The Kind that Eats through You

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
Two pairs of siblings, a double date, and a hit of LSD. At the very least, it's interesting.

Submitted: October 07, 2015

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Submitted: October 07, 2015

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The instant after Cecily knocked on her brothers door, she heard the sound of glass bumping forcefully against a hard surface, and a stream of curses. She was left to stare at the family portraits on the wall, a rather difficult task, considering the fact that she felt she looked marginally terrible in most of them. She spotted her favorite, which is to say the only one she found bearable, and took it from it's place on the wall, knowing that this photograph would be vital in the ploy to getting what she wanted.

“Uhh, one sec.”

“It's just me, Marty. Is this a bad time?”

 She chose to ignore his audible sigh, which was followed by footsteps, and the door slowly swinging open. Smoke drifted lazily about him, and his eyes could hardly be called open. His disheveled hair, half clothed body, and the large glass bong still smoldering on his computer desk only reinforced the idea that he may be a little further from functional than she needed him. She desperately hoped that this wasn't the case.

“Shit Ces, I thought you were ma...”

“Nope, not ma. Just your adoring little sister.”

 She peered around him, trying not to seem frightened as she bore witness to the atrocity that was his bedroom floor.

“Well... What's up.”

 He stepped back, grabbed his bong, and took another pull, despite his sisters disapproving glance. He saw the look on her face, and innocently offered her a hit. She shook her head, still standing in the doorway. She clasped the picture tightly in her hands, and put on her best smile.

“Do you have plans for tonight, big bro?”

 Marty laughed as he exhaled through an empty toilet paper tube stuffed with dryer sheets, his mirth ending in a fit of smiling and coughing. Cecily rolled her eyes and cautiously took a step forward, attempting to make her way towards a clean place to sit. Finding nothing even resembling what she sought, she cleared a spot on his bed, and plopped down. Marty returned his bong to the place on his desk, and leaned against the faded wood casually.

“Why, what's going on?”

 Her brothers evasive and curious attitude proved that he still had his mental faculties; he knew something was up.

“Please Marty, please just tell me, are you busy or not?”

 He sighed, confused and somewhat baked, looking back at his computer screen. Doom II was paused, and his heart longed to continue to fight the demons that had opened a portal on Mars. His still-smoldering bowl made it all the more enticing.

“Yeah, I mean kind of. I'm about to fight an Eye of the Beholder, and he killed me last time, so.. Vengeance, Ces. It's important little sister.”

“Okay, well, I have to ask you a favor.”

“If you want me to buy alcohol again, I'll do it, but you have to promise me the same thing you did last time. I don't want some asshole trying to get fresh with my sis just because she's plastered, alright? Two shots, per hour, maximum of six.”

 She immediately felt the same way she had when he'd first divulged that sentiment. Loved, and slightly offended. She'd told him as much the first time, to which he'd responded 'look, I didn't mean that you're easy when you're drunk, I just meant that guys are assholes'. She reminded herself of this presently, and pressed on.

“Thanks Marty, but that's not it. It's actually.. a bit bigger.”

 He took this to mean something far different than what she had in mind, and his face contorted into an expression of severe discomfort.

“Oh jeez, look, if you're going to ask for coke or something, no goddamn way, okay, because I don-”

“Jesus Marty, no, okay, nothing like that.. I was actually wondering if.. Well, if you'd go on a date with me. A double date..”

 His was at a loss entirely, so he shook his head slightly, trying to sober up and figure out what he had obviously have missed.

“What. Are you kidding me..?”

Cecily shook her head, angry at herself for her tactlessness.

“Oh god, no, what I meant was, would you be willing to hang out with me tonight? Annnd my boyfriend... Annnnd possibly his older sister?”

She slapped a hand over her mouth, happy to have spilled the sauce but anxious of her brothers reply.

“What, are you crazy? Cess, if you haven't noticed...”

He motioned to his room, himself, and then to his computer.

“I'm not exactly spitting game with the ladies right now. There aren't too many opportunities to talk to girls while scrubbing pans. And after what happened, I don't know if-”

“Marty, listen, please, just for a sec, okay?”

Sensing that this was important to his sister, he fell silent. 

“So... You remember Ethan?”

“Prom dude?”

“Yes, prom dude.”

“Yeah.”

“Okay, so, we're kind of seeing one another, but we haven't really been able to get together all that much, with neither of us having a car and all.”

“Okay.”

“Okay so, Ethan was talking to his older sister a few days ago, and he was telling her about the two of us-”

“The two of us, as in you and me?”

“No, he was telling her about him and I. But she wanted to see a picture of me, so he showed her the one where you and I are posing with Goofy at Disney world, which.. just happens to be right here..”

Marty's face split into an exaggerated look of disgust upon seeing the picture she held.

“Awe god, where did you even find that thing?”

“It was out in the hall, it's been there awhile.”

“God, wasn't that the one where I was secretly shitfaced because that guy sold me a four loco in the bathroom by the haunted mansion?”

“Yep, the one and only.”

