This is a draft of a piece I wrote for a class in my M.A. program in English and Creative Writing. It’s the first short in a collection I’m calling Bar Room Conversations. This piece is “The Friend Zone”.
The Parking Lot
The smile of Fritz Strong has a way of lingering with people. In third grade the girl next store, Jenny Conners, drew a picture of it and gave it to him on the playground, running away only to meekly watch from the jungle gym as he opened the folded paper; Tammy Paulson, who gave him the first kiss of high school, swore to her friends in homeroom on Monday that light sprang from him as she left the front stoop and walked down the brick pathway back to her car; his college girlfriend, Alex Shepard, still remembered how his lips curled in the moments before he laughed, like a maze of pleasure that led to a happiness he might take you to if you only knew how to ask. Cara James-Wright thought of the times he smiled with her as she sat in the driver’s side seat of her onyx Dodge Magnum, watching women pass through the newly formed night only to open the lighted doors leading to the church basement meeting room. Her picture of Fritz, situated firmly in the lock screen of her Note 5, glared towards her from the change console to her right, with an alarum two minutes from zero. It was time to go in.
Within the context of the normal world, church meeting rooms are used for the life-will-never-suck-for-you First Communion and the I’m-so-proud-of-the-person-you’re-becoming Conformation receptions, for the jovial I-will-love-you-forever-or-until-it’s-convenient-to-leave-you weddings and mournful sad-for-three-weeks wakes. This room hadn’t seen one of those ceremonies in a long time. All it knew was the Wednesday night meeting. A circle of chairs sat in the middle of the room, framed by four metal structural posts that divided the entire space into nine even squares. Positioned at the top of each post, within the center square, so each member could see – they had to be able to see – were four off-brand flat screens tuned into to the only network any of the people in the community cared about: Fritz.
As Cara walked towards her chair she noticed the room had filled with the usual precinct faces. Across from her sat the Barista, Paula Kinkaid to the natural world. Paula met Fritz their freshman year at Loyola Marymount. They’d hang out in the commons after their Econ class let out around 8:20 p.m., playing old NES games late into the night until the cleaning crew kicked them to the cold. One night, after a substantial Duck Hunt match, Paula leaned in to Fritz, brushed a stray strand of the blonde locks from his face to reveal two widening cobalt eyes. She closed her eyes and attacked the moment. Before her lips met his she felt a finger cross hers. When her eyes opened, she first truly glanced the beaming smile that haunted women before and after her. He leaned in, only to whisper, “Let’s get coffee.” Since then the aging Barista has sat in the local coffee shop updating her failing flailing blog, puffing on weed and waiting for the moment to happen once more.
To the Barista’s right sat the Gym Queen. In her tight-laced Nike Hypermax and Lululemon ensemble, the once-known-by Janet Rodgers sank in her seat with iPhone in hand and eyes alternating between the Fritz Live Network (FLN) on the tv and, likely, the I’m Fond of Fritz app in her palms. It’s unclear when Janet met Fritz. He never mentioned her to Cara and Janet said they only started hooking up after she noticed him at the Gym. The sex was great, “mythical, gurl” were Janet’s exact words, but their relationship never progressed and she went back to being just a trainer he talks to while in line for shakes. Fritz never realized Janet schedules her training appointments so she would get a break whenever he was there – just to get that drink.
On the other side of the Barista was the Bar Back. When Yvonne Granger isn’t tending bar, she’s touring the region’s dives with her nineties-rock cover band. They never made it big, but Yvonne never cared for that. What she enjoyed was the music and her mates. She made sure to emphasize that to the men she met while on shift or while on the road or standing in line at 3:00 p.m. to buy food at the quickie mart. Yvonne met Fritz during a Saturday night Guy’s night when he and his roommates, Tommy and Vince, happened to come into the bar. They flirted the majority of the night, talking about music and how the modern sound just doesn’t make them feel the things they felt in their childhoods. Eventually he “ghosted” – Yvonne’s words – her out of his life, but every once in a blue moon they’ll share playlists on Spotify. Because of this, it was rare not to see Yvonne without, at least, one headphone in, searching for new songs, while she was outside of the bar.
