I’m thinking back over the last few days, now that I’ve got someplace of chill out and can close my own door. Aliah has been pretty cool, helping me to get the futon from Capitol Hill, and my stuff from downtown. And not just that. Once we were back at her…I mean our…place, she started digging through her closets, pulling out old blankets and sheets and pillows, an alarm clock, a lamp…even a throw-rug. She keeps saying I don’t have to use them if I don’t like them, that they’re just for until I can find some of my own stuff, but it’s more like she’s giving them to me on indefinite loan and it’s no big deal if I never get my own shit. And really, the rug is pretty cool.

So, the past few days I’ve been getting settled in. And I went to check out the book store on The Ave that Aliah had mentioned, Twice Told Tales. It’s cool, I guess, but they’ll only have me for few hours a week…like three days in the afternoons…so I can eat, but I’ll have to get something more if I’m going to be able to keep up. She says there’s another one on Capitol Hill. Maybe I should check with my new boss to see if they can work me into that one, too, for another couple days to flesh out my schedule. Now that I think of it, I think I remember seeing it near where Todd works…that might not be too bad…

Anyway…my brain is just going in circles so I guess I’ll trudge downstairs and see if anyone is home…I thought I heard someone walking around a bit ago. If it’s Aliah, she’ll be good to help me focus; if it’s Paul, maybe he’ll be a good distraction for a while. I can try to pick his brain about whatever it is he’s studying at the University of Washington. The U Dub, as they call it…“Dub” being short for “Dubya”, like the letter W. People are weird, how they shorten everything due to pure laziness. Like I’m one to talk.

Lix3-akaAdam I open my bedroom door to find Lix planted right outside in the hallway at my feet, facing the door as if he were waiting for me to come out. He looks up at me as the door opens, turns and runs pitter-pat in front of me down the stairs into the kitchen, right to his bowl. Then he looks up at me and vocalizes something that sounds like it would come from a much smaller cat: a high-pitched, slightly crackly meow. He obviously is thinking that I am to give him some wet food, even though he still has a full bowl of dry food, or “crunchies” as it is called in this house.

“No, no, Lix” I chide him. “you’re way to fat already, silly cat. You don’t need any more food.” He rubs up against my legs with a force nearly sufficient to topple me, but I’m not falling for it. “No, no wet food.” I open the fridge and pull out the pitcher of filtered water and pour myself a glass, replacing the pitcher and scouting around for any edibles that might appeal to my slightly grumbling stomach. A collection of odd plastic air-tight containers filled with leftovers of varying degrees of age, color and smells populate most of the second shelf; the bottom shelf houses what appears to be remnants of three different loaves of bread, all stale, and a large covered pot of what looks like what was some sort of legume-based dish… opening the glass lid, I immediately wish that I hadn’t… and a bag of lemons. The crisper drawer is mostly empty, but there are a few not-yet-over-the-hill veggies that look promising, so I throw together a small salad and then realize there is no salad dressing to be had. Hmm. I poke through the cupboards a bit and turn up some olive oil, a sprouting head of garlic, various herbs and spices of indeterminate origin…no vinegar though. Well, I tell myself…I can wing this. There’s lemons in the fridge.

Sitting in the sofa, TV on, I munch away while Ellen blathers her silly monologue in the background, and I wonder where everyone is. Aliah did say that Paul was almost never home, so that’s not much of a surprise, but neither was Aliah around. Was she working? Why did she leave and not tell me? What, I scoff to myself…Did you think she would hover around and babysit you? Right, you’re a grown-up, Jessie…remember? Start thinking and acting like one!

Okay, so, let’s see…plan of action for the day…what time is it? I crane my neck around to spy the clock in the kitchen, visible through the doorway that separates it from the living room. Just after 11:00 am. Yeah, I bet Aliah is at work…and Paul at some class I suppose. I set the now empty bowl on the end table and dig in my bag for a smoke, thinking as I did so that I guess I could meander over to The Ave and see if Aliah is at work and if she has any plans for later. Or I could wander down to Captiol Hill and make another attempt at contacting the land-lady slash apartment manager at Shaylah’s building. I had tried previously calling the phone number on the sign dangling from the building itself, but it just went to a property management firm and they weren’t giving out any information. They wouldn’t have any of the kind of information I needed, anyway. Things like, where did Shayla work…and when was the last time she had been home…and was she friends with anyone in her building that I could talk to? Things like that. Of course, there was no guarantee that the on-site land-lady slash apartment manager would give me any of these answers, but it was a start. Or at least I kept telling myself this to ward of the continued feeling of impending panic every time I tried to piece out what may have happened to my best friend.

