taken Scott to the play instead of Joe. Because it's like I'm getting back at him, I told myself. Scott's not my friend. Hastily, I took the ticket stub out of my pocket and slapped it on the coffee table.

I was beginning to doze off as I watched some mind numbing reality show when there were three sharp knocks at my door. Confused, I reached for the clock. The red lights blinked nine pm back at me. Blearily, I shuffled to the door. Just before I opened it, I realized that it might be Scott and I froze in panic. Thinking better of it, I peeked through the peephole. It was Joe.

Silently, I let my hand drop and I sat back down on the couch. Joe knocked again, more insistently. Still, I ignored him. "Rob, open the door, man. I can hear the TV on. You're not fooling anyone." Reluctantly, but figuring that I had no choice, I got up and did as he said. I stared Joe down with narrowed eyes and he stared right back at me, angrily. "Look," he said. "We need to talk. Can I come in?"

I shrugged impassively and moved aside. "Fine."

Joe moved into my apartment and immediately flung himself down upon the sofa. "Okay, so, I know you're kind of angry at me for doing Sheila."

"Kind of?" I didn't try to hold back my sarcasm.

"But, there's nothing that can be done about it now. We're pals, man! Why don't we just start hanging out again like…" He trailed off as something on the coffee table caught his eye. With a cold expression, he snatched up my ticket stub. "You saw a play tonight?" he asked.

"…Yeah." I stiffened.

"By yourself?"

"No." I wanted him to know that I went to the play without him, but I didn't want him to know that I'd gone with Scott. "I went with a friend."

Joe sneered, "You don't have any friends. I'm your only friend."

"No," I glowered. "You're not."

Joe looked surprised, then resentful again. "Look, I'll make it up to you, okay?"

"Sure you will." I kept my gaze at the TV, refusing to meet his eyes.

Joe got up and left, and I felt all the better for it.

The next night, as I stood waiting for the bus by myself, I heard someone calling my name. Half expecting to see Scott running up to me, I turned, but Joe was there instead. I felt a small wave of disappointment and I glowered at him as he approached me. "Hey, Rob," he said, a little out of breath.

"Hi." I wondered vaguely if he really meant to salvage our friendship.

"Alright, so I've got an idea of how I can make it up to you. You know that superhero guy that won't stop following you around?" I felt a cold dread start to spread around in my stomach. "Well, I've got an idea to keep him from bothering you ever again." He looked very pleased with himself.

"No…" I mumbled somewhat incoherently. "Don't do that…think of something else."

"What?" Joe put his arm around my shoulder in what he supposed was a friendly fashion. "We're buddies, Rob. Come on, it'll be fun, I guarantee it."

Before I could protest anymore, the bus rolled in front of us. I could see Scott's face inside, looking out. He saw me and smiled, waving. Inwardly, I cringed but I managed to half heartedly wave back at him. "Joe," I hissed as we ascended the steps, "its fine. Just leave him alone." But Joe wouldn't listen to me and he energetically climbed the steps after me.

I guess I felt sort of protective of Scott, because I sat down next to him so Joe wouldn't be able to. He gave me an annoyed look, but sat down in the seat in front of us, simply turning around to look back at Scott who was, of course, looking out the window. I felt like I should warn the caped guy, but I couldn't find the strength to do so.

"Hello, Robin!" Scott exclaimed happily, seemingly unaware of the danger he was in.

"…Hey," I replied. Joe looked delighted at the prospect of tormenting Scott. Catching his eye, I shook my head slowly. He didn't get the hint. He never did.

"Oh, thanks again for the tickets, Robin! The show was a lot of fun!" Oh, god…I cringed visibly, and Joe saw.

"You invited this guy to go see a play with you, Robin?" his lip curled. "This guy's your friend?" I could feel the stares of everyone on the bus on the back of my neck. I could see the mocking glint in Joe's eyes as he waited to pounce on my answer. And I could see the reflection of Scott's face as he gave me a little smile through the window. I broke eye contact with Joe and couldn't bring myself to respond, not in front of Scott, anyway. "That's rich," Joe's voice was dripping with sarcasm. "I thought I was your best friend, man. Anyway, why would you want to go out in public with this freak?" Still, I didn't respond. Joe shook his head disbelievingly and turned back to face the front. Fleetingly, I thought that Scott had been spared. We drove in silence for the rest of the bus ride. Mercifully, Scott was silent as well, maybe realizing that it was better not to talk with Joe around.

