I wish I could say I'm not a miserable person but generally speaking that is my default mood lately. They tell you it can always get worse but events in my life have just snowballed one on top of the other until I can't take it anymore, something that no therapist really seems to appreciate.
There was the bullet.
My therapist tells me to let it go, but I'm sorry, being fucking shot while on assignment is sort of hard to forget, especially when it damages the nerves in your leg and causes nightmares about war zones. Then, of course, being fired from my job, also hard to forget or let go. Perhaps 'fired' is too strong a word to use to describe what happened to me. My 'concerned' boss asked if I wouldn't be happier taking more time off to recover from the bullet, all the while grooming my replacement. And yeah, I shouldn't have thrown a stapler at her head but it's not been the best few months. I think I should be allowed to have a breakdown or two. I'm lucky. I know I'm lucky to be alive, lucky to be back in the States, but there's going to be bad days, too.
I chant it to myself, you know. I'm lucky, I'm lucky, I'm lucky. The therapist swears by the 'fake it 'til you make it' style of counseling but the only thing I can fake is a polite tone through the half-hour sessions with her. It is really almost like a bad song caught on repeat in there, just going over and over. I'm lucky to be alive, I'm lucky to be here, I'm lucky.
I don't feel very lucky.
Which is what I'm thinking when the biggest disaster I've ever known literally ran into me because he wasn't looking where he was going. Or... maybe I wasn't playing as close attention as I probably should have, but I'm always irritated after therapy.
“Sorry,” the guy mumbles, fingers continuing to move over the screen of his expensive phone. He starts to move off without even looking up at me.
“You're William.” I wish I hadn't said it, but I did, just sort of blurt it out there. I hate when people recognize me from my articles in public and this guy (at least, I think it's him) is someone I'd barely had a passing acquaintance with in college. Friend of a friend of a friend sort of thing.
The man looks up at me with bewildered green-gray eyes and I immediately glance away. I clear my throat, feeling an embarrassed blush creeping up my neck. "Sorry, sorry. Must've been someone else."
I turn to walk away and my leg is aching. I'm supposed to do physical therapy but I never manage to keep the appointments and the muscles aren't used to the long walks to the train station.
“I am William,” the guy says and I turn back giving him a hesitant smile. He looks at me, with no clear sign of recognition on his face. He cocks an eyebrow at me, waiting.
“We um, went to the same college. Sorry, just uh, surprised me to see someone I knew,” I say, starting to turn away again. I'm about half a block away, limping now, when I find him next to me, his eyes intently glued on the screen of his phone.
“How was the desert?” he asks and I stop, looking back up at him. I could swear he's laughing inside, even though his features are smooth as marble, not an expression in sight. He flips his phone around, showing my most recent article, which was still several months ago. “I remembered your name after a few seconds. Quick online search, I'm not psychic. I wanted to know why you were limping, and as there are no recent reports of a man matching your description being shot in the city, I figured it had to be something interesting. Probably war related but you're not a soldier.”
“That's sort of creepy. Amazing, but creepy,” I tell him. It is. It's one thing when someone knows my face from a stray broadcast or the online reporting that I'd been doing, but this is almost an invasion of privacy. In the time I had taken to gimp my way down a city block, he had my whole life story in the palm of his hands. “I mean, I know technology helps, but that's weird. Don't do that.”
“Why? Afraid I'll see the post where you were fired from your desk job? It's alright, you were probably bored there after they took you off the military coverage,” William says, turning his screen back for moment, flipping up a new window which does indeed show the details of a reporter losing his temper at his boss. “It makes you almost interesting.”
He is interesting, no almost about it. I huff out a breath, unsure of what to say to that, lips pursed. I take a good look at him, noting the subtle changes in his appearance since we were in school. He's much taller than me, and his dark, curly hair is wild and unkempt, but he's wearing a nice-fitting suit that implies respectable job. He's not handsome, exactly, but he's striking. Compelling, even. He's also watching me give him the once-over. He raises his eyebrow again. “See something you like?”
I clear my throat. “No, no, I mean, I just, um.” Yeah, a real ace writer, I am. Quite a way with words. “So that's all? You open my whole life on your phone and follow me down the street to ask how the worst experience of my life was?”
He nodded, almost smiling. “That's about right, yes."
“Right then,” I say before I start walking away. He follows, though.
“I take it the court mandated therapy isn't going well,” he drawls. I nearly take his phone from him.
“You could say that,” I reply. He snorts dismissively.
“Dare I ask what the therapist suggests to help you with your current position?” he asks. I roll my eyes, wondering why I'm even telling him, but I am. Telling him.
