Sunday, December 11
It was four in the afternoon when Mike woke up, and it was, he immediately decided, not a good afternoon. There was a bra on the bed next to him, lipstick on his pillow, and someone had written him a note with a number on it. He'd have called that a success, if he'd actually been straight. He rubbed his eyes. Oh well.
The bigger issue was that he was in Trevor's room. He had no idea how he'd gotten there, or why, nor did he really want to know. The only redeeming fact was that Trevor was not in bed with him. That had happened once before. Mike had thankfully woken up first, and immediately fled the scene of the crime.
The room was a mess. There were pizza boxes on the floors. Every available surface was covered with glitter and confetti, and there was mistletoe glaring at him from above the door, the lamp, the windows, and a few of the picture frames on the walls. It explained why there had been so much making out last night. Mike winced at the sight of spilled beer on the carpet and the shot glasses stacked in a precariously pyramidal shape.
The sound of someone showering passed through the wall, and shortly after, the hum of song; the apartment might be spacious and comfortable, but it was also shittily sound-proofed. Mike smartly deduced that someone must be home besides him and so he finally dragged himself out of bed.
As so often, he told himself to stop being a lazy asshole, get his shit together and stop acting like a frat boy gone wild; but in all honesty, he told himself the exact same thing every time he got up at four in the afternoon with a deadly hangover, and it hadn't stuck yet. He glanced at the bed and to the dresser next to it, the one with the framed picture on it. Trevor and Jenny smiled back at him, half-kissing, laughing happily. And he would have claimed loneliness made him do it, but Trevor had all that, and they were in pretty much the same boat. Maybe it was genetic.
He made it out of the room and into an even bigger mess, when the door to the shower opened and Jenny stepped out, wearing only a towel and her pink underwear that peeked out from underneath it. She spotted him and smirked. "I was wondering when you'd do a Jesus."
"Didn't take me three days, go me," Mike quipped. "Is Trevor out?"
"He needed to buy a new suit. I think he's nervous about today."
Mike frowned. "Today?"
"The Christmas party?" Jenny said. "At the firm? And they say you've a genius memory - you know what, forget it. Go, have a shower, I'll make you a coffee, let me just get dressed first."
Mike gave her a grateful smile and slinked past her into the bathroom. She'd cleaned up in there already; there was no vomit anywhere, though there were still spots where glitter covered smooth surfaces. The water was hot against his back as he soaped his hair and wondered what he was going to do for the rest of the day.
When he returned to the living room, and the smell of freshly brewed coffee hit his nose, he boldly decided he was going to do something substantial and productive with his day: save the planet from the alien invasion, or become a whale rider. After a thorough cost-benefit analysis, he settled on something a step more achievable: he was going to clean the apartment. It wouldn't make him feel less pathetic, but he also wouldn't get kicked out for being a lazy asshole roommate, which was something.
Jenny was wearing a stunning red cocktail dress. She was standing in front of the mirror (someone had written 'You. Me. Whipped Cream.' on it with dark red lipstick, and a little heart-shape next to it), and she was putting in her earrings. When she spotted him over her shoulder, her reflection smiled. "Feeling better?"
"Yeah," Mike said. He pulled the towel snug, secured one side and walked over to the kitchen where Jenny had made him a cup with extra cream, cinnamon, and enough sugar to put a small dinosaur into a coma. "You're God," he moaned.
"And you're very welcome," Jenny said. "In return, you should help me with this."
"One sec." He greedily swallowed another large gulp, scalding his tongue, and headed over.
She was holding out a necklace. "The clasp is a nuisance."
It really was, and it took him a few moments to snap the ends into each other. He almost had it when the doorbell rang and made him jump; he swore, and had to start all over again. And it wasn't even like Trevor needed to ring, since he had the key. He was just an ass that way.
"Thought I'd give you a wake-up call." Trevor grinned when he saw them standing together. "You look stunning, girlfriend."
Mike grinned back. "Thanks."
Jenny snorted. He let her go with a "Done!" and she twirled over to Trevor, giving him a quick peck on the mouth. "Did you find a suit?"
