Yeah, that book I've been writing? It's still in the works. Hopefully I'll be done soon, but lately I've been stretching myself a bit thin so I haven't had as much time to work on it and blah blah blah bullshit bullshit bullshit excuses. Point is, it'll be done soon, I swear. Anyway, for now because I'm lazy and I don't want to write a whole other blog post tonight and I want to just work on the book tonight, here's an excerpt from said nameless book. Aw yeah, get some.
“I don’t think Jude loves me anymore,” said Claire.
“We’re not having this conversation,” replied Ellis, her co-worker at Radar Records. Claire had taken a job there as a graphic artist upon realizing that selling baked goods out of her parent’s kitchen was not a great way to make a living. She earned rent by photoshopping album artwork and promotional pictures for Canadian artists who would release a couple modestly successful hits before returning to work at Tim Horton’s. Ellis was the only other person who seemed to realize this, which in Claire’s eyes made him the least insane.
“I’m serious. Look at this. What the fuck is this?” asked Claire, handing Ellis a crappy Hallmark Valentine’s Day card.
“It’s a crappy Hallmark Valentine’s Day card,”
Claire proceeded to whack him across the head with the colourful piece of cardboard as hard as she could, which admittedly wasn’t really all that hard. “I know that, but I meant, you know, on a deeper level, what the fuck is this?”
Ellis sighed, something he did a lot when Claire read too far into things that she had no business reading that far into. “It’s a fucking Valentine. They are mass produced yearly in the name of a saint no one actually knows anything about as an excuse to boost the economy while simultaneously making sure that single people feel like total crap,” he said, grabbing the card and regarding it as though it had been covered in a thin layer of mucus.
“Exactly! I mean look at this thing: ‘Happy Valentine’s Day to the woman who stole my heart years ago and still has a hold on it. Love, Jude’ See? It’s over!” She declared, marching into his cubicle while waving the Valentine like a piece of damning evidence in a murder trial.
Ellis had seen this before. Despite his dumb jock appearance and the numerous tattoos that littered his imposing frame, Ellis was gayer than Christmas, which made him a prime target for woman who needed a homosexual shoulder to cry on. What they didn’t realize was that out of everyone at the office, Ellis was statistically the least likely to give two shits about their relationship problems, which ironically, made him the best source for relationship advice due to his complete lack of emotional investment in their love lives, which only further encouraged men and women alike to come to him with their problems.
Truly, it was a rather vicious circle.
“Claire, it’s a card. Get over it,”
“I will not get over it! It’s a false sentiment for a false holiday. He might as well have just written something like ‘Roses are red, violets are blue, here’s a cheap, flashy placebo to distract you from the fact that I can no longer reciprocate the feelings you have for me.’” She emphasized her point by planting her head firmly on Ellis’ keyboard.
“That’s just super. Now please stop squishing my keyboard with your face,”
“Noooooooooooo,” replied Claire, her response slightly muffled due to the fact that her lips were smooshed against his space bar.
“Fine. Get worked up over some shitty holiday we don’t even get a day off for. See if I care,” said Ellis, pushing his spinney-roller chair away from his desk. “I refuse to be the helpful fairy godfather in the romantic-comedy that is your life.”
This convinced Claire to lift her head off his desk; a negative of his keyboard, however, was still indented into Claire’s forehead. “Alright, point made. But I just don’t feel appreciated anymore with Jude. It’s like I’m just his Plan B at this point, you know? Like he only wants me there as some sort of sad little back-up plan… Look, just do that calm, reassuring thing you do and I promise I’ll shut up about it.”
Ellis sat motionless. Claire took this to mean “You’re gonna have to do better than that if you want the calm, reassuring thing.” She mentally weighed her options, then added “And I will buy a round next time we go out drinking.”
Ellis raised an eyebrow now, which she knew meant “I’m interested, now just seal the deal.” She sighed, then said “And I will do one embarrassing karaoke song while you heckle me from the audience. ONE. But it can’t be ‘Total Eclipse of the Heart’, because that song totally sucks.”
Ellis, having gotten all he hoped to out of the deal, stood up from his chair and placed a pair of frying pan-sized hands on Claire’s shoulders. “You are not a Plan B, you are a Plan A, and any man who thinks otherwise doesn’t deserve someone as wonderful as you.”
Claire smiled to herself, then looked up to the small, gay mountain that was currently towering over her. “Alright, which song do I have to sing now?”
“Celine Dion’s ‘My Heart Will Go On’”
“Why do you hate me?”
