Rodney

“Sam I Am, do you ever go home?” Dan is leaning on my cubicle taking off his tie.  He’s also a Database Administrator though with less years of experience.  I swivel in my chair and glare at him.  It’s 5:30pm and most people have left for the day.

“Don’t call me that.”  Plenty of kids called me that when I was growing up but hearing Dan address me as “Sam I Am” has been bugging the shit out of me.

“You need a girlfriend or wife, Sam I Am.  You’re what, thirty-two?  You’re actually kind of good-looking even if you are an asshole but girls don’t care. They like pretty men who make good money.”  Dan moves to the right and I tense up, shoulders and neck tightening.

“Stop saying I’m pretty.” I say this through clenched teeth. “And I don’t need to hear your advice about women so fuck off.” My voice is too loud. He looks at me, eyebrows raised, then glances at the cubicle to my right and moves away from it.  None of us have talked about that empty cubicle.  The guy who used to sit there died recently.  People have been avoiding it like the plague.

Dan frowns, pushing his too long blonde hair away from his face.  “You know, Sam I Am, me and the guys, we’ve noticed you’ve been bitchy lately.  Even more than usual if you can believe that.  I was thinking you should come out with us, have a couple of beers.  You’re wound way too tight.”

I stare at him, letting the silence stretch out.  Dan is annoying because he’s always trying to engage me in conversation.  In fact, most of the guys in his group have been trying to talk to me, a major change.  Before they left me alone while they had lunch together and went out after work.  I’m used to being left alone.  In fact, I prefer it so this change is disconcerting.

I lean forward.  “I appreciate the offer but lot of work has to be done while you and the boys are out getting tanked so if you’ll excuse me I’ll get back to it.”

“Suit yourself but you’re wasting away here.  I’ll check in with you tomorrow,” he says, glancing again at the empty cubicle next to me.

“You really don’t have to do that.”  My tone is rude but he doesn’t seem to notice.

“See you later.” He smiles.  He has too many white teeth crowding his mouth.  No matter what I say he keeps coming back.  He leaves, whistling some nameless tune, his tie swinging from his hand.

The 17th floor is a huge maze of putty colored cubicles that seems to stretch as far as the eye can see, a giant cluster of programmers, database administrators, and the like.  Most of the decision makers are on other floors but the real work happens here.

There’s always someone around even if you can’t see them.  Tonight I’m slogging away at a complex database roll out.  I have difficulty listening to music with lyrics while working because I get distracted so I usually listen to classical music. I could let myself listen to songs with lyrics during certain times, like when I’m inputting standardized information but that might give everyone the impression that I’m slacking off.  I refuse to slack off even at 9:57 at night.

I say I’m used to being alone but that’s not true.  Up until a few weeks ago, I did have a friend here. Or something like that. We’d bonded quickly when we went off-site for 24 hours to work on an emergency project for a client.  We knew each other before but never spent much time together; we had the same job and most projects require only one of us.  A couple of weeks after we returned, management reorganized some of the work groups and he moved into the cubicle next to me.

He’s the one who died recently.  He’d been a really friendly guy so when we got the news of his death it had a major impact on our department and the company.  He died in a car crash involving a semi truck.  When I heard he was gone, I tuned out. I didn’t want to hear the details. People kept trying to get me to talk about it, even the boss, but I refused.  At the funeral I didn’t speak to anyone at all.

I haven’t been sleeping well lately. I keep having weird dreams. Mostly of an old movie that I can’t seem to finish. It starts flickering then goes dark about three quarters of the way through. I probably wouldn’t even remember it if I wasn’t having the dream every night. The last few nights have been even weirder. I’ve been waking up with tears on my face but I don’t know why.

I’m compiling some reports for tomorrow when I hear the inevitable footsteps on beige carpet coming down the narrow cubicle corridor.  Crap.  Someone always has to be here.  I save my work.  The footsteps stop just outside my cubicle.  I feel a wave of coldness; it feels like a walk-in freezer door opened up behind me.  I wonder what the hell is going on and swivel around in my chair.

