Ambling along the paths of his childhood apartment complex, Will told me stories from before we met. In sixth grade, he sat on that step, and a centipede bit him. He's had a phobia ever since. Then there was that bush on the hill, his favorite hiding place, when he and his brother Terry, who died of a heroin overdose shortly after they moved out, played hide and seek with the girl up the street. Will's first love, Jenny Drummer.
And here was the Battlefield, a field of patchy grass strewn with henbit, clover, and potentially dangerous roots that jutted out to trip you. Forming the boundary of the Battlefield was a creek shaded by an arcade of trees.
"I wonder if Tessaiga is still here," Will said, skipping dexterously down roots and rocks to the wet gravel by the creek. I nimbly followed the same path and watched him look for the mystery object.
"Wouldn't that be a treat?" I said, annoyed.
Even for Will, eleven years as my friend was long enough to know I was hinting that he hadn't said enough words, so he explained. "I've never told you this, have I? My pops made these swords for me and Terry out of two-by-fours. Mine was Excalibur, and his was Tessaiga, like from Inuyasha? After he passed away, I buried Tessaiga here."
"Buried where?" I said, looking around.
"In the gravel here," he said, dropping to his knees to sift.
"You buried it, what, twelve years ago? There's no chance you'll find it."
"You stand corrected. Here it is!" He pulled a soggy wooden dagger out of a deep layer of the dirt. It was caked in sediment. Will brushed it off, revealing the rotted wood underneath. It was intact, after ten years under a creek.
Despite my disappointment at being wrong, the miracle won me over. "You actually found it."
"I can't believe it," he said, grabbing it by its handle and swinging it, careful to taper the velocity at the end of the swing so the waterlogged blade wouldn't fly off.
"Are you going to keep it or bury it again?"
"Keep it, for sure. My dad will lose it when he sees this."
"Your mom is going to lose it when she sees what you did to your uniform."
He looked down at himself. His khakis and untucked Walmart polo were stained with dirt and chlorophyll. "Well, whatever. If not for this, she'd find something else to bitch about." We climbed out of the ditch and returned to the path.
When we got back to my mother's black Audi, we flipped down the mirrors to block the setting sun and set off for some Sonic. He paid for both meals. My family was well-off, but I was broke because I didn't work. Besides, Will was always generous. We probably looked strange to the lady who gave us our food. Myself, well-groomed and bespectacled, wearing a wool sweater, and Will, still in his uniform, with unwashed hair and patchy stubble.
Throughout the rest of our excursion, he talked incessantly about finding Tessaiga, to the point that I had to ask him to stop changing the subject to it. Will was the single most monomaniacal person I had ever met, which was why I enjoyed taking him down memory lane when I could. He was one who needed a physical push to move his memory to points beyond his current obsession.
As we ate and he prattled on about the sword, I realized something with a wince. Before we went to his childhood apartment complex, we stopped at mine. There, I told him a story about an ant-termite war that I now realized, tater tot mid-chew, never happened. The story was as follows: my pal Jacob and I, after accidentally killing a fish at the catch and release pond (he cut its tail off to use as catfish bait), burnt the fish in his fire pit. Later, we returned to the fire pit and found out that an army of termites and an army of ants were fighting over the fish in a thoroughly engaging war that the termites ended up winning. This never happened. This was a story I wrote for a class assignment. I had gotten so attached to this version of the story that it had replaced the memory of what had actually happened. "Jacob" never existed. Neither did the fish or the fire pit. The only thing that was true was that I came across a war between termites and ants at some point in my childhood and watched it for a while.
I decided not to tell Will I lied. First of all, I doubt he was listening when I told the story. He never does. Secondly, there was no way to confirm that I had lied. I didn't know Will at the time of the story. Third, Will was an inveterate pathological liar. It became a regular occurrence for him to say he had seen some movie I was telling him about, and I would say, "What did you think about the ending?" and his answer would make no sense. I rarely called him out for it, but it always shocked me that he kept going on with the lie. He truly believed he had seen the movie.
Finally, as I ate my burger, a new question about the sword popped into my head. "You said there were two swords, and you buried Tessaiga. Where is the other one?"
