Spit on a Stranger

Part II

pages (9) to (19)


He's at the corner store when she texts him—Olive Yi.

He has a Sprite bottle in his hand, a bag of barbecue chips, and he's scanning the shelves for any other kind of snacks he might crave.

It's all for the travel back home, which is only twenty minutes away and doesn't require food for survival, but he doesn't care. Besides, he'll pick up the slack later tonight or tomorrow morning when he's in the gym. He's skinny by nature—though sometimes a little pudge appears occasionally, but ever since he's been dragging himself tragically to the gym that's faded. In fact, his upper arms have been looking incredibly impressive lately and he doesn't want to toot his own horn or anything, but he's a little proud. He figures he's allowed to be with the amount of pain he wakes up with later.

If everything is looking sharper and less—less evidently un-cared for—and he can't walk around because of that, then he's allowed to be a little proud—a little.

Walter pushes his brown beanie a little higher and looks down at his Blackberry.

He and Olive had traded numbers after they both decided that their conversation wasn't terrible and he took favor of her. Though, mostly, it was so that they could contact each other next time something like this happened, especially since both of them didn't have that many friends in their respective departments. Usually, she never texted at appropriate hours.

(6:05 PM)(Today)
From: Olive

R u doing anything tmrw? I'm free...

And probably bored

He lifts an eyebrow. Is he going to be extroverted enough tomorrow to spend time with her? He likes her presence enough, but sometimes even that wasn't enough to fight the yearning for solitude. Though, Walter figures that he could always just force her to watch a movie with him silently and call that spending time together. She'd be annoyed, but it's the only way and... he sort of likes her anyway.

(6:08 PM)(Today)
To: Olive

No. I'm free.

He hears a couple of kids stomping into the store behind the back of his head as he texts. It's a small store with only three aisles, and he catches their sneakers turn the corner of his, which is the first. It's a school day, and something about that, and them, makes him smile just a little. Turning his head upward, he takes in the small conversations of the kids in front and remembers his own days in middle school—he thinks, he's not sure—before he's pulled back into his phone by the vibration.

(6:11 PM)(Today)
From: Olive

K. What do u wanna do?

Walter shrugs as if she were here, almost habitually, and then remembers his horribly selfish plan.

(6:11 PM)(Today)
To: Olive

We could watch a movie. Some blockbuster hit.

Again, he's pulled into reality by the shouting of the masses in front of his aisle. They seem to be arguing about the size of the treat bags and pastry stuff. Some of them want to share and others don't really care; Walter finds himself amused as he overhears.

"I'm gonna take this one and you guys can have that one—"

"No! I want that one too. I'm paying, like, half," the little boy almost stutters, "I should be able to have some."

"Well, I'm paying for my half, so what the hell?" He hears from an older girl. "Why don't you just pick what you want? Nobody wants to share with you. You're always finishing my stuff anyway."

"I do not!"

"You do! You're so freaking hungry all the time and you finish my stuff!"

"I only finish your stuff as fast as you finish your stuff," Walter hears lastly, stifling a small chuckle, before his phone vibrates in his hand.

(6:16 PM)(Today)
From: Olive

K. Where do u wanna catch it? We could do it halfway?

Walter thinks about the last time he went out to watch a movie and he can't conjure up a decent memory. In fact, he can't remember the last time he bought popcorn or horribly dated chocolate from a concession stand. At first, the movie theater idea is purely out of avoiding conversation, but now he's... excited to go. He hasn't been excited all his life, which is supposed to sound close to an exaggeration but it's really not one. Walter is a bitter thirty-five year old who never gets excited... except for food... and peanut butter cookies.

Walter should get peanut butter cookies.

(6:19 PM)(Today)
To: Olive

Sure. Halfway.

Once he lifts his head, he doesn't hear the kids any longer. They probably made their way to the cash register, which reminds Walter of how long he's been standing here—gazing at his phone like an idiot with sudden, random smiles tinting his cheeks.

He's bitter, but he does smile—particularly at the expensive of others.

Suddenly, at the corner of his eye, Walter thinks he sees a familiar thirty-two-year old.

Stepping forward into the shop, Kip comes with a crowd. It's an array of different men, all different sizes and colors, and Walter is amused by how random the set-up seems. He never imagined Kip had friends—mostly, because Kip is way more irritating than Walter himself—yet, lo and behold, here he is with a scattered group of thirty-somethings just laughing and clobbering about. He would be annoyed, but... it doesn't really annoy him. Watching people from afar, especially in contentedness, brought him a small, subtle satisfaction and a twinge of boon—as if he were experiencing the moment himself.

