But Are We Friends?

“How sad is it,” Diana said, smoke emerging from her mouth in a great, dragon-like puff, “that I slept with him because I wanted to be his friend?”

Jay, who was listening to music in one ear, was only half paying attention. Stevie Wonder was crooning at him on one side and Diana was whining from the other, and his eyes were looking at the twelve stars that he could see in the sky above him. “You know what’s really sad?” he said.

“Yeah, that I slept with someone so that they would acknowledge my existence and be friends with me.”

“No. Well, yeah, that too. Gimme a cig.” Jay waited till he had one in his mouth and, while lighting it, continued through a half-closed mouth. “No, what’s really sad is that we look up at the stars, and we can see a few tonight, and we’re like oh wow, look at all the stars! And there are like twenty, if that, and we think that’s a lot. Out in the desert – that’s where stars really happen.”

“Dude, are you stoned?” Diana looked at him, irritable, and noticed that he had one earbud still stuck in his ear. “You’re not even listening! Damn, I thought we were going to have some girl time.”

“I’m not a girl.”

“I know, but you have conversations that aren’t about monster trucks.”

“No one talks about monster trucks anymore.”

“Whatever.”

The two college dropouts lapsed into silence on top of the old orange car. Jay was still lying on the cold metal, one arm tucked behind his head. Diana was sitting cross-legged next to him, her knees close enough to brush the edge of his jacket. The sound of traffic from the highway kept them company, along with the chilly wind.

“So are you friends now?”

“Huh? What?” Diana had been gazing at the lights of the faraway cars and letting her eyes go out of focus, turning her vision into a strange image of blurred yellow lines on a backdrop of black stillness.

“You and this person you slept with. Are you friends now?” Jay heard the deep tones of Leonard Cohen describing to him the way love felt, and he allowed himself to glance at Diana. Sometimes it was dangerous for him to do that. It would make him feel too much. But Leonard’s voice fortified him enough to do that, at least.

“I have no freaking clue. That’s why I’m so upset.”

“Ask, then.”

“What? I should just ask if we’re friends?”

“Yeah, sure, why not? Just say – we slept together, yeah. But are we friends?”

“I guess. But, I mean, with you and me neither one of us had to ask that, right? We just knew we were still friends. Cause we’d been friends before.”

“Mhm. But we’re different.”

“Yeah, we are.” Diana smiled vaguely and nudged her hand against Jay’s shoulder in a comradely kind of way. He stopped himself from flinching against such a casual touch, and took another long draw on his cigarette.

“S”

Whenever she looked out her window, she saw a big “S” on the red brick building across from her. Just one letter, a simple one, with a serif on either end. It wasn’t the most innocent or joyful of letters; “snakes” and “sadness” and “sordid” all began with it, and she couldn’t help thinking of those and other harsh words whenever she looked at her “S.”

But not everyone had a big, two-story-tall letter painted on the building across the street. She could tell it was that large because she could see the windows next to it. Okay, so maybe it was only one-and-a-half stories tall, but it was up around the tenth or eleventh floor, and everything looks bigger higher up. Or so she thought at least.

It was kind of like Stephen (another “S”, she always reminded herself) who was so beautiful and seemed so majestic. He was tall, and his head was disproportionately large for his body. But she couldn’t help being attracted to him, daydreaming about him, adding the letters to his name to her view of “S.” Stephen, for his part, didn’t know she existed because they’d never been introduced. In fact, his name wasn’t actually Stephen, it was Pedro, but she’d given him a name of her own after she’d seen him at the bagel shop on the corner for the fourth morning in a row.

She wasn’t an obsessive person, no, you couldn’t say that exactly, she thought, but she was definitely aware, and self-aware as well, and she knew there was a certain obsessive quality to her fascination with her “S.” Especially when she knew there must be more letters painted up there, hidden from her by the jut of another building that was angled just right to show her the one “S” and nothing else. She wondered whether she’d ever see the thing, the letter or the entire word, from street level and see what it was referring to. The thought was terrifying.

