So tired of being told “no.” He stretched and went downstairs. Appetite-confused, he tasted steel. He tasted steel. He was unable to hate himself because there were no mirrors around.
One of his best friends had a younger brother. This younger brother had hit the age where he would get too drunk. This younger brother would yell, “Neil, you’re the only one I love. I want to kill myself!” Flip was disturbed. I am disturbed.
Thirst was all he knew as he spilled a glass; he spilled a glass over the keyboard of his laptop computer. His laptop computer. Wondering why he didn’t feel how a boy should in his position. Wondering what lay in store for him as he remembered the morning’s compromise: coffee with old friends. Mia had sent him a video, a video on “how to relax.” Short clips of a light switch being turned off, water being tapped, red legs extending into porcelain. He lapped up the remaining water from the black keys. He tasted steel.
He stepped out to be excited. Flip felt it only after having driven for five minutes, considering whether or not he should smoke on the way to the cafe. Very much liking the idea of wanting to smoke and very much liking the idea of smelling like smoke, he couldn’t commit.
Flip was average to slightly-above-average at remembering names. Of course he remembered all of his close friends’ names. But he wanted to like the idea of his collective company representing singular idiosyncrasies to make up a synthetic “ultrafriend.” Or maybe two ultrafriends. So we will call these new characters again, Credence and Brooks.
“Hey man,” said Credence to Flip, a little too early as he walked forward from his car, hand outstretched to shake.
“Hey man,” said Flip. He looked at everything but Credence until he got close enough to offer his full attention.
“Hey man.” Brooks was supposed to be 20 to 30 minutes late, but Credence had given him a ride. He now stood, waiting for Flip’s reply, a reply that would not come. Not out of rudeness or anything. Not out of rudeness.
They entered the cafe
[ESPRESSO TENSION OMITTED]
Brooks had said something about Richard Linklater and Credence began, “He just really nailed it with Slacker. That vignette-centered liquid narrative is just really appealing man. All of his shit. Waking Life, A Scanner Darkly—”
“School of Rock dude, don’t forget School of Rock,” said Credence in a half-mocking tone. “Flip, remember that one day when it was snowing and—”
“Yeah,” mumbled Flip, but Credence continued. Of course Flip remembered the snow day when he and Credence had planned to do something when Flip said, “Let’s just see what’s on TV, what if we miss something.” And on cue, School of Rock was “on”. They sat through the full running-time (or the TV cut of it). The two of them, alone.
Flip felt ashamed that he was getting coffee with his best friends and that he couldn’t talk about art anymore. He couldn’t talk about memories anymore. He wanted to talk to Kathleen.
Kathleen was one of the few friends Flip had never considered a love interest. Granted, he thought about what it would be like to kiss her once or twice once or twice. But she was self-absorbed in a way different than he. In a way that he completely understood and did not resent.
Flip pushed his chair back. “I’m going to go smoke really quick.” He felt in his pocket for his three-quarters-full pack of cigarettes, so he could pretend like he was actually going out for a smoke. He realized that he had left his cigarettes in the car. He went outside anyways, pulling out his smartphone. The two were not outdated, but imperfect.
He found Kathleen in his “CONTACT BOOK.” One and a half rings.
“Flip! What’s up?”
“Hi Kath. What have you been up to today?”
“Uh, nothing much. I’ve had a really busy past couple weeks and I’m just hanging out now I guess.”
“Yeah, kind of like that,” -GIGGLES-
“Hey, what’s your plan for today? Would you be down to meet at the swimming pool playground in a second?”
“Yeah definitely, I haven’t seen you in so long! Why at the playground though?” she stuttered in excitement and faux-wariness.
“It’s just a nice spot, I go there to read sometimes. Makes me feel like a kid again you know man?” Flip mocked in a psychedelic drawl. “Yeah... does two work for you?” “Yeah, see you at two. Bye Kath.”
In this moment Flip would typically summon a list of topics and questions to use on the “date”. He felt comfort in knowing that these would not work on Kath. A question would not lead to the correct subtopic, or she would be bored by a core conversational theme. He walked back into the cafe; it had been two minutes.
Flip noticed that Credence and Brooks weren’t talking. There was no tension, just a minimal, almost unnoticeable discomfort. The two of them looked around the cafe, refusing to check their phones.
Flip didn’t want to sit down; he knew what that could mean. “Hey guys, this was super cool but I’ve actually gotta jet.” He made a conscious decision not to call them by their names. Maybe it was to keep in line with the “ultrafriend” theme; he just didn’t want to cross that border of intimacy in this goodbye.
Brooks moaned, “Already dog?”
“Yeah, yeah, you know how it is broth.”
“I feel you mane, I’ll see you soon though Flip.”
Flip winced at hearing his name. He looked to Credence, who was preoccupied with his mug, studying the flaws the kiln had rewarded the ceramic.
“Kath? It’s me.”
“Hey Flip. Thanks for calling me back yesterday.”
“I’m really sorry, I got caught up in some shit. You free today?”
“Yeah, I guess.”
“Cool. Lemme call you back in a minute, I gotta do something. But when I call can you come pick me up?”
“Yeah, see you soon Flip.”
“Thanks Kath, you always pull through.”
He never called back.
Kathleen’s laptop speakers were almost dead. Not from playing anything too loud, they just were. They had the type of sound where Brooks would say something mocking like, “I gotta sample this on my next record.”
She heard the doorbell ring. No one else was home. She climbed up the carpeted stairs and opened the door. It was Flip, doubled over in pain.
Panting, Flip wheezed, “Kath—wanted to catch you before you left for your night class—”
She knew not to ask. “Are you ok?”
“Yeah, just been rolling my own cigarettes lately, harsher on my lungs, you know? Do you have a pack on you?”
“My dad probably does. Come inside.”
“Uh, I can’t right now, gotta run and meet this DUDE. But, uh, I have something for you,” he said as he pulled a neatly folded leaf of paper from the inside of his waterproof windbreaker. He walked away, picking up the bike he had set down on her front lawn. He turned around, saying, “I lost my phone by the way. I’ll see you soon, just read that letter.”
She heard the music coming from her laptop downstairs shut off.
Flip got to the library and locked up his bike near the back entrance. He didn’t want to intimidate her. “Psych-rock girl,” as he had named her, spent a lot of time at this library. Maybe not that much time, but it was the place where Flip saw her most.
He had originally planned on stopping by the library before Kathleen’s, actually. But he had chosen to do the easier thing first, as always. What would Credence say?
She was there, sitting on a stone bench, completely alone. She wore all black, a flowing coat maybe, her dark hair a thundercloud framing the scowl. Flip was unsure whether she was smoking although her body was contorted in that way. He thought about it often. He chastised himself for not confirming whether she was smoking or not as he continued his pace, entering the library doors without giving her the second look, again.
If she had been smoking, he could have joined her and lit his own, though he was disgusted by the idea of smoking at the moment. He also knew that the second look wasn’t worth the risk. Reversing, he made the decision to enter psych-rock girl for the first time since the initial failure.
He exited those doors and looked to his right. As he stared at the empty bench he heard his name called from behind him. It was Kathleen, and she had his letter in hand.