His smile slightly fell at that.

"Wally! Ey, man," Kip suddenly blurts.

Walter tries not to laugh at his horribly brown beret. "Kip. Please... just... don't," he groans.

He knows he's been horrible—or well, acidic—the past few days, and he doesn't really know why, but Walter can't really handle talking to Kip right now. He'd rather sit back and watch him unravel with his own friends. Though they've disappeared to separate aisles, Walter can still hear them and the sound of conversation pleases him a bit.

Kip playfully grins. "Oh come on, seriously? I just got here."

"Exactly," Walter quips.

Instead of an "ouch!" or a hand pressed to the chest, Kip laughs. Walter can't fight his own smile that cuts through. "You are so bothered," the brunette comments, "why are you always so bothered? I mean, hey, look—being single and thirty-five sucks—"

"Nice, real nice—" he throws in, maintaining his smile.

"But there's plenty to be excited about," Kip finishes.

"Like?"

"We're still alive."

"That's something to be excited about? Not elated?" Walter tilts his head.

Kip shakes his own head and a smile curls into his cheeks. "Look, I don't know, I can't really think of anything, but there's a lot," he admits, before looking down at Walter's bag of chips, "just not barbecue chips—those taste like sweaty horse feet with sugar, man. Where is your taste?"

Walter doesn't formulate a response. He just smiles and looks away, annoyed that Kip is capable of amusing him and making him laugh—intentionally.

For a moment, after the little banter exchange, they just stand there in silence—but it's not awkward. It's a strange atmosphere of animosity and curiosity. Walter can't understand why Kip struggles to make his way into Walter's life—or focus. They've been at this weird tirade and distanced by this thread for years. Ever since he made his way into the department, Kip has been by his side like a faithful dog—one who makes you bleed profusely by his big bite whenever you play around with him. On the other hand, Walter is the dog that bites back and hides under the bed. Kip keeps trying to bother him and ends up with lesions the size of a cup. It makes no sense—they're not friends—and, yet, Kip keeps trying to be.

"Hey, look, man," he hears, shaking him out of his reverie, "we're having a game night tonight, man—Monopoly, CLUE, Sorry, all those horrible games. You should come, it'll be fun."

Walter listens in on the conversations scattered among the aisles. He's not really interested in engaging with people; observing is mostly his thing. "I'm not into that—"

"You're coming, man," Kip blurts, grabbing his shoulder, "I know all the little stuff going on in your mind. You're meant for these games—and I wanna win tonight so I'm gonna need a genius and an ally—so you're coming."

Walter feels his comfort shrinking. Extroversion requires immaculate preparation. "Kip, I'm not—"

"Hey, guys, Walter's coming with us tonight," the thirty-two-year old says, turning on his heel to find his friends. Walter doesn't even have time to negotiate.

He doesn't know exactly what happens to him in that moment. The store door is ajar, open to the streets, and he could flee—albeit, the rain slowly clattering outside and blurring out the windows. He could run from Kip—and run from his friends—and avoid all interaction with humanity. He's neutral enough in morality to not feel bad about ditching and running, especially with his intense disdain for... well, engaging. However, Walter doesn't run. He stays in the exact same place that Kip turned away from. He stares at the door, stares at his escape, and doesn't move. He doesn't know why. Listening in on conversations between the peer and his friends, Walter can't figure out why he stays calmly, collectedly, where he found him.

He stares at the blurry window beside him, the brown and orange hues of the store reflecting across the glass, and just waits.

Walter, essentially, decides to go, because ultimately it's not really Kip that forces him to.

It's the world.


The night doesn't go as bad as Walter expected. It was... okay, silly and incredibly irritating, but... okay. He had a fine time by what he considers socializing and he doesn't have actual complaints about it. In fact, he has no complaints—it was only irritating because, well... people and that's it's own box of classifications, but it wasn't irritating—and something about that bothers him. Itches at him.

Walter shifts in his seat next to Olive. His arm rubs against hers, which provokes her to turn at him and smile before facing the gigantic, flashing screen. He almost feels bad, almost but not really, at how much he's not paying attention, but, at the very least, Walter can tell the movie isn't bad. It's actually a decent action film and he'd enjoy it if his head wasn't itching at him.

"I can't freaking stand this guy," Olive mumbles in an attempt to be discreet, "what's his reason for being in this movie? And, I can't take him seriously with that duster jacket."

