by Alex E. Mosier
“Everyone has their story. What is it that made them who they are. What situations, circumstances, this that and the next thing as well as their reaction that shaped them into who they are. I don’t argue for a second that these make you who you are. What I ask is why those happenings came upon them specifically? Why is it that they were blessed with joys and endured turmoil respectively? Why did that person get those cards specifically, rather than someone else? What is it that deals these cards? Is everything all left up to chance? I find it hard to believe that I am who I am and I’ve been where I’ve been and I’ve seen what I’ve seen and I’ve heard what I’ve heard and I’ve met who I met all based off of chance. There has to be something that directs life as it happens.
I catch a lot of hell from people. Being involved in the sciences but holding to Christianity, my peers talk to me like a hypocritical moron. They generally start by explain the big bang and how unreasonable it is for some omnipotent being to exist. Apparently it makes perfect sense that the simplest of atoms, hydrogen, floated in a vast nothing, then at some point collided, creating the bang that lead to the creation of the universe. This is accepted because further research shows that the universe is moving outward from a central point. Where are the ends of the universe? Nobody seems to know. Kind of weird to know where the center is, but not the edges. It is so far-fetched that God made the world, but what created these atoms?
Their next argument is evolution. According to crack-pot Darwin, humans evolved from primates. His drawing shows other evolutions between primate and man with survival of the fittest. If this is true, there should either be these less evolved humans in existence or primates should be extinct. How is it that all levels of evolution died off except the lowest level? But hey, I over think everything, right?”
“Thank you Mister Tetral. That was… definitely… an interesting reflection.” Professor Goldmere took a few more notes on his legal pad, then walked around the class handing out folders. “Well, here are your final grades for the semester. Look over them closely, and if you have any questions, my office hours are posted online. Make sure to see me before Friday so I can fix any grades. Oh, and, umm, congratulations, graduation is in a week. You survived you time here on campus.”
The class scurried off, a couple holding hands here and a group gossiping there. It almost sickened James, how little things had changed since high school. The people had changed of course. The honors student turned druggie and the delinquent that became class president. But things hadn’t changed, everyone changed but kept the traditional status quo alive.
James pulled up in front of his apartment complex. He was still young and didn’t have much, but what he did have, he was proud of. His book collection consisted of several dozen autographed first editions, his electronics had been purchased used, but cleaned and refurbished, and his car was the love of his life. He had his girlfriends here and there, but none of them loved him and treated him as well as the polished pearl white 1967 Camaro. As he climbed out of the driver seat, he put his sun glasses in the glove compartment and left the top down. He started walking towards the door when a smudge caught his eye. He raced back to wipe the hood clean and admire the beauty of this finely craft piece of American history.
Once up stairs, he unlocked his door and walked into his apartment. From the outside, it looked just like every other apartment complex in the world, but inside it was the utmost domicile any young adult could ask for. He was on first name basis with the workers at the pawn shop. Where most people his age had a brand new 30 inch TV, James purchase a used 50 inch with some wear marks. He tossed his keys into a bowl on the living room table and called out to his roommate Lucy. After hearing the sounds of silence he assumed she was still out.
Today was it. He had survived grade school, high school, and now college. He only had med school and residencies left until he was done with his education process. Still, as he knew, we only stop learning once we are dead.
He popped open his laptop and checked his preliminary grades online. They were called this because so many people complained they were bound to change. He had finished off his college career with a strong 3.8 GPA. As a personal and private celebration he plugged his ipod in on shuffle, cranked the speakers and went out on the balcony to smoke a cigar. He struck a match and watched as the flame grew large enough. Like his father had always told him, never light a fine cigar with a lighter because the gas kills the flavor.
He sat on the balcony overlooking a wide park with scattered trees. A couple of squirrels caught his eye, so he quickly grabbed his journal and began to write:
Today I watched two squirrels chase one another. At first it seemed like a fun little game and I was quiet envious of the squirrels and their playful nature. That was until I saw a third squirrel sitting in a tree just watching them. Most people would be saddened at this; two play while one is left out. But then I thought about something I had seen online one day. Squirrels do this as a mating ritual. That is the female watching two males race and compete and only the winner of her game can mate with her. That’s not much different than humans. Really, no matter what clique you are in (the jocks, the nerds, the artists, etc) every top choice girl wants the top choice guy. Not because she is in love with him, but more that she is in love with the thought of him. Susan Q. Head Cheerleader doesn’t really have feelings for Joe Blow Football Quarterback, she just has a desire to say that the quarterback is hers. I have no desire to compete because all this tells me is that she obviously doesn’t care about me. So note to self, forget running in circles around trees for the female.
