Aching Waves of the Lonely Tides

Underwater UnsplashSebastian Script

We are wedged into the purple chaise in the dark room, me on the bottom, Rivi more or less sitting nearly on my lap. The chaise is further being shared by a bottle of Chivas Regal, which takes turns being in either her hand or mine. We have no need of glasses tonight. Swigging from the bottle is good enough for this fine evening of low cheer.

“My plan was to stop believing in love when I turned twenty-one,” Rivi says. She lifts the bottle and takes a drink. “That plan obviously turned out to be shit.”

“You’re a romantic,” I say. “You’re doomed from the start with that one.”

She snorts and pushes the bottle between my leg and the arm of the chaise. “Romantic my ass. I’m an idiot.” She undoes the top button of her dress and scratches the skin beneath it with her fingernail. “I’m also drunk.”

“Just a little drunk,” I say.

“And I feel a little sick.”

“If you throw up on my chaise, I’m going to disown you.”

She scoots down lower in the chaise and turns sidewise, putting one leg over me and resting her head against my shoulder. “I’m not going to throw up. I’m a lady who can handle her booze, thank you very much.” She closes her eyes and blows a heavy breath out between her lips. “Am I underwater? I feel like I’m underwater.”

“You’re in my living room,” I say. “You’re not going to drown in here.” A car drives by outside the window, and the headlights race from the far wall across the room, weightlessly touching first Rivi’s hip, then my own, then extinguishing themselves against the other side of the window’s curtains.

“Do you know who I am?” she asks me.

“I’ve known you for ten years,” I say. “I’m pretty sure I know who you are by now.”

She undoes a second button on her dress. In the dim light, the shadow of her skin is only sightly lighter than the dark of the fabric around it. “I’m not coming on to you, so don’t get any ideas. I’m just hot.”

“I’ve known you for ten years,” I say again. “I’d never get any ideas.”

“Good,” she says. “You’re not an earthquake. You’re solid ground.” She puts her palm against my chest, and I can feel her fingers tapping me softly through my shirt as I breathe.

“I have no idea what you mean,” I say, although that’s not exactly true. “You’re drunk,” I add needlessly.

“Not drunk enough,” she replies, although she leaves the bottle where she’d put it a minute ago. When I decide she’s not going to change her mind, I take the bottle and set it on the windowsill, then with one hand, screw the cap back on. “I’m going to get you some plants,” she says. “You need plants in your window.”

“Bad idea,” I say. “I kill everything I try to keep alive.”

She stops tapping my chest and presses her hand against me. “Not everything,” she says. “Not at all.”

“Stop coming on to me, Rivi,” I say.

“Shut up, numbskull.”

The wind picks up and rattles against the window, and one minute becomes two, and then five and more. Finally, for a few seconds the moon manages to slip through the clouds, and the blue light which seeps into the room now does make it seem as though we are underwater, floating beneath a calm night sea. The air is cold like the Pacific, and the quiet ambient hum of the silence in the apartment whispers like waves dancing a fathom above. Rivi puts her hand into mine, and in the moments before the clouds swallow the moon again, before we are covered once more in darkness, she looks up at me, and I can see the ocean’s depths in her eyes, bottomless and full of promises and secrets and currents that I’ve never explored, and for the space of a heartbeat or two, I wonder where those waters would take me if I would just let the air out of my lungs, and let myself sink into the heart of her sea.

And then the moon is gone, and so is the sea, and her soft and even breathing tells me that Rivi has fallen asleep against me in the chaise. I keep her hand in mine while she dreams, so that if she wakes during the night, she will know that there is someone there to keep her from drifting away over the curve of the earth, swept along in the aching waves of the lonely tides.

Refugee

Cat UnsplashBoone

The camera, the one Tina got on our trip to Concord the other day, is sitting on my kitchen table. She walked in the door with it ten minutes ago, and now she is drinking coffee, her bare feet propped on a chair, her hair mussed from the wind that was gusting outside my apartment before she came inside. It is barely dawn, and we haven’t turned on any lights. The dim glow from outside the kitchen windows tints us both blue, and I feel chilled by the air.

“I want to go to the park today,” she says. “I need to break in my camera.”

“Do you want breakfast first?” I ask. I am not yet properly dressed, in sweatpants and T-shirt, hair mussed, unshaven. I knew she had been coming early this morning, but somehow I had been expecting her to wait until the sun had come up.

“We can get something on the way,” she says. “I want to get there early.”

