Grave Awakening

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The week passed in pure... agony... For Nick, at least. For Courtney, he could only surmise it was enjoyed, if not enthralling, with ignorant bliss and tarted whimsy. On Wednesday, he needed to look up the dress code to make sure the... late-night ensemble she wore was still in its guidelines. Sadly, that raspberry red dress skirt, olive-toned stockings, and frosted white top were all well and fine, and he couldn’t really say the red bra that basically shined through was against it because then he would be charged for sexual misconduct. For simply noticing a bright red alarm bell... or two, in this case... Just like her brother, she had long, blonde hair. However, unlike him, she had the wisdom to not put it in a bun and, instead, let it hang like a ponytail.

He must give her credit: She at least had the smarts of the family. What little there was. She was asking all the right questions about college, of which she started to contain them to the fifteen-minute breaks they had. Emphasis on started to. It became harder for her to talk when he let her take the reins at the desk chair, but that only made him have to go to the bathroom more often. She had to watch every. Single. Key she pressed; watching her was torture on its own. However, she also had the habit of MUMBLING whatever she was typing. Every single digit, every single slash, dash, letter and punctuation; every single one was mumbled in between her still trying to talk. His chest suffered the worst, holding in that fire, scorching his heart and lungs, especially when she would eat fries she brought back from lunch and type without wiping her fingers off. He laid down layers of napkins when they returned -since she insisted to take him out to lunch ever since that first day- and would still have to sop up a ring of grease at the end of the day.

But... BUT... it was coming to an end. It was Friday. Final hour. He would give his preliminary report, stating she was not a good fit for the office, alongside the mountain of complaints, and she would be gone by Monday. He had done so well to tune her out, giving generic answers whenever (though generic, they still gave her the information she needed; he wasn’t going to screw up her future. That was her own doing if she must) she paused, waiting, but she kept bringing up her brother. Especially with it getting closer to the weekend.

“So, my brother picked up the newest set for his dorky game,” he managed to catch her saying, watching the clock like a hawk. It was only thirty minutes until closing. Everybody else had started to shut down, chairs creaking, reverberating the sigh of relief as they seemed to rise as one, but not her. He had his workload, of which she was only a fifth of the way through it –which would go on the docket; the ability to complete your tasks in a timely manner is imperative, and if she can’t even keep up with his, she would fall behind with the others.

“So you told me,” he mumbled, cut off once by a nasty expulsion form his stomach. He gulped it back down, but it only deepened his glower. His stomach was in a right mood from the food she purchased, but she had slowed extensively within the last few hours. Spreadsheets will do that, but how was it hard to punch in numbers in boxes? Did it have to slow you to a salted snail’s pace? “I don’t play, so I have no... idea what it’s about.”

“I don’t play either, but he talks my ear off about it! ‘Oh, it’s bringing giant monsters.’ ‘You can make your own large beasts.’ ‘I’ve ordered a whole packet of the themed boosters and have several mana packs set aside.’ He keeps talking about dragging you with him after work to play, and I’m like, ‘Dude! Take a hint! He doesn’t want to be your friend! Not everyone at work has to be your friend. You’re here to do a job, as is everyone else, and they have lives outside of here.’ After all, what do you have planned this weekend?”

“Aside taking my clothes to the dry-cleaners? Not much else.”

“You take your stuff to be dry-cleaned? I thought that died off in the 80′s.”

“Still very much popular. I have to schedule to take them in as they have a good bit of business. Expected, since this town has become a business mecca.” Fifteen minutes... Just. Got to. Hold o-

“Do you have anything in mind? Any hobbies? Do you like movies? Music? Do you play music- you know, you always struck me as somebody who lives a double-life. Like, you’re all business and robot and ‘for the man, please insert work here, beep boop’... but I bet you’re a real party animal. How many parties did you go to when attending college? You worked hard, so you must have played harder, huh?”

“Work was play... I’ve been in the vicinity of a good few parties when attending, but to say I actually attended them is a bit skewed. As the night went on, it was hard to tell where the party started and where the police line would cut it off.”

