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Mikey and the Chickadee Ch. 16

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Mikey’s hands covered his face after he propped himself up against the headboard the next morning. Out the window, his building cast a commanding shadow across the street and halfway up the next row of structures. Otherwise, the sun shone new and bright, completely unimpeded.

“Oh, god,” he said into his palms. “Last night. I can’t believe we did that.” He removed his hands, confirming what I had suspected to be his familiar coy smile-which I was relieved to see.

I lifted the comforter over my face, feigning embarrassment. “I know. You really laid into me.”

“Oh, god,” he repeated. “Okay. So it’s happened. You’re feeling okay about it?”

Mentally, I surveyed myself. “A little sore already,” I conceded. “But that’s nothing to be upset about.”

“Jesus. So…one gets sore, then, after that.”

I nodded, still undercover. “Yes, Mikey, one gets sore.”

He tore the comforter down off my face and I grinned up at him. “Okay,” he said. “Just making sure you were into it.”

“Into it? I was at least halfway responsible for it. Probably more than half.”

“Okay,” he said again. “I don’t mean to dwell on it. I just didn’t want to spend the whole day wondering.”

“I understand. And I’m happy to dwell on it. I mean, fuck, you completely plowed me.”

“Stop,” he said.

“I’m serious. I could think about it all day.”

His face flushed slightly with embarrassment. He rolled halfway on top of me and placed his hand over my mouth. “Another subject, please.”

I pulled it off, down to my chest. The thought came to me suddenly. “Say something to me in Thai.”

“No,” he said. “Thai is an ugly language.”

I pushed him off of me. “No it’s not. How could you say that?”

“What? It’s all nasal and whiny. I don’t like using it using except with family.”

“It only sounds that way to people who don’t understand it.”

“Oh, and you understand it?”

I paused. “No, but I understand that it’s a entire language that can communicate everything about how one feels in life. Love, sadness-I don’t know-regret, fear, joy, just…everything.”

Mikey fell silent. The corners of his mouth turned up, as if he was determined not to smile. It all amounted to something akin to admiration. He sighed. “Maybe sometime, Chickadee.” His words sank with finality.

“Okay,” I said.

Mikey cooked eggs for breakfast and I poured us both some cereal.

“It’s warm out,” he said, staring wide-eyed down at his phone as we began to eat. “That changed fast. We should walk by the water.”

“The levee or the seawall?”

“I want to go to the levee. Maybe farther south again, where we were before. We could stop by your place first, if you want.”

“Sure,” I said. “I can grab my running shoes. It would be nice to change clothes, too.”

“Alright, yeah, let’s run. I’m going to be slow, though.”

“Yeah right,” I said.

Each of us also chugged down a fair amount of water. He told me he felt a sight headache, which he attributed to last night’s nontrivial degree of consumption. I remarked that I felt good as new, which surprised me.

Mikey hustled his Honda down the street, around and few corners and out to the highway.

“Shit, I forgot what a sunny day looked like,” he said to me.

“I hope it’s here to stay,” I said. “Where I’m headed, it doesn’t get warm until May or June.”

“That’s terrible. That’s, like, a sin or something.”

I just nodded.

As we climbed the rickety stairwell to my unit, Mikey said, “I haven’t been here in a while. We should really spend more time here.”

“Anytime you want,” I said. We entered and he waited by the door as I went over to my dresser.

“You can sit down if you want. I don’t mind shoes on the rug.”

He shook his head. “My mom will haunt me if I do that. She was always very strict about it.”

“Mine, too, actually. She shamed little-Wyatt many times over it. But I guess it had its intended effect,” I said, indicating down at my shoeless feet.

“Aww.” He laughed. “Poor little-Wyatt.”

I went into the bathroom and changed into fresh underwear, a t-shirt and running shorts. I mulled over the fact that he had just spoken my given name. Actually, I had turned my name into a phrase, which he had then repeated. This reduced the significance a great deal. But I had felt slightly odd-disarmed, truthfully-in the seconds after he said it.

“Does your mom haunt you often?” I asked once we were back in the car and continued to the levee.

He laughed dismissively. “No. She’s gone. They’re both gone. I don’t actually believe in that kind of thing.”

“Alright,” I said.

“Should we drive down Paradise again?”

I shook my head. “You can just stay on this road. It’ll hit the levee, too. Then we can run south to where Paradise ends. We can even go back to that little beach, if you want.”

