I am not bothered by small or enclosed spaces. The same cannot be said of large open ones, so the parking lot is not really the sort of place you’d probably expect to find me waiting on someone. And, logically speaking, I do know I can just wait inside my nice, cozy apartment for Megan to call and let me know she’s waiting outside.
The issue there is that waiting inside would mean I was turning my best friend and a cellphone into a kind of horrifying, semi-irregular alarm. And I hate alarms. It’s a good thing I’m not a spy, because if I got caught by enemy agents they could break me by tying me to a chair, winding up an egg timer and telling me that if I didn’t give them the launch codes in the next five minutes they were going to let it ring at me. On the other hand, if we only had fifteen seconds before the nukes went off you can be damn sure I’d stop that timer from hitting zero. Probably by cutting the wrong wire and killing us all, because what do I know about defusing nuclear bombs? In conclusion, it’s a really good thing I’m not a spy, and I’m not about to let my best friend stand in for a nuclear explosion just because I’m too afraid to wait for her in the parking lot.
I live in the last unit of a row of studio apartments, all lined up side-by-side and facing the parking lot. This is nice because it means I’m pretty isolated. Also, they’re small, cheap places not horribly far from campus – which means that most of the tenants are transient students. Right now no one is living in the studio next to mine, and on breaks it’s almost like no one else lives here at all.
On the other hand, once you attach the word “transient” to someone they become about twelve times more terrifying. My previous neighbor used to jog around our parking lot in the mornings. I was pretty sure it was just a matter of time before he finished scoping out the community and I wound up being forced into the back of a windowless van and auctioned off to Canadian white slave traders some morning. I’d probably have ended up staked out in the woods as bait for some sort of flesh-eating half moose/half unicorn monster that roams the wilds of Canada. The chupacabracorn: devourer of virgin lumberjacks.
I’d gotten in the habit of reading while I wait on Megan back when that guy was still a daily trial. Distracting myself with fiction is a coping mechanism. I’ve always used stories to distract myself and others from my unreasonable anxiety issues. I prefer it when I’m using someone else’s stories, though, because then it’s just me being lost in a book. But if I’m relying on my own fiction, it usually means I’m interacting with someone else and I’ve just been put in a spot where I can either explain that there is something seriously wrong with me, or start making shit up.
The worst part about it? The more anxious I get, the more my verbal filters shut down. And it’s not like Tourette’s, where I’d just start spouting profanity and be asked to leave. No, it’s more like…anything I think? It gets said. And no one tells me to shut up or go away because they’re too busy listening to the train wreck that is my mental process.
I mean, I might start a conversation by asking what’s on the number three special. But then I realize that I’m dealing with an actual person, with hopes and desires and opinions and unknown motives, and I’ve just asked them to do some extra work in order to answer my inane question, and then I’m all flustered and I’ve probably pointed out that anyone who orders something with that much bacon on it is probably a cannibal because if Circe turned Odysseus’ men into swine, she’d probably done it to others, and some of them had probably just been left as pigs, because it’s not like she constantly had guests and how many pork meals can one goddess eat? So some of those probably made it into the general pork population, and I figured you probably had a good three percent chance of eating one of their descendants every time you had a pork product…and that really is a lot of bacon on the number three, but if you think I’m crazy then how do you explain the fact that cannibals always say people taste like pork and swine flu is contagious among humans?
And at that point I’d be a little wild-eyed because I know I’m talking crazy, and a little out of breath because that’s a lot to blurt out without pausing for periods. Also, I’ll have ordered the number three with extra bacon, and everyone will stare while they try to figure out if I’m really a psycho cannibal, or if I just play one in real life. Except for my friend Megan, of course. She’ll just demurely eat her salad, oblivious to the stares and not making a scene at all. But I’ll still have everyone’s attention because I tend to chomp noisily when I’m enjoying a meal, and apparently I want everyone in the restaurant to know that I think people taste great.
So, yeah. That’s why I don’t like to go out much. Because people are either judgmental cannibals or vegan, and there’s no way to tell without waving your pinky in front of their faces and seeing who bites. I’d much rather distract myself from the possibility of falling off the earth with a good book than have to notice whether or not there are other people around.
Anyway, I was halfway through my book – and craving bacon for some reason – when Megan’s car pulled up. It was a small, blue, four-door Chevy and that description pretty much exhausted my knowledge of cars. I tucked my manga into my purse and got in on the front seat passenger side.
