issue twenty-three
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(2800 words)
Ryan Priest

       You wake up ten minutes before your alarm is to go off. You wake up early because you know that today is the big day. She's asleep next to you. She's still just as beautiful to you as the day you met her. Lying there with her eyes gently closed she looks like an angel. There was a time when she got up too and went through this daily ritual with you. Some days she'd even prepare breakfast. Not today and not in a long while. But you don't let that concern you. 
You're waiting in a long queue at the coffee shop. You repeat your order and give your name to Trey with all the tattoos and the wide holes through his ears. He never remembers you even though he sees you nearly every morning.

The special coffee drink with the Italian-sounding name that you've had customized just the way you like tastes bitter and sour. You seem to recall at one point loving this drink but now you drink it because without it you're sluggish and irritable. You've never liked being sluggish and irritable. You used to medicate with pot and you were happy but not since the job, not since the career took over.

You say your hellos as you settle in at your cubicle. You check your email, you sign in to the phone system and check your voicemail. You check your day planner not because you don't know what's coming but because you always check your day planner. You know what happens today. Today you interview for the promotion.

You're dressed up. You have your suit on even though you've still got to work a full day. Everyone else is dressed in their usual Friday casual jeans. But none of them have an interview with the brass later. None of them except for Calhoun.

He's on his way in fifteen minutes late as usual. He'll take another fifteen to get to his seat. He has to go and say hi to everyone. He's got little routines worked out with all of them, daily jokes and banter -- he's so damn good at it, and you hate him for it. But even more, you hate them for being taken in by his fakery.

Robbie swoops right past your desk without even a hello, he's so eager to get to Calhoun. A few months ago Robbie was hanging onto your every word. He thought you were The Man, and seemed to look up to you as an older colleague. Now he has Calhoun to look up to and admire.

They're coming this way, the both of them. It's time for Calhoun to magnanimously shower you with a few seconds of attention. He knows you like football, so he'll ask you about the upcoming game.

"Think we'll take the Patriots?"

You're forced through politeness and office harmony to play along. He doesn't know you hate him. He doesn't think about you enough to even see you as a human being capable of thoughts or emotion. You're just the guy who likes football. And he's off to the next cubicle to pretend he gives a shit how Sharon the copier's kids did on their midterms.

It's an insult they're even considering this guy for the same job as you. He hasn't been here three months and he barely does any work. He takes two-hour lunches away from the office and even when he is there he spends most of his time chatting away in the break room.

Now is one of the times he's out of the break room and he's coming back your way with Robbie in tow. Robbie used to do work. They're talking about their night out at the bars.

"Calhoun's great with the chicks!" Robbie beams.

"It's nothing, I just showed him a few tricks I've picked up." Calhoun smiles. He is such a douche-bag but you feign interest.

"I've never been laid so much since hanging out with this guy." Robbie smiles. This didn't use to be an office where people talked about things like that out in the open.

Neither has any sense of shame about this. Robbie continues going into details about his one night stands. Personal and lewd details that seem fake, put on specifically to elicit approval from his new master. Robbie saying that he did all the things he thinks Calhoun would have done in his place.

As Robbie talks you stare at Calhoun. He's got bright blue eyes and a full head of thick, straight hair. On a shallow level, those features and his square jaw inspire confidence. And, of course, most people are shallow. The managers and the human resources lady with the tight-fitting skirt who are about to interview you are shallow. You can already see them giving that promotion to his bright blue eyes and thick hair.

The hours slowly crawl by and you're not specifically watching but you haven't seen Calhoun actually sit at his desk once. You haven't got any work done yourself because you're too busy obsessing over the male bimbo who's about to take your promotion. You search your brain for any type of leverage you can use against him. You have tenure, you work harder, you're here early and leave late and yet you know that, in the minds of idiots, none of that holds a candle to a strong jaw. You're going to need some attack, some line of reasoning so sharp that it cuts his pretty face right off and exposes the lazy sleazebag hiding underneath.

Your phone rings. You know it's her. She's going to ask if you got the promotion. You pick it up and before you know it you hear yourself ranting into the receiver about Calhoun.

