Raymond looked down at the pizza and thought, “I will drown my sorrows in carbohydrates. I will lose all thoughts about her in waves of garlic, cheese, dough, and golden brown cheese.” He would have chanted it out loud if his mouth hadn’t been full of a tablespoon full of ice cream.
A moment later, he hated himself. The ice cream tasted like phlegm and he wished he had shoved the pizza back in that holier-than-thou skinny delivery boy’s face.
All this over a girl. Love sucked.
I mean, not that it sucked the whole time. The time down by the beach, at the abandoned amusement pier where they had met hadn’t sucked. It had been fun, looking into her eyes across the pier, while her friends giggled next to her, eating their picnic lunches. They’d lean over and whisper to her and she would laugh. He thought they were telling her to go for it, that the cute boy really was interested in her, that she should talk to him. That was all his ego would allow. It was only later that she told him they were talking about how chubby he was, and how he looked like some kind of weird, overgrown cherub.
The doorbell rang. Raymond didn’t want to answer it. It was probably one of his prissy neighbors, going to ask him to turn the blasting stereo down. They didn’t understand how much he needed to drown out the voice inside his head, the one telling him to go crawling back, even if she had cheated on him. His anger at their not understanding his emotional turmoil drove him to answer it anyway. He’d show them his tear-stained cheeks and depressed eyes and they would turn and run in fear of this horrifying monster.
The lady behind the door wasn’t a neighbor he recognized. Worse yet, when he leveled his depressive gaze on her, her already beaming smile ratcheted up a notch or two. This took the wind out of the sails of the SS Titanic.
“Sorry,” she said to him. “This is a bad time, I know, but…can I come in?”
Raymond’s felt his mouth open to say…something, but she held up a finger, squelching him.
“I know,” she said, “You don’t get it. Limited perspective, moving through time instead of seeing it all at once and all.”
He boggled at this for a moment, started to close the door, but she somehow stepped in around it.
“Thanks. It was kind of quiet out there,” she said, raising her voice to be heard above the music.
“Oh, pizza,” she said, grabbing a slice. “I hardly ever remember to eat. Comes with the territory, you know.”
Raymond snapped the speaker off.
“Oh,” she said, around chewing a big bite of his everything pizza, “That was my favorite part. Best bridge ever.”
And she sang along with the song for a moment, until, finally, he summoned up the energy to call her on it.
“Who the bloody hell are you?”
She looked, for a spare moment, nonplussed. Then she chewed with determination for a few seconds, swallowed the mouthful of pizza, and stuck out her hand to be shaken.
Raymond refused to reach out and meet her hand. She looked down at it, back at him, then seemed to catch on to something. She wiped the grease off her hand against the side of her jeans and offered it again with the same determined smile.
Her eyes darted around the room, looking for something, as her hand hung there motionless.
He decided to show her out, quite firmly.
“What was your mother’s name again?” she asked. “She was such a sweet lady…?”
“Gail,” he responded, then thought better of it. Could she steal his personal information with his mother’s first name? He didn’t think so. Unless he’d used it as a security question somewhere.
“Gail! That’s why I remember her so well. That’s right,” she chuckled softly. “We had the same first name. Gail!”
“You knew my mother?”
“Oh, yes, she used to speak of you often. Doting son, always there for her…”
“But she’s still alive–”
“That’s so good to hear! I meant, of course, when we worked together, back in the day.”
She caught sight of herself in the mirror on the dresser and primped in it for a second. “Back when I was an intern…”
He started to open his mouth again, to explain that there must be some mistake, that his mother had been a stay-at-home mom all her life, and that he hadn’t really spoken to her in months and even forgotten her birthday, but this Gail has already made her way across the room to the pile of photos he had been getting ready to discard.
“Oh, dear, this must be her, mustn’t it? The girl who dumped you?”
“How did you–?”
“Written all over your face, dear,” she ran a slow hand down his swollen cheek. “Tracks of your tears and all that.”
For a moment, her face got serious, and Rodney felt a wave of compassion emanate from her. “It must be terrible,” she said, “Feeling all that. I gave all that up a long time ago, all the hormones and things. They’re just a sticky mess.”
She grabbed him by the shoulders, suddenly overcome. “I’d take them away if I could.” She snapped the fingers of one hand with a noise like a crack of lightning, right in front of his face. “Just like that. But they’re kind of essential to you — baked in. Or so that old fart that made you always told me. Essential to the journey, he’d say. Between you and me he was a bit of a lazy slob, but then all the most creative minds are. I don’t think he really got around to drawing up the map before he pushed you off the shore, as it was. You’re all adrift with nowhere you’re particularly headed. If I were you, that would be the first thing I’d do: figure out my metaphorical destination and draw up a map.”
She stopped here, picked up the photo of not-his-mom Gail again and waved it in the air. “Wouldn’t happen to know where Miss Gail here ended up, after she dumped you and all?”
“Why should I care?” Rodney turned and grabbed a slice of pizza and flopped with it onto his bed. “Stupid girl.”
“If I was to tell you,” she said with a bright smile, “That the fate of this very universe rested on me locating your little chickadee in the next 18.6 hours, you’d probably think I was crazy, right?”
