I was standing in line at the convenience store, “convenient” being an operative term, when she suddenly came in. Her fat face was flushed, her frame clothed in what appeared to be formal wear, and her hair… Ugh, I shuddered internally. And Anne claims that I look like her? Perhaps in the hair, but nowhere else.
“Hey,” she waved at me, almost desperate for my attentions. I could do naught but wave in kind, though the feeling wasn’t mutual. See, for all of her form and flaws and lack of dress sense, Maxim was someone that I socialized with. Part of it was out of a sick sense of curiosity out as to how someone could stand to be tactless and boorish, part of it (most of it, really) was due to running about in overlapping social circles. Unfortunately for me, she happened to run with, and be much more intimate with, my fair lady Oriana. Maxim was part and parcel for the two were nigh indistinguishable. Well, except for the obvious.
She blundered about, thankfully out of my sight, as I hurriedly, mentally pleaded with the person ahead of me. It was going to be awhile; that basket full of cleaning supplies and horrendous amounts of junk food told me that I was pretty much stranded in line. I looked down at the things in my hands, three boxes of cookies and two pints of milk that I was intent on consuming. I had only wandered over to the little store in the first place because I had to check on something in the center nearby. My duty done, I came within this establishment only to find myself seized by this unexplainable urge to eat something, though I had supped only hours before.
I spotted myself in the glass behind the register, twisting my mouth this way and that as I weighed my choices, only to shrug. Screw it, I’m good for it, I can work this off later.
The cashier finished putting all of the groceries in the plastic bags before handing them off to their customer, a big, plastic smile on their face. “Have a nice day!” The hollowness of that phrase struck at me keenly; here I was, in a hell of a hurry to get out of here, away from Maxim Maximus (as I liked to call her, for she was indeed colossal) when I had had the audacity to put on a friendly face and return her desperate little wave. Why not simply be forward, say something to the tune of “I really, really don’t like it when you hug me out of turn, thanks” and be done with this anguish?
Oh, right. Oriana. That impossibly beautiful angel. Beautiful…and taken, of course. I’d be mildly surprised (though pointedly pleased) if she weren’t. But who in the devil had the pleasure? Oriana didn’t say; I didn’t dare press for more information as I had already played my own trump card and revealed one of my deep, dark secrets in return. Could I have revealed another? Sure, I’ve plenty of darker ones in reserve. Besides, it’s her own business. I know that, I’m not stupid. Yet just the knowledge that there was someone else gnawed on me, still gnaws on me. It’s irritating to say the least.
I’m in the middle of my thoughts when I sense someone behind me. Maxim, holding two cups of tea, one a White Cucumber, the other a robust Awake. Rather than strike up a conversation, as I am wont to do, I pretend she doesn’t exist. It’s easy enough to do, once you dislike someone enough, and I find that it’s much easier than actively hating them. Because what is hate but love’s reciprocal? They both have equal magnitudes, only their directions are completely opposite in relation to one another. You’re just as obsessed with them, only in “hate”, you find yourself wishing for their complete annihilation instead of the best. And I must stress that, while Maxim is indeed annoying, she is hardly worth any of my hatred. That would be giving her too much attention.
As I set my things down on the counter, I find myself replying automatically. My mind is circling around the question of just why I find Maxim so irksome, abuzz and persistent. Why? Because she’s completely rancid, the smell of something oily hanging about her like miasma. Why? Because she doesn’t take care of herself, doesn’t have any sense of color-coordination, and seems to be under the impression that green felt is an acceptable material for a suit. Why? Because I had tasked her with finding out whether or not the lovely Oriana was in a relationship but she took too long so I ended up doing it myself anyway, despite being a miserable coward. And, to add to her crimes against humanity, Maxim is the biggest thing that stands in the way of at least advancing my relationship with Oriana. I may have given up on the prospect of us becoming lovers, but at least let me have a scrap of her friendship! Don’t hog it all, you great big brute!
I’m seething on the inside now. I know I am; I can feel a hot knot forming in the pit of my stomach. But I’m pleased to see that my face is completely still. It’s an art, hiding what you feel from the world, from the person you’re fond of but don’t want to ruin their lives by unloading your feelings onto them so carelessly. That, more than the fear of rejection, had held back my tongue that night. Perhaps it was my penchant for watching far too many Asian dramas; that sense of social subtleties and the anguish inherent to them seems to have seeped into my manner long ago.
All too soon, the transaction is over and I find myself walking out of the door automatically, a plastic bag in my hand. I’m not really hungry anymore, though I’m sure I’ll still eat them. I wonder if the resurgence of my craving for sweets coincides with the night I found out that Oriana was already in a relationship. But then I shake my head. Well, of course it does, stupid. It was like that for Amelia, wasn’t it? And Tristan before her. And Claude, lovely, sweet Claude, before him. But before I can mentally chastise myself further, I spot a pair of pale blue eyes and a bright smile that seems to pierce through my very being.
Oriana. My entire being is at ease whenever she’s around. Do I have anything in my teeth? Is my brow furrowed in any way? No? Good. I couldn’t bear to share my troubles with her, not with that gorgeous, kind person. No doubt she’s already got her own things to worry about already.
She says “Hi” brightly and all I can do is wave, lest my mouth betray me. I’m getting better at controlling myself, suppressing the urge to invade her space; it was at its worst when the pain had still been fresh, when I had thought that it was all a lie she told to gently let me down. But I don’t think she ever realized my true intent that night; she hasn’t said as much, at least. I stop in my tracks, more than happy to stop and chat. Oriana seems to have none of that, however, as her eyes scan the store behind me. She brightens up considerable, stopping mid-sentence, and I feel that odious presence behind me once more. Maxim.
The bigger of the two girls trots to the smaller, more slender girl’s side, looking a bit like a Saint Bernard pup. The two exchange greetings before realizing that I’m still here, smiling and looking on like an idiot. Oriana smiles at me. “There’s a concert tonight. Would you like to join us?” And then she takes the taller girl’s hand.
It hits me like the incoming surf, loud and sudden. I feel my face straining as I smother my emotions as best as possible. How was it that I missed this most obvious of things? They’re more than best friends, that much is clear here. They’re dating. Maxim is not only her best friend but her girlfriend to boot, her significant other! Oh, irony of ironies, just how cruel can life be! There’s really no other option now, is there? “No, thanks,” I feel my mouth twist into a smile.
“You sure? I heard them earlier during rehearsal; they’re really, really good.”
“Yeah. I’ve got homework and stuff.” The lies coat my tongue as easily as honey. Thankfully it’s all figurative, otherwise my mouth would be dribbling with the stuff. “I’ll see you two later, okay?” I turn on my heel and walk away, trying to keep it together until I reach my apartment, my inner sanctum.
Just don’t let them see you cry. Just…don’t.