Thursday, February 25, 2010

Chapter Two

Chapter Two, in which Gary gets sick of comforting.

Gary yelped in surprise as his cell phone suddenly rang, causing everybody in a three-cubicle radius to look up to see what was the matter before turning back to their work when they saw it wasn't anything that would get the building evacuated. Gary rolled his eyes and took a deep breath before answering. "'Sup doodlebug," he said, trying to sound cool. He knew right away that it was Elaine because he set his phone to play "Still the One" by Orleans whenever it was her.

"Babe, I'm so sorry but I can't do tonight. There's an emergency at the shop," said Elaine, sounding just a little on edge.

"Aw man! What did that annoying new chick do now? Burn her face with the milk steamer?" Gary threw down his pencil on his desk. It made a nice little CLACK before it rolled off the desk, much to Gary's chagrin.

"I wish. She quit an hour ago and there's only one person to cover me right now."

"What about Rick? It's his coffee shop. He should be ready to take over when there's an emergency." He crawled onto the floor and under the desk with a bit of effort, looking for his rogue 0.5 lead pencil.

"I'm in the emergency room with him right now."

"What? Ouch!" Gary glared at the desk as he rubbed the back of his head. "What are you doing with Rick in the emergency room?"

"He got so mad when Sheila walked out that he punched the window and cut his hand up. Bobby's covering for me right now but as soon as they're done with Rick's stitches I have to go back and help sort it all out." Rick was known for his occasional temper tantrum, so Elaine was able to explain everything without so much as a blink.

"Aw, dammit Rick," whined Gary.

"I know babe. I'll make it up for you tomorrow, okay? Rick's coming out now so I've got to go. Love you."

"Okay. Love you too," said Gary even though Elaine hung up before he had finished. He found his pencil at least.

Gary yawned loudly as he hit the "pause" button on the video game controller later that evening. Video games alone on the couch wasn't how he had intended to spend his Friday night. There was supposed to be a simple dinner and a movie with Elaine. A nice, much-needed night of just the two of them having some much-needed- and simple- fun. And without broken glass embedded in the fist of a scary man Elaine referred to as a “pussy cat”.

"Ricky's still working on that big case so he'll be gone for a while," Gary said to himself, remembering Ricky's long rant about a new client at his law firm. And Tomoko's having that intervention with her room mate; probably shouldn't go mess that up, he thought. And Tim's begging Marie Lore for mercy again and April's visiting her folks. Gary pouted a little longer before taking his cell phone out of his pocket. If he was going to be alone all evening he may as well have some pizza to drown his sorrows in.

He was just about to flip the phone open when the little screen suddenly lit up and played "Libiamo ne' lieti calici"- the drinking song from Verdi's "La traviata".

"Hey, 'sup Tim," said Gary, chuckling at his great sense of timing.

"Do you mind coming over," Tim asked softly. "I just broke up with Marie Lore."

"Holy crap! What happened?" If Gary had been drinking anything, he'd have done a spit take.

"She cheated. I threw her keys out the window and now my stomach hurts. Can you hurry?"

Gary shook his head and groaned inwardly. Comforting his emotionally-fragile best friend was not how he wanted to spend his Friday night.

"You've gotta admit, that does take a lot of guts," said Gary, putting his feet up on the coffee table. He was wearing his green socks that were in fact clean but always looked dirty. There were holes in each big toe. "I mean cheating on you is one thing, but in your own bed? It's like something out of a sitcom!"

"Uh huh," replied Tim.

"You know, you are allowed the initial reaction of punching him in the face. You didn't have to introduce yourself while he's naked with your girlfriend."

"Uh huh."

"Are you even listening to what I'm saying, Tim?"

"Uh huh."

Tim called Gary and asked him to come over after he had realized that he had been staring at the TV while it was turned off for nearly an hour. It probably wasn't the healthiest thing to do and it left him with a terrible cramp in his left thigh.

Gary rolled his eyes. "Look. Obviously you're taking this a lot harder than you thought you would. I don't blame you, buddy. It's one thing to get cheated on right under your nose. It's a whole other level of screwed up when it's going on in your own bed. That's just plain twisted."

"Uh huh."

"Tim, are you even listening to what I'm saying?"

"Uh huh."

Gary rolled his eyes again. If it weren't for the fact that he was bald he would have run his fingers through his hair to express his exasperation. Instead he settled for pinching the bridge of his nose. He hated dealing with people after a breakup. They were always either terribly cliché like in the movies, or unpredictable and liable to lash out at any moment which on second thought was just as cliché.