I stare.

In front of me is none other than Rodney, the guy who died.  He’s standing a few feet away, just looking at me.

“Uh.” I can’t get any words out.  I take a sharp breath and my shoulders tense up.  I wait for him to disappear or fade but he looks as real as any live person.  My heart is pounding and my brain is screaming at me to wake up.  I blink a couple of times trying to clear the impossible image.  It doesn’t work.  I consider turning my back but there’s a dead person standing in front of me and no one in their right mind would give them their back, not in an enclosed space.

Rodney keeps looking at me.  He looks normal enough.  Tall with the same dark skin, deep dark eyes, and short cropped hair. I swallow. A lump is gathering in my throat and though he has a blank look on his face, his eyes are still…well, they’re still beautiful.

“Uh. Hey, Rod,” I say. I wait for him to respond but he just stands there. He’s wearing his work clothes of khaki chinos, blue button down shirt, and navy blue tie though they look slightly rumpled.  Rodney tilts his head, a familiar movement he does when he’s paying attention to what you’re saying, and walks forward into my cubicle.  I stand up, spilling my almost full water bottle all over the keyboard and back up against the desk. I should be happy to see him but something is really wrong with him.  As he gets closer, the air gets even colder.  It hurts inhale.  He stops about a foot away and I can smell him, a viscid smell of muck that brings up an image of fresh earth being shoveled onto a coffin.  The image of clumps of dirt hitting the coffin lid, burying it forever, freaks me out. The hairs on the back of my neck stand up and then things really go to shit.

Rodney grabs my wrist in an iron grip.   His hand feels solid but it also feels wrong, like a piece of cold meat has latched onto me.  His body wrenches forward, slamming me against the desk. He grabs me around the back of the neck with his other hand and leans towards me.

I think, is he going to…KISS ME? I panic and push him with all my strength. He loosens his grip on me and I shove him aside. I almost make it out of my cubicle and…BAM!!! CRUNCH!! I slam face first to the floor, stars flashing before my eyes.  Rodney, that dead bastard, has tripped me.  I get up quickly even though my nose is bleeding and hurting like hell.  I move fast enough so he can’t grab me then I stumble out of the cubicle, yelling all the while.

“Rod-neeee!! What is your fucking PROBLEM?!!” I’m yelling at the top of my lungs and Rodney flickers like an old movie.

I stand there, gaping. Remnants of my dream come rushing at me: The flickering image I can’t really see and the blackness after the image disappears.

I shudder then turn and run as fast as I can down the seemingly endless corridor of cubicles.  I hear a weird thumping noise behind me.  I know I shouldn’t but I turn around anyway, and I see Rodney flickering in the fluorescent light. He’s looking at me, eyes not blinking, and with a weird leap he runs towards me with long, stiff strides.  I run to a corridor on the left and then the right but I can hear Rodney behind me getting closer, the loud thump, thump of his landing feet.  I almost reach the door and Rodney grabs me, yanking me backwards. I slam up against the tall cubicle wall. He grips my throat, squeezing hard.  “R-Rodney…S-Stop,” my voice chokes out as I pull and pull on his arm then everything goes dark.  Something rises up.  A memory.

“Sam I Am?  Is it okay if I call you that?” I’m sitting at a big table full of papers and two laptops.  Rodney and I in the client’s conference room in the middle of our 24 hour emergency project.

“Sure, it’s okay.  No one’s called me that since my best friend did when I was in high school.”

Rodney laughs, his eyes twinkling.  “Well, that’s a good sign, isn’t it?”  I remember thinking to myself that it was a very good sign.

We’re smiling and I realize we are looking at each other for too long. Rodney’s smile starts to fade and the twinkle in his eyes is replaced with something else.