Walter stifles a hard, violent chuckle. He doesn't even try looking at her because he knows he'll laugh loudly and he's already shaking under his palm.

He wants to be upset that he's socialized twice this week, but it's not really bothering him. He likes laughing and he likes being mean—and all of that seems to be possible with people in his life. Walter doesn't hate people, but they're not his favorite past time. He avoids them all he can like he would if he saw a group of mice coming his way in a narrow, dark hallway. Underneath the vibration and the hum of the speakers around him, he can hear his mind silently crack, quickly then gradually, at the possibility of having friends in his life. It's not a question or an uncertain hypothetical thought; friendship is now a ridiculously easy possibility. He can now possibly have friends.

Walter. . . Walter doesn't want that. Not at all, he guesses.

"I mean, it's a whole new century," Olive continues, "who wears orange glasses and black jackets anymore?"

The blonde beside her blinks rapidly, but she doesn't notice. He thinks he might be having a panic attack. Can be breathe? Can he hear?

He doesn't want friends. He's never wanted them, Walter concludes. Maybe, before, at a certain point in time, he couldn't care to have friends. He was comfortable with the idea that people would eventually be his friend, even if he couldn't care for them, but... well, now he knows. Walter never wanted friends. He was just lying. He doesn't want Kip—hell, he'd spit on that idea.

His hand clutches the armrest so tight he feels like his fingertips will bleed, like his hands are going to leave dents. Wasn't he laughing just a second ago? What's going on?

What's happening to him?

I thought you didn't fear ties—or the possibility of them, he hears, somewhere.

"I don't," he says, out loud, and his heart stops.

Who hurt you? Something asks—again.

Olive turns from the screen in front of her and faces him. Immediately, habitually, her eyes are soft and focused. Walter wishes that weren't spent on whatever the hell is happening to him. He wishes that were spent in the light, in a park, on a bench somewhere. Gasping for his breath, he realizes that it's here he'll ever see Olive look at him like that.

"Are you okay?"

He wants to lie, but he doesn't—can't. "No."

The theater is practically empty—thankfully—and the only people to ever hear them are two seats below them. One of those individuals is wearing a red hat and the other is taller, has a thick neck. Walter tries to focus on those two people, tries to pretend he knows their lives, but the flashing of the screen before him blinds his mind and he can't think. All he can think about is that—that fear now engulfing his entire sense of mobility and control. He's being swallowed by his own arrogance, Walter hears. He's being swallowed by the truth—that he's afraid, that he's scared.

Olive grabs his hands in hers reflexively. "Look at me," she begins, but Walter can't. He's out of control, out of control, o—

"Hey," she says a little louder, grabbing his face in her hand, "look at me—look! I... am... here," she slowly says.

Walter looks down at her eyes, at her brown eyes, and the noise around him fogs. He's never noticed how soft her eyes already are. Just naturally.

Olive looks up at him.

She blinks.

The lights reflect off of her face.

He can't hear the movie.

Walter breathes in.

"You're... okay," she tells him, rubbing her thumb on his cheek.

Walter would kiss her in any other situation, but he's just regained his breath and he's... well, he knows he's not thinking right. In a sudden rush of yearning or understanding, anyone has the inclination to kiss someone—to kiss the pretty girl—but he stops himself. He's still landing, his thoughts are still swimming away, and the first biological reaction would be to kiss the person that saved you. Walter's not going to do that because it's not what he actually wants... right? He actually wants to kiss Cleo. Cleo Gardener.

Olive's eyes gaze at his, but it's done cautiously as if to see that Walter is still in there. Walter's not sure he is right now, he thinks, and Olive can see that, he figures. She can see everything inside of him right now, can't she?

The girl doesn't waste a second, clearly worried, and she kisses him.

Walter doesn't know how to react. In fact, he doesn't. He slinks against her, almost unknowingly, and just lets it happen—for a second. He feels his nose squish on hers almost as if gravity has pushed him back onto the ground, in just a beat, before he blinks, rapidly, discerningly, and pulls away.

He... he liked it. . .

"Are you okay? I didn't know what else to do. I—I kind of panicked," Olive admits, rubbing the back of her neck suddenly.

In the flashing lights, Walter can tell that something is different. He has reawakened and it's like everything is clearer when it's really not. Yet, Olive looks so different in the lavender lights and he's speechless—as of a result of everything, his... fears, his attack, the idea that maybe he's been running all along from the world he's been so obsessed to be apart of, and the... the kiss.

