“Ashley is calling you,” Marc said from his perch on the couch. He had been playing this game for as long as he’d known Aaron: every time he heard the phone vibrate or ring, he’d try to guess who it was on the phone. He was right, more often than not, and Aaron suspected that Marc intentionally was wrong on occasion to try and keep things fun.
“I’m busy, she’ll leave a message.”
Marc slurped loudly from his beer and turned on the TV. “She was going to offer to come over tonight. I bet she misses you.”
“Yeah. Well. She’s going to have to wait until I’m done with this.” Aaron spoke with a halting quality to his voice, seeming to only expend effort to speak when he wasn’t concentrating on his work. In all fairness, it probably was an intensive activity. Marc had spent countless hours pretending to listen to Aaron talk about it.
“ ‘She’ll have to wait,’ he says. You do know she’d be just as content to sit in there with you while you work, right? She is capable of reading a magazine.”
“How the hell do you know that? Huh?” Marc could hear - even from the living room with the TV on -- Aaron slam his pencil down on his drafting table. The floorboards creaked under Aaron’s feet, even though he stepped lightly into the living room.
“Well, I just assumed she knows how to read. I never learned, myself, but she’s a smart girl.” Marc continued watching - or at least listening to - the TV.
“You know what I mean.”
“She loves you, Aaron.” Marc could hear a sharp inhalation of breath behind him. “It should be fairly obvious, by now. Hey, stop it. I hate it when your face goes all dreamy like that.”
Aaron didn’t ask how Marc knew his face had changed at all, he always just… sort of knew.
“Do you ever wonder if Joey went home after yet another meaningless one night stand and stuck a gun in his mouth?”
Aaron choked out a laugh at the absurdity of it. “What do you mean, why would he do that?”
Marc slid over on the couch and sat on the arm, leaning against the wall. He gestured approximately to the rest of the couch, inviting Aaron to sit. “Think about it. Normal adult life consists of two things, right? Long swathes of loneliness, filled with longing, and self-doubt and angst, and then there are time periods during which you have regular sex.”
“Is that what relationships are, to you? Simply having the ability to have sex more regularly?”
“That’s not what I’m say - “
“Relationships are much more than that, Marc. They are what - ”
“That’s not what I’m saying.” Aaron was about to go off on one of his optimist soapbox rants, you could feel it in the air. Marc waved his hands in the air between them to try and cut him off. “Just… Just follow me for a second. At no point during the ten or so seasons of Friends was Joey in a long term, meaningful relationship, right?”
“So? He always seemed happy, to me.”
“Of course you thought he was happy.” Marc took a deep breath to steady himself. “I can’t imagine he was, though. Especially during that huge period of time that he was in love with Rachel, all you ever saw of him was that sad loneliness, that self-doubt that creeps in when a person isn’t having regular sex.”
Aaron stared at Marc for a long moment, trying to goad Marc into moderating his position through awkward silence. At least, that is how Marc perceived those silences. In truth, Aaron couldn’t fathom what was going through Marc’s mind. How could a person in love want to kill themselves? That is supposed to be the happiest time in a person’s life, isn’t it? And more than that, why would a person ever kill themselves? No matter how overcast the day, the sun is bright and shining, just behind those silly little clouds. With these thoughts in mind, Aaron continued to search for the answers to the questions, desperate to contribute to the conversation in a meaningful way.
“Even you.” Marc always broke the silence first, not because he was unsure, but because he’d come up with another supporting point for his argument. “You are completely incapable of feeling sad, or angry, or upset, right? Even with that going for you, you’re a lot less annoying, now that Ashley is in your life. You’re better with her around - while you’re having sex on a regular basis - than you ever were before her.”
Aaron nodded. The fabric of his shirt rustled noisily to demonstrate his understanding.
“But Joey is what we’re talking about. If you are better than you were before Ashley came into your life - what is her Power, by the way? Ah, forget it, we’ll talk about that later - how could Joey possibly be any good to anyone, after ten years of being alone? After being devastated by not being able to be with the only woman he was in love with over the course of a decade? He’s a better man than I am. If it were me, I’d go to my room right now and pull the trigger.”
“Wait, what are you doing with a gun? You’re blind!”
“Hey, not everybody knows that. All you’ve gotta do is look like a badass holding the thing, make some threats, and it’s goodbye bad guy.”
“That… That might actually work. Look, let’s go for a walk, you’ve given me a lot to think about. Can we get out of here for a bit?”
Marc smiled. “I was hoping you’d say that. We can hit the bar and get a burger.” He stood and turned toward his bedroom. “On a related note, can I borrow ten bucks for a burger and a beer? I’m broke until Friday.”
* * *
As a Narrator, I feel the need to tell you that the walk, while invigorating to their minds and hearts, was otherwise boring, filled with all of the things you’d expect: nature sounds like birds chirping, dogs barking, and cars passing; Marc was nearly struck by a vehicle when crossing the road. He liked how the moving truck’s wake felt, gently pushing him from it with the power of wind.
But I’m getting off track. The walk was boring, so I’m going to skip it.
* * *
Marc gently slid onto the stool, fighting his natural inclination to sit on his heels, crouching on top of it. He’d fallen off of more than his fair share of stools, and didn’t particularly want to deal with a concussion that day. “Burger and a beer, please. Whatever you’ve got on tap is fine.”
From across the bar, the tender called, “I’ll be with you in a minute!”
“Great service here. Burger and a beer in a minute. That should be their slogan.”
“You’re not as funny as you think you are,” Aaron said, though he was smiling.
“Bitch, I’m way funny.”
“Sorry about the wait, guys. What can I get for you?” The bartender sounded stressed.
“Burger and a beer, please. Whatever you’ve got on tap is fine.”
“Just a burger and some water for me, please.”
“Can do. Gimme a few minutes, and I’ll have that out for you.” Marc found it amusing that bartenders always hated Aaron. Water drinkers tipped less, was his theory.
On the outer reaches of his hearing, Marc could hear a man - very drunk - who was depressed. Of course, that was an understatement, he learned when he looked over at the man. Aaron had said something to him, but he ignored it completely, trying instead to listen to the more interesting drunkard.
A second voice, no less drunk than the first, urged the depressed one to go sit over by the pool tables because the light bulbs over there were always in a better mood than at the bar.
“What does it matter what mood the light bulbs are in? What does anything matter? You’re not as important as you think you are. You’re a footnote. Can’t you feel it? They’re gone already, and the day is only half over. They don’t even care that we’re living our lives, they just want a story. Leave us alone!” He shouted that last.
“Alright, that’s it.” The bartender shouted. “Get your friend out of here, he’s scaring people away.”
On their way to the door, the drunk in hysterics puked and collapsed in the puddle. “Nobody cares that I’m here, Steve. They watched me make an ass out of myself, they watched me realize that I’m nothing more than entertainment, to them, and then they left.”
“Come on, buddy. Let’s go.” Steve helped his friend out the door, probably carrying him, more than supporting his weight.
“That guy,” Marc said, “Is how I imagine Joey, on his days off from the show.”
Aaron scoffed. “That guy needs to get laid.”
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