It was a Monday night, the smell of popcorn, beer, and overpriced candy lingered in the air like a stale air freshener. The blue carpet, speckled with yellow dots and stars and odd colored crescents numbed the eyes after staring at it too long – perhaps that was the intent of the designer, that people would only stare long enough to see the stars and look away before they saw the crumbs of popcorn long forgotten. The crumbs were invisible among the busy floor.
In the distance the sound of the popper made an incessant beeping noise that stabbed and jabbed at the core of ones psyche. Fresh, unnaturally orange popcorn could be heard pouring, “i can help whoever’s next” yelled to get the attention of the brain dead guests who poured through those double doors to sit in front of screens in order to forget how sheep-like they had become. Like the popcorn, they came in numbers. Numbers so great that their value decreased with each kernel. Each morsel. Each atom.
Two ushers stood in the cleaners room, they tidied it and tried to ignore that they were alone together in a room. It was hard to ignore how loud it was. That thought. Alone together. So they cleaned, tidied, kept themselves busy – when she handed something to him and their hands brushed together. She heard herself take a deeper breath than usual and wondered if he had heard it too. So she rushed to the other side of the room to grab a broom. The ushers natural state – to sweep. The default.
Two months before she had surprised him with coffee when he clocked off. Waiting by his bike, she held his favorite drink as well as hers. She had been outside in the dark, in the cold, for thirty minutes. There was anxiety, what if he did not want this? But nevertheless she stayed. When he finally came outside, he sounded happy when he greeted her. She was nervous. Handed him the wrong drink, which it seemed he did not like her peppermint tea. That was fine because she didn’t like his pumpkin spice latte with a double shot. So they switched and were both happy and laughed that they had made a mistake.
He had to do some grocery shopping and it was already late, so he invited her to join. She felt so natural in his presence. At peace. Not a concern in the world, which was new for a girl with anxiety. Even when they jay walked and a police officer stopped them, she didn’t have a care in the world except the one for him. It blotted out all negativity.
As they went to the store, they casually talked about personal topics – he told her about his dads alcoholism and porn addiction – and she talked about her dads issues as well. They bonded over similar favorite tv shows, and he told her about all the foods he hated – which surprised her. He hated caramel, but loved red cabbage, he hated mayonnaise and mustard, but loved pasta. In fact he talked a lot about his love for pasta, and she smiled. And she smiled. and smiled. and smiled. even when her cheeks were sore she smiled, because the pure happiness and bliss he brought with him collided with her anxiety and won. He was amazing. But he did not text her back and he did not talk to her outside of work. She was troubled because everything had felt so good to her.
She had heard he had a drinking problem, but only wanted to sympathize, even in the pain. He had talked of his ex girlfriend, who had hurt him and broke his trust in her and other women. Perhaps that is why he had not talked to her. Perhaps it was not the most obvious answer. Perhaps he did care, and more than just for her body. It did not seem likely. She wanted it so.
He had been over to her house once, with another coworker, he was older, a fly on the wall during their time together. He was not as important as them. They had laughed together over the silliest of things and she had to playfully shush him because he had laughed so loudly she worried they’d wake the neighbors (see, it was late at night and they had wine and cannabis). But she wanted more than ever to bring him to bed and lay with him between her sheets. To passionately kiss him and run her fingers through his hair while he laid his head on her pillow. She wanted to lay with her head on his bare chest and fall asleep. But instead they left. The old coworker and the guy.
But in the cleaners closet they stood. The same attraction that drew them together through sexual magnetism. She wanted him. She wanted him so bad. She knew he wanted her too, but was unsure if he wanted her the same way she wanted him. Did he want to have her head resting on his bare chest? Did he care to know her scent like a fond close memory? Did he care to kiss passionately as much as she did? Or would he leave right away, leave her feeling used and tired and sad?
She had been used and tired and sad because of many guys who did not love her.
But yet they stood there. Unlike the brain dead guests, their minds were racing to the ends of the earth and back again with the speed of light. One would think that with a brain racing that fast it would have more than one thing on it’s mind. But that was simply untrue. He would be the only thing she thought about for a very long time.
One day she would tell him that she had sincere feelings, on a whim, as she always did. She would mention liking him, and he would mention liking her. He would also mention toxicity. Not working. She would think it was unfair, but not protest because there was a chance he just didn’t want her. Betting on that chance, she tied her tongue and agreed; friends with benefits. She agreed to settle because the idea of having nothing was worse than being used. Would she be used? She might enjoy it – she wanted to think in the desperate plight she had adopted as her own.
At the end of the day she just wanted to hold his hand