“You have…pretty eyes, Sam I Am. They’re very blue.”

I look away. I’m starting to blush. “Um, thanks. Girls tell me they like them.”

“Girls must like all of you,” he said. He is looking at me differently. I wonder briefly if he’s gay then push that idea away. It doesn’t matter.

I look down and push back my chair. “I need to, um, take a break.” I get up and walk past him.

He grabs my arm. “It’s all right, Sam I Am.”

“What?”

“There’s nothing to worry about or be afraid of.” He slides his hand down to my wrist. It’s warm and feels strong and reassuring.

I don’t know how to respond so I just look down at him.

“We’re good,” he says, nodding. He is still looking into my eyes.

“Uh, okay.” I gently pull my arm away but the warmth of his hand lingers.

The memory slips away and I open my eyes.  I’m the passenger seat of a car. My nose doesn’t hurt.  I touch it carefully.  I take several deep breaths, enjoying the air.

“Hey, you okay?” I turn slowly at the voice and yep, it’s fucking Rodney. He’s driving the car and looks normal.  He’s still wearing the khaki chinos, the blue button down, and navy tie.

“Uh, yeah.  What happened?  Did I fall asleep?” I cover my surprise and decide the best tactic is to let things calm down while I figure out what’s going on.

“Must have.  Sounded like you were dreaming,” he says.

“Right.  A dream.” I take another deep breath and look around the car.  We’re in Rodney’s black BMW 3 Series Coupe.  I’ve been in his car a few times before.  “What time is it?”

“3:20 in the morning.  He keeps his eyes on the road. “See the clock on the dash?”

“What am I doing in your car at 3:20 am?” I glance sideways at him.  He still looks normal. And, because he’s treating me like a friend, it seems like this is taking place before we went to the movies a couple months ago.

“You don’t remember?  We went out and I’m taking you home now.  Hey, do you mind if I put on some music?”

“No, play what you want.” He presses the button on the stereo and sounds of “Romanze,” the second movement from Piano Concerto No. 20 float over us.  A shiver runs up my spine. “Why are we out so late?” My words are coming out slowly. “And since when did you start listening to Mozart?”  Rodney hates classical music.  He used to give me crap about it all the time.

“It’s the only CD in the car.  The radio reception is lousy around here, and I seem to have misplaced my phone.  As for us going out, I managed to get you out of that cubicle hellhole for a change.  We went out for drinks.”  He glances at me.  “You don’t remember?”

“Ah, I remember you getting me out of the cubicle but the rest is a little fuzzy.  I must have had one too many, right?”

Rodney laughs.  “I told you not to throw so many back, Sam I Am.  It’s a good thing I’m driving.”

I look at him, waiting for him to return the look. He does and his smile is friendly but…that’s all.

“Are we…in a dream?”

“What?” He looks at me quizzically.

“I just feel like this is a dream or something. Maybe I’m dreaming of a different timeframe. An earlier one.” I’m watching him carefully.

“Earlier than what?” He’s clearly confused.

“Um, never mind. I’m just really tired and don’t know what I’m talking about,” I say. I look forward again deciding to drop the matter.

I take the opportunity to look around.  We’re driving on a straight dark road.  The road is empty, no stoplights, no signs, nothing.  There are no lights, no cars, hell there aren’t even any divider lines.  Nothing but the black asphalt and the car headlights.  I look behind us. It’s pitch black outside.  I can’t even see the stars.

A dark unease settles over me.  I draw back in the tan leather seat like you do when the driver gets too close to the car in front of you.  “Where are we?”

“I’m taking you home like I said.” Rodney seems to be concentrating really hard on the road.

“But…I live in the city and it looks like we’re out in the middle of nowhere.” I look out the window again.

“You don’t have to worry about that, Sam I Am.”

“Why not?  You know where I live.”

“Yes but you still don’t have to worry about it.”  He smiles, his lips stretching wide, showing most of his teeth. “There is no city here, Sam I Am.  There never was.”

