Oreos for Breakfast
Westly is staring at the ceiling of the grungy flat that’s not his, lying next to someone who is also not his. He’s glad for that at least. He can’t remember her name, and the guilt at not knowing seems far away. She rolls over, slings a warm arm across his stomach and a leg across his hips. He feels filthy, a deep uncleanness that makes his stomach flip. He squirms out from under her sweaty limbs, pulls on his jeans, and tee shirt and leaves.
Taking the elevator down six floors, he wonders vaguely if he could get a cup of coffee at this hour or if he even still has his keys. He needs a shower. He wants to scrub the smell and the fluids off his skin, wash away another bad decision. The elevator smells a little like cigarettes, with a subtle undertone of perfume. Westly stabs the ground floor button a few more times with his finger, hoping to speed its descent.
He vows to stop having one-night stands because he can’t remember how to get home and his skin feels like tar. Though, he knows he should be used to feeling dirty. He feels filthy when his friends stop him in the streets, their questions probing and careless. He feels vile when a girl or a guy buys him a drink, and he feels disgusting moaning his best friend’s name into the night air, someone else beneath or above him.
The night’s cold and he’s pretty sure he left his jacket at the bar. There’re no street signs, and the purple darkness robs the street of any familiarity. He decides to take refuge in a nearby gas station, the kind with bread and canned soup that’s open all night. The tall, spindly lights over the gas pumps, a beacon in the darkness, draw him in.
As he enters, and with the whoosh of automatic doors, the smell of Pine-sol, he realizes this Sunoco’s the one a few blocks from his apartment. He isn’t lost after all. Yet, he finds himself unwilling to go home. He grabs a red hand-basket off a stack by the doors.
Westly wanders the aisles of the little gas station market. Lingering between the snacks and toiletries, he contemplates what to buy. He picks up a bag of cookies, the package overly bright in the harsh fluorescent lighting, Oreos. He’d rather buy junk food he doesn’t need or want than face his home and his bed. The cashier’s used to strange people buying strange food at strange hours and she doesn’t even look up from her ipod.
Whatever alcohol he’d consumed earlier in the night has worn off, and with sobriety comes the things he tries not to think about; her beautiful green eyes, and easy laugh, her hands, how they would flit to and fro like small birds as she told him stories about her coworkers, her melodic voice saying his name.
West, you need to stop calling me. And texting. Just stay away from me. We aren’t friends anymore, and I swear to god if I find you outside my apartment one more time I’m calling the cops.
She hates him.
He throws a package of Oreos into the little hand basket and then three Snickers - the new kind, with almonds. He heads toward the coolers and the energy drinks. Taking no heed of brand or flavor he heaps five cold cans on top of the Oreos, ignoring the sound of breaking cookies. The basket contains enough sugar and caffeine to keep him up all night, most of the day too. He doesn’t want to sleep. Not if it means dreaming of her, and it almost always does.
Westly plops the basket onto the counter, startling the girl behind it. She takes out one of her ear buds, the tiny dangling speaker blaring noise. He stares carefully over her left shoulder at the cigarettes and liquor.
While she scans his things she glances at him, quick looks she probably thinks he doesn’t notice. He knows what she sees, uneven blond hair that curls around his ears, straight nose, deep-set brown eyes, thin chapped lips, a pleasant face. Nothing about him screams stalker.
Gathering the plastic bags with his food, he slides his debit card over the chipped counter. She runs it through the reader, smiling at him now. He doesn’t remember the balance of his checking account, but it’s safe to say that his Oreos are going to overdraft. Another thirty-five dollars for being too lazy to transfer money.
“Kinda late for energy drinks, isn’t it?” she says, pink lips stretched over pink gums.
“Probably.” Westly takes his receipt and tries to avoid her bright blue eyes as he retreats back into the night. Without his jacket the wind pulls warmth out of his flesh and makes the small hairs on his arms rise. The thin material of his shirt doesn’t help. He resigns himself to going back to his apartment.
It’s five blocks, illuminated by sickly street lamps and occasional headlights. The sidewalk’s uneven, rising and falling like small concrete mountains, pressed up by tree roots, depressed by erosion. He watches his green Chucks as he walks, trying not to trip. The plastic bag gets heavier with every step, and he considers eating a Snickers or two, just to relieve the thin straining handles.
