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the balance book

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Josh was manly and tough and strongly objected to owning diaries, but he was  -quite literally - legally bound to go buy one. The diary was the therapist’s orders and the therapist was the judge’s orders and the judge was kind of a hypothetical player being lorded over his head by the parents of his combination best friends and worst enemies who mostly hated him. It was complicated. He had to buy a diary.

Standing in the Walgreens between his therapist’s office and his house, he stared at the small selection of diaries. Actually, he was going to call this a journal. There was no need to refer to his diary as a diary. Journals were marginally more manly and tough. Unfortunately, only about half of the meager selection could pass as a journal, so he didn’t have many manly or tough options open to him. He tried not to think too hard about it and grabbed a $4 diary – uh, journal, of a nondescript greenish color. And so the diary was acquired and the therapist was appeased and the hypothetical judge wasn’t alerted and his friends who hated him didn’t have to hear from their parents who also hated him that Josh was going to the slammer because he was too manly and tough for a diary. Journal. Whatever. The circle of stupidity was complete.

Now all he had to do was write in it.

He grabbed some blue pens from a clearance shelf because he liked the color blue and wasn’t sure if his parents had left any pointy objects in his room after being discharged from the hospital. He was not, under any circumstances, to be trusted with pointy objects. No pens for Joshua. It had been more than a few weeks, though, and he thought he had earned enough trust for some goddamn pens. His parents could baby-proof the house all they wanted, but Josh Washington was going to own pens for the first time since losing his shit on Blackwood Mountain. Baby steps.

“That all?” The cashier asked, eyes focused somewhere to the left of Josh. Josh turned and watched some guy do a sports thing on the silent television monitor. Josh himself was not very good at doing any kind of sports thing.

Josh turned back around, grunted, and dropped a few bills on the counter.

When the cashier finally tore his eyes away from the far off television, his gaze fell to the items he was bagging. “Cool diary,” he said slowly. Josh was pretty sure the kid was high. Honestly, he would probably get high before working the night shift at Walgreens too.

“Thanks,” Josh said slowly. “But it’s more like a journal. You know, for men to write their aspirations, emotional drama, and teen crushes in. In a manly way. You know.”

Ben the cashier bobbed his head a few times in stoned understanding. “Right on, man.” Ben squinted at the small monitor sticking up from the cash register that read “Change: $1.46” and handed Josh back $5.46. “Here’s your change and uh, your manly diary.”

Josh considered pointing out the error in Ben the Cashier’s change, but pocketed the miscalculated funds instead. He figured it was the universe sympathizing with him for having to buy a journal. And because the universe didn’t seem to sympathize with him concerning many things, he figured it would be dumb to turn it down. Thanks universe. Thanks Ben.

Armed with a journal and contraband pointy objects, Josh headed home – not in a car of course. He walked everywhere now. Cars had thousands upon thousands of pointy parts and objects and were inevitably hurtling toward other pointy objects at any given time during operation. This was a walking nightmare for Mr. and Mrs. Washington, proud parents of a son who was not to be trusted around pointy objects.

He wasn’t bitter.

A little under a mile and several non-bitter ruminations later and Josh was back in the safe zone, only slightly less safe with the presence of his five new, pointy blue pens. He kind of wanted to abandon his purchases under his bed until his next therapy session, but he knew that would disappoint the boss. Can’t have that. That would disappoint the nonexistent judge, and so on and so forth. As it were, he had therapy three times a week so he would only gain about one day of non-journaling before being busted.

Choosing uncharacteristically to do the responsible thing (ew), Josh trudged upstairs and dropped tiredly into the chair at his desk. He tore the packaging off of his purchases, carefully deposited the garbage on the floor, and flipped to the first page of his new journal. Chewing thoughtfully on the bottom of his new blue pen, he regarded the blank page.

Now what.

Actually, when it came right down to it, Josh was never told what to write in his journal. He wasn’t very good at listening, but he was pretty sure his therapist hadn’t mentioned a theme for this manly, tough journal.

He tried to remember something from his session mere hours before.

 


 

“Josh, you look like you aren’t listening.”

Josh cleared his throat. “Oh, no, I am.” No he wasn’t. “Just thinking.” About nothing relevant to whatever he was just saying.

“I understand, Josh. Did you give some thought to what we talked about last week? I worry that by not reaching out to blah blah blah blah-“

What had he been thinking about?

Oh, wait it actually was kind of related. He had been trying to remember his therapist’s name. See, there’s this window when you first meet someone where it’s acceptable to admit that you forgot his or her name and ask for it again. If you wait too long, you’ve missed your chance and you just have to figure it out some other way. Josh forgot his therapist’s name within an hour of first hearing it and decided it would just come up again later.