“STOP THE CAR!” I yell.  I’m sweating, hoping he’ll do what I say.

The car screeches to a stop, right smack in the middle of the road.  Rodney sits staring straight ahead.  I wait for him to say something but he keeps his eyes forward. The tender strains of the piano from the Romanze plays in the background. It’s the section where one key at a time is playing.

“Rodney? You okay?”

“Sure, Sam I Am.  You asked me to stop so I did.”  I can’t figure him out. Why is he staring straight ahead like that?  There’s nothing in front of us, just the empty black asphalt that seems to stretch into forever.

“Um, I think I’m going to get out of the car now.”

He looks at me, surprised. “You don’t want me to take you home?”

“Nah, I’ve been a pain enough as it is.  I’ll be fine.”

“I’d like it if you stayed longer. It’s tiring driving this car all the time.” He smiles at me and I feel a familiar warmth.  He glances forward. “Oh.  Looks like that’s not a good idea.  Thanks for letting me take you home.”

“You didn’t take me home. No offense,” I add quickly.

“What I meant was thanks for riding with me.”  He looks forward again.  I look out the front windshield and see the glow of headlights in the distance.

“You need to get out of the car now, Sam I Am,” says Rodney, not taking his eyes off the lights.

“What?” I unbuckle my seat belt.  He looks relaxed, serene even.  The dark unease turns to a slow panic.  Something is nudging me, a feeling of coldness. “Why don’t you get out of the car too?  We can go back together, both of us.  You know?  You don’t have to keep driving on this stupid road.”

He smiles, still looking ahead, then he turns off the music. “I can’t do that, Sam I Am.  I have to keep going.  It’s the way things are.”  The car is still sitting in the middle of the road.  I look at the oncoming headlights again.

“Rodney, get out of the car with me.” I open the door, throwing it wide.  “Come on.” He’s still smiling and for a moment his expression makes me think of what he must have looked like when he was a kid.  His face is wistful and open, like he’s looking at something filling him with a quiet wonder.  I lean over him, trying to unbuckle the seat belt.

“I really appreciate this but there’s no more time,” he says.

“I’m not leaving without you!” I glance at the rapidly approaching headlights and it’s a fucking semi, of course.  How could it be anything else?

“Sam I Am.”  His voice is quiet.  I look at him, trying to stretch out the moment.

“I can’t…leave you.  Not like this,” I say, my throat tightening.

He touches my cheek, sending a shiver through me. “It’s fine. Everything is going to be all right.”

I take a sudden breath. “You…remember?”

He’s about to reply when the horn sounds.  I lean over him to unlock his door but he grabs my wrist with that inhuman strength.

“I’m really sorry, Sam I Am,” he says and he shoves me out of the car.  I fly out and land on the side of the road, the hard ground bruising my hip. The driver of the semi has applied his brakes and the tires are screeching on the asphalt.  The sound of the semi’s horn is really loud, its headlights flooding the road and then it smashes into Rodney’s BMW.  I roll myself into a ball to avoid the metal and glass that flies everywhere and there’s a terrible squealing of metal on metal.  The semi slides sideways and both vehicles go over the side of the road.  There’s a momentary silence and then the deafening sound of the crash.  I lay on the side of the road, my arms wrapped around my head.  The alarm from Rodney’s Bimmer has gone off but stops after a few seconds.  All I can hear is the sound of my own whimpering and a regular squeak, squeak that’s slowly winding down.  I sit up and everything shifts, taking on a faraway feeling.  I feel like I’m underwater.

It takes me a few moments to realize the squeaking sound must be one of the truck’s tires still spinning.  I close my eyes, clenching my teeth.  Another memory comes back to me.

“Uh. Hey, Rod,” I say.  Rodney is leaning against my cubicle entrance.

“Sam I Am, you work way too many hours.  This job isn’t worth it.”

