A couple years after college, Lucas and I had ended up in one half of a duplex back up in the capital. The summer I graduated, he finagled a few things to somehow do online and independent study credits for his last year and cut out early. To be honest though, he’d already landed a job with some kind of technology company and didn’t really need the degree anymore anyway. I kind of kicked myself for having sat there like a waste all those times he was hanging out *and* teaching himself but, whatever.
As far as the rest of the group, they’d all kind of scattered to the wind. I don’t think there was any other reason than that just being how life goes. But it didn’t make it any less irritating when no one had ever returned my calls or texts. I’d tried to keep up as best I could, but they really exploded into the world. Dustin had moved back home and was being groomed to take over his dad’s hardware business. Marcus has moved to Costa Rica to teach English. (After four years, I never even knew he spoke Spanish till he was gone. Crazy.) Greg had sort of just fallen off the face of the planet. Supposedly Noah had some kind of mental breakdown or a traumatic brain injury or something. I don’t really remember the story, to be honest. But I feel like it had to’ve been the accident; he’d always seemed fine to me. Even that Elsby girl had vanished. I found out her name and stuff eventually, but, stupidly, never wrote down her phone number. I think I even still had my proof-of-life picture waiting on her. I know I still had my souvenir hair band. Somewhere.
But anyway, with no real plan besides Lucas having found work and me not having any better thing to do, we’d found a place next to our favorite bartender and her fiance. Lucas had jumped straight into work, and I, still having about two breaths of motivation in me, found a job tutoring city kids and got myself enrolled in a graduate program downtown. For the first year or so, things were great. His schedule kept him up and working from about dawn till dusk (though technically, his real schedule was 8-5 like everyone else; he just was his regular old Lucas self and worked before work, and then also after, because...well, I don’t know why). I usually got to sleep in a little, though a few families had cut deals with the school so that I could attend classes occasionally and observe from a courtside seat. All my classes were in the evenings, so by the time I hit up work, got over to campus, sat around for three hours and headed home, both of us were ready to unwind.
Beer and vodka pretty much dominated the fridge. The neighbors didn’t mind if we were loud, or stayed up half the night stomping up and down the stairs, or just sat on the front porch smoking cigarettes and laughing and playing “She Drive Me Crazy” by the Fine Young Cannibals fifteen times a night (still not sure why, but it was brilliantly hilarious at the time). I suppose it helped that we always took care of the lawn and snow-shoveling and whatever else spontaneously popped into our heads. We were adults, dammit. Or it was at least gonna look like it. From the outside. I actually wasn’t even completely embarrassed when Chris and Christy stopped by one time.
It was never a wild party house; neither of us knew enough people, or people we’d want to hang out with, regardless of how many we met through work and school. But we were almost perfectly situated. Between the dive bar the neighbor worked at (and Uncle Alex frequented), a few little sports pubs and music venues, even a grocery and liquor store, almost all crucial elements were within walking distance. It couldn’t have been better if we’d designed it ourselves. In hindsight, it probably really *should* have been some kind of cool bachelor pad filled with crazy stories and crazier girls. I guess we kind of wasted it. But, I mean, I went on a date or three and Lucas seemed pretty content having an intense relationship with C++, or whatever was cutting-edge on any given day. Maybe not the height of cool for us, but, shoot, as long as things were going, they were going strong, and that was about all I had ever asked for.
Obviously, though, after a while, in kind of the way you ought to expect, and in the way I probably would have expected if you were telling me this story instead of me you, I came home one day to the place and Lucas, in brief, was not pleased.
Just the fact that Lucas was home should’ve probably been a sign that things were not in their optimum lay-out. It was a Friday, which meant no classes, so from the moment I was able to cut out the door at work, I was planning on about two hours of killing time, and then, for lack of a better term, dicking around with him.
The leech aspect of my personality, the ability to vicariously live, it’s not that it was good, bad, or indifferent, at least not to me at that point. It’s more that it was pervasive. I had built a fairly decent soap opera around myself through it. There was always the potential for a she. There was Lucas. There was me. There was the all-dramatic break up of me and the girl. There were enough things to make me interesting and broken that I didn’t have to do a lot with other actual people. Facebook has messenger, or Instagram, or like, Twitter exists, although to be fair, at this point, there was no way I could condense myself into 140 characters. I was way too deep and intriguing.
When I walked in, Lucas was at his desk, earbuds in, the multicolored coding screen up on his computer. I closed the door and tossed the mail on the end table. I couldn’t guess how long he’d been there. He’d been gone when I left; that was pretty much all I knew.
I said “hey” but he just glanced over and nodded.
