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I’ve wasted about one hour by eating and Cheez-Its and doing basically nothing, and another hunched over my guitar, huffing and trying to work out a maddening lick until my fingers hurt too much to play any more and I give up. Flopping sideways across my bed, my guts ache cavernously at the thought of what I’m missing. Head hanging off the side of the bed, I look upsidedown at the stack of laundry sitting on my spare bed, freshly folded by my mother a week ago. Sheaves of papers spread over my desk, calling out for completion and organization. I ignore them. A flashy movement catches the corner of my eye; it’s just a fish in the phosphorescent tank on my dresser. An algae-eater slurps up the sides of the glass, but it seems that he can never quite keep up with the growth. Fungus is starting to proliferate, covering the rocks and plastic plants with a mossy green. I make no move to clean the tank. All but three of the fish the tank once housed are already dead, anyway. A tinny dingling pricks through these mental embers and I am grudgingly forced to fire up the left side of my brain again. Jeans pocket. Cell phone. “Hello?” “Hey, what’s up.” “Not much, you?” “Nothing.” I hear the sound of chewing from the earpiece. “I’m playing minesweeper on large. I’m so close to beating it, but I’m stuck right now.” “…Okay?” “Anyway, we’re probably hanging out at Phil’s house tonight. Can you come?” The moment’s hesitation hangs, at least for me. Eddie doesn’t know what those few seconds of silence contain. I am thirsty, thirsty for excitement. Thirsty like a man who’s been crawling through the desert for years, blinded, gasping; tears would be streaming down his cheeks, but there is not enough liquid in his body to form tears. Finally—“Alright, I guess I’ll come.” I know this is the only offering I’m going to get tonight. It’s boredom in the midst of others or boredom with my family or by myself at home, and an unshakeable belief from society tells me I’m worthless if I stay home on a Friday night. Besides, I have to get outside of this box; I could at least look forward to the breath of fresh air on the walk from it to the car and from the car to the other box. “Phil said to come around eight.” “Alright, sounds good.” I flinch internally at my own falsity. “See ya then.” “See ya.” Mario Kart for N64 starts to get a little old after playing upwards of a dozen games and losing every single one of them. Especially when your opponents feel the need to remind you of how much you suck at every available opportunity. By this time, I have stopped trying to think of comebacks, instead choosing to steadily stuff my mouth with stale, over-salted popcorn and wash it down my throat with watery Gatorade. Finally my adversaries tire of steering two-dimensional cartoon characters around in endless circles. Instead, we switch to watching reruns of Spongebob Squarepants.
Something in me prevents me from issuing more than a minor complaint at the choice of show. It occurs to me that I’ve never really been completely honest with my friends. Maybe it’s a lack of balls that shuts me up; maybe it’s the alienating and egotistical belief that they wouldn’t understand, that they can’t see as far as I can see. The way I figure it, though, if they don’t even understand why I wouldn’t want to watch Spongebob Squarepants or Heavyweights for the seventh time or whatever other inane entertainment they come up with, then how could they understand this? It’s ironic how friendships form. Friends, who are supposed to be the people closest to your besides your family and accept you for “who you are,” often don’t even really know you, or only discover you, to their startlement, years into your relationship. What causes forges friendships, for the most part, is not similar interests or beliefs but mere coincidence, the chance of having spent time together. Oftentimes, interests will seem to coincide because you spend time with people in clubs or activities that you are also in, but that is about as far as the shared personality goes. There is no real correlation, no special likeness of souls required for what is termed friendship these days. But perhaps there is another kind of friendship out there…a real kind of brotherhood consisting of intimate collision of souls…. The tragedy of high school is that everyone is too insecure and self-conscious to ever do anything out of the blue, to break out of the petty social conventions we have rigged to give ourselves a shallow sense of