David asked us to come with him to San Diego for his cancer doctor appointment. Some specialist needed his bone marrow samples at a clinic in La Jolla. He asked us to keep him company—Ian, Anna, and me. He said we could drive his Tesla.
David was our 70-year-old Israeli friend. He kind of seemed more like 50 than 70. Some people suspected he was trying to sleep with me or Anna, others felt strongly that he was gay. He wasn’t. He was expressive, deep-feeling, Jewish. He enjoyed women thoroughly, both sexually and non-sexually, but he was just our friend, the film producer who lived in the luxury apartment above the coffee shop where Anna worked, a number-one regular.
I lost five hundred thousand dollars making this movie, he’d say. I almost lost more.
With David it was like it was pretend money, and also, it was David, drinks always on him, Tesla on him. If anybody deserved it, we thought he did. He gave us stuff, gifts. He bought us Ed Hardy sweatshirts, because that’s what he wore, studded Ed Hardy with his custom sustainable slate Italian trousers made from recycled water bottles. A benign Woody Allen, Anna said once, but that wasn’t it either. I’d never met anyone like David. He had kids of his own out there, somewhere, who we’d never met. We were kind of like his kids, but mainly like his friends.
When I walked into the coffee shop on Wednesday, David was itching to talk to somebody, pacing back and forth, neurotic, mumbling under his breath. It’s like in ghost movies when the ghost thinks he’s still alive, but nobody is talking to him, so he doesn’t know what to do.
Anna whisked matcha frantically in a take-out cup, a line of five customers waiting. I couldn’t talk to David either that day, though—I was so distracted, my life essentially in shambles after my bad luck. I walked between two women in yoga pants considering the croissants in the case. Everybody in that coffee shop was always standing around like they had nothing to do, walking into each other, then backing up and trying again, like Sims, walking into the fridge, backing up, trying again. David had nothing to do either, but at least he knew where to stand.
Jesus Christ, I’ve been waiting for you to get here, he said, and grabbed me and shook my shoulders. Are you packed for tomorrow? Are you ready? Listen, very carefully. We’re meeting at the garage on La Brea.
I know, I got your email! David had emailed us a detailed itinerary. He’d put us up in the Hilton, he’d buy us dinner—maybe arctic char with crème fraiche, or maybe Mexican. I can’t wait, I said, still distracted.
He’s been yammering, Anna said. ALMOND MATCHA, she said, setting the cup on the counter edge.
I didn’t tell anyone about my problem, how I thought Ian, my best friend, Ian, might’ve gotten me pregnant, my horrendous luck. I knew it would ruin the mood: It ruined my mood. What better way to ruin a whole entire trip?
Do you remember, when you read my chart? I asked David. And you said I was maybe coming into some bad luck? You said it might be pretty bad?
Bad luck? David said. David was good at astrology, but he had a shit memory. I sort of remember. Did something happen? He looked at me with concern, then his eyes shifted and he looked right behind me.
Hello, Marcel! David waved.
Marcel stood at the door of the coffee shop in his safari-style hat, waved back with a half-hearted hand, more concerned with where to set his backpack down than David, than anything.
You OK? Anna asked me, whisking. You all right?
Yes! Why wouldn’t I be?
Marcel was the fourteen-year-old autistic kid I tutored that summer, for summer school. Two years out of college it seemed like the best job I could get. And I liked Marcel. I got paid good money to hang out with him. He’d meet me at the corner booth in the back. The inside of the coffee shop looked how I imagine Bam Margera’s house probably does, the booth seats covered in zebra print fur, a huge graffiti portrait of Cindy Lauper on the wall above us, a wall of fake platinum Rolling Stones records.
Marcel rolled a pencil under his hand.
Can we have croissant sandwiches? he said.
His mom gave us money for croissant sandwiches once we finished working, but sometimes Marcel couldn’t stop thinking about the croissant sandwiches, so we’d have to buy them before.
After we work! I told him. The homework, I reminded him.
He heard a car door slam, looked off. It wasn’t his mom’s. He was always thinking it might be, even though we’d just started. What work? he asked.
I pointed to the questionnaire for his Game Studies elective, which I’d printed out. Nobody had clarified why he was taking Game Studies. We need to finish this, I said.
What if we ate the sandwiches first, he said, burying his head in his hands. What if we ate sandwiches?
What if we got them in twenty minutes?
He looked up. Another car door slam. He was so easily distracted. He said, Can you not go on your trip?
It’s only for a couple days.
What if I have to call you?