Eavesdropping

The owl sat on its regular midnight perch, on the beam that hung between the garage door and the overhanging roof. It was quite roomy there, and she liked having its nest so close by, in the very corner, where there was space right inside the corner of the roof.

She was just about to hoot softly and then fly out to catch little rodents by the tail when she was interrupted mid-hoot by a pair of loud voices that erupted in the middle of the driveway in front of her.

“You did NOT just say that!”

“What? You think you’re the only one allowed to be mean? I know how to be mean too, you know.”

“I’m not mean, you jerk-wad! How can you even say that to me?”

“‘Cause it’s true! You’re stuck up and mean, and you know what? I can stand it when you do it to me, but not when you start ragging on my best friends, too. They don’t get to see you like I do, so they don’t get that it’s just how you are.”

“Oh, what, so because they don’t get to see me naked then they don’t know the real me? Are you suggesting they all come over and we have a big party together?”

“WHAT? When did I ever say that? Where the hell is your head, Angela?”

“And what’s all this about you being okay with me being mean to you, anyway? I’m not mean to you!”

The owl in the eaves of the house cocked her head. The voices changed tones. The whiny, female-smelling one sounded muffled, and the deep-voiced male-smelling one made cooing noises that reminded the owl of the noises she made over her eggs.

“I love you, but don’t you see that you’re going to isolate me from everyone else if you keep behaving like a stuck up bitch with them? I’m not saying you ARE one. I’m just saying you act like it, honey.”

“B-b-but your friends make me nervous, and ever since we moved to this stupid city it’s been all about your friends, and don’t you think I miss mine to bits? It’s not like you were super nice to them or anything…”

“I made an effort and you know it. It was hard when they kept sizing me up with their eyes, checking if I was hot enough for they angelic Angela.”

“Well, they were protective of me. What can I do? All your friends want to do is talk to you. It’s like I’m just a painting on the wall in the room. They stare at me sometimes and then go right back to talking to you about the Diamondbacks or the Razorbacks or whatever that team is called.”

“If you stopped acting like an ice princess, and if you stopped being so cold, maybe they’ll be nicer to you, hmm? They don’t always talk about sports, you know.”

The owl, getting bored with the human jabber and the ensuing wet noises as they did that strange thing humans do with their mouths, decided to get going. She spread her wings and leaped from the eaves, wings spreading out to her sides. She dove and then flew upwards, scanning the neighborhood for some delicious little critters to snap in her beak.

“Wow, did you see that?”

“An owl! I’ve never seen one before! Oh my gosh, that’s amazing!”

“What a beauty, hmm?”

“Yeah, so beautiful…”

“Watch the Leather”

I have no memory of when I wrote this song, but I think it was sometimes during my earlier teenage years. I happened upon it tonight and it struck me as rather creepy and gloomy, which is odd since I truly don’t have any clue as to what prompted me into writing it in the first place… And now, without further ado, some lyrics from my (apparently) dark teenage years:

In her mind, a shining knight
of blue blood and court days.
She's stealing kisses in the night,
Slowly feeling her new way.

Listen closely at the window
Of a lover's engined hideout.
Not sweet nothings will you hear,
Just a grunt and then he'll cry out:
"Hey, watch the leather"




Romantic girl, this ain't your world,
Sonnets dead and gone,
Rosy girl, this a thorn filled world,
Survival's for the strong.


Wuthering Heights

It’s a classic. Lots of people have read it. It’s right up there with Jane Eyre and anything by Jane Austin. I hadn’t read it before, and when I was looking through the bookshelves at home, I decided to pick it up and try it. Ever since I got home for my break, I’ve been reading a new book every couple of days, spending half my days reading and swallowing up page after page. I’m beginning to feel like a hermit, but then there’s something so nice in escaping completely and utterly into the worlds of other people.

So I decided to read Wuthering Heights. The copy I picked off our shelf was beautiful – a small, green, hardback copy in terrific condition and with that special type that seems to dominate older library books. I began reading, excited that I’d finally get to know this Mr. Heathcliff that everyone who talks about the book is always swooning about. I assumed he’d be something like Jane Eyre’s Mr. Rochester; gruff and unfriendly, but ultimately the possessor of a romantic and loving heart.

