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The Contest - Part 2

· 18 min read

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Want some cool music that vibes with these parts of the story? Who knows, you may find some clues in the lyrics ; )

Chapter 2: T.hanks - All the boys I know

Chapter 3: Arctic Monkeys - Snap out of it

Chapter 2

bananalisa:     hey

J_Holzer:    oh hey how are you?

bananalisa:    just hangin

J_Holzer:    same.. hey did you check out any of those books i told you about?

bananalisa:    no not yet

J_Holzer:    oh its okay i was just curious

bananalisa:    hey i need to get some liquor, can u help me?

J_Holzer:    oh yeah sure i’d love to

bananalisa:    i dont have a car so i cant get any

J_Holzer:    np ill pick u up, just text me the address

bananalisa:    k

It was 10:30 at night and Joseph was tired. He’d gotten up early that morning for a double-shift at Warcoitalia. He was about to go to sleep when the message arrived.

Yet the idea of being called on for help from Bananalisa was an honor for Joseph. He had checked her online status consistently for many days to try to catch her. When she signed on that night he’d already started writing her a message before that innocent ‘hey’ popped up. He felt like she’d already chosen him above everyone else in her (he assumed) dense friend-list. He felt blessed.

When talk became of helping to acquire liquor he was thrilled. He’d in fact hardly ever drank liquor before and didn’t care for it, but he knew that it was something adults did and that it showed friendship and a deep mutual understanding between two people. He was hoping to achieve just such a connection with Bananalisa and felt, as he would later rationalize, that her initiation of such a request could only mean that the feeling was mutual.

The address, a foreign street he’d never heard of, was in a neighborhood he’d heard about often before. It was actually a well-known neighborhood because almost everybody who commutes in town uses it as a shortcut. Many people drive through it but very few live there; in fact, this was the first time that he’d driven with it in mind as the destination. He was excited as he neared it and as he got further in he noticed that the streets all seemed to wind around each other, so much so that one couldn’t drive more than a few hundred feet without an intersection with signs that lurked in the dark—signs one only saw at the last minute but then, as if they’d been visible all along, presented themselves brightly with huge block letters alternating between “STOP” and “YIELD” intermittently.

Finally he reached the house number; it was right after the last stop sign in a deflated part of the hill near the top. It struck him as a quaint little alcove, certainly an ideal place to live: safe on all sides by a barrier of houses and hillside. As he waited for her to come out he imagined himself living in such a place in the future; the thought gave him a great deal of comfort. He often felt like his apartment was tiny and cramped and more of an incubator than anything else. Joseph remembered something Michael had once told him: that apartments were a lot like chicken-coops – except it was people, not chickens, that were crammed together in nice little squares. If his apartment complex was a chicken coop and he was a chicken (or perhaps even a lowly egg) in that coop, he thought, then this place was an eagle’s nest in a wild and deep forest.

He was nervous as he waited for her. He’d never had a girl in his car and didn’t quite know what to do. He wondered whether he should open the door for her or what to say to greet her, but before he could make up his mind it was too late. A knock on the glass and, startled as if he’d seen a ghost, he shot up before quickly fumbling across the interior of the car to unlatch the passenger door lock.

“Whew, sorry about that, you kind of scared me,” he fumbled out as she got in and he caught his breath, “Where did you come from?”

“Oh just there, in front of you, the house with the old Skylark parked in the driveway.”

“Oh yeah? I didn’t even see you come out… I had my eye on the door—”

“Yeah it’s dark out this time of night. Thanks for helping me.”

“Oh no problem, that’s what friends are for. Just tell me where to go. I’ve never been in this neighborhood, I mean never this far anyway.”

She began directing him from the passenger seat, telling him where to turn, where to go straight and where to stop as they made their way back down the hillside.

“You know it’s funny,” he began, “On the way up here I’d never seen so many stop-signs, but now I hardly see any at all.”

“Oh it’s just the neighborhood; you know everyone rushes through here so the community put in a bunch of stop signs, but we locals know how to avoid them.”