Then you can call me. If you could be any cartoon character, who would you be? I read the question off the sheet. This will be a tough one for us, I thought. He won’t like this one.
I’m a normal guy, not a cartoon.
But for fun if you had to be one. If we were all cartoons?
Some knucklehead at school told me to beat it.
He said what?!
No, that’s how cartoons talk. He smirked. It’s like a cartoon. Some knucklehead.
I worked with kids like Marcel sometimes, I felt used to it. He was like my younger sister Sarah, who was twenty now, with my mom in Pasadena. Marcel wasn’t that much like Sarah, though. He was better with his words, and a toy train collector, their wooden tracks in concentric circles on his bedroom floor, all superglued in place forever. Sarah was all about My Little Pony, and claw machines with plastic Easter eggs with prizes inside—if she won duplicates, she’d toss them; if she stopped regarding them as beautiful or meaningful, she’d toss them—and miniature red apples cross-bred and imported from Japan, which my mom sourced online. Sarah sometimes read books to children at the public library, and, if she was feeling it, she’d give away a duplicate egg to one of those kids.
Marcel had been adopted from a Polish orphanage at just 3 years old, the way his mom explained it, and by then it was far too late. He’d retreated inward. The abuse, the neglect, the disgusting porridge they were fed for every meal, the gruel. It actually wasn’t clear if he’d been touched or neglected, I eventually gathered from her. Even the porridge, she’d seen in a movie.
We don’t really know, we can’t know, his mom had explained. Sharon was the easiest person I’d ever talked to, a casting agent used to tacking parts onto people. She corralled me into conversation but never asked me anything I might not know how to answer. She knew how to take her leisure time outside of work: she stretched out on her long leather couch with both elbows up when we last met at their house in Silverlake, and I think she must’ve mistook our amiability for closeness? Which was probably my fault. The last time I saw her she told me extensively about her bisexual experimentation back in the day at Bard College. I listened. Sharon would make an insane bisexual, I thought. She never asked me about my experimentation. I didn’t know what she’d hoped, that Marcel would ground her, give her purpose, but I guess I couldn’t imagine going out of your way to adopt a Polish orphan only to be so disappointed that if he doesn’t ace Game Studies, he won’t get into a college like Bard, he won’t be afforded the beautiful pursuit of a bachelor’s degree, he won’t get to be a beautiful bisexual, he won’t be anything like you at all.
What is manifesting? Marcel asked me. He set his chin in his hand.
It means you make something appear, somehow, out of nowhere.
My mom said she wants a man. Man-ifesting.
I couldn’t get Marcel to do any of the homework. I did it for him. I’m just like Mario from Mario, I wrote. We ate croissant sandwiches. When Marcel bit into the sandwich, his eyes closed, serene. They were good croissant sandwiches, greasy, with arugula, aioli, extra on the side. Anna knew how to do it.
After I left the coffee shop I got in my car and drove around the corner to the supermarket. I hit my hazards, left my car out front, ran in, emerged with the turnip.
You have to eat the whole turnip head, Anna had said, once, when she got nervous about her late period. I ate out of the produce plastic bag, gently winding through traffic, crunching through the whole tough skin thinking about how my body had essentially betrayed me. I was convinced of it. I’d have to get rid of it. I’d kept the positive and the negative pregnancy test by my bed in a purple stickered tray of my old broken jewelry parts, worthless clattering tarnished parts, but maybe if I ate the vegetable, the test would mean nothing at all, this wouldn’t be real, it would run right through me, gone.
It didn’t work, or else, I couldn’t tell. Early the next morning on the way to the car garage I purchased one more pregnancy test from Walgreens. One had been negative, and then one had been positive. So this one was the last one, I decided, this would be the one to sway me in the direction of true panic. I packed it in the bottom of my backpack.
We met at the underground garage with a floor of Tesla chargers where David kept his Tesla, gray with slanted headlights.
No beverages in the car, please, he said to Anna, who held an XL black coffee. David wore sporty blue laceless shoes and his round glasses—not Woody Allen glasses, but thin, silver. You’re such a dork, Anna said, pointing at his shoes. Yeah yeah, David said, and the Tesla blinked on.
Where’d you get those pants? Anna said. They were bell bottoms, with a lot of cargo pockets.
The nice young man at Saks Fifth, David said. I liked his pants, so I asked him, what should I wear? David liked to experiment with his clothing.
Those are crazy, Ian said. I hadn’t seen him since I’d taken the test. I didn’t really look at him.