 They smiled together, caught in the memory of their experience there. Cecily looked at her brother, wondering if he knew the real reason they went in the first place. After the divorce, when Marty was forced to moved back home, he was distraught to the extent that their mother feared he would take his own life. She had thrown the vacation together as a way to bring them all closer together, and more importantly, to remind Marty that they needed him. Although Cecily had believed in her brother, although she had been utterly convinced that he would not take his own life, she had been scared. She loved him dearly, and it had been difficult to see him that way. That was part of the reason that this was so important. It wasn't that she needed so desperately to see Ethan, she need desperately for him to agree to meet Anna.

“But I look like a complete idiot!”

“No, you look like a complete sweet heart, and that's what Ethan's sister said. He's been asking her to ferry us around for ages, and she always said no, but after he showed her the picture, she said she would.”

“So you're saying your boyfriends sister saw my picture, and wants to go out on a date with me? Are you kidding? Have you ever met this girl before, she must be insane..”
 
“She's not insane, she just insanely sweet. Really. She's wonderful Marty. I think you'd really like her. Annd..”

“And?”

“And I think you'll be surprised, as far as looks are concerned.”

“What does that even mean? Does she have a club foot, or some other weird thing I should know about?”

“Why would she have a sandwich for a foot?”

“No, not a club sandwich, a club- just tell me what's wrong with her.”

“Nothing's wrong with her. She just recently got out of a really bad relationship with some macho man sports writer, and she wants something different. But she is flipping gorgeous, and a really cool person.”

“Gorgeous, huh..”

“Gorgeous...”

“Sweetheart, huh..”

“Total sweetheart.”

“And by something different, you mean something safe, right?”

“Not safe Marty, just kind. And you, Marty, are kind. And funny. And totally awesome.”

“Is she old enough to drink?”

“Yes.”

“And you're sure there isn't anything wrong with her? I mean it seems like you're trying really hard to make this happen, and that makes me nervous.”

“No, I just.. I think you'd like her, okay? And I think she'd like you. But this isn't even about what I think, it's about the fact that for whatever reason, she wants to go on a date with you. And I think it's worth a shot.”

 This wasn't entirely true, of course. Anna had only come around to the idea afer a few cautious conversations with Cecily, and a multitude of anecdotes. Not that making him look good was an arduous task, quite the opposite; he had been there for his sister in times that no on else was. Marty looked at his ceiling and breathed heavily, then looked once more at his computer. Moments later he sunk down into his chair, slowly swiveling away from her. After several agonizing moments of listening to the deafening clicks of the mouse, she stood up to leave, dejected. She was nearly to the door when his screen went dark.

“Ces. What time..”

 She spun around and ran at him, full force, hugging him where he sat and nearly bowling him off of his chair.

“Thank you so much Mar, you won't regret it! Okay, I'm going to go call him right now and tell him we're in! What time is it?”

“Four fifty.”

“Okay, four fifty, alright, so..”

 As she calculated the logistics of a shower, hair, and makeup, Marty dug through his desk drawer, pulling out a few half full energy shooters and some winter-mint gum.

“Can you be ready by Seven?”

“Sure thing, Ces.”

 He seemed as if he was trying to sound dejected, but she knew she heard a hint of excitement in his voice. Her smile broadened even more, threatening to breach the sides of her face.

“Okay, awesome!”

 She sped from the room, launching into another checklist of things she had to accomplish before the clock struck seven. After closing the door softly behind her, he quickly returned to his desk, slammed a couple of half full 5 hour energies, and opened up the top drawer. Reaching up into the underside, he carefully removed a piece of tape, and what it had been hiding. His face stretched into a grimace as he carefully pulled the tape from a small square of folded  foil, and examined the contents; a single hit of LSD. He'd gotten his hands on it months ago, with the intention of taking it with his two best chums. His (now ex) wife had quickly put that to rest, threatening to leave him if he ever did psychedelics. They had asked him to do it in secret, they had even bought him a tab, but after deciding to stick to his promise, they went on without him. He'd saved his anyway, for an unspecified occasion. For some reason, he felt that this should be the occasion. He'd read that acid made you more open, more accepting, that it made you see things, and people, in a different light, and that above all else; it brought you joy.

“Here's to making the night more enjoyable.”

 He closed his eyes, took a deep breath, and placed the paper under his tongue. As he did this, he prayed to the gods that the acid would help him appreciate the evening, as well as accept this person, and allow him to see past his bitterness and distrust, the only remnants of his failed marriage that still clung to him. He opened his eyes after a moment, a faint smile on his lips, and started digging around on his floor-drobe for something to wear.

***

Da-Dinggg.

 The door. Marty tried to hid the smile that sprang to his face, but was incapable. He felt positively giddy. He scarfed down the Twizzler he had been using for his strawberry milk and half sock slid, half danced, over to the entryway, swinging the door open wide. He was in a state of utter joy, and had been expressing it in a rather manic display of humorous antics. Cecily had begun to worry when he'd had an entire conversation with a potted plant, calling it Miguel. He had naturally voiced the plant too, affecting him with an accent that somewhere between a Japanese woman and a very sick Pennsylvanian. 

“Ethan, my main man! How you be, sucka?!”