“Craft crafty,” said Joseph, impressed by the idea that Bananalisa was so keen with directions, “Hey, are you alright?”

He had been sneaking glances at her the entire ride. As they were about halfway down the hill he noticed her head start to droop and bob, as if she barely had enough strength to keep it up for the car ride. He tried to go extra slow over bumps so as not to worsen it. When he asked her how she was feeling she snapped up and appeared alert.

“Oh I’m fine, sorry about that, I’ve just been tired lately.”

“Oh me too, I had to work a double-shift today and I didn’t get to any reading all day.”

“Turn right here on this corner, the store there,” she mumbled out.

He pulled into the local liquor store parking lot and parked. As the two walked in he asked her if she felt at all hungry (he had started feeling peckish after he picked her up). He offered to get her some potato chips or donuts, but she told him she was a picky eater and only in the habit of eating unprocessed foods like fruits, vegetables and nuts. He felt somewhat guilty knowing that he, too, should eat foods like that and had in fact tried several times in the past to adjust to a healthier lifestyle.

As they neared the liquor section she tried to pick up a big bottle of whiskey but seemed too weak to lift it. Joseph, seeing this, rushed to her side all the while wondering what the purpose of such a huge bottle was for just the two of them. He helped her, carrying it to the counter. The clerk rang it up and it totaled $43.86. As Joseph began reaching for his wallet Bananalisa told him that she would pay but he, being ever the gentleman, would hear nothing of it.

They went back to the car, Joseph carrying the bottle the whole way. As they sat down he placed it between his legs and went to start the car. Before he could turn the key, however, she had reached across the seat and firmly clasped it with her hand.

“What are you doing?” he asked.

“Oh I just thought we should have a drink.”

“But I don’t even know where we’re going yet,” he responded, now holding the bottle at the base just beneath her hand, keeping her from taking it.

“Oh, no, sorry, we’re not going anywhere, I just needed to pick up the alcohol, and I actually needed to go see some friends tonight, that’s why I didn’t want you to pay…”

“Oh you mean, but I thought we were drinking... weren’t we?”

“No, I mean I wanted to have one now— with you— but then I have to go.”

He had assumed that they would both be going somewhere together and couldn’t understand why two people could possibly need so much alcohol between them. As he realized that the alcohol was in fact not intended for a rendezvous between the two of them his face, which until now had been contorted in a nervous attempt to look relaxed, eased with an abject feeling of regret and shame.

His hand relaxed and she pulled the bottle over across the interior of the car to her lap.

“Sorry, I can still pay you for the bottle, though.”

“No no, that’s fine I guess, don’t worry about it. Where does your friend live?”

“I’ll show you the way but let’s at least have one drink together, before we go.”

“Okay,” he began, now feeling a bit nervous again. He hardly drank anything aside from an occasional beer and didn’t have the slightest clue how to drink whiskey.

“Don’t we need glasses or something?”

“I’ve got them here,” she began, pulling out two small, thin and metallic shot glasses from her purse. “Here, take this one and then just gulp it down whole. It’s always better if you gulp it whole.”

“I know! I’ve had whiskey before!” he blurted out, feeling childish for being lectured on how to drink whiskey by somebody who could well have been much younger than he.

“Okay, cheers!”

And in one motion she gulped down the entire shot, jerking her head back with the little metal glass until it was completely empty. As her head lunged back down she let out an audible gasp, the kind of gasp a person does who’s just surfaced after staying underwater for too long. Her face, which previously was quite pale, began to take color as the sweet nectar worked its way through her system.

He, watching her closely, followed her motions exactly in a remarkable display of mimicry except that his gasp was unconvincing to the utmost. All he felt was a burning down his throat and in his mouth, a feeling so painful and disgusting that he had to concentrate not to vomit in the moments after.

Joseph, horrible taste of whiskey still in his mouth, now drove Bananalisa to the house of her friends. He told her many things of the fantasy book he had been reading and was surprised at her level of interest. Unlike the ride down to the liquor store she now seemed active and engaged and attentive as he told her about the stories he’d been reading. She directed him up another street toward the base of the hillside neighborhood where he’d previously picked her up.