All right, David said. Get in the car why don’t you? And no coffee. Toss it.
The four of us sat in the car, me in the front seat, David in the passenger. I pulled out of the garage, then kept my foot steady on the Tesla gas pedal. If you push down an inch you can go from 0 to 80 in seconds, David said. If you lift your foot off, it’s the equivalent of braking, hard.
Don’t you want to go 80? Doesn’t that excite you?! David tapped the Tesla screen. Gray cars showed up on all sides, sliding past, then glitching, disappearing, where real cars were outside. I used to race cars, you know?
I gripped the steering wheel, veering onto the freeway entrance, speeding up, then froze my foot in that position, trying hard to go a steady 65.
Jesus Christ. Please don’t slam it, David said, bracing himself. I’m gonna be sick.
No, I can do it, I said, sure of myself. If nothing else, I would drive this Tesla. I deserved to drive this Tesla.
Traffic stalled. A man in orange tried helplessly to coerce everyone leftward. Orange cones cordoned us. We lurched forward.
Ian looked at me from the backseat, leaned forward, put both hands on the seat. Just ease into it, he said, right behind my ear. Just, right there, ease—
It’s fine. I can do it.
JESUS Christ. That was the exit. David shook his head grimly. They closed the fucking exit.
I pulled into a ditch, some dry dirt in front of a Dunkin’ Donuts. Ultimately we switched places. David drove, and we rotated, Ian up in the front seat.
After a while, out the window on the right the ocean was one blue glaze, and I squinted to see where it separated from the sky. We all looked at the ocean, silently, at the same time. Further south, similar to LA, just less to tie it together.
From behind I caught Ian’s Safari searches.
can u overdose on cough drops
I heard the clatter of cough drops against his teeth. Then he opened Tinder. Tinder, San Juan Capistrano. A girl with matte purple lipstick. He swiped to see more. More?! He closed out of it, quickly. What the fuck was that for then?
Two weeks ago we’d driven out by the LA River, me not knowing why, but almost kind of knowing why, like if you’d made me sit down and write an essay about it, I might’ve known why.
You were in my dream, he’d told me, us sprawled out on the slant of hot white concrete, more concrete for miles both ways. I was trying to get out of my old therapist’s office. She took out some tiny scissors and told me she was going to kill me.
The hot therapist? I asked. The Irish one with the glasses?
Yes, he said. So I ran to the elevator, and it opened, and there you were, you turned and you said hi. It was you, he said with a kind of clarity, a kind of gravity. Ian wasn’t the most masculine person, but when he said that, and leaned toward me, I don’t know, I understood.
I don’t remember who started kissing who first. It seemed unimportant.
I’m tired, Ian had said, after it was all over, and nobody said how they felt—in fact, I thought the way he said he was tired might’ve been his way of telling me he thought it was all a mistake.
I’m going home, he said casually, and he thought I’d already gone when I dropped him off in front of his house, but I accidentally went the wrong way, took a u-turn and drove and saw him getting on the downtown bus instead, going somewhere, I don’t know where. I never mentioned it, any of it, to anyone at all.
I saw Anna, sitting there next to me in the Tesla, and felt she’d know what I was thinking. She was always looking at me. She raised her eyebrows at me now, then turned away, propped her arm on the window.
Our fake child felt like something I harbored, some ultimate trespass, the fake child violating me but also me violating Ian. Like when I’d watched Ian board the bus from afar. Our fake child felt like my fault, our fake child who would have to die a dumb fake death, and the fiasco of having to handle it. Our fake child who was wrong like a rock in my stomach.
We’re almost there, David said. Why’s it so quiet?! Can we listen to something? Are you all right back there?
David booked the wrong hotel.
My friend told me this was the one. Oh God.
The hotel was called the Garden Inn, not to be confused with Hilton: Garden Inn, nothing fancy, so of course not fancy enough for David, who begrudgingly listened to us when we assured him this would be fine, it would take too much time to try to book the Hilton.
Travel pamphlets for SeaWorld were stuffed into the clear plastic filing folder at the front desk. Take one ☺ in Sharpie. A vase of dry lilacs. A teenage girl in a t-shirt with indecipherable peeling letters held a ring of keycards out on her finger, which Ian took. I like your shirt, she told Ian. Whore, I thought for some reason.
David went to his own room. The door to our hotel room was sticky. I can’t get it, Anna said, after a couple tries. Ian had to wave the card quickly over the scanner and shove his shoulder into the door to get it open.
