Sunday, July 19. 2009
Posted by The Mad Giggler in Playing a meta-game with the same theme
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I tried to relax and enjoy the movie. I really did. I kept telling myself to relish the fact that for once I wasn't at work, school, or home. I just kept thinking how angry it made me that Ben wouldn't just tell me what was going on. His evasions all day had finally worn down my patience. On the bright side, the movie was an enjoyable adaptation of the book. When the credits rolled, I made a mental note to rent it sometime when I could focus on the actors instead of thinking of every possible meaning behind every word Ben had said today.
He didn't say anything, just turned to me and signaled that we should go out the aisle on my side. We silently walked out of the theater into the parking lot and I couldn't take the waiting anymore. "So are you going to tell me why you had to leave your friends and parents behind to come here or what?"
He didn't seem at all surprised, maybe a little hurt though. "Reese. I just thought two friends could go to the movies together, but I guess all I am is a mystery that you feel obligated to solve. I mean, you seem like you don't get out much, so I thought catching a movie would be fun. If the mystery means more than our friendship, why don't you just go search the news archives. It was front page news back home. I'm sure they covered it here. I really don't want to talk about it."
And then he just turned and walked to his car, his shoulders slumped. He'd already pulled out of the parking lot and gone out of sight before I realized that I was just standing there with my mouth agape. He was right. I'd been thinking of it like a mystery that I wanted to solve, but he just wanted to be my friend. And I actually really liked him. I mean, I couldn't remember the last time I'd had so much fun with someone, even when he was avoiding my questions. At least I'd laughed a lot. I'd even gone to the movies for the first time in what felt like forever. I drove home trying to decide what was wrong with me. Why couldn't I just leave the poor guy alone? He probably needed a friend as much as I did. As I lay in bed that night, I decided not to search anymore for what had happened.
I had the next day off from work so I buried myself in a book and tried not to think about how I was going to make things up to Ben. I decided to take the coward's way out and just pretend like I hadn't been such a jerk, hoping he'd forgive and forget.
The next time I saw him at work, he smiled genially and we exchanged pleasantries. He seemed to know that I was embarrassed and didn't want to talk about it. He'd just finished up the morning shift and I'd be closing, so there wasn't a lot of time to really apologize anyway. A week went by that way before we finally had a shift together.
I was opening that morning again, and he walked in as I opened the door, just as before. He held up a book. "Hey. I can see why you dig this author. I really enjoyed the trip through Ireland and it had me guessing right up to the end."
He'd read one of the mysteries I'd recommended! It made me feel warm and excited. "Wow. You took my recommendation seriously? And you liked it, that's great!"
"Yeah. It was a fun story. But. . ."
But? "What? But what?"
"Well," he looked downcast. "I just don't think it was. . .well. I think Dave's Irish book was better."
He suddenly grinned like he was about to tell the funniest joke ever. "Yeah, I mean. You don't hear me speaking in an Irish brogue, do you? So obviously, his must have been better, since they were both set there."
I laughed. "I guess I can be thankful for that."
And suddenly, it was like nothing bad had happened and we could just be friends. Over the next few weeks, we caught a couple more movies and Dave even joined us for one. It felt great to be out doing things with people. I was so happy. Then, a month later, I had that fateful shift with Erica.
Over the past month she'd continued to be oddly cheerful when we worked together, but today it was like the old days, before Ben. We closed the store together, and as soon as the last customer left, she hurriedly shut the door and stomped up to me. "Rhys, you stay away from Ben!" she hissed at me. "I know what you're doing. Trying to steal him from me. He's mine. He loves me and I love him and there's nothing you can do about it. You don't know the things he's been through. If you go out with him again, I'll kill you."
I just stared at her. Where had this come from, I wondered to myself. "Uh. I think maybe you've made a mistake."
"Shut up, you whore. You keep your filthy hands off him. Dave told me you guys have been going out and had the gall to ask me if I wanted to join you the next time, but I know what's going on. Just keep your Goddess-cursed, ugly, slut-whore hands away from Benoni."
Seeing that a reasonable discussion was out of the question, I just nodded. She gave me the bird and stalked to the back of the store.
When I got home that night I thought about what she'd said. There was something odd about it. She'd said I didn't know the things Ben had been through. Had Ben told her about his past? I felt conflicted. I'd decided to leave it alone, but now I was worried. Why had Erica been so friendly for so long, but had suddenly reverted to her old self. Not only that, she'd threatened to kill me. In all her rants and diatribes of the past, I don't think she'd ever threatened anyone's life. This wasn't some game I'd created in my head to make myself feel like a sleuth. This was serious.
I tossed and turned all night trying to decide whether it would be a breach of Ben's trust and cause a rift in our friendship to look up his past. I had the morning shift with Kim the next day, but couldn't bring myself to ask her about it. She got after me a few times for being distracted, but I couldn't help thinking about Ben and Erica. When it was time to go, I'd made up my mind and drove over to the library. I started searching through the archives, not really sure what I was looking for. Then I found it. About a month before he'd moved here.