You're quiet so that no one else can hear you but your words are still impassioned and emotive coming out like strained hisses. You're justified though, you're right: you deserve this, and if they give the position to Calhoun then it's fundamentally unfair. But the world is fundamentally unfair and that scares you.

"I've made this company thousands of times more money than I ever got back. Thousands more than Nick Calhoun ever has!"

"Wait, his name is Nick? Nicolas Calhoun? Does he have blonde hair, an enormous ego, and always a big shit-eating grin?"

You've been bitching about him since he started but she may have never heard his first name before. She only listens to you half the time anyway.

"God, I can't believe you've been talking about Nick Calhoun. I knew him years ago. That guy is such a creep. He used to try and hit on me all the time."

She knew him before he showed up at your office. Years before she met you. You ask if she has any dirt on him. You need dirt, any dirt would do if only for the psychological edge. She tells you she knows horrible facts about Nicolas Calhoun.

"Well I remember he got two different girls pregnant at the same time and ran out on both of them," she tells you. It's not much, it seems like a lot to her but in the grand scheme of things no one is really going to care if Calhoun was reckless in relationships he had more than ten years ago.

You tell her thank you anyway. You tell her it was just the information you needed. This way she's hopeful about the promotion. You don't like getting her hopes up but if you let her hear the concern in your voice she'll start complaining and nagging you again and the brittle wall of self assurance you've tried to cultivate will come crumbling down.

Your interview is coming. They want to do them before lunch because most managers take the rest of their days off after lunch anyway. You're two steps away from management at this point. You hope that in a few minutes you'll be only one step removed from taking half-days whenever you want as well.

Calhoun and Robbie are back at your desk. He's not normally this interested in you. You realize that your cubicle is closer to the interview room than his. He's actually just laying in wait at your desk so he can glad-hand the higher-ups the second they come in.

"Calhoun the poon-hound! This guy should write a book on how to get pussy," Robbie brags for Calhoun. You taught Robbie how to use the new systems and gave him advice on how to negotiate for a better raise. Calhoun gets him pussy. You never had a chance.

Calhoun shrugs. "Back in the late nineties I was a DJ at a strip club."

Of course he was.

"You know what the secret of getting a woman, any woman, is?" He's talking to you like he's the host of his own infomercial.

Do tell.

"Every woman is turned on by an asshole. I know it seems messed up, but the worse you treat a woman the more she wants you."

"Listen to this guy, he knows," Robbie assures you. He's pleased as punch, he's found the answer to all his prayers, his guru. "He showed me this one thing on the internet where the guy..." And Robbie begins to excitedly explain and pantomime a varied list of actions that can be performed on a woman. Prurient routines whose only connection is they are all one-sided, borderline cruel and unnecessary for anything other than to demean another human being. Acts that were like show poodles, existing only to display vulgar extravagance.

Calhoun's right there with him smiling along and sharing chuckles like a school boy. You try to pretend you're not revolted. All you can think of is how those women, victims of Robbie's or Calhoun's libido had felt the next day. It's probably all lies though. Robbie's begun talking like Calhoun and Calhoun talks like a car salesman and all car salesmen are big liars.

The managers and the human resources lady have sunk down to your floor and are heading for the meeting room. Calhoun's bright blue eyes give him away as he tracks the managers like a waiting predator. He wants this promotion, you can tell; behind that plastered on smile of perfect teeth hides the scent of desperation. Now is your only chance to knock him off his game. Fill his empty head with self doubt and let the pretty edifice shatter.

"Say Calhoun, you don't happen to remember a girl named Andrea Monroe?" Monroe is her maiden name. Who she was before you.

"Oh my god! I do!" Calhoun lights up. Let's see if he's still smiling when you remind him about the two strangers growing up with his face.

"Who's that?" Robbie asks, eager to interject himself into whatever connection you've just made with Calhoun no matter how slight.

Calhoun smiles. "She's this super skank I used to fuck back in the day."

"Super skank?" you repeat.

"Oh yeah, this chick was all over my nuts. I didn't want anything serious with her but she was into me big time. She did whatever I asked. Man I did everything to that chick. She'd let me have all my buddies come over and take turns on her. Anyone. Andy Monroe did not care! "

Andy's what you call her when you're alone.