Come to think of it, I was starting to wonder, really, if she was still my best friend. I mean, we emailed often and sometimes talked on the phone…more so since all the drama back home had started. But I haven’t seen her in almost three years…since she moved to Seattle herself…and I don’t know what she is really into anymore or what she does with her spare time. I mean, I don’t even know what she does for a living or who her friends are up here! What the hell did we talk about in our emails and on the phone, anyway? Stuff like ‘went to this party…’ and ‘there’s this really cool new restaurant…’ and ‘did you see such-and-such movie…? Wasn’t so-and-so hot?’ …blah blah blah. No names, no places for real…just general shit. She could be a total flake now and I wouldn’t even have had any indication. I mean, yeah, I had talked to her just days before coming up, but what if she did just bail and go out of town for a few days, a week, or…? I shake my head. This was just crazy, really. I mean, I had just talked to her and she knew what was going on with my living situation back home. Something bad had to have happened to her!

Jess, you’re getting yourself all worked up again. Stop it, I told myself. I take my as yet unlit cigarette and empty bowl into the kitchen, putting the bowl in the sink. Then I walk back through the living room to the front door and onto the porch to sit and smoke on the steps. Paul doesn’t smoke and, although Aliah does sometimes, the house rule is smoking outside only, unless it’s your own room with the door shut and the window open. No smoking in the common areas, period. Sitting on the creaky old wooden, peeling-lead-painted steps of the front porch, I light my fag with my soon to be toast old pink lighter. To look at it, you wouldn’t think it would even work, empty of fluid. Must be running on fumes. I make a mental note to pick up a new lighter when I’m out and about later. Oh. So I guess I just made up my mind what to do, I muse. I’m going ‘out and about’…to where, that’s as yet the question unanswered.

4718 NE 7th, looking W

The house on 7th overlooks a view extraordinaire…not really. The freeway whizzes past on just the other side of the street and the roar of traffic usually lulls me to sleep these past few nights. I don’t know really how Aliah deals with it though because her room faces front, towards the freeway, while mine faces the back so it’s more muffled in my room. Almost like being near the ocean, I tell myself. Well, kind of. The traffic can get a bit heavy right about where we are. In fact right where our house sits, the off-ramp from I-5 merges with our street, to connect with NE 50th just a block or so up. 50th is somewhat of a thoroughfare, so it’s a busy off-ramp. I guess back in the 30’ or 40’s when these houses were built, there was no Interstate, so there were probably more houses across the street from us; a nice little residential area where kids rode their bicycles and played kick-ball and hopscotch. But now, as I sit smoking, I watch the cars drain off the freeway a few at a time…then gaze far away across to the other side at a row of houses facing back at me, looking very similar to the one on who’s porch I sit.

I take a last pull off my cigarette while I stand up and smash it on the walkway with my foot, picking up the flat butt to toss in the kitchen trash bin before washing my dish. As I open the door I hear the phone ring and wonder if I should answer it. What the hell…I do live here now, right?

“Hello?” I timidly speak into the mouthpiece. It’s an old heavy avocado-green thing from the 70’s…the kind with a really loud old-fashioned ring. “Honorable House of Chaos.” It’s what Aliah always says when she answers the phone.

She’s laughing on the other end. “Hey! See? I told you you’d fit right in with us! What time did you get up?”

“Oh, uh…just an hour ago or so, I think.” Was it? I guess so…whatever. “You at work?”

“Yep,” Aliah answers. “Hey, I have a break in a bit. You wanna come down and meet me? I know there’s not much in the house to eat so maybe we can split something here?”

Um, okay, I hear myself say. I don’t tell her that I just ate a salad. Not that I think she’d care that I ate her food…obviously she doesn’t, if she’s offering to split her shift meal with me…but because it really didn’t fill me up much and I need to get out of the house anyway. Kind of a way to jump-start my half-baked plan to get something done for the day. I tell her I can be over there in, like, half an hour and we hang up the phone after a couple quick goodbyes.