He doesn’t really need any of it. His cupboards and refrigerator at home are full of slowly spoiling organic vegetables and whole grain bread, a gift from his concerned accountant friend, Nick. He vows to eat it. Maybe eggs and toast in the morning, pack his lunch for work, stop being the kind of person whose friends feel like they have to feed him. Tomorrow he’ll stop wallowing, clean his apartment, and eat real food. Tomorrow he’ll stop tormenting himself. Its over, done, she’ll never speak to him again.
He tries to crush the urge to take out his cell phone and see if there’re any calls, or forgiving texts. There wouldn’t be, haven’t been, never will be any. He rubs the screen with two fingers through the denim of his pocket, as if somehow it could relay his longing.
His building looms into view, a grey shape against a dark sky. The building was built sometime in the late 1800’s, converted into apartments a while later. He used to love the curling stonework, arches framing windows and the double entrance doors. Now, it just looks ominous, the gargoyles accusing him with their stares. His apartment’s on the first floor, in the back. He unlocks the front gate, then the door with the key he had been almost certain was in his lost jacket. Luck or foresight, he can’t decide.
The hallway is that off-white of schools and prisons, the kind of non-color that makes it uncomfortable to linger. He closes the short distance to his door, 1C attached to the metal door. His apartment isn’t furnished so much as heaped, clothes and blankets strewn across his threadbare couch, countertops and tables covered in papers from work, candy bar wrappers and empty cans. It smells like the floor of a movie theater, sticky and sickly sweet, with an overtone of mold.
He abandons the bag of food as soon he is passes the threshold, dropping it onto mud-caked boots. Catching one of the Red Bulls that escapes and rolls for the cover of the couch, he drifts deeper into the room. He cracks open the lid and takes a large gulp to push back the encroaching exhaustion that presses behind his eyes. The liquid’s thick, coating his tongue and leaving the taste of chemicals that masquerade as fruit. Westly collapses into the musty folds of his couch, wiggling a little to settle into the tangle of blanket and navy blue sweatshirt. As soon as he relaxes, toeing off his shoes, letting the tension out of his limbs, the things he’s been trying all night not to think about rear up like hungry beasts.
There are holes in his life now, aching and bruised, that he tries to fill up with strangers and junk food. It’s sort of like being haunted, he muses, by your own failings. Westly takes another draw on the can. It’s why he tries not to sleep, as impossible as that may be. He knows as soon as he closes his eyes, he’ll see himself, pounding on her door, desperate and demanding, wanting to know why she wasn’t returning his calls. He would see the way his hands tightened on her thin wrists, rubbing the bones together, see fear and disgust in eyes that use to look at him with warmth.
Jealous isn’t what he’d call it, more like obsessed. It’s only with the distance the last three months have given him that he sees how crazy he was. There’s no other words for it, he stalked his best friend until she was so scared of him that she got the police involved and then moved away.
The door handle rattles with unlocking tumblers. He knows who it is without even looking. He should never have given her a key. She sidesteps Oreos and a pair of jeans, bare feet silent on the carpet.
“Couldn’t sleep?” he asks.
“No. Heard your keys.”
Eydie starts picking up shirts and discarded socks, collecting them into an orderly pile. He watches her petite form putter around his living room, clothed in umbrella printed pajama bottoms and a purple tank top. He knows she’s pretty, her thick dark hair pulled back from pleasing features, pointed small chin, round cheeks, upturned nose, hazel eyes. He knows he should tell her to stop cleaning his apartment and come to bed with him. It’s why she’s here, after all, keeping him company at two-thirty in the morning.
“What have you eaten?” she asks, arms full of his laundry.
He lifts his Red Bull can.
“I’m taking your Snickers and your energy drinks. You need to sleep.”
He sinks down further into the couch.
“You need to talk about it.”
“I don’t want to remember it. Fuck talking about it.”
He trembles, shaking his head to fling the memories out, but they cling like spiders to his webs of thoughts. The way he slinked through shadows, following, watching, wanting to know why he wasn’t the one who basked in her bright smiles and soft words. How he steamed open envelopes to read mail that wasn’t his, called six, seven, eight times a day, texted in between and showed up when those went unanswered.
“I haven’t heard from Jordan.”
Westly forces out a laugh, gravely and short. “Yeah, me either.”
Jordan and Eydie had both worked for the same publishing company, which is how they had become friends. He’d met Eydie at Jordan’s birthday party the previous year, and been delighted that she lived in his building and could water his plants when he went on vacation. If only he’d known then how she would wedge herself into his life.
He realizes the only way to get rid of Eydie would be to manhandle her back across the hall and take his key back.