"I gave Excalibur to Jenny," He said.
"Jenny? Oh yeah, Jenny Drummer."
"And that's not the only sword I gave her."
I laughed. "Don't even try. I know you're a virgin."
"Well, yeah. But she was my first kiss."
I decided to believe this. "You ever see her around?"
"I've run into her at conventions, but not really besides that."
"Maybe we'll see her this weekend then?"
"I hope so. After the last time, I vowed to myself that if I ever saw her again, I'd bang her." I let this crass statement slide as I let a lot of things Will said slide. "But man, that's crazy that we found the sword. And so quickly too. What are the odds? I'm still shocked."
"I get it, dude," I said, mouth full. "Think of something else to say."
Will and I had made two big plans for when I was in Nashville for winter break. This one, to walk around our childhood apartments, and another one, to go to an anime convention out of town on his birthday. He had planned to take someone else, but they canceled, so he offered the pass to me. Of course, I agreed because it would be his birthday and because it would be all-expenses-paid. His friend Shan had agreed to drive us there; Will had booked the hotel. Even when I commented that I would feel strange about being the only person in our group who didn't have a costume to wear, Will offered to buy me a nice one from an online vendor.
I managed to find a seventy-dollar costume for a character named Miki from the only anime I genuinely loved, Revolutionary Girl Utena. Miki wears a regal school uniform and has blue hair. Since my hair was already at his length, I opted to dye my hair blue instead of buying a wig and called up an old friend, a barista at my old high-school job who always did an excellent job dying her hair, and told her I'd buy her a burrito if she helped me. Asking her made me nervous, but I assumed the strangeness of the request would attract her. She turned out to be a meticulous and methodical dyer. She directed me to Sephora and made me buy Vaseline and a thirty-dollar kit. While she kneaded my hair in the bathroom of her flat, she objected to all of my movements and threatened me anytime I made her laugh too hard. She had all sorts of chemicals for washing her bathtub after I rinsed out the dye. When I drove home that night, hair a rich blue, I had the impression that I had experienced real life for the first time in a while. I had been pretty depressed in New York, and hanging out with Will first thing once I got home had only added to my general languor.
Early morning on Will's birthday, a van pulled up to the curb of my house. There was an extraordinarily tall and handsome half-Japanese man in the front seat, and Will was in the passenger seat messing with a coiled aux cord. I hopped into the back seat, and Will introduced us. Will wore an Inuyasha costume — a loose-fitting red kimono, white wig fitted with felt dog ears. Shan wore a costume of a character I didn't know. Hair the color of green tea, a tightly striped black and white shirt with a wide neck and sleeves, and tan joggers. Lots of accessories around his neck, arms, fingers. I couldn't imagine there would be many other men at the convention as attractive as him.
I found a "Purification Notebook" in his back seat. He acted embarrassed when I asked him about it. For someone as handsome as him, Shan was timid.
"Are you a Scientologist?" I asked.
"Oh my God, no. Like, my parents got into it a few years ago, but we're all done with it."
I flipped through the book. Mostly puritanical rules like Don't Jerk Off and Don't Do Drugs.
He saw that I was looking through it and said, "It's pretty standard stuff, but we also had to do this really intense vitamin regimen? I would have to take a ton of pills every day. I stopped because I had a, like, allergic reaction to one."
"Weird. Why'd you guys leave?"
"My little sister was born. They didn't want her to be raised in that environment."
Will chimed in after about ten minutes of silence. "Yo, I'm so excited for this, though." A variation of which he had been saying on repeat for the entire drive.
Shan was an engineering student at Vanderbilt. Shan and Will had become friends through an online game and only found out later that they both lived in Nashville. Will seemed nervous to butt into our conversation, and I think it was because Shan awed him in real life, and with Shan in the car, I could talk more intelligently than I did when Will and I hung out alone. On the other hand, I imagine he felt he would be snubbed if he said something stupid, and I didn't want him to be struck mute on his birthday, so I intentionally tried to reinclude him.
"That would be cool if we ran into Jenny, huh, Will?" I said. "You could ask her about Excalibur."
