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Another Exciting Adventure in … THE GRIND
(Act I: All Wounds)
(Act II: The Status Quo)
(Act III: Covet thy Neighbor)

***

previously…

The cell phone going off in my pocket couldn’t have possibly timed it any better. I’d realized a while ago that Ursula, the gorgeous Eastern European I’d been hitting on, was more interested in my friend, suspected artificial life form, Sean McCoy, but I’d still been forced to uphold the conversation for all three of us, given their shyness and their tenuous grasp of English. How this man had been married was beyond me. The fact that he’d been married at least twice defied all reason.

The vibration in my pants presented me with my means of escape. As soon as I made it to freedom, I said to the caller, “Thank you, thank you!”

“Dude?” asked the caller, whose use of the word dude told me it was my neighbor, Emma. “Can we talk?”

“Of course! We have lungs and larynxes and mouths and lips and tongues and…” Thinking of Emma’s lips and tongue, as I often did, I had to take a deep breath and fan myself with my hand. “Sorry about that. I’m baked clean through, and I have a beer somewhere I haven’t touched in at least fifteen minutes because I’ve forgotten about it.”

“You know what,” she told me, “don’t worry about it.”

“Wait,” I said. “What if I want to worry about it? You sound pretty serious.”

“I am serious.”

“Let’s do this in person,” I suggested. “Where are you?”

“Sixth Street, between Second and Third.”

“I’m on First Avenue, at the International Bar. Want me to come to you?”

“No,” she said. “I’ll be right over. I need the air.”

“Do you even know where–?” I started to ask, but she disconnected before I could finish, leaving me a little baffled.

For starters, I have no idea why she’d get in touch with me. We’d fallen out of each other’s lives over the past month or so, which was understandable, given her preoccupation with her boyfriend and my preoccupation with staying the fuck away from her. Also, where the hell did she get my number? Did I give it to her? Did she give me hers? I checked my contacts, and there was indeed an entry for Em. Who else’s number did I have that I didn’t know about? I scrolled the list and found Gretchen, whom I never wanted to call, because she annoyed the hell out of me. That made sense, though, given our professional relationship. Further investigation revealed Amber, which was even weirder. I didn’t know any Amber–okay, I didn’t know any Amber well enough to keep in touch. I called her and announced to the woman who answered, “Hi, I’m Max.

“Of course you’re fucking Max,” growled the person I assumed was Amber. “That’s what it says on my phone: ‘Fucking Max.'”

“I’m listed as ‘Fucking Max’?”

“You have ten words to tell me what the fuck you want, Max,” she demanded, “aren’t something to the effect of ‘Your son is in the hospital; prognosis is not good,’ I am changing my number.”

“Right!” I smacked my head. “Amber McCoy.”

My name,” she exploded, “is not fucking McCoy! Do I have to put it on a fucking billboard? Yoshida! Not McCoy! McCoy is an asshole’s name!”

“Your son is named McCoy.”

“I never said he was perfect.”

“Touché.

“Listen,” she explained, “I’m in a room with a bunch of assholes in the middle of a deposition.”

“I don’t like your tone!” said one of the assholes in the room.

“You have the tone of an Australopithecus,” she told him, “which I don’t particularly like either!”

The asshole tried to ask, “What is an–?”

“Shut the fuck up!” she snapped, before returning her attention to me. “Could you tell me what this is about?”

“I didn’t know who this Amber in my contacts was.”

“See?” she said. “Ten words. Was that that hard?”

“Surprisingly, no,” I replied.

“Amend your address book to include my proper surname, add a note that I am Sean’s mother, and stop smoking so much goddamn marijuana,” she suggested. “And while you’re at it, stop getting my son so high all the fucking time. A little here and there is fine, but Jesus, you guys.”

“Could we just get on with this?” asked one of the assholes from earlier. “It’s after eleven and I just want to go home.”

“You’ll go home when I think you’re ready to go home, you pussy!” she yelled. To Max, she said, “He’s right, I do need to get this shit over. Are you joining us for Thanksgiving?”

“With bells on.”

“Don’t wear goddamn bells.” She hung up, and I edited my contacts as she’d advised.

I then scanned the avenue for cinnamon hair, until Sean emerged from the bar. “Your mom says hi,” I told him.

“I find that improbable.”

“She didn’t really say hi,” I admitted.

He grunted. “I’m curious as to the reason she might have phoned you so late in the evening.”

“She didn’t call me,” I replied. “I called her.”

“Suddenly my curiosity has increased immeasurably.”

“Long story,” I said. “I thought you were talking to Ursula in there.”

“I found that conversation to be barren.”

Of course you did.”

Emma chose that moment to arrive, which was just fine with me. “Hey, dude.”

Her flushed cheeks and blank stare prompted me to ask, “Are you okay?”

She shook her head, and a slow epiphany widened her eyes. “No, I’m really not, am I?”

“You’ll have to pardon my intrusion,” Sean said, “but I’m not familiar with your identity.”

Whatever had overcome her fled immediately. “You must be Sean.”

“This is Emma,” I told him. “Everybody calls her Em.”

Nobody calls me Em,” she replied.

“Ah.” Sean smiled. “I have been awaiting this introduction–“

“Dude,” she asked, “can we talk alone?”

“Perhaps,” he advised, “given Max’s level of intoxication–“

“Get the fuck out of here!” she shouted.

“Sean,” I sighed.

Without another word, he shuffled off to the bar.

“Emma,” I said, “what’s going on?”

“Don’t call me Emma,” she replied. “It freaks me out.”

“Fine.”

“Tyler and I just broke up,” she told me.

I gasped without meaning to. “When?”

“We. Just. Broke. Up.”

“Why?”

“Commitment shit,” she said. “Somebody said the L-word prematurely.”

“Yikes,” I commiserated. “Who?”

“Does it matter?”

“It does not,” I replied. “Want to talk about it?”

“Not really.”

“Want to sit down and just be quiet?”

“No.”

“Do you want me to escort you home?”

“No way.”

Clutching at straws, I asked, “Should I come over and check on you tomorrow, then?”

“Definitely not.”

“Then what do you want?”

“I just…” she whispered. “I want to be alone for a while.”

Even though the following question was inappropriate, it happened anyway, because I was getting kind of frustrated. “So why did you even call me?”

She shrugged. “I don’t know. I felt like I had to.” In conclusion, she told me, “Anyway, I should go.”

“Right,” I agreed. “See you around?”

“Not for a while, dude,” she replied. “Please.”

I watched her go, and finally exhaled. And then, with a frown, I remembered the beer I’d been neglecting, and resolved to drinking it, along with as many of its friends I could get my hands around.

to be concluded…

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