Miranda could hear a dull thump. It was either in the next room or the front of her head, she couldn’t focus on it hard enough to tell. “Mmmmmghhh,” she groaned as she forced open her eyes. Without the strength to lift her head, the only thing her eyes found to look at was the button to her jeans, the plain gray button. Miranda concentrated on distinguishing the metal of the button from the dinginess of her pants. As that small field of vision became less fuzzy, she tried the next step of her usual calming exercises, she took a large breath in.
“Mistake,” she thought, “eeeeeough” was all that escaped her lips as she quickly pushed the assault of unneeded air from her chest. The pain from the right side of her rib cage radiated through to her head for a brief moment. The thumping grew louder, definitely not from the next room.
Opening her eyes again,Miranda shifted her gaze from her navel to her wrists. The zipties were still on her and the chair’s arms, just as Carl had left them. Lifting her head enough to see the wall in front of her she sought the other sight she had grown accustomed to, the cuddly kitty calendar. One more orange shaky “x” had been drawn in over the box with the number 30. “It’s the 31st,” she thought,”Damn.”
Head slumped back down to her chest, eyes closed again, “Damn, Miranda. “How did you not see this coming? This is not the situation the old you would have gotten into.”
Just last week she could have put the breaks on this whole friendship. A wheezing laugh quickly turned into a grimace, “friendship,” whatever this was. She knew better than to hope he’d be putting her through a friendly joke, a well intentioned but gone way too far joke. She had no plan, just the knowledge that she didn’t have to be here.
She had almost sworn Carl off! If only being chronically late had been enough for her to that.
But there she was last Thursday, counting her change while waiting in line at Joe Joe’s Coffee Shop to get her second coffee; getting a password for her next hour of wi-fi. There she was spending money on coffee as she had waited for Carl, that she should have been using to do laundry. She was standing there promising herself that if he wasn’t there when this hour was up, she was out of there and blocking his number from her phone.
Then from behind her she had heard, “I’m sorry Mir, everything almost got away from me today. I just barely got my last project strapped down when I realized the time.”
Miranda remembered turning to face him and thinking how good it was that his firm let him tackle his marketing projects from home rather than subjecting his slovenly appearance onto his co-workers. His shirt with missing buttons and a tumblebrush of hair piled on top of his head took on a whole new meaning sitting on the hard wooden chair. If only she had just given up on him after that first hour she had been rewarded with for buying her first over-priced cup of coffee that day. But in truth she had been worn down to the habit of being lenient with Carl’s tardiness. “Most people don’t mind buying a second cup of coffee,” she had convinced herself, “that’s what friendly people who put themselves out there do. Plus you knew he ran on his own schedule.” If only she had rejected his tardiness from the start he could have remained a messy guy she knew in passing instead of the beast she had recently realized she had let into her life.
Months of being late to coffee and dinner and the movies had been preceded by Miranda taking her first step toward accepting Carl’s lateness. She had been at the closing shift at the Green Corner Market. She had just been about to close her drawer when Carl had breathlessly rushed into the store, “I’ve got five minutes, right?” Her boss had pointed to the clock that confirmed his question and off he rushed to throw yogurts, cereal, and pre-made dinners into his basket. As he came up to her registar he nodded his head to her, “ma’am.”
“Hey kiddo,” she answered as she had been the past few weeks when he stopped by. As she rang him up, Carl asked if he could leave his groceries at the register while he went to the bathroom. While he was disposed, Miranda closed her register, got her coat, and clocked out. She waved to him getting into his car as she walked to the far end of the lot to her car. And then waved to him again as his car was driving by her immobile car.
“Looks like the connection to your battery is loose,” he said moments later from under her hood.
“That’s funny, I haven’t had any problems starting up. Well, it was a good thing you came in so late. Thanks for helping me out.” And then in a move completely uncharacteristic of herself, Miranda said, “you want to go get a snack? It’s cold enough your groceries will be fine in the car.”
“Couldn’t have happened one year ago, huh,” Miranda thought to herself, “he could have come in for late groceries on December 31 instead of January 1. I could have just thanked him and been on my way home for a damn snack instead of trying to put myself out there. Great, just freaking great.”
Miranda heard the click of the door knob turning. Despite the pain, she turned her head over her shoulder. The dark outline of Carl with his bouncing mess of hair came toward her.
Miranda stared at him.
“Carl, what do you want? Why are you doing this? This is insane. Let me go”
“CARL! Stop it! What do you want!?”
“I want you to admit you are a freaking jerk! That’s what I want!”
“WHAT!? I mean fine, yeah. I’m a jerk. I’m a real asshole. I’m sorry. Let me out.”
Carl stood back, smirking at her. “I know you don’t believe that. You’ve been mocking me since the day we met. I know Trix are for kids! But anyone can enjoy them, just like anyone can enjoy whatever pretentious crap breakfast you probably eat!”
“What the hell are you talking about Carl?”
“I’m talking about you judging my purchasing choices,” he said as he played with a length of rope. “I’m talking about you seeing yourself as above those around you. I’m talking about you giving out demeaning nicknames to nice people around you.”
“I thought it was a joke! Man, I was trying to be friendly”
“Right, like anyone over the age of 6 wants, to be called kiddo. You’re a jerk and I made a vow to take jerks like you out.”
“You mean teach me a lesson? Fine, I’ve learned my lesson Carl. No more name calling, not ever.” Miranda tried her best to look in Carl’s eyes, but he kept pacing and moving out of her view. She kept turning her head to catch sight of him and grimacing at each movement. “You’ve put me through the ringer, this is a lesson I’ll never forget. I’ll make it my New Year’s resolution; instead of putting myself out there and trying to make friends like last year, I’ll just be nice to strangers! I won’t make jokes! I won’t call people anything other than their God-given-name! I’ll do whatever you want!”
Carl chuckled, “No, Mir. I resolved to remove judgemental jerks from this earth, that’s my project. And I want one more gone before the year is out.”
Miranda looked at the calendar. Stupid cat. Stupid New Years.
“At least you don’t need a resolution this year, Mir,” Carl growled as he snapped the rope.