"I've been thinking that too. I bet we'll see her. Ah, man. It's been so long since I saw her in person. MTAC was in, what, April?"
Shan said, "You said, Jenny?"
"Oh, I thought I told you about her. We grew up together. She usually goes to this convention, so I bet we'll run into each other. I was telling Sebastian, I told myself if I ever saw her again, I'd ask her out."
"Good luck, I guess," Shan said. "Wait a sec. You don't mean Jenny Drummer, do you?"
"You know her?"
"Yeah! We hung out last year."
"You can be his wingman," I said.
"Sure, I mean, if she's your friend too, I could invite her out or something," Shan said. I saw Will subtly reel at the blunt way their striation was revealed.
"Please do if she's there," Will said. "I have a lot I want to talk to her about."
There isn't much to say about the convention as an end in itself. It was held in a small-town event center with wide walkways, high-ceilinged board rooms, and a large central convention hall, in which an open market room had been set up with vendors selling clothes, manga, and merchandising tchotchkes. Also, a few booths with voice actors signing prints of their best-known roles. Most con-goers wore elaborate and colorful costumes, and I recognized a few of the characters through cultural osmosis.
Since Shan kept going off to hang out with a semi-infinite well of acquaintances and I didn't have my car or money to get back to the hotel, the experience was comparable to being trapped in the merchandise section of a chain bookstore for eight hours straight. Nevertheless, I found respite in conversations with fans of Utena, a few of whom asked to take pictures with me, and of course, the occasional glimpse of Will or Shan and his friends. Will would always come back to me with some new doodad. While most of the conversations I had with strangers on the con floor involved them dissecting things that meant absolutely nothing to me, Shan's friends, a close-knit group of five or so stomachable people, gave me something to cling to while Will walked around the marketplace.
One couple in the group dressed, coincidentally, as characters from Utena. One of them was Utena herself, and the other was Utena's "bride," Anthy. Utena has long pink hair and wears a black and red version of the school uniform I was wearing, and Anthy has pinned-up purple hair with a crown in it and wears glasses and what I'll describe for simplicity's sake as a sleeveless red gown. While there was at once a bond between all three of us, I was particularly fond of Utena, whose actual name was Kate. She had aquiline features and giggled when she was at a loss for words. The clique formed a knot against the wall in the main hallway. Anthy turned to another friend to respond to something, and I used the opportunity to ask Kate what she did.
"I'm an artist," she said and laughed. "You're the first person to ask me something like that." I knew what she meant because I had spent a while in the convention hall.
"Most of my friends are artists. Do you do fine art or commercial?" I said.
"I guess a mixture of both?" Giggles again. "I do art for myself, mostly, though I do go to school for it. Watkins?"
"They're getting rid of that school, aren't they?"
"Just merging it with Belmont."
"Oh, that's right. A friend of mine organized some sort of protest about the merger last year."
"I may have been at that."
We continued like this for a while, and I told her where I lived, what I did, how I ended up at the convention and all that. Then, she told me about her and Anthy. Anthy, or Isabelle, was a senior in high school and worked the closing shift at a Domino's in Cookeville, and Kate lived in Nashville for school. They were planning on eloping together to Nashville, but for the time being, they were long-distance and, because of family pressure, only allowed to see each other at events such as this.
I found their story interesting and wanted to hear more, so I asked Kate if she and Isabelle wanted to come out to eat with me, Shan, and Will later. After confirming with Isabelle, she agreed, then suggested they could swim with us at our hotel after dinner. Will approached me and interrupted our plan-making.
"Sebastian! Jenny is here. I just saw her. I'm freaking out a little."
"Gotta go. See you later, Kate," I said and stood up.
"See you. It was nice meeting you, too. Oh, I mean — "
I waved her off. "Likewise."
Isabelle, who had been turned away, saw me standing and said, "Wait, say goodbye to Chu-chu." She held out the little stuffed monkey, and I patted its head.
I had to jog a bit to catch up with Will, who had already walked too far away. Will was somebody who couldn't hide when he was out of sorts. He bit his nails, darted his eyes around, and had a tough time focusing on anything I said to help calm him down. One thing that was not a product of his nerves was how he walked about three feet ahead of me at all times and how when I sped up to walk side-by-side, he sped up too. This was something he had done since middle school.