It hadn’t.

Josh missed his window to ask the guy’s name again and now he was stuck without it like a month and a half into the most intimate relationship he’s had during this time period. For gods sake, this man knew his blood type. How romantic is that? Josh’s own parents probably don’t remember his blood type. Actually, Josh didn’t know his own blood type. Either way, Josh saw this guy the most out of anybody now that his best friends hated him and his parents were busy turning his pointy objects over to the FBI or whatever. This dude was like his family now. They ride together, they die together.

What the fuck was his name, Jesus national superstar Christ.

Well, the guy had an autographed Van Halen poster in the corner of his office, so Josh dubbed him Dr. Van Halen. It was a shitty name, but that’s just what Dr. Van Halen got for liking a shitty band. Karma, bitch.

“Josh I asked you a question. Are you sure you’re listening?”

Shit.

“Josh I think we should reschedule for another day this week and redo this session. I’m afraid you’re just not with me today,” Dr. Van Halen sighed.

Karma, bitch.

“Sorry,” Josh muttered at David Lee Roth’s grinning visage in the corner. He would apologize to vocalist David Lee Roth, but never guitarist Eddie Van Halen. Not in this lifetime.

Dr. Van Halen smiled, and Josh noted the dimples on his otherwise drab features. People with dimples are inherently more trustworthy, so Josh tried his best to listen to at least a few more sentences before tuning out. “Alright, Josh, we can reschedule and try again next time. But I really need you to begin writing that personal log I mentioned. I think it might help you figure out what you need from me.”

The fan blades clicked quietly above them for a few moments while Josh blinked at his therapist. “You want me to keep a diary?”

Chuckling, Dr. Van Halen opened his palms toward Josh disarmingly. “If that’s what you want to call it, Josh. But yes, that’s the idea.”

Classic disarming gesture, but Josh was not going to be disarmed so easily. “What am I gonna have to write in it?” He asked. “Like, which girls I hope ask me to the senior prom? The weather? Lyrics that make me feel emotionally vulnerable?” He physically forced his mouth shut. It was so difficult not being an ass sometimes, even to famous lead-guitarist therapists with dimples.

His therapist shrugged good-naturedly. “If you want, Josh. You can tell me which girls you want to ask to the senior prom. That’s fine.”

Josh deflated, “all right, all right, no need to be childish,” he said, crossing his arms childishly.

Dr. Van Halen’s smile only grew wider. “My suggestion, though, instead of lyrics or chasing girls, would be to find a theme. Find something that makes sense to you and keep track of it. Keep track of things that make you happy or confused. Keep track of your nightmares. Keep track of the lives of people you care about. Anything. Find what makes sense.”

Josh wanted to say that nothing made sense, but Dr. Van Halen would have made him schedule another appointment to discuss that statement further. “Sure,” he said. “And if I can’t find a theme, I’m just gonna stick with cute girls.”

“Whatever works, Josh. It’s your call.”

 


 

 

His call, huh?

Cute girls it is.

He was about to put Natalie Portman’s name right below “Random girl I saw at Subway the other day  (seemed like an Allison maybe)” preceeded by Sam (shut up) when his phone lit up with a notification. Now, that wasn’t that weird considering he was a 20-year-old dude who had friends and his phone hadn’t been pointy enough to be confiscated by his parents. However, his friends hated him, he didn’t have any contacts saved to this phone, he didn’t even get this phone until after The Incident © (not a fond nickname, but it served its purpose), and no one even had his new number. Well, his parents did, but they only ever called him. Dr. Van Halen called sometimes too, but they weren’t exactly on texting terms yet. That was probably Josh’s fault for not even knowing his real name.

Maybe his hallucinations were back and they’d learned how to text. Man, hallucinations just get cleverer every year. What would they even text him?

 

 

Hallucination : Bro, you suck

Josh : Tru

Hallucination : Also, don’t look out your window because there’s this pale, creepy-crawly bastard with fangs and your sister’s tattoo and they’re waiting to pull bits of your brain through your eye sockets for a midnight snack. Just a heads up.

Josh : Same old shit.

 

 

Something like that probably.

No point in being clever with no one around to see it, though, so Josh opened the text message from the unknown number.

 

 

Unknown : How are you?

 

Loaded question. Super personal. Way over the line.

He texted back anyways.

 

 

Josh : Been better. Been worse.

