I didn’t notice the scar until I went down on Hailey for the first time. On the left leg, not far from the edges of her bush, a quarter-sized reddish patch staring right back. She didn’t say anything about it until the next morning, chomping down sugary cereal on my couch. They called it The Vickroy Massacre. I vaguely recalled the cold October headlines before coverage dried up and everyone went on with their lives.
“Yeah, it’s just one of those shitty things that happened,” she said. “But I don’t let it affect me anymore.”
My responses lacked definition, before we changed the subject. She mentioned her father calling at least four times a day to which I could only joke. “Can’t wait to meet him.”
Past her smirk, I considered whether my brain could handle the onset of drama in what didn’t feel in the least bit like a relationship. Hailey had tried to get with Noah first, but he turned her down, so I flirted for about a week and then took her to bed. I needed something easy with the gradual momentum of a snail evading its predator. Would I have eventually called her my girlfriend? Sure, why not? Would I have married her? No way in hell. We simply didn’t have enough in common even before I learned the truth.
After she left, I YouTubed the incident, trying to suppress each chill. LARP turns deadly. Four killed at New Hampshire Institution. Hailey wasn’t in a single interview; Vickroy’s student body considerably unreliable with regard to the perpetrator. He was so quiet in class. You could tell the dude had some real issues. What an absolute weirdo. Shifting my attention to Facebook, I cross-referenced her friend’s list with with each victim. Sure enough, pictures of them wearing space outfits popped up; five years of wishful comments tacked to each wall.
The next time she texted, I didn’t reply, instead meeting Noah at The Twitching Pony for Tuesday specials. He was more egocentric than usual, rattling off ideas in-between sips. I humored him to my breaking point then asked whether he knew about Hailey’s unfortunate past. My friend downed some foam and replied simply. “Yeah, I think I heard something about that.”
“But she never mentioned it to you?”
“No. Kerry said something maybe once. You’re like her boyfriend, so I don’t get why you’re pressing me for information.”
“Because you introduced me to her.”
“Yeah, as Kerry’s friend. I never really took the time to get to know her.”
“I shudder to think of people seeing me as only your friend,” I replied.
“Well, I’m sure a few do, regardless of whether you want them to or not,” Noah observed. “So how’s Hailey in the sack? Sometimes those plump ones are trouble.”
“It’s been nice.”
“How am I supposed to deal with all of this other stuff? I mean, it’d be different if I was interested in something more than a hook-up, but I don’t see that happening, at least not with her.”
“Ya know, its things like this that drive people over the edge, force them to shoot a bunch of folks.”
“You’re an asshole.”
We got shitty then, arguing insensitively before shifting gears. It became pretty clear I couldn’t confide in Noah or any of my friends, all of them equally self-absorbed. My perception of Hailey only dropped the next time we met; a walk quickly turning to dinner. She blabbed about various city personalities causing a ruckus with available space, speaking worlds of Bruce McCauley: a visual artist with unsettled habits.
When Hailey excused herself to the bathroom, I Googled his acrylic vomit stains and abstract intentions. Here was a man younger and uglier than myself with a well-established following and little to no substance. He’d make an impression on a few; maybe even force a hand towards the proper canvas. I had forty cubicle hours a week to offset a waning creative streak leftover from psychedelic aspirations in college. My apartment was full of unnecessary incentives to play nice and pay bills, and yet there she was in front of me, soon playing footsy under the table.
We explored positions, interpreting each noise counterproductively before conversation eventually dried up. A sense of identity drifted from my insides, soon reduced to clichés inscribed on walls patiently awaiting likes. This daily trend didn’t explain our frantic infatuation, how she made me feel important just long enough to warrant a complete breakdown of boundaries and common sense. I’d text her, we’d get together and the rest eventually ate us whole.
In the two years since I can barely recall that scar let alone the sound of her voice. Hailey eventually moved in with Bruce and then across the country. She occasionally comments on posts of little significance, which I either acknowledge or hide with hopes of forgetting. There was something off-putting from the beginning, a feeling of numbed weariness that I ignored in favor of release. It’s still kind of there in the giddy smirks and oblivious glares of an entire culture on the cusp of completion.
I can identify most of them; superheroes, villains, role players and their reliable Japanese sidekicks. Wizards, elves, and makeshift assassins breaking bread, laying down cash earned at convenient stores or behind large consoles. Big bloodshot eyes from late-night caffeine-induced explorations staring through my lowly soul towards the faint glimmer of who I was when she stood next to me.
“C’mon man, we got a lot of ground to cover.” Noah rumbles past a clown in lingerie towards the first string of boxes. Browsing frantically, he pulls out bagged and boarded relics to a time neither one of us will ever fully embrace. I observe the surrounding fanatics plugging their brains into flashy computer-generated fodder; the children of disappointed high school football stars afraid to browse the clubs section of their yearbooks for fear of comparisons.
