“Last box!” Mark set the box down on the kitchen floor with a flourish.
Grinning, Adam looked around at their new home. He’d only seen pictures before today. Standing inside of the apartment was a completely different experience. It had only taken them an hour to get everything unloaded. The beds had taken the longest. Good thing Mark drove a van. All three of their beds had only just barely fit. They still had to put them back together, but Dad would be coming over later to help out with that. Plus the old guy wanted to see the place. Adam pushed a tuft of too-long hair out of his face. He really had to think about getting a haircut before going back to work. His meeting with Dick and Cheryl was in only two days.
Nodding appreciatively, Mark crossed his arms in front of his chest and leaned against the laminate countertop. It jutted from the wall like a peninsula, separating the large kitchen area from the small living room area.
The mouth of a short hallway opened up on the opposite side of the counter right next to the wall where the futon would go. There were two windows set into this wall. They faced an alleyway, dark, with a small amount of light bouncing off the faded bricks of the bar next to the house. The reason this apartment was so difficult for Mark’s uncle to fill was because it was right on the town circle of Milford. The town center was a mix of residences and businesses. Milford had a somewhat hopping town center, on the weekends at least. They were now within walking distance of a twenty-four-hour diner and several bars. The place next door was a bar and pasta restaurant that had live music every Friday and Saturday night. The noise would just be something they’d all have to get used to. At $650 a month, this place was a steal, even for Milford, which was a fuck-ton chepaer than Nashua or Merrimack anyway.
“This is wild,” Adam murmured, glancing around at his new surroundings. A white tile floor in the kitchen, cracked and stained. An olive green laminate countertop separating the kitchen from the living room area. Brown shag carpeting where the tile ended. It emitted a musty, mildew-ridden smell with each step. But it was theirs.
“Feels weird, right?” Mark asked, brow furrowed. “I mean, I lived in an apartment for a semester when I was in college. That didn’t feel the same though. School paid for it and everything.”
Adam nodded, trying to think of what to say next. He didn’t want this new living situation to be awkward. He’d never spent too much time around Mark. Had never known what to make of him. Mark was a gay dude who was the living embodiment of the neckbeard stereotype. All he did was play video games, shitpost online, and sometimes, hang out with his on-again-off-again-for-over-two-years boyfriend. Chuck didn’t even seem to notice his buddy was gay. Not that Adam had anything against gay guys, nothing like that. It had just always confused him a little how Chuck spent so much time with him, like it was nothing. Then again, the two of them had been friends since middle school, so that could explain it.
“So…you, uh…you lived with a bunch of guys in college?”
Mark raised a pair of bushy eyebrows. For a gay guy, he didn’t seem to be too concerned with how he looked. Scraggly eyebrow hairs so long they curled framing a pair of brown eyes. He wore a stained gray Patriots hoodie and a pair of black sweatpants. Sloppy sweats were all this guy ever wore.
Squirming with discomfort, Adam tried to figure out what to say next. Mark was staring at him, like the guy had just figured something out.
Adam shrugged and spat out, “In Boston, right?”
Nodding, Mark appeared to ease up a little. He placed his palms on the counter behind him. “Yeah, well, Roxbury. Kind of a shithole area to be honest. The place was always a mess and the landlord hated us. I ended up going home every single weekend anyway. I only had classes three days a week. I decided it wasn’t worth it. Two hour drive isn’t so bad.”
“Must have killed you in gas money.”
Mark shook his head. “Fucking right it did. Better than living in Roxbury though. It was this whole system set up by the school. You could use financial aid to pay for it, so the roommates were set up by the housing department. I was gonna be with randos if I stuck with it, and living with two strangers once was weird enough.”
Another awkward silence.
Adam looked at the floor and pushed a tuft of hair out of his face.
The silence was broken by Chuck clomping into the room. He carried a dirty and ancient-looking microwave. He set it down on the counter and looked at Adam.
“Think your friend is here. I see his sister driving around the circle, probably trying to figure out where the parking lot is.”
Heat and anxiety, exploding inside of him, all at once.
“Mia? Robby said he wasn’t bringing her.”
Chuck picked up the cord and craned his neck, looking from one end of the counter to the other. “The fuck is the outlet?”
“I don’t know, dude. Go wave ‘em down and show them where to park.”
Rolling his eyes, Adam yanked his phone from his pocket and furiously typed out a message to Robby.
‘Robby, are you outside with Mia?’
‘Yes. Where is the best place to park?’
‘Dude! What did you bring her for? I asked you not to.’
‘I don’t drive. You know that. She brings me everywhere. She won’t come in if you don’t want her to.’
Adam mulled this over for a long moment, so long that a second message from Robby popped up on the screen.
‘Well? Where to park?’
He sighed heavily. Okay, he could put up with Mia again. She was just another female who lived for attention. Sort of like the women who rolled into r/askanincel and made sure to announce their female-ness. He’d ignore her. She couldn’t actually do anything to him. Except maybe tempt him into hoping again.
