The wording was strange, but Lucas thought he knew what it meant. In the moment, he was all trembling fingertips, sweat on his brow. He licked his lips, scrolled, tapped against the screen of his new phone. He has yet to fully acclimate.
Thank you for ordering: Wondermint!
Your purchase will arrive shortly.
It said there was a thirty minute wait-time, and for the first ten minutes he lay in bed, wide-and-red-eyed at the ceiling through his glasses. The covers, soaked in his own worn scent, ruffled around him. The floor lamp in the corner illuminating the shabby one-room apartment in yellow. Carpet peppered with crumbs and clothes. There was some urge in him to clean that he refuted. Clenched his fists and resisted, but only for another five minutes. In the last fifteen, he struggled from the bed on unsure footing from the two beers in the earlier evening. Nearly tripped on the smooth case of his phone which launched him into stuffing his button-up work shirts and slacks into the hamper in the one closet. Lightly smoothed over the bedcovers. There was a hint of something – a putrid undercurrent which Lucas could only finally attribute to the overflowing trashcan sitting in the small kitchenette, leaking onto the linoleum. The clock on the wall said it was 8:58 PM; too late to do anything about it. Still, Lucas stood staring at the time, at the trash, and he turns and stares at the door upon which someone has just knocked. Three light taps.
Lucas rubs the palm of one sweaty hand against his pant leg. The last six months, each of them, feel like birds lighting on his shoulders. Just the barest presence physically. Just the flap of a wing, the turn of a head. Beady eyes blinking. Lucas goes to open the door.
"Hey there." A man stands in the dimly lit hall, obscuring the view of 3F's blue door across the way. He is all Lucas can see: wide green eyes beneath a copse of dark curls. Pale face freshly shaven, and Lucas believes him to be an adult, but his age is ghostlike and uncertain. He could be twenty-five, he could be twenty. He strolls in past Lucas as if Lucas is merely a doorman, into the tiny prison of the apartment.
"I," Lucas says.
"Am I late?" He pulls a cell phone out of a leather satchel slung over one shoulder, tight against the dark fabric of his button-up. His face brightens and his fingers fly over the screen. "Shit, oh man, just made it. Traffic was terrible though, so you can't judge me too much, can you?" He drops the phone back in, looks up at Lucas who has let the door close behind him. He holds out a thin-fingered hand. "Wondermint. Lovely place you've got here."
Lucas, despite himself, looks around to see if it has transformed into a lovely place.
Wondermint smiles, giggles. "Shy? Okay. Shy is good."
Lucas needs to say something. He has to say something. But then the young man is twirling on a heel, back for the bed which has been haphazardly made. He sits on the corner closest to Lucas, one leg bouncing crossed over the other. He drops the satchel to the beige carpet. Watches Lucas as if he's waiting for something.
"You might wanna hurry it up," he says, one dark eyebrow raised. "You only ordered an hour."
"I," Lucas says again. Then clears his throat. "I should not have."
"Oh yeah? You should have ordered more time, you mean?" His gaze travels the length of Lucas. "Or less?"
"The– the format," Lucas says. English, of late a companion, is fickle and escapes him when he is worried. "The website. I have not understood well. When I–"
Wondermint looks to consider this. That leg ever bouncing. He leans back on his hands, into the soft blankets. "So," he drawls. "Let me guess, you wanted a woman instead?"
Lucas stands very still. He shakes his head. He says, "Forgive me. I was new to the terms." He closes his eyes tightly and realizes this has been a terrible idea. He feels those infinitesimal weights on his shoulders again, jostling each other, and he opens his eyes. "Of course, the mistake is mine. There is no refund needed–"
The young man snorts. "Of course there won't be a refund! You'll see. It's not that big a deal. It happens more often than you think. Half of Boston is illiterate, it looks like." He grins now, toothy and expectant. "Doesn't matter."
"This has happened to you before?" Lucas asks.
"Sure it has. But no one's ever been unsatisfied," he says, rising from the bed in one fluid motion. He is on his feet, his black Converses. He crosses the small space between them like an apparition and stands inches apart from Lucas. Places the palms of his hands flatly against Lucas' broad chest. The heat of his body seeping through the cotton shirt. The young man rises on his toes and places his mouth to Lucas' in a quick and practiced form, and Lucas bears it silently, with open eyes. The young man's mouth moves rhythmically and with warm instance, but Lucas is stone-like in the face of it. Finally, Wondermint pulls back with a wholly perturbed expression.
"This'd work better if you gave me some allowance," he says.
Lucas says, "I've made a mistake."
"Yeah, yeah. Listen–"
"Please." He moves away, three full strides back for the door. Takes the doorknob in hand and opens it to the desolate hall. "Please leave."
The look of annoyance shifts into disbelief. "What? It's been like five minutes, I can't just go."
He swallows. Takes in a deep breath and clasps his hands behind his back, moving smoothly one step forward. "Listen," he says, all smiles now, "you don't have to be embarrassed. I'm highly rated. I'll take care of you."
