Little red sunbursts began erupting behind my eyes and all of the frustration and disgust I'd been bottling up inside for over a year came spilling out in a rush of spite and venom.
My cel phone did an impromptu jig on the coffee table. I'd set it on vibrate, earlier in the day, and had forgotten to take it out of silent mode. It danced again. I sat my book down next to it, picked it up and read the readout. I didn't recognize the number. I glanced up at the clock above the television. 11: 06. Who the hell would be calling me at this hour? A cold feeling in my chest made me flip it open.
"Hi, Dave." Sucker punch to the gut. I'd recognize that voice anywhere. He must have known the effect his call would have on me, so he continued talking in a rush of words. "Don't hang up. I'm sitting outside your house, in my car. I'm not leaving until I talk to you. I know Tom's asleep. I'll ring the doorbell, unless you come out."
Numbly, I croaked out a response. "I fucking hate you."
"I know. Please come out and talk to me."
"I have nothing to say to you."
"But I do." His words were slightly slurred. He'd been drinking. "Please. Don't make me ring the doorbell."
Angrily I flipped the phone closed. Manipulation. That's what this was. And he was good at it, too. Which is why I found myself standing, sliding my feet into my sandals and walking through the darkened rooms of the house toward the front door, like a zombie. My thoughts were a shattered funhouse mirror of emotion. Still, I managed to stay detached. I opened the door and stepped out into the sultry Phoenix night air.
There he was, just as he'd said he would be. His filthy old Volvo sat like a bad memory against the curb. I closed the door behind me and he got out, closed his own door and leaned back against the car. I walked toward him, trying vainly not to study his form. He was, not surprisingly, wearing jeans so tight his basket stood out like a plump offering. His face was shadowed, but I knew that he was watching me approach. I stopped in the middle of the street.
"What, no hug?" He'd definitely been drinking.
I turned around. "Fuck off, James." Two steps back toward the house and his hand was on my shoulder.
"I'm sorry. Please don't go. I really need to talk to you."
I shook the hand off, but didn't turn. "So? Why should I care what *you* need?"
"Dave, I miss you." He put a hand on both shoulders and stepped up against me in the beginning of a hug. I could feel his heat and it only angered me further.
I spun around, stepping away from him in the process. It's a pity he couldn't see the hate seething in my eyes. It would have said everything. Instead I had to resort to more words. "Are you fucking kidding me? You drove all the way over here and threatened to wake up my household, just so you could lure me outside for this shit? You're damned lucky I'm not a violent man by nature, because right now I'd like nothing more than to choke the life out of you."
He put his hands up, either in a gesture of fear or submission, I wasn't sure. "Please, hear me out!"
"Why?" I growled. "Give me one goddamned reason why I should listen to *anything* you have to say."
"Because... I love you."
I felt my fist curl. On automatic pilot now, I watched, detached, as it flew up and connected solidly with his solar plexus. He huffed and stumbled backwards, against the filthy white Volvo. I followed and he threw up his arm to protect his face, while still wheezing and trying to catch his breath. I grabbed the offending arm and jerked it down, getting so close to his face that he could feel my breath.
"Don't you *ever* say that to me again. Do you understand me? Ever!"
"I'm sorry..." he sobbed. "I'm so, so sorry!"
Little red sunbursts began erupting behind my eyes and all of the frustration and disgust I’d been bottling up inside for over a year came spilling out in a rush of spite and venom. "There isn't enough sorry in the world to make up for what you put me through, you fucking asshole! I have never hated anybody as much as I hate you. You're a selfish, hateful, manipulating liar! You fucking betrayed me! You turned my friends against me by telling them I forced you to have sex with me. Your precious illusion of appearing straight to your friends was so much more important to you than I was. You threw me under the fucking bus and I'm still having to deal with the backlash! Why should I fucking care what you want or need? You're lower than scum! You're a deceitful, self-serving asshole who doesn't deserve my pity, much less my understanding. I'd rather spit on your corpse than ever touch you again. Is any of this getting into that thick, brick of a head?" For emphasis I stabbed savagely at the top of his head, my fingers penetrating the soft curls to bounce off his skull.
He nodded, sobbing. I could see the tears sparkling in the half-light from the lamp down the street. "Dave, please... I just want to talk."
"And I don't want to hear it. I have nothing more to say to you."
He slid down the side of his car melodramatically, so that he was sitting on the asphalt, his knees pulled up close to his face. "I have nowhere else to go."
"Like I care. What, did you get kicked out of another apartment? Lose your job? Or did Lisa finally come to her senses and kick you to the curb where you belong? Well, you're sure as hell not staying here! Those handouts ended a long time ago."
"Dave, I've changed. I swear I have. I know I was wrong. I beat myself up over it every single day. But I can't stop thinking about you. You're my best friend. I haven't been able to get you out of my head for over a year now. Please!"
"Too little, too late, I'm afraid. If you had any idea what the last year and a half have been like for me, you wouldn't dare show your face here, much less use the word *friend* in my presence. But that's always been the problem with you, hasn't it, James? It's always about *you*. Always about what *you* want. Always about what *you* need. It's never about anybody else, unless it somehow benefits *you*. Well, I'm done with it. I'm not the soft-hearted, easily manipulated doormat you left behind. I had to pull myself up out of the shitpile you left me in, learn to hold my head up, despite the accusatory stares and hateful gossip, and harden myself to the reality of my situation. You fucked me over, James. You fucked me over, hard. You almost ruined my life. You turned me into a heartless, untrusting bastard. Congratulations. You taught me what real hate is."
"Too fucking bad. Live with your sorrow. I am. Now, if you're finished whining, I'd like to get back into the air conditioning. I'd advise you never to come here again. If Tom knew you were here, it wouldn't be good for your health."
I turned to leave, hearing a loud sob behind me. "Dave, please!"
I turned around. "Do NOT make a scene, here, James!" I hissed. "If you wake any of my neighbors, I swear what they're going to find out here is me kicking the living shit out of you! Now get in your fucking car and *leave!*"
I stood watching as he rose dejectedly, fumbled with the handle and pulled the car door open. As he slid into the seat, the domelight highlighted his anguished face. Tears and snot ran into his mustache and beard. His head bobbed as he tried to catch his breath and fumbled with the key to start the engine. The domelight extinguished itself as the engine caught. Without ever looking in my direction, he rolled out. I stood watching as his Volvo turned the corner and made it's way toward the main road. Then I turned and walked slowly back to my house.
I felt exhausted and more than a little exhilarated. I had said what had needed saying for so long. And I realized that, for the first time in over a year, I wasn't sad anymore. I wasn't numb. I felt something that wasn't self-pity. Maybe tomorrow would be a better day.