The TV in the hotel room was concave. On the desk, miscellaneous pads of yellow paper, a telephone with a curly wire. Ian fell onto the bed. Anna started pressing remote buttons. The toilet seat in the bathroom was broken, off the hinges. My least favorite thing was broken toilet seats. Not here, not right now. I didn’t even take the test out.
I walked out toward the vending machine. I hadn’t been nauseous, that was one thing, which potentially indicated I was OK. Nausea would be a bad sign. The problem was that I didn’t miss periods like that. On my way down the first-floor outdoor hallway, I passed a few windows, one of which was wide open, curtains parted. A man and a woman stood in the window, talking. The woman wore pajama pants with hearts on them, a wide-brimmed beach hat. Arguing, and furious, it seemed like.
Fuck you, I heard, and then she turned and saw me looking. I walked quickly away.
We sat around the gated pool, after we’d settled in. Anna started braiding my hair from behind. Does that feel too tight? she said. She smeared sunscreen over my shoulder blades. There was leafy matter in the pool, at my ankles, my feet fully submerged. I swished them around.
Remember what you said about turnips? I said, quietly.
What did I say? she said. Can you get my back? We turned, I shook the sunscreen bottle.
You said that you have to eat the head of a turnip to get your period, I said, rubbing it over her tanned shoulders, her back.
Sure. My aunt taught me that. You know my Aunt Rita? Remember Rita?
Goddammit, David said, walking out onto the concrete. He shielded his eyes with a Sea World pamphlet.
What’s wrong? Ian was throwing rocks at the pool, across from us.
The appointment tomorrow is at 11 am sharp. I thought it was 1.
You’ll get your answers quicker, Ian said.
I’d like them more slowly, David said.
You’ve got a slow death, you can’t complain, Ian said. You’re dying slowly.
Slow and easy, David said. I really can’t. I love my slow death.
How many years to live? Ian said. Two?
Three. Are you sick of me yet? I thought they said 1 pm. Jesus Christ, David said.
We’re sick of you anyways, Ian said, and threw another rock at the pool. A big one that sank.
Are you nervous? Anna said, swiping sunscreen from her hands onto her thighs. Didn’t you say it was painful?
Yes, it’s very painful, David said. The test.
Are you nervous? I said.
Please, David said. I don’t get nervous, I just want to have a pleasant time. This pool, we need to get out of this dump. We’re going to the beach. We’re going to drink. He waved the pamphlet around; it flapped open. I just want a pleasant time.
We can walk, it’s right down there, Ian said.
We’ll take an Uber. I’ll call it now.
At the beach I buried my legs in sand, two mounds, then unearthed them, sandy.
Sand is good for open wounds, David said. David had a hat pulled over his face and still wore his white t-shirt, with colorful Ed Hardy swim trunks, orange koi fish.
Soft fine sand stuck to the pink lime strawberry mixed margarita Nutcrackers we bought, six at once from the woman selling out of a cooler. I drank all of mine. David flagged the woman down for more. Anna ran and pumped a beach ball up to the air toward Ian, who ran, kind of hard, and slammed it back at her. He is kind of masculine, I thought.
Catch, Ian said, and hit the ball at me. It thudded on the sand and rolled.
I don’t want to play, I said, beginning to bury my legs again, squeezing sand over them like an hourglass.
I’m sitting, I said.
Wherever you guys want, I’ll pay for it, David said. We’ll need to get food soon. Why don’t we do Mexican?
Everyone walked around flat-footed in flip-flops. We decided on a nearby taqueria. The taqueria looked like the inside of a zeppelin, the walls cherry red, rectangular mirrors all along the inner perimeters so everybody’s reflections were everywhere, all around. Strings of green lights were hung along the ceilings, festive Mexican tinsel.
We walked in and sat at a table. David pulled his hat off, tossed it aside. We each ordered burritos and devoured them. I forked at the side salad.
I love your pants, somebody told Anna, enthusiastically, passing by our table.
I realized, it was the girl I’d seen arguing with her boyfriend, back at the hotel.
Anna and David liked to talk to strangers, they just started yammering.
You like my pants? David said.
LOVE! the woman said.