“There’s too much to much to do.  I have three deadlines next week.”  I’m usually annoyed when people bother me but Rodney has been sitting next to me for more than two weeks and I have to admit I’m enjoying his interruptions.

“Well, I think you should leave soon.  In fact, I think you should leave now.  With me.  So we can go to a movie.  It starts in,” he consults his watch, “about a half hour so we have to go.”

“What?”

“Look, I know you’re Mr. Anti-Social but you’re getting out of this cubicle and going to the movie with me.”  There’s a stubborn set to his jaw I was starting to recognize.

“What movie are we seeing?”

“Who the fuck cares?  Just get your ass up so we can get out of here.”

I open my eyes again, tears streaming down my face.  The faraway feeling dissipates and I walk to the other side of the road, my shoes crunching on the broken glass.  I stare down at the wreckage.  They’re both dead, of course.  Rodney died in a car crash that killed both drivers.  There were no passengers.  I take in the twisted metal bodies facing each other in some weird illusion of intimacy.  One of the truck’s headlights is still on. I think about Rodney’s serene look just before he shoved me out of the car.  I collapse to my knees clenching my teeth. I can’t stop the streaming tears.  Something inside the heart of me breaks open and spills out, a rush of emotion and then a torrent.

“Why didn’t you come with me?  You could have told me about your childhood.  I would have listened to all your dumb jokes. WHY DIDN’T YOU COME WITH ME, RODNEY?!!!!”

But there is no answer to my questions and I’m alone, as usual.

I stare down at the two vehicles for what seems like a very long time until they start to flicker.  When I get up to leave, there’s no glass on the road. I don’t bother looking back at the wreck because I know it’s not there anymore.

Divider

We’d been driving along a paved one way road in the rolling hills outside the city.  I’d managed to walk to the highway by the time the sun came up and got a ride back into town.  When I walked into my sparsely furnished apartment, I looked around.  It seemed that much more empty, devoid of feelings.  For the first time I understood what my ex-girlfriend meant when she told me I was spending too much time in isolation.  I open my living room curtains and stare out at the apartments across the way. The light from the rising dawn is tinged with pink. I sigh as another memory comes back to me. This one happened a couple of weeks after he moved into the cubicle next to me.

I’m sitting in my apartment. I’d just gotten home and flopped down on the couch. It’s after 10:30 pm. My phone rings but I don’t recognize the number.

“Hello?” I sound tentative.

“Sam I Am.”

It’s late, I’m tired, but I smile anyway. “Rodney. Why are you calling me?” I sit up, turning serious. “Is everything all right?”

“Yeah, everything is fine. Hope you don’t mind if I call you on your work phone. Are you at home? I figured you had to be done with work by now.”

“Uh, yeah. If you thought I was working late, why didn’t you call me there?”

“I don’t want to talk to you at work, Sam I Am. I want to talk to you like you’re a normal person, not some drone.”

I laugh and rub my eyes.

“Okay, Rodney. What can I do for you?”

“Ha! You can do a lot of things for me, Sam, but for now I’ll settle for hearing your voice.”

My face is heating up. “Wait a minute. Have you been drinking? It sounded almost like…like…”

“Like what?” I can hear the smile in his voice.

“Like you’re…flirting with me,” I say. I squeeze my eyes shut. “Wow. That sounded really dumb.”

“Not dumb, Sam I Am.” His voice softens. “If you think I’m flirting with you then you probably need it.”

I’d protested weakly then we talked about other things. We were on the phone for over an hour that first time. Subsequent calls became more frequent and always seemed to take place just before bedtime.

Divider

I called in sick and then tried to sleep but couldn’t so I showered and was at the used CD store before they opened the doors.  I bought every CD I could remember Rodney listening to and probably some he hadn’t heard of.  I spent the rest of the day wandering around the city.

