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Not That Cool MAG
The final shot ricocheted off a tree.
“No one showed up.”
“It’s a Thursday. People are working late or studying.”
“So should I just stick to Fridays from now on?”
“I’ve gotta get going.”
“Um, yeah, me too. Paper due Monday.”
“Sucks. See ya next week?” He didn’t wait for a reply.
Peter watched him leave the screen, then looked around his dark room. It was lit only by an effusive green glow from the white box on the floor in front of the TV. He pressed a button and let the machine whir down. The television blinked off and the room was devoid of light. Taking off the headset that had become imprinted on his ear, Peter got up from the couch, absent-mindedly fiddling with the controller in his hands. Darkness seemed to envelop him as the empty feeling returned.
It doesn’t do much good to host a party when no one’s playing, he thought. Stupid. Stick to what you know will work.
His two-room apartment was pitch black except for the light creeping in through the cracked window behind his couch. It was getting cold in Denver, and Peter knew that the luxury of leaving the windows open would only last a few more weeks. He gazed at the building across the street. Wide and tall, it held hundreds of offices looming over the city. Even at 9 p.m., he knew that in the countless cubicles hard-workers were completing assignments or gaining an upper hand on competitive colleagues. Such urgency was lost in the void of Peter’s living room.
Turning on his old Dell laptop and taking a seat at the desk near the window, Peter let his mind wander. He had to work, but the empty feeling, which clamped his body in a sort of vice, prevented him. He longed to be back where he was comfortable, in his games, talking to people thousands of miles away whom he knew only by how they accumulated kills or trash-talked opponents. No one, however, was playing on a Thursday ….
The computer booted up. Studying on the Internet was not the same as studying on a campus, and Peter was finally beginning to come to terms with that. Staring at page upon page of digital text, set starkly against the white “Phoenix Online” background, his shoulders drooped and his mind numbed. The irony of reading about how to fix computers on a computer didn’t register. Nonetheless, it was beginning to take its toll on his emotional and mental state. He worked five hours each morning, then spent nearly as much time poring over the computer at night, and menial hours in between wasting away on his couch.
About 45 minutes later, knee deep in “Servers and their Switches,” the noise started – a girl’s voice, then a man’s, then a third, deeper voice. Peter glanced at the thin door separating his cocoon from the outside world. Warm, yellow light shone through the crack at the bottom, glancing off the dark walls and colliding with the inhuman white glow of the laptop.
Laughter chased conversation, and Peter pegged what he knew was drunken revelry taking place across the hall. Colorado State’s campus was a half-mile away, and some football players had recently moved into the adjacent apartment, transforming it into an alcohol-soaked, drug-fueled party headquarters for the less academically inclined.
For six months, since the beginning of summer training, Peter had known days of silence and nights of loud get-togethers. He had become accustomed to it, never so much as knocking on their door, but he occasionally wondered.
This was their “Thursday Trifecta,” whatever that meant, and Peter knew that the partying would continue late into the night. He continued to gaze at the fake wood-grain door standing between the dead space of his apartment and those streaming into fun land. After a minute, he was sucked back into the screen.
He was interrupted by a sudden crash and a bellowed swear from an intoxicated frat boy. A girl screamed and the noise grew louder. Peter sat up. Drunken outbursts were the norm, but rarely did the cacophony rise above what it was now. It seemed as if the entire group was yelling, hooting and hollering at the man who swore.
Peter heard the door across the hall slam open. The man was in the corridor, yelling in a deep drunken voice: “You think you can just pull that type of s---? You’re always doing something, Laura, aren’t you? Always with the next guy you see. Think it just happens? Give me a g-ddamn break!”
The man fired off another string of expletives; his shoes made reverberating clunks. Peter could see a sliver of them under the door. He was stumbling around like a muscled loon.
That harbinger of unwanted circumstances, sweat, trickled down Peter’s arm; his body tensed. The man banged against the walls of the hallway, testing their structural integrity and daring one to give way to his bulk. Peter leapt from his desk chair, sending it twirling toward the television. He lunged forward, but not before the drunken mass made a fatal miscalculation.
