The universe, however, was seemingly unfinished with peddling its cruel agenda. Mitch’s pocket vibrated, and he pulled his phone out. He didn’t even need to unlock it to see that the message was from Calvin, and that it was a demand -not a request- that he come get his stuff by the end of the week, or it’d be tossed out. He threw his back and choked out a laugh, though it was more akin to cough from the way that his throat tightened and strangled the noise.
He weighed his options. Realistically, it wouldn’t be the worst thing if his meager possessions were thrown away. Sure, it wouldn’t be sustainable to keep using Jodie’s laptop for work, but that could be said for everything else currently going on in his life. He’d miss the guitar that he’d bought for himself as a teenager with the money from his first paycheck. He’d grieve over the small mementos given to him by his mother, mostly letters and photographs put off on digitizing due to complicated emotions that surrounded them; but his uncle had a cache of that sort of stuff as well. Cendre, his worn stuffed rabbit, given to him at birth, was probably in the trash already since Calvin always thought it was tacky and disgusting (even if he didn’t use those exact words).
Although these things were irreplaceable, it may be the price to pay to never have to interact with his ex again.
As he mulled over the two options, leaning more towards letting it all go, his shoulder flared up in pain. The health insurance situation kept him tethered, and that was enough to push him over the edge. Tears welled up, and he whined “C’mon, not now,” while throwing his arm over his face. The locker rooms were nearby, he could hide in one of the bathroom stalls there and not risk anyone seeing him like this. Just because his life had blown apart into shrapnel didn’t mean that anyone else needed to be caught in the aftermath.
Especially at a birthday party, of all places.
The creak of the kitchen door ripped him right out of the self-flagellation. His head snapped so fast that it was almost as disorienting as whiplash. There stood Avi, perhaps the last person that he wanted to see, still nothing more than a stranger. His hand stayed on the doorknob, and his face transitioned from surprise to gentle concern. Mitch desperately wanted to scream at him to leave, unleash his anguish and fury on literally anyone instead of continuing to bottle it up, but he restrained himself. He didn’t have the energy, and no one deserved to be on the receiving end of such unchecked aggression
And it wasn’t that he was angry at Avi, or that he didn’t want to deal with him. Avi just represented everything that he wasn’t, and he didn’t want to face his own thriving antithesis at such a low point.
“Jodie wanted me to tell you to grab the ice cream from the freezer,” Avi started to explain, but then stopped. “Are you…are you OK?”
“Does it look like I’m-” Mitch snapped, then took a deep breath to shut up.
“I’m sorry, that was…” Avi shook his head. “Uh, you know what? Lemme just grab the stuff, I’ll leave you alone.”
Although those were the exact words that Mitch was convinced that he wanted to hear, his insides sharply twisted. He was drowning, despite so many ships that passed by, moving on without him, leaving him to be rolled over by the enormous waves. Leaving him to die. But the fault was his own, he did nothing to signal his location or indicate that he needed help.
When Avi’s back faced him, Mitch blurted out, “My boyfriend broke up with me.”
Avi’s head swiveled away from the freezer, the surprised expression back in full force. “Oh shit, I’m so sorry.”
Mitch’s mouth hung open slightly, shocked those words tumbled from his own mouth. He hoped that Avi would resume his errand, but they stared at one another. “He’s-” words wriggled out again of their own accord, faster than he could reel them back. “He did it the day after I got injured…” Trailing off, Mitch clutched his right arm, either to illustrate his point or to try to force himself to stop talking, he couldn’t tell. His mouth gained full independence. “I gotta get my stuff back, like, soon, really soon, or he’s gonna-” Another manic laugh forced out, wet and thick, as though water built up in his lungs and flooded the room. He released his arm, dropped his forehead into his palm, and tugged at his hair. “I don’t know what I’m doing. I’m sorry.”
“How far away does he live?” Avi’s voice gently broke through and deescalated the horrible white noise that deafened Mitch.
“Southern Connecticut. Uh, like three-ish hours from here?”
“OK. Do you just need a ride to get your stuff?” asked Avi.
Mitch blinked, then looked up in disbelief. “What?”
“Because of your rotator cuff? I’m assuming you can’t drive, right?”
“That’s right,” Mitch warily responded.
“So…I can drive you?” Avi spoke as if he was saying the most obvious thing in the entire world, like he was giving away the answer to 2+2.
“Wait, what? Why?” Mitch’s nose wrinkled in confusion.
“Iunno, we’re roommates?” Rubbing the back of his neck, Avi sighed. “And we work at the same place, I assume we’re gonna have to get used to being around one another sooner or later.”
“It’s a three hour drive,” Mitch reiterated. “That’s one way. Six hour round trip.”
“That’s fine,” nodded Avi, a bit too enthusiastically for Mitch’s liking.
“Yeah man, it is!” For the first time since they met, Avi dropped the pleasantries and sounded exasperated. “Look, if you don’t want a ride, just say so. But it seems like you could use a break from…dunno, this?”
“Yes, but you barely know me!” Mitch exclaimed, the hysterics slipping out. His bottom lip trembled and he began to curl inward. Avi’s face softened. He walked away from the fridge and strode across the room, gingerly sitting down on the loveseat next to Mitch. They sat in silence for a few seconds, and Mitch sniffed.
“I don’t have any ulterior motives, if that’s the concern,” Avi softly spoke. “Aside the aforementioned ‘we live and work together’ thing. And maybe I want to get on my boss’ good side to avoid paying rent for the foreseeable future. Point is, I’m not gonna go all serial killer on you or whatever.”
“That sounds like something a serial killer would say,” Mitch joked, and he prayed that it stuck the landing; he breathed easy when Avi grinned.
“Fair, fair. But I don’t think they target people that they know, especially not the ones that they live with. So that should disqualify me.”
“OK.” Mitch went quiet, then closed his eyes and nodded in surrender. “If you’re actually fine with driving six hours to lend a hand to someone that you barely know, yes, I’d really appreciate it. I’ll even give you gas money.”
“Great, just let me know when. My schedule’s pretty open until next week.” After lightly patting Mitch’s back, Avi stood and returned to the freezer.
“Is Saturday fine? Or is that too soon or-”
“Saturday’s perfect. Lemme know if you have any bands that you’d want for the road trip playlist.” Pulling out cartons of ice cream, Avi juggled them and took his leave. He repeated “Saturday” under his breath and shutting the door behind him, leaving Mitch alone to stare vacantly into space.