If he’d been there all day, he had to’ve seen the mail guy come. His desk had a straight shot view to the front door, which was basically all glass. But, maybe he was doing his thing. Lucas, more than anyone I’d ever seen, Uncle Alex included, myself included, had that hyper-focus of thought where you couldn’t bring him back without an actual physical touch. The nod seemed like a good sign.
I went into the kitchen, mixed a quick drink, and kind of wandered in circles for a second. He wasn’t hunched, exactly, but there was a certain amount of “don’t bug me” expressed in the way his shoulders and body leaned towards the mostly dark screen that I figured my best bet was to go upstairs and come down with a new plan. Give him time. See if he worked his way out of whatever funk he’d worked himself into.
About nine-thirty, after I’d doodled on the wall (a bad habit that I’d picked up...it made me feel “artistic”), and after I’d stared at book spines for awhile, reading the last readable chapter of a Fitzgerald biography, and making notes to myself on a little pad of paper that looked concerningly close to a sociopath’s ramblings, I walked back and forth, looking out the bedroom window toward the street, glancing over at the door to my room.
I thought I needed a good surprise, a change, a Thing to inspire myself. Lucas was always doing good things, but I had to assume it was because that was just some base-level part of himself that he woke up to every day. A kind of general mantra or thought path that made him different from me at the core.
I looked out to the hallway, my laptop playing music in the background, me swirling the remains of a drink in a glass. I heard Lucas get up from the desk, walk across the uneven wooden floor. Creaks and squeaks underneath me over toward the kitchen. I hopped down the stairs to see if he was almost done.
He was in the kitchen, eating chips over the sink. I opened the fridge and began mixing a drink on the small table we never used for anything else.
“About done?” I asked.
He shrugged. This wasn’t a good sign from him. There had been rumors, or mostly just overheard phone conversations (the walls, floors/ceiling were thin, and Lucas, while usually the happiest guy I knew, had the ability to really yell when he wanted to), but from the little I could piece together, things weren’t going well. His family was like mine: mom, dad, two kids, of which he was the oldest. My best guess was that his little brother had been getting himself into more and more trouble lately. The kid, I had only met him once and couldn’t remember his name, was nineteen, living at home, sort of going to college, sort of doing whatever he wanted. He’d been arrested once, underage consumption, something that Lucas and I and everyone else had kind of laughed off. Everybody (else) gets in trouble sometimes, we figured.
The second time, things were a little bit less funny. Not that he did anything worse, just that, y’know, everybody had already played this game once, and it wasn’t as entertaining on the second go round. Or at least, it sounded less pleasant based on what I could hear through the floor while Lucas was talking with his family.
The night before had been another marathon phone session that left me upstairs with earbuds in for the most of the night. I’d ventured down once or twice to grab a bag of chips, refill a drink, but Lucas had been perched in his desk chair, yelling into the phone to someone. I would’ve guessed his brother, based on the volume, but from what he said it sounded more like he was talking at his mom.
“Things didn’t sound like they were going so hot last night,” I said, leaning against the fridge.
“Don’t worry about it.”
He wasn’t usually so curt. It wasn’t unheard of, but it caught me off guard, and I laughed. “It’s not like it’s a big secret. You can vent if you want.”
“No,” he said. “It’s not your business.”
“All right.” I stood there for a second, not sure if I was offended, or if he was right and I should be thankful for not having to deal with somebody else’s problems. “What do you wanna do tonight?”
He turned around like he was going to answer, then just walked back and sat at his computer.
“Okay,” I said and started for the stairs, assuming I could spend another night up there if he was gonna be shitty. I made it to the foot of the steps before he spoke up, calling back over his shoulder.
“You need to get your shit together.”
“You heard me.”
I paused, sipping my drink. Surely that wasn’t what he was talking about. He had a beer bottle sweating onto the glass top of his table at that very moment.
“Yeah, I did, but I don’t know where that came from. If you’re mad about your brother, that’s fine, but I don’t see how it’s my fault. He’s the one that keeps getting in trouble. You and I both have said it’s his fault. If he wants to go out and raise hell, then this is bound to happen.”
“But not to you, right? No consequences for you.”
“We don’t do stupid shit. If he wants to run around, he needs to figure out how to do it. And I’ve had plenty of consequences, thanks. Sorry they didn’t involve the cops.”
“It’s been two fucking years since Janie split, man, and I’m impressed she even stayed *that* long. Get over it.”
“Oh, okay. Sorry for feeling bad about shit. Sorry things don’t just go my way like they do for you.” I don’t think I expected him to feel bad, but pity was kind of a knee-jerk move. If I could make somebody feel bad for yelling at me, if I could show them how calm and sane I was by not yelling back, if nothing else, maybe later they’d feel bad for treating me like that.
