The very first thing I did the next morning was find out where she works. It is a head shop. I tell her this is appropriate. She gives me a look with no expression in it. I think she is hiding her expression. But she does not object when I ask about working there. She tells me to put on nicer clothes and meet her in the living room when I am ready to leave. I experience a moment of panic. I did not bring nice clothes. That was why I wanted the job in the first place. So I go back to my room, take off my pants and flatten them with a book. I do the same with a different shirt. Then I return to the living room. Corey looks at me like this but says come on and walks through the door.
It is strange, this apartment’s location. I like it. The stairwells are plastered with graffiti, paintings of faces I do not know and words that are barely legible. As we descend the stairs creak beneath us, and I begin to fall back into that place I so love to go, where each crack of wooden stair vibrates up my feet, and I can feel every individual hair on my leg, and I look around and see a place with a history chiseled and written into its cracked old walls, all the things this place has witnessed hidden away from the prying eye of the world outside, safe from knowing. And through it I walk, and leading me is Corey, and she parts this elusive world like the prow of a ship, and I in her wake. Trying to keep up. Indescribable things are passing me on all sides. And I become filled with a brief dread of returning to how I normally am, so deep inside myself that the world appears through fragmented thoughts like cracks in a snow globe or an insect’s eye, so devoid. And then she opens the door, and light spills through, forcing me inexorably back into shape. I am myself again. I try not to let her see my inner turmoil when she holds the door for me.
The whole walk there she looks at me. We do not talk much, so I notice her glances. I am not convinced she is trying to be subtle, but I have only just met her. She seems strange to me. We walk for almost two blocks before she turns and says, “Here we are. Come on in.” She leads me through a weathered green wooden doorway.
The inside is a cozier version of the head shops I have visited. The ceiling is made to look lower than it actually is by cloth hung and draped all across it. Tall standalone shelves covered autumn colored cloth bear various pipes and devices. The external light is cut by thin curtains, and the interior lighting is a low amber. Corey walks to a desk with a man wearing a computer terminal behind it. The terminal is wrapped around the back of his ear, the emitter covering his right eye completely. He glances up and nods minimally at Corey, then says “Hey” to me.
Corey says, “This is my new roommate, Jamie. Jamie, this is Rian, my boss.”
Rian turns to Corey, one mildly amused eyebrow peaking over the other, and shrugs..
And that is how the entire meeting goes. I zone out. When I come to again I am standing with Rian’s hand in mine, and a pained expression on his face. Did I say something untoward just now? It takes Corey taking my rigid hand in her soft ones and prying them away for me to realize that I was its cause. I say, “I am sorry. For this. Your hand.”
“No, man, that’s OK.” He peers at me. Eyes move searchingly. And right then it hits me: I have to take another hit. I forgot to this morning. I was focused on getting work. I forgot to take a hit this morning. Shit. I don’t want this to happen here. Just go away James.
And James says, “The fuck I’ll just go away.”
I stumble backward, but no matter how far I go it will not be far enough. Rian and Corey stare at me, the one with mild horror, the other with horror and disgust. “I,” I say without thinking that through. “I. I. I am. Sorry. I will go. Sorry. Sorry.” I cannot stop saying it. “Sorry. Sorry. I’m sorry.” Then I am stumbling, and then
Corey is there, arms beneath me. Then Rian. I take a moment to stabilize. Then, with their help, I regain my balance enough to stand alone. I look at Corey, but look away. I don’t like what I see there. To Rian, then, I apologize. “I use the tasp,” I say. I cannot look at even his chin. “I have not used it in some time. So I sometimes do strange things in these cases. So I am sorry for what I said.”
To my relief, a look of understanding settles on his face. He says, “No pressure, James. If you need to decompress, you go right on ahead and do it.”
“Well, have him do it here,” Corey says invisibly behind me. “Otherwise he’ll put holes in my walls, and I can’t really afford drywall right now.”
Rian just looks at her. He’s got long dirty blond hair that seems to fall naturally over his eyes. Like he scrutinizes from a distance. He looks down at me, without the barrier of his hair. “Do you need to stay here for a while?”
It’s as he asks this that I realize, with absurd clarity, that I am attracted to Corey. It happens that quickly. I was entranced earlier, and I still recall what her hand feels like. And as soon as I realize this, I know the answer to that question. “No. I can walk. Thank you.”
Corey doesn’t look at my face, but at a nearby pipe. It is blown glass. Green and red spirals ascend, distended by the bowl near the bottom. I look at it too. She sort of glances at me, then walks out the door.
As I leave, Rian calls, “It was nice meeting you, James my man. Drink lots of water. See you later.”