"Where is she?" I said.
"I saw her looking through pins in the — the place."
"Did you talk to her?"
"What? No, dude. I came to you. What should I do?"
"Talk to her. You're her childhood friend. Even if she gets nervous, it isn't strange to approach her."
"Will you go with me?"
"No. I'll meet her later. After you've caught up a bit and asked about the sword, ask her if she wants to come out to dinner with us tonight. I'll stand nearby so you can point me out. Oh, and tell her we might go swimming afterward, and she's welcome to come to that, too."
"Swimming, already? I don't know, dude."
"It's not weird or anything. Tell her that Kate, Shan, and Isabelle said they'd come."
"Why swimming? I doubt any of them even have suits."
"Kate was the one who suggested it," I said, getting frustrated. "Any way you look at this, all you have to do is talk to her."
"This is what annoys me about you. You act like you've never gotten nervous before."
"Of course I have. I'm just not nervous for you because I think she'll say yes, and even if she doesn't, it'll be for a reason. Go on. You're getting on my nerves now."
"Alright. Stand by the manga, and I'll go find her."
As I flipped through the various volumes set out on the card table and chatted with their sellers, Will struck up the fated conversation with Jenny. I periodically watched them through the bars of a black clothing rack.
Jenny didn't look the way I had imagined she would. She was fat and wore a too-small Japanese school uniform. Her features were perfectly spaced for joyful and inquisitive expressions. With her round cheeks and eyebrows which arched gently toward her brow, it would be difficult for her to look as if she misunderstood something. Instead, she gave off the impression of somebody who laughingly checks if you're cheating when you get too lucky in a game of cards, even when she knows you aren't.
Will fidgeted with the cloth of a nearby table as they talked, and she stood with her hands on her hips, smiling. She followed Will's pointing finger, looked at me, then waved. I waved back and pulled a volume of Junji Ito out of a stack to avert my gaze. A while later, I looked over and saw that the two had split up, Will skipping through a group of cosplayers to me, Jenny carrying a shopping bag toward a glass interim to which Kate and Isabelle had migrated.
"See?" I said when Will reached me. He was grinning from ear to ear.
"She said she'd come out with us tonight! I forgot how much I missed her. Dude, thank you."
"We talked about Excalibur. She said she kept it. Why else would she keep it unless she still liked me?"
"You're probably right," I said, putting away the volume as he walked six feet ahead of me.
I work hard to be respected and hate instances when undeserved blame is placed on me because of someone else's flaw, so forgive me if I take on a sort of invective and superior tone when describing what happened at the beginning of dinner. We all piled into Shan's van and headed to a burger place about a mile away. I sat shotgun, Will and Jenny sat in the middle seats, and Kate and Isabelle cleaned off the backseat to cuddle up next to Will's props. Though I wasn't able to be very active in the conversation (Shan's engine had a loud whirr), I was delighted to hear Will and Jenny behind me, volleying stories and esoteric references.
There was a Cici's pizza in the same shopping center as the burger place.
"What do you all say about going to Cici's instead?" I said. "I don't know why, but pizza sounds good."
"Is that what you want to do?" Shan said.
"Yeah, let's do that," I said.
From what I remember, everyone seemed okay with it. But, then, once we got our food, pulled our cups off those stippolyte towers of emerald and ruby, and sat down, I noticed that while Will, Jenny, and I had loaded our plates with all sorts of pizzas and pastas, Kate and Isabelle didn't have anything, and Shan had nothing but a small, depressing salad, which he picked at with his fork.
"You're not getting anything?" I said to the girls.
"Nah. I'm not hungry," Kate said.
"I already ate egg rolls at the convention. And Kate never eats," Isabelle said.
Already annoyed because neither of them had said anything before, I said, "Is that salad really all you want, Shan?"
Isabelle answered for him: "Oh, he's lactose intolerant. He can't eat dairy."
What upset me about this was that not only did Shan agree to go to Cici's instead of the burger place, but also that Isabelle, and most likely Kate and Jenny too, knew that Shan was lactose intolerant and didn't say anything in the car. Most irritating of all is that I had only met Shan that morning, though since I came with him, they likely figured I knew about his intolerance and was just being inconsiderate.