Vans walkingThrowing on my Vans, checking my bag for all the necessities…lip balm, cigarettes, wallet, keys…I thankfully notice that it isn’t raining. Overcast, with high light-grey clouds, yes…but no rain today. The walk to Flowers will be nice…I’ll take the back streets, not the high traffic Brooklyn or The Ave. It’ll be a good way to learn my new neighborhood, I tell myself.

© 2008 D. Kessler

So, when Toby and I finally get to the U District, it’s totally pouring again; the proverbial Wrath-of-God torrent that makes looking for a parking space absolutely ridiculous and soon instigates prayers of desperation from the driver, then from its occupants, to whatever god or goddess you can imagine. Bear in mind, of course, that these prayers soon turn to vehement curses as we continue to circle and circle an ever widening circumference, making the radius run to our eventual destination ever longer and more daunting. Finally, there’s an opening…a full four blocks from the restaurant, but Toby’s mind is set on his destination…and he squeezes the car into what probably isn’t actually a legal parking spot after all. Too close to the hydrant, I’m sure…like that ever stopped us before? Nope, and not now either. Besides…who’s going to need a hydrant anytime soon with the sky opened up raining cats and dogs like it is now?

Flowers Restaurant & Bar, U-dist, Seattle A mad dash to the closest awning and then a brisk pace for a few blocks and we’re there. Outta the rain and into Flowers we go. Shaking our jackets out near the door, we spy a couple seats at the bar and head over.

“Two shots of Jager and two Fat Tires,” Toby orders for the both of us. His money let him pick the beer, I guess. “…and a couple menus, too.”

We order a couple burgers to go with our beers and hand back the menus, down the Jager and settle in to wait for our dinner. Toby keeps glancing around the room like he’s rather be somewhere else, but I know him. He’s looking for this girl he mentioned before, but trying not to look like he’s looking for her. How pathetic. You’d think someone like him…someone that always seems to get the girl, whatever girl, at least for as long as he wants her…would have a more nonchalant attitude, or at least act more chill about it. But no, not Toby. Every new conquest is like it’s the only one for him. Maybe that’s his way of keeping it new, keeping it real…well, as real as he can be anyway…shit, maybe that’s why they fall for it, for him. What a fa-la-la land fairytale.

“So, where’s this chick you claimed works here?” I can’t help myself, I have to ask. Just open the can of worms and spread them around on toast like sardines and Vegemite before I smear it in his face. “I thought that’s why we came all the way over here in this fucking storm…so you could mess with her and whatever.” Set it up. I know she’s not here, she can’t be. We haven’t seen anybody but the bartender and some other dude wiping tables.

“Oh, she’s here.” A flit of anxiety undetectable to anyone else but me sparks in Toby’s eyes. Gawd, he’s ridiculous. I think he really believes his own shit sometimes. “I was here the other day at this same time…” He trails off, looking around a little more obviously. Watch it, Toby. It’s starting to show.

I take a big gulp of beer. “That doesn’t mean shit and you know it,” I say, setting down my glass. “You know, they could rotate their shifts or something…or she could just not work today at all.” I don’t know why I’m enjoying this so much. Oh yeah, right. I remember…I’m Mr. Side-kick to Mr. Cool. And Mr. Cool is looking like he feels less cool by the minute as it starts to dawn on him that maybe the world doesn’t revolve around him and it’s not a sure thing that he can just waltz in and get everything he wants in a to-go bag. “We shoulda just gone to the Triangle or Costas…a lot closer, no traffic. Shit, Taco del Mar and a six-pack would have been okay by me.”

He pulls out the Bali Shag and starts to roll a cigarette. I grab the bag from him and do the same. The rain is a just tad lighter, and we have a bit of a wait for the food, so might as well go outside for a smoke. Stupid smoking ban…no smoking in bars or restaurants, and not within 25 feet of the door or open windows…in Seattle, no less. Like you can keep a cigarette dry enough to smoke when you’re outside any time between October and April! We signal the bartender that we’re going outside for a smoke and will be right back.