Mike watched them and out of the corner of his eye caught sight of himself in the mirror; scrawny, unshaven, with pale kisses drawn on his neck and around his right nipple with a sharpie that even a good scrubbing hadn't removed. He didn't think he could do this much longer, living in their spare bedroom and watch them be perfect and successful and happy.
He slinked off to his room. He had a bed, a little closet, and a window that overlooked the dumpsters behind their apartment block. It felt like a cheap metaphor for the emptiness of his life, so he dressed quickly in a pair of jeans and his Batman t-shirt and decided that if he wanted to sulk, he might as well do it while pretend-fighting the criminal element on the mean streets of New York.
Jenny gave him a hug when he passed her to get to his shoes. "Anything I can do?"
Mike smiled at her. "You mean besides getting me a date with the first cute boy you crash into?"
Jenny kissed his forehead and said with a cheeky smile, "Don't sell yourself short. He'll be rich, too."
New York City, he'd often heard it say, was only exciting the first couple of years or so. Then it made people grow cold and bitter, which Mike thought was an appropriate emotional reaction when you had to dump more than seventy percent of your income on monthly rent. Being born here, he'd always felt like he was immune to all of that, but the last few days hadn't been too good.
The shop where he bought his groceries was just down the street. It took him a while to fight through to the brightly illuminated windows. The streets were heaped with snow, grey and dirty, and looking at the expensive Christmas decorations that were everywhere, he couldn't feel the spirit of the holidays.
In the store, he bought a pack of sandwich toasts, a big bucket of ice cream, and some cat food; then he went back to the apartment, hopeful that he'd spent enough time to just about miss them leaving for their perfect day in their perfect clothes with their perfect lives. He was fairly good usually at not letting any of this get to him, but it was starting to get old to be the odd one out all the time.
At least, he thought, cheering himself up mentally, he had the big TV screen that Trevor had bought as a Christmas present for the apartment a few days ago. It desperately needed testing.
When he got back and found the apartment empty, he toasted his bread and put on Jenny's 'Love Actually' DVD, which they hadn't gotten around to watching yet, this year. At the sound of the music intro of the movie, he looked around, sighed deeply, and started collecting boxes into a huge trash bag.
It took some serious magic to clean the apartment enough that it stopped smelling like a dive bar. Mike was enjoying the romantic kiss of the Prime Minister and his lovely assistant, Jenny's cat purring in his lap, kneading his thigh, when his phone rang. The number was blocked. It could have been a call-back, someone who had a miraculously cheap apartment to offer to him, and maybe also a stable job while they were at it. Since it was Christmas and all. He could dream.
It wasn't. It was Sam, asking if he wanted to get smashed, which Mike didn't. He'd decided that tonight, he preferred to impersonate an old cat lady. The cat appreciated that, too. They even shared the ice cream. By eleven, it was time for another one of these pesky decisions: was he going to go back to bed and sleep more, or get his ass off the couch and go out to take a few pictures.
He looked out the window. It had started to snow again. Mike loved the feeling of fresh snow on his hands, the sight of the huge feather flakes descending from the sky, so that settled it. He slipped into his jacket, found his scarf, his boots. He grabbed his camera, and soon he was outside. His breath turned into white fog before his face every time he exhaled.
The street down 8th Avenue wasn't as busy once he was past the Theater District and headed towards Central Park, though there was still a surprising amount of people up and about, coming from and going to bars and restaurants or just walking. He snapped a few photos inspired by a set of lights or a laughing face, but nothing that really struck him until the park entrance, when a woman - one of those corporate types – hurried past him without a second glance.
It always drove him nuts when assholes ran into his frame while he was half-kneeling, taking pictures. She definitely ruined a few good ones, though he might have forgiven it, if, not half a minute later, another person hadn't fast-paced after her, trying hard and failing not to look suspicious.
Mike lowered his camera, watched them vanish into the park, and thought, what the hell; he might as well make sure everyone survived tonight. He stuffed his camera into its bag and hurried after them. He even kept out of the prominent lamp light illuminating the pathways, just like Agatha Christie always said, and kept an eye on the time. He had about half an hour until the park closed.