Strolling in behind Cara, sitting to her right, was the snarky CEO of the media-firm Fritz works at. Diana Green – whose name made Cara think she did porn on the side – was Fritz’s work wife. The friend that he joked with, gossiped with, and, from his 24th to 26th birthdays, “fucked passionately within the confines of her office during lunch hour. Like, that dude knows what he is doing. He knows shit. Good shit. Shit I want to be a part of again. And again. And again, and again, and again, and” Diana would explain and simultaneously act out most nights. Fritz thought she looked like an aging Rebel Wilson.
Tonight the five women sat in silence waiting an extra five minutes to begin – they always waited five in the event of stragglers or new-nighters. Their eyes curiously locked on the screens above. Tonight was CW night. Fritz, Tommy, and Vince sat in their living room tucked under throws, quilts, and an off-brand Snuggie – Vince was the face of a short-lived regional campaign called “Huggies” which was discontinued after the expected copyright infringement suit. Tommy sat grading Trigonometry homework from his eleventh graders and Fritz scurried up in the recliner with a tablet.
Now, for those of you out there a little creeped out at the prospect of five women sitting in a church basement watching a simulcast of three dudes watching Arrow, and, later, The Flash, because you can never miss The Flash, it’s not entirely like that. Think of their situation as a pseudo-reality show like the Bachelor. Except, in their case, they’ve been regulated to an alternate dimension due to their unresolved feelings towards Fritz and are forced to exist in a society dedicated to him until they either figure out a way to move on from him, or win him over. Maybe like a reverse Truman Show? Does that work? Not totally, but I think you’re starting to get the picture. These women are trapped in a state of unresolved feelings infecting and diluting their lives in such exponential fashion it’s warped who they are, where they are, what they see, and how they act. Think of their existence as the Bachelor meets The Truman Show meets Monkeybone. Back to Cara.
The Barista brought the meeting to order.
“Any new business?”
The Bar Back shook her head, while the CEO and the Gym Queen barely recognized the question. Cara felt obliged to move the proceedings.
“As you guys know, it’s been 33 days since I wound up here. After I didn’t kiss him, on the walk to the car, I fell through the hole” – let me explain the hole real quick. The hole is the obligatory entrance point for all of the residents. After their relationship with Fritz doesn’t take the turn they deem to be appropriate, the planetary masses swell and open the pathway to this interplanetary dimension. Everyone enters from the hole. People leave … Well, we aren’t there yet. – “and have tried to live my life the best I could. I thought I was getting over him. I thought I was working my way out. But Tuesday, at book club we had this really great talk about Yeats. In the moments of walking back to my loft all I could think about was I might still be into him. He might want this to happen.”
“Guurl, we’ve all had that moment,” the Gym Queen said, eyes still locked within her personal Apple tractor beam.
“It’s classic denial, Cara.” the Barista added.
A pause overcame the room. The CEO shifted in her seat.
“No it’s not, it’s fucking hope.” The CEO interjected, causing everyone to refocus. “Why can’t he hope to be with him?”
“It’s not healthy, Diana” the Barista rebutted.
“But that’s your definition of healthy. How many relationships are healthy?”
“Successful ones …” murmured the Bar Back.
The CEO turned to the Bar Back. “But what does ‘Successful’ even mean? Throughout our lives we are inundated by movies and music and more that the only meaningful romances – the only ones that great art or evoke great feeling – come from the ones that are a little fucked up. The kid missed her window. She doesn’t get another shot? That isn’t on her. That’s on him.”
“She’s just mad cause he stopped fucking her” smirked the Gym Queen, looking at the CEO.
“Right … how’s smoothie time Janet?”
“Bitch, fuck you!” the Gym Queen retorted, throwing her water bottle across the room.
“Guys!” the Barista inserted. “This isn’t what this is about. It’s about figuring a way to get the hell out of here. It’s about constructive support. None of us want to be here. None of us want to be this woman. Now … Any new interactions?”
Everyone stayed silent.
“Fine, I’ll go” the Barista sighed. “Fritz came in for coffee on Tuesday…”
“He always gets coffee” said the Bar Back.
“She makes sure she’s always there” said CEO.
“She’s mad cuz he never hit it” laughed the Gym Queen.
The Barista stood up. “Alright, fuck all of you. I’m out. Meeting adjourned.”
The room laughed as the Barista slammed her chair down and stormed through the door. Casually everyone else got up and left.