James closed his journal with snap when he heard Lucy calling from the front door. Lucy and James had been friend for as long as either of them could remember. Their parents had all been friends throughout school, so they were together in diapers. Lucy still clearly remembered James knocking out Adam Snosliski’s front two teeth for saying she had cooties on the playground. James always denied this. They dated for a short time freshmen year, but always stayed friends. When they decided to attend the same college, their parents figured that it was cheaper to just give them an apartment in one of his father’s buildings instead of paying room and board.
She came booming through the door, spinning and dancing, waving her laptop. “James, 3.5, I have a 3.5!” She had always been more of the free spirited hippie with her fresh off the show room floor Prius and her framed peace signs. James was always more of the outgoing loner who lived by the motto, “I’m not cocky, I’m confident. I’m not conceded, I just know that I’m better than you.”
James jumped throw the door and snatched her laptop. “Give me that before you break it,” he said playfully as he closed it and set it on the couch. “3.5? That’s amazing. All you needed for law school was a 3.3, right?” “Yeah, I know. I was so happy when I saw it.” “I can tell,” James said as he mockingly danced around her.
“Oh shut up. What did you end up with? A 4.0?”
“No… a 3.8.”
“What?” she said with a playful slap to his chest, “freaking genius.”
“I’m not a genius.”
“A genius would have had a 4.0”
She made a dumb face and walked off to the kitchen. “What should I make for lunch?” she called out. “I don’t care, I’m not really hungry.” She stepped back into the living room. “Watching your summer figure, are we?” she said as she sensually and ironically gestured to her curves.
James went back out on the balcony. He sat and attempted to start writing again, but was interrupted a second time by Lucy plopping down beside him. “Grilled cheese it is,” she said, “but we really need to get an order today or tomorrow. It’s pretty bare in there.” James just winked and said, “you got it…but you’re paying for gas this time around.” He went back to writing. “What are you always writing in there?” Lucy went to snatch the journal, but James pulled it away. It was an on going fight in the apartment; Lucy wanted to read James’ journal but he refused. The two continued their little fight until James got a serious look on his face. “What’s burning?”
The two ran back inside to find a cloud of thin black smoke in the kitchen. “My lunch… it’s ruined… I’m so freaking starved.” She tried to look sad and keep a serious expression on her face, but the sight of James fighting back the urge to laugh made her break out. The two fell to the floor laughing for a solid five minutes. They were about to graduate college but couldn’t even make a grilled cheese.
“Hey,” said Lucy as she struggled to catch her breath, finally breaking the long stretched laugh. “Let’s just walk down the street to Greg’s.” “Sure,” said James, “but it’s my treat.” “No, you paid last time.” “But according to my GPA compared to yours, I have a greater earning potential in the long term.” “Screw you,” she said with a smile
The two of them walked into Greg’s and were greeted with a smile. Being the best food in town, reasonably priced, and only a short walk from home this had become their spot. Greg himself came out from behind the counter and shook their hands. The two waitresses on staff came over and hugged the two of them; it didn’t hurt that James was a good tipper. They found a table in the open aired section of the restaurant.
“Dreams,” said Lucy she sat down. James insisted on holding the door and pulling out chairs. “Grapes,” he responded. “No, no, no, let’s talk about dreams.” “What about them? You already know my plan. Med school for pathology, jump through the hoops, eventually get my own lab in the forensics department in the city. And I know you are planning on going…” “No,” she interrupted, “not those dreams. I mean the dreams when you go to sleep. The fun dreams.”
“I don’t dream.”
“So what happens when you close your eyes?”
“Am I awake or asleep?”
“Well, when I go to sleep, I close my eyes and wake up hours later.”
“Strange… and what about when you are awake?”
“When I close my eyes, it isn’t to dreams or terrors; to images of memories. I close my eyes and see an endless stream of colors and shapes spinning in infinity; colliding into an unparalleled eternity and cataclysmic chaos.” He paused for a second to thank the waitress for their drinks and take a sip of his sweet tea. “What does this mean? Is this some message? Is my task on Earth to decode this hauntingly beautiful abstract masterpiece to something comprehensible? It almost seems like a crime to destroy something so pure and childlike with a sense of technique and skill just so I can label it. But maybe this is some divine answer set forth by the intervention of something much greater than me. Or perhaps a plea from something that has otherwise been dubbed insignificant. Still, it could just be nothing.”
Lucy just stopped and starred at him for a second. She was at a loss for words in the best way. After a few minutes of him staring into space and her staring at him, she was able to speak. “Well,” she chimed out, “I was going to talk about my childish dreams, but how can I follow that?” James just smiled and flicked Lucy’s arm. “Go on,” he said.
“It’s just that I still have the same dream as every little girl. I’m the damsel in distress held captive in the dark dungeon by the evil cloaked man. All hope seems lost when suddenly, my knight in shining armor arrives on his white horse to save me.”
At this point, Lucy was staring into space and James was fixed on her. Time passed and finally James said it would come about one day. The waitress brought their food, and they continued to sit and talk for a few hours.