“Just here, the house with all the bird feeders out front,” she said.

“This one? Are you sure? There’s a bunch of people out front and music… is this where your friend lives?”

“Yeah, my friends live here; those guys are friends too, they’re just having a get-together.”

Before he could ask more she blurted out “Thanks for everything, you’re the greatest!” and rushed from the car. He saw her walking—almost skipping—up the lawn, whiskey firmly clasped in her left hand, passed the several people out front. They were strange people: all men, long and wiry and dressed in black, many with long hair. They seemed to just hover there, near the yard, some smoking but some just standing. He could here the death metal blasting from the house all the way to where he was in the car by the sidewalk.

As they saw Bananalisa walk up they didn’t seem to wave or call to her. The only reactions he could make out from them, in fact, were the whites of their eyes as they tracked her body move across the lawn, up the walkway and into the house. Once she went through the door the rest of them followed, one after the other, into the house, the last closing the door firmly behind them.

Joseph drove off. He had a bit of a drive ahead of him and intended to stop at a local gas station to get a drink and maybe a snack to sober up, but as he left the house he felt like the whiskey had worn off. He could no longer taste it in his mouth and the nauseous inebriation he had felt before had seemingly dissipated. He made it home safe and spent the evening thinking about the events of the night, replaying and reworking many of them in his memory until succumbing to sleep.

Chapter 3

“I’m just saying that Ireland would work too,” a passive aggressive Gabriel interrupted.

“Well well, while we’re at it lets just forget all of it and go to Thailand! I’m sure their Celtic ruins are breathtaking!” snapped Michael sarcastically.

“Come on guys, settle down. I’ve written down most of our itinerary and we all agreed on it and it’s Scotland, there’s no need to change that now.”

“And who made you the secretary, James? Why do you always try to document everything? I’m starting to think that this trip is less about Scotland and more about some kind of record you’re trying to keep for posterity!”

“Yeah!” added Michael.

James’ face froze in an expression that could at once be interpreted as nervous guilt or intense anguish. Whatever it was it was enough to stop the other two in their tracks. They both looked down at the table for a moment before Gabriel began speaking again, this time in a much softer voice.

“I’m sorry, James—“

“Me too,” interrupted Michael.

“—for saying that. I know we’ve all had long days and I guess the anticipation for the trip is just getting us worked up. Of course I’m on-board with Scotland. As long as we get some Celtic ruins and old castles and stuff like that I’m happy.”

“Thanks, Gabriel, you’re right, we’re just getting worked up for nothing. What this is all really about is the ruins.”

The heavy and awkward moment was lifted as they all reminisced, at first internally but then as a topic of conversation, about those vague and amazing ruins that seemed to provide endless discussion for them. Joseph, all the while also at the table, had been taking in the talking points of the discussion peripherally; it was clear that his mind was elsewhere.

“I don’t know what it is about ruins, but I’ve always wanted to see some, ever since I was a little boy,” began Michael.

“Me too. I think there’s something about the destruction that I liked about it. Like when you see something that’s been through hell and you want to know what happened to it,” responded an unusually reflective James.

“Yeah, like what did it look like before it got destroyed, you know? And exactly how did it get destroyed? Was it just time, was it a big battle, a siege? Or was it hundreds of little battles that just broke it down—you know, bit by bit. It could be anything, I think that’s why I like them so much. It’s like a fantasy book – it could be anything that you imagine.”

“Anything that grabs hold of you strong enough,” responded James again.

A few moments of silence passed as the four drifted in their own thoughts.

“Well I’m glad we didn’t have to rename our swear jar!” an innocent Gabriel blurted out to the laughter of the other three.

“Yeah, we can’t have that,” began Michael, taking the opportunity of levity to change the subject to something less awkward, “Well what’s new with you, Joseph? We haven’t seen you for a while. Anything happen with that chick?”