Home – Three Days Later
Cara shared her spacious, open air loft with a group of roommates unknown to her throughout her banishment from reality. She hadn’t been stuck in his world long enough to forget the people of hers, but the loss of hers, the lack of people who once possessed individual faces, voices, and hearts, disheartened her every night and hardened her every morning. She was alone. Isolated in a life once filled with pluralities.
6:30 a.m. – Sunlight beamed through a crack in the blinds, indiscriminately poking Cara awake. A series of drafts perpetrated existence in the room, bringing the covers tighter across her chest. The morning ritual of the past 36 days raced around in her mind. Clips of her last date with Fritz – dinner over candlelight, drinks discussing Derrida, and that long walk home underneath the stars – replayed in increasing speed, culminating in the failed no-kiss, the radio silence, the new world. Across the room the TV brightened, preparing the alarum. Cara groped for her phone and shut off the device. She threw a nearby blanket over her head.
7:15 a.m. – Cara threw her laundry across the room into the bin, stepped into the bathroom, and picked up her toothbrush while turning on the shower. She used to love a good soak in the shower. Sitting with her back against the linoleum, she’d let the water overcome her while she thought. Those days of clarity escaped her here. The overwhelming emphasis on Fritz, his manifestations ranging throughout the distorted society, placed Cara in a state of acceleration. Being perpetually bombarded with the question of him disallowed any chance to take decisive action. Cara was stuck in a relationship time loop to which she had no exit plan. So, she no longer took meandering showers contemplating existence or engaging in extensive thought on any one issue.
7:33 a.m. A wash of fire spread around the skillet as Cara dropped two eggs down. Toast popped up moments later. The off-day routine was nothing out of the ordinary: breakfast, gym, coffee, swing through work, hang out, hit up the bar. There were differences here, though. Everywhere she looked she saw Fritz. He was the delivery guy, the cop directing traffic at the light, selling houses on a park bench – there was no man outside of him. There was singularity in the women, as well. They were extensions of the people at group, the types of people he may have met. The ads, the music, the songs, everything was him, everything was them. The few weekend breakfasts Cara had were spent wondering why she hadn’t taken place with them, why versions of her hadn’t popped up. On the skillet below, Fritz, as the eggs, smiled up at her.
The smell of the California sun managed to evoke momentary pleasure from Cara. When she moved to Los Angeles for college, she’d tell her parents that “walking outside every morning was like being hugged by the day.” The sun reaffirmed existence. The sun reaffirmed the motivation of the day. Even now, she still saw sprinkles of pleasure, even if the memory of the way it was lingered like a sorrowful accord. She guided her discount sunglasses atop her eyes and set out towards the gym. Around her a group of Fritzes, varying in age, race, and body weight, played volleyball on the sand. Baristas and Gym Queens sat at blacktop restaurants, watching the morning pass. Behind her, a skateboarding Fritz hurried by, and across the way Bar Backs and CEOs stumble home from the night’s festivities. Life was as she unknowingly knew it.
“Gurl, come on! Work!” the Gym Queen barked, spotting Cara as she strained through a squat.
“How much is that?” Cara inquired at the top of a new rep.
“Bitch, you know that was one.”
Cara smiled and started her new rep. Around Cara and the Gym Queen various iterations of Fritz and the Gym Queen spawned throughout the gym. By the row of bikes, treadmills, and various other ellipticals, they looked like an army only separated by the colors of their clothing. On the mats a shorter Gym Queen stretched out a Fritz with pink hair, because that Fritz believed pink hair was a good call – although, objectively, Cara thought he pulled it off. At the benches, various Fritzes ran through their workouts. A roided out Gym Queen spotted a gangly Fritz work through a press.
“Doesn’t it freak you out?” Cara asked.
“You get used to it.”
“But there are versions of you, with slight differences, all around. All the time. I cried the first week I was here. I thought I was going insane. How do you even know if you are you?
“In some respects, I think they’re all me,” the Gym Queen pondered as Cara dropped down, “are you the only you that you have ever been?”
“No. We grow as people. They do have differences from you. I get that. But they’re also all here. So there has to be a commonality that derives from somewhere” Cara countered, rising upward. “Is it weird that versions of me haven’t sprouted up yet?”
“How long have you been here?”
“More than a month.”