Th 24 hour emergency project happened about four months ago. The boss had gotten the call after 4:00 pm from the client begging for help.  He’d grabbed Rodney because he happened to be walking by his office and then they’d asked me to join them.  The next couple of hours had been a whirlwind of planning, going over the client’s account, running home, and packing.  Rodney and I had flown out that night on the redeye. We’d spent most of the 24 hours holed up in one of the client’s conference rooms, cranking out emergency database customizations.  After a couple of hours together we started talking about things other than work.  He’d told me about growing up in a big family and how he got his job.  I told him, well, not much at first but he was persistent so I told him a little about myself.  Mostly about school and how much I hated it.  We started relaxing around each other after that and I have to admit we were laughing about the stupid, silly things you laugh at when you haven’t had any sleep.  We’d gone back our hotel rooms when the project was done and slept.  When I woke up, he’d called asking if we could meet for breakfast.  I thought he wanted to talk more about the project but we never did.  Instead, we talked about ourselves and our lives.  I was sorry when that breakfast was over.

When we boarded the plane, we fairly pleaded with the steward to let us sit together but the flight was full.  He was sitting four rows behind me.  He kept getting up even when he wasn’t supposed to so he could talk to me.  When the plane reached cruising altitude, we’d hung out near the back so we could continue our conversation.  I hadn’t bonded with someone like that in a long time.

I don’t like feeling this way because those feelings vanish after you go back to “the real world.”  For a couple of days after, Rodney would pass me and make a comment that would set us both laughing again.  This gave me hope but he started backing away from me and then two weeks later he was barely acknowledging my existence, behaving as though we’d never spent 24 hours talking to each other and laughing like sleep deprived idiots.

I thought that was it but then he’d shown up with a box of his stuff and moved into the cubicle next to me.  I remember the first time he leaned over our common cubicle wall.  For some reason, we’d looked each other for a few moments, smiling.  I felt like I was at summer day camp and I’d just met a really cool kid.

“What the fuck are you listening to, Sam I Am?”

“Wolfgang.” I’d laughed, turning up the volume on Mozart’s Symphony No. 25.

“You need to start listening to music from this decade or even from this century.”

Divider

I go to work the next day and stay late.

“Sam, hey, you weren’t here yesterday.  Were you sick or something?”  I glance up at Dan.  He’s looking at me differently, all of them seem to be.  Or maybe I’m looking at them in a different way.

“Not really.  Just needed a break.”  I should be annoyed with his questions but I’m not.

“You, the workaholic, needing a break?  That’s a first.” Dan is looking at me closely now.  “How about we go grab a quick bite or a drink?”

“Not tonight but tomorrow for sure.”  I think for the first time I might actually mean it.

“Okay, sounds good.  Don’t work too hard,” he says, glancing back at me before walking out.

As I said before there’s always someone around even if you can’t see them.  Sure enough, a couple of hours later I hear the steps coming down the cubicle corridor.  They stop behind me.  The air temperature drops.  I swivel slowly in my chair.

“Hey, Rod.  It’s good to see you.  Do you think we can skip the zombie part and get to the car? If we go to there now we’ll have more time.”  Rodney cracks a smile and the corners of his mouth start to split.  He’s still in zombie Rodney mode but when he turns to walk stiffly down the maze of cubicles, I follow.  We stop at the end of the row and he grabs my wrist.  His hand is ice cold. I brace myself, waiting, but then…

I’m back in the car.  I glance at the dash.  It’s 3:11 am and everything is normal.  Rodney is staring intently at the dark road.  “It’s good you’re here again, Sam I Am.  Thanks for coming by.”

“Uh, yeah, I’m happy to.  Here, I have something for you.” I show him the CDs I bought.

“Whoa!  That’s great. Thanks a lot. They’ll come in handy.”  The road is still just black asphalt and Bimmer headlights.  I put the CDs in the glove box.

“Long drive?”

“Yeah, but I don’t mind.”