He said the idea sounded good to him and continued straight on. Soon, he tore up onto the small gravel lot. We grabbed our water bottles and left the car behind. Ankara bayan escort We ran in t-shirts, but had each bought along zippered, hooded jackets. His was similar to my own, although instead of black, it sang out in a deep royal blue. He slung it over his neck; I folded mine over my arm.

About a quarter of a mile down the trail, Mikey said, “I really liked meeting your friends last night.”

“Yeah? I didn’t really know what you would think of them.”

“I thought they were great. I guess I did sort of know Sloan already. He seemed really put-together. And Marie…she had a lot of energy.”

“She’s a big personality,” I told him, grinning.

“But I like that,” he said. “She’s a little like Sophie, I guess. Says what’s on her mind.”

“That’s true. They are a little bit similar.”

He laughed. “So, about that trip to Asia…”

“Mikey, I think she was joking. I have no clue. Anyway, she’s not expecting an answer.”

“I figured,” he said. “It sounds like a lot of fun, though. I’m so happy you’ll get to travel again.”

I told him that I was, too. “Honestly, everything’s feeling a little…I don’t know. A little up in the air right now. Everything about my life. It’s not the greatest feeling.”

“You have a lot going on,” he said a faraway voice. “Are you saying the trip is contributing to that feeling?”

“No, sorry. It’s the opposite. What I mean is that the trip something I can count on. It’s one of the only things right now that I know I can, like, expect to happen, you know? I sort of know what’s happening. I know what I’m doing. I know when I’m doing it.”

We moved along steadily, our feet crunching into the gravel.

“I get that. So it’s more than just something you’re looking forward to.”

“Right,” I said.

The run to the end of Paradise Highway required only twenty minutes. We both agreed that we hadn’t waited long enough after eating and our stomachs complained accordingly.

“Let’s stop,” Mikey concluded, halting at the crest of a small ridge in the trail, where the highway was capped off to the left. “Look. It’s our little pathway.”

I nodded. “Not so scary this time, right?”

“No,” he said, whipping his sweatshirt toward me in retaliation. “I’ll even lead the way.”

He did so in his own relentlessly charming way, pretending to hack away at intervening branches with an invisible machete, conjuring the associated sounds with his mouth.

“You’re in my way,” I whined, bumping playfully into him, letting my cheek thud softly against the cotton covering his sweaty shoulder blade.

“Stay behind me,” he said. “It’s not fit for you out here.”

I forced my way past, laughing, tearing down the remainder of the pathway with Mikey close behind.

Out on the sand there was evidence of a small gathering that had occurred the night before. A ring of rocks, their inside surfaces blackened, sheltered a pile of soot and embers that still barely smoldered. The exposed fuselage of a half-burned beer can lay near the edge. I had wanted to believe that no one else knew of this location; I couldn’t remember encountering a single soul when my dad would bring me here years ago. My naive glorification of the place felt silly to me now and fell quietly away, without feeling. At least we were alone today.

“People are such slobs,” said Mikey, collecting a few unburned cans that lay scattered and chucking them into the pit.

I felt hot and let my sweatshirt fall onto the dry, gritty sand. I took off my t-shirt and drank about half of the water in my bottle. “We didn’t bring sunscreen,” I said. “But I can’t believe I’m even talking about it in March.”

Mikey shrugged. “To tell you the truth, I want to get some sun. Maybe even a little burn.”

I pretended to gasp. “Never let my mom hear you say that. She’s like sunscreen’s ambassador to the world. Cancer will consume us all.”

He grinned. “She’s probably right. But what can be done?” He stole a quick glance down at my bare chest and stripped off his own t-shirt. He lifted his water bottle to his mouth and tossed his head back, taking in a good amount. “Jesus,” he said, “is it actually hot out today? Can we call this hot?”

“It’s partly the running, I think. But I’ll take what I can get. Let’s call it hot.”

“That means we can swim,” he reasoned, stepping over to the edge of the water and allowing the tiny tide to rush over his feet. “Fuck, it’s a little cold.”

I came to his side, testing it for myself. “It’s not so bad.”

Mikey took down his shorts and cast them back behind him. His black briefs were snugged against the tops of his thighs. He looked over at me. “Are you a good swimmer?”

“Not especially. I can get by, though.” I paused. “I’m sure you were on swim team or something.”

“I was, actually.”

I laughed. “You’re such a jock.”