My hands were shaking as I got to the end of the article. No wonder he didn't want to talk about it. It was horrifying. Then it hit me. I was living in a strangely parallel situation right now. Erica had threatened my life if I didn't stay away from him. Could Ben have been the "him" the student shot the teacher over? A shiver ran down my spine. What was going on? I decided I needed to confront Ben immediately about this. I was scared, but I made myself think things through. I'd just seen him at the bookstore. He was working with Dave tonight. I could drive down there and take him into the backroom to tell him what was going on. Surely, together we could work through this.
I could barely focus enough to drive back to work. I walked through the front door and Dave saw me first. "Hey, Rhys. Did you forget someth-? Are you okay? You look as white as a sheet!"
"I-I'm ok. Is Ben here?"
"Y-yeah. He's in the backroom. Are you sure everything's ok?"
"Yeah. I just need to talk to Ben about something."
"Uh, ok. I'll just be up here. Let me know if I can help out at all."
I hurried back to find Ben alone in the back tearing covers off magazines, one of the many mindless tasks a bookseller must perform. The mundanity of it calmed my nerves a little. He looked up. "Oh hey, Reese. What's up?"
"Ben. We have to talk. Erica threatened my life last night if I didn't stay away from you and I just went to the library and read about what happened in Midway. What is going on? Were you the reason that girl shot that teacher?"
He let out a low sigh and just kind of looked at the floor. I thought he might be crying, but when he looked up, his eyes were dry.
"Rhys. We're friends, right?"
"I thought so, but what-"
"Ok," he interrupted me. "Look. Do you ever feel like I read your mind? Or like I anticipate something you've been thinking but haven't yet said out loud?"
I thought about it for a minute. "Sort of. I mean I guess. Maybe. I don't know. What are you trying to say?"
He looked at me sadly. "It took me a long time to realize that others didn't feel or sense it the way I did. Even in my earliest memories, I knew what others around me thought or felt. I'm not entirely sure, even now, what the distinction is.
"I remember hiding when I was five or six for hours because I knew I was in trouble but didn't know why. When I felt the shift from anger at something I'd done to fear that I couldn't be found, I came out and let them find me as though I'd been napping in an out of the way place and had just woken up. This was so successful in diffusing the anger that I tried it again and again until it took longer and longer for the fear to start and the anger to be subverted.
"I started to experiment with reading expectations, so I could avoid the anger in the first place. As I got better and better at this, I realized I could read, not just my parents, but my friends and their families. At the same time, it became clear that no one else around me was using my strategy and it didn't make sense until I realized no one else could sense like I could.
"One day I slipped up and fulfilled an expectation a little too well, without any verbal cues from my 'book.' I must have been about ten at the time. I was at a friend's house playing a card game while the TV was blaring the cartoon tie-in to our cards. His sister walked in and huffed impatiently and without giving it much conscious thought, I read her and realized she wanted to watch a teen drama that was on another channel. I automatically grabbed the remote, switched the channel, and moved from where I'd been sitting to give her a better angle from her favorite spot on the couch. I knew I'd made a mistake when I looked up to she was staring at me in shock.
"'How did you know? I didn't even say anything. How could you know that's why I was here?'
"'Um?" I didn't know what to say; it hadn't occurred to me until that moment that no one else could, or at least that they didn't, read like I did.
"Her program came back from its commercial break and the ensuing tears and recriminations rescued me from further questioning. I'm not sure she cared all that much in the first place because she never brought it up again. After that I practiced reading more carefully to make sure I didn't over-anticipate.
"I've been reading people so long I can't stop anymore. It's almost entirely subconscious, like breathing. If I try really hard to focus on it, I can control it for brief periods of time, but it's so useful most of the time, I don't even think about it. That's what happened with May and Laura. Laura was so lonely all the time, I just started being her friend and she'd never been understood by anyone so well before because I could anticipate all her needs. And May, well, May was lonely too, but she was a teacher, so there was never that close tie like with Laura, but Laura got jealous, and well, you know the rest.
"I don't know how to stop, Rhys. I don't know if I can. I think I'm trapped."
We both started as the door burst open and Erica came barging in. She pulled out a gun and screamed, "I told you to effing stay away from him!"
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Nice ending! I don't think you could have described the ensuing confrontation as well as the scenario that played out in my mind. (Or as badly?)
Interesting interpretation of the rules of this game. I enjoyed it, as it was not at all what I had envisioned the game to be. Good ending.
Thanks man. Sorry it took so long to finish. I'm not sure why, but this was probably the hardest thing I've ever written.
I really enjoyed this. I'm glad you finished.
I don't mind the length of the story-telling, just as long as it keeps coming. I won't mention any other writers that never finish the story I really liked. cough*cough*Elbows*cough*cough
Those who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones.
I'm with Radar - it was a very interesting and unusual interpretation of the 'rules'. I really liked it, but found myself wondering towards the end - how is it that he couldn't ever seem to sense the crazy intentions of these women?
I'd answer that, but I might get myself in trouble.
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