“Hmm” the Gym Queen looked into the mirror across from them, noticing no other Caras and the proliferation of her iterations around her. “Mine were here when I got here.”
“Is that the same way with the others?”
“Honestly, I have no clue. We never talked about it.” The Gym Queen stopped.” It definitely doesn’t feel right.”
Cara brought the bar up for her final rep and the Gym Queen helped her put it back on the rack. A bead of sweat escaped down Cara’s face. The Gym Queen threw her a towel.
“Should I talk to the Barista?” Cara asked, wiping her face while reaching for her water.
The Gym Queen stretched her arms above her head, taking a moment to look around. “Maybe you should. She was here first. If anyone would know, it would be her.”
Cara thanked the Gym Queen and headed for the shower. She ran through the process quickly as she had questions to be answered. Why was there no other versions of her? Why was she different?”
The Coffee Bar
The Barista worked in a coffee bar, aptly named The Coffee Bar, close enough to the gym for Cara to get her information quickly. Being Saturday, the Barista, the real Barista, would be towards the back working on her blog.
The Coffee Bar was as if a Starbucks and a hipster library drinking establishment had a kid and that kid fucked an Amsterdam bakery. Cara’s slight frame found a contact high every time she went in. Apart from the obligatory Bash injection, Cara possessed no objection to The Coffee Bar. Bookcases zig-zagged through the room, crafting pockets of interpersonal magnitude caused by booths shrouded in the literary voices of years previous. The remnant Barista at the counter featured a slight nose ring, multi-color dreads, with small diameter gauges that Cara always thought looked painful. She gave Cara her regular.
As Cara maneuvered through tables of millennial-looking Fritzes in deep thought over computer-related issues, and even a few writing out of notebooks, because those assholes are everywhere, she registered the Barista at her usual location. Sprawled out across the table were her camera, dishes of half-eaten pastries, notebooks, and her computer. With headphones in, the Barista looked up to see Cara just as she was sitting down.
“Well, this is a surprise” the Barista removed her headphones.
“It’s Saturday, I figured I’d make the rounds. What’s going on?” replied Cara.
“Just writing a piece about fish tacos for this tourism company.”
“They any good?”
“The tourism company or the tacos?”
“Both?” Cara laughed, taking a sip of her drink.
“Well they’re paying decently, which is nice. The tacos were ok. I mean, street tacos are street tacos. Fine at 7:30 p.m., fantastic at 1:15 a.m.” the Barista took a sip from her drink, looked at the computer then back up at Cara. “You ok?”
“I don’t want to interrupt you if you’re on deadline or anything.”
“Don’t worry about that. It’s 700 words on what taco to get. Not exactly breaking news.”
“Well, I was at the gym, going through my workout …” Cara started.
“Fucking Janet… sorry, keep going.”
“Is it weird there are no other versions of me here yet? It’s been a month. More than a month. Janet said hers started to sprout after only a couple of days. When did yours?”
“Instantly. I was first. I thought I was going crazy. Everywhere I looked I saw him and everywhere I looked I saw me – just shifted. For a long time I questioned my autonomy. If everyone is me then who am I? What gives my life meaning? If all of us are just looking for him … for one of him, then does a connection mean anything significant?” The Barista’s eyes sank and Cara could feel the crushing weight of the 29-year-old-sitting-across-from-her’s last 11 years position itself on the table as if it were nothing more than another thing to stick in her satchel.
“What made you get past that?”
“I didn’t” the Barista anxiously laughed. “But a girls’ gotta eat. The more I work through it, the more I seem to deal with it. How long have you been here, again?”
A silence grew unexpectedly and exponentially and aggressively. The room slowed and Cara’s heart pounded while she watched the Barista slowly register the amount of time Cara had been here with no appearance of a other.
“When was the last time he text you?” the Barista abruptly set forth.
“Day 16. He had a question about book club. We were reading Mansfield Park. He had a thought about Fanny.”
“You talked about your fanny?”
“Fanny Price, she’s a character.”
“So, 20 days ago. And that doesn’t count the times you’ve talked at book club, right?”
“Yeah, I guess so.”
Another pause manifested. This one was lighter. There was a rife anticipation that existed alongside of it, seemingly born out of the line of questioning. Cara watched the Barista’s eyes process her plight. As the Barista’s lips formed her response, Cara heard a drumroll build to the moment the Barista finally said “He’s still into you.”