Now, Flowers does not have an awning, and after a few minutes leaning against the window, trying to stay at least a little dry, we realize that the rain is not as light as we thought it was. We are going to have to go across the street and smoke under the awning at the Haagen-Dazs store. Of course, I don’t think there is 25 feet worth of awning between us and the door to the shop, but has this ever stopped us before? Nope, and not now. We talk bullshit about nothing for a few minutes while we smoke, about nothing in particular. We’re guys, you know? Fuck, whatever. It’s more fun rubbing the worm sandwich in his face when he thinks there might be someone to overhear or notice. No one’s gonna notice anything about two guys smoking under an awning…and definitely not anything Toby would care about. Inside is a different thing. This girl works there; there are people working there right now that know her. The potential for unintended eavesdropping and knowledge of the parties talked about, by those doing the eavesdropping, is high. Much more fun for me.

Inside again, the burgers are waiting for us and the bartender is getting the ketchup and mustard.

“Another shot?” He asks.

“Yeah, sure.” I answer for us both. When he comes back with the Jager, I take the plunge. “Hey, um…is what’s-her-name working? You know, um…” I look at Toby, Mr. So-Good-With-Names. “What’s her name, Toby? That girl…you know…red-head…?” Ooo…the daggers are about to come out! I better watch it if I expect him to actually pay the tab like he said.

“Blonde.” He says tersely. “Tall, blonde…red star tattoo on her wrist…” I can’t believe it. He must really want to meet this chick. He’s all of a sudden cool as a cuke, Mr. Nonchalant…but I can see those daggers just below the surface of those calm pools that are his eyes. “She was here on Friday…”

“Oh, I know who you mean,” says the bartender, knowing smirk on his face. “Aliah. Yeah…she works later on the weekends, but weekdays she’s usually gone by five. You actually just missed her.” I look over at Toby to catch the wall crumbling. Just missed her, he said. This was too much. Better than I’d hoped. “She stuck around for a bit to meet some girl…never saw her before….and then they took off. Not fifteen minutes before you got here…” He goes on but I’m not listening to him; I’m watching Toby with a mixture of utter delight at how-the-mighty-have-fallen and a weird feeling of…was it remorse? Sympathy? No way…yeah, I guess it was something like that. Even the daggers weren’t really very sharp any more. Toby was just eating his burger like it tasted of cardboard and ketchup, half listening himself to the bartender ramble about what was sure to be more information and speculation than he should be handing out like candy on Halloween.

We hang out a bit and finish our dinner, another shot of Jaeger, another beer. The rain lets up and it’s soon only the swish-swish sound of cars driving by on wet roads, the lights reflected in warble-y lines and splashes of brightness in puddles that confirms that it has been previously pouring cats and dogs. Rolling a cigarette for the walk back to the car, Toby in the bathroom, I ask the bartender again what he knows about this Aliah-chick. I mean, Toby is my friend…I guess I still feel back for outing his hand like that to another dude.

“So, Aliah, huh?” I start, “You said she was meeting some girl after work?” He nods. “But, I mean, she likes guys, right? She wasn’t meeting the girl like that, right?” I mean we gotta know, you know? No use working on it if she’s into chicks, right?

“Oh no, she’s not into girls like that. She was just some friend, I suppose, though I’ve never seen her before. Pink short hair, wearing a grey hoody…looked a little anxious, if you ask me…” More words coming out his mouth, but again I wasn’t hearing him. Did he say pink hair? I couldn’t be…of course not. How many chicks running around the U District…hell, Seattle…with short pink hair? Lots. Tons. Could’ve been one of any number of college brats, Ave Rats or …? It just couldn’t be…

Toby’s back from the john, just in time. “Come on.” I say to him, interrupting the bartender. “Come on…I gotta get outta here. I need a smoke…”

I’m out the door before he can even reply. I dig frantically in my pockets for a light…matches…anything. Finally I nab a passerby and light my rolled cigarette. Deep drag….aaahhhhh. I let it out slowly. That’s better. There’s just no way, I tell myself. That would be just too weird. This girl, Aliah, can’t be friends with that weird girl downtown…no fuckin’ way. I don’t even know why it bothers me…no idea at all. It’s just that…I dunno. I take another drag and Toby’s on the sidewalk with me.

“Dude, what is your problem?” He shakes his head. “First calling my shit like that with the bartender, now panic-boy bolting out the door before I can even pay the check? You need to chill out. Come on, let’s blow this taco-stand. I say we park the car back at my place and get some real drinks.” He lights his cigarette and blows the smoke straight at me. “That’s for what happened back there.”

© 2008 D. Kessler