 He swung out his hand, continuing to grin like a buffoon. Ethan was rather surprised by this, his one other interaction having been... Less than enthusiastic. Still, Ethan appreciated a warm welcome, so rather halfheartedly put up a hand, engaging in a series of hand shakes and fist bumps, which Marty found highly amusing.

“.. Heyy, Marty.. Long time, no see..”

Marty doubled over in another fit of laughter, so much so that he begun to wipe his eyes with his shirt.

“Time? A long time? I don't know about that, my friend. Let me ask you a question, do you know what time is?

“Uhh, it's around seven, I thin-”

“Not the time, just time. Like, in a general sense.”

“No, I can't say that I do..”

Marty clasped his hand on Ethans shoulder, the smile having faded from his face.

“Time is something old people invented.. So they could rule us with clocks, man. Think about it. No matter where you're going, you have to make sure you get there at the right time. And how can you tell the time. If you don't have a clock. Which you buy. Capitalism man. Supply and demand. It's a scary thing.”

Ethan stood there awkwardly as he tried to figure out whether or not Marty was trolling him. He couldn't be sure, and better safe than sorry.
 
“Yeah.. I guess you're right..”

 As he said this, he had truly tried to sound genuine, but he couldn't help but think that Marty had gone a little bit batshit.

“And so!!! So... So, so, so... Let me tell you some other good things that I know!”

“Wait, was that Dr. Seuss?”

“The cat in the motha fucking hat, dawg!! The ONE and ONLY DAWG.”

“Right.. ha ha.. Well.. is Cecily around? Anna's in the car, so we should probably head out.”

Marty's face lit up like so many Hanukkah candles at the mention of his sister, and he didn't want to think about making a first impression on the person he'd be forced to spend the evening with just yet; better to run down the clock.

“Ces!! CES!! She's awesome, right? So fucking awesome.. I remember one time, when she was just a kid, she climbed up onto the picnic table, and our dad was out mowing the lawn... I wonder what it feels like to mow the lawn... For the grass, I mean.. They're just hanging out, totally alive one second, and the next second, chop chop chop!! They're gettin cut down, left and right!! It's like fuckin D-day out there! Anyway, my dad was busy thinning out the insect/grass blade population, and Ces climbs up onto the picnic table, right? And she grabs his beer. And she starts fucking downin it, like crazy, she drinks like half of it, it was insane!! She was stumbling around for like half an hour!! Ahhh.. shit.. Good times.. Good. Times.”

Ethan was dumbfounded. He stared for a moment, realized his mouth was agape, and shut it promptly. He honestly couldn't think of an adequate response to Marty's story, so he just peered around him anxiously, looking for any sign of his date. Marty picked up on his discomfort, and decided to exploit it just a touch further.

“Don't go getting any ideas, okay? Seriously. Watch it. That's my little sister you're thinking about.”

Ethan put up his hands, making a vain attempt at stammering out a reply. Cecily entered the room worriedly, sparing him from further verbal floundering.

“Sorry, sorry, so sorry, I had to just do a few things real quick. Ready to go?”

Ethan, still rather taken aback, nodded quickly, eager to leave. Marty moved to do the same as Cecily looks him over uncertainly.

“Uhh, Marty?”

“Yeess?”

“Aren't you going to put on your shoes?”

“Ahh, shoes!!”

“And a jacket? It's the middle of winter.”

“Ahh, jacket!!”

“It's right there, on the couch..”

“Ahh couch!! Man, couches are great, aren't they, you can like.. Sit on em, and shit.. Ahh, I love these things.”

Ethan and Cecily exchange a bewildered look.

“Marty, what are you even saying, let's go!”
Marty shrugs nonchalantly, then freezes in place. After a moment, he furiously whipped his jacket around his shoulders and exited with them.

“So... Did you fellas have a good chat?

“Oh god yes, very enlightening, dear sister! Did you know that his father works for NASA? They're building a second Hubble telescope, right now! Ethan told me all about it while we were waiting.”

A look of bewilderment and fascination crossed Cecilys face. Marty hid back a smile, clearly enjoying throwing Ethan out into fray to squirm.

“Oh my god, really? Ethan, that's wonderful.”

“Well, n-”

“Oh Ethan!! Ethan Ethan Ethan! Don't be so modest, he's changing lives!”

Poor Ethan was at a loss, and was beginning to worry about the evenings proceedings.

“Let's go let's go let's go, I want to meet your dashing fox of a sister!! Owwwee!!”

 Cecily could hardly contain her shock, and she quietly hoped that he wasn't going to blow this; for her, or for himself. The only form of self sabotage she had been worrying about had been his nerves, but now, it was the opposite. She wondered to herself how it was even possible that he might be acting too outgoing. At any rate, she hoped he would wise up before doing too much damage. After she locked the door, the three of them walked toward the car, with Marty sauntering ahead. Instead of just getting in the passenger seat, he saw fit to walk over to the drivers side and tap softly on the window, much to the dismay of his sister. Anna looked up from her phone at the noise, slightly startled. Marty smiled dashingly and gave her a small wave. She shot a confused glance at the her brother and his date, and looked back at Marty, also waving modestly. When he did not stand up from his crouch, she rolled her window down and spoke.