He typed out his reply to Robby.
‘You can both come in. Entrance to the parking lot is next to the Pasta Parlor. It looks like an alley, but you can fit a car down there. I’ll meet you back there in a sec.’
“‘Kay, I’m gonna go get them.”
Chuck was busy unloading all the second-hand kitchen gear Mark’s mom had gifted them. “Cool.”
Mark stepped away from the box he was digging through and pulled out his phone. “I’ll order a pizza.”
“Sounds good. Don’t let Chuck get that shit with olives and spinach on it,” Adam quipped. He hurried away before he could hear whatever snarky response Chuck had for him.
Outside, he spotted Mia and Robby quickly. The green car Mia drove was angled oddly into the opening of the drive that cut between the buildings to the parking lot. She appeared to be having some kind of meltdown, shaking her head and pointing at the road in front of her. The rear of the car jutted out into the circle just enough to cause trouble for the cars in the exterior lane. There were cars lining the circle in parallel parking spaces, including right before and after the narrow street Mia was attempting to turn into.
Adam walked over to their car briskly. He had to walk about fifteen feet, the entrance being on the opposite side of the bar next to their place. He waved, trying to catch Robby’s eye. The guy was busy talking to Mia, motiong to the street and then the parallel-parked car on their right. Fuck. She was close to that thing. Did this chick know how to take a fucking turn?
“Hey!” Adam jogged around the bumper of the car on their left and tapped on the hood.
Mia jumped. But then…her eyes met his and something shifted in their depths. It almost looked like she was relieved to see him. She put down her window and leaned out.
“Adam, I’m stuck!” she cried. “I think I’m gonna hit one of these cars. I can’t tell how close I am to either of them.”
“It’s fine. You won’t hit them. Take it slow.”
His eyes traveled over to the clusterfuck she’d created out on the road. Cars were backed up now. In order to get around her, cars were veering slightly into the circle’s interior lane, but there wasn’t enough room for any of that. Both lanes had slowed down to a crawl.
A horn blared through the air and Mia jumped again. She shut her eyes and waved her hands in front of her. “What do I do? What do I do? What do I do?”
“Calm down. Look…get out. I’ll do it.”
She opened her eyes, relief evident in every one of her (unfortunately) pretty features. “You will?”
“Yeah, come on, just put it in park and I’ll move it.”
“Thank you-thank you-thank you!” She scrambled out of the car and skirted around Adam. “I can’t do it! That turn is too tight and now there are all these cars.”
“It’s fine.” He jumped into the driver’s seat and shut the door.
“Thank you,” Robby sighed. “She probably would have hit one of the cars. She’s been in countless accidents. At least ten, I think.”
Adam put the car in reverse and motioning the car stuck behind him, signaled he was about to back up. “Why in the fuck does she still have a license?”
“It took her five tries to get it. She has poor peripheral vision.”
“Really? I couldn’t tell.”
He backed up, straightened out the wheel and then took the turn into the drive again. He really didn’t see what was so difficult about that.
After parking in a free space at the back of the lot, he turned to Robby with an exasperated stare. “Dude, I know she’s your sister, but like-”
Robby put up a hand. “I understand. However, Uber all the way from Nashua to Milford is a waste of money and there is no bus to get down here.”
“I know,” Adam sighed. “But, you know, I’m not good with women, and she’s a lot and I don’t know what to say to her or how to act.”
“She will most likely lose interest and move on. She has a short attention span. Except when it comes to video games.”
“Right…” Adam turned the car off and glanced around at the absolute filth covering every inch of the car. All over the floor, both the front passenger side and the backseat, there were mashed up McDonald’s bags, wrappers, empty cups, plastic seven eleven bags. It wasn’t like Adam’s car was immaculate, but this was….”Robby, is that mold on the back cushion?”
Robby craned his neck, looking into the backseat. He wrinkled his nose. “She said she took care of that.”
“This car is nasty. How does she drive this thing around? Your apartment is clean. How do you stand sitting in this dumpster on wheels?”
Throwing his hands up, Robby raised his eyebrows and shrugged. “She’s my only ride.”
Adam shook his head. In the late afternoon sunlight, a slick coating of indiscernible slime coated the bottoms of both cupholders.
“I thought women were supposed to be all neat and tidy. The fairer sex and all that?”
Robby smirked and pointed to the mountain of trash in the backseat. “I don’t know about other women, but Mia’s a pig. There were ants in this car last summer. I’m on her to clean it before it gets warm again.”
“There was also the time she went to the beach with her friends and left a cooler of sandwiches and ice in the back for months.”
“I ended up taking care of that. Once Mia realized there were maggots…”
Adam put a hand up. “Robby, please. Don’t tell me anything else about your sister’s car habits. We just ordered pizza.”
They made their way back out to the road, where they found Mia standing right where they’d left her, hands clasped in front of her, looking very sheepish.
“Thanks, Adam.” She shot him a vibrant smile. “I’m such a bad driver.” She poked her tongue out of the corner of her mouth and gave her head a weird little waggle.