security…to walk up to a complete stranger and start a conversation and perhaps discover something there that you would never have known. My dream throughout this time of my life, which I knew to be silly and naïve but still liked to imagine nevertheless, was for the band geeks to talk to the cheerleaders, the football jocks to socialize with the theater groupies, the science club to rendezvous with the softball team and break down all artificial barriers so that we could just be people, one big happy community. As a second semester senior, there is a curious widening of circles, a glimpse of what could have been. It seems that everyone has finally realized their own self-defeating follies, now that it’s too late. At the same time, though, each group of friends has been essentially fixed since freshman year, and there is no longer any point make the prodigious effort it would take to really revolutionize this network. This is the tragedy of high school, except what they don’t tell you is that it is really the tragedy of the human condition. All these thoughts rise like a bile in my head as I sit there, staring through the TV. I can hear my friends laughing at something on the show, oblivious to the discontent stirring within me. They seem to move in slow motion, their bodies shaking and their arms flailing as they heave with uncontrollable laughter. My mind is somewhere far away. I am called back to reality with an unpleasant jolt, though, when my brain automatically registers the sound of my name. “What?” I say hazily, trying to reorient myself in the concrete world. I look at the clock—10:21 P.M. “Didn’t you see that?” Eddie asks incredulously. “No, I kind of zoned out for a minute.” “Oh my god, you have to see this part. It’s so funny. Phil, rewind it.” Phil obediently scrolls backward with his DVR remote. I watch a glassy-eyed yellow sponge get rejected from his dream job as fry cook at the Krusty Krab, after which a bubblegum pink sea star makes some imbecile comment.
“Haha,” I chuckle halfheartedly. “Funny.” But it does nothing for the sour taste of restlessness that still fills my mouth. We are eighteen years old, for Chrissakes! In the prime of our lives! Young men at our age have embarked on stifling pilgrimages to new continents, have hitchhiked and hoboed across the country begging for scraps of food, have panned for gold, braved the cold, built trans-continental railroads; boys our age have shipped off to fight horrific wars in exotics and foreign lands! I count myself lucky to have so much freedom that I’ll never have to brave those kind of dreadful conditions, but is this the freedom young men struggled for themselves and us to enjoy? The creature in me rolled over, roiling fire in my belly. Perhaps it is just an overactive endocrine system, but does that make it any less real or important? What were we built for? What were we made to do? I sense, as always, the minutes ticking away, acutely aware of the small window of energy and vitality we are given in life before joints start to stiffen…. On the TV, the exuberant young sponge is running down the street, legs flying, spatula held high, shouting, “I’M READY! I’M READY! I’M READY-EADY-EADYEADY!” I feel you, Bob. I feel you. But I have the sad knowledge of what will be waiting for him at the end of his road. I’ve seen this episode before. Once I engage the TV, my mind temporarily goes blank, and the time swiftly steals away without my noticing it sneak by. Suddenly, I realize that Eddie and Michael are standing up and putting on their coats. I glance at the clock—10:42. “Are you guys leaving already?” I ask. “Yeah, I’m driving him home, and I still don’t have my senior license,” Eddie replies. That means it’s time for our little party to break up. I slowly retrieve my jacket and shoes as the other two let themselves out the back door. Once my shoes are on and my jacket is zipped, I turn to Phil again, who is still sitting on the couch, watching TV. “…Guess I’ll see you on Monday,” I say. “Thanks for having us over.” He turns his head and looks at me. “Yeah, see ya on Monday.” Then he turns back to the TV. After a second’s hesitation, I resolutely thrust down the handle of the storm door and push it open, careful to close the door behind me all the way so as not to let the cold in. Stepping out into the night, the chill suddenly hits me, and I shiver and tuck my chin down into my jacket collar. I take a few cautious steps out onto the icy driveway and then stop, realizing that there is more to see around me than my feet. I