For a split second Cara pictured herself outside of her body, watching it explode from the mounted frustration. “Then why the fuck am I here?” she bellowed, causing the room to momentarily stop and stare in their direction.
“I don’t really know. If I had to guess, I think maybe your position here is a sort of probation. It’s possible he still sees you as someone he could be with. Or…”
“Or maybe it’s possible that you put you here?”
Cara scoffed at the injustice, “Why would anyone willfully put themselves in this position?”
The Barista stared at Cara, hoping she’d acknowledge they were in the same boat. Cara, realizing what she’d done, loosened, “I’m sorry.”
“It’s ok. Answering your question, a lot of reasons, obviously. For you, specifically, I can’t answer that. Only you can. But it would explain the difference between you and us.”
Cara knew she was right, if that was the case. But if she regulated herself to the friend zone, why is she the one suffering? Why is she the one tortured over the coals of constant reminders? Why was she there? Cara looked down at her phone to see the time stood close to eleven.
“I gotta go, I need to check in at work before lunch.” Cara stood, pushing her chair in. “Thank you for hearing me out a bit.”
The Barista smiled, “No problem. I’m sorry if I only made things worse.”
Cara looked around at the various iterations of Fritz and the Barista. “Don’t worry about it.”
Cara worked in Graphic Design at a mid-level studio. Ever since she was a kid, she knew design was something she wanted to do. When she wasn’t reading, she was drawing. When she wasn’t running – she ran the 300, 400, and 500, in high school – she was drawing. When she wasn’t out with friends, she was drawing. There was one time w… She drew a lot.
11:36 a.m. – Cara swiped her keycard, drawing a beep from the security system. Passing through the check point, she looked over the open-air workspace she’d been a part of since coming out of college. The room was a sleek, minimalist space with shared workspaces and individual stations littered throughout the room. Cara typically took refuge by a window so she could watch the action of the pathways below her. Today, since she just had to check the status of her projects, she picked a spot in the middle of the room.
11:43 a.m. – Cara opened the Outlook situated in her employee desktop. Nothing was out of place aside from an 11:42 a.m. message from the CEO. Cara clicked it open.
11:42 a.m. Did you just come in? Janet and Paula texted me about you. I’m out back. Come hit me up.
The CEO turned out to be everyone’s boss when Cara transferred in. Her old boss wasn’t much like the CEO, so the change, the frankness, was mildly jarring. Cara closed out the desktop, stood up, and made her way down the hall to the CEO’s corner office. She opened the door to see the CEO, feet on her desk, scrolling through social media feeds on her tablet.
“Cara!” The CEO jerked her feet off her desk, knocking over a bottle of water. “You finally figured it out!”
“Figured what out?” Cara asked, sitting down on the CEO’s couch.
“That you’re not like us”
“And you knew that?”
“I had a hunch.” The CEO picked up her water, walked over to the seating area where Cara sat and leaned back in the loveseat. “You text him?”
“I was gonna wait.”
“Because that’s worked so well up to now.”
“Look,” began the CEO “what Paula didn’t say, what I think you already know, is why you’re here comes down to one of two things, if this is about you. You’re either a) not ready to commit to him, or b) not ready to commit to anyone. Which one is it?”
Cara took a moment to think prior to replying.
“When did you become my shrink?”
“Don’t deflect. Answer the question.”
The pause from earlier, from the inquiries the Barista launched or the concerns the Gym Queen confronted, grew again. The longer Cara took to process, the deeper the CEO’s eyes penetrated her defenses, searching, striving for the one reason this anomaly stood before her. Drained of all energy, Cara ran her fingers through her hair from her scalp.
“I have no clue” Cara murmured in a moment of defeat.
“What’s that?” smirked the CEO.
“I don’t know” Cara defiantly laid the words into the air, watching them sit between her and the CEO.
The CEO stood up, walked back to her desk and sat down, “That’s something. Isn’t it?”
Cara looked to where the words once sat, now trampled, then up to the CEO. “Maybe it is.”
“Get out of here for the day. It’s Saturday. Only old assholes like me come in on Saturdays. Go do something.”
Cara nodded her head in accordance.