"I—I'm fine," he blurts, "it's okay."

Then, Walter turns in his seat and faces the movie, faces the prospect of liking somebody else, of having to pick somebody else—as if Olive even likes him that way.

He doesn't turn around to look at her even once after that.


He's avoided Kip successfully all day, as well as Olive—though that's easier since they don't work around each other—and he doesn't feel as completely embarrassed he should.

Walter is thirty-five years old, leaning close to thirty-six, and he's avoiding conversations for reasons that everyone else is completely in confusion for. He hasn't received any confrontational texts, but it's not like he's going to answer anyway. Sitting in his feelings yesterday, he was so stressed that he ate, at least, two boxes of peanut butters—and even if he usually finishes two boxes anyway, he never went to the gym to feel better about it, to feel rationally sound about it. He just let himself... feel. Disappointed, disturbed, and angry, Walter assesses.

It's eight o'clock here at the office, which he can see if he angles his head up enough to face the electric clock a few cubicles away.

He would usually be home right now, but his growing depression—a little bit of an exaggeration—makes that impossible. Walter can't be home right now with his... feelings; he's feeling awfully nauseous and... well, upset, but it's not an upset that flickers on and then off like an excited firefly would after journeying a long travel. It's an upset that resembles that crack in the wall, the one that gets longer and longer, until it splits the wall in half and suddenly that entire room is intensely fragile.

It's like that.

He feels so ridiculously fragile and he's fighting the urge to eat the peanut butter cookies in his satchel right now.

"Walter?"

The blonde looks up.

In the only light reflecting across this level, Walter sees Cleo.

Cleo, he almost breathes out. He needs to see a constant right now.

The girl looks at him with curious, worried eyes. He responds with a small smile, but it's just as pathetic as he thinks it is. His eyes look like teardrops and he knows it. "Are you okay? What are you doing here?" She asks, holding her folders against her chest.

Walter slumps against his black computer chair, the spinning kind—which he totally didn't buy to play around with—and throws his yellow highlighter on the table. Immediately, his smile goes away. "I was just doing some extra work. I can't go home and I still haven't finished my article."

Cleo straightens her back slightly. Now, she's even more concerned. "Why can't you go home?"

Her voice is so warm it burns through Walter's conscience to lie, but he doesn't want to talk about his feelings. He's already feeling so much stuff, so much jumbled, garbled, rotting garbage, and he can't afford to unfold all of that and, well... break. He's going to break if he does. Not-tears-streaming-dramatically-break, but... just... Walter can feel it. He won't be the same... if he... does break. Everything is going to be different if I do, he fears. Nothing is going to be the same. I won't be able to look at myself.

"I just have so much to do... here," he lies.

Cleo smiles—beams, actually. "Well, then let me help you," she quietly offers, as soft as a whisper.

Walter wants to be so close to her more than anything right now, especially right now, but he just needs to... think. He needs his thoughts to be organized and rationalized and he can't do that with Cleo around. He's still coming to grips with his churning feelings for the other girl, the one with black hair, and rationalizing really, really helps.

"No, it's okay," he tells her, lifting his hands. Walter slightly breaks just looking at her eyes fall. She looked relieved in her purposefulness. "I'm good, it's nothing I can't... handle," he lies once more, but this time it's clearly about something else.

The girl gazing at him takes a step forward and leans against his desk. "Can I ask you something?"

Walter silently panics. "Yeah."

She pushes her strand behind her ear, gold little lines dance in the light, and Walter almost loses focus. She's so beautiful, he thinks. Shouldn't I still tell her that? Instead, Cleo looks away and across from herself, but Walter doesn't say a thing. "How do you know when you're doing enough?"

Walter's eyebrow does a dance. "Enough? What—what do you mean?"

Cleo turns to face him again, but only from her hip to the little hairs floating on her head. "I mean, how do you know you're doing your part? How do you know you're fulfilling your... um, position well enough? Like, um, the space that you're taking in society? The seat that life bought for you and expected of you to... use it... right, I don't know."

"Well, I don't really know," he answers, twisting his lips to the side, "I don't think about life that way."

"How do you think about life then?" Her smile is a little coy this time.

"I don't—I don't know," Walter wonderingly replies, "I just think that it's your life—do what you want with it. I mean, help people if you want, keep all the money for yourself if you want. Whatever works works, I mean—human beings are just so self-involved, I can't capture a reality where people have a part, but I guess that's just because everyone is so self-involved it's just logical to think that whatever works is what's best just because everyone is so horrible and there's nothing that explains it."

