It was our second date when the world ended.
This was someone’s basement once. There’s a washer and a dryer down here and if the power were still working I’m sure we could use them. The fact that the shower upstairs worked was blessing enough. My clothes might not be clean, but at least my skin smells better.
Sophy brought a few things down from the bathroom. She found a compact. She found some make up. It’s still light out enough for her to put it on. She’s just kind of sitting there, compact in one hand, eyeliner in the other. I’d be flattered if I thought she was actually doing it for my benefit. She’s not. She’s doing it for her own.
I brought a few things down from the kitchen. I found a really big knife, the kind they only sell on the Home Shopping Network. I found some canned goods that can be eaten raw. I found some bottled water.
I searched every inch of this house and every inch of the garage and the shed out in the yard and I didn’t find a shotgun or a hand gun or anything that could be considered a fire arm. In the movies they always find a gun somehow. In the movies they always know how to use it.
I know she’d rather be sleeping upstairs in one of the beds. But I feel like the rooms are too shut off with only one exit route. The basement has a door to the upstairs and a door to the back yard. The floor is concrete and the walls are cinder blocks. I feel secure down here.
There’s a small window, the kind made from a really thick block of glass. I can see the swing set in the back yard. I can see the sand box.
I remember when internet dating was a joke.
I don’t know when it happened, but at some point meeting people online became trendy. I guess the ability to screen people was appealing. You could literally type in the kind of person you wanted to meet and the computer would spit out results. It was like natural selection with photos.
That’s how I met Sophy.
I think most people have a list of traits that they look for in a significant other. And I think most people are smart enough to realize that they’ll never find someone with every single one of those traits. To a certain extent, we all know that we’re going to have to settle. You trade wit for kindness. You trade taste in movies for taste in music. You trade intelligence for looks. Everyone knows that this is how it works and everyone knows that everyone else does it. You have to sacrifice to survive.
I didn’t feel like I was settling with Sophy.
This holds true for meeting people online. Go ahead and do a search for someone who has the exact same favorite movie as you. I can guarantee that they won’t like the same music. Do a search for someone with a post-graduate degree. Chances are good that they’ll be dull as dirt. When the facts are laid out and pixilated on the screen twenty inches in front of your face, you learn to pick and choose. You learn to prioritize.
It wasn’t like that with Sophy. She liked the best movies. She valued wit. She enjoyed getting drunk. She was nearly as aimless as me and just a few months younger. There wasn’t a single trade to be made. I didn’t have to pick and choose. Everything lined up the way I wanted.
And then, of course, there were the pictures. As online dating had gotten more popular, more and more attractive people were actually using it. I’m sure initially it was the last resort for the homely and misanthropic, but it turned into a veritable potpourri of beautiful people. No matter what your type might be, you were bound to find someone to match it. The problem, of course, is that everyone knew this.
You get a lot of glamour shots, pictures that seemed to have been taken specifically for the purpose of having a great online profile. You get a lot of action shots, pictures of people doing something “cool” with their friends. Those are actually kind of intimidating because you’re getting a glimpse of that person’s entire life in one photo. It’s a world that seems foreign and complete and not a world that needs you in any way. You also get a lot of artsy shots, created to be mysterious and appealing when, in reality, they’re just annoying.
Sophy was different.
I found her by doing a search for favorite movie. We were a match. Her picture was candid enough (and cute enough) for me to think she had potential, so I clicked on her name to view her profile. Not only did we like the same movies, we liked the same music, too. It seemed to me that I had every single one of the qualities that she looked for in a person. It seemed to me that her hobbies paralleled my own.
Within a few minutes of reading her profile, I’d already fallen for her.
We managed to slide a mattress down the stairs and we took sheets and comforters from the linen closet. It felt weird to take them off the beds. The mattress was one thing. Sheets made what we were doing seem too real.
Night time is always the hardest. I watch as the last light from the sun fades away. Sophy crawls on to the mattress and pulls the sheets up around her. I look at my watch. It’s only 6:30. I wonder how much longer the battery will last in this thing. I suppose at some point time will cease to exist.
We sleep in four hour shifts. I know it doesn’t sound like we’re getting a whole lot of rest, but it’s not as if either of us is getting any quality sleep. You’re half awake the whole time, anyway. Part of you doesn’t think you’ll wake up.
There was one point when we felt comfortable lying next to each other. I think we preferred it. It was a way for us to stay warm. I liked to think it was comforting, that I was just as comforting to her as she was to me. But we’ve been pretty scared lately, too scared to be lying down at the same time.
“I feel like we’re buried,” she says as she rolls over on to her side. She always starts off on her side. At some point she’ll end up on her back. Gently, casually, and sound asleep, she’ll roll on to her back, no longer curled up in the fetal position, open and accepting of the world around her. It happens that way every night. It’s almost graceful.
I’ve watched her sleep every night for a week now.
I look back out the window. The sun is going down and the last bit of light is starting to form shadows anywhere it can. I try not to let my mind fool me. I’ve got enough to worry about without imaging things.
Those trees in the distance are just trees. They’re not moving. They’re not headed this way.
I almost wish they were.
The rest of Unrequited can be found as a 99 cent eBook, available on iTunes, for the Nook, and for the Kindle, as well as pretty much any other eReader or Tablet. Unrequited can also be found in print, as part of the short story collection, Unrequited and Other Stories.