Melissa surveyed herself in the full-length mirror that lay snug inside her walk-in closet. It was more of a step-in closet but despite its dimensions it did its job and suited her less than sizable wardrobe. She gave herself a once over, pressing out some wrinkles with the palm of her hand, which she then used to comb out any confusions in her hair. She then exited to the criticisms of her friend Cassy.
“Tsk tsk tsk, just what I thought,” said Cassy giving Melissa a look of real concern.
“What?!?” questioned Melissa, positively puzzled having thought this outfit was the one.
“You look freakin’ beautiful. Just like you have in you’re last six get ups. If I had half a mind I might think you really like this guy.”
“Oh I don’t know. He’s just really sweet, like, he asked me on a date. He literally said ‘Would you like to go on a date sometime,’ isn’t that adorable?” She seemed smitten.
“As opposed to what? A drunken booty text in the middle of the night?”
Melissa had a penchant for bad boys, or more accurately boys who were no good.
“Oh, stop it. That rarely happens, and who are you to talk? Didn’t that skuzzy skater boy roll in here at like three o’clock last night?
“He did and we fucked like animals, look I’m not judgin’ and if I was you’d have a four point O cuz you’re pullin’ nothin’ but grade A beefcake.”
“Oh Cassy you so sassy.”
“You know it gurrrl.” They high fived and booty bumped with choreographed precision.
“Anyway, alls I’m saying is you deserve more than just primal pleasures.”
“Yea, no you’re right… I can still get the pleasures too though, right?”
“I said more than just didn’t I? But that’s really up to your boy. Do you think he has it in him?”
“I dunno, he seemed kinda shy in that way but he could really move on that dance floor, so… I dunno, I dunno. Hmm that’s weird,” Melissa said checking her phone.
“My Mom’s calling. It’s like ten o’clock over there. She never calls this late.” Cassy shrugged her shoulders with nothing else to offer. “I gotta take this.”
“You must! You must!” Cassy became boisterous under the influence of wine.
“I must! Hey Ma. Whats up? Isn’t it past your bedtime? Wait what? What do you mean he’s in the hospital!?! Allergic reaction…? To what? What did I say about all those drugs, see this is the problem with western medici… Yea. Yup. OK. So should I get a flight? Yea, but. OK. Fine. I will. I love you to mom. Keep me updated. OK, bye. I love you.” Melissa’s phone went from her cheek into her lap with the force of gravity equal to the situation. “Shit. Fuck.”
“What’s up Buttercup?”
“My Dad is in the hospital.”
“Whaaat? What happened?”
“He was taking two separate meds that he shouldn’t have together. One made the other more potent or something and he started to over dose. They had to put him in a medicated coma to keep him from going into shock.”
“Is he gonna to be alright?”
“My mom said the doctors told her he would be fine once the drugs are out of his system.”
“Well that’s great then, he’s gonna be fine.”
“But what if he isn’t, what if he gets stuck in the coma and they can’t get him out? I’ll have a vegetable for a father. He’ll never see his grandkids.”
“Grandkids? Wait a minute are you pregnant?”
“No I’m not pregnant, but you know, like, in the future. Who knows, maybe I’ll never get pregnant cuz my father is stuck in a coma which causes my mother to go into a deep depression so I end up having to move home and take care of her and then I get a cat and then another cat and I spend my days getting fat eating ice cream and watching reruns of ‘Everybody Loves Raymond’ in between wiping my mothers ass and spoon feeding her because she is practically comatose from depression due to her husbands literal coma…”
“Chill out!” scolded Cassy, handing Melissa a glass of wine filled beyond the pessimistic view of her future. “You’re gonna be fine. Your mom’s gonna be fine. Your dad’s gonna be fine. Everyone is gonna be fine. Your future will be filled with happiness where your mom wipes her own ass while your dad is watching baseball and your thin self is making as many babies as you please.” Melissa took a sip of wine as if to swallow this reality and Cassy extended her support by lifting the bottom of the glass from sip to gulp in hopes of tipping her view of the future. “Got it!”