Cleo smiles with eyebrows that imply a frazzled and confused state of mind. Walter laughs just looking at it, before he continues.

"I don't really get it either, but I guess that, sometimes, human beings can be so terrible that we, maybe—in your case—believe that we're not doing enough. Maybe you are, but everyone else isn't—and maybe you shouldn't kick yourself down for it."

The blonde in front of him hangs her mouth in thought for just a second, trying to process whether that was enough for her enough crisis, and Walter secretly hopes that it was. Fortunately, she nods, gradually then quickly. "Yeah... maybe," she mumbles, turning away, "that could be the case, but I guess, um... I guess I love people too much to think that, to think that they could be so... horrible. And for what, you know?"

Walter shrugs. He's horrible—and it's for everything, it's for survival, he presumes.

Eventually, the blonde moves off of the table and straightens her back. Smiling as always, she thanks him, "Thank you. Who knew Walter Weaver was a, um, modern Gandhi."

She giggles. Walter just stares—gazing at her, gazing at the gold locks behind her ears—and he wants to tell her. He wants to tell her that she's beautiful, that he just wants to hold her hand and kiss her, that all he's ever wanted this past week was to tell her that he likes her, but... then he thinks, for just a beat...

Why didn't I run away from her? Why didn't I panic at the thought of ever liking her? I didn't run, I didn't hide. I just stayed... all this time. And, I suppose it's a good thing—I feel safe, right? I can safely love this girl. I can safely be with her. I can safely marry her.

Safe, safe, safe—

"Yeah, no problem," he answers, before giving her a final nod as she exits the cubicle.

He's not ever going to tell her anything, not because he's afraid or shy, but because it's a haven, isn't it? This dream of being with her, of being with Cleo Gardener—the angel, the sweetheart—and it's a world away from ever having to deal with reality. He's not even sure she's ever been a part of his reality, seeming more like an idealization of his pathetic thirty-five year old mind, and he could safely believe that he would be with her because it was probably never going to happen.

However, Kip happened, Olive happened—these people happened—and he was afraid.

He's always been afraid.


When he gets home, Walter breaks.

He stops in front of his mailbox, settled between the array of other people's boxes, and the light flickers above him. He's just shuffling letters in his hand, discarding some and folding some, before he lands on a letter from his health insurance. Glaring at it in the pale white light, Walter just reads the first sentence, rolling over the letters as they pass.

"In order to make sure your accounts are safe, we have made new precautions. . ."

He suddenly feels small and shrunken in his brown leather jacket. Walter wipes at the word, at that word, and just stares. Feeling every muscle and vein in his body twitch, the boy breathes out.

And it's like everything, everything, begins to quietly crack. It starts at the frame of the wall, slowly making a path toward the middle, before the line meets the end. He can hear the sound of the drywall splitting, bursting, as if it were suppressing all the water in the world—but... there's nothing in there. All of the gaps, branches, and fissures stretch out across the white coated wall as if it were a vast sky, but he's not the firefly and this wall isn't a clear sea of clouds.

The wall couldn't be more similar to Walter himself.

He's... broken. Of course, he thinks. He can't remember when he became so... broken, but it was probably a long time ago and it doesn't matter. He's alone... in a sea of connections and ties. He's all by himself—by choice. How could he ever want to have people in his life when they were always so willing to let everything go? To stare at the water along the street instead of the birds along the fence? How could he ever want to be friends with anyone when they couldn't see anything else but their own selves—like him, like he does.

"Debt, right?" He hears from beside him.

Walter turns to face the shorter woman, who's darker, stockier, and glowing.

Irene.

"No," he tries to say, but he croaks, "it's—it's... something else, you know."

Walter gulps.

Irene smiles at him under the pale white light. "Girlfriend?"

Walter almost laughs at that one. "Why would she mail me?"

"I don't know how you new kids talk to each other," she remarks, turning away from him finally. Walter almost blushes at that—as if he's a "new kid" when, in fact, he's a thirty-five year old. How many times has he said that already—to himself?

He grins at her. "I'm thirty-five."

Irene's big, brown eyes go wide. She's gaping and smiling at the same time. He wishes he could draw it. "Really? You're not serious, are you?"

"I am," he gleefully replies, before looking back at his letter.