The phone rang just then. Tim made no move to get up and answer it so Gary didn't either. After a few more rings the answering machine got it. "Hi, you've reached Tim Harmon. I can't get to the phone now so please leave your name and number. Thanks." Beep!

"Fre- Teem, c'est moi. J'ai besoin de mes clés. Appelle-moi." Click.

"Hey,” said Gary. “She called you Tim for once! That's Great! How did that happen? Tim?"

Tim sniffled and rolled away so he was facing the back of the couch. "I don't know," he moaned, doing a very poor job of hiding the fact that he was crying.

"Aw, come here little guy. Let Gary squeeze it all out for you," said Gary as he got out of the easy chair and plopped onto the couch. He scooped his best friend up for one of his famous back-popping hugs.

Tim wasn't very fond of crying. He didn't like all the wetness and the mucus and the tight feeling on the sides of his head. Worst of all was the hiccuping that always left him incoherent even after the tears had subsided. He was happy for Gary's shoulder though and squeezed back when Gary squeezed him harder. "That's it. Just let it all out," he heard Gary murmur.

Gary stole a look at the time on the microwave while Tim sobbed into his shoulder. You sure do cry a lot for such a stoic person, Gary thought as he recalled Tim's most recent crying episodes: there was the city opera season's opening night when Othello strangled Desdemona- that was only a couple of weeks ago; there was the wicked heartburn from last month that went on for three days, but that crying spell was more because it was so painful physically than emotionally; there was another stupid fight with Marie Lore over something that Gary couldn't understand (as usual); and of course there was April playing "Old Yeller" at movie night the week before the opera opening. Gary wondered if that one should count however since everybody except Ricky and Marie Lore cried. The heartless bastards.

Judging by the growing wet patch on his shoulder, Gary figured he'd be stuck letting Tim cry for the rest of the evening if he didn't do something.

"You know, Tim, some things in life are bad. They can really make you mad," began Gary. "Other things just make you swear and curse. When you're chewing on life's gristle, don't grumble, give a whistle!"

"N-not what I n-need, Gary," Tim sniffed into Gary's shoulder. Gary however would hear none of it.

"Always look on the bright side of life!" Gary paused to whistle. "Always look on the bright side of life!"

"Not he-helping," Tim said a little more firmly. He wanted to glare at Gary but he just realized that Gary was squeezing him hard enough that he couldn't move even if he wanted to.

"If life seems jolly rotten there's something you've forgotten, and that's to laugh and smile and dance and sing." Tim started to struggle, but it was no use. Gary kept singing and even started to sway in time as he approached the chorus. Tim felt like a harvest mouse in the grips of a corn snake.

When Gary finally finished singing the two friends sat on the couch in awkward silence. Tim finally managed to escape Gary's iron grip and curled up on the opposite end of the couch, still sniffling. Gary sat on his end, unsure of what to do next. It wasn't the first time that he had had to come and comfort somebody after a bad breakup, but he wasn't exactly the most reassuring or comforting person in the world.

"So do you feel any better," asked Gary. He twiddled his thumbs, not really sure what to do next.

"Not really," said Tim. He clutched the pillow a little closer to his chest.

"Was it too much?"

"A little. I don't really feel like laughing," he sniffed.

"So I shouldn't try the talking stove thing then, eh?"

"Please don't.”

Gary sighed and leaned back into the couch. He stared a little at the ceiling. "You know, this isn't exactly easy for me either. Do you know how hard it is to comfort somebody after a breakup?"

"Excuse me?" Tim wiped his nose and arched his eyebrow at Gary.

"It's not easy! I know you've been there for me plenty of times, but I don't get so weepy about like you do. It's awkward to hold a crying man, especially when it's out of the blue like this."

Tim couldn't believe what he was hearing, and he turned and glared at Gary. "Well excuse me if I made you feel uncomfortable. I've only just had my heart ripped out of my chest and trampled on by the Strumpet of Buxton Avenue."