“Yea you’re probably right.”
“You know damn well I’m right. Now, all this talk of baby makin’s got me wonderin’, are you still goin’ on that date?”
“I can’t go on a date, I’m a wreck.”
“Which is why you should go. Get your mind off it. Your mom said he would be fine, there’s nothin’ you can do about it, no sense in sitting around bein’ a worrywart. A little distraction will be good for you.”
“But I lost my appetite.”
“Then go for drinks. You could use a stiff one right about now.” Cassy was close to making note of her double entendre but thought better of it.
“I don’t know.”
“Maybe your right.”
“I’m always right. Now text that boy and tell him to meet you at the bar.”
“Alright,” said Melissa reluctantly texting Ryan.
Part of her, if not most of her, hoped Ryan would cancel the date in response to her request to change it, or at the very least try to reschedule, but most of her, if not all of her, knew that wouldn’t happen and that it was probably for the best. Cassy poured her another drink and stroked her back in consolation.
“Everythin’s gonna be all right hunny, don’t you worry none,” Her southern drawl seemed to peek through at the peak of her sincerity. Enough minutes had passed that text anxiety would have come to a boil in waiting for his response but Melissa’s mind was occupied with forces greater than the ones she could create. So she checked her phone autonomously rather than obsessively and found that Ryan had responded.
“He said, ‘As you wish,’ ugh, what a sweetheart. I should give him a real chance and reschedule, my minds not gonna be there, it’s not fair to him,” Melissa gave her final bid at staying home and stressing in lieu of going out.
“Life’s not fair and you can testify to that. The whole point of going is to hope your mind will be there, that’s the point of a distraction! Besides he’s being more silly than sweet by quoting Princess Bride.”
“Never saw it.”
“Oh my God! Are you kidding me? It’s such a good movie, we have to watch it.”
“Ok pop it in.”
“After your date.”
Before she knew it she was walking towards the bar. Her body was walking but to her it was a mechanical function of which she was not a participant in a world she felt apart from. At the moment she resided in her head, constantly mulling over the coma of her father. She had a handle on the pedestrian who, what, when, where, and why’s of the situation; her father, a medically induced coma, a few hours ago, the hospital, and an accidental over dose, all respectively. What caused her to sign a nine-month lease in the apartment of her mind were the bicycling whos. Who caused the overdose, her father, maybe a clumsy pharmacist or perhaps a doctor prone to malpractice? The motorcycling whats. What if he never comes out of the coma? What if he comes out of the coma a different person? What if he dies? The car racing whens. When would he come out of the coma, if ever? When would America stop depending on dangerous medication? The jet fighting where’s. Where would she be in ten years if her father never comes out of the coma? Where would she be in ten years if her father dies? Where does your spirit go when you die? The space ship rocketing whys. Why did her father take those drugs? Why did he have to be in a coma? Why do bad things happen to good people!?
Her inner turmoil was interrupted by her own voice requesting a pack of Marlboro Reds. She had no intentions of entering a corner store and no plans to buy a pack of smokes but here she was and that was what she was doing. Lady Stress has a way of attracting Sir Bad Habit even though she knows he only wants be with Madam Behavior.
“Five dollar nineteen cent,” the clerk demanded. She happened to have exact change.
“Can I have some matches too please?” She hadn’t smoked in months.
“Matches? Oh no, no matches,” he replied, as if carrying matches was far from ordinary.
“OK, then I guess I’ll buy this lighter.” She chose the orange one, the most uncommon color. “Can I use my card?”
“Fifty cent charge,” he said, unapologetic. She rolled her eyes and sighed while handing him her card. Tonight was not her night.