 

He’d just sent that text when an entirely different unknown number texted him. Looked like he was Mr. Popular that night. He opened this new anonymous text up.

 

 

Unknown2 : Fuck you, you sick fuck. Get fucked.

 

Okay, maybe not Mr. Popular. That text was like 50% “fuck”. He stared dumbly at the text for a solid minute before shrugging and typing back.

 

 

Josh : Fair enough.

 

That was enough socializing for one month, he thought.

Josh dropped his line of sight back down to the page of cute girls and considered calling it a night. He had performed admirably. Dr. Van Halen said he could keep a journal of cute girls and that was exactly what he had done. Maybe next week his therapist could tell him what his attraction to Scarlett Johansson meant. Probably that he had a deep-rooted fear of rejection by his peers and was sexually attracted to failure. That seemed right.

Josh’s phone lit up again with a soft beep and he groaned. “What now? Can’t you see I’m exhausted from all this socializing?” He demanded of no one in particular. He opened the message anyways from a third unknown number.

 

 

Unknown3 : I wonder sometimes if you’ve learned anything. Had any epiphanies, you know? What did this cost you? I only know what it cost me.

 

Well damn if that wasn’t vague. And yet, Josh had the sinking feeling that he knew who had gotten a hold of his new number. Maybe Dr. Van Halen gave it away or maybe his parents did, or hell maybe God himself descended from heaven and passed out little golden slips of paper with his number on it to seven troubled, innocent young adults with instructions to harass at all cost. Regardless of who gave away his number, he was pretty sure he knew who had it. He might have felt nostalgic about the Blackwood Mountain text message reunion party if he didn’t feel so out of the loop. And attacked. And vulnerable. And generally unhappy about it.

 

Josh considered the text again.

What had he learned? And what had it cost him?

He tapped his blue pen on the desk a few times, brow furrowed in concentration. Anonymous Pissed Friend #3 probably deserved an answer. Truthfully, though, he hadn’t thought much about The Series of Unfortunate Events (another fond nickname he really shouldn’t have been proud of) that unfolded some two months ago beyond a vague roping off of the mental crime scene. He figured out where the boundaries of that whole clusterfuck were in his brain and painted the edges with “CAUTION: DO NOT ENTER” tape. That whole night was so fucked. Josh hadn’t learned anything, had he? Who cares. It happened.

Monsters existed. Josh Washington was crazy. Josh Washington was an asshole. Sometimes your friends suck. These were probably something akin to the lessons learned that night. What else was there?

Carefully, Josh tore the first page out of his journal and placed the list of cute girls in one of his desk drawers. You know, for posterity. He had thought of a better use for the journal anyways. In the center of the new first page, he scribbled

 

 

what was learned

&

what it cost

 

 

  

Josh wasn’t great at math, but he did like the easier stuff like how you had to have the same value on either side of an equal sign. That was easy enough. You give up something, you get something of equal value. You pay a price and you learn something.

He could work with this.

 

He wrote his own name at the top of the second page. That one was for him. On the next seven pages he wrote seven more names. These seven names were way more difficult to write than Josh anticipated. It’s not that “Sam” or “Jess” or “Matt” or any of them were difficult to spell. Josh may have been a college dropout but he was more or less literate. Rather, he realized that he hadn’t actually thought about any of them individually since The Incident ©. It was easier to rope them off in that whole part of his mind strangled with caution tape.

Scrubbing a hand over his weary eyes, Josh let out a long, dramatic sigh. “Time to take the tape down, I guess,” he muttered, staring glumly at the page opened to Ashley. What would he discover when he took down the caution tape? He had hallucinated the whole thing? Fat chance. He wasn’t as responsible as he suspected he was? Unlikely. A cool million? Well, hopefully. Famous author Lemony Snicket? Probably not, but those events had been unfortunate.

He had no idea what to write for these people. They might as well be strangers to him at that point.

He had a lot of research to do.

 

--

 

That night Josh’s parents made him non-pointy spaghetti – a very unthreatening dish. You really never knew what might set Josh off. Constant vigilance.

Afterward, his dad confronted him about the crumpled receipt on the floor that implicated Josh in the obtaining of pointy objects. Well, that’s not how it was worded, but that’s what it felt like. Instead, they interrogated him about what he needed pens for and he answered honestly which was one of the nicer things he had done for his parents that week. They let him keep the pens, but he caught his dad in his room inspecting them. Making sure they weren’t too pointy.

 

Before Josh went to bed, he had written his first entry on the “Josh” page.

 

 

  • Josh learned that he is not trustworthy and it cost him his pointy objects.