Time is a Construct

Southeast Portland 
Oh, for pity’s sake! Maiah had expected pets to be a neutral topic. He supposed he shouldn’t have been surprised when even that was too much. He understood mourning a lost pet, but every word seemed to push this guy one step closer to breakdown.

Charlie needed someone to walk him through social interactions. If he didn’t have the other man so firmly classed as a jerk, Maiah would have been drawn to him. But as Maiah had been the one to initiate this, he reminded himself he had an obligation to see him through the conversation.

“He’s friendly. Still a puppy and he very much acts like it, he just wants to explore everything and have his tummy rubbed. And it’s not really a lot of dedicated playing at work, I just try to make every interaction with the kids as much fun as possible. Though—I can’t say much, confidentiality, but there is a patient right now who’s playing Pokemon. Do have a favorite starter? If you play.”


Moses this was excruciating.

Charlie had sat through blind dates with people still deeply in love with their exes who had been willing to give him greater benefit of the doubt. At least in those situations, if he expressed curiosity or sympathy about their loved one, they would open up, and such people typically lacked the wall of resentment and flood of contempt that threatened to slap Charlie in the face right now.

His gaze dropped to the lone chicken wing on his plate, as far a distance from the puddle of ketchup as it could be without leaning off the rim. The waitress had brought him Ranch for dipping, he could smell the pungent aroma which differed keenly from blue cheese, and the wings hadn’t been coated in the buffalo sauce that came standard. The waitress and the kitchen knew him well, and the professor certainly ate here often enough to warrant the awareness. But wings were one of those messy, sensitive foods even when not slathered in hot sauce, and messy foods made him self-conscious. Maybe he should cram fries into his mouth like Maiah had done on and off throughout this awkward conversation, but he couldn’t.

This manner of discomfort was rife for the compensatory behaviors, and when he felt this way, he needed to organize and sort and count. All vulnerable behaviors that Charlie disliked displaying in front of Emil let alone a stranger with whom he was having conflict.

Already, he could feel the burrowing in the back of his brain. He wouldn’t sleep tonight. No, he would skitter home around 4:00a.m. and rather than falling into bed, he’d soak himself in caffeine to tell himself this was his decision rather than the anxiety and intrusive thoughts that would plague him should he make the attempt. Then he’d spend three hours making himself busy until the sun cracked through the blinds and he could begin his morning routine before strolling onto campus to pretend that he wasn’t a zombie.

All because he had lacked the foresight to pop in his ear buds prior to coming to the diner. All because he’d been too picky to settle for popcorn and too lazy to prepare a more involved meal that might yield leftovers hours ago during dinnertime.

He reached for his milkshake instead, sipping and stalling while Maiah talked only briefly about his puppy rather than gush like most people did about their pets in his experience. But then, somehow, an opening emerged- the few weak rays of sunlight poking from behind rain clouds.

Pokemon. Fandom. Geeky interests. Those would be salvation because Charlie could talk about a wide array of such subjects until his voice grew hoarse.

“I’m kind of old school and still like Squirtle. I usually choose the water types.” Perhaps he identified with a turtle as an animal that could hide away in its shell. Or maybe he envied it for the ability to squirt water in someone’s face before fleeing in the opposite direction. “…but if you judge by my browser history, you’d think it was Bulbasaur.” He cracked a small smile as his thoughts turned to his friend and this long-standing gift-giving pattern. “I’ve got a friend and I always send him plant types. Do you have a favorite? You don’t have to limit that to starters.”

Maiah thought a prayer to every figure of his father’s faith. For all Tom’s good efforts, it never took with Maiah. The linguistic aspects did, though. And it was how Maiah’s mind recognized that they had finally found a subject Charlie could talk about.

Maiah even did him the courtesy of not suggesting just what kind of bulbasaur images Charlie had been googling!

“My go-to was always Charmander. The first couple of gyms are hard, yeah, but eventually you got Charizard, and that dude could fly. I know he’s not a dragon type, but he always felt dragony to me. Flying and breathing fire?”

He drained the last of his milkshake.

“Anyway. Catch you in Festival Plaza.”
That was parting words enough. Food eaten, Maiah headed over to the counter to pay and head home. This disaster had dragged on long enough.

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