“Uhm, Hello.”

“Hello, wonderful sister of Ethan! How do you fare on this chilly evening?”

“Pretty good, uhh.. How about you?”

“I'm well, thank you for asking. Your name is Anna, is it not?”

“It is. And your name is Marty, is it not?”

“Yes, that it is. Of McFly flame.”

“That explains why it looked like no one was home.”

 Marty stared at her for a moment her joke sank in, and then made a perfect O with his mouth. He looked over at Cecily, motioning to his date and saying candidly;

“Okay, she's awesome.”

Ethan was still unsure about the proceedings, he hadn't exactly been enthusiastic when presented with the idea of a double date in the first place. He wasn't truly concerned, but still wanted a chance to say something to Cecily anyway, who was standing beside him in the driveway.

“Is he going to be alright?”

“Honestly.. I have no idea..”

Ethan just shrugged and put his hand on the small of her back, guiding her towards the rear of the car.

“Well, Annabelle. Annaopolis. Anna-banana, Anna-gram, or just Anna.. I... I... Am going to get in the car now.”

Anna nodded, still smiling, nodded. Ethan and Cecily were already seated in the back seat when Marty climbed inside.

“Stevie Wonder, baby!!”

Anna looked over at him, brow furrowed.

"Uhm, excuse me?"

“CO-PILOT DJ! That's me, and I'm feeling.. Superstitious..”

 Anna, without breaking eye contact, slowly reached down for the USB hookup attached to her stereo. She then handed it to him, trying to fight back another smile.

“I love that song...”

 Marty just beamed, and held his phone close to his eyes, his face screwed up in a positively Olympic look of concentration. He mumbled to himself, tapping away.

“..Dis bitch..”

As he peered at his illuminated screen, the letters swam in front of him, and he began laughing goofily.

“Well this is new!! Oh my goodness, it's like alphabet soup over here!”

 Of course, no one else knew that he was simply struggling to read as the acid began to set in. After several failed attempts, he let out an elated cry as the wonderfully funky bass line poured from the speakers.

“Yasssss!!”

Anna laughed, and looked behind her to back out of the driveway, before realizing she had no idea where they were going.

“Hey, I just realized I don't know the plan..”

“The plan?!”

Marty was nearly yelling.

“THE PLAN?!”

“Yes, the plan..”

Marty fell silent, and hopped around in his seat, his knees now perched on it like a toddler.

“Psst.. Hey.. Hey Ces.. What's the plan.”

She half opened her mouth and tossed up a hand; she didn't know either. All eyes went to Ethan.

“Uhhh.. I was thinking Dicks. The steakhouse..”

Marty's smile faded abruptly, and he looked at Ethan incredulously..

“You want to take my baby sister.. My baby sister, with the heart of gold.. To a place called Dicks? That serves meat? Whoa whoa whoa buddy... Wrong move..”

 Ethan innocently waved his hands, and again started to stammer. He tried to keep himself from becoming angry, but Marty's antics were beginning to grate on him. He couldn't tell if he was being trolled, or this if was trying to lighten the mood, or what. He just knew that it wasn't funny, and it was staring to piss him off. He fought the feeling down anyway, determined to focus on his evening with Cecily rather than Marty. After taking a second to comport himself, he looked over at a mortified Cecily.

“Is that not okay?”

She looked away awkwardly.

“No, I mean it's totally fine, I just don't..”

“She's a VEGETARIAN BRO!!”

 This sent Marty into another fit of uncontrollable laughter, as the backseat couple sat there nervously. Finally Ethan, his patience being stretched thin, spoke up.

“Alright, fine. What then.”

Marty looked around the car, grin still splayed across his cheeks, and realized that all eyes were on him.

“Welll... I want to go to the ARCADE NIGGA!”

This elicited a laugh from Anna, but no one else. She looked away shyly. Marty beamed at her.

“Well last time I checked, they don't serve food, and I haven't eaten, so..”

“Ethan, we could go to the Macaroni Grille, it's right across the street.”

“Plus they have a DOPE ASS BAR!!”

 Anna laughed again, picking up on Ethan’s irritation. She wasn't laughing to spite him, but it did make it a little bit sweeter. He brother was kind of spoiled shit, at least in her opinion, and it brought her joy to see him knocked down a peg, especially in such a non threatening manner. Anna asked for directions, which Cecily was all too happy to provide. Fifteen absurd minutes, and another several Back to the Future references later, they were parking at the restaurant. Anna had focused on driving, but the vibe in the back seat ws nothing short of anxious. The acid made Marty somewhat oblivious, or at the very least, unconcerned, which threw Cecily for a loop, knowing her brother was generally very socially aware. After they had stepped out of the car, and had adjusted their clothes, Marty ran around the car and embraced his sister.

“Ces, I love you. I friggin love you so much.. You two.. Have a wonderful evening. We are going to go straight to the bar, and getting our draaaank onnn!!”