untuck my chin, tilt my face up toward the sky, and inhale a long, deep breath, letting it out in a relaxing whoosh. I then examine the sky, as is my habit every time I step outside, especially at night. I don’t know why; maybe it’s an instinctual urge left over from our caveman days to constantly check the weather; maybe I’m just reassuring myself that the sky is still there. It looks different every time; every sky has its own unique beauty. But no matter if it is cloudy, misty, or starry, it always has a pacifying effect on me. On this particular night, the clouds were thick enough to blot out the stars, but they did not cover the sky in a uniform blanket. There were subtle swirls of color; a little lighter here, a little darker there. The nearby streetlights cast a pale orange glow to offset the sky’s murky blueblack, and a tinge of a lighter, almost pinkish hue could be seen to the east, the residue of the neon and fluorescent lights of a shopping area. After losing myself in the vastness of
the sky for several seconds, I realize that I must look pretty stupid if my friend can still see me out the window, just standing there and staring up at nothing. That gets me motivated to move toward my forest green ’93 Mercury Villager. As I walk slowly up the driveway toward the minivan, my gaze travels in a circle around the cul-de-sac. The houses are all dark; their insides are a mystery. I wonder if any of them could be concealing one of those crazy suburban house parties you always see on TV and in the movies. Where does everybody go for the life-sustaining bang? It’s a secret that is being, has always been, and will always be kept from me. But I know it must exist —the true Fountain of Youth, the Grail. It could be right under my nose, and I wouldn’t even know it. The inside of my rusted minivan, if at all possible, feels even colder than the air outdoors. Since the heater will take a good ten minutes to blow air above fifteen degrees Fahrenheit and my house is only two minutes away, I don’t even bother to turn it on. I do, however, dig my iPod out of my pocket and hook it up to the tape deck converter, hoping to drown out the oppressive silence reminding me that the seat beside me is excruciatingly empty. After six months, I still haven’t gotten used to that feeling. Turning the console on, I glance at the luminescent green digits—10:47. Why did we have to leave so early? Although I have a senior license that allows me to drive at any hour, it is going to waste because most of my friends still have junior ones, which stipulate that they be home by eleven. There’s nothing I can do about it now, though, so I return my attention to my iPod and quickly skip through tracks in shuffle mode, looking for a song the memory of my ex-girlfriend hasn’t utterly ruined for me. I finally find one and press play. Julian Casablanca’s world-weary croon on The Strokes’ “Is This It?” washes over me. The drive home normally only takes two minutes, but I steer a more roundabout course along the meandering roads of my neighborhood. When I pull in, the headlights illuminate the bushes at the end of the driveway, where a spooked deer stands up, stares straight at me, and then crashes away through the underbrush. I let the car idle in the driveway a little longer to finish the song. Then I flick the headlights off and let my eyes slowly adjust to the darkness. Right before I turn the car off, I check the clock again. 10:51. Walking across my driveway, I involuntarily slow down and look up at the sky again. Still vast; still blue; still deep; still there. Inside, I lock the back door and turn off the outdoor lights as I’ve been trained to do when I’m the last one in. “I’m home!” I yell down the stairs to my parents. After putting my coat and hat away carefully in the closet, I trudge up the stairs to my room and shut the door. 10:53— much too early to go to bed. Instead I take my secondhand acoustic guitar out of its scratched brown leather case and try to play “Good Riddance.” My fingers won’t move fast enough. Frustrated, I move on to an easier song, “Doesn’t Remind Me” by Audioslave. I start off strumming delicately, but by imperceptible degrees grow faster and louder, louder and faster. I am not conscious of the flushed feeling in my cheeks and the thin layer of sweat on my skin until my dad comes in. “It’s 11:30,” he says, “getting a little late for guitar. I’m trying to go to sleep.” “You can hear me from all the way down the hall?” “Yeah.” I submit with a slight sigh and an “Alright. Goodnight.”