“Maybe,” he admitted. “Not a dumb jock, though.” He then dashed into the ocean, finding himself immediately up to his chest. “Oh, fuck. It’s definitely cold. And deep. Fuck.”

“The shore’s Escort bayan Ankara not very gradual here,” I explained, tentatively taking down my own shorts.

“No shit,” he said. He went out a little farther, to where he could no longer touch the bottom, then bobbed silently, expectantly, in the few still seconds before I threw myself in.

“It is cold,” I said, splashing my way out to him. “But I was so hot.”

“I was, too. It actually feels pretty nice. And I’m adjusting to it.” He swam out away from shore.

I trailed him. For a while we splashed at each other, laughing and playing around. Mikey dove under for several seconds and then resurfaced with a hulking piece of seaweed draped over his neck. At first he howled in surprise, unsure of what it was, then yelled, “Get it off,” and flung it in my direction. I ducked under to avoid it.

“There’s a little current here,” he said. “Can you feel it? It’s moving north. Look.” He pointed to our beach, which had shifted a small distance south of us.

I told him I could feel it.

“You’re not a bad swimmer at all,” he said.

The sun beat down on us, reaching even the tanned surface of his scalp, visible only as a thin line in the parting of his soaked black hair.

I said nothing and continued out toward the unreachable enormity of a container ship. It was a frozen black wall, below which a massive band of red rose just above the level of the water. I kept swimming for a short time, caught up in the notion that I was, in my own minuscule way, bringing myself closer to it.

Mikey came out almost to me. He suspended himself about fifteen feet closer to shore and perhaps one-tenth of the distance to the beach, which now lay decidedly southeast. “You and your ships,” he said.

I just smiled back at him.

“I’m cold now,” he said. “Are you ready to go in?”


As we began to make our way, the distance between us quickly lengthened. Unquestionably, Mikey was a much stronger swimmer than I was. I identified a new challenge in that the current moved not only steadily north, but also slowly out, away from shore. It was enough to noticeably burden my forward progress. I wondered if my considerable distance from land had increased the strength of this outward pull. In fact, I couldn’t tell if I had moved closer at all, and was astonished by how quickly Mikey pulled ahead.

I knew suddenly, with a terrifying sense of inevitability, that the shore grew more distant. I swam harder. This was, I thought, exactly the kind of thing I read about on my phone, in the morning at the back of the 40A. People just floated out like driftwood and didn’t come back. The water looks safe, but it’s not. Stay out of the water. I assumed they referred to the frigid gray soup along the north wall, close to the harbor. Was it true here, too? This far from shore, it probably was.

Achieving the requisite deep breaths became almost impossible to me now; several times, I drew in only a small amount of air before panic clamped my throat shut. Was he even capable of coming back for me? What if he only had enough strength left to get himself to shore? Finally I yelled out his name. “I can’t make it,” I told him, finding it painfully difficult to speak. Another few seconds passed before I could say, “Mikey, this is bad.”

He said nothing and swam immediately back toward me. I heard myself make odd, new struggling sounds as I waited, just trying to hold my place in the water. Mikey’s body cut like a blade through it. He reached me more quickly than I would have ever thought possible.

“It’s okay,” he said. “Don’t worry. This isn’t a big deal. Just hold my hand and swim with me, okay?”

I nodded silently and his hand tightened around my own. We swam together but I felt like little more than dead weight behind him.

“Let’s just go with the north current, okay? We’ll walk back down the shore.”

“Okay,” came my shaky voice. In that moment, Mikey was a force. It seemed I was dragged along by something much more massive, more powerful than his own body. But it was him, and in relation, I felt very small.

Through frustratingly little effort of my own, the distance to shore gradually diminished by half, and then half again.

“You’ve got this,” Mikey said. He let go of my hand. “You’re doing great.”

I moved alongside him now. He held back, waiting for me; I could tell. I would have preferred it if he hadn’t. He had told me he was cold, that he had wanted to return to land. I was disgusted with myself. Why should he have to remain longer in the water just because of my stupidity?

As we picked our way along the shore, occasionally stepping back into the shallows to circumvent batches of foliage, I told Mikey I was sorry.

He turned to me in genuine surprise. “What the hell are you sorry for?”

“You shouldn’t have to watch over me like that.”

He was quiet for a second, and then said, “We both kind of watch over each other. It’s fine.”

We arrived back at the beach in little time and sat close in the Bayan escort Ankara sand, still in our underwear. Not yet quite at rest, we breathed steadily together, in and out.