 Marty began to dance, right there in the middle of the parking lot, stopping only after he dropped his hips and started freakin' on Anna with his admittedly insubstantial booty.  Ethan hurried into the establishment, Cecily in tow. Anna laughed, and wondered where the hell all of this exuberance came from. She decided she didn't care, she just knew that she liked it. The last relationship she had been in had felt like a prison. She constantly been made to feel stupid, and more often than not, when she was unsure, she just hadn't spoken. Brad had been so reserved, so serious, and so utterly indulgent in his pride that he never allowed himself to be seen as the butt of a joke. Marty seemed to her like one of those people who live for it. That being said, she had to wonder; Why. At least he was different, which was what she wanted, or at least, what she had told herself that she should want.

“Anna.. Beautiful Anna. Would you mind terribly.. If I were to have a cigarette?”

 Anna was fighting hard to hold back a smile, a losing battle. She was positively charmed by the weird, silly, carelessly outgoing individual in front of her, but she wasn't sure if she found it necessarily attractive.

“I don't mind..”

 His face lit up, and so did his cigarette. Anna peered around towards the door, making sure her brother was inside. She then leaned in and whispered.

“Do you mind if I maybe have one?”

 Beaming, Marty obliged. He carefully handed her one, filter in, and lit it for her as well, cupping his hand cautiously around the flame. After inhaling to get it started, she looked up at him, still in close proximity. She tried to figure out if the blood rushing to her head was from that tell tale first hit, or the strange man child in front of her. Their eyes locked, and for the first time, Marty's face took on a more serious demeanor. He held her gaze, and for the first time, it sunk it that she was a human being. Up until that moment, she had been a person to talk at, to make jokes too, to try and evoke laugh from, but that was all so impersonal. He had essentially been using her as an extra for the stage that was his acid trip, his life. But now, looking into her eyes, he realized that she was an individual, with her own stage, and he and been wrong not to treat her as such.

“God, Anna..”

She didn't speak.

“You're breathtaking.. And so beautiful.”

There was another pause. His lit cigarette softly fumed in his hand, forgotten.

“It's different though.. I can't quite place it, but.. It's almost like it's not only you that's beautiful, it's everything around you. Like you have some strange ability to bring out the beauty in everything else, o see the beauty in everything else around you. But no matter how beautiful things get, you're still at the center of it all. And I get this feeling that.. You're humble about it.. I feel humble just looking at you.”

 Anna was at a loss. This was, without a doubt, one of the sweetest things anyone had ever said to her. At the same time, it was one of those things that people don't actually say out loud, at least before they've even had a real conversation with someone. The fact that he was so open frightened her, and she wasn't sure if it was him being genuine or if he was going too far. But Marty was not innocent, and had made a grievous mistake, even though he nor Anna realized it. By putting himself in a compromised state of mind, but still in such a state in which he was captivated by beauty, he had set himself up for heart break. His interpretation of her personality would be severely tainted. He just knew that she was beautiful, and she just knew that he could make her laugh, but they were starting off their relationship being attracted to parts of the other person that were the product of a manufactured chemical.

“Uhm, thank you, Marty.”

Marty smiled without reservation.

“I liked the way that that sounded. I really enjoy the way you say my name. I could get used to it, even.”

 Anna was again slightly put off, but also, intrigued. For some reason, she didn't feel uncomfortable, even if she thought she should. He seemed to radiate a charm that came from his honesty, from being genuine, from throwing it all out there. Still, she was unsure. She took another drag from her cigarette. He, seeing this, snapped back, as well as stepped back; he hadn't moved an inch since he'd lit her cigarette. He followed suit, taking a long drag and looking up at the sky.

“Whoa, space bubble. I just popped the bubble. I'm sorry Anna.”

“It's okay, really.”

“Well, I'm glad you think so, but at the very least, let me buy you a drink?”

“I'd be glad to.”

 Silence. Smoke from two sets of lungs drifted toward the darkening sky, and they leaned against the car, soaking it in. The LSD was destroying his social inhibitions, to be sure, but the finer moment of peace was not lost on him. If anything, it helped ground him, at least momentarily. As they smoked in silence, Ethan and Cecily were adjusting themselves in their booth, just having been seated.

“Okay, so the text you sent me in the car? I just saw it.. I don't even know..”

“I mean, is he just drunk already? I only met him two or three other times, and he was a lot more... Quiet. And definitely not as strange.”

“He's just gong through a weird time right now, you know? I don't really know what's is going on.. But he's always been one to try to lighten the mood. Maybe he was just trying to fill the silence with...”

“Craziness?”

“I guess..”

“Well.. Besides all of that.. It's good to be here. With you, I mean.”

 He would have been worried about his sister, if he cared more about her. He didn't have anything against her, he just found her rather boring, and thought she was moderately useless. She didn't talk much, and she wasn't really good at anything, at least as far as Ethan knew. He viewed her as one of those people who just kind of existed, and who also happened to be related to him. He left this unsaid as he browsed his menu. Cecily smiled, and reached across the table for his hand. The moment their hands touched, Anna and Marty entered, and carefully made their way toward the bar in the back. It was rather loud, and Marty found himself easily distracted in his present state, so he stopped several times to look at various paintings hung around the establishment. After reaching the counter, they sat down in a corner and waited for a bartender to approach. Anna had just opened her mouth to speak when he came over.

