I flip the light switch on and I’m immediately greeted by the sight of my living room; a small, confined space full of utter chaos.
There are books and old newspapers scattered everywhere, littered all over the floor and the counter and the sofa, and there’s an ever-growing pile of plastic bottles in the kitchen corner that I should have taken out to recycling over a month ago. It’s messy as hell, to say the least, and a perfect reflection of my current state of mind.
I just stand in the open doorway for a few seconds, feeling weak as I regard the disorganized space and knowing good and well that nothing about it will be changing anytime soon. At least not for the better. Not with the way I’m feeling right now.
I lock the door and lean on it for a moment, closing my eyes as I try to decompress from the day. I try to shut everything out, just for a moment, but I can’t even seem to manage that. I can’t stop worrying. My mind adamantly refuses to take a break, constantly racing with thoughts of everything, past and present. It’s almost as if it’s become a separate being, no longer part and parcel of me, doing whatever it wants whenever it wants to. It also seems pretty hell-bent on making me miserable, refusing to yield even as I feel the faint, tell-tale throbs that warn of an oncoming headache.
I let out an exhausted sigh—something I seemed to be doing a lot today. I attempt to push myself off the door, and it’s such a miserable attempt that I end up leaning back on it in a tired slump.
I can’t even muster the strength to move my body off the damn door, much less to my bedroom.
At least it’s nice and toasty in here. The heating is exceptional, despite how old the apartment complex is, and that’s one thing I’m incredibly grateful for during winter here. Honestly, the apartment was a godsend considering how expensive it is to live alone on this side of town and relatively close to campus without being stark in the middle of it.
I definitely lucked out with this place. Most landlords charge twice or three times what I pay for my apartment, but Henry’s a pretty cool guy, and just happens to be a huge fan of my grandfather’s early music, so he cut my rent in half on the condition that I’d get him limited edition and exclusive copies to all his albums and other musical collaborations. Plus, I’m sure he appreciated it when I referred Trixie here the year after I moved in.
He has a thing for her, and has for some time now, although she won’t give him the time of day because she can’t seem to look past Bill for even a second. She’s been stuck on him for so long and I’m afraid she’s only going to get hurt in the end. The fact that they’re best friends only makes it ten times worse.
And speaking of Bill, I wonder if he’s confronted Gina about his suspicions yet. Knowing him, he won’t. He won’t even so much as allude to it when he’s with her. I feel bad for him. I feel bad for Trixie. Fuck, I feel bad for myself! I sigh tiredly as I continue to lean against the hollow door, feeling utterly shitty for all of us.
Several moments later, my phone starts vibrating, forcing me out of my innate pity-party. I fish the device out of my bag as it continues to buzz, getting louder and louder as it does. I feel unusually irritated by the sound. It’s like a really annoying bumblebee that won’t leave you alone.
I pick up as soon as the phone’s in my grasp, frowning slightly as I notice the ‘Unknown Caller’ display on the screen.
“Hey, Muffin,” I hear in response.
I recognize the voice immediately. “Gran?” I ask, my brows drawing closer to each other in question. “Why is your number showing up as unknown?”
“Oh, I’m using Theodore’s home phone. I think he has it set up to be private or something. You know I don’t know how these things work,” she admonishes, and I can almost picture her waving her hand in a show of nonchalance to go with her I-can’t-be-bothered-to-explain tone.
I feel my forehead furrowing with more concern. “Theodore? Why are you over at his house this late? Are you alright?” I realize I’m starting to sound a bit panicked. I try to suppress it, but I’m pretty sure I’m failing.
“Oh, I’m fine, dear,” she says. “I accidentally dropped my phone in the sink this morning and it got all wet and wouldn’t even turn on afterwards. Theodore put it in some raw rice. He says it’ll make it work again. I don’t know about all that technology voodoo but I’m taking his word for it and using his home phone in the meantime.”
