Killing off his friend, Sam realized, was going to be harder than he thought. He knew it was time, he could not put it off any longer. He had to ‘rip off the band-aid,’ as Dr. Tong said.
Sam sat in the car, waiting, trying to get up the nerve. He touched the heavy metal gun in his pocket again. Could he really do this?
Patricia had stayed behind, in his old neighborhood, while Sam left for college and the big City. But they had stayed connected, talking often, even as Patricia became more and more needy. For all her faults, Patricia made him feel better, understood him when no one else could. He turned to her when he was ridiculed for being fat, and she celebrated with him when he won a promotion at his accounting job. They argued of course, debating the merit of his latest crush, best K-Pop group, or which Avengers movie was the best. But she was always there for him, and he did not trust anyone else, did not want to go through the effort of making any new friends. Which was the problem, as Dr. Tong saw it. Being so close to Patricia, he didn’t even try to let anyone else in. A new friend, Dr. Tong said, could provide some perspective.
He had met Patricia after the worst day of his 14 years of life, the day he found out about his parent’s divorce. He knew what divorce meant from Randy, his first friend. They had little in common, Sam was extra big and preferred chess, and Randy was extra small and wanted to be a rap star. But, the other boys in the class saw a similarity somewhere, and pushed them together through constant intimidation and fear. For Sam, it was as good as any other way to find a friend.
Randy’s parents had gotten a divorce the year before, and then he was gone, moved with his Mom to an apartment in another city. Sam had a sleepover at the small apartment once. But they weren’t allowed to go outside to the cement playground where the older boys were playing ball. They spent all afternoon in the tiny bedroom, the TV loud, playing with his Avengers action heroes. Randy said Sam could only play with Hawkeye, not Black Panther, or Hulk, or the Iron Man that could shoot bolts from his hands. When his Mom asked if wanted to go back, Sam told his Mom his stomach hurt and she didn't bring it up again.
His Dad had bought him a treat for dessert, an Orangesicle, his favorite, before he broke the news. Dad said he would be moving out, but Sam would visit him every other weekend.
“We’ll still be best buddies,” his Dad said leaning in close, “but your Mom and I can not live together anymore, because of some- differences, between us.
Sam guessed the ‘Differences’ meant screaming and dishes thrown across the room, or maybe it meant that his Mom drank wine while his Dad only drank Pepsi. But he knew it was his fault. His name had been in their screams more and more lately, “Think of Sam!” his Dad would echo through the house. He feared moving to that apartment, living in that city. Though if he had to move, he would know have a friend, and hoped Randy would let him play with the Iron Man, even for an hour.
As his Dad spoke and the melting Orangesicle dripped down onto his hand, he looked at his Mom, blinking back tears. She did not return his gaze, instead focused on the effort to keep her hand steady as she refilled her wine glass. He dropped the Orangesicle and ran to his room, slamming the door against this horrible future. He was the reason they were splitting up, destroying their family unit. The sweet scent of orange had tasted like guilt ever since.
The next day Patricia showed up, out of nowhere. Awkward at first, Sam had not had a friend that was a girl before. He soon learned they had everything in common. She was new in the neighborhood, and her parents were divorced too. Patricia lived with her mom, and just like him, hated to be inside, and loved long bike rides. Sam had found a friend, a real friend for the first time in his life. They spent every moment together that summer, exploring the neighborhood. Patricia’s mother drank too, and she knew the terror of the wild rages and the hung over apologies. He shared his dreams, and his guilt with this understanding conspirator.
Patricia went to a different high school, so they were only together in the afternoons, or weekends, when he wasn’t at his Dads small apartment. Sam told his classmates about Patricia, when they would listen, and how she was the best friend in the whole world, until she became his only friend.
Sam’s Mom did not like Patricia, said he was too old to have a friend like her, so Sam stopped mentioning her. He just said he was going out, and the world was their playground. With a few hot dogs, or a can of tuna they could always find a dog, or a cat to play with, until that game ended and they had to find another.