“Marty?!”

Marty looked away from Anna, his face lighting up at the sight of an old friend.

“Nick, no friggin way!! What is up, woman?!”

This brought a smile to both faces, as they each recalled the anecdote from years passed.

“Not a whole lot man, living the dream, serving drinks, what about you? I heard about you and, uhh.. I heard about what happened.”

The smile vanished from Marty's face as he was flooded with memories that he had desperately tried to shut away.

“Yeah, well.. Life, you know..”

Anna saw the way he tore his gaze away and looked down at his hands, palms up in his lap. They were trembling. Nick realized that bringing up the separation had been a poor decision on his part, so he forced another smile and grabbed a glass, determined to rectify his mistake.

“Hey, what do you want to drink brother? It's on me tonight.”

Marty smiled weakly, wishing that the memories hadn't affected him, or sobered him up, as much as they had.

“Thanks Nick, I appreciate it, but I can pay. For both of us.”

 As Marty motioned toward Anna, a look of shame crossed Nicks face. He hadn't even realized that they were there together. Marty tried to smile a little wider, and asked Anna what she'd like to drink. They ordered promptly, him, a Pyramid outburst (at 8.5 percent, it was a godsend) and her, a martini, dry. They both remained silent whilst their drinks were being prepared, and upon receiving them, began to sip in silence. Anna wanted desperately to ask about what was very obviously on his mind, yet felt that it was not the right time. Marty felt guilty for being so overcome with emotion in the way that he had, and the cursed the drug that had made it more difficult to process. Before they knew it, they had both drained their glasses, and two fresh drinks were in front of them. The beer was helping Marty combat the acid high, and his mood was steadily improving again, but he felt shameful for acting this way in front of his date. Especially in front of a woman who had wanted specifically to meet him in the first place. He was moments away from breaking down and spilling his guts about his separation, when she spared him from his fate by asking a question. He was still in that same frame of mind, however, so he abandoned his humorous front and spoke from a place of near cynical honesty.

“So what do you do for a living?”
 
Marty laughed, but it was humorless.

“It could hardly be called a living, but, I wash dishes.”

 Hearing himself, who he was, his entire being, summed up and defined in these terms depressed him once again. This is my life, he thought to himself. This is who, and what, I am, if what I am is my job. And that actually sucks.

“Where do you work?”

“It's this little mom and pop place called Station 8. The entire place is a couple of old dining cars linked together, we have a little strip of railway for them to sit on and everything. It's been around since the forties.”

“Hey, that's really cool. I used to be obsessed with trains as a kid.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah, I used to watch Thomas every day. Percy was always my favorite though.”

“The fat one?”

The way he'd said this so straight across made Anna laugh, and gave Marty a much needed boost in spirits.

“The fat one?! He's a train, how could he even be fat?”

“What do you mean, he's totally fat. It's just his face, sure, but he definitely had a fat face.”

 They paused for a moment, smiles lingering, each of them reaching for their glass during the lull in conversation.

“What about you?”

“Sorry?”

“What little building do you go to for hours a day, days a week, to earn living wages?”

“That's an interesting way to ask. I work in a coffee stand.”

“That's kind of what it is though, a little part time prison. Not to be too dramatic, because I enjoy my job from time to time, but I certainly would choose to spend my time elsewhere, given the opportunity. A coffee stand though, I could dig. I don't think I could ever have enough coffee, it's one of my favorite crutches.”

She looked at him for a moment, wondering if she should continue with the pleasantries and superficial conversation, or just fucking go for it. She took a long drink, and chose the later.

“Your favorite crutches. That's a different way to describe it, for sure. But it's true, I use coffee the same way. To make me feel more present, more aware. What are your biggest one?”

Marty was rather surprised by her question, and was tempted to make light of it. He decided not to.

“Humor. That's my biggest crutch. I tell jokes, try to make others laugh.”

“Why is that?”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, why do you use humor as a crutch?”

 Marty, suddenly aware of the shift conversation tone, realized that the pretenses and formalities had been dropped. He decided to see just how far she was willing to step outside of her comfort zone.

“You tell me.”

Realizing that he had sounded defensive, he recanted.

“Sorry, that sounded rude, but I would like to know what you think. Based on the admittedly little interaction that we've had, and what you know about me, why do you think that I use humor as a something to lean on?”

 She considered telling him that he had opened himself up, and that she was going to be honest, but she thought it redundant. He had said that he wanted to know, so she was going to tell him. She considered revealing that fact that she was a student of psychology, as well as social science. She decided that it could wait, and thought carefully about her reply, mulling over what she'd seen of him tonight, and her conversation with Cecily. Marty, or even her brother, didn't know this, but she and Cecily had gone out for coffee, admittedly on accident, but they had talked in great length about her brother. She had been worried about him, and Anna had learned far more about him than he would have been comfortable with. She felt guilty, having this upper hand, but she decided to use it, and see what happened. They each drained their glasses, and again, they were replenished. She stirred her martini absentmindedly as thought, and when she felt that she had given it sufficient thought, she looked him in the eye and spoke.