As the bus neared my stop though, Joe turned back around and poked Scott in the shoulder. I looked away and started to lean into the aisle so I could make a quick getaway. "Hey, Scottie," Joe said. "Remember me?"

"I do, sir," Scott replied very politely and calmly.

"Look," Joe turned on the schmaltzy acting bit that he always liked to do. "I'm sorry that I was mean to you the other day. I just was having a tough time at home. Do you think we can be friends?" I chanced a sideways glance at them and saw that Joe was holding his hand out to Scott. I saw Scott smiling in the window reflection and, without moving his gaze from outside, he shook Joe's hand warmly. I let out my breath incredulously. Joe was playing really dirty here, hitting at Scott's weak spots.

The bus ground to a stop and I rose to get off. "Come on," I snapped at Joe as I passed him in the aisle.

"Hold on," Joe said and he put a hand on Scott's shoulder. "Hey, Scottie, do you think you can help me out with something?"

"Of course." Scott looked delighted at the prospect.

"Alright." Joe looked delighted too, although not in Scott's innocent way. "Can you come with me and Robert…I mean Robin? It would mean a lot to us if you did."

Dammit, Joe, don't include me in your stupid plan. I hopped off the bus, but I waited for them, mostly because I didn't want to leave Scott alone with Joe. They both followed me off the bus, Scott with his round glasses and his flapping cape, and Joe with his sadistic grin.

"Okay," Joe said to Scott. "Follow us. We're so grateful that you've decided to help us."

"It's not a problem," Scott replied as he strode behind us, looking very proud. "I'm happy to help my friends."

"What the hell are you doing?" I hissed at Joe so Scott wouldn't hear.

"You'll see," he replied grinning.

We approached the Morton Williams so I slowed down. "Hey, guys," I said, but Joe kept on walking past me.

"This way, Scott!" Joe proclaimed, leading Scott past the store.

"I've got to go to work!" I shouted after them, but Joe didn't turn back. Muttering to myself, I ran after them.

We kept walking for about five minutes, and I had no idea what Joe was planning to do, but a feeling of foreboding was hanging over me. I asked Joe what was going on again, but he just laughed and whispered back, "I'm just winging this."

Eventually he led us into an alleyway, vacant except for a rancid smelling dumpster. "This looks about right," Joe announced, surveying the scene.

"About right for what?" Scott asked, adjusting his glasses and squinting into the darkness.

"This is about where Robin and I lost our important business papers."

"…Robin works as a cashier at Morton Williams…" Scott replied, looking confused.

"Why, yes, that he does, my smart friend. But…" I could tell he was improvising. "But Robin and I were working on an important business paper together and it accidently got thrown in the garbage."

"You mean in that dumpster?" Scott asked, examining the large receptacle.

"Yes. We'd like you to climb inside and look for the paper for us. We'd do it, but we're too big, you know? You have a more…lithe physique."

I blanched. Surely Scott was smart enough not to accept that offer. But, he rolled up his sleeves with a determined glint in his eyes. "I'll do it. That would be no problem."

Irritated, I grabbed his sleeve. "It's okay, Scott. The papers weren't that important."

But Scott shook his head. "No, Robin, it's fine." Without another word, he pulled away from me, hoisted himself up with surprising dexterity and jumped out of sight into the interior of the dumpster.

Instantly, Joe broke out into a fit of laughter. "Oh, man, I can't believe he actually did that!"

"What does the paper look like?" Scott's voice echoed from inside.

"It's white. And square." Joe was beside himself in hysterics. "Wait." He walked up to the dumpster, jumped up, and pulled down the lid. It closed with a loud bang.

"Joe!" I shouted angrily.