I couldn't help but say, "Well, you should have said something. We would have been at the burger place right now." And I had to mentally wash off the guilt, saying to myself, "No. Enjoy your food at your own pace. They could have said something." I swear I cannot stand people, sometimes.
Eventually, as I felt more and more vindicated and allowed myself to enjoy the food, the conversation picked back up again.
"I know you were friends as kids," I said to Jenny and Will, "but did you get along?"
"What's that supposed to mean?" Will said.
"You're a pain in the ass, that's what it means."
Kate and Isabelle giggled.
"We kinda got along," Jenny answered. "Remembering now, he was a bit of an asshole, but sort of every kid is like that. I was probably meaner to him. I was a very demanding child."
Will said, "You always made me get stuff for you. You would say you wouldn't be my friend anymore if I didn't."
"Jeez, the manipulation," Kate chimed in.
"Don't feel bad for him," Jenny said, laughing. "He used to punch me."
"What? That's terrible!" We all looked at Will to see his response.
"I never punched you," he said as if telling a fragment of the truth.
"Yes, you did. And you tackled me one time when we were playing football."
"That's what you do in football, isn't it?"
"Not when it's two-hand-touch!"
"Oh, that time. You know you flopped."
"I did not flop."
"You told me afterward you did!" Will said too loudly, attracting the eyes of a nearby family, who had already glanced at us more than once because of our loud and colorful costumes.
"Oh, that's right," Jenny said, seeming to remember. "No, I did actually flop. I wanted a first down." Everyone laughed except Shan, who had given up on his salad and looked bored. I was going to include him, but Jenny turned to Kate and Isabelle and asked them if they were any closer to moving out.
The girls looked at each other for a second and non-verbally confirmed something, then Isabelle said with a shrug, "We both have enough money to do it now. We're waiting for when I'm ready to cut off my parents entirely. I'm not sure how long that will take. I mean, I might get into college. And what if I get hurt and need help with medical bills?"
I said, "Excuse me if I'm overstepping, but have you considered just lying to them?"
"That's what I said," Shan said.
"We have," said Kate, "but lying would only be a temporary solution. Soon enough, it would fall apart."
I said, "Are you sure your parents couldn't be convinced to be supportive?"
Isabelle made an indignant laugh. "Ha. That's funny."
Kate shook her head. "No chance."
I realized with a sinking depression the weight of the situation she described, and Isabelle's life suddenly seemed hellish. She was in high school still, only "might" get into college, a fact which might be influenced by how she worked nights, something she did so that she could eventually elope, something that she only wanted to do because her parents were the kinds of people who might disown their daughter for loving another girl. It amazed me that Isabelle could smile and joke around as much as she did.
All I could do was wish them the best and make sure to get their numbers so I could keep updated on their progress toward eloping. This was somewhat of a lapse for me because I had, about a year earlier, vowed to give up wishing happy outcomes for other people. It was staggering to me how many people I had seen tell me what they would do, do nothing to get what they wanted, then ultimately give up, lying to themselves and others all the while. Many times, I had figured the person was worthy of an object of their desire — a love, a dream, an escape — just to come to understand that they were worthy of precisely what they ended up getting.
My unusual worry for Kate and Isabelle cast a shadow over the rest of the meal. Finally, Shan suggested we leave to go swimming. On the way to the hotel, he went through the drive-thru at Wendy's and bought a 4-for-4 for himself and a medium fry for Kate. I managed to stop myself from apologizing, though I felt like I was supposed to.
Hotel pools have always been the sorts of places that, when I walk into them, I vow to myself to remember the specific thoughts and feelings I have, then later find them dull to recollect. Smell of chlorine, the echoing sound of children playing, the feeling of your knees tensing up while walking on the wet edge of the pool. This one was pear-shaped, and in the inner curve of the pear was an octagonal hot tub. Our goal was the hot tub, but whenever one group got out of it, another would run to take their place. Will and Jenny didn't bring suits, so they lay on parallel pool beds and chatted away.