I felt more grateful for the sun in that moment than I had been in a very long time. But my gratitude for the unconcerned monument sitting next to me was something else. At first, after I had calmed down a bit, I couldn’t think of a single thing to say to him. Eventually I said, “I guess I won’t apologize. But you don’t know how lucky I am that you were there. If I had been alone…I can’t think about it.” I turned to him. “Thank you.”

He spread his knees slightly apart and smiled down and the sandy earth between them. “You would’ve made it.”

I paused. “I really don’t think so, Mikey.”

“You were panicking,” he said. “It’s okay.”

“Yeah, I was. And what if you hadn’t been there?”

“You don’t have to worry about it,” he said. “That just not how it happened.”

Something about the way he stated this-maybe it was his shoulders lifting slightly, or his voice’s stony descent-told me that every part of him was confident in this answer. Even if his logic had been unsound, I would have left it alone.

I scooted myself closer to him. Our shoulders pressed together. “Would you like to stay over at my place tonight?”

“I was hoping you would ask,” he said.

“I thought so. I saw you put your toothbrush in your bag.”

He laughed. “I just like to be prepared. Got any good movies?”

“A few,” I said.

As we trudged back north along the trail, Mikey situated his blue jacket over his shoulders and zipped it to his neck. “Damn. It’s not quite summer yet.” A strong breeze had kicked up, and blew directly south.

“No,” I said, putting on my own. “Not even close.”

“Have you done any writing lately?”

“What do you think?” I asked.

He laughed. “That’s exactly what you said last time I asked.”

I didn’t doubt it. He seemed never to lose interest in the topic, and by now I owed him something better than brief shreds of compliance. “If I were to start again,” I asked, “what do you think I should write about?”

He dedicated himself to a careful response, not speaking for a while as we continued along. “Honestly?” he said. “I would want you to pick up right where you left off. With Cheryl, or whoever.”

I laughed. “Charlotte.”

“Exactly. Charlotte’s got a big choice, right?”

“Yeah,” I said. “She does.”

We walked the remaining distance to the car without saying much. However, the car ride back livened things; we brought our windows down and Mikey turned up the stereo. As usual he drove quickly, which I had grown accustomed to and presently found exciting. By the time he pulled along the curb outside my building, I felt much lighter.

Sunlight filtered in through broken-out sections in the blinds behind my couch. The slivery shafts of light grasped for the surface of the coffee table, and swam with bits of dust. I tilted the blinds open and drew them to the ceiling, then slid open the broad glass pane. I did the same with the smaller window across the room, close to my bed. My home became suddenly brighter, fresher than it had been in a long time. For the first time since setting a move-out date with the landlord, I felt like I might miss it, just a little.

“This place feels different,” said Mikey. “I can’t believe it’s the same place I came to that first night. I don’t know why…it just feels different now.”

We sat together on the couch.

“I can’t believe it was only a month ago,” I said.

“Wow, yeah,” he said. “I wish I could say it’s been…I don’t know. I guess I want to believe I’ve known you longer than that.”

“I know what you mean. I feel that way, too.”

He propped his feet up on the table and frowned at them. “We don’t have a lot of memories together. It feels like we do sometimes, but we don’t.”

“No,” I said. “I know.”

“Maybe it’s because I remember you from before we ever talked.”

“You do?”

“Yes,” he said. His voice retreated a little. “Many times, before you ever talked to me. I just thought you were attractive. I wondered what you were like. And that first day you sat next to me, I thought, ‘This is it. Here he is.'”

“No way,” I said. That was my experience, not Mikey’s. It couldn’t have been his.

“I’m dead serious,” he continued. “And when you spoke to me, that’s when I decided maybe you had noticed me before, too.”

“I had, Mikey. So many times.”

“See?” he said. “I knew it. That counts for something, right?”

“I think it does.”

He glanced around the apartment. “I don’t know if you could tell, but I was pretty terrified that first night here.”

“I had no idea.”

He nodded. “It’s true. I didn’t know what you were expecting. And I didn’t know what the fuck I was looking for.”

I laughed. “I wish you could have known how lucky I felt. I had really built you up in my mind. Then suddenly you were sitting here in my shitty apartment.”

He looked at me. “Have I lived up to your expectations?”

“I don’t know,” I said playfully. “Time will tell, I guess.”

“Well, shit, I don’t have much longer to convince you.” He slid himself closer to me and pushed me over onto my side.

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