“What do you do for him?”
Ali stands in the living room placing her laptop and various other items in a brown leather bag preparing to exit for work—whatever work is. Her slight smile teases something larger afoot—to what, she doesn’t say even though I continue asking.
Not meeting my eyes: “I do lots of things for him.” And she giggles.
I roll mine at her juvenile response and go back to work online.
Classified as complicated and dull, she never elaborates beyond that and I rarely probe further. The secrecy surrounding their project began to concern me. They disappeared days at a time neglecting to tell me where they went, only that if I needed them to call. I started to wonder early on if I concealed jealousy amongst all that concern. Maybe that was the regard at which my worry and curiosity intersected. I won’t deny that I am a tad jealous of their growing relationship. Ali seem to connect with him more than she had to others. This time doesn’t quite burn as much as it did in the past and feels more…pleasurable? Fun? As strangely as that sounds, it feels even weirder.
Jealousy brought with it some unpleasant, uncomfortable memories—an understatement really. An ugly destructive emotion, Ali and I both tried to temper it as we got older. Though, not by much. When we were younger, we personified the typical angry, moody teens then young adults that rebelled against and subverted an unjust system; oftentimes devolving into destructive self-sabotaging angst where we did more harm to ourselves and each other than to others. Individualism may have revealed who we were but collectivism helped guide and support us towards greater self and overall group benefits. Our numerous problems remained. Never forgetting our individual concerns, we attempted to forge the balance of both between and towards a healthier good for ourselves and others; always splitting that line, often failing miserably. Still a hard, exhaustive, and ongoing fight through the pain and consequence of past wrongs; some suffering a great deal more difficult than others, we struggled daily—both in different ways. I couldn’t adequately convey Ali’s story any more than she could portray mine. That didn’t stop us from trying. Jealousy was only one of the many issues that haunted that drama. To explain how we weaponized and hurt each other with it—or an encore of past episodes—was something I wasn’t quite ready to confront.
Then again, maybe it was time. Middle-aged, we mostly avoided the dreaded past where all that emo-melodrama reigned. Among other things.
I feel her inching away from me, thriving in a totally new direction. Niky is the sun and she grows towards him. I could either grow with her, or die in the shade.
Brother. Now I’m calling him Niky.
She wants me to come with, and that’s what’s so different. The thrill and curiosity of everything new takes my imagination in all different directions—and I like it.
Caution, however, remains.
I shake off the thoughts returning to the work question deciding to poke further.
“No, seriously, Al, what do you do for him? It’s not anything illegal, is it?”
Her face turns severe; her stare direct. “Are you serious with that question? What’s a rich boy like him gonna get into?”
My frown turns wide-eyed. “Are you being ironic? Are you serious with that? When has a rich white boy not gotten into trouble? I mean, I cannot even believe you just said that. Who are you? It’s like you’ve become someone else.” I tack on a small smile in the end meant to relay humor then get up from behind my desk and computer going towards the bedroom. Stopping in between, turning towards her, softening my voice in concern: “Is it anything bad is all I’m asking. I don’t want you to get hurt.”
Her shoulders sag as she stares at me with amusement and affection. “Why don’t you come with us?”
A glance beyond and the softening in her face reveal he has arrived. Nik stands behind me. Close. The heat radiates off his body. He tends to gravitate towards me, always sliding into my personal space whenever near. Normally when people did that it freaked me out and I quickly backed away. With him, everything odd occurs. We tend to start drifting towards each other—a symbiotic synchronous orbit that generates some sorta hypnotic suspension from everything, and a blistering-hot opiate that produces such manic and contradictory emotions, I hesitate. Torn between running and staying, I dunno how to deal. That pull triggers something latent and disconcerting; an intimacy familiar and unexpected, intimidating and assertive, comforting and liberating. It’s odd, and annoying.
“Come with us,” he whispers into my ear. I stifle the urge to lean back into him and release that which longs to escape.
Turning I look up into his eyes. “You are a nuisance,” I tell him and he smiles—a crooked provocative one that makes me wanna commit violence.
Or something else of which I push to the darkest corners of my mind.
“I have to work,” I tell them.
“You don’t have to though, do you? It can keep a day.”
“Unlike you, I’m not rich. I don’t have family with generational wealth to fall back on. Unlike Ali, I’m not as brilliant and accomplished. I’m not that smart. I don’t have the Chapel Hill degree and the unlimited ambition and all that oozing talent. I have ADHD, so many issues that could fill a building bigger than this, and I have to work fifty times harder just to live up to being normal and mediocre. Even for only part of the day. Yes, sad and pathetic, isn’t it. Whatever. I’ve learned to live with it and in doing so, my boring data entry part-time, online, minimum wage job without benefits allows me a few hours a day to be creative. That’s a sacrifice I knew I unfortunately had to make when the corporate world booted me. This to not only save my sanity but my overall physical well-being. Now, we could argue I’m a kept woman”—I shrug—”sure, Ali pays the rent…” my voice fades as I realize we were in each other’s face. Not so much attacking as settling in. This long hot stare continues for what feels like an hour, or ten—though, not really, and I try to back away, but am rooted in place.
“Do y’all wanna be alone? Or do you want some company?” Ali snickers at her erotic innuendo and my mind digresses into a pornographic threesome-mode, especially when Niky bites his lip and flashes a hot shy smile and wink at her.
I back away slowly still staring at him feeling my face flame hot. “I need to—to take a shower,” and quickly disappear into my room but not before I hear Ali yell: “Make it cold cuz we’re leaving! I love you!”
© 2020 Pamela Gay Mullins