Grains of sand cascaded against Cara’s toes as she kicked off her sandals, rolled up her jeans, and walked out into the water. She inhaled, exhaled, and counted the clouds on the horizon. Cara looked to her right, noticing the pier in the distance. To her left she saw Fritzes on jet skis and surfboards. Annoyed, she made her way back to the sand, laid down, and stared at the sky. For that moment she was back in her world. A world with multiple people, multiple meanings, multiple possibilities for life. The clouds came and past, each without agenda, each providing temporary satisfaction. Cara, smiling, closed her eyes. She was present. She was in the moment. She was happy. She opened her eyes to see a cloud like Fritz stagnant in the sky above her.
“I fucking hate this place!” She screamed.
Cara hopped up, through on her sandals, and past the staring beach goers. She needed a drink.
At the last seat of the bar sat Cara, sipping on a Blue Moon draft with peel. The bar, known as The Bar, was a simple black box setup that featured live bands most nights of the week. At the front there rested a traditional long bar across the room opposite the stage, with an entrance to the beach on the bar’s right. There wasn’t much variety in the level of hooch, and on tap there was enough variety to satiate the needs of beard laden beer savants. Cara didn’t care though. When she drank, she drank.
“Text him” the Bar Back looked over at Cara.
“I’m not there yet!” Cara replied.
The Bar Back wiped down tables in preparation for the Saturday night crowd, eventually making her way closer to Cara.
“What are you waiting for? Day 46? 50? Keep this simple. Do you like him?”
“Then hang out with him!”
Cara realized the Bar Back had a point. Her fear, or her alleged fear, because she wasn’t certain if this was stemming from fear, that making a commitment would set her on a path to losing herself ignored the fact she might find his company pleasurable. What if the positives did outweigh the negatives? Shouldn’t she at least try?
Cara pulled out her phone and took a gulp of her beer. She stared at his contact page, trying to think of something to type. She wrote: Hey! What are you doing tomorrow? Want to get dinner? Only to delete that to write: Hey! Want to hear something crazy? I’m stuck in an alternate dimension with all of the women still hung up one you. Must be that (Eggplant Emoji) (Eggplant Emoji) (Eggplant Emoji). Only to delete that to write: U up? Only to delete that to write: Hey, let’s get dinner tomorrow! Cara stared at the send button underneath her message, grappling with the ramifications of sending the message. Her eyes rose, catching the Bar Back’s, who displayed a bonding nod. With the injection of vigor, Cara’s thumb graced the portion of screen labeled send. A digital bird fluttered through the landscape of the bar, landing on her phone, looked at the message, then up at Cara.
“Good luck with that!” The bird chirped.
Message sent popped up firmly underneath her entry in the conversation. The turn her stomach took felt as if it encompassed the total discomfort of any Game of Thrones character hearing the phrase ‘Winter is coming.’ Her eyes rose once more to the Bar Back, this time displaying the regret, apprehension, fear, and self-loathing that forced the pendulum upward.
“I’ll get you another drink” said the Bar Back.
Home – Later That Night
Cara’s body hung close to the Bar Back as she took her key to open the door to her building.
“Who is he, really? Just some guy, amiright?” Cara slurred.
The Bar Back laughed, dragging Cara up the stairs as much as she was walking. She fumbled with her keys once more as she reached her apartment door.
“Like fuck him, fuck him for making all of us, all of you, feel this way! Right! You think he’s up? Fuck him!” Cara rambled as the Bar Back flung her on the couch. The Bar Back took a Vitamin Water from the fridge and brought the wastebasket over, placing them on the coffee table next to Cara.
“Cara, do you need anything else? I gotta get back to the bar.” The Bar Back asked.
“Come here,” Cara motioned her over with her finger, “come here. Here.”
The Bar Back walked over and kneeled next to where she laid on the couch. Cara reached her hand out and drunkenly stroked the Bar Back’s face.
“You’re such a good kitty.”
“Seriously, don’t die. Don’t pull a Breaking Bad. The wastebasket is right here.” The Bar Back rose.
The Bar Back threw Cara’s keys on the kitchen island and locked the door behind her. Her stomach began to become queasy, and Cara groped for the wastebasket. She burped.