“Morning, Abby,” Megan said in greeting as I buckled myself in. That’s one of the things I love about her. Megan is aware that “good” and “morning” are oxymoronic in conjunction – even if her bright-eyed, chipper smile implied that perhaps they didn’t form a contradiction in terms when applied to her own life.
“Morning,” I answered back as I settled in. Cars are one of the things I have issues with – especially when I’m the one driving. I have my license because dad insisted it was a necessity of life, but when he was teaching me to drive he impressed on me the ease with which one could lose control of a vehicle and kill everyone around them and everyone riding with them and be forced to live for decades in a hospital, paralyzed from a severed spine and guilt. I never quite got over that. But it doesn’t bother me so much if someone else is driving. If I’m not behind the wheel and not distracting the driver, then any cataclysmic accident won’t be my fault. Maybe it’s a little weird, but being unable to affect the outcome of a trip is just about the only way I can stand to be in a car for an extended period. Now, my fear of strangers and being sold to slavers does prevent me from availing myself to public transportation or cab services, but fortunately for me Megan has no problem with driving. I carpool to and from work with her every day, and she usually gives me a ride to anywhere else I need to be but can’t walk to.
Megan is an awesome friend. My best friend.
She’s also a total Mary Sue. She’s smart; I always had to crib her notes in college. She’s fun and sociable; she was always inviting me out to parties she’d been invited to, and still does. She’s even independently wealthy, thanks to an inheritance from her dowager aunt or something. She doesn’t really talk about her family, so I guess there’s some kind of tension there, but that’s not a character trait so it totally doesn’t count against her Mary Sue status.
In fact, as far as I can tell her only flaws are a questionable taste in friends – because let’s face it, I’m not really a great one – and the fact that if she’s tipsy enough she’ll make out with anyone. Seriously, last year at the post-New Year Eve’s office party I caught her necking in the bathroom with our boss, Mr. Salvatore. Now, I will admit that Mr. Salvatore is a sickeningly handsome man, but he’s also our boss – which freaks me out a lot – and he knows he’s handsome – which freaks me out more – and I’m pretty sure he’s a vampire. Anyway, after I saved Megan from the hickey of undeath (I happened to know she’d gone into the bathroom to check her blood sugar level, not to be turned into the thrall of the soulless undead) she tried to make out with me. But I gave her some chocolate and she bounced back from her sugar crash and I drove us home, and then my nerves were so shot that I just stayed at her place and sat up all night reading through her library while she slept off the mixed drinks, and all was well.
But honestly, I’m not even sure that Megan’s promiscuity actually is a “character flaw.” I mean, I know some people can be total asshats about women who are comfortable with engaging in some casual fun. But I think that I’d just be jealous of her if I weren’t so freaked out by the idea of doing anything even remotely sexual. I don’t even star in my own fantasies. Most of my romantic escapades have been lived vicariously through erotica, dirty doujinshi, and getting Megan to dish about her own dalliances, which she’s always been perfectly at ease doing. She doesn’t even make fun of me when I ask for the details. Have I mentioned she is an absolutely awesome friend?
I glanced over at her. She gave me a smile and then stopped paying attention to me at all as she checked her mirrors and put the car into gear. I should probably mention that she’s beautiful, in case that hasn’t already become obvious. It’s not the kind you see on fashion magazine covers – I’m the twiggy one between us. It’s a classical beauty. It would have saved Troy a lot of trouble if Megan had been standing next to Helen when Paris came to Sparta.
Megan’s a little shorter than me (but no one can tell because she always wears something with a heel and I always wear flats), voluptuous and fair-skinned. She has long, wavy black hair and bright green eyes. She both knows how to apply makeup well and takes the time to put that knowledge to use. And she’s the calmest person I know; whenever I see her she has this serene, happy expression – unless something really bad has happened. Or if she’s sugar crashing – then she gets a little loopy.
Oh, yeah: sugar crashes. Megan’s hypoglycemic. Her body doesn’t process sugar quite right, and sometimes that acts up. That candy bar I grabbed on my way out of the apartment? As far as I’m concerned it’s hers. She does a really good job of regulating her blood sugar, but I try to keep some candy on hand anyway, just in case. I mean…I’m not a very good friend. I’m self-involved, constantly anxious and more than a little neurotic – and she’s constantly doing me favors like driving me to work and helping me cope with crowds and strangers and social obligations like talking to a cashier. But I always have chocolate on hand if she needs it, and if I ever catch anyone trying to give her shit or take advantage of her Mary Sue-ness I will be all over them like a skinny, neurotic, blonde pit bull.
