I sit on the edge of the roof, staring down at the parking lot. Not much to see, even in the patch lit by the lone security light. Just rubble, potholes, long-faded yellow paint. Of course it’s breezy–we’re on the roof–but the summer air is warm on my skin.
I turn around and find my best friend and coworker–well, former coworker, Eric–standing against the backdrop of a very non-regulation bonfire. He’s holding a brimming shot glass.
“What is it?” I ask.
“Bacardi One-fifty-one,” he replies. “Celebrating 150 hours on the clock in two weeks.”
I take the glass and clink it against his. “And we were almost there for all of them. Cheers.”
I down the shot and it burns. No, I mean really fucking burns. I realize that this liquid should never be consumed by any human being.
Eric coughs. And spits. Spitting is the first symptom of I’m gonna puke. But he pulls through, muttering two-syllable phrases like “tough stuff” and “real deal” until the bile bucks down.
“To Red Carpet Video,” I manage, keeping the excess saliva in my mouth. “May she rest in peace.”
“To the RCV,” Eric seconds, and pours out some of the rum on the rocky rooftop. I wonder what music video he saw that in. “Fuck, Daniel. What am I going to do? What are you going to do?”
“I dunno,” I reply. “I’ve been a career video rental clerk for the last three years.”
“Likewise,” Eric says. “Do you have any prospects?”
“Yeah,” I say wryly. “Unemployment.”
He laughs and I laugh but there is something forced about it. The chuckles sort of taper and dwindle into sighs. I turn back to the parking lot and Eric saddles up to my left. We’ve been up here before on numerous occasions: slow nights, holidays, parties, anytime we needed a break. Or when we wanted to see if we could hit the Burger King sign with a stone.
Below us used to be thousands of magnetically locked DVDs. Now it was just shelf after empty shelf. Tattered closeout signs inked with liquidation prices. Fast food wrappers that just couldn’t quite make it to the trash.
“Do you remember the last fire we had up here?” Eric asks out of nowhere.
I nod, pointing to the back corner of the roof near the satellite dish. “Yeah. You banged Kara over there.”
Eric spits his shot of flammable rum out over the parking lot. Countless gold flecks catch that lonely lamplight and trickle down like embers from a firework. He stares at me with wide eyes. “You knew about that?”
“Everybody knew about that.”
“I’m sorry,” he whispers. “I knew you had a big crush on her.”
“Yeah, well,” I say. “Now she’s a middle school teacher.”
“No shit? When did that happen?”
Eric shakes his head. “When did any of this happen? Shit, man, we were supposed to be in California by now, right? You were gonna write a script and I–I was going to surf.”
“Eric don’t surf,” I say, butchering the famous movie quote in the least clever way possible.
“We didn’t do anything,” he says wistfully, ignoring my lack of wittiness. “Nothing.”
“I lied,” I say.
“No, about not having prospects. About not knowing what I’m going to do.”
I sigh. Cat’s out of the bag. “I’m moving up north. Into a cabin that my uncle owns. Get some writing done.”
“Psh. Who are you supposed to be?” Eric starts, hoping the reference comes to him. It doesn’t. “That guy who did that?”
Another sigh. Eric hawks a wet one over the edge of the building and nods. “Is it that time? Time we grow up?”
“I think so.”
“Alright,” he says grandly, standing up straight. He takes one last pull from the bottle before he chucks it into the parking lot. I watch the glint of glass as it careens into the patch of light and explodes. Shatters. In the quiet night, it sounds like a bomb detonating. I half expect it to trigger a car alarm.
Eric shakes away the remnants of the last pull and heads back to the hatch. Down the hatch is a ladder to the storage room. Our secret lair.
Former secret lair.
“Where are you going?” I ask.
He sniffs loudly and pops the hatch. He looks back at me only once. It’s quick, fleeting. Like he doesn’t want to know I’m there.
“Surfing,” he answers.