“What do you—” he spun around in his chair. “No, I know what you expect. You just don’t seem to realize it. Or I fucking hope you don’t realize it. Because otherwise this is a whole different discussion.”
“What?” I said. “What amazing things have I got going?”
“I don’t know. And I’m really starting to not care,” he began. “But I know you owe me rent for last month. Your half of the bills. I know every time we go to the store you suddenly realize ‘we’ need vodka, or ‘we’ need beer. I keep mine in my room, so I’m pretty sure ‘we’ don’t need anything. But you always have a stocked fridge, and my debit card is the one that’s always being run.”
“Oh geez. Don’t take your family shit out on me. If you’re that upset about it, let’s go to the liquor store now and I’ll get you back.”
“With what? You just said yesterday I ‘might need’ to float you till next Friday.”
“I don’t know. I’ve got a credit card.” To me, this sounded extremely grown-up and responsible. Not so much to him apparently.
“You’re such a fucking idiot. Why don’t you learn how to live with the money you have instead of pawning everything off on other people? Or why don’t you just suck it up and get an actual job?”
“Oh okay. I’ll just run out and do that,” I said. “I’m not exactly excited that nobody’s responding to my applications, either. But we don’t all have people lining up with job offers like you do.”
“Whatever, man.” He turned back around and put his earbuds back in.
I was halfway up the stairs when I heard him toss them back on the desk, the sound of the chair turning around.
“I’m tired of taking care of all you guys,” he said. “None of this is my responsibility. I’m out tomorrow.”
“What? Of course none of it’s your responsibility.” This was starting to sound familiar, and my only goal was to get him to see how we were on the same side, not butting heads.
“I’m moving out tomorrow.”
“Where are you gonna go?” It wasn’t really an argument, but I didn’t have any other halfway decent response.
“Not that it’s your concern, but I’m going to Alex’s. I talked to him last week and they’ve got a room they’re gonna let me crash in. I’m moving my shit tomorrow. Be here or don’t, I don’t really care.”
Again with these secret plans. If people would just talk to me, instead of sneaking around and yelling at me, maybe we could get things straightened out. Lay it on the table and get things back to how they were.
“Our lease isn’t up for three months,” I said, hearing an echo of my own voice.
“Yeah. I guess you better start looking for a roommate.” He looked like he was about to add something biting to the end, one more little jab, but then thought better of it. Maybe he decided to not kick me when I was down, or maybe he just didn’t care enough to bother talking more.
“Where am I supposed to find one of those? You’re the only friend I’ve got.”
“I dunno,” he shrugged. “Craigslist. Work. You aren’t the first guy in this town who needs a roommate. Figure it out. It’s what adults do.”
I stood there for a second, not realizing at the time that those were likely the last words I will ever hear out of him. I went back upstairs, closed the door to my room, put my headphones in and stared out the window, sipping my drink. This wasn’t exactly the big surprise change I’d been thinking of.
Around ten pm he left. I don’t know where he went. I ran down and mixed another drink, attempting to take advantage of what might be a short window of empty house time. By two he hadn’t come back and I had stopped glancing out at the drive for headlights.
It was such a Lucas situation. Life gets hard and you just move into a mansion. I tried to tally up the alcohol left in the house, figure out how to ration it. I could probably make it through the weekend, but then I’d have to come up with a new plan. My paychecks would basically be eaten up by the full rent and utilities. Gas for to and from work. Cell phone. Internet. The longer I thought, the longer the list got. School was probably gonna have to go on hold. At least until I felt like the spinning in my head stopped. Or even just slowed down a little. How did people do this shit?
At some point I fell asleep for a few hours, kicking myself when I woke up to see that all the lights were still on.
The next day I mostly hid out in my room. Lucas and what sounded like his uncle showed up at some ridiculous hour and had all of his stuff out by ten am. After they’d gone, I went and surveyed the remainder. Surprisingly, it didn’t look much different. His desk was gone. The kitchen table. His room, of course, was empty. I opened the fridge. Everything I needed was still there. I mixed a drink and went and sat on the couch, attempting to enjoy having my own place.
I needed a plan. I did have a credit card, but I didn’t really want to use it if I could avoid doing so. I knew enough about my own personality to at least admit that once I started spending, I wouldn’t stop. If my resolve was a dam, a weakness turned to a crack turned to a trickle turned to the dam exploding in the same amount of time it took to swipe a card.
I turned on the tv. At least that was bundled with the internet, so not technically another bill. And plus, it’s not like they charged you per show.
I tried to think, and then cut myself some slack. This was completely out of the blue. Not like the times or people before. I needed a second to ponder. To review. To try and set up...something. But at that point, what I really needed was just a day off. I didn’t end up leaving the couch other than to pee and refill a drink, or the fridge, for a couple days.