After we’d gotten out of the apartment complex and onto the road, Megan spared me a glance. “Are you okay?” Megan asked. “You’re looking more frazzled than usual.”
“Someday I am going to get laid just so I never have to worry about chupacabracorns again,” I muttered.
“I thought that guy moved out,” Megan replied. That’s another one of the things I love about her. When I say crazy random shit she doesn’t bat an eye – and half the time she even gets it.
I shrugged, and Megan reached over to tousle my hair. Casual physical contact is one of my freakout things, but Megan is a special case. I’ll put up with it for her.
“If it’ll help, I can probably hook you up with someone from the club,” Megan offered. “They’re having a New Year’s Eve party tomorrow; I could give you a ride.”
I just about choked on my heart as it tried to escape through my esophagus. The downside to Megan’s unflappability is that I can never quite tell if she’s joking. And as much as she helps me cope with my anxieties on a day-to-day basis, she’s also pretty insistent on getting me to stretch my boundaries. She’s a social person, and she’s always inviting me out. Especially around New Year’s, with its mandatory midnight makeout sessions, and Christmas – with its barely more chaste mistletoe. Because let’s face it: for me, that’s one hell of a boundary.
“I’ll think about it,” I managed to say. “Going out,” I hastened to add. “Not the other part.” Which was, of course, a lie. Club Luminescence was Megan’s hangout of choice these days. I’d been there a grand total of once, and I’d spent the evening latched to Megan’s side in order to discourage this goth-punk guy who kept staring at me like he wanted to get me alone somewhere and murder my comfort zone. So then again, maybe it was true. I’m sure that at some point, while I was safe in my bed, I would wonder what would have happened if I’d opted to go out instead. And I was very good at imagining ways to violate comfort zones.
“Alright,” she said. And I think she knew what I meant, because she immediately asked about another one. “How about the work party? If you don’t want to come out to the club, I could swing by and pick you up for that one.”
“Uh…” I said. Work had an annual New Year ’s Eve party. It always ran very, very late so that people who celebrated earlier with friends and family could still stop by. Our boss, Mr. Salvatore, even arranged to cover all cab fares to and from – not that I could ever get in a cab. But that made me think that maybe I should go. Mr. Salvatore had gone on sabbatical after last year’s party, and we hadn’t seen him since. But without Mr. Tall Dark and Handsome Vampire around, Megan’s only options for shenanigans this year would be Jimmy or Carl, the two men who lived in the basement and ran the printers. A rescue or preventative action would be necessary in either case: Jimmy was a scrawny guy who embraced the label “nerd,” and Carl was a stocky, balding man twice Megan’s age, whom I’ve always kind of suspected of wanting to embrace Jimmy. I mean, basements are dark by definition and the big printers are loud. Who the hell knows what they really get up to down there?
Anyway, I couldn’t really think of either of them with Megan without blushing a lot and getting waaay too explicit in a bad slash-fic sort of a way, and….
“Are you sure you’re okay?” Megan asked again. “You look a little flushed.”
And that put me in one of those awkward social situations I hate so much: I could either explain to my best friend that she – by merit of being a strong, well-adjusted, social and sexual individual who doesn’t spaz out over everything – starred in more of my mentalrotica than I did, or I could change the topic. I’ve tried filling in for her, but it just doesn’t work. If you put me in a short skirt and a corset top and strap me down in a deep dark basement, pretty soon make-believe Jimmy and make-believe Carl lose interest. Then Carl takes Jimmy aside in a fatherly manner and teaches him to “catch” in a way that totally isn’t, and I miss out on all of it because make-believe me is still tied up in a basement. But replace me with Megan and there’ll be soft flesh and hard cocks and moaning and grunts and sweat and cries of pleasure and about four times as many orgasms – not counting my own when I’m home, alone, in private, and not sitting next to the person I’m imagining being tag-teamed while the industrial scanner she’s bent over makes a flip-book record. Assuming I haven’t forgotten by then, or been distracted by something…which is probably the more likely scenario.
“I’ll go to the work party,” I said, blindly groping for a total non-sequitur. “If you’re sure you can pick me up?”
“Of course,” Megan agreed cheerfully.
“Thanks,” I said – and turned my gaze out the window in order to turn my face away from her. Fortunately, I had achieved terminal self-embarrassment, and all mental images – as well as my blush – were replaced with the recurring internal cadence of: please don’t let her be psychic, please don’t let her be psychic.
We didn’t really talk for the rest of the way into work.