'Save me, Cara. Save me.' The isolation kind of sneaked up on Max or at least feeling alone did and he drops his fingers, hitting the keys, writing another message in the bottle, except there is no message or a bottle. The computer screen emits the dimmed light as Max writes another promise to himself and a call for help.
A slight knock on the door and he shuts his screen promptly as Jeannine peeks in, "Are you coming?" An attempt to get him out of the funk and engage him in the world.
"Yeah," and he lazily moves from the chair, following Jeannine and two of her friends like an obedient boyfriend to the car. The passenger seat reserved for him.
"Here," she shoves a wrapped box, small enough to fit in his palm, into his hands and faintly grins. Another attempt to boost his spirit.
"Thank you," raising the gift like the salute of a shot of vodka and stashes the box into his pocket.
"Okay," somewhat dismissing his lack of enthusiasm.
The loud noise of three voices in the car do not compare to the busting music inside Kendra's house. Another of Jeannine's friends. A bubbly brunette who places very little emphasis on Max's existence. Tonight's no different with her forced grin, the one she always fakes around him, but squeezes Jeannine with a joyful squeal.
To be a salesman of his own identity at these parties is always exhausting and Max prepares himself, dodging the scrutinizing looks, the ones that dissect his mediocre presence. The chunks of him fading or maybe being erased with every repulsed stare, or maybe it's all in his head.
'Cara! Save me!' He calls her name inside his head. It's the only way she will appear and keep him company. With Cara, he doesn't have to pretend and weave a carefully plotted seduction of adventures and show off glamour Insta pics as proof.
"You're in your head again," Jeanine's usual disapproving growl has become a familiar sound. All within one mind, sealed from the world; hidden. Easiest is to keep a distance from others, especially when Max lacks the talent with words and punctuating the perfect punch line. Besides, his defeated monotone does not entice new acquaintances to stick around or retain friends.
"I changed my mind," his scrambled voice comes through very meekly. "I don't want to be here," it all sounds more like a cry rather than an objection.
"You asked to come along," Jeannine's charging words spread into a grievance. "Something to put your mind out of deprived and derivative preoccupation."
Max's exact words were, 'plagiarized routine,' but he doesn't mend the mistake and savors the new terms. Although, it still sounds stupid, somewhat giving an impression of pettiness and pompousness. The self-importance. More often than not, Max feels dimwitted and useless, having nothing worthwhile to contribute, especially in the company of others.
"Well," Jeannine's dramatic pause, "I'm staying." The pleasure in her protest as she marches away, a bounce in her step, blending into the crowd. For a moment, Max considers to make his own dramatic exit but he's too demure to exhibit such out of a character outburst. The feeling of betrayal, however, continues to loom in Jeannine's absence. But, the yearning to connect with another human being diminishes more and more with every attempt Max makes to leave the house thinking, 'Today will be the day. Today you'll find a friend.'
For few moments, he drifts from one room to another, trying his best to engage, but he prefers to examine the inanimate objects, brushing his fingers along the book spines perfectly aligned in the ceiling-high bookshelves. The scent of vanilla and almonds of the paper mixed with the petroleum scent of the ink almost give him a high. The figurines and odd knickknacks, the souvenirs of someone's life, and he stops at the whimsical, colourful, and ceramic cube-of-feelings. Each feeling engraved carefully: happy ... disgusted ... sad ... shocked ... angry ... bored ... confused ... scared ... and wonders, what is the name for feeling nothing? For a stunted feeling? The paralysis, a symptom of his bottomless hopelessness and undefined purpose.
Jeanine is, however, the valedictorian of victories and validation. The pivot of success and popularity and maybe it's what attracted Max to her but even that bearing is gradually fracturing. It's hard to shake his mournful trades and Jeannine has begun slowly to give up on fixing him.
There is something quenched as he grabs the ceramic cube from the shelf, the one that seems to be holding answers, and makes his way out of the room as a covert agent stashing the secret scripted codes under his jacket. The outside air lifts his mournful attitude in a size of a sliver briefly, or maybe it's the exhilaration from stealing.
Happy ... disgusted ... sad ... shocked ... angry ... bored ... confused ... scared ... feelings ... and he runs to the street, reaching for his phone, calling for a lift.
As he dims the light in his room, everything appears dusty grey, like a monochromatic colour palette, and he sighs heavily, finally feeling like himself again. Safe and away from judgment. He plops down on his chair and lifts the computer screen. The 'Save me, Cara. Save me.' text staring back at him as he whispers to Cara as if she was sitting in front of him, beyond the screen, "You are my true friend. I won't forget." She appears as the figment every time Max is at his ends, calling out for help because no one understands him, because he rarely leaves his house, because the world outside requires wit, conviction, and scheming craft. All he desires is silence and he pulls the blanket from his bed and over his back.
'Silence,' a whisper in his head and with momentary peace of mind, he walks into the adjacent room. Turns the knob ... cold ... hot ... letting the water run at full blast, listening to it and the sound of the faded chatter of the cars on the road, strips from his clothes, sinks into the bathtub, and submerges his head below the water. Caring very little of what may come of him and Jeannine. Caring very little about Jeannine's gift because it's another bribe to make him feel anything other than nothingness.
He holds his breath until he's unable to do so and surfaces to the pleasure of feeling only the heavy liquid silk on his skin. It feels better than any words uttered, any prejudice assigned, any gift bestowed, and any human connection fabricated.
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