Chapter 3: The Just Friends Trap

The next installment of the ongoing fictional saga of Jake and Wakesho (working title of the whole thing is “For Tomorrow”). This one’s a bit longer, so bear with me. See related A Cape Catharsis  and Fish Traps (it would help to read them in order). 

DISCLAIMER: This is a work of fiction. All characters are products of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual people, alive or dead, is purely coincidental. 

Jake was sorting through his mail on a Friday evening while sitting in his favorite worn-out secondhand chair listening to the local college station which was playing obscure alternative rock. Finding nothing of interest in the mail, Jake ventured into the kitchen, grabbed a beer from the fridge and scrutinized the contents of the cabinets. Finding the cupboard bare, he pulled a frozen pizza out of the freezer and slid it into the oven.

Settling back into his chair while waiting for the cheese on his pizza to cool enough that it wouldn’t burn the roof of his mouth, Jake flipped on the TV just in time to hear Ted the Channel 10 weatherman give the forecast. Muttering a string of obscenities at what he heard, he flipped over to Channel 3 only to hear the exact same report from Christina the weathergirl. The forecasters were calling for heavy rain with localized flooding, before changing over to snow sometime on Saturday. If the river rose to flood stage it would make his traps inaccessible. Whatever fish were in the traps would die before he could release them, and with the endangered Niangua Darter being one of his primary targets, he knew he couldn’t afford to risk killing one.

Half an hour later, after cramming down a still too-hot pizza and chasing it with a cold beer, Jake jumped in his truck and sped over to campus. It was well after sunset by the time he left his lab with his waders and gear in tow. He double checked the batteries on his flashlight before heading north toward the river.

Pulling out the traps was a tiresome chore. They were too heavy to carry all at once, so he tossed them on the near bank where he could carry them to the truck on dry land. The forecast had been spot on, the rain began just as he finished loading the last trap into the back of his pickup. The temperature was still above freezing, but he was very cold, very tired and very wet by the time he finished. The road had turned into slippery muck in the falling rain, which was now coming down in sheets. With his windshield wipers going full speed, Jake steered left to avoid one particularly large mud hole, but quickly realized his mistake when the left front tire slid down an embankment into a steep ditch. Gunning the engine while cranking the wheel to the right, the aggressive tires somehow found traction and pulled the front of the Jeep back up onto the main trail.

Back on the main highway, Jake drove as quickly as he safely could in the torrential rain. He parked in a loading zone behind the science building. He was soaked to the bone by the time he finished unloading all the traps and equipment. He hung his waders upside down from a peg on the door and stacked everything else neatly in a corner. Dr. Adams would give him hell if he made a mess of her lab. They shared the space to conduct a variety of research projects simultaneously, but he preferred using it as his office rather than sitting in the crowded and noisy graduate student alcove on the 3rd floor.

He made a quick check of the tanks holding his fish, which consisted of smallmouth bass, golden suckers and sculpins, as well as the tank holding about a hundred silver-sided minnows. They all appeared to be alive and well, so he shut off the lights and locked the door and went upstairs to find Dr. Adams.

Seeing a light on in the graduate student alcove, he stuck his head in and was happy to see his friend Eric sitting at his desk.

“What happened to you?” Eric exclaimed. “You look like a snowball that tried its chances in hell.”

“Yeah, I guess I do. But I feel even worse. I had to pull out all my traps because of this rain, which is supposed to get the river up out of its banks. Couldn’t have our precious little endangered darters dying of boredom waiting for me to come and set them free. That is assuming I could even catch any, I haven’t even seen one of the little bastards in months.”

“That sucks, man. You should work on bears like me. At least they’ve got sense enough to come in out of the rain. They den up in pissy weather like this,” Eric said.

“No shit, man. I need to do something different. The only thing this research has taught me is that I sure as hell don’t want to be a fish squeezer my whole life. Hey, you up for a beer or three? I have to go report to the boss, but I should be done in about an hour or so.”