"Um, could someone open the lid again? I can't see anything. I can't find the paper if I can't see." Joe was practically on the ground he was laughing so hard. "…Robin? Could you open the lid, please? The air in here…it smells really bad. It's kind of hard to breathe." I heard some banging on the inside as Scott vainly tried to force the lid open. Feeling sick, I moved forward to do as he asked. Suddenly, Joe jumped in front of me, blocking my way.

"What are you doing?"

"I'm letting him out."

"Oh, come on, man. It's hilarious." He wiped some tears from the corner of his eye.

"No." I felt rage start to bubble inside me. "It's not." With a rush of fury, all the revulsion I felt for Joe was suddenly released in the form of a right hook to his jaw. He staggered backwards, his hand on the spot where I'd hit him. Wheeling around, he looked back at me, surprise etched on his face. "Dammit, why didn't I ever realize what a jackass you are? You sleep with Sheila and you torment people you barely know? How goddamn old are you?"

Joe's look of surprise melted into one of anger. "What the hell are you talking about? We've been best friends for years."

I kept on bellowing, ignoring the people walking by and staring at the commotion. "You've always been like this! Remember Anna? Remember her?"

Joe jabbed his finger violently at me. "What about her? You said you were fine with it. You said you didn't care."

I smacked his finger away. "Yeah, that's what I said. How the hell did you think I felt that you slept with my girlfriend? Dammit, why didn't I just ditch you? You're an asshole."

Joe's eyes narrowed. "What's gotten into you? I haven't changed at all."

"Exactly! That's the problem! You never change! You never learn!" I rounded on him again. "Maybe I'm the one who changed. Maybe I finally changed enough to realize how much crap you put me through."

Joe laughed bitterly. "You? Change?" He gave me a look of contempt. "You'll never change. You'll always be the selfish, pathetic loser that you are. You'll never have any friends or a girl because you treat everyone like shit," he spat.

"Go away," I lowered my voice and stared him down. "Get lost. Don't come back." Giving me one last look of loathing, Joe turned on his heels and stormed out of the alleyway and into the streets where he soon disappeared.

Remembering Scott, I managed to open the dumpster lid and I looked inside. Scott was sitting in the middle of the piles of garbage, his arms hugging his knees which were pulled up to his chest. He didn't look up at me. Letting out a sigh, I heaved myself over the top with some difficulty and landed next to him in the refuse. There was a silence in which I tried not to breathe so much since the odor was stinging my nostrils. Then Scott spoke in a quiet voice. "There wasn't any paper, was there."

"…No…" I chose to look at the garbage rather than look him in the eye. "No, there wasn't."

Scott continued to sit there and I stayed next to him, feeling like it was least I could do. Eventually, he spoke again. "This place smells bad."

"Yeah."

"I think we should get out now."

"Sure."

We climbed out of the dumpster together, ignoring the inevitable gawking from the people in the street. Scott looked sadly down at his now soiled superhero outfit. "Now I need to wash my clothes again."

I nodded sympathetically. "Well, I've got to get to work now and I can't change because I'm late enough already. So I have to go smelling like a human garbage can."

That got a little chuckle out of Scott who tried to brush himself off and make himself look presentable. As presentable as one can look in a superhero costume. It didn't work. "Do you want to get a cup of coffee tomorrow?" I asked, surprising myself.

"Okay!" Now Scott was grinning lopsidedly ear to ear.

"How about three o'clock at the Coffee Lounge? Do you know where that is?"

"Oh, yes." Scott blinked several times at me, looking ecstatic.

"Okay, then. I'll see you tomorrow," I said and started to leave.

"Robin, I think you're a good friend," I heard Scott say behind me. I turned around to say something back, but he was already gone.

It felt very awkward walking into work so visibly disheveled, but I didn't care. Making sure to avoid Sheila's office, I took my place at the register. Right away, Lisa put her hand over her nose and gave me a face. "What did you roll in?"

I shrugged, watching my potential customers gravitate toward Lisa instead. "Specifically? A banana peel, a half eaten donut, some gum wrappers, old newspapers…"

"You're so weird." Lisa stuck up her nose at me and went back to swiping items.