In this, as in everything else I’d heard about the book, I was sorely mistaken. Heathcliff is horrible. Why is he romanticized? True, the life he led wasn’t particularly a good one, but then his mean and vengeful spirit was entirely his own, in my opinion. The whole book was so vastly different from what I imagined it to be – I thought it would be more like a Jane Austin novel, but instead I found it to be disturbing, full of  menacing and frightening characters, violent and truly distressing.

This is the first time I truly felt that I’d judged a book by it’s cover. Must remember not to do that again in a hurry.

Two

“It’s  a long story,” he said, frowning slightly, before smiling again. His hair was brown, his face thin, and his expression let nothing away. His smile was utterly disarming, and he didn’t seem to be feeling a thing except the usual cheerfulness he displayed to the world. He had his work spread out in front of him, the usual scientific jargon he was so into, and he slid his eyes back to it easily and went right back to studying. His shirt, bearing the logo of his workplace, was tight, as all his clothes usually were. He was attractive, there was no doubt about it, and his cheerfulness was like a sun, drawing unsuspecting people to him and making them think, naively, that everything was alright with him. Everything was always alright with him.

The girl, clutching her book, wasn’t so naive. She had her guesses, and she voiced them in a cheerful tone to match his own. He laughed, brushing them away, and went back to studying. She took note, though, of the slight glint of panic in his eyes.

____

“It’s a long story,” he said. His hair was black, his face thin but muscular, and his expression was fraught with pain. His eyes glinted with unshed tears, but they never leaked out, not once. He laughed at himself, laughed at his emotions. “It’s a long story,” he repeated, but he went into detail. Not much detail, but enough for the girl, clutching her book again, to understand. Her heart beat within her breast, pounding with emotion for both of them. She could see his pain, and suspected the other’s pain even if he wouldn’t voice it. She hugged him, murmuring “Aw, honey,” and made sure to let him know that she felt for him. It wasn’t easy, she couldn’t imagine it would ever be easy for the two of them.

____

Alone in her room, with headphones in her ears, she thought about them. She wanted to help, somehow, for some reason. Maybe it was only that her own experience was so much happier than theirs. Maybe it was that she knew what it was to trust someone implicitly and she wanted them to feel it too. Maybe it was just the fact that she was so far away from her love that she needed to see others flourish as she couldn’t in her current situation. Maybe it was, quite simply, that she wanted to befriend them both. They were too pleasant to give up, and she wanted to find a place for herself. She had always done this – reached out instinctively to others, lent herself as a support to those who needed it. It was one of her joys.

With music throbbing in her ears, she noticed the lyrics suddenly. “This night has only just begun. If there’s discretion that you’ve not abandoned, now’s the time.” Fitting, she thought, and closed her eyes and listened hard until the next song came on.

Molly, Gas-Station Attendant

Molly blinked, sleepy eyes feeling slow and sticky, and tried to stifle a yawn. Failing utterly, she tried to hide the yawn behind her hand. It had been a long night, and Molly’s shift wasn’t quite over yet.

She silently cursed Thom, her boss, with the most colorful language she knew. He had convinced her to work the night shift a month back or so, promising that she would find the slight pay-raise well worth it. Oh, what a gullible fool I am, she thought.

A car pulled up to the self service lane. Molly sighed. Almost no one used the full service gas lane anymore. It made the night shift even worse – it was bad enough to be bored during the day with only a few cars to deal with every hour. During the day, at least, there were other workers around. The night shift was manned by one worker only.

Molly looked at her watch. 4AM. Two more hours to go. She cast a shift look around, and seeing that no one was there – the car had driven away from the other lane already – she plopped herself down on the curb and produced a book from her uniform’s back pocket. It was a cheap paperback romance novel, the kind that cost $4 if you bought it new.

Molly had been purchasing another of these books every day for the past month for 99 cents at the used book stall near her dad’s apartment. These books were what saved her from falling asleep on her feet, much like a horse, during the long, boring night shifts.