“Sure, I could use a beer. No, make that several. What do you say we hit Shorty’s and you can clean up on the way there since it’s so close to your place? Besides, it’s quarter beer night.”

“That’s right! If you can call that swill they serve beer.”

“It may be swill but it’ll still get you drunk,” laughed Eric. “I think Alan Jones is playing tonight. I feel like getting rowdy. Would it be alright if I crashed on your sofa?”

“Of course. Mi sofa es su sofa, amigo. Lemme go talk to Doc so we can get outta here. See you in a few.”

By ten p.m. the rain had let up and Jake and Eric walked the two blocks from Jake’s apartment to Shorty’s Pub. They could hear the sound of Alan Jones’ band warming up and a good sized crowd had already appeared. They paid five dollars each for a plastic cup which they could refill with whatever cheap draft beer was on tap all night long for only a quarter.

Alan Jones was onstage and spied them as they took two seats to the left of the bar.

“I see two assholes have just walked in without even buying me a round!” Alan announced over the microphone. “That’s alright, I think it’s time for a social. Everybody raise your cups and sing along, I think you all know the words to this one. This one’s called ‘Lawyers, Guns and Money,’ by the great Warren Zevon. Here we go!”

After several covers of country songs and a few parrot-head songs, Jones sang a few of his own creations before taking a break. He came over and sat with Jake and Eric.

“Hey guys! How ya been? Ain’t seen you in a long time.”

“Doin’ good, Alan, but busier than a one-legged man in an ass-kicking contest.” Jake replied.

“I second that,” said Eric. “I’ve been writing my bloody dissertation. And by bloody I mean that every draft I get back from my advisor looks like he bled all over it with a red pen. I’m about ready to shit-can the whole thing and start over.”

“Well it sucks to be you guys,” said Alan, “but stick with it so you don’t end up like me, a broke-down old biker singing songs for tips in shithole bars. I think I made enough to buy you a beer. I have a couple of quarters in my pocket,” he laughed.

“Band sounds good tonight. You been practicing?” asked Eric.

“Hell no, we don’t ever fucking practice! They sound good because Bob the drummer split up with his old lady and fell off the wagon. Can’t keep time worth a shit when he’s sober, but he’s Keith Moon when he’s drunk!” Alan laughed.

Around 2 a.m. the bartender announced last call and Eric and Jake staggered for the door. Alan had played a long set but had packed it in a couple of hours earlier. Outside it was cold and a stiff north wind was blowing. A few fat snowflakes hit them in the face as they swayed drunkenly back to Jake’s apartment.

Eric was asleep and snoring the moment he hit the sofa. Jake put a blanket over him and grabbed a bottle of water from the fridge and a slice of leftover cold pizza. He would try to stave off the hangover that he could already feel coming on by drinking some water and getting some food in his stomach. He went into his bedroom and opened the window, letting cold air flood into the room. The red glow of the digital alarm clock beside his bed read 2:35 am. He cursed himself even as he picked up the receiver and dialed the familiar number.

“Hello?” a woman’s voice answered.

“Hi, is Alex there?” he slurred.

“This is Alex, is this Jake?”

“Yeah, it’s Jake. Hi. How are you?”

“I’m good, hey listen, can I call you right back? I’m on another call.”

“Sure, I’m sorry. Yeah, I’m at home, call whenever.” Click. Stupid bastard, he thought. What the hell where you thinking? Now she thinks you’re stalking her or something, calling her in the middle of the night. After about five minutes of wallowing in self-hatred, the phone rang. Jake let it ring three times so she wouldn’t think he had been waiting for her call.

“Hello?”

“Hey, what’s up?”

“Alex?”

“Of course it’s me. Who do you think would be calling you in the middle of the night, silly?”

“Oh yeah. Sorry,” he replied. “Sorry to call you so late. Sorry to bother you. I didn’t really want anything. I don’t know why I called, guess I just wanted to talk. Sorry.”