Patricia talked him through how to ask Michael to the Prom, and then held him when Michael turned him down. Patricia also knew just how to make it better, and it was not her fault he used too much lighter fluid and Michael’s entire car and the wall of the gym caught on fire. What was important was Patricia had his back, and at night when he could not sleep and his mind would hum with guilt and shame, she would talk him down from the roof, or get him to put his Mom’s sleeping pills back in the bottle.
His job at D&T Accounting was perfect for him, the numbers just made sense. As long as his boss Jennifer let him do things his way, everything was fine. But he slipped up, letting his anger overcome him when Jennifer found out about a hidden account in Patricia’s name. Sam did not mean the argument to get so heated, did not mean to break Jennifer’s hand in the door.
He was referred to Dr. Tong, and at first they got along great, just friends talking. Dr. Tong said he needed to push Patricia away if he was to grow and build a more full life. After a few weeks of conversations, Sam started to realize he was right, he could no longer ignore how clingy Patricia was, how she needed him all hours of the day and night. By following Patricia’s influence, Sam’s life was slowly unraveling. The latest outburst with Jennifer had released the linchpin, and now everything was loose, the wheels were coming off.
At Dr. Tong's urging, he started taking the little orange pills, choking against the sweet flavor, and tried to ignore Patricia, even when her voice was insistent, pleading.
“I am your friend, “ Dr. Tong said, “and I know what is best for you.” Dr. Tong sat back in his upholstered chair and adjusted his glasses. “Do you what a friend is? A friend puts your needs first, focuses on what is best for you Sam, with out asking for anything in return. Your relationship with Patricia is unhealthy. She demands too much of you. Sam, you need to kill off Patricia, for good.”
Sam twisted to look back at Dr. Tong and saw a small frown on his face. “Sam, you know this. It is her, or you.” He pointed with his Montblanc pen at Sam reclining on the couch. “I am your friend Sam, and I am here to support you. Are you ready to take this step?”
Sam nodded, scared of what he had to do.
”Oh good.” Dr. Tong said. “See you next week. My assistant will send you your bill.”
Dr. Tong encouraged Sam to find romantic love, but he had a hard time keeping boyfriends. The men Sam met were not loyal like Patricia. Many of them did not like his games, even though he always paid double. One night, after his latest boyfriend left threatening to call the police, he gave in, and spoke to Patricia.
It had been three months, but it was like they had never been a part. He missed speaking to someone who understood him, accepted his peculiarities. When she encouraged him to stop taking the orange pills, he agreed. He hated the taste anyway.
The muscles in his shoulder tightened and released as he turned the steering wheel of the rented SUV onto the familiar street. The rental was brand new, upgraded from the small car he had originally rented. A last minute decision when it was offered, he wanted to show off that he was a success, though he knew Patricia wouldn’t care.
He had prepared in advance so there would not be any mistakes, not this time. He stepped out of the car, and pulled the Glock from his pocket. He went to the building and opened the door.
He had set the meeting a week earlier. He had asked to discuss their friendship, and the ‘differences’ that had come up between them.
He opened the door and walked back to his friend’s office. He was surprised to find two people in the room. He had hoped Dr. Tong would call her, and he smiled knowing this meant he did not have to make another stop.
Patricia’s voice echoed in his head, “Do it!” and he did. Sam pulled the trigger again and again at his so-called friends, Jennifer and Dr. Tong.
Patricia reminded him to wipe the gun clean, and to take Dr. Tong’s file that had his name on it. The SUV rented under Jennifer’s account caught fire fast. He knew just how much lighter fluid to use this time.
He had enough of D&T’s money for a long vacation with Patricia. She had never been to Australia, and of course he hadn’t either.
Dr. Tong and Jennifer were not his friends. He had all he needed with Patricia. Dr. Tong was wrong when he called her imaginary. How could she be imaginary when she was the most real thing in his life?