I looked at Ian for a minute. “Take it on the Run” by REO Speedwagon came on so loud from the restaurant speakers, once it hit six o’clock, like management thought, six o’clock, it’s time. Ian was slouched, so self-conscious-seeming, as in, take a look at ourselves, do I actually look dumb, sitting here? Are my clothes dumb? Do I drink too much? Do I look dumb sitting here drinking my dumb drink? He would look at me like he was asking all that, he would look at me from across the table. Most of what Ian had told me about his childhood was about how his uncle used to lock him in the closet and play Insane Clown Posse when he finished the last of milk cartons, when he left lights on in the house to study or read at night. I could feel so close to Ian, he’d tell me these things, and protective. I don’t know if it had always been this exact kind of closeness. What was this kind of closeness? Would we become even closer? How could I know the difference, between close and too close? Close close…
I want another negroni, Ian said.
Me too. We both nodded, stared at each other for one second, him watching me. I said I’d get them.
For the life of me I couldn’t hold the word negroni in my brain.
A shot? The bartender gave me a pointed, bright look. The thought came to me like an impression, all at once, then dissolved. The kind of guy who’s never worn a condom in his life. This was a virile man, swarthy. That guy doesn’t wrap it up. A certain brightness beneath the eyes, blue. A shot? he said.
What can I get you then, he said, impatient now. Just like that, any flirtatious energy dissolved, when I seemed confused, nervous.
Um. The Mexican negroni please, I said. I picked up a laminated menu, bordered with clip art chili peppers.
Hey what’s that? the guy said, right next to me, when the bartender set down my Mexican negroni.
Wait, sorry, can I have another one too please, I said to the bartender, who gave a distant annoyed look. Two Mexican negronis.
Is that an old fashioned? the guy said.
It’s a Mexican negroni, I said.
The man said his name was Henley. Henley? I thought. Who named you Henley? And, I realized, the same guy I’d seen arguing with his girlfriend, before. His girlfriend, Alicia, he said, was out with him. Should I get her the Mexican negroni? he said. Alicia who was still talking to David and Anna. It was so random, it looked like The Breakfast Club over there. But Anna and David were animated.
The older gentleman, Henley said, and the use of gentleman seemed out of character for him, although I did not know him at all. He wore a flat-brimmed yellow hat. He with you guys?
Yeah, he is, I said.
He followed me back to the table.
Ian gave me a look about Alicia, who was cackling at something David said, knocking his arm.
You’re a riot! she said.
They took our plates away, and Alicia and Henley joined us, at the table next to ours. Anna didn’t seem to mind. David is ours, I wanted to say, but David was so talkative, he couldn’t help himself.
You’re from Valencia? David said, to Alicia. I’ve never been there.
Exploding head emoji. From Marcel.
can u call? Groaning head emoji. call???
“Hey Jealousy” erupted from the sound system. The music in that bar was relentless.
My mom said I have to do Game Studies again, Marcel said, over the phone. I covered my other ear, stood up from our table, and walked. I said I don’t want to, he said.
Could you text, Marcel? Text? I can’t really hear.
Can you please try to tell her, I want to take something else. She said I have to do it again if I don’t pass.
I’ll tell her. No more Game Studies.
I don’t want to be in a video game.
You are not in a video game.
I don’t want to be in a video game. I want to be real.
This isn’t a video game, I said.
OK I don’t want to feel like I’m in a video game. Same thing, he said, angrily.
Who was that? David said.
Is he all right? David said. He removed his glasses and began rubbing the lenses with the hem of his shirt. Alicia was talking to Henley, into his ear, into his face, not listening to us. Ian was at the bar grabbing more drinks. Anna in the bathroom.
Of course he’s all right. His mom is a bitch. It just makes me sad.
What do you mean? David said, leaning in. You know, his mother made a pass at me, one day.
She made a pass?!
I mean, who’s to say. But she invited me over for pot roast.
I believe you, I said. I just feel bad.
I mean, why bad? It is what it is. You’re good with him, nice to him.
I’m not, not at all. You wanna know what I remembered the other day? When I was younger and I’d play this game where I’d pretend not to see my sister?
What about your sister?
There’s something wrong with me, I told David.
I’d just pretend not to see her, for hours, I told David. I wonder where Sarah is, I’d say out loud. She’d go away for a while. She’d bury herself in her My Little Ponies. I’d know, I’m pushing her inward, she’s talking to her toys, but I’d keep the game up. Then she’d turn back around and try waving her hands in my face again. I’d pretend to be reading a book, buried in it. I’d look up and say, huh, I really wonder where Sarah is, I’m starting to get worried. For hours this would go on. Sometimes she’d start to tear up.
Can you see me? Please. Please, I’m right here, waving her hands frantically in my face.
Sarah! You’re back! I’d say, finally. Thank God. Thank God.
You can see me! You can see me! she’d yell.