As she set the basket aside a beep came from her purse. Her eyes widened. With whole-hearted drunken exertion she felt for her phone in the darkness. Clicking it on she saw everything she wanted hours earlier – a god-damn reply. Fritz’s message read: Sorry I missed your text! Did a double-picture show with some friends earlier. I would love dinner. Meet at the Santa Monica Pier around six? Ecstasy rose Cara to her feet. Should she say yeah? Should she say sure? What about an exclamation? Her joy resulted in an Awesome! Cara hit send, vomited, dropped the phone on the table, and past out on the couch. The digital bird that sent her first message fluttered through her open window and read her phone.
“Lucky bitch,” said the bird before it flew away with the message.
The Next Day
The next day was a flurry of movement for Cara. She met with the Gym Queen, the Barista, the CEO, and the Bar Back, seeking advice on the evening’s proceedings. She re-hydrated. She thought, at length about what she wanted from the evening. Cara had no clue about anything.
The Santa Monica Pier
6:00 p.m. – Cara loved looking at the Ferris wheel at the Santa Monica Pier. She’d loved them since she was a kid. When she was young, she felt at home atop the wheel, able to see everything from the town at large, to the various people wherever she was – from the people in love, holding hands, or just realizing what they had with another person. As Cara approached the wheel, as Cara approached Fritz, she wondered why she no longer felt such optimism, such hope, for the potential of love in her life.
Fritz stood at the base of the wheel. The real Fritz had a slight glow that separated himself from his other manifestations. Like his smile, it possessed a youthful quality that sailed smoothly into all of the places you needed happiness brought into your life. He looked like an Abercrombie model that shopped at Urban Outfitters. He was everything she remembered.
Cara and Fritz hugged.
“I hope you don’t mind getting something to eat out here. All week I had sit-down work dinners with clients and I can’t go to another place with tablecloths. I thought this might be fun” Fritz welcomed.
“I love the pier,” Cara started, “I was just remembering how much I love Ferris wheels. Pizza?”
6:22 p.m. Cara and Fritz sat on a bench next to the railing, with drinks and pizza boxes between them, talking of recent book club and life events. In that moment Cara and Fritz were the center of the world. Earth spun on their axis. Iterations of Fritz and the various women passed by them but all she could focus on was him. She wondered if his field was distorted. If he was stuck in her zone. If there were a group of men out there, somewhere, thinking of her the same way. Maybe she should ask.
“Want to play a thought game?” she interjected their current conversation.
“Only all the time.”
“If any of your exes were so hung up over you that they were transported to an alternate dimension that featured only you, which ones do you think they would be?”
“Easy. This girl Paula. We were tight in college, but she was always more my sister than someone I could see a future with. There was this trainer at my gym, Janet. It was a fuck-buddy type of thing that got way out of hand. My boss, which was so damn stupid. I mean, how do you make that work? And then there was Yvonne. That was all passion though, all frosting. You need cake sometimes. You?”
“One guy stands out. Kyle. We dated for around three years. Last two years of college and then a year after that. He asked me to marry him and I said no. I said I wasn’t ready. I thought about it for a little bit. But one day I was walking through a Target, for no particular reason. My eye started to latch on to random things, noticing different colors and shapes of particular object. I started to think about what my future with him would have been. Would he have been just a person to accumulate stuff with and then die? What’s the purpose of that? So, I said no. I don’t think he really ever got over that.”
“You don’t really think that’s all to life, do you? Buy shit and die?”
Cara thought of the past 36 days. Of the women she’d met and the fluctuations of thought she’d experienced. She saw their faces. Their bodies. They were all around them now.
“No,” Cara admitted. “Until recently I’d thought otherwise. But in the last month or so, I’ve realized that all of that was just my shit. I was… I am scared of finding the right person. I’m afraid of the concept of the right person. But we all are, right?” The women around Cara nodded their head. “Right now, I’m just looking for someone to experience things with. Does that freak you out?”
Fritz held out his hand and spread his fingers wide.
Confused, Cara asked, “What does that mean?”
“Like, it’s so steady. You can touch it.”
Cara grabbed Fritz’s hand. The world shifted back to place. Fritz lost his mysticism and Cara saw different people, heard different voices, and for the first time in a long time felt different and similar and fine. She pulled him, by his hand, towards the games.
“Let’s go shoot skeeball.”
Two men sit at The Bar.
“And last I heard they were getting married.” The man took a swig of his beer.
“That sucks Kyle.” Said the other.