The remaining four of us occupied the deep end without much trouble, our only competition being a stocky middle-aged man volleying a beach ball with his young daughter. The red-bodied mother sat at a table and made comments to them that they both ignored. Eventually, the daughter got out, and the mother toweled her off while the dad stayed in the pool and did breaststrokes, occasionally brushing a little too close to our squared-off territory.
Everyone had taken off their wigs. Shan and Isabelle both had short black hair, and Kate's hair was a long and charmingly unkempt (what magazines would call unhealthy) blonde.
We had transitioned from Kate's mention of learning Japanese into a surprisingly spirited conversation about neuroscience. I had said that a person had the most neurons they would ever have when they were born, and so on, and that's why it's increasingly difficult to learn new languages as you grow older. This is also why, each year, it seems more futile to try changing your nature. While everyone was acutely aware of the difficulty of learning languages after childhood — Shan and Isabelle had both only learned English in their teens, and Kate had been studying Japanese for three years — nobody in our party knew the first fact, and the conversation became uncomfortably introspective, as everyone talked about habits they had difficulty breaking and mistakes they had difficulty avoiding.
Will came up to our edge of the pool, leant on the metal ladder, and said, "Yo. Me and Jenny are going to head back to the room for a sec. Need anything?"
"Jenny and I, and I'm good," I said. "But what are you guys doing?" I looked over and saw Jenny digging around in a burlap purse.
"I was going to show her Tessaiga."
"Dude," Isabelle said with a disapproving laugh, thinking he was making an innuendo.
"Anyone else?" Will said.
"Actually, yeah," Shan said. "Could you take a few dollars from my wallet and get me some water from the vending machine?"
"Don't worry about it. I'll pay."
And Will was off. He and Jenny put on their jackets and headed out of the glass door of the pool, letting in an unpleasant cold draught from outside that made us all drop neck-deep into the heated water. Just that moment, the dad from earlier swam up to our group. He stood over Shan and Isabelle, put his hands together at the surface of the pool, and squeezed them to squirt a few lasers of water into the middle of our circle.
"Can you guys do this?" He said.
In order to appease him, we all tried it, and Shan managed to do one good enough for us to all cheer. Then, we found an excuse to leave the man alone when a group of people around our age, likely other con-goers, got out of the hot-tub to dry off.
The water in the hot-tub felt doubly scolding because of the contrast to the lukewarm pool. Fifteen minutes passed, and Will and Jenny were still gone. Of course, we assumed what was going on, but since it was Will, there was still some remaining uncertainty. The girls were especially skeptical.
"If he remembers to bring my water still, what would that mean?" Shan said.
Another fifteen minutes passed before Will and Jenny finally got back. By the time they did, we were all pruning and bored.
Will and Jenny looked distressed and embarrassed, and when I asked why they were gone for so long, Will said, "I had to look for Tessaiga, then when we found it, we had to run to the ATM to get money for the vending machine." I knew this was a lie, and I suspect everyone else did, too, but nobody said anything. Still, neither of them seemed comfortable. They barely talked and just watched us as we got out and dried ourselves off. Jenny crossed her arms and made small talk with Shan, and Will came over and started talking about what we'd do when I returned to Nashville in the summer.
Before Shan drove Kate, Isabelle, and Jenny back to their hotels, I made sure to get the couples' phone numbers. I wondered if I should ask Jenny for hers, too, for propriety's sake, but she climbed into the car before I could even say goodbye. I wondered why Jenny was distraught, and now that Will and I were alone, I could learn the truth — or rather, since it was Will, a fragment of the truth.
I sat on the bed, arms crossed behind my head, my body still humming with pleasure from the long swim. Will sat in a desk chair and alternated kicking off the two beds to swivel himself back and forth, biting his fingernails and staring at his phone.
"You lied about why you were gone for so long, didn't you?"
"Yeah," he said. While he did look upset, there was a twinge of a smug grin. "If I tell you, will you promise not to tell anyone, not even Shan?"
"You know I'm a trustworthy confidant. And besides, we've been best friends forever. Whatever happened, you probably would have told me anyway."
"She gave me a BJ."
"Yeah, dude. Now you want to hear something crazy?"