Rodney considered this, found it silly, stuffed his face full of a giant bite of pizza and shook his head. The warm, salty oil comforted him in a way no woman ever could.
“Well, then,” Gail said, “She owes me money.”
Rodney frowned at her. “I think you should leave. I think you’re crazy.”
“I’m most absolutely crazy,” Gale said. “Anyway,” she narrowed her eyes at him, “Why are you protecting her? I thought you two were–”
She made a rude-sounding noise.
“I’m not. And we are. And by the way, I left her. Not the other way.”
She gazed down at the photo.
“Why,” here she seemed to be thinking very, very deeply, “Would someone like you leave someone who dressed in what was basically a very striking and seductive corset all the time?”
Here, she grabbed through the photos and flipped through them, tossing them all around the room after she glanced at each one.
“Hey,” Rodney jumped up, trying to grab the remaining photos out of her hands while simultaneously catching the ones she was throwing. “Give those back.”
She sweetly handed the rest of the stack back to him.
“Why ever did you leave her? It looks like the two of you were having a blast.”
Rodney looked down at the picture at the top of the stack. It was of Gail and he at the movies. That had been Valentines Day, and they had gone to see that movie about the billionaire who fell in love with the shop girl. He was always embarrassed to feel like the shop girl with Gail, because she always paid. She had this great job and…he guessed he couldn’t blame her for going off with that professional bloke.
“She went off with someone, once. I caught her with him when I surprised her for lunch one day.” It was good to tell someone. “They were snogging on a bench outside her office.”
She gave him a sympathetic look and put a hand on his shoulder. “Sometimes, even when we choose to break up with people, they leave something inside of us. Something that, despite our best efforts to the contrary, grows and gets nurtured and eventually spills out at the most inopportune time. We try to move on, but something tells us to protect this thing, to hold onto it. But it’s really sometimes best to move on.”
Rodney felt the tears come, even thinking about moving on. He was so worthless, sitting here, eating ice cream and pizza.
“No one’ll ever love me,” he sobbed. “Least no one as good as her.” The emotional dam that was holding back the lake of his tears started to crack, and he blubbered slightly. This was so embarrassing.
“No offense,” she said. She took a deep whiff of him. “You don’t smell or anything, so you could get quite a better girl.”
“Look, I don’t know what your game is, but I want you out of here right now.” He pointed to the door, burping slightly.
Gail raised an eyebrow as she caught a whiff of his breath. “I stand corrected.”
She shrugged, spun and walked to the door. She paused there for a moment, turned back and gave him another sniff.
“Oh, dear,” she said, her eyes opening wide. “That explains it. Nesting instinct. You’re protecting the offspring.”
“Just get the hell–”
Her arm shot out, rigid fingers wrapping around his neck and squeezing. All of a sudden there were tweezers right in front of his face, silvery talons stretching out towards his nostrils, gleaming with angry fire in the light of the room. He struggled, but she was way stronger than anyone her size had a right to be. There was a loud, squelching noise as the tweezers shot up his nose and rooted around.
“Sorry, wrong nostril,” she said, and spun them over into his other nostril. “You and I should count ourselves lucky. The last one had it in a much more awkward place.”
The entire front of his face went aflame as she pulled on something. He could swear he felt her feet on his chest as she pulled even harder. And then, his nose felt like it was stretching wide enough to swallow the rest of his head. There was a ripping, aching pain that echoed on and on for long, long moments. Then, with a loud pop, he fell backwards and collapsed half on the bed and half on the floor.
“Damn, that’s been in there longer than I thought.”
Rodney looked up groggily. His face ached like it had been in the freezing cold for hours. He was tempted to reach up and survey the damage with a hand, but…ick…
Gale was there, standing over him, shoving what looked like a pale green egg into some kind of clear plastic tube.
“That’s a big one,” she said. “You must be very healthy.” She glanced around. “Despite the junk food. Maybe they just grow bigger in sugary environments…?”
“What are you doing? What is that thing?”
“She implanted a parasite in you. I would just toss it, but…endangered species covenants, you know.”
She popped a cap on the tube, dropped it into a pocket.
“Oh, here,” she leaned over and sprayed him full in the face with something that felt cool and fizzy, like soda water. “Those nanos should fix your face right up. Be up and snogging the girls socks off again in no time.”
She started to leave, then turned. “Oh, and don’t worry. She won’t be back. I tracked her down before I came to get this. She really was very pleasant. I can understand what you saw in her.”
The door slammed. There was a long moment of silence as Rodney lay, trying to remember if he’d had something to drink or popped some pills before he’d ordered the pizza. Or maybe it was just some weird depression dream.
The door flew open again. “Oh, look, I owe you this. Try taking Brenda at the office out for lunch some time. She likes sushi just as much as you. And if you end up getting married and having three kids…well, I didn’t tell you that. And I didn’t mention to keep her away from that contactor you hire to fix up the old bed and breakfast either.”
The door slammed again. From right outside Rodney could hear Gail muttering, “I am such a silly fool for a happy ending…”