After I fixed her second flat, Anna parked her bike in my office every morning. I was coming in around noon and at the time and never saw her do it. I’d pass her work area and see her sitting at a workstation in there with the rest of the artists, generating storyboards. I never saw her smiling, but she had a quality that attracted me like a magnet. I made extra trips past the door.
On a Friday, after several weeks of this, I was hurrying back to my office in the late afternoon to balance my drug and alcohol levels. I was having trouble with my head, or my legs, or my fingers. I couldn’t tell which. The uppers and the downers in me were pulling in non-orthogonal directions but I couldn’t think straight enough to know what to do about it. My office door was open and Anna stood just inside holding her bike by the handlebars. She had her helmet on and her pantlegs were gathered up by bike gaiters.
I nodded and pushed past her to my desk. I felt her eyes on me.
“How are you?” I said over my shoulder. “I’m just…”
She was wheeling her bike out the door. I fumbled with my keys, trying to unlock my desk drawer while looking back at her. She pulled the door shut after her, with a click.
I lined up my pill bottles on the desktop and unscrewed their lids. How to proceed? I fished out a bottle of Jack Daniels from the drawer.
The phone on my desk purred.
“What are you doing down there?” Aaron said, when I picked it up. “Get back to the stage. Brad is ranting at the crew. Help him out. Help them out.”
“I’ll be there in a minute.”
“You’ll be there now.”
He hung up.
I dithered, took several deep drags from the bottle, and left it at that.
“I can’t say these lines,” Brad said to me when I got back.
“You can’t say Don’t go. I love you?”
“I can say Don’t go. I can’t say I love you.”
“Why not?” I said.
“This guy wouldn’t say that.”
“Well, then, just say Don’t go. Say it like you mean it. Say it like it will make her stop. Say it like you mean you’re in love with her.”
“I need more than that. Give me some words.”
“Don’t go. I… I’m hungry. Make my dinner first. Don’t go… I’m horny. I need you. That’s it, Brad. Don’t go. I need you.”
“Nah. He wouldn’t say I need you, either.”
“I want you?”
“Don’t go. Stay.”
“Don’t go. I… I have something to tell you.”
Brad perked up.
“Ok,” he said. “Now then.”
“So she hesitates,” I said. “She doesn’t look back but she says What?”
“Yeah,” Brad said. “And then what do I say?”
“You say, Come back in here. You say it strong. She comes back in. She says What? again.”
“And you say, I love you.”
“Oh for Christ’s sake,” Brad said. “Get the f**k out of here, will you?”
Later Aaron came down to my office.
“Miramar Palms,” he said. “I won’t take no for an answer.”
“I’ll write him the damn lines. I’ll do it right now. I’m feeling better.”
“Too late. He could see the shape you’re in. I can see the shape you’re in. Everybody can see the shape you’re in. It’s a useless shape. I can also see into that open drawer. Your visit to Miramar will be the studio’s treat.”
“I can’t go back there, Aaron. It almost killed me last time.”
“I’m driving you over there now.”
“Just like that? Without a suitcase? Without a toothbrush?”
“They’ve got plenty of your stuff from last time. You room is ready and waiting. It’s all set.”
I was already sweating. I reached into the open drawer and opened a random bottle and took out a couple of capsules and swallowed them. I picked up the Jack Daniels and drained it.
“That should hold you till we get there,” Aaron said, “barring traffic on the 405.”
“Tell the woman with the bike she can still keep it here,” I said, handing him the key to the door.