“Goodnight.” He starts to shut the door, then stops for a second and adds, “By the way, that hair is getting a little long. You might want to consider getting a haircut this weekend.” “Okay, I’ll think about it,” I say, just to make him go away. “Goodnight.” “Goodnight.” *** Friday, 5:13 P.M., one week later. Again I sit on the edge of my unmade bed. My motivation is lying sluggishly on the ground, and my discipline is too exhausted from a week of work to pick it up. Maybe I’ll play the guitar a little. Nah, I’ll get something to eat first. Then maybe sign onto AIM and see if anyone is on…. On my way to the kitchen pantry, I pass the closed door to my older sister’s room, which has been empty since she left for her first year of college in the fall. Picturing all the fun and exciting things she must be doing at college only deepens my present dissatisfaction. A call on my cell phone breaks into my thoughts once again. Before I take the phone out, though, I pause for just a split second. My mind flies involuntarily to that cute girl who sits in front of me in psychology…No, that’s ridiculous. It’s only Eddie again. “Hello?” I answer in the usual neutral tone. The weekend evening ritual commences. “Hey.” No introduction is required. “Are you doing anything tonight?” “Well…I don’t have any plans yet,” I admit grudgingly. “Want to hang out with Phil and me, and maybe some other people?” Damn, the old ambiguous invitation. Impossible to turn down unless you already have plans, and I’ve already divulged that I don’t. It sucks you in by masquerading as something better than it is; it always sounds like more people are coming. But I’ve learned from experience to assume that anyone whose attendance is in doubt will not be there. So, by my calculations, that makes the count a whopping three people. Of course, I accept the invitation, which at least provides the pretense of actually going out. Eddie says he will call me later with the time and place, which will undoubtedly be somebody’s basement. No sooner have I put the phone in my pocket than it rings again. Wait…what’s this? “Hey Alex, it’s Ruthie.” She is a girl with whom I am friendly in school but who usually hangs out with a different, more popular crowd than mine. Not exactly attractive and not my type at all, but she’s nice enough. I’m surprised by her call. “Hey, Ruthie! How’s it going?” “It’s pretty good. I was just calling to see if you’re doing anything tonight.” “Well, I was actually just talking to Eddie about doing something, but why?” “Oh. Well, I just got invited to this party by Mary Smith, and after our conversation in English today, I thought you might want to come. …Her parents aren’t going to be home.” A party? An actual house party? My mind leaps to fantastic imaginings of the most epic bash ever thrown this millennium or last. This is the kind of opportunity I’ve always outwardly scorned and secretly dreamed of. Rarely do I get the chance to hang out
with anyone other than my circle of six or seven close friends. I try to sound nonchalant. “Ah…yeah, I’d go. That sounds fun. What time would it be?” “Well…right now we’re actually not sure if there’s going to be a party or not. It depends on if we can…get anything. But it won’t be until about eight if there is a party.” “Okay…” My mind is still buzzing, trying to process this new development. “What about Eddie? I already told him I’d do something with him.” “He can come, too.” “He probably won’t want to come.” Parties aren’t really his thing. “Well…you could just make something up to tell him…but I don’t want to make you lie. It’s up to you. I won’t be offended if you can’t come.” There was a moment’s silence. Finally, I say, “No, I’ll come.” The thought of lying to my friend bothers me slightly, but not enough to deter me from my golden chance. I decide to wait and find out from Ruthie if the party is actually happening before I say anything to Eddie. I check my watch; it’s 5:32. This leaves me with about two hours to kill, not including dinner. What can I do in two hours? Then it hits me—I’ll get a haircut! This shaggy hair has been looking worse and worse every day, and it’s annoying to wash. Who knows? Maybe they’ll actually make it look decent for once. Having made this resolution, I go downstairs and ask my mom for twenty bucks and for permission to use her car because mine is in the shop. I then call Supercuts to make sure they’re open and to get my name on the waiting list. Accelerating after a stop sign, I admire the smooth handling of my mom’s new burgundy Toyota Sienna in comparison to my bucket of bolts. I pass a small metal sign on my left that marks the border of our idyllic little suburb, but I have no idea what district I am entering. I try to figure out exactly which townships own the land around the South Hills Village shopping area, but quickly give up. It sits at the junction of at least four different