I breathe a silent sigh of relief.
“I was just calling to ask,” she continues, “would you prefer pecan or key lime pie for the day after tomorrow?”
I’m a bit surprised by the question, and that feeling quickly transitions to painful nostalgia.
“Gran…,” I breathe out another sigh before continuing in a little above a whisper. “You don’t have to make pie for Sunday, you know that.”
“Ramona Lisa Gallo,” she huffs adamantly, “if there’s one thing you and your grandfather ever agreed on, it’s that we need pie on every occasion.”
I smile at hearing that, even the obnoxious play on the name my parents somehow decided was the clever and obvious choice, her words mimicking those of her late husband. I want to laugh but I realize I can’t. My throat is starting to feel tight and the smile that manages to form on my lips is accompanied with a burning sensation in my chest. I realize I’m getting choked up. I blink back tears behind my glasses as memories swim through my head.
When I was ten, my grandfather had been the one who first told me the usual saying, “When life throws lemons at you, you make lemonade.” At that age I thought it was such a neat and clever saying.
But then I’d asked him, my face all scrunched up and serious as I’d cocked my head to the side in question the way a typically curious child would, “What if life throws limes at you instead?”
He’d full on laughed at that, in his typical cheery and boisterous laugh. Even now, the memory of his infectious laughter makes my chest burn even more as I long to hear it.
He’d simply replied with the biggest smile on his face, “Well, you make key lime pie with them, of course!”
Needless to say, key lime pie has been a tradition in our family ever since. It’s also my comfort food.
Gran had wanted to switch it up every now and again with pecan pie or something else, just to break what she’d considered ‘unrepentant monotony’, because if it was left to me and my grandpa, we’d have key lime pie every single day of the year. Gran agrees that tradition is great and all, but insists that variety is the spice of life, so we’d agreed— all but reluctantly—to have pecan pie sometimes as well. He’s only been gone a year and I can’t believe how much I miss him.
“Alright, Gran,” I say once I can finally manage to speak again. “Key lime pie it is.”
She chuckles, almost as if she was expecting the answer, and I can hear pained undertones in her chuckle as well. This is going to be really hard—for the both of us, but especially for her.
This was a person she had been with since she was nineteen years old. She’s seventy-two now, and the man she had spent pretty much all her life with is no longer in it. I can’t even begin to imagine what that kind of void feels like, and to be honest, I’m pretty determined to never find out.
“Do you need me to bring anything?” I ask.
“No, I’ve got everything covered, Muffin,” she says, as I pretty much expect her to. She never asks for help of any sort from me, or accepts any whenever I offer. She always wants to be the one taking care of me and never the other way around. Especially after what happened with my father.
I think she feels guilty about it, even though she shouldn’t, but I’m not about to argue with her tonight.
“Okay. ‘Night, Gran,” I say finally. “See you tomorrow.”
“Goodnight, my dear. Make sure you drive safely, you hear me?” she says adamantly.
I can’t help but smile at her over-protectiveness. “Yes, Gran.”
Silence fills my apartment once more as she hangs up. There’s nothing but the light humming of the heater in the background and the signature buzzing of the refrigerator.
I figure I’ll check on Trixie before I turn in, dialing her number right after Gran hangs up. It goes directly to voicemail. I contemplate heading up to her apartment, but I really don’t feel like climbing two flights of stairs right now, and I especially don’t feel like going back out into this shitty cold weather, either. Plus, I guess it is late and I don’t want to wake her up if she’s already asleep.
I try Bill’s phone and get the same result. It’s pretty unusual for him to have his phone switched off, and being the nerdy tech he is, he never lets it die. I’m not really sure what to think. I decide to just shoot Trixie a quick text, even though I realize I’m running really low on those right now.
hey, call me w/n u c this. been worried abt u.
I stuff my phone back into my bag, leaning my head against the door and sighing once more. I really hope she’s okay. I hope they both are.