“It’s a hobby,” chuckled Ellis. “Some people knit, I crush souls. Now stop pestering me and get back to that album cover you’re working on. Those five-year-old Sierra Leone kids didn’t lose an arm so that Young Ka$hey could show up on his debut album with only moderately stupid –looking blingage. Add some more sparkly shit then call it a day.”
It was 5:57 by the time Claire had driven home, poured half a caramel macchiato down her throat (the rest having baptized her dashboard, steering wheel and cheap-ass $20 capris), kicked off the sensible flats that allowed her to get through the day with shredding her feet into bloody ribbons and flopped face-first down onto the couch in the comfortably furnished condo she shared with Jude. It was 5:58 by the time the cordless phone rang, which meant Claire had to peel herself off the couch and run around the living room searching for the permanently misplaced phone.
“Hello?” she answered, after finding the device in the bread box.
“Happy V-Day, Claire, how are you feeling?” asked Jude, who by the sound of it was still stuck at the office where he reviewed was responsible for editing cooking shows for The Gourmet Network.
“I’m pretty good. Thanks for the Valentine by the way, it was really thoughtful of you.” Not one part of that statement was true.
“Did you get the flowers too?” He asked.
“Yeah, of course, they’re beautiful.” This was also a lie.
“Great, well, I’m glad you like them! Listen, I know you were planning a big, fancy dinner for tonight and whatnot, but I have a huge project and the deadline is tomorrow and just…Fucking chaos. Think we can put this off until the weekend?”
Claire felt a lead weight drop through her stomach. “Sure, I don’t see why not.”
“You sure you’re okay with this? If you’re not I can see if they can extend the deadline a little longer…”
“No, I’m fine. It’s fine. We’re fine,” She wasn’t fine. It wasn’t fine. And they were definitely not fine.
“I’m sorry about this, Ceecee.”
“I’m sure you are,” she lied. She had lost count how many times she had lied to him in order to avoid an argument; all she knew is, it was far more often than she wished. “Listen, can we talk about this later? I’m pretty sure Tia needs to be taken for a walk. I love you, Jude.”
“I love you too, Clair.”
Claire paused a bit to maintain her composure, and then lied one last time. “I know you do,” she said, hanging up the phone.
She took a deep breath, exhaled, and went to get Tia Maria, Jude’s chocolate lab, out of the bedroom. Originally, Jude had adopted Tia when he first moved to Cedar Park, and the dog had since followed Jude around like a lovesick school girl. She had moved in along with Jude when they found the condo, and had for the past few months become both a sounding board and a confidant for Claire. While she did worry that talking to a dog was the first sign of the impending decline of her mental health, she was really just thankful that she had finally found someone that would listen to her free of judgment or opinion, even if she did have to regularly feed her Snausages.
Tia was of course already clawing at the door when Claire opened it, and wasted no time in jumping up on her midsection, effectively knocking the air out of the poor woman. Tia knew that the arrival of the woman meant one of three things: Walkies, Food, or Belly Rubs. Needless to say, Tia loved the woman.
“Come on baby, you wanna go for a walkie?” asked Claire, the word sending a figurative jolt of electricity down her little doggy spine. Tia began jumping up and down again, the word surging through her little doggy body. Claire thought it was funny how one little word could instantly turn Tia into the Tasmanian Devil. She smiled a little while she followed Tia to the front door.
“You’re owner is a total douchebag, I hope you know that,” said Claire. Tia wasn’t really listening as she was currently sniffing a piss-stained stop sign, but this fact did not deter Claire. “I’m not the bad guy here either, am I? It’s not like I was the one who backed out of a dinner that’s been planned for almost a week now, or the one who sent the meaningless, half-hearted Valentine, or the flowers that will probably die in about two days because every plant I’ve ever had died in about two days.”
Tia, now tired of sniffing the urine-scented pole, resumed walking down the slushy sidewalk. Claire continued, “He should know that by now. When was the last time we’ve had so much as a fern inside out apartment? He should know this by now. He should know ME by now. I’m not asking for much here, am I?”
Tia gave Claire a look that said “Listen honey, I’ve been holding in a gigantic deuce all day. Now, I feel for you sweetie, I really do, but if I can’t pinch one out in peace so help me God I will not hesitate to drop a bomb on your pillow. Do you understand me?”
At least, that’s what Claire thought it said.