"Good evening," Lucas says, standing aside.
Wondermint squints, as if he is trying to see through Lucas, or perhaps intimidate him. The apartment is suddenly overly stuffy, even as the air conditioner whirs, kicks on, and the one window at the back of the room flutters its curtains under the breeze. Lucas holds himself like a monolith and refuses to meet the young man's fervent green eyes. After a moment, when Lucas thinks he will quietly go, he lets out some girlish shriek and bends quickly to snatch his bag from the floor.
"Fine! You fucking jerk, your apartment smells like shit and it's the most depressing thing I've ever seen!" He stomps from the middle of the room, past Lucas, to the threshold. One dark curl hangs in his eye and he brushes it quickly away, fingernails raking over a pale scalp. "I don't know what the fuck your problem is but it's no wonder you're ordering whores on a Monday night!" He stomps out into the hallway, flashing an ired expression over his shoulder. "I hope your dick falls off!"
And he leaves. Lucas leans slightly out of the doorway to watch the young man's fading form down the corridor. The blinking lights illumine and shadow him in turns. At the end of the hall he hits the stairwell and descends. Lucas shuts the door lightly. And when he is alone again, he is alone, again.
The body of Lucas' new phone is sleek and light. Too light, he thinks sometimes. He can forget he has it in his hand even. It's been dropped three times in the short stint he's had it in his possession – two weeks. He has been quite amazed by it, the things it brings him, the things he can do with it. At first he was uncertain. He'd had an old flip phone for ages, which did little more than inform him of the time and receive calls and minimal texts that he never responded to. He hadn't ever thought to get a new one. Kirsten used to berate him for his passive life in the Stone Age. The phone came in a small brown box from Kirsten's new address somewhere in Denmark, though not from Kirsten herself.
The morning after the debacle with the whore, Lucas continually looks at the phone as if it has consciously betrayed him. Got up on its own and fished into the depths of itself to find the Deep Sugar agency, and order before Lucas could put a stop to it. It is a nice fantasy. Yet Lucas knows the only betrayal that was had in this apartment last night was he against himself. Or perhaps one could not even call it a betrayal, but a fight against a betrayal.
He tries not to think about it.
The July day is warm, bright. The sky is pale blue and dusted with remnants of cirrus that provide no respite from the high sun as Lucas leaves his meager apartment building and hits the East Boston concrete. Buildings not unlike his own rise about him and diminish into the long line of Bennington Street, peppered with corner stores and Chinese eateries. Cracks in the sidewalk sway beneath his shoes and, now lightly sheened in sweat, he comes to the train station. On the ride into the center of Boston, holding lightly to his phone, he receives an email, and the dark screen lights before him.
Thank you for ordering: Wondermint!
We at Deep Sugar strive for the happiness of our customers above all. To help us achieve our goal of universal customer satisfaction, please use the link below to send your review of last night's experience. Every review enters you in a monthly drawing for a FREE hour. Feedback from our invaluable customers not only gives you a voice but helps our staff learn how to better meet your individual needs.
See you next time,
Lucas' old and resilient instinct is to attempt flipping the phone closed, and he only succeeds in jolting it from his grasp. It lands near a woman's sandaled feet beside him on the chrome expanse of the train and he bends, fishes, murmurs apologies which she seems not to notice, nose-deep in the Globe. Lucas shoves the phone into his side bag and tries not to consider it while getting off the train, nor on the small walk from the dingy Chinatown stop to the small cluster of buildings that is Suffolk University. The blare of horns from the intersection, the thrilled cries from the Common, do little to help this.
His office is a dank, windowless thing in the bowels of the Rosalie Building. All the adjunct faculty inhabit such things during office hours, but Lucas feels wholly unique in that he must be the only one to live so desperately all day long.
Or, what was it the whore said? Yes, depressing. He lives depressingly.
There's only a brief rapping of knuckles on his door before it opens. The quickness of it pauses Lucas at his overfilled desk for a moment, as he remembers someone who knocked on his door much the same way last night. But it is only Noah Lancaster from two doors down; a greying astronomy professor whose cheerful smile is only ever belied by the somber tone of his voice. Even as Noah moves into the room, slightly shutting it behind him, he smiles in a way that might be ecstatic and leans a hand on a corner of the knotty pine desk.
"So? Did you do it?"
Lucas looks at his phone languishing on a stack of papers. It is blackened and silent, and looks to be promising mischief.
"I did," says Lucas. He does not meet Noah's enlivened gaze.
"And? Well? What'd you think? Which, uh, which cate–" He stops himself, snorts, raises a hand to wave it away. "What I mean is, was it everything I told you it'd be?"
Lucas was sure it would come to this. Noah did, the day prior, and the weeks prior, incite him to pursue such a course. It did not take long for him to notice the tan line where once Lucas wore a wedding ring, and soon after Noah – through no fault of Lucas' own – decided they were friendly enough to warrant untoward suggestions.
It's not so sleazy, he'd said.