townships, yet is not really a part of any of them. The whole zone is really just a congested mess of traffic lights, chain stores, parking lots, a few apartments, and more stores. It is a non-place, an area devoid of any local character, like an airport. I pull into the perfect spot, directly in front of Supercuts, at 6:18 P.M. The pure white fluorescent lights of the store shine out of the expansive windows, lighting up the already dusky air and gleaming on my car. A bright red sign hangs above the store, proclaiming its name shamelessly to the world around. All the other stores crowding my field of vision display similar signs, competing for the attention of commuters. The signs shine with a clean crispness, their letters sharply defined, unlike the slightly fuzzy glow of the moon. I feel cool and urbane as I lock the car with the little keychain remote, which my own car doesn’t have; I pull open the door and then I’m through the glass wall. The chemically sweet but not unpleasant smell of hair products greets my nose as I hang my jacket on the coat hanger and walk up to the counter. “Hi, I’m Alex…I’m on the list,” I say, wondering how you’re supposed to introduce yourself without sounding dumb at these places. What would someone like Danny Ocean have said? “Okay,” the girl says, searching for my name. “Have you been here before?” “Uh, yes,” I respond. She locates my information on the computer and asks me to verify my phone number. As she fuddles around with the computer, one of the hairdressers walks up and says, “I can take you now.”
“Okay,” I say and start to follow her back without really looking at her. Then she turns around and asks, “Do you want a wash? We’re giving out free washes today.” I look up at her, and my initial thought is She’s pretty good looking. She’s young, college-age or maybe just out of college. Her hair has that fake-blond, highlighted look that usually bothers me, but tonight, for some reason, I don’t mind it. Her face is roundish, with a cute button nose, and well tanned; it’s obvious she uses a salon. However, I only look at her for a second. As I start to talk, my eyes involuntarily slide off to the side, a bad habit I can’t seem to break. To her question, I respond, “Sure. If it’s free, why not?” Then I follow her to the very back of the room and sit down in the green vinyl chair in front of the sink. I recline and fit my neck comfortably into the nook in the sink, and she goes to work, shooting a warm jet of water through my hair. Not sure whether to close my eyes or keep them open, I decide to close them because there is a bright light directly above me, and besides, looking up is kind of awkward when she leans over me to reach the other side of my head. As the girl washes, she periodically issues simple commands such as “up” or “down,” but she makes them sound more like suggestions, each time gently nudging my head in that direction. I comply quickly, and before long she doesn’t have to use words anymore—my head just tilts wherever her hands guide it, without conscious thought. I can’t see her face, which is above and behind me, and I have already forgotten what it looks like; all I can see when I open my eyes are her bare forearms crossing and recrossing my face. By this time, I’ve relaxed but I’m not drowsy. Unfortunately, this coziness must end quickly as the wash is soon over. Again I follow my haircutter, this time to the middle of the room where revolving black chairs line the walls. I sit down in the seat she indicates, which is facing outward toward the room, and wait passively as she throws a big plastic sheet over me, fastens it at my neck, and finishes it off with a Roman collar made of scratchy paper. Finally she spins me around so I am facing the mirror. “So, what are we doing today? Just a trim?” I study my hair in the mirror as I talk. “Well, I want a little more than a trim. I’ve been growing my hair out a while, but I’m sick of it now, so you can probably take off a good one-and-a-half, maybe two inches.” “Alright…about this much?” she asks in a bored voice belonging to an old diner waitress. “Yeah, that should be good.” “How ‘bout the sides and back? D’you want me to cut out the ears?” Cut out the ears? Oh, I get it. “Yeah, clean up all that stuff.” “And the sideburns? They’re goin’a look a lot longer once I cut your hair. D’you want them about mid-ear?” She snaps her gum. I’m about to say yes, but then on a whim I say, “Actually, can you just leave them long? I’ve always wanted to see what I would look like with long sideburns.” “Alright, sure, that’s fine. I can always take ‘em up afterward if you don’t like it.” With that, she goes to work, clipping my hair with the quick confidence of a seasoned veteran, and I settle in, letting her take control again. After a minute or two of silence, she makes a compulsory attempt at conversation, asking, “Is it still snowing out there?”