“You’re not helping here,” said Claire, reaching into the pocket of her coat for a plastic baggy. “All I’m saying is, it’s been two years, and I’m tired of being the only one who cares, and I’m tired of being stood up and I’m tired of being unable to keep a plant for more than two days before it kills itself because I’m a shitty gardener. Now let’s find a trash can. This is kinda gross.”
An hour after walking Tia, Claire found that her resentment was only increasing by the minute. She had thrown on a pair of pajama pants with a comfy tank top, watched a couple episodes of 30 Rock and had ordered a pizza that had been hauled over by a delivery boy who proceeded to give her his best “You’re a woman alone on Valentine’s Day, and you’re eating a pizza?”
Naturally, she was less than generous with the tip.
But to Claire’s dismay, the comfy pajamas and the greasy pizza and the Tina Fey in no way made up for the fact that she had been stood up on the one day of the year where being stood up was simply unheard of. She weighed her options and decided that she had three choices: The first was that she could sit around waiting for Jude and die of old age. The second was to go on a murderous rampage and go out in a fiery blaze of glory. The third was to unleash some of that pent-up hostility on a hoard of zombies in a game of Dead Last. She decided to go with option three, as a fake gun was much easier to get a hold of then a real one.
The premise of Dead Last could be boiled down into a single sentence: Get from point A to point B while killing zombies and blowing a whole bunch of shit up. Complicated? No, but it did offer Claire a quick outlet for venting some frustration. Today’s game was especially therapeutic, as Claire found herself mentally transposing Jude’s stupid jerkface onto each of the soon to be re-dead zombies.
It was around 10:15 that Jude finally came home. While it took Tia all of three seconds to jump all over him, Claire offered little more than a casual “Hey,” to acknowledge that he had so much as walked through the front door. “Having fun Ceecee?” he asked, kissing her on the side of the head.
“Oodles,” she answered, spitting the word out like a wad of phlegm. She punctuated her taciturn response by taking a baseball bat to an unfortunate zombie’s noggin. Bloody, chunky bits of grey matter painted the wall behind the once mobile member of the undead.
“I take it you’re still mad, aren’t you?” asked Jude, trying to remember if they kept a baseball bat in the house.
“No, whatever would give you that idea?”
BLAM! Another AI controlled zombie was obliterated by grade-a pine.
“Just a hunch. Look, just come to bed and we can discuss this like normal rational people who do not brain their boyfriends with the mighty baseball bat of unspoken resentment and anger.”
Claire paused the game and looked up into Jude’s face. In the two years they had met, Jude looked just the same as the day they met. A few signs of wrinkles here and there, yes, but she could still see his green eyes when he squinted. Sadly, it seemed to be the only part of him that remained from two years ago. The only part that had remained the same from someone else ago.
“It’s not like you didn’t know V-Day was coming Jude. It’s not like it falls on a different day every year and you couldn’t see it coming from a mile away here. I mean, even I managed to put a little planning into this beyond a Hallmark card and some roses which, by the way, will end up dying within 48 hours due to my inability to care for vegetation.”
Jude glanced over at the roses which, sure enough, were beginning to wilt a bit around the edges. “Most people would consider putting them in water or something.”
“Maybe they’re supposed to wilt. Maybe it’s wrong to just cut them while they’re still maturing and stick them in a condo no matter how beautiful they are or how much I love them. Flowers don’t grow in condos you know. I checked.”
She had checked. But both Claire and Jude knew that they were no longer discussing flowers or dinner or killing the thoughtless, wandering, apathetic person your boyfriend has become. They were talking about their relationship, but neither wanted to admit it. Neither wanted to admit that much like the flowers in the vase that would have sorely enjoyed a bit of water, their relationship was slowly withering away. They were like a fourth of July sparkler that, despite once being full of light and warmth and energy, was now just an ugly, blackened husk of its former self that was more painful than pleasant. They both knew this, but neither wanted to talk about it, for doing so would break the illusion that they were still a couple.
So they didn’t. They sat in silence while the thirsty flowers and the paused game and the dog who lay at their feet, knowing full well that she would not be receiving a belly rub tonight.
Claire got up, shut off the console, and turned to Jude, the only light coming through the windows of the living room. “Want to just go to bed? We can have a post-Valentine’s tomorrow or something.”
Jude chortled, happy that neither one would be forced to face any harsh realities tonight, and that his girlfriend wouldn’t be wailing on him with a Louisville Slugger anytime soon. “Bed sounds nice. Do you have any idea how exhausting it is to sit in a chair all day long?”