The i’M So qUIrKy meme from braincels popped into his head. Meme gender. He did his best to force the thought to the back of his mind, at least until later. This was Robby’s sister. He had to be civil to her.
“No problem.” He thrust his arm, her jangling, glittery mass of keychains in hand. Hadn’t anyone warned her this many keychains could kill the car’s ignition? He briefly thought of mentioning it, but decided it wasn’t his job. Mentioning that might prolong his interaction with her, which he was absolutely set on keeping to a minimum.
Her lip turned up in a small smile, something almost mischievous. Adam felt a jolt of dread. She reached out and took the keys from him, allowing her fingertips to trail lightly over his hand.
He snatched his hand back. Her keys clattered to the sidewalk.
The mischievous light was gone from her eyes, replaced with something else, something searching. Her lips parted. He stared at her.
Everything was still for a long moment.
“Alright, I’ve got them,” Robby muttered. He stooped and picked the keys up. “And I’ll hold onto them too,” he said, giving Mia a pointed look.
Mia rolled her eyes and shot Adam a conspiratorial smile. “He’s annoyed because I lost them in Wal-Mart last week.”
Robby shook his head. “She didn’t lose them. She wasn’t paying attention and she threw them in the trash when she tossed her Starbucks cup. We had to get gloves from the barista and go through the can.”
“Pssh….it wasn’t that bad.”
Adam scratched the back of his head and raised his eyebrows. “That sounds really irresponsible.”
Mia’s face fell. “I guess so,” she said quietly.
Shoving his hands into his pockets, Adam turned away from her with purpose. Looking at Robby only he said, “Let’s go inside.”
In the new apartment, introductions were made. Mia immediately struck up a conversation with Mark about the Patriots. Adam took the opportunity to show Robby around the new place while Mia was distracted.
“Nice, very spacious,” Robby said, looking around the living room area.
“I’ll show you the room Chuck and me are sharing.”
He led Robby down the narrow hallway, past the bathroom (done out in olive green like the living museum of the 70s it was), and at the end of the hall, ushered Robby into the largest of the two bedrooms. Both mattresses were on the floor, the bedframes laying in pieces around them.
“This is it. Home sweet home.”
“It’s nice. Not the best view though.” Robby pointed to the one small window. It faced out to the parking lot.
“Yeah, I know,” Adam sighed. “Our dad’s ‘sposed to be coming over later to help us hang some blinds. Otherwise every drunk asshole from the Pasta Parlor is gonna be able to stare right in when they go past.”
“Do you mind if I use your bathroom?” Robby pointed over his shoulder.
“Of course, man. Long as you can stand 1973 screaming at you the whole time.”
“The bathroom. It’s a disgusting color of green.”
“Oh that. It’s fine.”
Adam chuckled. “Dude, I was kidding.”
“Oh. I knew that.”
Robby wandered out and Adam walked over to the pile of bed frame parts, wondering how long this would take to put back together.
“Ooh, is this the master bedroom?”
Adam started. Energy both taut and draining, he turned to see Mia smiling in the doorway. He leaned to the right to see around her. Bathroom door was still shut. Dammit. He really didn’t want to be alone with a female. Not after the Becca fiasco.
“What do you want, Mia?”
Her smile flickered. “Why don’t you like me, Adam?”
Without giving himself time to second-guess himself, he blurted out an honest answer. “Because I think you like messing with guys for attention.”
And her smile really did fall away then. Her eyes widened. Her lips parted. “I don’t…I’m not messing with you.”
He twisted, putting his back to her again. His face was turning red and he didn’t want her to see it. What the fuck was wrong with him? He really had to go and say that to her?
But then somehow, like the absolute fucktard he was, his mouth was off and going again, elaborating on the idiotic thing he’d just said to her. “You’re all over me acting like you like me or something. You shouldn’t go messing with pathetic virgins just to get your validation high.” His tone was biting, far more biting than he’d meant it to be.
“Oh, Adam. I’m not…”
The pity in her voice disgusted him.
“Would you just go already?” he snapped.
He fumbled frantically through the bedframe parts acting like he was doing something, moving, tossing, searching…
A body beside him. A hand on his arm.
“I like you.” Her words soft, pleading.
He shut his eyes.
“Get the fuck out of my room, Mia.”
She removed her hand.
Awash in a terrible mixture of emotions, anger and crushing defeat and disgust and….he fucking hated himself. Fucking…fucking hated every inch of his pathetic body, every thought in his pathetic head.
Robby came back and Adam asked him to shut the door.
“I don’t want to be around your sister ever again. Can you not bring her around again?”
And Robby promised that he wouldn’t.
Good. He told himself this was good.
Because she was fucking with him. She didn’t like him. Why would she?
If females weren’t going to fuck him, the least they could do was leave him alone to rot. Lay down and rot. He knew how to do that now. It was the hope he couldn’t take.
It was hope that was going to kill him.