We seem to be in the same timeframe, before everything happened. I just decide to go with it.

“You must get bored.”

Rodney smiles. “It’s never boring when you’re here.”

Again, that warm feeling. I take a slow breath hoping I’m not blushing.

We’re silent now and I think how I should fill that silence with information about the world, maybe the news because we’re running out of time but I don’t.  None of that seems important.

“Don’t worry about it, Sam I Am.”

“Don’t worry about what?”

“About making anything better or easier for me.  I’m fine with the way things are.  You’ve done more than enough with those CDs.”

“I just wish there was more time but not pressured time like this.  Regular time, work time.  It doesn’t have to be all bells and whistles or extra special.  Just…ordinary.”  I close my eyes.  I’m sounding overly sentimental.  It’s embarrassing.

I open them again and my words start spilling out. “And I don’t know why I’m saying all this crap to you. I don’t have the right to even have this time with you, especially here.”  Rodney is still staring straight ahead, focused on the road.

“I don’t understand it.  I don’t know what the fuck I’m trying to —”

“Shut up,” he says. He says it without anger or agitation.  He says it gently.

I look out the passenger window into the night.  Tears are welling up in my eyes.  I’m even more embarrassed, so much so that when I should be looking at Rodney and taking in all the details of these last few minutes, I can’t.

“Sam I Am, you really need to get over yourself.  You’re here, I’m here.  Just relax.” I can see his reflection in the passenger window.  He’s looking at me.

“I can’t relax, Rodney.” My voice sounds watery and tight.

“Sam, look at me,” he says, “Come on.”

I shake my head, still facing the window glass.  I blink rapidly and swallow trying to hold back the onslaught.

“Sam I Am, it’s almost 3:20.”  His voice is soft again.  I look at him now, tears streaming down my face.

“It’s not FUCKING fair, Rodney.  Why now?  Why when we were just starting…something?  Why did this have to happen NOW?!!”  Dammit, I’m crying again.  I wipe my eyes with the heels of my hands.

“I’m sorry,” he says. For the first time I can see that he’s sad.

“It’s not your fault!” I feel stupid again because I realize he doesn’t know why I’m upset. I try to breathe normally, trying to relax my shoulders.  I wipe my eyes and look out the front windshield.

The semi’s lights have just appeared on horizon.  Rodney stops the car in the middle of the road.

I begin breathing hard.  It’s an audible sound like I’m gasping for breath.  I glance at the clock.  3:21 am.  I look at him and I see that he’s happy.  I take a deep breath and the tension slips away.  He smiles at me.  And this is what it comes down to.  No formal declarations, no grandiose announcements, no speeches about the meaning of life, or secrets imparted.  It’s just me and my friend, smiling at each other for the last time.

“Do you…do you want me to take a message back to someone for you?”

“No, but thanks for asking,” he says. He stares at me for too long again then he reaches out, grabbing me behind my neck and I move towards him. It’s a natural movement, like breathing. We kiss and it feels as easy and right as it did the first time.

His lips are warm and soft, and I open my mouth up to his tongue. I sigh and he presses closer to me. When the kiss ends we lean against each other, touching foreheads.

“Now you know why you’re here,” Rodney says. He kisses me on the cheek.

“Um, isn’t there a truck coming?”

“Yes, but if we stay this way things are kind of…delayed for a short time.”

“You said that in the movie theater.”

“And it was true there too,” he says.

When we’d gone to the movies together, we were the only people in the audience. Rodney kept looking at me and when I finally returned his gaze, he’d traced his fingertips along my cheek. All kinds of alarms should have gone off but I just kept looking at him. He’d smiled and then kissed me. It was the first time I’d ever kissed a man, or even thought about it. I was surprised at how true and real it felt. I was even more surprised when I’d settled in his arms, responding to his passion. He’d asked me to come home with him but I’d said no. I’d told him I needed time to process what had happened and get used to the idea. The next two weeks were crazy busy for us both. We didn’t really talk much, except for short phone calls before bed but I told him I wanted to spend more time like that if we could go slow. He had agreed happily.