He can feel Irene look at him deeply, pensively, like she's trying to figure something out. He'd easily ask and answer her question without a problem, but he's still trying to come to terms with his mind right now. He's still completely confused by what's going on inside of him—how he's been a coward, not a spectator, this entire time. Or maybe, just a cowardly spectator, he deduces. A cowardly, cowardly one. He'd be an idiot the entire time and, maybe, Irene can see that, see beyond the blue eyes and the blonde hair. She can easily capture everything, everything, that he's been lying to himself about. Why is he so afraid of people he can't stand? He couldn't fear something he didn't like—people he didn't like. No, Walter thinks, I couldn't be afraid of something I hate that much.

And for what? He hears Cleo say.

I thought you said you don't get passionate about things, Olive mutters.

You're always so bothered, Kip presses.

And for what? Cleo continues.

"You're going to rip that paper, honey," Irene begins, looking at him in concern—like everyone else has. Her brown eyes facing his.

Walter looks at her for a moment, crashing back down suddenly, before recollecting his thoughts and mind. He forces a smile. "Oh, yeah, um... my bad."

Irene's face softens. She takes a step back, facing him with her entire body, and angles her head upward at him. Walter feels an abrupt sensation of anxiousness swimming down his chest, preparing his mind for what she's about to say, reacting to the way that she's turned to face him—seriously, but warmly, and there's a fear there that she might know everything inside of him—everything going on with him. She'll rip away at the rifts in the wall and find him.

Why is he suddenly so worried about people finding him?

"You look like you need some time to relax," Irene blurts, "you thinking too much, trying to fix too much stuff..."

Walter feels his heart stop.

"You should come to my party next, next weekend. I've invited everybody in the apartment, but I couldn't really locate you," she admits, smiling lastly, "and it looks like you gonna need this night so... come. Invite a few friends, if you want."

It's that last word, the way she looks up at him, that he remembers later on. Curled in his brown leather couch, Walter sees her big, brown eyes, her big smile, and the nod she gives him. It's all soft—softer than the way he drew her.

Walter shifts the pencil in his hand, turns it around, and erases the hard lines around her face. Instead, he replaces them with plumper, rounder ones.

"It looks like you're gonna need my help so..." her cartoon shouts, "here I come!"

Gazing and focusing, the blonde scans over the drawing, over every curve and every swell. There's nothing he could fear in her, not Irene, but... everyone one else he wasn't so sure of. Cleo had been a dream, a sweet, safe cocoon, and he still wants it, still yearns for it... but it no longer feels... right.

It no longer feels exact being with her, at least not in the way he wants, because Cleo Gardener isn't fictitious. She's someone with her own fears and desires, though it's all obvious—this whole time, he thought he'd really known her, and maybe he did, but that's not what he wants from her. He doesn't really want to be with her-her. He wants to be with her, the one that is safely tucked away in his mind, where she listens to him talk for hours about cartoons and television and music. Somewhere far away from the city, they're together in a desolate forest—away from humanity.

Cleo could never want something like that. She has a place, a part, and intends to live it through. He doesn't... and doesn't care to...

It's not an exaggeration to say that he breaks for the second time that night, but this time it's not just his whole identity.

It's his ridiculously coward, mottled thing that he calls a heart—and, it really, really hurts.


When Olive arrives on his door-step, Walter almost attempts to throw himself out the window.

Logically, rationally, and statistically, the situation would make no sense, but he's been so impulsively reckless all week it almost flows out of him naturally. He's been eating peanut butter cookies, drinking milk, and watching Cowboy Bebop, all over again, all week in hopes of attaining complete immunity and numbness to his feelings. However, Walter found that he'd still crack at some point—in the shower, underneath the sheets, in the middle of his pasta and pie. He's been to the gym, surprisingly, but he'd only ever run three miles before breaking down and collapsing onto his living room floor in exhaustion... and, well... sadness, he guesses.

He's been sad all week.

At first, Walter hated it, but then it was just a commodity—a refreshing commodity. Pity party everyday riddled with chips and soda... and peanut butter cookies.

Allowing himself to feel just the slightest bit disappointed and upset, instead of angry, Walter felt... relief.

He was upset, broken, disappointed, and frustrated. Mostly, because Walter didn't know himself at all—didn't know who he was. Still doesn't know, he fixes.