“She’s not a ‘chick’, guys, come on. I told you her name is Bananalisa.”

“Oh I’m so sorry,” interrupted Gabriel, “How’s your precious Bananalisa from the Forests of Aar, as you so eloquently put it?” The others laughed.

“She’s doing great, we went out last week. It was a lot of fun!”

“Awesome!” exclaimed James, “Good for you, Joseph! Where’d you guys go?”

“Oh it was late at night and we were DMing when she told me she wanted to pick up some alcohol ‘cause she was going to see some friends, so I went to pick her up and we got some alcohol and then we drank together too.”

“Sounds cool – where did you guys go to drink?”

“We just stayed in the car, I was really tired that night and I didn’t want to keep her up either.”

“But wasn’t she going to see friends?” asked Gabriel.

“Yeah, I mean I didn’t want to keep her from her friends. But we had a great time, we were chatting in the car all about her neighborhood and how the locals are there and everything, I feel like we really had a connection.”

“That sounds great! Where does she live, anyway?”

“Over in the hills – you know, the place everyone speeds through on their commute – some avenue up there.”

“All the way out there? That’s pretty far. Why didn’t you guys just meet somewhere closer to here?” Gabriel interjected.

“I guess she doesn’t have a car and I think she probably doesn’t even have a license. I thought it was strange, too, I mean that she would trust me to pick her up so late at night, somebody she only met once before. I’m assuming she must feel pretty comfortable around me to have asked me to do that.”

The other friends exchanged glances before Gabriel continued.

“No I meant for you, it’s a long way to drive so late at night. Where did her friend live?”

“In a similar area... I should say friends since it seemed like a group of people, kind of a get-together she had to go to. I’m glad I didn’t go since I was so tired that night. You know what she told me when she got out of the car?”

The others looked at him quizzically.

“She said I was the greatest and smiled,” he began, now overcome with a sense of comfort, “I don’t really know and I don’t want to rush into anything but I really felt like I could feel some kind of connection there, like we really get each other.”

“Maybe, I don’t know, but I still don’t understand why you went all the way out there in the first place if you were so tired,” started Gabriel, this time a bit more aggressively.

“Like I said we were hanging out,” began Joseph, “and drinking.”

“I don’t think hanging out is when somebody asks you for something and you do it, Joseph. That’s called doing somebody a favor,” Gabriel snapped back before the other two intervened.

“Hey, no worries, it sounds like he’s just happy to have spent some time with such a cute girl, I mean which one of us wouldn’t, right Michael?”

“Oh of course I would,” he added, though Gabriel still seemed off-put by the entire conversation. Joseph, for his part, barely seemed to realize that Gabriel was even slightly annoyed.

“I just don’t want to see you get taken advantage of, Joseph, and I feel like you’ve fallen kind of hard for somebody you’ve only seen once before, and even then it seems like it wasn’t really that much about you guys anyway,” Gabriel continued, this time a bit more subdued.

“Well first of all it’s twice that I’ve seen her if you count the first time when she asked me for a light, and second I’m not the one pushing the relationship or anything like that, she contacted me and that shows that there’s some interest there and I’m really happy about that, so I’m going to see where it goes because I care for her I mean at least as a friend, no matter what I consider myself a friend of hers.”

Gabriel didn’t even respond to this second outpouring of emotion. He let out a sigh that came up from deep in his chest and seemed to fill the entire room with an atmosphere of frustration. Michael broke the silence with that proverbial “Well, it’s getting late,” a line he kind of threw out there not only as an escape path for himself but also as a lifeline to escape for the other two. They leapt at it in a heartbeat.

On the way out James, passing the swear jar, dropped in $5 with the mutter “Almost there, guys!” while Joseph, starting toward the door in a vain attempt to keep the charity-money to a minimum (he was about to launch into his “you guys are helping me out but please let me at least take care of the swear jar fund” lecture), was interrupted by a lackluster Gabriel who muttered “fuck” five times as he traipsed down the hall.