It was just to get her to hug me again, the feeling of her hugging me, so hard. She wouldn’t really hug me if I didn’t do that. She would really have believed that she had disappeared. How was she supposed to know the difference?
Children do cruel things. You can’t be guilty about those things. David sat back, crossed his legs. When I was young, I think I had a crush on my cousin. I mean, it’s only natural. My cousin. And so I tortured her, relentlessly. I told her she was hideous. I told her every day that she was the ugliest girl I’d ever seen.
That’s not that bad.
Everybody does cruel things, David said, and threw his hands up. And nobody remembers. They grow up.
I don’t think I knew it was cruel. But I didn’t think it was nice either.
Sure. And in adulthood same but different, David said. You want love, you ask for it in the strangest way. I mean, women. My ex-wife used to play CNN while we had sex. My ex-wife used to leave love letters addressed to herself on the kitchen table so I’d think that she was having an affair, so I’d magically become better at sex. Lisa was cruel.
I don’t want kids, I told David, as if this was the answer, to all this.
That’s what I thought, David said. Now look at me. Three kids. Do you know how much Vanderbilt costs?!
Do you miss Lisa? Do you still love her? I said, half-taunting.
David swatted at me. Oh please. This is not a conversation for now. A dull conversation. Dull dull dull. Then he said a word in Hebrew which he really only did when he was drunk. He drained the rest of his drink, set it down hard, his glass wetting the table. Dull, he said.
We got fairly drunk, after a while, on David’s tab. David mentioned one of his movies. They put it on Netflix, he said. It’s on Netflix now. Nobody asked me. They went ahead.
I’ve seen that movie! Ian said. I saw it, years ago. That’s your movie?
Me too! Alicia said. I was pretty sure she was lying. She leaned toward David. You know what, Henley and I saw that movie in the theater. I remember that. I remember saying, I want to see that movie. And we. Were. Hysterical. We loved it.
She had a Dutch accent, or something, I was realizing, but looked really tan, the skin on her chest crinkled like she’d been on the beach for days.
I made that movie, David said, as if to affirm her. It ended, he said, with the girl running through this field of flowers. I was sure of it because I’d dreamt it. So she runs through the flowers and she sees this boy, her love interest, and his head was a rock instead. His head was a big rock, a big boulder. I never forgot that image. WHAT AN IMAGE. He held his hands like he was holding the boulder. I put it in the movie. The people hated it. The people hated it.
They hated the end? Ian said.
They hated the whole movie. Terrible reviews. That’s how I lost the five hundred thousand dollars I told you about.
Ian nodded. But you made the movie at least. I like that movie. I don’t remember the end, I remember I liked it.
Was it embarrassing when it was bad? Anna said.
Oh please. I don’t get embarrassed.
He doesn’t, Ian said, to Anna.
About anything? Anna said.
About anything. What am I gonna do with embarrassment? OK, fine, I’m embarrassing. What am I gonna do with that?
Oh, really? Alicia grabbed David’s hand, pulled him to his feet.
She was insane, I thought, looking at Ian.
No no no, David kept saying. I don’t dance though.
Ooh, you’re EMBARRASSED, Anna said.
I’m not! Oh, God.
Alicia spun David around, who spun, clumsy. Henley was over at the bar, talking to the bartender, indifferent, drinking a Mexican Negroni.
She’s into David, Ian said.
David could go on and on for days, about how women were beautiful, yes, but he never needed anybody. So we made jokes about him being asexual or else unlovable, and David loved the jokes. But I really thought David didn’t need any woman at all. That wasn’t what he wanted.
Oh yeah, he said, dancing, and he kind of shimmied backwards, away from her, adjusted his glasses. That’s enough. He sat down.
Oh God, Anna said. She pulled her baseball hat over her eyes.
You don’t like my dancing? Why not? He waved an arm in a big dance move and knocked alcohol all across the table, across my bag, with the test inside. The whole bag was soaked.
I’ll get it dry cleaned! He kept saying. I’m so sorry!
I couldn’t stay mad at David, but the test was ruined. You dumb old man, I said anyways, because it was funny to say.
Let me make it up to you. Another reading.
David pulled up his astrology app, brought his nose close to his phone. David was so practical and yet he was more than willing to indulge in astrology. I felt it was shocking, his knowledge regarding astrological signs.
You know, your chart. You’re never leaving, you’re very stable, with your partner—er—whoever.
He looked at Ian next to me. And David knew, I think, without me telling him. The way he looked back and forth between us. He didn’t say anything though. Best friends, he said. Look at them. Aw. Best friends. We were like a cast of characters in David’s life, like theatre or a sitcom, but we liked it that way. We were his favorite show.
