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On One Hand

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You can count all the people you care about on one hand.

So you do.

You stretch out on the shadiest part of your roof and stay there till it’s not so shady anymore, until the sun is creeping its way across your body, blistering hot.

You can just feel the prickle of your shoulders burning as you lay still and breathe deep, a better rest than any of the sleep you get. If you can even call it sleep.

You stretch one arm out to your side and make a fist, release one finger from the tension for every living thing in the world you love.

There’s Jane at your thumb, Roxy on your index finger, Jake on the middle (your hand forms a pistol and if it weren’t for such ridiculous, neurotic reasons as literally counting off your friends on your fingers you might just tell him since he’d get a kick out of it.)

You count Cal on your ring finger, since he has to count, and finally place your Bro at your pinky.

And there you go. One handful of people you give a damn about. The only people in the world you’ll talk to and, for one, the only literal person left on your planet.

In the back of your mind, at the forefront of your vision, the auto responder mocks you for your archaic counting methods, asks if you’d rather that he handle all the math from here on out. He’s just trying to get a rise out of you, might be a little ticked in his own way that he’s not on any list of yours, but you both know that’d be pretty fucking self-centered and really, how much more time do you need to spend with yourself?

You block him and he pretends not to know how to undo it. You lay in silence till a seagull flies overhead, squawking awful noise and breaking your concentration on nothing much at all, and you think idly about what would happen if you died. Because that’s everyone with an internet connection’s concern, isn’t it? If I were hit by a bus tomorrow, who would tell me friends online?

But you know you’re not going to be killed by any buses, not unless you somehow tip the sunken, long-rusted one that’s sitting two blocks over and fifty feet down and get crushed deep in the ocean. And even if you did, word would get back to your friends. You’ve got an official message in place, something set to send in the event that every single one of your hearts stops beating. If you were dead, really and truly dead, your friends would know.

You guess you wouldn’t get to tell Cal, but let’s be honest, you’re not holding onto any illusions that he’d be helpless without you.

And as far as your Bro? Maybe it’s better if he just never found out.

It’s not like he knows you anyway.

You curl your fingers back in on each other and sigh because this is where things get complicated, where they start to hurt in that stupid emotional way that you can’t control, and even holding yourself tense and tight as you burn doesn’t give you a single ounce of that control back.

You know where you stand on most things, since you stay well informed, are decisive with your opinions. You’ve chosen your path and laid your plans and you’re on task, with all the people you want in your life in your life.

You know where you stand with Jane. You’re friends, a pair of thinkers, problem solvers. You’re rivals in a very small way but you try not to think about that much because it’s really, really, incredibly stupid and both of you ignore it anyway. In any case you like her, and more importantly, you respect her.

You know what you and Roxy are to each other, and it’s something stronger than simply friends. You’re close in a way that has the potential to make other people uncomfortable. If you had the option to reach out and physically touch each other you likely would have been coerced into cutting your palm and mashing your blood to hers years ago, like some assholes in a fantasy epic, sworn to a lifetime of love and protection.

You know what your deal is with Jake, and it’s a simple thing when you break it down. You’re bros, that much is obvious. He frustrates the fuck out of you sometimes, and you’re pretty sure you rub him the wrong way more often than he’ll admit, but ultimately you get along like a house on fire. Every once in a while you get to see him on screen, frozen in a shitty webcam photo, and the glimpse of tan lines beneath his sleeves makes your stomach twist in the sweetest, most horrible way.

Things with you and Cal are the same way they’ve always been. You drape him over your chest where you lay, speak into the open air and think that he might be listening.

You study his small, stuffed hands and tell him you think Jane might be ready to believe, that she’s starting to question and that’s a good sign, that everything is going according to plan.

You curl around him and murmur that Roxy will be online in approximately two hours, one hour and fifty nine minutes, fifty eight, fifty seven, that she’ll answer back and joke till you almost forget why you’ve been pacing all night.

You look him straight in the glass eyes and confess your sins, admit that you’re probably making Jake hate you, that you don’t really know what you’re doing, that you would kiss him if you could-

Jake, you mean. Not Cal. Though you’d be lying if you said you haven’t at least given the little dude an affectionate nuzzle once or twice.

You stare at the sky with Cal close to your outstretched hand, your skin prickling all over in the sun, and you think you should go inside, that if you stay out here much longer you’ll lose track of time and drift into Derse and end up burnt and miserable hours later.

Your pinky twitches, like the muscles can sense what you’re thinking before you realize it’s on your mind, and then you’re thinking of your Bro.

Your Bro who doesn’t know you.

You don’t know where you stand with him. The man left you a house full of soda and scrap metal and swords and whether he expected you to make something of it or not, you did. You want to think he’d be impressed if he saw what you built, if he saw you fight, but you don’t know.

You want to think he’d get along with your friends, that he’d admire your leadership skills, that he’d roll with your plans for the end of the world.

You want to think that he’d just laugh off all the weird posters in your room and never ask questions about anything and when you finally feel cool with whatever’s going on with your hormones and let him know what’s up, he’d feel cool with it too, no problem.

Most of all you want to think that he’d like you.

For a guy who had half his life documented by paparazzi, most of them guys he hired himself to harass him while he tried to eat a sandwich or do his laundry, you still don’t know much about him.

You can watch his movies, sit through countless documentaries, read every biography you can find to download, but it doesn’t amount to much. You can dig through archives for days and nights till you reach the comics that started it all, search for cryptic meaning in neon scribbles and filter-heavy text, but you’re almost positive it means nothing.

You can sit up and slip your shades off, catch your reflection in them and know that you look like him. Even if you’ve sprouted about a dozen new freckles in this sun bath alone, the resemblance is there. But what’s a shared bone structure to a guy looking for answers?

Your Bro remains a mystery to you, more of an imaginary friend than anything.

When you push yourself off the hot roof and toward the door, you uncurl your fingers again, count the people in your life off one by one.

Jane on the west coast, Roxy on the east, Jake floating somewhere on an island far from your own, Cal in the crook of your arm, and your Bro…at the end of a long shot and a game and a complex plan to get a hold of a man who doesn’t know you.

A man you guess you don’t know either.