She packed her butts while exiting the bodega by means of muscle memory. She knew it was supposed to provide a better smoke but never really noticed. She did it because she saw others do the same and soon it became a custom. Monkey see monkey do, a habit for her habit. She peeled off the cellophane and tilted the top back to reveal the foil packing. Her last vestige of will power was torn to bits like the foil keeping her from those sweet sticks. She was out of practice and could not pull off the clean break. Her open pack now resembled a giant shark swallowing twenty thin sailors. She rescued one from the jaws of jaws only to quickly set his head aflame.
Melissa took a long deep drag then released it in a sigh like manner. Ahhhh, home sweet home, she thought. Her heart rate increased pumping the nicotine through her veins that caused a customary calmness. Why do things that feel so good tend to be quite bad for you? Each drag was as good as the last and before she knew it the cigarette was gone and she had arrived at the bar. She flicked the butt into the street and felt ashamed for littering.
“Hey Joe.” Melissa waved walking past the bouncer. He raised his brow in acknowledgment. She was a regular and they were past the point of passing pleasantries. She made a b-line to the patio and lit another smoke. She checked her phone to see if her mother had texted her any news. No new messages. Well no news is good news, she thought trying to convince herself.
“Hey Melissa, the usual? Gin and tonic?” the Bartender asked.
“Mike, I think I’ll have a scotch.” Replied Melissa
“Scotch? Having a rough day?” Mike asked grabbing a glass and the scotch that would be accompanying it.
“Well I just found out my dad is in a medically induced coma due to a mishap with his prescription drugs so you tell me.” Snapped Melissa.
“Whaaaat, that’s crazy. Is he gonna be alright?” Asked Mike, legitimately concerned.
“My mom said the doctors told her he would be fine once the drugs are through his system but I’m still really worried.” She said handing him some cash.
“And rightfully so.” He said handing her the drink. “As a bartender I probably shouldn’t be telling you this but as your friend I’d like to say that you won’t find comfort at the bottom of that glass. You should go home, watch your favorite movie. Keep your mind off it.”
“That’s actually why I’m here. See I have this date and I was gonna cancel but Cassy said it would be a good distraction. So I…”
“Ugh, that Cassy.” Mike interrupted, “She’s a fun girl and all but I would not take advice from her.”
“Stop it!” Melissa said with a laugh, “You know she’s my best friend.”
“Hey, I calls ‘em as I see’s ‘em.” He said with a shrug. “Look I gotta tend bar, are you gonna be all right?”
“Yea, I’ll be fine. Thanks Mike.” But she wasn’t sure she would be.
Melissa removed her phone from her purse and took to googling medically induced comas. Each article brought more than a ray of hope but did little to bring her mind to an ease, which remained steadfast in the company of un with no intentions of defecting to the association of at. Her fidgeting foot formed a symbolic gesture of her manic mind.
Her mother asked her to pray and Melissa promised that she would but it wasn’t a practice she subscribed to. Prayer, to her, was mental masturbation and she preferred the notion of sending good vibes. She focused on her father waking up and his voice telling her that he was fine. She impressed these scenarios on the universe with a sincerity she hoped wouldn’t be denied and felt satisfied to have filled her mothers request, even if it was in her own way. Her positive projections were interrupted by a familiar tune being passed through the lips of her distraction, err date, Ryan.
“Sweet Melissa, Haaeeyaaaaaa.”
Sometimes a simple turn of phrase or innocent line of lyric can send your mind through space and time and arrest you with emotion. Such was the case with Melissa. She awoke in the days of her youth to the voice of her father singing that very line. He hoped it would start her day off on the right foot and she was left to protest, as young girls do when fathers dote, but secretly she loved it and proved to be her amongst her fondest memories. So fond in fact that her heart leapt at hearing that sentimental song. Her positively charged feelings of nostalgia rose past the negative feelings that plagued her causing a bolt of emotion towards the pit of her stomach from the cloud of grief that she had cultivated. It took her more than a moment and everything she had to hold back a storm of tears.