Normally, small talk is not my forte, but for some reason, my tongue is with me this evening. “Nah, but it’s pretty cold.” “Yeah, it’s been freezing the last couple of days.” “But not as bad as last week,” I remind her. “Yeah, last week was horrible. Just walkin’ out to the car…” “Yeah, and it’s especially bad if you have to park outside.” “I have to park outside, too. I was afraid my car wouldn’t even start last week. I drive this old Volvo, I think it’s a ’98, and it’s just unbelievable…it has so many problems. The heat dun’t even work.” She talks with a medium-level Pittsburgh accent, a strange mixture of New Yowk curl and Southern drawl with a hint of Chicah-go thrown in for good measure. Still, it doesn’t make her sound less intelligent like it does for most people. She seems like a genuinely nice person. “I feel your pain,” I respond in sympathy. “I’ve got this ‘93 Mercury Villager, and it’s pretty much falling apart. The heat works, but that’s about it. Actually, it’s in the shop right now.” “Yeah, every time it breaks down you gotta take it in to the shop, and then they charge you like 200 dollars.” “Yeah. Don’t you hate how every time you take your car in, it’s like they find something new that’s wrong with it? Even if it’s just an inspection. There’s always something wrong. It’s like they break your car on purpose so you have to pay them to fix it.” “And it’s even worse for us girls, ‘cuz we don’t know nuthin’ ‘bout cars. They think they can take advantage of us.” “Well, I’m a guy, and I don’t know anything, either, so it doesn’t help me at all.” Our conversation lapses into silence for a long minute. Finally, she starts it up again: “So, what are you doin’ tonight?” For a second, my mind leaps fantastically, but then quickly returns to solid ground. What would this girl, who is at least three years older than me, want to do with me? She’s just making friendly conversation. Falling back into my pleasantries voice, I reply, “Oh, I’m not really sure yet. I might hang out with a few friends, or I might go to this party.” I almost explode from my self-satisfaction at being able to say I am going to a party. “What about you?” “Geez, I keep forgetting that it’s Friday!” she exclaims. “I’m here ‘til nine and back at nine tomorrow, so I haven’t even thought about what I’m doing tonight.” “You’re working ‘til nine and you have to come back at nine tomorrow morning? Wow, that sucks.” My sorrow for her was genuine. “Yeah, I actually have to do that pretty often. It’s not that bad though; I mean, I can still go out. Nothing really happens before nine anyway. I’m usually just really tired in the morning. I’ve pulled all-nighters before…” “You’ve pulled all-nighters and then come back at nine to cut people’s hair? I don’t know if that’s a good idea. Somebody might lose an ear,” I say jokingly. Man, this girl parties hard. She chuckles. “Well, I usually just drink a few red bulls and I’m fine,” she explains good-naturedly. Moving on to a new topic, she asks, “So, are you still in high school, or…”
Once again my mind flies to ridiculous thoughts—Why is she so interested?—but again I manage to stop myself. “Yeah,” I affirm, “I’m a senior. And you’re…in college?” She acknowledges that she is a junior at a local institution, the name of which I don’t remember. Then she returns to her original subject. “Betcha can’t wait to get out.” “Oh yeah. You got that right.” “Yeah, I remember how much I wanted to get out of high school and go to college. But now, looking back on it, high school was kind of nice. You don’t really have responsibilities. I mean, yeah, you have homework and stuff, maybe a part-time job, but you don’t really have to work. You’re not on your own; there’s a lot less pressure on you.” “Well, yeah, but being in college must have its benefits.” “Yeah,” she says, not sounding quite convinced. Then she seems to let it go, suddenly brightening up. “Well, at least I’m turning 21 next weekend. That’ll be nice.” “Ah, man, I wish I was 21.” “Yeah…” A pensive look takes her face. “It’s good, but then in another way it’s not. I mean, what is there to look forward to after that?” “Yeah, what is there after that…” I try to force an empathic tone and knowing smile, but it fades away. What is there after that? What is there after that? What about graduating from school, once and for all? What about joining the workforce