“Obviously,” I say. Once upon a time, Tina had been a photographer for hire—weddings, portraiture, that sort of thing. I’d done some jobs with her in the past, mostly being her second gun at large events, catching the shots on the periphery while she did all the real work. It was never my passion, and when she started shooting for herself instead of for other people, I didn’t feel the need to try and make a go of it for myself. Tina is the true artist between us. I just drift on through.

“I want to go to the tea garden,” Tina says. “It’s supposed to be overcast today.”

“Okay,” I say, and sip my coffee. Cloudy days make for the best lighting, all soft light and shadows. Tina used to shoot a lot of her engagement photos there, with the pagoda or arching moon bridge as backdrops. I know it’s her favorite place to shoot in the park.

There is a sound from outside my back door, a soft but insistent mewing. “Hang on,” I tell Tina, standing up. “I forgot to feed the cat.”

“You don’t have a cat,” she says.

“It’s not mine.” I take one of the small cans of cat food that I bought at the market two days ago down from the cupboard near the sink. “I don’t know who it belongs to.”

“It belongs to you if you’re feeding it.”

I empty the wet food onto a small plate and take it to the back door. The cat—a small black and white kitten with slightly gummy eyes—is waiting on the other side. Its meowing becomes louder as I open the door, although it doesn’t try to enter the apartment. It moves off down to the foot of the stairs and waits while I set the food down, then close the door behind me.

Tina comes to the window over the sink and peers out. “I give it a week before it moves in. You’re a softy.”

“I don’t want a cat,” I say. I put the empty can into the recycling. “I don’t even like cats.”

“Doesn’t matter,” she says. “You’re a pushover. Always have been.”

She’s right about that, of course, and there’s no point in denying it. “Do I have time for a shower? I didn’t take one last night.”

“If I told you no, you’d just go without,” she says. She pours the last bit of her coffee down the sink and rinses out the cup. “Go ahead. Make it quick though. I want to catch the light before it changes.”

“Alright. Give me five minutes.” Instead of responding, she looks out the window again at the kitten, and I leave the kitchen and head to my room to get clothes for after my shower. I grab a clean shirt, but take the jeans I wore yesterday off the chair I’d draped them on before going to bed last night. Photography with Tina is always a messy business, and there is no point in dirtying up clean pants with a morning and afternoon of crawling through bushes, kneeling in mud and splashing through the edges of ponds. She isn’t afraid of getting dirty while she works, and after all this time, I’m not either. I’ve learned over the years that shooting with her isn’t for the delicate.

I wash quickly, not bothering with a shave, and dress in the bathroom. When I return to my room to put my sweatpants and dirty shirt into the hamper, I find Tina sitting on my bed, shoes still off. The kitten is on her lap, purring as she scratches it beneath the chin. “You knew you were going to let it in,” she says. “I just thought I’d cut to the chase.”

“I don’t like cats,” I says again. “It wasn’t going to come inside.”

“She’s a girl. I’m going to name her Jessie.”

“If you’re going to name it,” I say, “then you can take it home with you.”

She rolled the cat onto its back and started to scratch its belly. The cat did not protest, only increased the volume of its purrs. “I’m not taking her. She’s your cat.”

“She’s not my cat, she’s a stray. I can’t take care of myself, let alone an animal. She’d starve inside of a week.”

“You’re already feeding her.”

“Obviously that was a mistake,” I say.

“Doesn’t matter,” she says. “Jessie lives here now, so you’re just going to have to get used to the idea. Do you have any litter?”

“What? Of course I don’t have any litter. Why would I have any litter?”

She gets off the bed and hands the kitten to me. “Then I’ll go get you some.”

“No. I don’t want to keep the cat. Besides, we’re going to go to the park. You need to catch the light, right?”

“The light will wait,” she says. “We can go after. This is more important.”

The cat is licking the tips of my fingers and making itself at home against my chest. “Tina…”

“I’ll be back in ten minutes,” she says. She scratches the kitten on the head. “You should have gotten a cat years ago. She looks good on you.”

“I don’t like cats,” I say once more.

“Well she likes you.” She walks toward the living room where her shoes are, but pauses in the doorway to say, “Ten minutes. You two get to know one another. I’ll be right back.” She continues into the other room, leaving me alone with the cat.

“I don’t like you,” I say to the kitten, holding it up face-to-face with me. “Just so you know.”

The cat mews, closes its eyes and continues contentedly licking my fingertips.