The man was tall, taller than Mike, and was wearing a long suit-covering jacket. His haircut was very 'rich business douche', as were his shoes, not that Mike had an intimate knowledge into any of that, thank you very much, Trevor. Twice, Mike thought he'd lost him only for him to reappear in a more heavily lit area. A few times, he stopped, looked around, and then redoubled his efforts.
The snow crunched under Mike's feet, but not loudly enough to announce his presence, when the man stopped again in one intersection; and then suddenly, out of nowhere, the woman reappeared.
"Stop following me, Harvey," she said coolly. "You're not being subtle."
"I'm not trying to be subtle," the man - Harvey - replied. "You've seen me be subtle for the past two months. Oh, no, wait. You haven't."
Mike bit his lip. The woman was slight and barely reached his shoulder. If this man was violent, she might not be able to fight him off, unless she was a secret ninja.
"You don't scare me," she said, much to Mike's surprise, with no false bravado in her voice. "You have nothing on me, and we both know it. So if I catch you coming after me again - or one of your little sycophants lurking near my apartment – I'm going to get a restraining order."
She turned around and was about to hurry off, but the man's arm shot out and caught her elbow. He leaned in. Mike reacted on impulse: he crouched down, and a moment later he'd thrown a snowball across the road harder and with a more precise aim than he'd ever managed in any of his four years in high school trying out for baseball.
The snow hit the man smack in the back of the head. The woman jerked free, saw her chance and fled, not quite running in her high heels, but close enough. He didn't follow her. Instead, he brushed the back of his head, and turned, and Mike was suddenly very glad he was hidden behind a group of low bushes.
Mike took a step back, then another one. It was almost one am; he didn't have much time, and nothing good could possibly come of it if this man spotted him. So he turned around – and ran smack into a tree. A snow avalanche descended. He barely managed to avoid being buried. His cover was up. Mike didn't even take the time to rub the newly forming bruise on his forehead, or dust off the snow; he ran.
He didn't get very far. The slippery ground, combined with the fact that he hadn't regularly exercised since the early 2000s, and his innate clumsiness, got him caught just as he reached one of the park exits closest to the spot of the earlier rendez-vous. That, at least, came in handy, the fact that he'd been here so often, had seen the park layout so often, that he could find any roads and paths and exits in his sleep.
"You're – you're just a kid, what are you doing out at this hour?" the guy asked, not even breathing fast. He had Mike by the throat against the metal bars of the portal that were pushing painfully against Mike's back.
Mike didn't think that was a very fair assessment, but then again, he wasn't going to protest if it helped with the not getting killed. "I have a brother," he babbled. "Well, almost-brother, but he would get very upset if something happened to me. And a best friend. She would, too. Actually, she would probably hunt you down and make you cry, but I'm not mentioning that, forget I said that. Is your name really Harvey? I should probably use that, so, uh, Harvey, I haven't had sex in like, two years, I honestly don't want to die, please don't kill me?"
"I'm not going to kill you." Harvey let him go and took a step back, straightening out his coat as he did so. He was, Mike noted, way too handsome to be a serial killer.
"It's not a big leap to make," he said defensively. "You followed that lady into a dark, secluded area, and then she said something about you stalking her and you grabbed her arm. I was well within my rights to - to throw snow at you." He felt himself redden at Harvey's incredulous look.
"I thought you were with her, you idiot, that's why I followed you," Harvey said slowly. He paused. "For your information, I'm a lawyer. The woman I followed is an accessory to a murder in a case we're representing, related to a drug ring that operates in this area. So next time, try aiming for the real bad guy?"
Mike opened his mouth.
"Also, two years? Really?"
"Shut up," Mike said, his ears burning. "I'm humiliated enough, thanks."
"You hit me in the back of my head with a snowball. I think I'll decide when's enough," Harvey said, and then he just wandered off.
Mike stared after him, stomach flip-flopping for wholly different reasons than fear, with his knees a little more jelly than bone and flesh.