"Like to be married?"
"And she gave you a — ?"
"Yeah. She didn't even tell me she was engaged before she did it. Then after we got cleaned up, she broke down crying and told me about her fiancé. I consoled her and everything, but honestly, I'm kinda pissed off. Not gonna lie."
"That's just so weird. Are you okay?"
"I don't know, dude. It's all so weird, I don't even know what to do with it."
I was at a loss for words. "Is her guy at the convention?"
"No. I asked her that too, and she said he hates anime. She doesn't seem to like him. She says he makes fun of everything she likes. So maybe there's still hope."
"I mean, if she doesn't like him," I said, though Jenny didn't seem like the type of person who would escape from such a situation. Even with her bantering attitude and understanding face, she seemed to have a blind spot somewhere, and Will's story revealed what that was. She had many subtle traits of the sort of person who rushed into marriage with the first decent-looking guy who showed interest in her. While she was a lively presence in the conversation, she never suggested activities, and even when she told you how she felt, much like Will, she seemed to regard her feelings so unactionable that it was impossible to take them seriously either.
So closes the convention. The next two days were much of the same, trapped with Will in a marketplace making conversation with strangers and going to a few panels, most memorable of which were, of course, Anime Yoga and the Magical Lesbians Seminar. Growing closer to Kate, Isabelle, and Shan, making memories with them, though all the while understanding I'd soon be hundreds of miles away, occasionally wondering about their fates and recalling the embarrassment of making them go to Cici's that one time.
Jenny had, luckily for Will, only bought a one-day pass. Whenever Will was alone with me, he talked about ways he could rescue her and push her and himself back onto the correct timeline. The one in which childhood lovers reunite and marry.
In early January, I returned to New York for my spring semester. It was another few months of lonely writing and forced, too-expensive outings. I turned twenty-one and split a bottle of expensive amontillado sherry with my roommate, then commenced drinking alone nearly every night. There was a grocery store near my apartment that sold a not too repulsive three-dollar cabernet. I sprinkled my months with the occasional pensive subway ride or walk through the park.
It wasn't all so gray, though. My roommate and I frequented a games shop and became close with one of the DMs there. I also went to one punk show alone. Instead of expecting some grand adventure that wasn't coming, I planned in advance to have an energizing yet sad and introspective time. I wouldn't have gone, but I had bought the tickets a year ago. It turned out to be more fun than I expected, though the trip home supplied exactly the surreal feeling I had almost missed out on. Another time I was stood up for a date at a pizza place in Chelsea, and as I ate alone, pitying myself, I thought about texting Kate or Isabelle to see if they had eloped yet. I decided against it. Not because I wanted to pretend they got their happy ending, but rather because I didn't want to know if they hadn't.
Near the end of the semester, I got an excellent job for the summer. It would be over a year before I was able to visit Will again. Still, he called me every week. He only called while he was organizing carts in the Walmart parking lot, so there was always a loud metal rattle in the background that overpowered his voice when he had to whisper to gossip. Our conversations were always the same and lasted, without fail, a little under ten minutes before I made up some pretext for hanging up. We'd talk about video games and TV shows and make fake plans to see each other. He planned to come up to the city for a few days over the holiday. This didn't end up happening.
Every time we talked, I asked him for updates about Jenny. He said she still texted him every day. She often complained about her fiancé and expressed doubts about whether she wanted to marry him. He told me a few of the stories; it wasn't my business, but Will had zero reservations about revealing other peoples' secrets. She had told him that her fiancé never paid attention to her and spent most of the day playing video games, and now that he got fired from his job, he wanted to spend every waking hour with her, keeping her from her friends and family. I thought things were shaping up for the best, as far as Will was concerned.
A few calls later, she was married. But there's still hope, Will insisted. A few nights after she got married, Jenny called him maudlin and said she made a terrible mistake, and now she could see that she loved Will. She said that soon she'd divorce her husband and marry him. Will interspersed his story with delighted, almost victorious chuckles; at last, he would get his wish.
After this call, there was a long hiatus in the Jenny saga as Will waited for her to divorce her husband. Whenever I imagined Will, I pictured him in his blue uniform, pushing carts, daydreaming of his future with Jenny.