Coffee, Toast and Ill Omens

Coffee UnsplashOlivia Script

I find parking along the houses on 45th Avenue, around the block from the coffee shop. The rain is still falling, pattering like pebbles against the roof of my car. I have Arthur’s umbrella in the seat next to me, but I am not rushing to go out into the storm. Are these second thoughts that I am having about meeting him inside the shop? Possibly. Also likely is that I am having regrets about everything that’s happened which led up to me being on the beach where Arthur saw me this afternoon. Regrets about Christopher. Regrets about coming to this city in the first place.

No take-backs around here.

My dress is wet from the rain, and there is nothing to be done about that, but I remember that there is a black hoodie in the backseat of the car that Rivi left the last time we were out. I reach around the rear of my seat and blindly drag my hand through the things lost back there until I feel the fabric of the hoodie between my fingers. I pull it up front with me and put it on. At least I won’t freeze to death, which may or may not be a good thing.

There is a flash from the sky, and an enormous peal of thunder shakes my car. It’s hard not to take it as an ill omen.

I get out of my car and hurry down the sidewalk, the umbrella held high over my head. Trouble Coffee is in the middle of the block, and Arthur is standing out front beneath their awning, near a driftwood log which has been placed on the sidewalk as a sort of bench for the store, though because of the rain, there is no one sitting on it. Arthur is waiting for me, his umbrella closed and held low by his side. He raises a hand to me as he sees me, and now it is too late for me to not make an appearance.

“I’m glad you came,” he says as I step beneath the awning. “I wasn’t sure if you were going to.”

I close the umbrella I’m using, the one he has loaned me, and shake it off. “I had to. I had to return your umbrella.”

He lifts his and says, “I’ve got one. You keep it.” Another flash of lightning brightens the sky, and Arthur reaches to touch me on the arm. “Let’s go inside.”

“Before it’s time to board the Ark,” I say.

He smiles and opens the door for me. The shop is small and crowded with people, sitting on the few stools lined around the counter and in front of the window, standing closely together along the walls. A child’s hobby horse hangs from the ceiling, a peculiar bit of decor, and the atmosphere is pleasantly social and low-key. In spite of myself, I feel my mood threatening to lighten just a bit. I snuff that out quickly, not wanting to get too comfortable. This situation is still weird, and I don’t want to take that edge off.

“Afternoon,” the woman behind the counter says to us as we squeeze up to the register. A green tattoo of ivy climbs up from beneath the collar of her shirt and disappears into the line of her

blonde hair. “What can I get you?”

There is a menu on a clipboard hanging from a nail on the counter, but I find that I don’t really have a preference. “I’ll have what he’s having,” I say, nodding at Arthur.

Arthur doesn’t look at the menu. “Two Depth Charges, please. And toast.” He pays for us both, and while we wait for the woman to finish preparing our order, I see a small group of people beginning to leave their stools at the front of the store. I touch Arthur on the arm and indicate that I’m going to go get us seats. A few minutes later he comes to meet me, two paper cups of coffee in his hands, a strip of sandwich paper holding two thick slices of cinnamon toast balanced on top. I take the toast and one of the coffees and put them on the counter, and he sits next to me.

“I don’t think I’ve ever eaten toast at a coffee shop,” I say. The bread is easily two inches thick, coated with a generous layer of butter and cinnamon, and smells like my grandmother’s kitchen.

“It’s a thing now,” he says. “All the kids are doing it. Besides, it tastes good.”

I don’t want to talk about toast. “Show me the picture again,” I say. He takes it from his bag and hands it to me, and there we are still: Arthur standing on a cobbled street at dusk, me standing next to him, a row of houses on either side of us, stretching off into the dark. When Arthur had shown me the photo earlier on the beach, I had no idea where or when it was taken, and I still have no idea now. I have no memory of the street, and no memory of ever meeting Arthur other than this afternoon.

“It’s New Zealand,” he says. “A month ago.”

I turn the picture over and look at the back, looking for what, I don’t know. “Photoshop?” I ask, looking at the front again.

He raises his coffee to his lips and takes a sip, then puts the cup down again. “Nope.”

“Well, I don’t know what the game is here, but I’ve never been to New Zealand.”

“It’s no game,” he says. “And you were in New Zealand last month, with me.”

I was here last month,” I say. I hold the picture up and turn it toward him. “I’ve never been here, and I don’t remember ever meeting you before today.” I drop the picture on the counter in front of him and stand up. “It was a mistake to come here with you. I should have just gone home.”

“Wait,” he says. He puts his hand on my arm, but I shake it off. “Just listen to what I have to say, Oli.”

“Don’t call me that,” I say, unsettled by the tone of familiarity I hear in his voice. “You don’t get to call me that.”

“I’ve been calling you that for the last three years.”

