Fiction Series: Strange Happenings on Wildflower Drive - Part 1
"Breathe. Relax." Earl goes through the instructions flatly. "And none of that eyes closed shit. Are you sure you wanna do this?"
"I'm pretty sure," I think and speak slowly.
"Listen, if you're not all-in, let me know now so I can get someone else to do it."
"I'm in. Plus, it's pretty late to change my mind on it now."
"Please," Earl zips the bag shut. "I'm sure mommy told you you're special. But you're not. Not on this."
Twenty-eight hours earlier...
"I don't even want to open this shit," I say to no one in particular. I hold the stack of mail at my side. I walk up to my door and unlock it, walking in and lazily kicking it shut behind me. I hear Sex Machine by James Brown blaring through the wall separating me from the Finches next door. It’s probably Steve. He only plays that when he’s about to go cheat on his wife. I sort through the mail. Bills. Shitty credit card offers; an offer for a complimentary AARP membership. Notice from the landlord.
“Tristan,” the note began. “I regret to inform you that due to increasing building expenses, I will be raising your rent…” I toss the letter onto the counter. I go into the refrigerator for a cold beer. Instead, I find a bag of spinach, half a bottle of moscato, and an empty box of baking soda. My phone rings.
“Hello, mother,” I say, easing onto the wobbly couch. “How are you?”
“I’m doing great,” she says. “I haven’t heard from you in a while.”
“Well, nothing much has changed,” I say. “Still barely getting by. Still hating my job.”
“You should be grateful you have a job,” she says. She keeps talking while I put the phone down and go into the refrigerator again. I toss the empty box of baking soda.
“Mother,” I interrupt her opium den story. “I have no money. You wanna know what I had for dinner last night? A sriracha sandwich and hot water.”
“Well, that sounds tasty,” she says. It truly wasn’t. I should’ve given Kendra her damn sriracha back when we broke up. I roll my eyes audibly.
“Not at all, Ma.” Here comes the second job thing.
“You should eat more vegetables.”
“Vegetables cost money.”
“Well, you could get a second job.”
“I wouldn’t need a second job if the first job paid me a wage I could live on,” I say. I start to pace the apartment.
“You should be grateful you have a job in the first place,” she says again. We’ve come full circle. “Think of all the people who would kill-”
“Okay, I have to go,” I say. “Love you, bye.” She says the same and I hang up quickly before she can ask me anything else. My phone buzzes. It’s a text from Cameron. I grab my keys and walk out of the apartment.
“Hey cutie,” a voice says. I quickly lock up and turn around. It’s Mrs. Carmichael, leaning in her doorway.
“Um, hi,” I say.
“Going out?” She asks.
“Yup,” I say. “Running late to meet a friend.”
“Oh, well have fun,” she says. “Maybe you’ll come by for a nightcap?” Mrs. Carmichael is a cool 25 years older than me; also, a Mrs.
“Um, it’s probably going to be a very late night, but thanks anyway,” I say, heading to the stairs.
“That was fast,” Cameron says. “I just got here myself.”
“Dude, I was contemplating hot sauce salad for dinner tonight,” I say. “I didn’t have the luxury of pacing myself.”
“Well, how’s the job situation going?” he asks. We open our menus.
“Okay, so when I say I was about to have hot sauce salad for dinner, that means I open a bag of wilted spinach, dump half of it in a bowl, and drown it in hot sauce. So, take a guess.” I look at steaks. Cameron cringes.
“Holy shit,” he says. “You know, you could still come work with me if you want.”
“Thanks,” I say. “But, you’re still an escort, yeah?”
“Mmhmm,” he murmurs, flipping through the menu.
“You know I’m not judging or anything.”
“Of course not.”
“I just don’t think I’m enough of a people person for that.” I look at appetizers.
“Alcohol helps,” he says. “Plus I made like fifteen hundred bucks today.” I drop the menu.
“Fifteen hundred?” I exclaim in a hushed tone. I screw my face up just thinking about that.
“Yeah,” he says. “I’m taking the rest of the week off.”
“I’m definitely getting the bone-in rib eye,” I say.
“Get two if you want,” he says. “Can’t have you eating hot sauce soup for dinner.”
“One is fine,” I chuckle. “I get paid tomorrow anyway.”
“Well, if you change your mind,” he says. “I don’t care, really.”
“Fifteen hundred dollars?” I say again.
“Yeah,” he says. “You could pull around that on a kinda busy day; early twenties, nice body, good teeth. Six-pack?” I nod.
“Exercise really helps with the stress of living paycheck to almost paycheck,” I say. I’m admittedly becoming curious. “For how many hours?”
“About five, six?” The waiter approaches the table and we order appetizers.
I push through the front door into my building, doggy bag in hand. The landlord walks out of a tenant’s apartment on the first floor, fumbling with his pants. He seems consumed in his action until he hears the sound of my keys jingling. “Oh, Tristan,” he says, looking up.
“Paul,” I say. “You’re making house calls now?”
“Well, the super quit,” he says. “Remember Anthony? So, I was taking care of a tenant issue.”
“Kinda late for that, isn’t it?” I ask. It’s 11:27.
“Why put off till tomorrow what you can do today, eh?” He says.
“Uh…huh.” The bag is heavy in my left hand. “I have a question.”
“I can give you until the 12th if you need another extension,” he says. “How’s the job thing going?” He subtly slides a white gold wedding band down his middle finger.
“Wrong finger, Paul,” I say. “And not that great. I actually wanted to ask about this rent increase.”
“Well, yeah, the rent increase,” he says, fumbling with the wedding band. “I had to do it. Costs are going insane around here.”
“Costs?” I ask. “I don’t see it. The water pressure’s been shit, my radiator still leaks, and this place looks rundown. Clean, admittedly, but still rundown.”
“Property taxes and other stuff,” he sighs. “And some damn pipe that needs to be replaced. You should boil your water before you drink it for the next week or so.”
“Wait, what?” I say. He quickly changes the subject.
“You any good with your hands?” He asks.
“Yeah,” I shrug.
“Any chance you’d want the super gig? Pays fifteen bucks an hour, plus free rent. Something until you find a better job.” I turn and head towards the stairs.
“I’ll think about it,” I say. “Oh, your belt’s twisted.”