“Fiction. She thinks I should write a book,” I say, swallowing the bitter taste in my mouth. If only swallowing would remove the bitterness of the words, too. He gives me a thoughtful look.
“Well, you are a reporter,” he points out. “You should be used to making up stories.”
I'm indignant for about a second, chest puffed out, feeling insulted but then- I smile. I really do, and then I start to laugh. I'm laughing so hard I have to stop walking. And he's smiling, too. His eyes crinkle at the corners when he smiles. Several other pedestrians are giving me worried glances and quick stares. When I'm through giggling, I'm breathless. “Thanks, I really needed that.”
He doesn't say anything, but we continue to walk. It's a drizzling, grey sort of day and my light jacket isn't warm enough for the cold weather. After a few moments of silence I ask him, “You've brought up all my skeletons. What about you? What've you done with yourself since college?”
He shrugs, and I don't know why but I feel he doesn't want to talk about it, but after a few moments he answers. “I'm a pathologist. Well, forensic pathologist.”
“A doctor, then?” I ask and he shrugs again. I don't feel like pushing, even though he seems to know everything about my life. “That's nice.”
“It's something,” he says, and he smiles again but this time it's a fake one. I can tell because his eyes don't light the same way, and the corners are smooth.
“I should go,” I say when the silence between us becomes awkward and uncomfortable. I motion to my leg. “Should really get off of this thing.”
He nods slowly, but then he says, “You know, there's a bar down the street. Moriarty's. Does a really good lunch special. I was going to meet with one of the med techs but she's always telling me to get out more. You could tell me more about being a journalist. I could ask you why a stapler and not something harder, like a paperweight.”
I consider, but then I say, “I was angry, not homicidal.”
“Shame, murder would've been more interesting. Still, probably a bad idea to throw things at people. Women, especially, seem to get upset about it,” William replies, and his hand is between my shoulder blades, guiding me in the opposite direction from where I'd been heading. “It also looks bad to potential room mates.”
“Who said anything about room mates?” I ask, looking up at him. He's even taller than I originally thought, and I have to angle my chin up. He's grinning again.
“Just a hunch,” he chuckles. “You're reaching out, looking for something to ground yourself, to prove you're still here even though you're supposed to be grateful to be alive. Even if it's someone you were once cruel to in school, you're willing to recall their name and then carry on a conversation with them even though you were at first taken aback and even a little insulted. I can tell by the state of your wrinkled shirt and that nick on your face that you don't care about appearances, not in a lazy way but in a way that suggests you don't have a partner to impress, at least not one living with you.”
“I feel slightly violated,” I tell him and he laughs again.
“No, you don't,” William says, and it's true.
“It still doesn't explain why you think I'm looking to live with someone, or why you think I would move in with you,” I say. “Or, if I was so mean to you in school, why you would want to live with me.”
“You were recently fired,” is his simple answer. “You want to remain in the city, or you wouldn't be coming downtown for therapy. You're bored, and you know I wouldn't bore you because within five minutes I've paid more attention to you than anyone you've known and not out of some desire to rekindle a relationship or win you over, because I have nothing I want from you.”
As he says this, we're settling down at a cozy table in a low-lit pub (the front of which is painted a startling shade of blue). I mull over his words. It occurs to me to ask, "Why are you offering?"
“Am I?” Even for a man his voice is especially deep, and his words are spoken so low that I barely hear them. He leans closer. “I've recently inherited my mother's house in the Chestnut Hill section of Philadelphia, but I find myself unable to afford the upkeep on my own. If someone lived with me, paying the other half of the expenses, I would be able to live in the manner to which I've become accustomed.”
“Chestnut Hill?” I say, considering. “So you come from money.”
“My parents had money. I am, alas, not as well off,” he replies and another thought pops in my head.
“Extravagant lifestyle? How would I know you wouldn't go gambling the house away?”
He scoffs at this idea, leaning back and folding his arms over his chest. “Dull. I don't gamble. That's more your area than mine.”
I don't want to know how he knows about that. I'm sure it wasn't in any of my online profiles. “It's alright, you know. Everyone has vices.”
“You've certainly had a few,” he replies. “Frat parties, new girlfriend every week, that rumor about you and the teacher's aid-”
“How do you remember all that? Paying attention, were you?” I ask and he shakes his head.
“Data. I like to collect information if I think it could be useful,” William says, but his eyes turn guarded and maybe even a little shy. “Turned out to be useful today.”
“Once you remembered my name,” I say with a grin. He smiles back at me.
“Yes, well, we can't all be as quick as you,” he says.