Graduation came and went. The summer flew by with a stream of part time work hours at the book store and various companions for the two of them. One day, about midway through summer, Lucy and James came home from a short break at the beach. When they arrived, nothing seemed out of the ordinary until they went up the steps and found that their apartment door had been unlocked. James pushed Lucy behind him, and expecting the worst of scenarios, he pulled the folded knife he kept out of his pocket.
They slowly crept through the doorway and down the front hall. Everything seemed to be just as they had left it, but Lucy was still frightened as she clutched James’ back; James just stood at the ready with his knife in hand. They jumped as they heard a noise from the living room. James put Lucy’s back to the wall and told her to stay put. As he continued stepping forward, she decided not to listen. As they turned the corner, the loud cheer of “SURPRISE!” boomed through the room.
The two fell back, both startled and relieved, laughing at the thought of their assumption. Lucy was born in the end of June and James wasn’t until the beginning of July. The two of them constantly had shared birthdays, so why had they not expected this?
Their mothers were as hommie as could be. For hours, everyone in the room sat around talking and laughing while they were busy in the kitchen, preparing the full meal. Both of their dads kept sneaking off to the balcony. They just assumed it was for a smoke.
Finally, the table was set, the radio was turned up, and dinner was served. They sat around the large dining room table. After everyone was done and the cake was cut and served, everyone returned to the living room to watch a movie. In the brief time between the radio being turned off and the movie starting, Lucy and James heard something on the balcony.
“What the hell was that?” asked James. “Oh my goodness,” said her mother, “I can’t believe we forgot.” The two fathers rushed to the door. AS they began opening it, everyone yelled, “Happy Birthday,” and two mastiff puppies came rushing in. One with a pink collar jumped right on Lucy’s lap and the one with a black collar ran straight to James. Lucy and James had been given Bonnie and Clyde.
Before they knew it, they began studying again. Every morning Lucy got in her Prius and drove south to the edge of town where she studied law and James took his Camaro north into the heart of town where he studied pathology at the medical school. As time ticked by, Lucy stayed true to her hippie attitude and never lost sight of her dreams to become an environmental defendant. But, James began to become more agitated.
One day, as Christmas break was approaching, Lucy came walking in late from school. She looked around and saw James’ silhouette through the curtains as he stood out on the balcony. She pet the dogs and skipped over the door. As she stepped outside, she noticed something in James’ hand.
“When did you start smoking?” she yelled. He took another drag and calmly said, “awhile ago.”
“You’re a med student, you know how bad those are for you.”
“Then why did you start smoking?”
“They relax me.”
“There are plenty of ways to relax yourself.”
“But these are quick and easy.”
Lucy looked sad. “I never took you for one to look for the easy way of doing things.”
James took another long drag and started, “I walked into the hospital today. Joey grabbed me by the arm and said ‘Hey, it looks like a short day for you.’ I asked what he meant and replied ‘Ahh, you got a middle age female up on your slab. Gunshot to the head. Pretty clear cut. No pun intended.’ Then he laughed and walked off.” James took a third drag. “That prick didn’t look into her file at all. She was a mother. Her and her kids were at the store just picking up some stuff. A teenage boy who was sick of getting picked on decided he would join a gang. The gang said he had to murder someone to get in. So he waited in front of the store. He killed her in front of her kids. What is wrong with people now? And to make matters worse, the guy who’s supposed to care doesn’t.”
James flicked his cigarette over the railing and went to walk inside. He turned back to Lucy, “excuse me if I’m looking for a simple way to calm myself.” Then he walked inside and slammed the door.
Lucy hurried inside to catch James, but he was already in his room with the door locked. He lay on his bed in silence for a half hour. He could hear an abundance of rustling from the living room. When he finally began thinking about coming out there was a sudden pounding on the door. He opened it to see Lucy standing there. She quickly grabbed him and pulled his shirt off. Before he could get mad, she took off down the hall. James started chasing her then noticed it was all a trap.
He stopped and noticed that every inch of the living room had been covered with plastic tarps and all of the black and strobe lights were set up. As he stood in his stupor, James felt a splash to his chest. Lucy popped up from behind the kitchen counter in a sports bra and shorts. “What is this?” James asked. Lucy just laughed and splattered him again before hitting play on her ipod. She ran over to James and slapped a handful of glow in the dark paint on chest. Through the music of Florence and the Machine James repeated, “What’s going on?”
“You said you needed to relax,” explained Lucy in a shout, “so throw down, splash some paint, dance around, get a little crazy.” James just shrugged and went with it. For an hour, the two of them danced around to upbeat music, splashing bright and glowing paints on each other, simple lost in the flashing lights of the room. Finally, at the end of the CD, the two fell in the middle of the multicolored puddle and just laughed.