“Can we not talk about this?”
“Which parts? How you lost it? Or the restraining order you can now add to your resume?”
“Yeah, fuck me,” she mumbles, then louder, “Your apartment smells like ass.”
He shrugs, waiting for her to storm out. Though, oddly, he doesn’t relish the thought of solitude. She doesn’t leave. She wanders into the kitchen and puts water onto boil in his dented teakettle.
“Did you even go to work today or just buy junk food and maybe get herpes?” she asks.
“I went, mostly worked on fixing other people’s shitty code.”
“It was probably shitty because they didn’t get any sleep.” She looks pointedly at him as she takes a cup out of the cabinet by the microwave.
“It was shitty because the most they should be trusted with is bagging groceries at Kroger.”
They lapse into silence. Eydie pulls a box of tea bags out of somewhere. He didn’t think he had any tea, but knowing her, she stashed it on a previous visit. There’re other things, he’s sure, that she’s hidden in cabinets and drawers, things normal people have, like Q-tips. Again he thinks, I should never have given her a key. But she watered his plants and got his mail when he’d gone to visit his brother for three weeks and even vacuumed before he returned home. How long ago was that? Six months at least, probably more, and ever since then, she had been slowly moving in.
It isn’t all bad, if it wasn’t for her the last few months his apartment would probably have been condemned. And, oddly, she hadn’t sided with Jordan and shunned him. Not that he doesn’t deserve it.
The teakettle produces a breathy whine. Eydie takes it off the burner and fills the cup with steaming water. She lets the tea bag steep for a few minutes before removing the tea bag and throwing it away. Careful not to spill, she approaches him with slow steps.
She takes his Red Bull and hands him the cup. He realizes that tea’s exactly what he wants. The tea is a musky black that warms his hands and burns his tongue. It needs sugar, but he drinks it anyway. She settles herself onto the couch next to him, a small bundle of arms and legs and umbrella pajamas.
“You’re not a bad person, West,” she says.
“No, not crazy either.”
“Well, you’re the only one who thinks that.”
“I doubt it.”
He drinks the tea in slow sips, feeling the warmth seep into his cold skin. His mind quiets a little, a relief he can hardly remember having. It’s nice not to think, to concentrate on breathing and tea.
“Jordan is kind of a bitch anyway.” Eydie says, the corner of her lips turning up.
“Hmm. Why’s that?”
“She could have been an adult and told you to knock it off, instead of getting a restraining order. How long were you friends? Years?”
“And she thought avoiding you was the answer?”
He doesn’t respond, unwilling to explain to her the depths of his fixation, how if the situation had been reversed he would have done the same thing.
“Besides, she hasn’t returned any of my e-mails. Like hanging out with you is catching or something.”
“Sorry, you know what I mean.”
They lapse into silence, Westly drinking the last of his tea as Eydie picking at the skin around her thumb nail. He can hear the muted rumble of traffic and the music one of his neighbors is playing. Apparently he and Eydie aren’t the only ones awake so late on a Thursday night.
The promise of sleep pulls at the back of his head, making his eyes droop. Suddenly, he feels warm fingers tangle in the hair behind his left ear, fingertips grazing his neck. They move in slow circles, rhythmic and soothing. Eydie moves closer, leans into him, wiggles her toes under his thigh.
He knows he should tell her to stop, that she’s not Jordan and he doesn’t want her, that she’s not some stranger he can fuck and leave and he wouldn’t do that to her, but he can’t find the words. She doesn’t press him further, but she doesn’t move away. Almost against his will, he finds himself drifting off, warm fingers in his hair and on his arm, mind rimmed in pleasant grey fog. He sleeps and doesn’t dream.
When he wakes, the sun pushing through the blinds and falling onto his face, Eydie is gone. His apartment is remarkably less messy, laundry stuffed into the hamper, kitchen counters wiped down, and his muddy boots thrown into the closet. Even through the stiffness of his neck, from sleeping on the couch, he feels better and more rested than he has in a long time. Glancing at the microwave clock he realizes he’s past late for work. He’ll have to call in sick.
Instead of picking up the phone he drifts into the kitchen and pulls open the refrigerator. He takes out the brown eggs, ketchup and butter. From deep within one of his cupboards he finds a frying pan and a slightly bent spatula. For the first time in longer then he can remember he makes himself a real breakfast. And perhaps, after he’s done he will finish what Eydie started and clean his apartment, and then maybe after a while he will forgive himself.