“Oh, hey.” She responded, as if to be without chalant. Ryan hesitantly took a seat, she was sure he knew her secret.
“So, how have you been?”
Melissa took a drag of her cigarette in order to catch her cool. ‘Terrible my father’s in a coma,’ is not a great way to start a date.
“OK, I guess.”
She blew the smoke upward out of the corner of her mouth to avoid it floating towards his face. She was ashamed of her cancerous crutch, though, it was doing wonders to keep her calm.
The bartender came by to take Ryan’s order giving Melissa a chance to check her phone. Still no word from her mother, only a crass text from Cass she wasn’t quite sure how she could have missed, having paid diligent attention to her phone throughout the night.
“Sorry I’m late. I hope you haven’t been waiting long.” Ryan asked.
To bat .300 is quite the feat, that is if your playing baseball but mighty poor if your vying for attention against a phone. Tonight Ryan would be brought up from the minors too soon against an ace hell bent on pitching a no hitter.
“No, not really.” Replied Melissa.
“Good, good. I kinda felt bad, somehow I lost track of time. I don’t know how because I’ve really been looking forward to this. That didn’t really come out right, not like it’s all I’ve been looking forward to this whole week or anything but you know, like it is a highlight.”
He was such a sweetheart and about as nervous for the date as Melissa was for her father. Truthfully she would have been just as nervous but mountains become molehills in the face of Everest.
“That’ll be ten bucks.” The bartender handed Ryan his drink while Melissa looked through her mother’s messages, tempted to ask if there was any news. She was sure there wasn’t. If there were she would have told her. Melissa wished she could be there. She felt so helpless being so far away. Though, would it help if she were closer? Probably not but that didn’t matter much.
The trance Melissa had put herself in was broken quite suddenly by a cough that seemed quite crucial. She feared Ryan might expel his lung at the rate and voracity he was going at it.
“Oh my God, are you alright?”
“*Cough* Yea *cough* sorry *cough, cough, hack* just went down the wrong throat *uuuuungh* I mean tube.”
Melissa was embarrassed for him and wanted to comfort him but instead instinctually checked her phone.
“So how have you been?” asked Ryan after collecting himself. Melissa looked up from her phone with a quizzically look, not actually having heard what he said. “That’s right, ok you guess, sorry. So… do you like to read?”
“Love to.” Melissa answered, though she rarely did and usually only autobiographies by female comedians she liked, or a paperback novel with a Fabio type on the cover. It was obvious he did and she wanted to make a connection, or at least throw him a bone to mask her absent nature.
“Really? Me too. I really like Tom Robbins, such a master of metaphor and he has some crazy knowledge about some very specific things.” Ryan said.
“Hmmm, I’m partial to Hemmingway. Short concise sentences. The man never wasted a word.” Melissa had no idea what she was talking about. She overheard someone say that at a coffee shop earlier in the day. In fact she had never read anything by Hemmingway and probably never would after that review and she could swear she had heard he was sexist. She just didn’t want to appear to be a philistine. Not that she knew what that even meant; nonetheless she was decidedly trying to avoid looking like one. She checked her phone again, this time not to see if her mother had tried to reach her but merely to veil her lie.
“So…” She asked in an attempt to break the silence. “What do you do for work?”
I do audio visual work in hotels. I’m basically that guy in high school who pushed around carts with TV’s on them but instead of high school I’m in a hotel and in a suit.”
“Well at least you get to look nice.” She tried to put a positive spin on what was clearly a job he didn’t enjoy.
“I guess, but it’s really annoying cuz it’s mostly physical labor.”
“Oh.” She proceeded to check her phone having thought she heard it ring. Alas she had no new messages. She must have heard some glasses clinking together, or maybe someone else’s phone, or maybe she was just hallucinating. She put her phone on vibrate in hopes of avoiding any future confusions.
“It’s a pretty easy job. The only thing that took me a while to get was all the different names for everything. Like an extension cord for example…”
Was that her phone or just a phantom vibration?