with the fiery idealism, optimism, and drive of a young person out to make your mark on the world? What about your friends? What about having fun with the people who don’t require an introduction on the phone, just doing nothing for the sake of doing nothing? What about dating? What about finding that one person in the world whom you love better than yourself, for whom you would give anything just to be near every day? What about finding out that that one person feels the same way about you? What about getting married? What about having kids, starting your own family, seeing yourself and the person you love inextricably blended together in the new life you have created? What about seeing those kids grow up, making you proud to be their progenitor and inspiring you afresh to strive for a better world as their protector? What about seeing them leave your house, seeing them take their turns to blossom as independent forces in the world, but ever grateful to you? What about reconnecting with your one true love as empty nesters, just the two of you again, companions on the journey of life? What about the day when you can look back on everything you ever did, all of your successes and your failures, say with a satisfied mind, “It is good,” and rest? For the first time, I look at my haircutter closely in the mirror, actually taking in what I see. There is the same face I saw before, but what I hadn’t noticed were her eyes— blue, big and round, almost like a goggling baby’s, but without the curiosity. They see everything, but do not care. They are the empty, listless eyes you see in National Geographic pictures of starving children from third-world countries, except these eyes before me were hurt right here in the cradle of suburbia. We make some more small talk, nothing important, as she finishes cutting my hair. She remembers to leave the sideburns on like I had told her to. I turn my head to one side and the other, telling her the cut looks good. It really does, too, a rare occurrence. I want to tell her it’s the best haircut I’ve ever had, which I think might actually be true. I wish I could hug her to thank her. But in the end, I just pay the cashier and give my girl
her tip. Oh, the barriers we construct for ourselves. But I make sure to give her three dollars instead of my usual two. I thank her again (calmly) and try to think of a witty parting remark, such as “Don’t stay up too late tonight!” But nothing comes to mind quickly enough, so I just walk out the door without looking back. As I’m leaving, I wonder if I’ll ever see her—I still don’t know her name—again. It’s not very likely, seeing as I can’t remember ever having seen the same hairdresser twice at Supercuts. I wonder what she’s studying in college (I should have asked her) and whether she’ll still be there, or in some other brightly lit barbershop, cutting hair when she’s forty years old. As I step outside and exhaust fumes hit my nose, my cell phone vibrates in my pocket. It’s Ruthie again. Oh crap! I still don’t know what I’m going to do about Eddie. I get in the car distractedly and talk to her while navigating out of the shopping district. “Hey, Ruthie. Do you have an update for me?” “Yeah, um…we couldn’t get anything, so there isn’t going to be a party. Mary and I are still hanging out, though, if you want to come.” “Wait, so there’s no party?” My cognitive dissonance dissolves. “Alright, well that’s fine with me; I was thinking about just hanging out with Eddie like I said I would anyway.” The choice has been forestalled, this time. “Okay. Well if you change your mind, we’ll be here.” “Alright, thanks. See ya.” I park my mom’s car in the garage, and I’m home. As I step onto the ice-crusted driveway, wider than the tundra of Antarctica, my gaze drawn to the heavens for the first time since I left the haircutters. The night is blessedly clear; there’s not a cloud in the sky to obscure the pinprick stars. The moon is a sharp crescent, sharper than the signs on the stores, and by looking the right way, not directly at it but sidelong, I could even see the outline of its darker side. Orion, king of the stars, outshines all the rest. He watches over me like a faceless but noble guardian, prepared to slice through the night air with his silver blade should the need arise. I know he’s saved me for a time.
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