She opened the book at the page she’d folded down earlier and scowled. She’d finished about three-quarters of the book already. Damn, she though, I’ll finish it in less than an hour and then what will I do for the rest of my shift? Well, she resigned herself, I’ll figure that out in an hour, I guess.

An hour later, after quite a few jumps to her feet so she could look busy to the drivers pulling up, Molly closed the book with a guilty, girlie sigh. Rudolph had won Cathy over and Cathy understood just how wrong Patrick had been for her. All was right with the mushy, romantic world of Cathy Learns to Love.

Molly loved these novels. She loved the simplicity of the stories and the good feeling they left her with when she finished reading them. As a literature major at her local community college, she also felt a bit ashamed for loving the cheap romances, but not enough to give up her nightly saviors.

Molly still had fifty-eight minutes before she could walk the mile to her father’s apartment and sleep for a few hours before running to her classes. She sat with arms propped on her knees and chin leaning on her hands and let her thoughts wander.

Hopefully she’d be able to convince her boss to give her at least a couple day shifts a week. He was nice, in a gruff sort of way, and would probably agree if she begged him or pestered him enough.

Classes were still as interesting as they’d been in her first year – Molly was happy about that. She only had this ear and a summer term left and then she would officially complete her BA and then, hopefully, she’d get into publishing and do something with it.

Simon, her dad’s dog, was sick. The poor old mutt was 13 years old, and Molly knew he wouldn’t last much longer. It broke her heart to think that when she moved away after finishing her degree her dad wouldn’t een have Simon to keep him company.

Maybe I’ll get Dad a puppy as a gift before I move away, she mused. I think that’s a good idea.

Molly looked at her watch again. 5:04AM. Damn, she cursed, in the books people always get lost in thoughts for hours. With me? Two minutes.

She got up, stretched, and stuck her book back in her back pocket. The pocket was a perfect size for a small paperback book, and it made the whole uniform worth its baggy ugliness.

Looking around, Molly decided that she could risk going over to the Quick-Stop across the street for a couple minutes – there hadn’t been a car in the station for ten minutes straight.

Molly looked up and down the empty road and seeing no cars, crossed it rather slower than necessary. She laughed at herself inwardly. Crossing the street slowly wouldn’t really pass the time.

She pushed the door of the Quick-Stop open, and was greeted by a warm gust of air. It’s not fair that they have heating here, she fumed silently. Still, the warm air was soothing to her chilled face and hands. She was tempted to stay there until her shift ended, but knew it was no good. A car would probably come just when she wasn’t looking, and then she ran the risk of getting in trouble with Thom if he found out she hadn’t been there when needed.

Molly looked at the rows of snacks and chocolate bars on her right. She selected a box of cookies to take home to her father, who had a sweet tooth, and a small bag of potato-chips she could munch on back at the gas station.

She took her snacks to the cashier that sat at the back of the store. As she put the things down on the counter, the cashier looked up, and Molly couldn’t help but blink. My, my, she thought, here’s a real sweet!

The cashier was in his mid-twenties, with a shock of black curls that managed to fall to his shoulders without looking messy. His eyes, a deep chocolate brown, reminded her of a cat’s for some reason. He was clean-shaven, with slightly rounded cheeks and lips that were just a bit on the full side.

Molly had one wild moment in which she envisioned herself the heroine of one of her romance novels. The scene was set: her working at the gas station every night and stopping in at the Quick-Stop every hour to flirt with this young man who would, of course, ardently return her passions and pine for her until one night he’d reveal that he was actually an heir to a fortune and would whisk her away to Paris on a private jet, where they’d spend the rest of their days living in modesty and donation their fortune to the poor.

“That’ll be six bucks,” a nasal voice, slightly too high to be appealing, emerged from the man’s lips. Molly’s dream burst as she handed over the cash and headed out the door of the Quick-Stop.

She smiled with amusement as she crossed the road back to the station. A car was just pulling up to the full-service lane when she got there. As she filled the tank, she couldn’t help but giggle a little, earning an odd stare from the driver. Molly, Gas-Station Attendant, Learns to Love indeed, she thought to herself. As if.