“I’ve never met you before. I don’t know who you are or what you want from me.”

“I want to talk to you,” he says. “Explain this all to you.”

I shake my head. People in the coffee shop are staring at us, but I don’t care. “There’s nothing to explain. Whatever you’re doing, stop. If I see you again, I’ll call the cops.”

“Wait,” Arthur says, but I don’t. I push my way through the crowded shop and out into the rain, leaving the umbrella behind. I don’t care about getting wet. I don’t want to touch anything of his anymore. Of course he follows me. Of course he does.

“I’m calling the police!” I shout, but I remember I didn’t even bring my phone with me, that it’s on the kitchen counter at home, where I left it after running away from Christopher this morning.

Arthur is tall and his stride is long, and even almost running as I am, he catches up to me in seconds. He  puts his hand on my shoulder and I spin around. My hands are in fists, and I swing at him without thinking, catching him against his shoulder. “Get away from me!” I yell.

“Just take this,” he says quietly. He has something in his hand, and I am terrified that it is a knife or a gun, but I see that it’s nothing like that. It’s an envelope, held clenched in his fist.

“Take it and I’ll go.”

“You’re a psycho,” I say.

“Take it,” he repeats. He holds it out for me.

I snatch it from him. “Don’t follow me,” I say. I turn and walk quickly away, glancing at him as I turn the corner of the street my car is parked on. He stands where he stopped, neither following me nor walking away, watching me go.

My head is aching as I get into my car. I lock the doors and let the shakes I’ve been holding in come, not trying to put the key into the ignition yet, nowhere near ready to think about driving away. I look into the mirror, expecting to see Arthur coming up the sidewalk, but the sidewalk is empty. I watch for a full minute, but he doesn’t appear, and I begin to get myself slowly back under control. The pressure in my head eases.

I realize I am still holding the envelope I took from Arthur. I don’t want it. It feels like snakeskin in my hand. I unlock my door and open it, intending to throw the envelope out into the street, but I stop myself when I see something written on the front of it.

Olivia.

My name.

My handwriting.

Olivia.

I shut the car door, slide my finger under the envelope’s flap, and tear it open.

Monkey Uber

Windows Apartment FullSebastian Script

Rivi stands at my living room window and looks out, tapping her fingers impatiently on the windowsill. “Let’s go let’s go let’s go let’s go!”

I am sitting on the floor with my back against the wall, and eating an onion bagel. “I’m having my breakfast. You can wait five minutes.”

“I can’t wait. You can eat on the way.”

“You can wait. You’re not going to die.”

“We have to go! It’s going to be dark soon!”

“It’s eight in the morning,” I say. “The only way it will be dark soon is if the apocalypse comes.”

“Fine,” she growls. She turns away from the window and stomps loudly across the floor toward the kitchen. “These are my new boots,” she says as she goes. “They make extremely loud angry noises when I huff off.”

“You are a delicate flower,” I say. “It’s a wonder you’re still single.”

She leans around the kitchen doorway and, with an accuracy that would impress the tights off Robin Hood, bounces a bagel off my forehead from twenty paces. “I am a rubber pot,” she says, “and you are a gluey kettle.”

“And you have anger issues,” I say. “Remember who’s driving you today. You give me a head wound and there’s no guarantee my motor skills won’t suffer.”

“I have plenty of issues, and anger isn’t one of them.” She comes back into the room and goes back to the window. “It better not rain today. Seriously.”

“Don’t Hulk out, anger girl. It’s not going to rain.”

“I’m blaming you if it does.”

“Do I need to eat this bagel more slowly?” I ask. “Do I?” She looks at me and scowls. I raise the bagel at a glacial pace to my lips, and take the smallest of bites from it. “I’ll chew this bite a hundred times,” I say.

“You’re a baboon,” she says. She crosses her arms and turns back to the window.

“A baboon with a driver’s license.” I decide to only chew the bite ten times, then swallow it down. “I don’t even know where I’m taking you.”

“IKEA,” she says.

“Say again?”

“IKEA,” she repeats. “You need bookshelves.”

I raise my eyebrows at her. “Seriously?”

“And a couch. I refuse to keep sitting on your floor when I come over. We aren’t barbarians, Sebastian.”

“You might be,” I say. “You did just assault me with a breakfast food. Is there even an IKEA around here?”

“Across the Bay. I Googled it.”

“Maybe I don’t want shelves from IKEA.”

“Maybe you should shut up,” she says. “I’m offering to buy you some furniture. I don’t generally offer to do anything.”

