He sat around his parents living room, drinking, nursing a busted ankle, but mostly thinking of her. He thought of her always, drinking or not.
She was the girl he noticed too late... years too late, to be specific. She had been in love with him when they were in high school. He was the star of all the shows; a theater stud, if you can conceive of such a thing. She was in the band, played the trombone, and had the perma-chapped lips and anemic social life to prove it. They crossed paths through mutual friends... band geeks that also worked crew for drama club productions, or similar relationships. She thought he was funny, and he was. He thought she was quiet (which she was), if he though of her at all, which was seldom.
They graduated. She watched him walk across the stage with an ache in her heart that felt like an infected tooth. He smiled so brightly, hoisting his diploma over his head and making silly faces at someone in the audience. When she walked across the stage, her parents clapped politely, as did a few friends. Just another name called out in a long list.
He went off to Los Angeles, to Chicago for a time, and then to New York. He sought out fame like it would cure his diseases, but the seeking out only made his diseases worse. His need for attention, for approval, for love of any kind took him to some dark places with darker rooms, where he participated in deeds darker still. He drank to forget. He did drugs to take him away. He consumed vice and accomplished nothing.
She left for Austin and got involved with computers. She had a knack for them; she could speak their language and, as such, they opened up their world to her. The high-tech world watched her fix what was broken, communicate with that which was mute, and they threw themselves at her feet. She invested in lip balm and got a haircut that she had seen in a magazine. It suited her. After a long stretch of ravenously consuming new bands, more and more, seeking out the obscure, she found herself well-versed in the independent music scene. She lost weight. Men pretended to tie their shoes while studying her face, which was lovely, unhidden behind a trombone for years now. She became what she for so long was not.
He lived a wild, messy life. But then the money ran out. Carrying nothing more than a few suitcases of clothes and books, along with an invisible Uhaul of shame and regret, he moved back home. His parents told him he looked pale. He found that he didn't know how to talk to them anymore. He spent a lot of nights in his childhood bedroom, drinking bottles of vodka, cataloging each and every wrong turn, missed opportunity, and outright fuck-up he had accumulated as an adult. The vodka barely got him buzzed anymore. He felt sick all the time. He constantly thought about death; wished that a meteor would strike the Earth, snuff him and all of existence out for eternity. He longed for an empty blackness, but hadn't the courage to end his own life.
She met a man. The one she had been looking for all her life. He also loved computers, and he loved the CDs of her favorite music that she made for him. He taught her about baseball and she cooked him meals that he wanted to eat for the rest of his life. On a pleasant night, under a tree strung with white Christmas lights, he got down on one knee, hands shaking, and she cried so hard that for a second he thought he had broken her heart. They set a date. Everyone they knew was overjoyed at the news. A better couple, there never was.
He was awoken from a drunken stupor by his father, who held in his hands the obituary section of the Fort Worth Star Telegram. There was an entry circled. His father dropped it on the bed and walked out of the room, saying nothing else. He picked up the paper and discovered that Shane Ackerman... one of the guys who ran lights for all the shows in High School... was dead.
Her mother called her. Did she remember that nice boy, Shane? The one with the hair that played the tuba? Yes, she did, she said, making coffee and thinking about eggs versus just a bowl of cereal with regards to arriving at her job on time. Her mother told her that Shane Ackerman was dead. The coffee brewed, sat on it's warming plate, and eventually the machine did as it was programmed and shut itself off. The coffee grew cold as she leaned against the kitchen counter, thinking of death.
Nine years after they both crossed the graduation stage on a hot, Texas afternoon, they found themselves at the funeral of one of Shane Ackerman, who had drowned in a lake. A tragedy, the kind of death that makes no sense to anyone save for those that have already given up on the idea of God. Everyone it seemed was crying. A few were even sobbing. An older woman... Shane's mother, presumably... was actually wailing. It was an ugly funeral; the kind that no one ever wants to attend.
She went because she and Shane had been close in High School. Both outcasts, they had bonded... along with a couple of other like-minded individuals... over horror movies and a general desire to not go through their teenage years alone. Drunk on stolen wine coolers, she had been Shane's first kiss (though he was not hers). When Shane realized a year later that he was gay, she was sure for months that she had kissed him wrong and shut down a part of his brain forever. They had lost touch, as is often the case with friendships that are forged out of desperation. She thought of him occasionally, when she ran across a Friday the 13th movie on cable, but otherwise... he was part of a past she had overcome. He was proof of what she once was.
He went to Shane's funeral because he had nothing better to do that day, and he thought there might be free food. He and Shane weren't all that close. They occupied roughly the same space at the same time, and really nothing more.
The funeral was long and awful. There was no free food.
He ran into her in the gravel lot outside the church, where their cars were parked nose to nose. She smiled in recognition and he, in his greatest mental feat in months, managed to pick her name out of his brain in time for natural greeting. She noticed right away how much weight he had gained, how unkempt he looked, how...
He noticed right away how everything about her was different. Wow, he thought. Sometimes they grow up right.
She couldn't remember exactly what she had found so charming. She thought about her fiancé.
He remembered mid-sentence that she had been in love with him. She had worshiped him, right? He remembered someone telling him that. He made a joke about her playing the trombone and she laughed only to be polite.
He wanted to fuck her. He hadn't had sex in months and months. Her hair looked like it smelled amazing. She mentioned a band he hadn't heard of. He told her that he lived in New York, in the cool part of town, and then he had to go back and correct himself. Used to. But not anymore.
The economy, he said, and he shrugged.
Bummer, she said. She thought it wise not to ask about his acting career. She could see the answer in his cheap tie and smell it in the alcohol on his breath. He gave her his number and she pretended to put it in her cellphone, again, to be polite. He tried to get her to come with him to a bar on Division, one where he was friendly with the bartender (not true) and where the drinks would be half-price. She had to get back to Austin, she said.
She was getting married in a few weeks. So much to do.
Great, he said. Fuck, he thought.
She drove off with a wave and he kicked the bumper of his car with all the force he could manage. The bumper remained unblemished. His ankle twisted and began to swell. He managed to drive himself back to his parent's house, and he sagged on to the couch. His parents went out... Date Night, they said, laughing to themselves. He hobbled to his fathers liquor cabinet and pulled out the last bottle of vodka, very cheap stuff, practically paint thinner.
He sat around his parents living room, drinking, nursing a busted ankle, but mostly thinking of her.
Things only got worse for him.
She lived a happy life, one that she deserved. She never thought of him again.
He thought of her always.