I wake up in the back seat of a car after having come to a stop. I check my watch and realize it has been nearly twenty four hours since Molly and I went our separate ways and I decided to lay low at a friends house. My clothes are soaking in sweat from being in the car for so long. I remember paying this man and his friend two hundred dollars to drive me back to central Austin, back to a specific address. I don’t remember talking to him much or his friend. Something about last night’s rave at the anime con and a guy who got robbed at gun point in the parking lot for his cash and gundam figurines. My contributions to the conversations were short, monotone phrases of something approaching these sorts responses mostly being: “Wow.” “That’s fucked up.” “Did that really happen?” “It is what it is, dude.” After the first hour of the driving around and hanging out in their apartment throughout the day they stopped talking to me and continued the agonizing, stream-of-consciousness level of conversation with each other. I was tired, not interested in discussing the latest season of Soul Eater, or the most recent post on Sankaku Complex. I closed my eyes and saw the dealer’s rooms, cosplayers and laser light above the dance floor drift in and out of my subconscious. Then I saw the woman kill that man on the live camera feed and I began to feel sick to my stomach.
“So,” The guy lets the word drag on unnecessarily to fill the silence. “This is the spot, right?”
I look over and see my old middle school. Now a long, dark, ominous, single-story, red brick building, with black windows that suggested something terrifying was hidden inside them. I forgot how afraid I was of the dark.
“Hey,” The other guy snapped. “We have to get to San Antonio by midnight. You have the other half of the money?”
I realize, turning to face him; that I didn’t remove the aviator shades from my face and I was seeing everything in a darker tint.
“Sorry,” The word comes out dry, like sandpaper, as I reach into my back pack and pull out the second hundred that I promised for their service. The second guy snatches it from me, happy to receive the money.
“Thank you,” I say in the dry sawdust voice again and step out of the car.
“Hey, man,” The driver rolls down his window and looks at me. He seems genuinely concerned. “We can drive you to your place, man. You don’t need to give us some random address.”
I look at him through my shades, trying to see the angle in what he’s offering. I glance at my reflection from the passenger door mirror and I see a guy in white shorts, white button up, black fingerless biker gloves and lips pursed. I look like a burnout or somebody trying too hard to impress strangers. Either stereotype might fit, since it all adds up to someone dying for attention or a man looking for sympathy by feeling the need to bribe people he doesn’t know for rides. I probably know what the real answer is, but I’m too afraid of going there. It’s a level of introspection not worth the price of facing who I really am. That’s for other people to make assumptions about.
“No, I’ll be okay.” I sling the backpack over my shoulder and start walking.
The car pulls away and heads down the nearest avenue, presumably towards I-35, south, to San Antonio.
I walk in the dark back to my mom’s house, mentally counting up the money that I made. After the hotel room, convention badge, food, the burner phone and transportation, I had made a 2,300 dollar profit. Better than expected, but I probably could’ve roomed with somebody to cut costs. Maybe I can room with a client next time.
I see the porch light on when I reach the house. The rest of the street is dark, which should strike fear in me, but the shades help alleviate that. I am not here, I tell myself. I can see through the large window that the television is on, my sister is home. I walk up to the door and go inside.
My sister glances up at me and returns to her reality TV show, something about housewives.
“Hey,” She says in between the bites of a sandwich. “How was that anime con, or whatever?”
“It was cool,” I sound a lot clearer, moister returning to my throat.
She looks at me in an odd way and I remember that I’m still wearing my shades.
“Why are you wearing sunglasses?” She asks. “It’s, like, ten at night.”
I laugh and take them off.
“Sorry, it was a joke,” I say, trying to smile.
I hear my mom coming in from the kitchen.
“Hey, Eric! How was your trip to Dallas with Neal?” She seems happy to see me. She’s stirring something in a bowl and wearing a cream colored apron over a green shirt, with matching slippers and black yoga pants.
“It was good, really cool. We just hanged out in the hotel room and helped out moving equipment in the dealer’s room for the sellers.”
My mom looks off to the side and nods her head, I can’t tell if she’s expecting more for me to say or is confused, but accepting my answer.
“Sounds interesting,” She says, her stirring slowing down a fraction. She looks up at me and smiles again “Well, dinner is already prepared, so you can have it now if you want.”
I nod, thanking her, and head to my room.
Copyright © 2017 Philip N.R Hauser