She giggled, waggling a greasy, dingy finger at him –which meant her productivity was just cut 2000%! Five minutes... FIVE MO-

“You see? I knew it! You are secretly the life of the party. Which means I have a question for you.”

“And that would be?”

“Would you like to come hang with me and the girls? It was Hell Week at the sorority, which I’ve been getting it BAD after work to compensate, and tonight they are throwing a party to welcome us new sisters... and one ‘brother’. The fraternities didn’t feel... shall we say comfortable with welcoming ‘him’ until ‘he’s’ gone through with the shift, so ‘he’s’ an honorary sister. ‘He’ went through Pho Kappa Pi’s initiation like the other guys, so it’s-”

“Why are you inviting me? Surely there are plenty of other guys your age you would prefer to take.” Though I’m no stranger to the college scene, and know an invite to a pig party if I ever heard one.

“I’m gonna be honest: most men nowadays are girls with penises. None of them know what it means to be a man anymore. You know how many of them I asked when I had a flat the other week to help with the jack while I pumped up the spare? Not a single one knew to put it on the frame, let alone knew how to use a tire iron. I had to put it on the bearing and had them break them before I could spin, and they were acting like I was asking them to go to Mars. It’s, like, all guys had become my brother-”

“Hey! I take offense to that,” Chad said, smirking as he leaned on the wall into the cubical. Still with a manbun. “I know how to change a tire.”

“Yeah! Thanks to mom.”

“So? I still know how to do it, and know how to split logs, dig a ditch, and generally get my hands dirty.”

“Because of mom.”

“Again, so? It’s not always a man that has to teach a man to do ‘manly’ things, but it is about putting in the effort and being pushed to do it.”

“Which most boys my age aren’t! You could throw a skirt on most of them and they would have nicer legs than the other girls. Not a single damn muscle on any of those scrawny pencil dicks.” She huffed... and finally noticed the clock on the screen. “Oh gosh! It’s ten after. How much work do I have lef- how do I have that much left!”

“Let me see,” Chad said, and had the gall to fully enter his office. Not only that, he had the nerve to ease himself between his sister and Nick, lean over her, and violate Nick’s computer with his hands. He hummed, pulling up the activity log- and gasped, turned to a guffaw. “You don’t have any ‘left’. Nick, dude, have you been doing all of this every single day? You do realize that this is the bi-monthly quota, right? No wonder you always seemed swamped.” He straightened, turned around, and patted Nick’s arms, stifling his shakes while his chest continued to ache. “We’ll get this sorted out. This is just not right. You are being treated practically like a slave... Anyways, about tonight-”

“I was just asking him to come to a party with me,” Courtney interrupted. “Besides, a couple of the girls want to meet him. Paula has been dying to meet my ‘slave driver’, and Becky wants to pick his brain about college and what paths to take.”

“You’ve been talking about me outside of work?” Nick said, doing his best to hold the venom and contempt out of his words, though it didn’t change how bitter they laid on his tongue.

“Nothing good, I assure you. I’ve just been telling them how the mean monk at work has been pushing me to no end to do spreadsheet after spreadsheet. Without any breaks, no less... but you do have the softest cat-o-nine-tails out of everyone in the office, with the sharpest blades so you can just feel them eating through to the bone.” She giggled, shaking her head, and stood as the computer turned to black-

“Wait! No!” He cried out, easing her aside as he frantically waited for the computer to finish blinking so he could turn it back on. “I had to print something out.”

“Oh. Sorry!”

Chad patted Nick’s back, making his eye twitch.

“Whatever it was it can wait until Monday morning,” he said, and didn’t give him a real option as his hand, as it lifted, seemed to pull him along, as if he had placed strings on it and his hand had the control. He turned around, dead-faced, too furious to even show emotion, and felt even more as he looked at the big, goofy smile on that Adonis. “But now you have a choice: Do you go with my baby sister to a party with a bunch of giggling girls who probably just want to toss pillows and talk about boys, or want to come hang out with the MEN and make MANLY monsters out of small cardboard rectangles?”

“You asked him how many times before, and how many times did he agree? Face it, brother: He’s just not that into you. Besides, we aren’t only tossing pillows and talking about boys. There’s also rum, wine coolers, beer, and tequila involved. Er, for the older ones of course.”