“Some people call them ac cables, for alternating current.”
Probably a phantom vibration.
“Other people call them Edison, which I don’t really get because Edison backed DC…”
But it could have been her phone. Wouldn’t it be less rude to check her phone rather than think about checking it and pay no attention to him?
“Which is direct current.”
Ryan pulled out his phone and started texting while ranting giving Melissa the green light to check her own which she was now sure had just vibrated.
How’s your date going?
How’s your date going, from Ryan? What was he getting at? Melissa didn’t quite understand what was going on but decided to play along.
Good I guess.
“… maybe someone just mistakenly called it Edison and it caught like wildfire…”
Well you must be bored if you’re texting me. Don’t worry, I’ll save you.
“…That happened when I worked in Boston…”
Melissa read his text and found it entertaining. But could he maintain the game? She gave him a look to see if he would break, to test he wherewithal. So far so good.
Was her response.
Yea, I’m on my way.
He replied without diverting from his dialogue. This kind of fun, she thought.
“… just goes to show you how names of things can evolve and not make any sense.”
Or how a date can evolve and make little to no sense.
“That’s uhh interesting.” She had no clue what he just said.
“Isn’t it? I gotta go to the bathroom I’ll be right back.”
Ryan finished his drink and walked away leaving Melissa to digest what the hell just happened. She was intrigued to say the least and he had done wonders to keep her mind off her father. Maybe Cassy was right? But now that he was gone her thoughts shifted back towards her grief. She ordered a drink to clear her mind. Then her phone began to ring.
It was her mother. She was excited and then terrified. It was what she anticipated all night yet wasn’t what she wanted. The coin of her fate had landed and it was time to lift her hand and reveal it. She took a deep breath and answered.
“Hi Honey.” Her tone was too subtle.
“How is he?” Melissa’s eyes began to well up and a lump grew in her throat to a size that would prevent her from even sipping the drink that had just been laid in front of her.
“He’s fine, he just woke up.” Her mother said, as if he had just been napping.
Tears broke free from the lids of her eyes and rolled joyfully down the hills of her smile taut cheeks. The distress she had aquired over the hour past was released with a simple sigh. She calmly asked if she could speak to him.
“Can I speak to him?” Her voice slightly wavered.
“Of course. Here you go.” Melissa’s mother handed the phone to her father.
“Hey there Sugar Pie.” His voice was weak but maintained its natural charm.
“Daddy…” She felt like she was six again. Arrested by the love for her father. She didn’t quite know what to say and was more content to hear his voice.
“I know Pumpkin it’s alright daddy’s gonna be just fine.” He was calm and assuring. It was what she needed.
“I was so worried, what did I tell you about all those medications. The mass medical complex is just a bunch of drug pushers with no concern for the well…”
“Alright, alright, I get it. You were right. I get it. Who knew a little nap would be such a wake up call.” He hadn’t lost his fatherly wit.
“Sorry to jump on you. It’s just…”
“I know, it’s fine, I deserve it. I love you and it means the world to me to hear your voice, even if it’s nagging me.” He said in jest.
“I love you too.” She said through tearful eyes she was sure could be perceived over the phone.
“Look I gotta get some rest. Being in a coma is exhausting.” She knew he had that sparkle in his eye and the raise of his brow exclaiming how clever he was. She mustered a chuckle as she always did.
“Ok Dad, I love you. Be well.”
“I love you too Honey. Talk to you later. Buh bye.”
With that he hung up the phone and life was back to normal. Meanwhile, Ryan returned from the bathroom and reminded her that this date was anything but. He seemed different but she couldn’t place how. Was it physical? Was there a new air about him? Maybe the change was inside her? Perhaps the news of her father set her free from the inner turmoil she so recently suffered welcoming her into the outside world.