David was sharp. We forgot sometimes that David was really dying, because of course, we couldn’t see it. I’d never known anyone who died. But David had lived. His son Tyler, for example, had gone to Vanderbilt, majored in business and found a hot Icelandic girlfriend who made Twitch content from her dorm room. That was about all I knew about Tyler, but it seemed like enough. David had been a good dad. I thought so. He slammed his Mezcal shot.
IAN? Another round. He shooed him away. My tab’s still open.
The door to our room itself was sort of small honestly, just big enough for us to walk through it without skimming the tops of our heads. Ian tried opening it, once, twice with the card.
It’s jammed, he said. Fuck. He sighed.
Anna had stayed out with David and kept the other key, the one that read easier.
I don’t want to go all the way back to the check-in office. Ian grabbed the knob, shaking it, shoving the door in. Nothing.
No, I think I can do it. I took the card from him, swiped once, hit the door with my shoulder. Fuck.
No, you can’t, Ian said. It’s stuck.
No no, I said.
No, Ian said, like I was crazy.
I smashed into the door with the flesh of my shoulder. No good, I said. I backed up again, and ran harder, and smashed it.
Please, he said. Will you please let me help you?!
I backed up, ran and shoved one more time at the door and it opened.
Oh. Ian said. He stepped inside, looked around. You did it!
Only when I sat down on the bed did I realize something was really wrong with my arm. I kept trying to pop something back into place. Something in there is loose, I told him. Ian told me to stop moving, stop trying to bend it back the other way.
It came out of the joint. It fucking hurts, I said.
No, and I pushed his hand away.
Let me see. He lifted the sleeve of my sweatshirt, my arm bone bulging out of my elbow. Stop moving, he said. Please.
No I need to pop it back into place. I tried once more, hard, and screamed.
In the morning, I woke up in a hospital bed. Then it dawned on me that I did remember, my arm, how much it hurt. Broken, they kept saying to me, last night. They’d told me to hold still, twisted it hard and shoved it under the X-ray to get the right picture.
A pointed throb set in, right where my elbow was, then dulled and spread up to my shoulder, all of it heavy and aching, tightly wrapped in a cast, too tight. The nurse wore calamine pink scrubs. She neatened a stack of paperwork, stapled with one hard click.
Excuse me, are my friends here? I heard myself say it, weakly. I looked down, yellow plastic clipped around my wrist.
Nobody is allowed in the emergency room besides the patient after hours, she said, like she’d said it a thousand times before. I must’ve already asked.
You can give your friends a call.
Do you think you could do a pregnancy test? I asked her all of a sudden. Do you think you could do one?
She swiveled around in her chair, stood. She sighed. Oh honey,we always do that, she said. You’re not pregnant.
She left the room.
That’s it? I thought. I guessed maybe finally it was the end to my bad luck. My swollen arm, wrapped tightly in gauze. It didn’t hurt too bad. I would take the broken arm, I thought. I’ll take it, over anything else.
After a while, there was a knock at the door. Anna came in.
Jesus, she said. And then she started cackling. How drunk were you?!
I really thought I was pregnant, I told her.
I need to tell you something. I didn’t tell anyone I hooked up with Ian. I don’t want it to ruin anything. I don’t know why I did that. I don’t know why I didn’t tell you. I’m sorry. I shut my eyes, feeling the throb through my arm.
Ian told me, she said.
I didn’t know if you wanted to talk about it, she said. I guess I was going to let you bring it up. Took you a fucking while though.
That’s…gross I guess, your and Ian’s kid. But you’re not pregnant right?
No. You’re not mad?
I just thought you didn’t want to tell me about it. It kind of hurt my feelings. She sat in the nurse’s swivel chair. Whatever though.
I thought you’d be mad, I said.
I would never be mad. Are you serious?
The nurse came back in. You can go whenever you want, she mentioned.
Your arm, this looks bad. Does it hurt?! Anna poked at the cast. Can I draw on it? God, this is awful. She stood me up, walked me out.
When David woke up the next morning, he looked me up and down, beholding me.
What the hell? You can’t drive, that’s for goddamn sure. Oh my God what have I done. He put both his hands on his head, like Marcel’s exploding head emoji. Taking you all here, a mistake. You have one arm.
He looked me up and down again.
Are you OK? he said, not sincerely, not entirely with irony either. With sympathy, a caricature of sympathy.
