Winter finally came.
I fucking hated the beginning of winter. It was cold enough to have to wear a coat, but not cold enough to get fluffy snow to play around in. Northern states got a lot of precipitation, while Southern and middle states didn't get that much. We got dry air and harsh winds before we even got any snow.
Good news; I left that old apartment and decided to move into a place that was cheaper - I downgraded to a cozy studio, which was fine since I didn't need very much room and I didn't have a lot of stuff anyway. This meant that I was closer in driving distance to RJ.
Also, I got a cat. His name is Mao Mao, but I call him Eminem for short. He's a little black cat that's about a year old, and he likes to chase bugs. I figured if I had a creature to take care of, it would help me take care of myself better. So far, it's working! I built my routine around the time I have to feed him breakfast, which keeps me on a schedule.
I drove to RJ's house to pick up another cartridge from him, as he had to stay home with Leafy. I made a point to go to the pet store to get her a rawhide stick, which was her favorite.
I arrived, and parked in the driveway, making my way up with a plastic bag in my hand. I rapped on the door, and waited for RJ to arrive. He opened the door, and revealed himself in PJ's; a baggy t-shirt and sweatpants, with no socks on. His beard was beginning to come back, his hair growing longer again. Those beautiful blond fucking locks, and that gorgeous fucking beard. God damn it. Bear RJ was making a comeback.
"Hey, come on in." he ushered. I stepped inside after kicking dirt off my shoes. When I entered, the living room had changed layout. Leafy was curled up under a blanket on the couch, looking bummed out.
"Aww, poor thing." I went over to give the dog some pets. She retracted her head, and groaned. "What's wrong with her?"
"Don't judge me," RJ answered, "but she got into a bag of pot brownies."
"Poor, sick doggy." I said to Leafy. "I bet you won't be eating any more brownies for a while, eh?"
RJ chuckled, and crossed his arms. "Yup. Naughty girl."
I withdrew my hand, and took a seat, pulling out a roll of money. "Here's forty." I handed it to him, and he graciously took it. RJ went into his room for a moment before bringing me a fresh cartridge. There was a yellow liquid inside with a few bubbles.
"Thanks." I screwed it on after discarding the empty cartridge. "These things are fucking good, dude. I think it's awesome how far we're advancing in THC technology."
"Me too." RJ replied. "I guess Dan is gonna teach me how to make those."
"No shit. Does he still need help at the shop?" I looked up at RJ with desperation in my expression. I was on unemployment, but it was just enough to cover bills. I needed more cash in my pocket if I wanted to take care of my new kitty and support my weed addiction.
RJ scratched the back of his head. "He hasn't even hit me up in a while. I don't know what's going on, but I'll let you know when he's ready for another helping hand."
I nodded, understanding the circumstances. "That would help me out a lot," I replied, "I just got this new place a few blocks away. It's no Canary, but it gets the job done. Honestly, for a studio, I'm having a better time living there than having all that space and no one or nothing to share it with."
"I need to move soon," RJ shrugged, "I'm kind of getting sick of the fucking property managers here. Pretty soon, they might be the next ones to raise rent. Ugh."
"I recommend Cedar Falls, they have a bunch of studios." I was hoping he would take me up on my offer, so then we could become neighbors. Wouldn't that be something? Don't get your hopes up, kid.
"Actually," RJ continued, "I was hoping to get a house."
My stomach felt heavy. I blinked. "A house, huh? Where at?"
"Obviously not too far from here," he said, "but I want a space I can call my own. No monthly rent, no landlord bullshit. Just me, my house, and Leafy."
What about me?
I took a long drag from my dab pen before putting it down. I changed the subject. "We should listen to some music and drink hot cocoa," I suggested, "since it's so cold out."
"Sure." RJ turned on his electric fireplace, which was pretty much just a large heater with fake wood inside. No apartment would allow a real fireplace on account there's no chimney. I extended my hand towards Leafy, and tried to pet her again. This time, she complied with the pets, and shut her eyes, letting out another deep groan. Dogs are so fucking funny.
RJ made his way into the kitchen and started to get things together for hot cocoa. I approached him from behind, ready to grab him around the waist. I stopped myself, and shoved the intrusive thoughts aside, and let him do his thing. I eyed his handiwork, and tried to nudge myself in for assistance. He continued prepping the hot cocoa without acknowledging me there, his baby blues focused on the task at hand.