Our first date had been low key. We’d gone to dinner then went for a long walk. We were supposed to go to the movies again but just kept talking to each other. At the end of the evening, I’d let him kiss me again. The feeling of being in his arms made me want more but I’d held back. We spent the rest of the week talking to each other every night, sending texts, and planning to get together on the weekend.

He’d died the night before we were supposed to meet. He’d been with a friend from out of town and had taken him to the coast that day, dropping him off at a hotel. He’d sent me a text saying he was really looking forward to seeing me the next day. It was the last time I heard from him.

I kiss him deeply, not holding back. He lets out a soft sigh then pulls away. His eyes are closed and he’s breathing hard. He shakes his head, opening his eyes. “You’re a really good kisser, Sam I Am, but you need to leave.”

“I don’t want to.” The semi sounds its horn. I keep my eyes on him.

“I know but you have to. It’s okay.  Really.”

“You should be with someone when it happens.  It’s not right for you to be alone.”   

Rodney tilts his head.  His dark eyes are warm.  “I’m not alone. You’ll be fine, Sam I Am.  Everything is going to be all right.  Now get out of the car.” He glances forward for a moment and then looks back at me.

I open the door. “Do you really have to go through this again?  I can’t stand the thought of you suffering.”

He smiles, “Don’t worry.  It’s instantaneous for one thing and for another you won’t see me again.  This is the last time I have to do this. Now go.”

“Rodney, I…”

“You’re going to be fine. In time, you’ll find someone. Maybe someone like me. And you’ll feel how right and real it is with him too.”

“I can’t…” My voice is cracking.

“This is it, Sam I Am.  Say goodbye.”  He’s looking at me, his head tilted.  His face is open and wondering again, like he’s looking at something beautiful.

“G-Goodbye.  I wish things could have been different.”  I’m barely able to get the words out.

“So do I,” he says. A tear is running down his cheek. “Now go and don’t look back.  If you don’t look back, you’ll get home a lot sooner.”

I close the door and back away, waving at him.  He waves back and then sits forward.  There’s a sharp squeezing in my chest and I still don’t want to leave him alone, not at the terrible moment of his death. Not ever.

The truck is almost upon him, its huge lights very close.  I see him flicker again and force myself to turn around and walk away without looking back.  The deafening sound of the two vehicles colliding fills the air and everything seems to be moving in slow motion again.  I blink and then…

I’m back in the city in the middle of downtown.  The slow motion feeling slips away and everything speeds back up to normal.  I glance down the street, wiping my eyes with my shirt sleeve.  I flag down a cab.

When I get home I keep the lights off and go to the window.  The street is quiet and I can see the lights of the stairwell in the apartment building across the way.  A dog is barking nearby.  The night has a slight chill.  I hear the sound of a car and look up the street.  A black BMW 3 Series Coupe drives by and for a moment it seems to flicker.  I smile.  It’s good to be alive.

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AN: I would have posted this months ago but I submitted this story to Yaoi-Con in hopes that it would be included in their anthology but it was rejected. I’m pleased to finally share this original story with you. Hope you liked it!

  • Thomas Evans

    The key is in that last line, though I didn’t catch it in the earlier version of the story. It speaks (to me) of the importance of liberation from our past, re-connection to the present, and the potential joy life holds.

    I am leaving California for good in a month. A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, you suggested we do an all night romp around San Francisco, something on my bucket list. I wonder if enough time has passed that you would be game?

    If not, again…I apologize for breaking our bond of trust with hurtful words. I will always cherish our time together and wish you the best in life and letters.

    If you’re open to a blue and purple long day’s journey into night, you know how to reach me.

    • Not interested. I’m leaving this up for a couple of days so you can see it and then I’m deleting both comments.