It's not like it used to be, he'd said.
Look, these places have websites now, he'd said, and emailed Lucas the highlighted link for Deep Sugar. Lucas shortly thereafter indulged the man –
I will try.
Lucas looks away from the flat screen of his computer. He tries, over his glasses, to meet the man's dancing eyes. "It was fine," he says. Nods very slightly. "Thank you for the suggestion."
Noah looks at him for a moment. They are dressed similarly, but Noah wears it better. Even with the five years or so he has on Lucas, he looks younger, less burdened. Perhaps this can be attributed to Deep Sugar. He looks back quickly over his shoulder to reassure himself of their privacy, then sets his gaze back on Lucas. "Hey," he says, leaning in, "you don't have to be so uptight. Like I said, more people use these places than you know. I mean it. And not just divorcees either."
Lucas swallows. "I can imagine..." He searches for the word. "They incite such divorces."
"More than you know, brother."
Lucas makes to place his fingers above the neglected keyboard. "Thank you again."
"My pleasure." Noah shrugs, taking a step back across the stained carpet. With just his hand on the doorknob, he looks back and says, in something nearing conspiratorial murmur: "I kind of shop around mostly. You know. Check a lot of them out at DS. Lately I've been seeing this one girl, Frivolitee. They're all remarkable. Which did you get? Maybe I know her."
He gives it without thinking: "Wondermint."
Noah looks up at the water-damaged ceiling. "Mm, nope. Haven't had her. Is she new, did she say?"
Lucas shakes his head, to indicate he did not ask.
"Well, maybe I'll run into her." He raps his knuckles twice more against the door before leaving. Lucas stares at the empty space, at where he has gone. Then back at his phone.
Summertime in the Rosalie Building verges on torture. Specifically for the adjunct faculty whose offices are markedly for lesser creatures – air conditioning is spotty at best, and Lucas finds desk fans too much a monetary luxury. Nearing the end of the day, he leaves the building for the muggy red dusk of the street. Cars lined out front jostle each other lightly, gunning and revving for the barest hint of green at the light. Lucas stands before the sun as it sinks golden into the lush mounds of trees littering the vast expanse of the Common.
Through the black iron gate that lines the park, and lightly between heavy boughs, Lucas sees the easy stroll of people linked hand to hand, and children playing, and twenty-somethings not unlike his students. On the other side of the park are high-rise buildings, apartments that look down onto the Common and see the lit-up pathways at night like earthly stars. Lucas has not been in one himself. But he had seen them on the realty websites before choosing his own hovel in East Boston. Scanning the photos online, he saw the wide walls of windows, ceiling to floor, the stone balconies and the open floor plans. Modern, it said. They are called luxury suites, buildings with names like Alpine Summit and Charm Ridge. Briefly then, Lucas allowed himself to imagine living there, these lofty castles slotted in on top of one another. He imagined what it would be like to have family over, to see what has become of him in America. To see that he is trying.
Lucas turns for the Chinatown station.
In his apartment, the window is thrown open. The barest hint of breeze rolls through and, Lucas hopes, carries out any rancid trash scent he is normally ignorant of. He sits on his bed, against a pillow against the wall, and in his jeans and undershirt he glances over papers in his lap.
On the pillow next to him is his phone. He hasn't quite figured it out yet – why it keeps blinking red at him when he has already seen a message. Perhaps it is something faulty, and he could get a new one, he supposes. Go down to the Apple store and trade it in. But.
He tries to ignore it, and goes back to the papers. He teaches Persuasive Writing in the summer catalogue, and the students who take these courses seem to be the dregs of the university. They failed in the spring, or they need an extra credit due to carelessness. Eight out of his eleven couldn't persuade a man dying of thirst to drink water. And though Lucas can understand the English on paper, when he speaks a sentence aloud it is difficult to tell whether it is grammatically correct or not. Or does that even matter? Who uses grammar correctly in this day? In this country?
The phone continues to blink red at him.
Lucas shifts his bare feet into the ruffle of covers near the corner of the bed. Since arriving home, he's been trying to put it out of his mind – the whore who sat here just last night. Lucas didn't notice it at the time but as he remembers, the young man smelled of summertime, like morning glories. He was bright-eyed and thin, and he sat here. For all the shabbiness of Lucas' apartment, for all of its filth and drear, Lucas is struck by the urge to wash his sheets after having had someone like that on them. It had to have been a moment of madness which drove him to it. But thankfully the universe took him in its star-strewn arms and delivered to him not a demon of his own desires but that crazed whore, who shocked him to reason. Does this prove the universe sentient? Does this prove Lucas is worth saving? He cannot say.
But perhaps his senses have returned to him. Because he shifts his papers away, grabs his phone. He flips to his emails, and the one from Deep Sugar that has continually blinked for the better part of the day. He clicks the link and, with the flick of a thumb, presses the one star option before sending the wordless review. Gingerly setting the phone on the nightstand, he gathers his papers and starts again. From the beginning.