“C’mon, lets go! I think I saw him go into the bathroom. We don’t have much time. Let’s go!” He said anxiously pulling at the back of her chair. This date was getting weirder by the moment.
“What are you talking about?” She asked with a smile still painted on her face from the news she’d just received, “I just got a drin…”
Before her thought was finished he grabbed the glass and choked it down, this time more successful than the last.
“There, now it won’t go to waste.”
With that he grabbed her hand and dragged her out of the bar, past the tattoo shop, the head shop, the record store and finally the hotel. Melissa made her best effort to keep up with Ryan while he ran but despite her slim figure she led a sedentary lifestyle and this was the most exercise she had gotten in months.
At last they reached the boardwalk and stopped while Melissa caught her breath.
“OK, what are you doing?” She asked, ready for some clarity.
“I told you I would save you from your boring date. C’mon I wanna show you something.” She was led towards the pier by the hand she’d been holding since the bar approaching a set of souls she could only feel sorry for. Melissa had a bleeding heart she often wore on her sleeve and this group of drug-addled derelicts stirred her matronly urges. How far would a shower go for one of these guys? To feel human again and bask in the simple delights of most peoples every day life. But she knew full well that no good deed goes unpunished and she was not prepared to flirt with the potential punishment of delivering such a deed, no matter how good it may be.
“Isn’t it a pity?” Ryan offered as they reached the cliffs.
“What is?” Melissa asked completely clueless to even the pedestrian W’s of the situation.
“You see how the moonlight shines down on the sea.” Ryan proposed, then paused looking out into the ocean with a reverence she couldn’t hope to match.
“It’s beautiful.” She suggested.
“It is isn’t it? It’s a pity that such a vile and destructive drink like moonshine should share a name with something so breathtaking, moving, ethereal even. I just think some things should be left in the realm of romance.”
Melissa couldn’t quite agree. The thought of moonshine only reminded her of the time she and Cassy shared a bottle of it with some foreigners and ended up skinny-dipping in its counterpart. It was all fun and little romance although she could see where he was coming from. She squeezed his hand in an attempt to get the night moving again.
Ryan stepped away from Melissa and offered her his hand as if he was Prince Charming.
“Would you dance? If I asked you to dance?” Ryan sang. She wasn’t sure if he was serious.
“Would you run? And never look back? Would you cry? If you saw me crying?” Ryan sang. Completely committed she realized.
“Come on? Enrique Iglesies…?” It was kind of endearing, she thought. Kind of.
“You better start dancing or I’m not gonna stop singing.” He teased.
“OK, Fine.” She did love to dance and if she remembered correctly he was pretty good. He pulled her in closely
“And would you save my soul tonight?”
Her body lay snug against his as if they were two strange pieces to the same cosmic puzzle.
“I can be your hero baby!” He threw her away into a spin revving the spirit within her while pulling her back towards their shared bliss.
“I can kiss away the pain!”
Each movement more effortless than the last, their bodies spoke to one another far better than they could ever converse.
“You can take, my breath away…”
He dipped her with grace and strength then brought her back into his embrace.
“You’re very beautiful you know.”
“Thank you.” She replied, now smitten.
“You know what I think is the most beautiful part about you?”
Careful, she thought, although she was quite curious.
“Your lips, they just look so damn kissable.
Before she could burst out in laughter they locked lips and the range of emotions she had managed to mountaineer that night; fear, anxiety, hope, and joy culminated with this kiss, which mirrored them so.
“Oh jeez, I just realized I gotta be somewhere. This was great, seriously, but I gotta go.” He said.
He scampered up the hill onto the street and started walking in the direction of the bar leaving Melissa baffled but excited. What is the deal with this boy. He certainly had a flair for the dramatics. Was that what she wanted? Probably not, but the night is young and so am I, she thought as she texted Ryan.
‘Where did you go?’
‘Where did I go? Where did you go? I came out of the bathroom and you were gone? Should I get you another drink???’
‘No, make it a gin and tonic.’