I tap the remaining quarter of the bagel against my cheek. “Seriously? Maybe it really is the apocalypse. I think that’s one of the signs.”

She stomps over to me and plucks the bagel from my hand. “That’s enough breakfast, fatty. Get up and let’s go. Time’s a-wasting!”

“I don’t know what I’d do without you,” I say. “Except not starve to death, probably.”

IKEA waits for no man!” Rivi shouts. “Besides, they have meatballs there. You can eat after we buy things.” She flings the stolen piece of bagel at me, bouncing it off my forehead. “Drive, monkey! Drive!”

I get off the floor and brush off the seat of my pants. “I’m only doing this for the meatballs. Just so you know.”

“And the love,” she says sweetly.

“No,” I say, shaking my head. “Just the meatballs.”

The Ubiquity of Wallflowers

Cell Phone FullBoone

Tina looks out the window of the BART train, as the scenery of the East Bay rolls by. The day is dark and dreary, and I can tell by the way she keeps touching her finger against her lower lip that she wants to have a cigarette. She will have to wait until we get to our destination. There is no smoking on the train.

She needed to go to Concord, she told me, although she didn’t say why. I am going with her, because she hates taking BART alone. She said she doesn’t like going through the tunnel underneath the San Francisco Bay, and she held my hand the entire stretch of the way. Her grip was tight and her hand was cold like marble. When we finally rose up from the tunnel and into the light, she squeezed my hand once before releasing it and putting hers into her lap.

A brief break opens in the clouds, and the sun pours like honey over her face and hair. She closes her eyes against the sudden brightness, and I stare at her without having to feel self-conscious about it. We slept together in the same bed a few nights ago, just slept. I loaned her a T-shirt to wear, and dug out an old pair of sweatpants and shirt for myself. She was asleep instantly, while I spent a long night of being hyperaware of her body next to mine.

She touches her finger to her lip again, and I wonder what it would be like to kiss her.

The clouds close together again, and she opens her eyes and looks out over the passing cityscape once more. I look away and down the length of the train car.

My phone vibrates softly in my pocket, a text notification. I pull it out and check it: Rivi. You aren’t home, it reads. Why aren’t you at home? I need you to be at home.

I type a response: On the way to Concord with Tina. What’s up?

I left something at your apartment and I need to get it back.

You haven’t been in my apartment in six months. What did you leave?

Actually, it’s your car keys, she says. I need to borrow your car.

I thought you didn’t drive.

Maybe you left a window open.

I didn’t, I say.

I’ll bet you did. I’ll check.

Borrow Sebastian’s car. He doesn’t need it for anything.

I already tried. He’s not home.

Tina kicks my foot with hers. I look up, and she nods questioningly at my phone. “It’s Rivi,” I explain. “She wants to borrow my car.”

“I thought she didn’t drive,” she says.

“Exactly,” I say.

You should really leave your bathroom window open, Rivi texts. This would be the most convenient thing for me.

“Why does she want your car?” Tina asks.

“Hang on,” I say. I dial Rivi’s number and wait as the call goes through.

“I think I can get this window open without breaking it,” she says when she answers.

“Rivi, don’t break my window. I have my keys with me, so it won’t do you any good.”

“Don’t you have a spare?” she asks.

“Nope.”

She exhales heavily. “Well, that’s really bad planning, you know. If you lose your key, you’re just screwed.”

“Call Sebastian,” I tell her. “Or get an Uber.”

“Ugh,” she says. “I’ll walk before I Uber. I have to have some trust in the person driving me around not to be insane or suicidal or anything. It’s why I don’t like to fly, either.”

Tina puts her head against the window and closes her eyes. She touches her lip again.

“Rivi, I’m going to go. Call Sebastian. Don’t break out my window.”

“You’re no help here, Boone,” she says.

“Goodbye, Rivi.”

“No help at all,” she says.

I disconnect the phone and return it to my pocket. Tina speaks to me, with her eyes still closed. “You should ask her on a date. Her boundaries are so far out, they wrap back around themselves from the opposite direction.”

“Not going to happen,” I say. “Crazy girls are Sebastian’s thing, not mine.”

“She’s not crazy.” Tina touches her lip again. “She just doesn’t have time to be a wallflower.”

“Takes one to know one,” I say.

She doesn’t say anything to that, so I keep silent as well. In another few minutes and a handful of miles, I begin to think that Tina has fallen asleep, but then she open her eyes and looks at me. “We’re all wallflowers around here, Boone. All of us.”

“Except Rivi,” I say.

Tina closes her eyes, and doesn’t reply.

Two more stops until Concord.