Bouncing against the walls, he had come to the door and laid his massive right shoulder into its flimsy construct. A crack sounded and the hinges flew off. The wooden sheet didn’t stand a chance against his 6ƍ" frame, and it thumped to the floor. The man couldn’t stop his fall either, and the momentum carried him down, crashing into Peter’s apartment like a felled tree.
As soon as he was down, he was up, hunched over in a rage that caused Peter to step back. With dizzy, glazed eyes, the man stumbled toward the couch. After a few steps he made contact with the floor again. The hulk came to rest on his back between the couch and the television, eyes closed and chest heaving.
Peter stood above him, sweating profusely and breathing heavily. His face was scrunched up, eyes furrowed, and mouth gaping at the body now occupying the nexus of his home. Peter did not notice the door across the hall open.
“Wow, I always knew he was crazy when he drank, but not like this.”
Peter looked up, bewildered. A girl was frowning at the man spread-eagle on the floor. Peter blinked in surprise at the figure in a bright yellow T-shirt and dark jeans that fit her svelte form perfectly. Long black hair cascaded down her back and white pearl earrings glinted. She smiled bashfully.
“So, this is your apartment?” White teeth completed a picture Peter was not quite sure existed. Her face glowed in the soft light, and he was conscious of the sweat trickling down his arm. She looked carefree, though her eyes didn’t fit.
“Um, yeah, it is, actually.” Peter struggled not to stare.
“Sometimes he’s such a lug. I’m so sorry about this,” she said, sighing.
“It’s not your fault … I mean … he just … kind of … fell in here.” Peter’s words came out in bits and pieces, and he was not sure the girl even understood what he was saying. She seemed focused on the guy.
“Yeah, I guess you’re right.” She grinned up at him. Peter was above average in height. Her sleek heels only made her slightly tall.
“So, uh … Peter, what should we do about this?” she asked, noticing the name tag clinging to his drab work shirt.
“I don’t know. What do you care?” That came out wrong, he thought, but she continued to smile. Peter fumbled about in his mind. Why is she amused?
“I’m just a … a friend of his,” she answered. “I was sent from the party to see if I could gather the remains.” She laughed, and, for the first time, Peter let his shoulders loosen and his body relax. He laughed with her.
Her face, a smile.
“I could probably just leave him and come back later if you need to get back to work,” she said, suddenly seeming downtrodden and tired. “Why haven’t I seen you around campus?” She glanced at the computer screen, which displayed a picture of a microprocessor.
“That’s an online course. I’m not at CSU … not that cool,” he muttered.
“I always wondered how those worked. It must be pretty fun not having to leave where you live to go to class.”
“Yeah,” he replied, feeling the opposite.
“Well, uh …” She looked down. “Don here will probably be out cold for quite a while. He’s been drinking all day.” She grimaced at the closed door to the party. “They’re probably wondering where I am,” she said feebly. “Sometimes I just can’t take it. Need to get away from people yelling …”
Obnoxious bass thumped from the party room. Catching a glimpse of her unhappy face, Peter gained confidence, years of loneliness spurring him on.
“If you wanna … wait here until he wakes up, you could …,” he muttered, speaking more to the floor than to the face half-obscured by darkness. “I mean, if you want to.”
For a second her face was a blank slate. A chant of “Chug! Chug!” escaped into the hallway. Peter’s stomach lurched – Why, he thought, why … – until her face relaxed and broke into a toothy smile.
“Sure. I’ve had enough of that party. The music’s too loud.”
“True,” Peter responded, and walked over to the door, picked it up, and leaned it in the doorway, covering the void. Gone.
An unrecognizable sensation filled him.
“He’ll be out for a while. Don’t worry.”
The girl, the woman, had made herself comfortable on the couch and was using the man’s hulking chest as an ottoman. Peter sat close to her. Her side was against his, and the foreign feeling washed over him and he smiled. One hour later, he thought. He felt more a part of the world than ever before.
“What’s your name?” Peter asked.
“It doesn’t matter, does it?”
“No.” Not at all.
The room was dark again, except for the flickering TV screen, but its three occupants didn’t seem to care.
San Jose, California
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