“Will you please stop saying sorry? I don’t care that you called at 3 a.m., I was just thinking of calling you, in fact, and seeing what you were doing.”

“Really?” he sounded as surprised as he felt.

“Yes, really. Why do you sound surprised?”

“I don’t know. I guess I hadn’t heard from you in a while and I didn’t even know you have my number. Sorry.”

“Of course I have your number, you gave it to me, remember? And didn’t I just call you five minutes ago?”

“Oh yeah, sorry. I guess I’m drunker than I thought.”

“Really? You sound fine. Where’d you go? I hope you weren’t drinking alone?”

“No, I went with my buddy Eric to Shorty’s and we saw Alan Jones play. It was quarter draw night and I guess we got pretty hammered. The walk home sobered me up a little though, it’s freezing outside. Eric is passed out on my couch.”

“Well at least you had the good sense to walk instead of driving.”

“Thanks. Yeah, I never drive to Shorty’s, it’s just down the street. I guess you’ve never been to my apartment, though, have you? I would ask you over sometime, but the place is a pig sty. I’m afraid you might catch something.”

“Hmm, I’ll have to check it out for myself one of these days. Maybe I can help you clean it up if you ask me nicely.”

“Wow! That would be nice. I was just planning on setting the place on fire once my lease is up, but you might be able to help me avoid arson charges. Anyway, what did you do tonight?”

“Well, a couple of my friends came over and we watched TV and played Scrabble and drank a lot of wine. My friend Amy has every episode of the Road Runner cartoons on tape and we watched them for hours.”

“That’s cool,” Jake replied. “What are your plans for the rest of the weekend? It sounds like the weather is gonna be pretty shitty.”

“Yeah, I saw that. I hope they cancel classes Monday, I have a stats final that I would like to avoid. But I don’t know, I’ll probably just hang out, do some laundry, read a bit, the usual routine. We may go downtown tomorrow night to some bars. How about you?”

“Oh, nothing special. I should go into the lab tomorrow and do some research for a few hours and then I’ll probably go to the library and read or something. Same old dull shit.”

“Okay, well I might give you a call tomorrow if you want to get together. Listen, Jake, I have to go now. I’m falling asleep and I need to go to bed. Talk to you tomorrow?”

“Okay, great. Be well and get some sleep. Talk to you soon.”

“Bye.”

“Alex, wait! Don’t hang up!”

“Yeah, what is it?”

“I just wanted to say sorry for calling so late.”

“Jake, sweetie, go to sleep. I’ll call you tomorrow, okay? Good night.” She hung up.

Jake chugged a half a liter of cold water and popped a couple of aspirin and then fell asleep almost immediately. He awoke to the smell of coffee. His clock read 10:28. His head was throbbing. He was still wearing his clothes from the night before, which reeked of cigarettes and beer from the seedy bar. He almost gagged as he peeled off his clothes and stepped into the hot shower. He stood for a long time under the stream of hot water, breathing in the steam and clearing his groggy head. While he was dressing he heard the front door open and then shut. He walked into the kitchen and saw a cheery looking Eric carrying a bag of donuts and a newspaper.

“Good morning, sleeping beauty. You must have slept well. I was wondering if you were ever getting up.” Eric looked as fresh as if he had slept on his own bed rather than a crusty third-hand sofa that was a foot too short for him. “Feeling a bit under the weather this morning?”

“Fuck off,” was Jake’s reply as he grabbed a handful of donuts and poured himself a large mug of hot coffee.

“You’re out of creamer,” Eric informed him.

“I don’t use the stuff,” said Jake. “Black as mud and hot as fire, that’s how I take it. Just how I like my women, too.”

“Okay, Rambo, you’re more of a man than I am. But could you please show me where the sugar is?”

They shared the newspaper a section at a time and were quietly sipping coffee when the phone rang. The shrill chirp of the phone sent a painful throb through Jake’s brain and he winced.

“Hello?” he answered.

“Hi Jake, it’s Alex. What’s up? Feeling okay this morning?”