“Yeah, sure. Just don’t blame me if you wake up with your head in the toilet and your ass up in the air and covered in slash marks and ectoplasm.”

“I can handle my drink just fine-”

“How do you know!”

“I don’t have to put up with this. I have a party to go to, and Nick is coming with me... If he wants to, of course. What do you think, Nick? Do you want to come with me and hang around with a lot of flirty, horny girls, or go hang out with smelly, nerdy virgins?”

“We bathe... At least, our playgroup bathes! I plan to get a shower before going-”

“Yet you plan to drag him right after work! What was he going to do while you washed up, huh? Did you expect him to sit in the car-”

“And what about you! Were you really going to the party dressed in that?”

“No. I was going to change before we met with the others.”

“What were you expecting him to do, then?”

“If I may interject,” Nick said, clearing his throat. “Would you excuse me, Chad? I need to go use the restroom.”

“Oh. Yeah. Sorry. Now, what were you-”

The bathroom door shut behind Nick, reducing their voices to little more than indistinguishable lulls against the tempest in his ears. He sat in the furthest stall, rocking a little, left foot smacking hard on the tile in a quick, rapid tempo. His vision had gone black and white, mind on all the charges he could get them for with this unwanted intrusion- nay, invasion and perversion into his personal life. He contemplated the window by the sinks, plotted to simply jump out that. It wasn’t more than a few feet from the ground floor; he wouldn’t even suffer a sprain. From there, it was simply walking up the hill. The only matter was not if they would be finished bickering but if they would continue it outside, as if psychically linked to continue prolonging his misery. It was bad enough his stomach was still gurgling! Screw it. I’m alone right now. I’ll j-

The door to the bathroom opened. Just as he decided to alleviate some of his stomach’s pain... Silence hung in the air after, the mirror still shuddering in its frame from the force of the relief. For a moment, Nick didn’t feel anger... and for once, in the longest time, he felt like his life was over.

“Damn, brah,” Chad said, chuckling. “Is this why you never want to hang? Shit, dude, you should have just said something. We would understand... Courtney already took off. She said she would call you in a bit if you want to go party. Let me know if you want to join us, okay?”

“I’ll keep you updated,” Nick said. The world was still black and white, his forehead clammy, and his stomach had a new roommate, though temporary. His heart felt like it was sinking, dropping like a stone to his feet, thundering down as the door closed to the bathroom... He sat a moment longer, finding the strength to stand only to find it harder to move, feet weighed down, like lead. He lurched through the office, finishing his final tasks, closing and locking the door before toiling up the hill. It became easier as it went, but only from the flames reigniting, his head throbbing with the rekindled fury.

Monday couldn’t come soon enough; this indignity would not stand, not for a moment longer! Both of them shall pay for this impudence, their careers, if not their very lives, forfeit. There was no doubt those prattling nuisances would squawk about this to everyone else in the office, and where would that leave him? His reputation, everything that he stood for, everything he worked for... gone. Gone with the wind... but they will know. They will all know not to cross him! It, like what the rumors were about, shall be a passing fancy, a malodorous malcontent that will be purged.

He made it home, taking the elevator -alas now packed with people- to the top floor, but not before it stopped at every single one. One, two people at a time would get off, and would nudge and push their way, making it hard for him. He would hold, though. He would not have his reputation tarnished in his home, in his temporary haven, until, at last, it reached the top. He was the only one that got off, and he hurried home, where he found his medication in his medicine cabinet and waited for it to kick in before collecting his thoughts and his suits.

He knew he had more than enough evidence now. He already had forty pages written up between the two, but today would be enough for forty more! Nepotism would not save her, as seniority wouldn’t save Chad. They would both burn for this, and they would both be lucky if they could even get a job on the street corner or an alley after he was through with them... but he entertained his own desires for long enough; the bus downstairs wasn’t going to wait forever, though he might take his time getting home. His mom needed his help tonight moving some furniture, after all, and he simply can’t find the time to go to either a party or to hang out. He’ll go down by the waterfront and simply enjoy the sunset then moon rise, watching what stars managed to break through the pollution above to twinkle on that dingy delta.

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