I’m gonna be totally fine.
He smirked at me. We got too drunk last night, didn’t we?
Another thing about David was that he ran 5 miles every other day regardless of how much he’d drank the night before. David was ripped.
Let’s walk the mile to the Starbucks, and then I’ll go to my appointment. Well, you can walk, can’t you?
Of course I can.
And then they’ll tell me what the test says. I’ll get the test, and they’ll tell me.
What are they gonna say? Ian said. That you’re still dying? Is that what this was all for?
Yeah yeah. Let’s get going, please. I don’t wanna be late.
We started a solemn walk toward the Starbucks.
You’re not the only one with bad luck. Alicia stole my credit card.
We didn’t realize until much later, Anna said. On the way home. She took his credit card, out of his pocket. That bitch. And she checked out this morning. I asked the front desk. He had to cancel it.
Oh my god, I said.
I knew something was wrong with her, Ian said. Who would wanna dance with David?
It’s just some bad luck. Your chart, by the way, David told me. You’re coming into some good luck now. Did I tell you that part? Well…He looked at my arm. Clearly not yet. But soon.
Is there something…are you OK? Ian said, when he got back to the room, tossed the keycard onto the bed. I know, your arm, you’re not thinking about this, but I don’t know if you’re upset with me, or if you regret it. I don’t…regret…anything he said, like it was kind of hard to say, one word at a time.
He was on to me. Regret? I sat on the edge of the bed. My headache a slow onset, starting to sweat, a hangover sweat. The light through our floral curtains left splotches on our carpet. I could smell coffee somewhere, and everything, the sheets, everything so clean and fresh. I love hotels, I thought simply, because they always smell the same. I wanted to wrap myself in the plush comforter and I could die happy that way. Hotels which smelled the same when I was a kid, they will never stop smelling the same. They always smell like plush comforters, like you’ve just ironed something. They smell like hotels.
Can we go on a walk? I said. Can we get breakfast?
He nodded. Sure, he said. Let’s leave the door unlocked this time?
We walked toward the complimentary hotel breakfast in the banquet hall, a collection of white tableclothed tables. In tins, circles of damp scrambled eggs, cereal dispensers, a pyramid of bagels.
I don’t regret anything either, I told him, collecting circles of egg. Why would I regret anything?
I don’t know, he said, poking at his eggs with a plastic fork.
We sat next to each other on one of the white lawn chairs by the pool with our limp paper breakfast plates, Dixie cups of orange juice.
I was nervous you did, he said.
Why did we do that then?
Ian shrugged. I wanted to.
Me too, I said.
We ate like we were starving, the sun hot on our backs. Ian went to get more food. I sat next to a woman in a coral one-piece swimsuit. Her girlfriend, I think, walked over with a cup of coffee.
I know how you like your coffee, her girlfriend said. With cream. With cream, two creams, maybe a tiny bit of sugar, if that? Tiny bit? Maybe two?
How specific and intricate, two creams, and maybe, and if that, then the sugar. With how much care.
see u thursday? From Marcel. no game studies pls
Yes marcel see you Thursday.
Ian walked back up.
Yeah, I said, adjusting the strap on my sling, setting my heavy arm in my lap. It kind of hurts.
I know you don’t like sweets, but I thought maybe today a chocolate croissant sounded good. He handed it to me, wrapped in brown napkins.
When David did die, I knew when it happened without knowing. I’d had such a weird dream. I’d been worried already, about how he’d had a recent hospital stay, about how he hadn’t come in for his espresso in days. Maybe he made a trip to Palermo again, Anna said, not wanting to really know. I had a dream I was driving his Tesla, he in the passenger seat directing me where to go. Everything in Los Angeles was rearranged, not where it should be. Rearranged like a Sims town, like someone had selected all the land plots and randomized them. Go this way, he’d say and it was the wrong street, that wasn’t where Ralphs was, and Melrose ran backwards. The Italian restaurant is this way, he’d say. I made us a reservation. And I realized, finally, that it was a joke, he was playing one long joke on me…
Just kidding, it was the other way. AHAHA!
We’re going to be late, David!!! I said.
They know me, he said, and tossed a hand at me. We’ll get there, he said. We will get there.
When I woke up I saw out my window it was such a clear day out, completely cloudless. The most beautiful fucking day I’d ever seen. I was so pissed. You piece of shit. You son of a bitch you prick you cocksucker you dog Woody Allen, you clown, I said, out loud, sitting up in bed, staring out my stupid window. My friend. Please don’t go.