 “I think that people use humor because it's easy. Well maybe not easy, but safe. It's a defense mechanism, because if you say something that someone doesn't agree with, or something too personal, it's easy to fall back on the fact that it was 'just a joke'. It's a way to avoid being genuine, or put yourself above the situation. With you though... With you, I think it's a little different. For some reason, I think you do it because you're scared, and ashamed of yourself. You aren't prideful, or egotistical, I could tell from the way you held the door open for that couple on the way in, and from the way you talked to your sister on the ride over. You don't see yourself as better, which is one of the reasons I don't get along with my brother as well as I'd like. He's proud, in an almost insolent way. He's arrogant. And I know he legitimately doesn't feel in the same way that I do, which sounds fucked up, but he lacks empathy. It's something I hope he'll grow out of as he gets older, but the few times that I’ve seen him truly upset are times where his ego is threatened. Anything that's not happening to him, is less important than what is. He uses humor to make himself feel okay, which is the same thing that you do, the difference is he uses it to boost his ego, and you use humor for the purpose of self deprecation, trying to laugh about the fact that you feel like a bad person. You tell jokes because you desperately want to be liked, not because you feel that you entitled to the affection or respect of others, just the opposite. I feel like you think there is something ugly inside of you, or something that doesn't deserve the affection of others, and you express that by tearing yourself down all the time, even if you just say that you're joking. Your humor attracts others to you, and you almost hate this, because they think you're kidding, but in reality you're laying down all of your flaws and short comings, and you wholeheartedly believe in them, even if you express them in the form of a joke. You use humor out of desperation, to find meaning, to be liked, to like yourself. You use humor because you feel, and you want to make something good come of everything that you hate about yourself, even if the good that comes from it is only good for others. In short, I think you use humor because you feel deeply, you are genuine, and you kind of hate yourself. But ultimately, you're not selfish about it. And I’d rather have someone in my life that makes jokes about themselves to cope with their feelings of inadequacy than someone who puts others down to make themselves feel okay. If there is one thing that I respect above all else, it's selflessness.”

 Marty wasn't sure how to feel. He had been struggling to ignore the LSD as he listened to her words, and as they had begun to sink in, he had been nearly overwhelmed with a feeling of despair. Her words had been piercing, because he hadn't thought there was any way she could have extrapolated the literal essence of who he was. This was something he had been waiting to have happen to him for years, and now that this perfect stranger was sitting in front of him, the fruition of his dream to finally be understood by another person, he realized that it wasn't at all a relief. It was terrifying. She felt guilty for having used all that she knew about him to lay him bare. When she'd first started talking she wasn't really sure how far she was willing to take it, but her words had gained too much momentum, and had barreled out before she had time to stop them. By the time she was done, she'd been speaking from the heart, but she wasn't sure what that even meant. She just knew that she thought he was a beautiful person, broken, to be sure, but all of the real ones are, she thought to herself. She had broken eye contact midway through her monologue, and had tried meet his gaze again as she finished. He hadn't looked back. She nervously stared at her martini, then after a moment, clumsily drained her glass. In that moment, she was the very image of anxiousness. After a moment, turned on her stool and grabbed his hand. She softly ran her thumb across the back of his hand as she spoke;

“Do you want to go have a cigarette? I would kill for cigarette right now. Let's go.”

 Without waiting for a reply, she led him by the hand toward the door, waiting for a moment so he could finish his beer. He placed his card on the counter and followed her out, reaching for his pack numbly on the way. He handed her a smoke before she asked for it, and lit it. As he grabbed another for himself, he sat down on the curb, and put his head into his hands. The first hit brought him untold peace, and he thanked his high school self for the admittedly poor decision to start.

“Thank you Anna. For being honest.”

“Look, I don't even know if any of that made sense, I don't even know what I was trying to do, and I'm really sorry if I offended you, or misjudged you, not that I was judging you anyway, but.. I'm sorry, okay?”

Marty smiled slowly, it was a smile of resignation.

“The only reason it stunned me the way that it did was because it was true. Pretty much all of it. And I've never had someone else even pick up on it, or at least tell me so openly if they did. And you, you're a stranger. A beautiful stranger. Who came into my life a few hours ago. I didn't even know that you existed three hours ago. And now you know who I am, you understand me in a way that no one else does, and that's honestly scary. Because you don't know me. But you do. I'm not making much sense, I don't know..”

 Anna thought about this for a moment, and for the first time, realized that she was playing with fire. The odds were in her favor, she had chosen to come here tonight, she knew things about him that no one should know before a first date, she understood how desperate of a person he had become. They were beginning to bond, especially him to her, never having had this feeling of being truly understood, and now, feeling it, maybe even for the first time. And she didn't know why she was so drawn to this, to him, who was in so much pain, having been left. Maybe it was because when she had ended things with brad, he hadn't really cared, and here was someone who would care, who did. And she wanted that. She wanted him. And she had to ask herself why. Did she want to fix him? Was it the fact that he cared, that he had a heart? Maybe it was because she understood his empathy, she was a conduit for other peoples emotions herself, feeling like a tissue that had been passed around, leaned on, folded up, and finally discarded. She understood him, and felt as if he would understand her, given the opportunity. She had this feeling, the feeling of knowing that she wanted something, from him, with him. But what? And is that sort of feeling really any reason to start a relationship? It dawned on her then, that if they both weren't careful, they would undoubtedly destroy each other. But.. What if it worked?