Breaking and cracking means that something is leaving—forever. Something, whatever it is, isn't going to return because it's broken, a mangled mess, and there's no way to put it back together. It's like those red wine cups he used to toy with when he was little, pouring different colors in them to see if they would mix in interesting ways, and then they'd slip through his small fingers and break. There was no way to put that back together again. The cup was lost—

What if he was lost?

Was he?

Walter doesn't turn the doorknob, even as it rattles in his hand, but he feels like a coward enough refusing to let her into his home. Afraid of whatever ties this may build, he had his reasons, but this was ridiculous, pathetic, and stupid—and he was still scared.

Maybe you don't even like her, he tries, breathing in. Maybe you just idealized her too.

He tightens his hand around the knob. No, Walter reasons, I do like her, but it's different because I don't really understand, do I? I don't know Olive. I don't know who she is. I can't safely plan a life with her and run away. I don't know what I'll do with my feel—

"Walter!" He hears on the other side. "Are you okay!?"

His heart feels warm and nauseous at the same time. She cares about him... and that makes him so sick. He's had three "attacks" in just a week and, usually, peanut butter cookies help to qualm it all—well, that and anime.

"Walter!" Olive continues, using a stern voice he's never heard from her and he has to stifle a laugh because of it, "Walter! Answer me!"

He doesn't make a move. His brown bath robe slings in the air and he just stares at the door.

"Walter! Are you in there?"

Sighing, suddenly, he steps forward and presses his head to the door. Swallowing all of his fear, he closes his eyes and opens the door. He doesn't know why he does it exactly, but something in her voice is pleading—and he's morally neutral enough to ignore it, but... he also likes her—truly.

"Walter!" Olive shouts, pushing the door against his forehead, which forces him to stumble back in pain. "Oh my god, are you okay?"

"I'm fine," he lies, grabbing his head with his palms. Olive's hands are on his skin before he can look at her.

Grabbing his hands in hers to take a look at the damage, Olive eyes his red wound. Walter lets her—lets her eyes go all soft like they did in the movie theater, like they did when he thought it would be the only time he'd ever see her look at him like that again. His blonde strands fall along his face, but she's got clear access to the pathetic accident. Walter would feel ashamed, but then again all he's been doing this week is gym, anime, and peanut butter cookies.

He's not even tired of them either.

"I'm sorry, I was just so worried," she begins, letting her thumb land on his cheek as she continues to angle his head. "You didn't answer my texts or phone calls or emails. I was... worried."

His heart warms up in nausea and affection. "It's fine—you don't have anything to worry about," he lies, slinking into her grasp again, letting her wield, move, and angle him around, even as he hated—or feared—the way it made him feel.

"Yeah, well, you could at least answer so I wouldn't," she almost yells, before finally letting his head go.

"I'm sorry," he lies again, moving away from her.

Olive eyes him suspiciously, glaring at his red robe—which provokes him to shroud himself in it—before stepping forward. Crossing her arms, she stands tall, even as she's shorter, softer, and infinitely more adorable than he could ever be. He's more guile, wit, and, at times, charming... though, he could be seeing someone else altogether now that he's completely not the person he thought he was. Olive seems to catch onto this thought more than Walter intends her to—which is not at all—and looks up at him.

"You haven't answered Kip either," she presses, "and the only reason I know is because he keeps bothering me about it."

For a second, just a second, Walter feels warm... then it's nausea.. then it's anger.

"Why is he calling you?" He unexpectedly blurts.

"Because he's your friend," she almost states as if it's fact—when it's, in fact, not. He's not my friend—he's... my frenemy, there's a difference. Walter races to say this, but she's faster than him. "And he cares about you—we care about you."

Walter thinks to two weeks ago when his phone wasn't even ringing, when he was close to turning it off completely and going rogue, and he doesn't understand how everything changed so fast. It's like the world is at a continuous race against itself, trying to beat its record time, and turning ferociously in the galaxy. He was so comfortable—alone, bitter, and neutral—but comfortable. He can't handle doing this right now—talking with her. He likes her enough, but...

"Never mind," he says out loud.

"Never mind what?" Olive asks.

He stares at her for a beat, frozen, before he comes back to reality. Crossing his arms, Walter shakes himself out of it. "Nothing," he lies, and lies, and lies.

Olive can tell different and she takes a few steps forward in the sunlight, gradually, slowly. It seems like she's thinking, trying to access her actions before she does them, and Walter thinks it's rightfully adorable, but then he feels her arms around him, her head on his chest, and it all feels so fast. I don't know how to handle this, he thinks. I don't know how to not panic. I don't know why I'm like acting like this suddenly, Walter finalizes.