My place here is ambivalent; fingers skimming at a slower pace only to pull and force a reaction. “Is this a good one?”
“No,” Noah replies. “Maybe just stop asking me that.”
I nod and consider how little we’ve evolved since middle school. If I met Noah now, I’m not sure we’d even bother with one another on social media. He used to be obsessed with women, but now it’s all money to appease someone who will never quite grasp his motivations for doing so. I tag along out of some mangled obligation as if this particular excursion will curb my boredom or help me forget about all the other horrible people out there who don’t even bother dressing the part.
Slowly drifting towards the bathroom and concessions, I leave my friend with the resounding thud of his own thoughts. Conversations of power-ups and mistakes swim in the surrounding air as I wait in line for water. Updates are of little consequence, missed opportunities only trumped by a complete lack of concern from old acquaintances. Maybe it’s time I stop trying so hard to appease little dots on a screen, especially when those same specs barely blink at my daily contributions.
Searching for one gem in a stream of hypersensitivity has all but lost its appeal, my steps heavy past dwindling lines for B-listers. A few aged artists patiently await crisp bills for signatures, their hands shaking a little more with each broad stroke. When they die, their greatest efforts will be reduced to late-night bidding binges, Noah double-clicking with bated breath. I’m about to rejoin him for another hour of eager perusing when she struts past then stops. Those hips still talk; her ensemble a tight pink and white mix with flashing LED lights on each shoulder. All I can think is she must be cold in such a wide open space.
“Whoa Donny, what are you doing here?”
“I could ask you the same thing,” I clear my throat. “Who are you supposed to be?”
“She’s my own creation. It’s been awhile, but I felt like dusting her off today.”
“I had no idea you’d be here.”
“I hope that’s not a bad thing,” Hailey smirks.
“No, of course not. I just thought you were on the west coast now.”
“I am. This is a work thing.”
“Really?” My eyes go wide.
“They flew me out here. I handed out fliers for a few hours, and now I’m just taking in the scenery.”
“So what’s your excuse?”
“Noah had an in with this lady who runs a store on 15th Street. He’s a major seller now.”
“I hadn’t heard that.”
“Well it’s mostly to people who don’t leave their house.”
“This world never really appealed to you, did it?” she suggests.
“Certain parts do, but overall, I could never get past the sneaking suspicion that one of these people could crack at any moment.” My statement barely registers with either of us and then takes root.
“It’s like that anywhere, but we nerds are mostly peaceful folk.”
“Yeah, until somebody loses. It’s like Noah still gets pretty heated every time I win at Mario Kart.”
“Maybe that’s just because he’s an asshole.”
“That never stopped you from trying to get with him.”
“Really?” Hailey sighs. “You’re gonna bring that up now after we haven’t seen each other for years?”
“I’m just joking, although I must say, having that linger from the beginning is probably why you and I never worked.”
“What, you were jealous of something that never happened?”
“No, not really. I just couldn’t accept how boy-crazy you were.”
“I should probably take offense to that.”
“But you won’t because it’s true.”
“Why are you acting like this?” she tries to stare through me, but fails. “I’m still happy to see you despite all that’s happened.”
“But what does that say about you? I’m getting far too used to everybody I once knew completely forgetting about all the good things that make me who I am.”
“It’s easier focusing on the negative sometimes, but I never have with you.”
“Well maybe you should start.”
Hailey looks down and searches for the words. “It was great running into you, Donny,” she says. “But I should probably get back to my end of things.”
“Yeah, me too.”
We turn and walk as if there’s some purpose to these movements. I don’t even mention her to Noah, waiting as he eventually runs out of steam. Exiting the convention center, he rattles off hypothetical prices for each grab. I try to remember a time when we all weren’t so caught up in ourselves. Guilt only lingers for a second before it’s the comforts of another room, my fingers idle on the keyboard searching for a symptom to explain all this waning reluctance. Hailey didn’t even mention Bruce or anybody in-between. This should make me feel special, finding her half-naked in the midst of other negligent adventurers searching the cobwebs for one last kick before the finale. Maybe I’ll sell it all and move away, but that seems like far too much work for a Saturday.
Christopher S. Bell has been writing and releasing literary and musical works through My Idea of Fun since 2008. His sound projects include Emmett and Mary, Technological Epidemic, C. Scott and the Beltones and Fine Wives. My Idea of Fun is an art and music archive focused on digital preservation with roots in Johnstown, Pennsylvania. (www.myideaoffun.org). Christopher’s work has recently been published in Linden Avenue, Noctua Review, Yellow Chair Review, Crab Fat Magazine, Pot Luck Magazine, Crack the Spine, Unlikely Stories Mach IV, Foliate Oak, The Gambler, Lime Hawk and Talking Book among others. He has also contributed to Entropy and Fogged Clarity.