"Sorry, sorry," mumbled Gary, suddenly feeling very frustrated. When Ricky broke up with his last girlfriend in June, Gary took him out for a few drinks. They got drunk, flirted with some of the women in the bar, peed in an alley on the way to the all-night donut shop, and called it a night. When Gary broke up with Kate three years ago he took a boxing class at the gym and gained fifteen pounds from too much beer and junk food during the first week. It was simple. There was no crying or talking about feelings or wallowing in emotional agony. It was just a matter of-

"Gary, you're talking to yourself again. And I remember a lot of used tissues and a few pints of ice cream after Kate. You're just as emotional as anybody else." Tim grabbed a tissue from the box and wiped his glasses. It was always so hard to get tears out without just smudging it into the lenses and making a mess.

"God dammit! I can't get a break today!" Gary threw his arms up in the air in defeat. "I hate people and relationships!"

"Trouble with Elaine?" Tim offered the box of tissues to Gary who in turn grabbed a few and started wringing them in his hands.

"We were finally going to have a night for just the two of us, and she had to bail out because she has to cover for that annoying girl that just quit. Oh, and Rick got mad and punched a window."

“Is he okay?”

“Elaine had to take him to get stitches apparently.”

“Sheesh, I'm sorry.” Tim put his glasses back on and offered Gary the tissues.

"Don't be. I'm just being pouty," said Gary as he looked down at the small pile of tissue shreds in his lap. "I'm not the one that just got dumped by some stupid whore."

"She only cheated on me. I'm the one that dumped her," corrected Tim. He blew his nose rather loudly.

"Seriously man, you were way too good for her. You treated her like a queen and she never thanked you. You should burn those sexed-up sheets and forget about her. She's not worth the brain cells." Gary winced when Tim sniffled again and he realized he was going far too fast for his friend. It had only been what? Two hours? Jesus Gary, why don't you just stab him with a knife and pour salt in the wound? Rub some lemon juice in there for good measure.

Tim made a strange whining gurgling sound and he waved one hand while he buried his face in a tissue with the other. Gary interpreted that to mean, "Shut up and hold me. I feel like utter crap." He obliged and hugged Tim again. It was probably for the best that Elaine had to cancel; having to leave in the middle of a nice meal, or being too late and finding Tim doing something stupid in the name of love would be an even worse alternative to the night.

Gary was unable to coax Tim to go out for a drink, or to even leave the couch really. At one point during the evening he suggested they strip Tim's bed and give it a good cleaning with some vinegar and detergent to get rid of every trace of what had just transpired, but as soon as Tim saw the bed again he turned into a quivering mass and dragged himself back to the couch to sob. Gary took the initiative and took all of the sheets down to the sidewalk where they'd disappear to a new home within the hour. He emptied the trash too, and tried to hide his disgust at the fact that he was indirectly handling a disgusting used condom with another man's spunk in there.

"Hey Tim, buddy? I'm gonna try and scrub the mattress a little, but I think it's going to be too wet to sleep on tonight. Is that cool?" Tim curled up into a tighter ball on the couch and whimpered, which Gary took for a "yes".

While Gary did all of the dirty work of cleaning up every trace of Marie Lore's infidelity, Tim alternated between sobbing into his couch cushion and sipping water only because he didn't want to get dehydrated. Each time he did though he remembered that Marie Lore enjoyed drinking water and the tears would start all over again.

Worst of all however, was that all the tension in Tim's face was aggravating his old battle wound from the Leslie Anne Shuman Incident last year. It may have taken a month for the bones in his jaw to set after she punched him, but that didn't mean that the injury was completely healed. The throbbing on the left side of Tim's face was just the cherry on top of the shit sundae that his life had just served up for him.

How could Marie Lore have been so cruel? Of all the ways to betray Tim she had to pick the meanest way imaginable. And for how long? Tim groaned as he realized that this affair could have been going on for weeks, months even. All those weekends when she had to go "out of town" for one reason or another... she was cavorting in the nude with somebody else! Why? Oh why?!

Gary shook his head as he sprayed watered-down detergent on the mattress. Tim was like a brother to him, and to see him in so much pain brought out the mama bear instinct in Gary. It tore him up inside to hear Tim wailing, "Oh god! Why?! Why me," into a pillow.

But most of all he was mad. Tim was the sweetest man in the world; he couldn't do any harm to anybody even if he wanted to. Gary really meant it when he said Tim was too good for her; hell, the whole planet was too good for her. He'd been thinking that since Day One! But Elaine and Tomoko insisted that he keep his big mouth shut. "You're not his mother," they said. "You're only seeing one side of her," they claimed. "Okay, she's a bitch,” they admitted not much later. “But it's his life and he has to learn from his mistakes himself.”

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