She keeps hugging him. Walter doesn't know what she wants.

Then, he realizes she doesn't want anything, nothing at all, from him. If anything, Olive is giving something to him. He could take it—or he could fight it. He could let himself... feel... or he could push it away.

However, he's not comfortablehe's... he's scared. He's afraid that he'll like the way this feels, the way this sinks into his chest, and then she'll rip it away from him. He's afraid he'll make a home somewhere inside of her and she'll leave and take it with her. He doesn't want to latch onto anything that will float.

"I'm not going anywhere, Walter," Olive quips, as if she's reading his mind, "so just hug me back. I was worried."

Walter doesn't move, at first, but then she turns her head upward and glares at him.

"I can stop," she pesters.

Walter moves his hands along her back and wraps her as loosely as he can. Attempting to do as little as possible to fulfill her requirement, he plants his hand on her spine. At first, he's just doing what she asks, obeying the commands of someone who had been worried all week about him, but then... he starts to feel... warm. Peanut butter cookies warm. It's as if he's entirely aware of how close he is to her now and how nice it feels to be close to someone, anyone, because they want to give you what you need.

He's never had that from a friend, not really.

Walter feels his body slink, like if he's just dropped from the sky, and he leans against her.

Olive doesn't say anything. She's doesn't care.

He's scared, afraid, and he doesn't know what to expect or to do, but she feels warm. She doesn't feel safe, but she feels... nice. It's the closest thing to real-life peanut butter cookies, Walter rationalizes.

He lets his head fall, suddenly, like a weight has dropped onto the back of his neck. Curling his fingers around her back, until he's got a small hill of cloth in his hands, Walter leans down. Olive looks up at him, big-eyed and impatient—but his heart is beating so fast. He gulps and blinks rapidly, attempting to just sit in the warmth for just a moment before running away—just to see if this is real, if he actually liked kissing her that day.

Olive smiles, horizontal crescents bat at him, and she tip-toes as much as she can.

That's too adorable, really, he thinks, before Walter leans down, squishes his nose against hers, and kisses her.

He absolutely definitely, definitely likes her.


(4: 56 PM)(Today)
To: (206)-(754)-(5697)

Hey, Kip. I'm here.

(4: 56 PM)(Today)
To: (206)-(754)-(5697)

Sorry for not texting back.

(4: 57 PM)(Today)
To: (206)-(754)-(5697)

There's a party in my apartment tonight – some girl invited me. You should... come.

(4: 59 PM)(Today)
To: (206)-(754)-(5697)

Or not. Actually, don't. Please take that time off to reevaluate your life choices. Don't come – stay home.

(5: 00 PM)(Today)
From: (206)-(754)-(5697)

Ooucch

(5: 00 PM)(Today)
From: (206)-(754)-(5697)

What'D I do?

(5: 01 PM)(Today)
From: (206)-(754)-(5697)

I'm cming tho. Thks for the invite, was brd out of my mind. See u then

(5: 02 PM)(Today)
To: (206)-(754)-(5697)

Okay. See you.


Irene doesn't know what to expect when she sees a comic book of herself in her mailbox.

It's brightly colored, neatly layered, and the amount of pages is absolutely crazy. She can't wrap her head around the amount of images that all have her face drawn on it—big, small, miniature, and multidimensional, somehow. She never thought she'd be of interest to anybody but herself, to anybody but her own offspring and previous lovers, only ever important to the people she's put her life on the line for, but... she can see that she was wrong. Clearly, someone liked her enough to dedicate her an entire comic book.

She's dressed as some sort of superhero, flying through the sky, in yellow and blue tights, belt buckles, and boots.

Her hair is as curly and as puffed as it is in real life as well as her waist and her legs.

She's accurate and honest here—completely true to life—and she almost gets sensitive, right here in front of her mailbox, at that. Nobody ever thought to see her so true and so real to life, while admiring her all the same. Maybe her kids, maybe her ex-husband, but never anybody else.

Here, she is—on a saturated, detailed book with all of her many fictitious, fantasy stories.

A superhero, she thinks.

Somebody saw her worthy of being a superhero.

Irene doesn't hold in how wet her eyes get at that, especially not today—

On her birthday of all days.


AN:

So, that's it!

I hope you liked this two part-er! I'm definitely going to have plenty more short stories up. Some of them will be connected, others won't. Some will be one part and others four or three. Anyway, I'm glad you read this!

Too-da-loo!