Chapter 4

Direction Chapter Four

The Rendezvous

Jeff pushed the door close to his room, tossed his bag onto his desk chair and fell flat onto his mattress. The revelations of the day still had his head spinning, he still wasn’t quite sure what was happening or how to handle it. He could hear the light humming of the air conditioner from the living room below as sweat began to bead up along his hairline. He felt his abdomen start to squeeze and mouth fill with saliva as he rolled off the mattress just in time to empty the contents of his stomach into the trash bin near his desk. Tears began welling up in his eyes while he let his chin rest on the edge of the bin. Shortly after there was a quick knock on his door.

“Hey, you alright man?” Chris called through the door. “Did you just puke?”

“Little bit, I’ll be alright,” Jeff replied through a half-closed mouth.

“You sure?” Chris continued. “What the hell did you eat, you want some water or something?”

Jeff was immediately aggravated. His jealousy of Chris and Riley’s friendship over the past few years had worn his patience with Chris to a very thin line. “Just fuck off man, I’ll be fine.” Jeff called back disparagingly. Chris shrugged his shoulders and walked back to his room.

Jeff sat down on the floor and leaned back against the mattress with his knees up in front of him. “What the fuck is going on?” he thought as he wiped the tears and vomit from his face with the bottom part of his shirt. “Was that shit real or am I going crazy. I have to be going fucking crazy.”

He reached up to his desk and grabbed a colorful glass smoking pipe, and a small scuffed up blue metal cylinder. He set the pipe down on his bed and took the blue cylinder in both hands, pulling on one side of it. The top slid off and he placed it on the floor. Reaching to his desk again he grabbed a small glass mason jar with a metal lid and twisted it open, then poked his trembling fingers inside to produce a small nugget of marijuana. He placed the nugget into the grated top of the blue cylinder, dropped the lid on and pushed down with his sweat covered palms. As he turned his wrists he could hear the metal teeth grinding and gnashing up the weed inside. He then unscrewed the grinder and pinched a clump together between moist fingertips, then stuffed it into the larger open end of the glass pipe. He produced a light blue lighter from his back pocket and held up to the big end of the pipe, his mouth on the smaller end. A flick of the thumb and an inhale seemed to slow time to a crawl. Such complexity for something that made life seem so simple.

He opened his window the slightest bit and exhaled the smoke through the crack, then watched as it billowed out into the night and was swept away by the wind. He could feel a dry burn in his throat from the harsh vapor and stomach acid. “Maybe I should have had him get me a water,” Jeff thought.

Knock knock!

Jeff jumped at the sudden banging and dropped his pipe onto his lap, then quickly brushed away the still burning embers.

“I know you said ‘fuck off’ but I still got you a water man,” Chris called through the door, “in case you die, then I can at least feel like I did everything I could.”

Jeff stared down at the ashes on his lap for a moment. “This can’t be a coincidence, right?” he thought. “It just can’t be.”

“Yeah, one sec,” he called out, and grabbed onto the desk to pull himself to his feet before walking over and opening the door.

Chris looked at Jeff’s distraught face then down at his as ash covered pants. “Jesus Christ man, you look like shit,” Chris said with a beer mug full of water clutched in his hand. He raised the mug out and pointed the handle toward Jeff.

“Thanks,” Jeff replied as he took the glass, trying to sound sincere. “I didn’t even realize you went downstairs, thought you went to your room.”

Chris went to speak then looked confused for a moment. “Well, I mean, I was. Then I thought you could really use the water and went down to get it, which oddly enough I don’t even remember doing. I think I’m catching a secondhand buzz there, Marley.”

“How do you forget doing it? It just happened,” Jeff replied, trying to fully understand.

“I don’t know, maybe I was sleep walking for a minute or something,” Chris answered. “Does it matter? Take the water, maybe use this one to bathe yourself and go grab a new one to drink. And you should probably clean that puke up man, it smells like weed and regret in this joint.”

Jeff smiled before following up with “I’ll hop right on that,” then raised the glass in his left hand while swinging the door shut with his right.

“Glad I could be of service,” Chris mumbled sarcastically before turning and heading back to his room.

Jeff stood there staring at the white paint on his bedroom door, contemplating the implications of what just happened. “So, he was just downstairs all of the sudden?” he said to himself in a hushed tone. “That’s not like it happened before, I didn’t even notice the jump in time. Or maybe there wasn’t a jump in time?” He looked down at his mug preparing to take another sip and a tiny bug floated onto the water’s surface. “Fuck,” he sighed, then using his finger pushed the tiny bug down into the liquid before setting the glass down on his bookshelf.

He walked back toward the window and repacked his pipe. The dull sound of hip hop music made it’s way to his room from the passing cars out front, and a cool breeze blew in. Jeff’s mind was still racing from thought to thought, question to question. He was having trouble making sense of it all. How was any of this possible, and why was he the only one to see it? Then his mind settled back on his dream he had when he fell asleep at the theater. Seeing Riley and confessing his love to her, and how relieving it was to do so. Without hesitation he pulled his phone out of his pocket and began writing a message. With such strange things happening to him lately, what normally would have terrified him seemed like the easiest thing in the world now. If he was time traveling, or controlling people with his mind, or whatever the case was, talking to a girl should be the least of his problems.

