(A/N: Hey all, I finally got an art gallery set up for spoiler-free IC art that I’ve made. It doesn’t have everything just yet ((still combing through stuff I’ve made)), but you can check it out here. I’m eventually going to put a gift art gallery up once I have permission from all of the wonderful artists that have drawn things for IC. But uhhh…ngl, that one’s gonna be spoiler-heavy lol.)
A blank word document stared Mitch in the face.
He’d been assigned an album review of an artist that he was unfamiliar with, which initially excited him. Usually he wrote other pop culture drivel, such as celebrity news regarding someone that he didn’t care about. It’d been his ongoing punishment after posting one too many opinion pieces that leaned into things like politics and ethics over current events. His editor claimed that she didn’t want him fired, but Mitch knew that her boss was waiting for any excuse to cut ties with him. So for now, he kept a low profile and played by the rules until something better came along.
But their newly acquired sister publication needed the review done ASAP, since they were stretched tight after a round of layoffs during the sale. Despite his reservations due to moral conflicts, his editor pushed him to take the assignment, treating it as if she was doing him a favor. “You enjoy doing reviews,” she reminded him. He didn’t have the energy to argue the nuances.
But even after a few rotations, he still couldn’t focus. And the words weren’t coming out even when he finally did absorb what he was listening to.
“Who actually cares about this?” he shouted at the otherwise empty room, and his head dropped into his hands.
Several days passed since his temporary relocation. He spoke with Jodie on the phone, and she barely held it together. It took many attempts to clarify that she hadn’t caused this, that he was overwhelmed and needed a little space. After that conversation finished, he called Ann to reschedule an appointment that he missed, and expressed his remorse to her.
Avi continued to touch base, mostly sending pictures of Estrella or short videos of himself practicing guitar. Mitch was barely able to get through the first one, and couldn’t bring himself to watch anymore since he kept breaking down when he’d go to watch them. Without Avi, he was utterly disconsolate; not so much in a longing way, but in the way that Avi made him feel safe and free of judgment, like a shawl that he wrapped around his shoulders with on a frigid night and warmed his soul. It was similar to how he missed Jodie, but also entirely different.
When the absence grew so potent that he could feel an ulcer forming, Mitch came within striking distance of admitting to Avi how much he missed him. The text was drafted and ready to be sent, but he couldn’t bring himself to commit to it. The grief-stricken look on Avi’s face before Mitch took flight haunted him incessantly, and he didn’t want to add anymore to that weight.
He thought about Nate too often, and every time he did, he went out for a smoke. In a deliberate act of self harm, he combed through Nate’s social media to try to catch a glimpse of remorse or sadness. When that didn’t satisfy him, he pulled up old text messages as both a way of reminding himself to never fall for anyone again, but to also look for any possible red flags that he should have noticed. The various heart emojis exchanged in the past nauseated him, and there were so many of them. “Asshole,” he muttered, gaining nothing other than pain. That’s what you get, you stupid slut, his mind helpfully supplied. Broken. Impossible for anyone to love. Only useful for a good time.
He threw his phone to the other side of the sofa, and once more returned to the blank document. During the onslaught of intrusive thoughts -where he entertained the idea of quitting journalism to either open a head shop, or take a job at the regional hospital because the options in Rutterburg weren’t exactly plentiful- he remembered the radio gig he had that upcoming Sunday.
“FUCK!” he yelled and went horizontal on the couch, clawing at his face and kicking his legs due to frustration. Now he had no idea if he’d even make it. Another thing to throw onto his monument of failure.
Dragging himself upright, he readied another cigarette and started the slow crawl to the front door; he’d need another pack of American Spirits by the end of the day at the rate he was going. As he pulled on his coat and hat, the sound of tires squeaking on snowpack caught his attention, and he looked out the kitchen window to see if someone made a wrong turn. Unsurprisingly, it happened often out here since the poor reception often rendered GPS satellites useless.
An old green Subaru Forester pulled up the dirt road and parked under the carport. Moments later, Roland’s lean frame came into view, and trailing him was Juno, the family’s elderly Border Collie.
Mitch scrambled over to the door and threw it open.