“A bit of a headache, but it should wear off soon,” Jake replied, remembered their early morning conversation and feeling embarrassed. “Listen, Alex, I’m sorry about calling last night. There’s something about me and drinking and phones. When I drink I want to talk. It’s dangerous.”

“Jake, you apologize way too much. I told you it was fine and I’m glad you called. Okay? I would have called you if you hadn’t called first.”

“Okay, well then I’m sorry about apologizing so much,” Jake laughed, hoping she would appreciate the joke.

“Dude, you’re so weird,” was her reply. “But I like it.”

“Thanks, I try my hardest. So what’s up?”

“Have you even looked outside yet?”

He hadn’t, so he walked to the window and pulled open the blinds. The dazzling sun beamed off of a blanket of fresh white snow.

“Argh!” he exclaimed, as the blinding refection caused an intense throbbing in his head. “Holy shit!”

“What’s wrong?”

“It’s so bright! I thought my head would explode.”

“Haha, oh sorry. I guess I should have warned you. Isn’t it exciting? I love snow!”

“Say, I just thought of something. How’d you like to take a drive today? I should probably go up to the river and see if I can put my traps back in and maybe after that we could take a drive in the country and look around? I love getting out after a fresh snow.”

“Sounds fun! I have to go to the supermarket and get some stuff, can you pick me up in about an hour?”

“Sure, I’ll have to swing by campus and pick up my gear and then I’ll come by your house. Should be there by noon. Dress warm in case we get the urge to make snow angels!”

“Great! See you in a bit. This is going to be so much fun!”

They said goodbye and Jake went to get dressed in his field clothes.

“What’s up?” Eric asked from the kitchen.

“Dude! Why didn’t you tell me it snowed?”

“You’ve got two good eyes, lots of windows and a keen sense of scientific curiosity, I kinda thought you’d figure it out for yourself.”

“Your parents should have sent you back for a refund,” Jake replied dryly.

“Yeah, probably so,” said Eric. “So where are you going?”

“Oh, I’m going to see about putting my traps back out if the river’s not running too high, and then Alex and I are going to take a romantic drive in the country and enjoy the sights.”

“Who’s Alex? I don’t know him. And I didn’t know you were into romantic drives with guys.”

“I’m not, so luckily for Alex she’s a girl. She’s an undergrad Bio major, we had a seminar together last semester. We’ve kinda sorta been thinking about dating, I guess.”

“Kinda sorta thinking about dating? Sounds serious!”

“Well, it’s confusing. I really like her but I fear that I’m sliding into the ‘just friends’ zone, and you know there’s no escaping once you fall into that pit.”

“Oh man, that sucks. The just friends trap. I hate that shit. No guy ever wants to be just friends with a girl, we just want sex. Why can’t they understand that? Well anyway, I wish you luck, buddy. Mind giving me a lift back to my car on the way?”

“I should make your smart ass walk but since there’s a ton of snow outside I guess I will take pity on you. By the way, how come you don’t have a hangover and I feel like shit?”

“I guess it’s my German genes. We are weaned on beer.”

“Dude, I’m Irish and French. I have Guinness and red wine coursing through my veins. If anyone is immune to booze it should be me.”

“Yeah, well then maybe I’m just special.”

“Yeah, special needs, maybe, all those years taking the short bus to school. Thank God for sunglasses,” Jake said, as they emerged into dazzling white snowy world.

“Yeah, and thank Oakley for making them look so good on me,” bragged Eric.

The city workers had been active overnight plowing and salting the streets, leaving only an ugly gray slush behind. Jake drove with caution, being mindful of intersections. They pulled into the campus parking lot where Eric had left his small Honda, finding it blocked front and rear by piles of snow. Jake had a shovel in the back of his truck which they used to clear an area behind the car, but they still needed to give the car a gentle tug with a tow strap before it could clear the piled snow.

“Thanks for the yank, big boy!” yelled Eric from the open window.

“Anytime!” said Jake. “See ya on Monday, have a great weekend!”

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