James and Lucy ended up falling asleep on the floor. Around 2 in the morning they woke up holding each other as the street lights shined through the windows and across the room. The each rolled over and jumped in the shower.
James sat at the table drinking a cup of coffee as Lucy came walking out in one of his t shirts. It could have easily passed for a dress on her. She sat down next to him and they started talking. He thanked her for last night. “So,” she replied, “are you done smoking?” “Well… I don’t want to waste the pack.” “How many are left?” James pulled the pack out to check, but Lucy quickly grabbed it out of his hand and ran to the kitchen. By time James got there, she was crashing the pack under the running sink water. “Oh, I hate you so much.”
James’ phone started to ring. Lucy followed him to where it lay in the living room and saw the name Sarah O. on the screen. “Hello… oh… really… right now… be there in a minute… ok… see you shortly.” “Who was that?” asked Lucy with an attitude. “It’s just Sarah, I gotta run.”
“So you’re just running out for another girl?”
“What do you care?”
“You know what, I’m sick of this already.”
Lucy smashed her coffee cup and ran to her room and quickly rushed back out, dressed and holding her purse. James tried to stop her, but she just stormed out.
James putter around for minute before getting another call from Sarah. He didn’t answer, he just tried calling Lucy. When she didn’t answer, he walked off and got dressed to head out. He sat and wrote in his journal for a moment before leaving.
As James got into his Camaro and heard his phone start ringing again. “Damn it Sarah, I’m on my way,” said yelled to himself. He pulled out of the parking lot and heard his phone again, only this time it was a text. When he pulled it out he saw that it was from Lucy, and all the text said was “Help 3rd and 8th.” He quickly tried to call her back but it went straight to voice mail. He drove as fast as he could, breaking every stop sign and speed limit he had to.
When he got to the intersection of 3rd and 8th he could hear screams coming from an ally. He slammed his car into park and sprinted down the alley holding a tire iron. When he got to the end he could make out the figure of a man in a black hoodie forcing himself on a girl; Lucy. Without thinking he struck man across the back. After pulling him off and dragging him a few feet away James struck the man across the face. As he fell limp, James ran over to check on Lucy.
She lay curled up on the ground. James wrapped his arms around her and began whispering that everything was ok. She finally looked up at him. Through her sobbing, James heard a little laugh. “What’s so funny?” he asked. “I didn’t have to happen this soon.”
“You’re wearing a white shirt, my knight in shining armor. You drove the white car here to save this damsel in distress from the evil man in the hood.”
James began laughing a little too. He brushed her hair out of her face and whipped the blood off her cheek. “Just say it,” she said. “Say what?” he replied. “Fine, I’m go first… you’re in love with me.”
He began laughing a little. “Oh I am? Well, you’re in love with me too.” The pair leaned in close, and as their lips met a loud bang echoed through the ally. Lucy ducked in shock and when she looked up, she saw the man in the black hoodie standing there, his arm raised, and a smoking gun in his hand. Before she could react he took off running down the alley.
Lucy looked down at James and could already see little bits of blood coming from his mouth. She scram for someone to help, and people had heard the gun shot. A small crowd was forming in the alley. She held on the James for dear life just muttering “Everything will be ok,” and “I love you,” over and over again in his ear.
Once the paramedics and police arrived, everything went into a silent slow motion for Lucy. She couldn’t remember anything between then and the time she walked in the apartment after the cops dropped her off. As she walked inside, everything felt surreal. It was empty in there. She was empty in there.
She saw James’ journal sitting on the living room table. She sat down and finally had the chance to look through it. James was no longer there to stop her. She started reading at the page it was open to. It said:
The other day Lucy and I were discussing dreams. I told her about the shapes and colors and how I wondered what they meant. She was the first person I ever told about that. Well, last night we were dancing and singing under black lights with smeared paint all over us. Suddenly, I realized, that was the moment I had been seeing. She was the swirls of light and color that had always been there. She was the message I was supposed to figure out. Everything had been leading me to her.
Lucy sat at the table and began to cry. She just sat there with nothing else to do. She was lost in her own head. That was until her phone rang. She didn’t recognize the number, so she just let it go to voice mail. A few minutes later, she checked the message and it said, “Is this Lucy? Hello. This is Sarah from the pathology department. We spoke to James earlier and he was supposed to come in to review a body for class, but he hasn’t showed up and he isn’t answering. You were at the top of his emergency contacts. When you get this just let us know what’s going on and tell him he’s too late. You can reach me at this number. Good day.”
Born in Wilkes Berre, Pa, I moved to South Carolina when I was four, so I am as “raised” here as can be. I first realized I wanted to write when I received an antique set of Edgar Allan Poe’s complete works published in 1849 for my 14th birthday. Even as a biology major at Coastal Carolina University with medical aspirations, I have not left my passion for writing behind.