“Hey! Would you possibly want to grab lunch tomorrow? Been a while, just wanted to catch up!”

He sat for a minute staring at his phone, watching the cursor blink on, then off, then on again, letting his thumb hover over the send button. He pressed the button then quickly set his phone face down on his desk, picked up his pipe, and took another hit. After a moment the phone buzzed and light shot out the sides of the face down screen. He reached his hand down and slowly turned it over.

“Hey stranger!” Riley replied, “Sure! In my neck of the woods or yours?”

His heart raced. “This is going to happen,” he thought as he began typing. He currently had no vehicle, despised public transportation, and couldn’t ask Chris for his car without him finding out he was meeting Riley. And he’d rather Chris not know this. “Mine, if that’s alright?”

“Absolutely!” Riley wrote back. “I’m pretty much free all day, so just tell me when and where and I’ll be there!”

“Socky’s @ 1?”

“It’s a date!” she replied.

He smiled at this and felt a small twinge of happiness course through him. He knew she only meant it as an expression and it was best to not read into it, but it still filled him with a pang excitement. He put his phone back down on the desk and took one more rip of his pipe before heading for a shower, then to try and sleep.

When morning came the camera panned across the cityscape and the sun burst into the sky, filling the city with movement and life. Jeff sat in his desk chair spinning the carved wooden cat between his pointer finger and thumb, watching it spin to a stop then flicking it again with his other hand. After his shower he sat in the chair for a moment to think about what he was going to say to Riley and hadn’t realized the rest of the night had passed him by.

As the cat spun, a mesmerized Jeff pictured the sunlight cascading across the city, then he snapped back to reality and looked up at his gradually brightening window. “Shit,” he thought. He pressed a button on his phone to check the time and his dimly lit room filled with the white light of the screen. “Almost 7, I need to eat.”

The ache of a sleepless night blanketed his body. He slowly pushed his weight forward and raised himself off the chair, then headed out of his room to the kitchen. The carpeted stairs creaked with each weighted step, as he descended he slid his hand along the white banister feeling the roughness of the cracking paint. As he walked through the living room and rounded the corner toward the kitchen, Chris was standing over the white coffee maker shoveling fresh coffee grounds into the filter. He turned suddenly, startled by Jeff's presence. 

Caught off guard, Jeff blurted out the first thing that popped into his head. "What the fuck are you doing up?" he said. 

"Got an early shift, have to set up for a birthday party,” Chris replied in a dry, tired voice as he closed the coffee filter and pressed the start button. “The real question is, why the hell are you up? It’s Thursday, you’re not working today.”

The coffee stained water began draining into the pot, filling the silent downstairs with a sound reminisce of a man pissing. “Still awake from yesterday,” Jeff said pointedly. “Just came down for a snack, then off to smoke myself to sleep.”

“Oh damn, man,” Chris said, “you really need to get your sleep schedule under control.”

Chris then turned to the cabinet above the coffee maker and grabbed a green mug that read “1 UP” in large white letters on one side. With the coffee still brewing, he pulled the pot away and placed his mug under the still running stream. He looked back at Jeff then down at his hand. “What’s that?” he asked.

Jeff looked down, he didn’t realize he was still carrying the carved wooden cat. “Oh,” he said nonchalantly. “Well, I’ve been trying to learn how to whittle. This was just something I did for practice.” He held the wooden cat up in front of him.

“Nice man!” Chris said as he reached out, took the cat and inspected it. He moved it into the light streaming in from the kitchen window, turning it over in his hand. “That’s pretty damn good,” he said, his eyes wide.

“Thanks man,” he said as he nodded his head down slightly.

Chris tossed the cat back to Jeff, pulled his mug from the coffee maker and put the pot back under the stream. "Well, good luck getting to sleep man," he said abruptly, "maybe avoid the coffee for once!" He scooped two big piles of sugar into his mug, dumped in a heap of dry creamer, then walked out of the kitchen stirring the mixture. 

Jeff waited until he heard Chris heading up the steps, pulled out a plain white mug, scooped the whole thing into the sugar jar, then topped it off with the steaming black coffee. He needed to wake up, an overdose of caffeine and a large sugar spike should do the trick. He stared at the wooden cat in his hand as he quickly sipped the coffee down, still trying to piece together what he wanted to say to Riley. "Should I tell her what's been going on?" he thought. "I don't think she'd believe me, or understand." 

He dropped the depleted mug into the sink, then opened the refrigerator and leaned down to investigate it's contents. A half-full jug of water, one stick of butter, a pot of chili covered in foil, a bag of string cheese, and a carton of eggs lined the otherwise bare shelves. "Jesus," he sighed, then grabbed a string cheese and headed back upstairs. 