It really frustrates me the way people who can get what they want carry on as if they can't, and how people who can't get what they want carry on as if they can.
Will seemed to only call me when he was bored at work and wanted to joke around with an old friend. He never called me to relay specific information or say something urgent. Except once. It was also the only time he called from home. There was none of the carts' rattling metal. No whispering gossip, or interruptions from customers. Only the sound of him shuffling on his pillow and choking back tears.
"Jenny is pregnant," he said.
"It's not yours, is it?"
"No, there's no way."
Knowing this meant the end of his hopes, I said, "Sorry, man. Are you okay?"
Consolation was always a humbling activity for me. I was terrible at it because I tended to agree with my interlocutor that their situation was hopeless, and it was hard for me to lie to them and tell them things would turn out all right. And with Will, it was especially difficult because he wasn't an artist or somebody who could do something with his suffering.
After a while, I simply said, "Well, hey. I'm coming to Nashville in a few weeks. We can hang out for a few days, have some adventures, forget about the whole thing. I won't say it'll be as exhilarating as young love, but at least it'd be real."
"Oh, you're coming to Nashville?" He said, seeming to cheer up. "It's been so long since I had a partner in crime. You know, I was thinking about doing a ritual. Maybe I'll wait until you come down."
"I want to re-bury Tessaiga at the old apartment. It'd be like burying the past."
Will had always been sentimental.
"I like that idea," I said. I was telling the truth.
Burying Tessaiga was important enough to Will that he insisted we do it even though it had snowed six inches on the only day we could. Ice covered the road. I gently pulled into the apartment, and at some point, the car stopped turning. It slid slowly into the apartment's concrete sign, then stopped with an anti-climactic thump. After some routine expletives and apologies, I called up my parents. The people in the apartment office came by and interrogated us. Without hesitation, Will came up with a lie. He told them we were just using the parking lot to turn around. At some point, he seemed to start believing his own story.
We forgot all about the ritual.
Eventually, it all cleared up, and we got back on the road; the car and the sign both in need of repairs. As I drove by the creek to take him home, I slowed down and said, "Oh, we didn't get to do the ritual. Quick. You can still throw Tessaiga out the window."
"No, I'm not going to," he said. "Dude, keep driving. There are cars coming."
I reluctantly stepped on the gas, and we sped up to forty-five. I said, "Why not?"
"I decided I don't want to get over her."
"You have to eventually."
"But I love her."
"You could fall in love with someone else once you get to know them."
"I don't think so."
I grew defensive. "That's simply wrong."
"I grew up with her. She knows all my past, everything I care about. How could anyone else catch up?"
"You could tell them those stories."
"But they wouldn't know why they matter. And who else would ever love me?" I could hear he was starting to cry.
"Somebody will come along."
Next, he said something I hadn't been expecting, but looking back, it made total sense for him to bring up. "Maybe you're right." His tears smoldered as he began to believe me. He stared out of the window biting his nails and sniffing for a while before asking, "How long did it take for you to get over Anne?"
I didn't even think about his question and just replied with what I had told myself for the past two years. "We broke up the day before I had two final papers to write, so I had no time to wallow. I cried it out that night, and the next day I had to suck it up and get to work."
"You don't miss her at all?"
"What happened was for the best. I realized that pretty quickly. After the arguing stopped, all we really did was bore the hell out of each other. I miss parts of it, but certainly not the thing as a whole."
"You haven't found someone else," he said in an argumentative tone.
"Well, there's a lot in the way of that at the moment. I'm happy in solitude."
"You're not happy, you're an alcoholic."
"I'm right, though."
"No, you're not. Just because I resemble sad characters from movies doesn't make me actually unhappy."
"I think you're lying to yourself."
"You're one to talk."
In order to keep me from elaborating, he didn't respond, opting instead to stare out the window again and resume biting his nails. I looked over and saw that all of his nails were bitten down to stubs, leaving only a thin band of pink and white above the cuticles. His lack of response confirmed all of my suspicions. But what that implied was too awful to rub in, so I remained silent, an audience to a never-ending reverie.