"Damn! What a slut!" says Robbie's ugly mouth.

"How do you know her?" Calhoun asks, happy and giddy and not thinking about his neglected offspring but neither are you because now the most horrific pictures are streaming themselves through your head. A younger, prettier Calhoun and your beauty, your love.

You're disgusted. You want to vomit.

The managers come out and you're still white-faced. You see her picture on your desk. There she is smiling with her arm around you, you're smiling too. Calhoun must not see this picture. Not until you clear all of this up.

They come over to your desk and tell you they're ready for the interview. Calhoun starts towards the office but they stop him and tell him they want you first. You've got to stand up.

Calhoun says he didn't even know you were up for this position. He's still happy, all smiles, and you can't tell if he's lying anymore. His last admission blew a gasket in your brain and all your senses are out of whack.

All you want to do is grab your phone and dial your house. Demand to know if what Calhoun said was true or not. Instead you're following a couple of suits who are leading you into a board room.

They don't like you. They're looking at their watches and midway through one of your canned interview answers you see two of them engage in a side conversation. They need to take this seriously, this is your life.

You're losing your grip. Your palms are sweaty and it feels a hundred degrees inside of your suit. They're not even wearing suits. They're in their collared polo shirts and blue jeans except for the H.R. lady who now is wearing a cheap t-shirt with a giant cartoonish logo apparently received for participating in some walkathon. She's wearing this as she decides your future.

Was Calhoun lying? Sure he's the type of guy who'd lie but why would he? Could Andrea have been in some relationship like that before finding you? She'd never mentioned anything like that. Was the world filled with liars? But even if she's capable of being a liar, Calhoun has no credibility to begin with. Does he?

You look up and realize you've been asked another inane question and you're hardly even there but it doesn't matter because you've already lost them. You never had them. They've been checked out since looking at your face. You knew how this was going to go, and you were right.

You're walking out of the office and you never rallied. You never made the big speech or presented your case the way you wanted. You've let yourself down again.

As you're walking back to your desk Calhoun is on his way over. He's still got Robbie with him like his own personal assistant.

"You're not going to believe who just called me!" Calhoun smiles and you're expecting him to say they've called him from the conference room, telling him not to even bother to come back that the job is his.

"Out of the blue -- Andy Monroe!" He smiles and Robbie is nodding in happy agreement.

"Somehow she found out I was working here and she wants to hook up. She's married to some loser with a small dick now but she says she hasn't been able to quit thinking about me all these years."

"Calhoun's got a dick like a donkey!" Robbie cheers. "You should see it!"

"I told her I'd meet her after work," Calhoun says as he slides into the conference room.

"Calhoun says we can do a tag team on her!" Robbie smiles so wide his face almost rips apart at the cheeks. You wish it would.

You can hear them all laughing before the office door even closes. Calhoun's already won them over.

You feel numb.

Your cubicle is a thousand miles away and each step feels as heavy as your soul. Waiting for you at your desk is not what you were hoping for. It's not a promotion or a raise but instead a red blinking light.

It's a voicemail waiting. The way this day has been going you already know what it says. You don't even need to listen to it but you do anyway. Because that's what you do when you have a voicemail.

"Hey honey, I hope the interview is going well. Hey something just came up and I'll be going over to Sarah's house after work for a few hours. You can order yourself a pizza or something."

And there it is. Your life has officially fallen apart. No matter what you choose to do, whatever follows next is going to suck. The day goes on into the afternoon but you don't work, you don't move, you try not to think. By the time they tell you Calhoun's got the job you're too far gone to respond.

Everyone's gone home except for you. Why go back to an empty house? You know where she is. She's out there, with him, and possibly even Robbie. You don't know this woman you've married and pledged your life to.

Calhoun wins. Fake smiles and pretty blue eyes win. That stuff wins and you lose. This is high school all over again. It never ends. This is the world you have found yourself living in. It's not a good place and there aren't a lot of happy endings.


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This work is copyrighted by the author, Ryan Priest. All rights reserved.