"Are you okay?" I asked him out of nowhere, wondering what the silence was about.
"Just a little tired, is all." he replied, sounding more glum than tired.
"Come on, dude," I ushered him, "if there's something on your mind, you can tell me."
He switched on the stove top before pouring milk into a pot and setting it to simmer. "It's our anniversary."
"Huh?" I cocked my head.
"Mine and... the girl I was going to marry." he looked down. "Today would have been our anniversary."
"Oh, I'm so sorry dude." I put my hand on his back comfortingly.
"It's fine." RJ shook his head. "I'm fine. I just... miss having someone around. You know?"
"What about Leafy?" I glanced at his dog. "She's a someone, right?"
"It's a little different." RJ replied, knocking on me being a smart-ass. "Just, someone who speaks the same language as me, shows the same type of affection, someone I can... well... you know."
Someone you can FUCK? Because you can't fuck Leafy. That's illegal.
I shut up my mind. "I understand what you mean, RJ."
"A warm body next to me in bed." RJ continued speaking, still peering down into the pot of milk that began to bubble lightly on the stove. "I sleep on the couch most of the time to avoid the sheer loneliness of sleeping in a bed all on my own." He looked at me. "Do you have your dab pen still?"
"Right here." I lifted it in front of his face, and he took it from me before huffing on it. A few plumes left his lips before he returned the pen back to me. From the way he was acting, I could tell today was a hard day for him.
"If you need a shoulder to lean on," I replied, "I'm here."
"Thank you." RJ smiled weakly at me. The milk started to boil. He took the hot cocoa powder and mixed it in, creating a sweet brown solution. Retrieving a ladle, he poured the liquid into two mugs. I was about to take the mug, until RJ stopped me.
"Wait a sec!" He went into his cupboards and rummaged around for something. I watched him pull out a bag of mini marshmallows. He grabbed a small handful and plopped some into my cocoa.
"How did you know?" I asked.
"I'm a cocoa connoisseur," RJ smiled, dropping the ladle into the sink. "I was the lead cocoa master among my siblings. My mom taught me the tools of the trade, and the one sacred rule; never forget the marshmallows."
"Wise woman." I sipped my cocoa, the hot sting making its way down my throat.
"I need to vent about something." RJ suddenly broke the pleasant conversation.
I put down my mug and looked at him, ready to listen to whatever he was about to say.
"With today being the anniversary," he confessed, "it's hard to want to keep focusing on myself, especially when today, along with Valentines' Day, are my hardest days. Those are the days where the reminder of love is thrown into my face, something that I wasn't able to obtain. Things were going so good, I thought, but one day, I woke up and she had packed all her things. The only thing I got was a note explaining everything. Needless to say, I broke down and called my buddy over to help me."
I nodded sympathetically, glancing at the marshmallows bobbing up and down in my cocoa.
He continued. "I was so heartbroken. It's what sent me spiraling into a deep depression, wanting to pretty much off myself. It was hard not to think about that this morning when I woke up, realizing what day it was. Memories on Facebook flooded to me, and I had to get off the app to avoid being triggered."
"I get that, totally." I sipped my cocoa. "That's why I don't post pictures of myself and current partners. One day, shit might just fall apart, and it's just a dingy reminder of what could have been."
"I really thought," he spoke, "that things were going good, you know? I guess... maybe I wasn't the most attentive towards her. Maybe I was too needy, and didn't meet her needs enough. I don't know. That's the only thing I can think of. It makes me feel guilty, too. Like, I could have done more. I could have been better. But I let it slip past my fingers." He looked down into his cocoa, seeming ashamed. "I took her for granted."
I put a hand on his shoulder. "It's not too late to keep going. She might be gone, but there's so much love around in this world. You'll find it."
I found it.
"I know." he replied. "Speaking of which... are you currently with anyone?"
I shook my head. "Nope. Single as a Pringle and ready to mingle." I shook my shoulders playfully.
RJ smiled, his freckles raising with his cheeks. His Rosacea was flared beneath his facial hair. I returned with an equally warm smile. We peered at each other for some odd moments, before I put my cocoa down. My heart was swelling. I didn't know what else to say, what else to do.
Wait a minute.
Is this... a plateau?
"RJ..." I started. "I... we need to talk about something."