I woke up the next morning with the strangely disjointed feeling that accompanies sudden gaps in time and memory. I was aware of little more than a headache and a profound thirst. Slowly the pillow, the bedding, and then the broader world beyond the bed—my room and the detritus scattered about it—came into focus, and with it came a fragment of memory sharper and more searing than the ray of sunlight threatening to blind me from across the room:
I sat up so quickly I nearly lost consciousness from the sudden drop in blood to my head and had to lie back down slowly. Libby and I had come back together, I thought…
Except she wasn’t there. I searched the bed as though she were something that might’ve been misplaced under or between the sheets. As if she weren’t a 75-kilo person whose presence would have been felt immediately by me in that tiny twin bed. But my searches—ludicrously repeated—were fruitless.
Nor was there any trace of her: no clothes on the floor or sneakers or anything. Not so much as an errant sock or a forgotten hair tie signaled her presence—assuming she had, in fact, been in my room to leave such a trace.
She had been, right? I asked myself.
My recollections were so dim, so fragmented, and so surreal that they had the quality of dreams more than memories. As I played them back in my head it seemed I was watching the actions and events of my doppelgänger rather than my true self. Walking back from the party, making our way into the apartment, spending time in the living room… and then? More fragments, even more dreamlike: making our way to my room, flashes of her in various states of undress, before the all-encompassing blackness of sleep. A sleep that was—incidentally—devoid of all dreams. But what of the connecting threads in between? Though it seemed we’d been touching each other suggestively all during that walk home—rubbing shoulders and elbows and even putting our arms around each other—it still seemed a bit of a leap from that to whatever followed in the bedroom. Where was that crucial step? What had it been?
Just as important, what was that wonderful aroma coming from outside my room?
It was Pete, of course, standing in the kitchen clad only in a pair of tighty-whities and fixing what was—based on the sounds and smells—an extraordinary breakfast feast. When he heard me come from my room he turned and smiled, holding aloft a spatula and greeting me with it as though saluting a Roman emperor with his sword.
“I bet you’re hungry, eh stallion?” he said.
“Did you hear me last night?”
“I heard you talkin’ to somebody out in the livin’ room.”
“You didn’t hear who it was?”
He shook his head and returned to the pancakes to which he was tending. “Some lucky lady, I assume. Or dude.”
I paused, hoping for the right amount of gravitas. “Libby.”
Pete looked back at me, his eyes wide and his mouth spreading into an enormous grin. “Get the hell out! You devil! How was it?” He then quieted himself and looked over my shoulder. “Wait, she ain’t still in there, is she?”
“No, she’s gone.”
“Phew! That’d be awkward. Plus I don’t think I got enough pancakes for a third person… So, go on: how was it?”
I struggled to think of something to say but Pete was quicker than I.
“Not a clue, eh?” he said.
I shook my head. “It was a wild party…”
“Yeah,” he said, nodding. “I’d say things got a little outta hand for everybody last night.”
“Me?” He laughed. “Man, I’m high on life! I don’t need drugs to enjoy myself. Whoops—that reminds me…” He grabbed a couple pink d-bol tabs from the kitchen table and tossed them back with some fresh squeezed orange juice. “That don’t count,” he said, looking at me.
I put my hands up in a show of innocence. “I’m not judging.”
“C’mon,” he said, stacking the pancakes from the griddle and then piling the bacon on a separate plate. It was a mountain of food. “Let’s eat.”
We feasted on the spread that Pete had prepared: pancakes and bacon and blueberries and freshly whipped cream, all unified with a river of real maple syrup and washed down with French-press coffee.
“So,” said Pete, midway through our breakfasting, “what now?”
“What do you mean?” I asked, knowing exactly what he meant.
“Libby. That a one-time thing or…?”
He left the remainder of the question hanging. It occupied the space between us like another breakfast guest. I chewed thoughtfully on a piece of bacon, hoping to convey some semblance of nonchalance that I knew to be unconvincing. “I don’t know,” I said, sighing.
“That’s fair. We’re headin’ to the sauna today, right?”
“Why don’t you invite her?”
“You think I should?”
“Why not? Maybe see if there’s a little somethin’ there.”
I waited, considering this option as though weighing something of great consequence not just for myself but for the Universe entire. As though this option—choosing to explore a connection with another human being—were an entirely novel thing.
“You into her?” Pete asked when I hadn’t spoken.
And here was why I weighed these questions so deeply—because they pointed at something within me that was not strictly limited to lifting weights or partying on the weekend. Because I had no roadmap or training program or drug that could guide me along and give me at least the semblance of hope for success. I’d been willing to go to extremes in training, in partying, in restoratives, in so many things, but that had not translated into a willingness to try connecting with others in ways foreign to my familiar world. Though I knew the answer to Pete’s question—an unequivocal yes—I still hesitated. A holdout of grade school shaming, perhaps, when to reveal one’s crush was akin to exposing your weakest points to an enemy. Indeed, it had been hard enough to admit and reveal this to myself in a way that was honest and open, for reasons I could not properly explain…
“Yeah, I think I am,” I said at last, although as I did so I recognized that Pete had asked out of kindness more than anything—he knew just as well as I.
“So, invite her to the sauna. No big deal there—normal thing for lifters to do. Plus I’m goin’, so it ain’t like a date. Totally low pressure.”
“Okay,” I said. “You think I should maybe shoot her a message on AIM?”
“AIM?” cried Pete, who seemed to take great offense at this suggestion. “Get the hell outta here!”
“What’s wrong with AIM?”
“Man, you can’t be waitin’ around for her to check her computer while you pine over readin’ her away messages and whatnot. We gotta leave soon! Be a big boy and send a text!”
“Okay, okay.” I grabbed my phone from the room and flipped it open and searched through the list of texts for one from her, which was weeks old. In all our time training together our text conversations had thus far been limited to the occasional question about what time the other would be in the gym. I then sat and composed something I hoped was casual:
But then stopped and reconsidered. Did I want to use her name? Was that normal? When T9Word failed to recognize her name as I tried typing it I took this as a sign from the Universe and restarted:
Pete and I are going to the sauna today.
Good start, I thought. Open with Pete’s name—she can assume it might even be his idea to invite her, rather than mine. I then spent another minute trying to formulate what came next:
Let me know if you want to come
When the message was done I waited, evaluating it: did it sound odd? Too desperate? Too soon? Too random? I looked to Pete, hoping for some confirmation.
“Go on!” he screamed.
It was all the push I needed. I jammed the SEND button and launched the electronic missive into the ether. It was a thrill almost as exciting as the last Sustanon injection had been. When it was done Pete and I stared at each other across the wasteland of our repast, the empty plates stained with the traces of syrup and cream and blueberries and bacon grease like the stripped carcass of a kill in the wild. Neither of us spoke, and when—a moment later—my phone vibrated in my hand the sudden intrusion of sound and movement jolted us both.
I opened my phone.
As long as I can be back and in the library by 8 I can come.
I looked at Pete, who seemed as though he was as invested in this message as I was.
“She’s in,” I said.