Jeff spent the rest of the morning pacing the small length of his room before throwing the wooden cat into his bag and heading out the door. Socky's was just a few blocks away so he was able to walk there relatively quickly. As he stepped outside, the warm sun penetrated his pale skin. He could feel small lines of sweat beginning to make their way down his back. He couldn't recall ever really being sunburnt, but that didn't stop the inevitable coat of moisture he was currently producing. 

After a short time he could finally see the silver shine of the diner down the block. As he made his way up to it he could see Riley through the large window to the right of the entrance. He stopped across the street and stared in. She was in her usual pose, holding a book up to her face, her auburn hair was pulled back in a ponytail and resting on her shoulder. The sunlight glared off the window and he suddenly noticed his reflection staring back; a mid-twenties male ghostly in appearance, with a short beard and jet black unkempt hair, black pants, an old Rush shirt, beat up chucks, and a shitty brown backpack. It had been a while since he'd really seen himself. His constant state of self-loathing usually caused him to avoid reminders of his outward image. 

As the camera pointed from the inside of the diner outward toward Riley, she licked her finger and turned a page of her book, The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd. Through the window Jeff was visible making his way across the street, with an awkward stride of someone who’d spent his life staring at his feet as he walked. He entered the diner and the light jingle of the bell above the door caused Riley to raise her head, she smiled and slid her book into her tote. 

"Hey you!" she said through her grin. She stood up and wrapped her arms around him when he arrived at the table. Like at the café, he was again filled with that warm feeling, like this was the only place in the world he truly belonged. 

"Hey!” he replied. 

"I was just getting caught up on some reading, I haven't ordered anything yet," she said. 

"Yea, The Secret Life of Bees, that's a pretty good book! I read it a few months ago," he said. 

She paused and looked at him, then over at her tote sitting on the seat where her book was now contained and shielded from view. "Wait, how did you know that, what I was reading?" she said in an inquisitive tone. 

Jeff looked at her, he honestly didn't know. He must've recognized it from across the street he thought. "I saw you reading through the window," he replied. "I've got eyes like a telescope. NASA was thinking about hiring me for their space program."

She laughed. "Well, a NASA telescope would be a very respectable profession," she said between her giggles, "and yes, it's very good so far so don't spoil anything for me!"

"Well, it really picks up when the bees raise an army and begin their siege of New York," he jested. 

"Oh you better stop!" she said as she slid into her booth seat.   

He gave a nervous smile, took a deep breath, and exhaled as he dropped into the seat across from her. As he set his bag beside him he reached down into it, grabbed the wooden cat out and held it on his lap. 

"How have you been?" she asked, leaning forward with her elbows on the table, and arms crossing each other. 

"I uh," he said as he ran his hand through his hair nervously, "I have something, I have something I've been wanting to say to you, and I need to get it out before I lose my nerve." 

"Oh," she said, the smile slowly fading from her face. 

"I've been wanting," he began. 

"Wait," she interjected. With his mouth half-open, his voice cut out mid-word.

"Before you say anything, I also have something to tell you," she said, her voice low, lacking her usual melodic tone. 

Jeff looked at her, feeling adrenaline begin to burn up his spine and the back of his neck. From this close he could see the light freckles on the bridge of her nose. "Is this seriously going to play out like my dream?" he thought. "Maybe I can see the future somehow? This is fucking crazy.”

"Well, I think I know what you're going to say," she said, "I've known for a while."

Jeff stared at her, her green eyes lightly dancing back and forth, focusing on each part of his face, her expression conveying what looked to him like concern?

"Oh," Jeff said, then he looked down at the table, he’d exceeded his usual comfortability with eye contact. "Please, please feel what I'm feeling," he thought. 

"Look," she said, her voice still low, "I know how you feel, how you feel about me. I can’t begin to tell you how happy it makes me, or how much I truly care about you.” Jeff could see she was fiddling with a ring on her right hand, and then her gaze shifted toward the window. Jeff looked over toward the kitchen and watched steam rising off a plate of hash browns. Into the Great Wide Open by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers was playing on a stereo nearby. “And this is something we really wanted to tell you together,” she continued.

He looked back at her. He could almost hear the heavy pounding of his heart in his chest getting louder and louder. “Together?” he echoed.

“Well, um,” she paused and exhaled, then in the next breath continued, “Chris and I have been seeing each other for a little while now,” she said. “I didn’t even know how you felt about me until after we were together. And you’re such a good friend, a good person, we didn’t want, we didn’t want to hurt you.”

Jeff’s eyes darted around the diner, searching for anything to look at that wasn’t her. Panic overtook him. He quickly set the wooden cat onto the table, grabbed his bag, and walked out the door to the street. The world around him seemed to go static and out of focus for a moment, everything froze, then snapped back into place. He hurried down the street back to his apartment. The simple task of unlocking his front door turned into a feat of immense concentration as the key shook in and out of the lock, his whole arm trembling. Everything around him flickered and went static again. “Fuck!” he thought. “This can’t be happening, this can’t fucking be happening.” Finally the door opened, he left it ajar and rushed up to his room, slamming his bedroom door shut with his fist leaving a crack along the inside. He looked around him, things went in and out of focus, going fuzzy like a broken television set.

Then, darkness.

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