The sun was just setting when Steve woke up to the refrain of Bach’s 5th Symphony, playing shrilly and slightly off-tune from his phone.
“Yessssssssssss?” he growled into the receiver, keeping his face half-buried in his pillow. There was a short silence until the phone rang again, this time right into his ear, and he realized he had forgotten to push the “talk” button.
This time he lifted he head off the pillow and snapped, “Yes, what do you want?”
“A little grumpy, are we?” a familiar voice teased on the other end—Tom, Steve’s terminally cheerful friend.
Knowing he wasn’t likely to get out of this conversation without Tom stating his peace, and then some, Steve sat up in his bed and placed a hand on top of his aching head. It had been a tough weekend. “Why are you calling me so early?” he demanded, his voice still rough from sleep. He could see the golden reflection of the sunset on the wall as the sun sank behind the tall skyscrapers covering the city.
“You hadn’t left your apartment for the last decade until two nights ago, and I know it didn’t go well, so I decided you needed some cheering up in the form of… women!”
It took Steve several moments to process this information. When it finally dawned on him what Tom was saying, he pushed aside the covers and got out of bed. Knowing Tom, he was probably standing outside his door at this moment.
“First of all,” Steve ground out, reaching for a pair of boxers, “it has not been a decade since I left my apartment; and secondly, I don’t need cheering up. Even if I did, I don’t need you to procure female companionship for me.”
“I beg to disagree, friend,” Tom returned, sounding like he should be in either a laundry commercial or The Music Man.
“I’m disconnecting my phone. You will now only be able to contact me via e-mail.” Having pulled on a pair of black jeans—the closest thing to him on the floor, and somewhat clean—Steve walked out of his bedroom, through his living room and to his front door. He glanced through the peephole, and sure enough, there was Tom, grinning at him while holding his cell phone to his ear.
Without a word, Steven hung up and pulled open the door. “There had better not be a stripper behind you.”
“Would I be so crass?” Tom shut his phone and stepped past Steve, into his apartment. He gave his friend’s living room a long, despairing glance and said, “So I see you’ve been cleaning the place.”
The room was not only cluttered, but filthy. Bookcases crowded for space on every available wall, stuffed with books layers-deep. In front of the bookshelves, cardboard boxes were stacked waist-high, and in front of the boxes, on the floor, the end tables, the coffee table, the top of the television—basically any flat surface—were piles of books, puzzle boxes, stacks of clothes, swords and other assorted weaponry, hats, papers, and CD and DVD cases. Where there wasn’t a pile of something, the surface was covered with a layer of dust, a tissue, or a liquor bottle. The black leather couch was the only clear space in the room.
Steve shut the door and turned back to face the room. He swept his hands forward, palms out, and a wind blew through the apartment, pushing the dust, tissues, and the smaller bottles to the back of the room. “Happy now?”
“You don’t have to clean up on my account,” Tom replied. “Now, about this woman thing… I have an idea.”
Tom looked at him as if he had just announced he’d invented electricity. Steven rolled his eyes and walked to the kitchen.
“Aren’t you even interested?” Tom asked, following him and sounding not in the least defeated.
“I can’t say I am.” Steve reached into his refrigerator and pulled out a beer bottle, passing it to Tom.
“But you love computers, and you hate leaving your house. It’s perfect.” Tom pulled the plastic wrap off the top of the bottle and paused to take a long drink while Steve took out his own bottle.
“What’s the point?”
Tom put his bottle down on the kitchen counter with a thunk. “You’re depressed. I understand that. But you need to get out more, see new things, feast on some pretty pieces of flesh.”
Steve thought about this as he took a drink. “Have you done this?” he asked, looking at Tom cautiously.
“Of course! I just had a date last Friday with this amazingly delicious woman named Karen. A lot of them won’t put out on the first date, but of course my natural charm overcomes their objections.” Tom grinned and picked up his bottle again. “It’s so easy. You just put up a picture of yourself and a profile on the web, and women flock, my friend.”
“I’m sure,” Steve muttered. Tom was given toward over exaggeration.
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