“How’d it go?”
Adam threw his coat onto the unmade bed and flopped down beside it. “Good,” he answered, snatching up his laptop and looking across the room to where Chuck lay sprawled on his bed, pantless, with school books spread out around him. “You studying?”
Chuck lifted a textbook and waved it limply in the air. “Unfortunately.”
“Hmm.” Adam pulled up the no-pill incel forum, his thoughts already whirring along, coming up with a response for the last message he’d received. “What you think matters…You matter. I’m sorry you’re in a tough place. I wish I could do something about that.” Capitalizing on whatever weird moment he was having, the resolution he’d drawn walking through the parking lot and then sitting in his car-that he didn’t have to care as deeply about what other people thought-that people thinking terrible shit about him didn’t have to shake him up, he opened up that message. If he could decide not to care what she thought, if he didn’t care about looking stupid, this…this might be easier than usual. Could he just decide that interacting with women didn’t have to be difficult?
“You all ready for your classes?”
“Huh? Yeah. First class is Monday.”
“Lucky. Taking these damn hybrid classes, I’m back in session before everybody else.”
“But you’re racking up those credits faster.”
Chuck snorted. “Like it’s worth it. Working my ass off over here. Already have a group project due in three days.”
“Better get your ass in gear.”
Their conversation died out, a comfortable silence overtaking the room. The scratch of Chuck’s pen taking notes and the soft purring of Goku on the windowsill were the only sounds. Adam reached over to the stack of tumultuous stacked milkcrates beside his bed and pulled the cord on his blue lamp. At just after five in the evening, it was already almost too dark to see.
With the yellow of the energy efficient bulb now casting a warm glow over the room, Adam put his fingers on the keyboard. He didn’t let himself think. He just started typing.
“Wanna be frens? I’m Adam.”
It was only a couple of minutes before a response came. He was scrolling through r/all when the high-pitched ding alerted him of a new message. He clicked back over to the forum tab.
“We can be friends. On the computer, anyway. I’m very annoying in real life.”
“You’re kind of annoying on the internet too.”
“Sorry. It’s fine. So, how old are you?”
Adam paused here, unsure of what to say next. He didn’t want her to think he was lame. He didn’t want…no…no, screw that. This was some chick on the internet he would never meet. It didn’t matter if she thought he was weird.
He didn’t think. He typed.
“What are you doing on an incel forum? You’re a femcel?”
“No…I’m not a femcel.”
“Why are you here then?”
Her reply took longer this time. While all of her other responses had been nearly instant, this one took a full three minutes.
“The man I have a crush on is into incel stuff. He’s on this forum actually. I don’t know…guess I thought I’d poke around, see if I could try to understand him more.”
Brow furrowed, irritation rising, Adam pounded out a response, dust-ridden keys clacking away.
“If an actual woman likes him, then he isn’t an incel. Does he know you like him?”
He fired that reply off, but then before she could respond, he sent a follow-up.
“Wait. Why do you like an incel? He must be ugly. What do you get out of it? Are you ugly?”
Again, her response took a few minutes. He watched the words below the text box. CallofBeauty is typing…is typing…is typing…He nearly jumped when the notification ding sounded and her words appeared on the screen.
“I sent him some signals. But I sort of flirt with everybody. All I did was annoy him. No, he isn’t ugly. He’s pretty cute actually. No, I don’t think I’m ugly. I think I’m average looking. To be honest though, he’s probably better off staying incel than putting up with me. Like I said, I’m annoying.”
“Yeah? What do you do that’s so annoying? Other than flirt with everybody, because that does sound obnoxious.”
“It is. I don’t know why I do it. Enough about me. Why are you here? I bet you look fine. Every incel picture I find, the guy looks totally average.”
Adam pushed a tuft of too-long hair out of his face. Really needed to get it cut again.
“It’s not about that. I can’t explain it to you. You wouldn’t get it.”
“You’re probably right. I guess I wouldn’t get it.”
And then he felt bad. Because was it even her fault that she didn’t get it?
“Maybe I’m not that ugly. Fine. I’m only sort of ugly. But I’m socially retarded. I don’t know how to interact with women.”
“And then you pulled together all your courage and that girl accused you of doing something terrible to her…”
Something leaden worming into his guts. She’s struck to the quick of it. Steel through butter.
“Yeah. Probably better to be alone than try to figure women out again.”
“Well….that’s a shame.”
This response took longer than all the others. It took so long that Adam figured she’d gotten bored of him. There wasn’t even an indication that she was typing. He plugged in his headphones and went to youtube. He watched a couple of new videos from his favorite gaming channel. It wasn’t until nearly the end of the second video, a full fifteen minutes after he’d sent his message, that the forum tab showed a red notification dot. He paused the video and clicked back over.
His eyes widened and his heart stilled. A horrible mixture of nerves and hope and anger and joy collided.
“It’s a shame because you seem like a nice guy. I mean…a guy carrying a lot of hurt, but a good guy overall. And I’ve read some of your other comments, you’re funny. Funny….a gamer…and you just haven’t found the right girl to appreciate you yet. I would appreciate you. If you didn’t mind me being so annoying…”
His nostrils flared. He closed the computer with a snap.
Chuck looked up from his book. “What’s up with you?”
Shaking his head, Adam pushed the computer aside and pushed to his feet.
He went to the bathroom to jerk off.
“I’d appreciate you…you’re funny…”
Post-nut clarity told him none of this was true. She was fucking with him. Looking for orbiters. He flushed the toilet and washed his hands.
It was okay. He couldn’t change it. He couldn’t change the fact that women didn’t want him. He steadied his nerves. He wasn’t going to get angry about it. He would not give himself permission to be angry over this. Because anger was useless and he was tired of feeling it.
He went back to the bedroom and looked up the phone number of the salon his mom had brought him to all those months ago. It was time to schedule another haircut. For himself this time.