“I understand the way you feel, Marty. But I don't really know you yet. The reason all of that made sense to you is because I feel that way too. I haven't really learned to love myself in the way that I know I should, the way that I want to. For the longest time, I sought that in my last relationship, you know? I didn't need to love myself, as long as I was loved. But it started to crush me. Everyday, I felt like I was dying. My ex was never really affectionate, either physically or emotionally, unless you count sex. But there is a difference between sex and real physical intimacy. Between making love, and fucking, for lack of a better term. And I began to feel even more afraid, because I knew it wasn't working, and I didn't want to be on my own, or god forbid, move back in with my parents. So I let it continue, until I didn't even feel like a person anymore. And then I just left. I left work early, packed my things, and loaded them into my car, and waited for him to get home from work. Two hours have never seemed so long, or so unbearable. He actually grinned when I told him. He hadn't been happy for a long time, he said, he felt tied down, and wanted to get 'back out there'. That was terrible for me to hear, because I felt like I was doing this huge thing, making this huge decision, and he didn't really give a shit. I don't know what I was expecting, really, but.. Anyway, I know what it feels like to feel misunderstood, and scared.”

“Of what though? What are you afraid of?”

Anna took a breath, and then another drag.

“What's there not to be afraid of? Life. Love. I'm afraid I won't make my parents happy, and that I don't know what I’m doing, so I’m just wasting away. Dying. I'm afraid that, because I don't know what I want, every day I get further and further away from this thing, this thing that I’m supposed to be doing, only I have no idea what it is, or how to get there.”

“That's the same way that I feel. Sometimes I don't even think it exists, this thing that we feel like we have to do, we must do. And that's also terrifying, because it makes me feel like I don't belong. Like I don't fit in to this construct that everyone else seems to be a part of. Like.. I don't have any real purpose. Do you ever have that feeling?”

“All the time.”

“Me too. And that scares me, so badly. The thought of living my whole life in this, in all of this, and never finding out what I'm supposed to do. I feel selfish saying that, but I’ve spent my life living for others. First my parents, and my sister, and then my wife, and after that whole thing collapsed, now that I'm just left with me, and it's terrifying. I don't know how to live for myself. I don't even want to live for myself, you know? People say it's something that you have to do, but I don't want it. It's selfishness, at least that's what I feel like. That's why I don't like to admit the fact that I feel so misunderstood, so out of place, because that makes it all about me, and I just.. It's not all about me. And I don't know if I believe in fate, I certainly don't believe there is a god who has all this mapped out, and just watches us, but I don't know what it is that I’m supposed to do, and for while, I’d convinced myself that I’d found it, in another person, but it was a delusion. That was me not wanting to confront my life, not wanting to confront what else is out there, because it's so cruel, I wanted to choose love, but it failed. I failed, and now... Now, I just, I don't know. I just don't know.”

Anna again grabbed his hand.

“Neither do I. And that's okay, because deep down, I know I'll be okay. Both of us.”

“How can you say that though?”

 He looked her in the eyes, and she knew that it wasn't cynicism that drove him to ask, but fear. Seeing him vulnerable like this woke something in her, and she felt incredibly close to him, so much so that she became terrified, but she pressed on.

“Because if there are still people like you out there, people who feel this way, who have this sort of understanding, then neither of us will have to do this alone.”

Try as he might, tears came to his eyes, and he felt himself overwhelmed with emotion. Without giving it another thought, he stood up, reached for her hand, and upon receiving it, pulled her to him. She embraced him tightly, and he did the same. After a moment, he leaned back just enough to meet her gaze, and kissed her. Even if their eyes had been open, neither of them would have been able to see. After what felt like hours in that instant, neither of them were even sure how they were still standing. He again met her gaze, and tried to speak, but words failed him. She saw his brow become furrowed as he tried to speak, but instead, put her finger to his lips.

“It's okay.”

They stood there for another moment, before Anna shook her head slightly and backed up a step.

“Want another drink?”

Marty smiled, a genuine smile, one unattached to a joke or an antic. It was just an expression of joy, like it always should have been. 

“After that, I feel like I need another cigarette.”

Anna laughed, and pulled him inside. At the bar, they ordered another round, and sat a little bit closer, content with simply being near one another. After a few sips, and a few more smiles, Marty wondered aloud how their little siblings were doing.

“I was just thinking that same thing.”

“Well, if their night is going even half as well as ours, they're alright.”

Anna smiled.

“I think so too.”

They continued to sit, and to talk, both of them glad to have met the other, and both of them wondering what would become of them. There was a single question that hung in two minds, one that burned to be answered, could their relationship be built upon these binding fears, their shared desperation, and last? Neither of them knew. But that night, they both chose to find out. Not just for themselves, but for each other. 


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