This Story is a Big Waste of Time, and I’m Sorry.

Because I’m a computer, and none of this is real. That’s what Toby said right before he vanished. One moment he’s freaking out, jumping off his bike and looking over his shoulders like a madman; the next, he’s just a black silhouette of himself. A Toby-sized splotch in my front yard. Then his bike fell to the wet grass and he was gone. Morphed into the night air, I think. It was like he never existed at all.

I ran to my mom’s room, screaming at her to wake up. When I opened her door, she was already standing in front of me. She kept trying to calm me down, kept trying to get me to relax, but I wouldn’t. Toby had just disappeared. What didn’t she understand? Help me, mom. Help me figure out what happened.

She told me that everything was okay. George, she said over and over, it was a dream. Just another dream. It’s just what happens when you have sugar before bed; she knew she shouldn’t have bought me soda. I told her I didn’t drink any that night. Then I yelled it at her. Then I screamed it. But she only laughed and hugged me. George, she joked, middle school is too soon to start having mental breakdowns.

I knew what I saw, though. So when she said she was going back to bed, I went downstairs and called the police. Whispering, I said that my best friend had just disappeared. Please come investigate. Please. Then my whole face got hot and I started crying. My mom doesn’t believe me.

What? George, could you please settle down? We couldn’t catch that last bit.

What if nobody ever believes me? I hung up.

The police rang my doorbell shortly after. My mom was livid. She came running down the stairs in her pajamas, saying: George, how could you? The two policemen got really serious and asked her what the problem was. He’s just having nightma – but I stopped her and ran passed the police. I didn’t have a nightmare, mom. What I saw was real. I’ll even show you his bike – just please, please follow me.

But when I got to the spot, my heart dropped. His bike wasn’t there. My whole chest got numb. Face: hotter. Had I forgotten where his bike fell?

There’s nothing there, one policeman said. The other asked if I was okay.

I swore it had been right there. Somebody must have stolen it, I said. That’s the only explanation.

Within the ten minutes it took us to arrive? They asked.

Well, I hadn’t called you right away.

Still, they said. It’s two in the morning. Who would’ve stolen a bike at this hour? Then they turned to my mom again. I could tell she was very worried. Excuse me, ma’am, would you like us to take him in tonight? No! my mom snapped back. Please don’t. If you could only come inside for a second to talk, I’ll explain everything. George, she continued, really is under control.

They gave my mom this interview. For ten minutes, they were locked inside her room while I sat at the kitchen table, waiting. Sometimes I heard her sobbing. Other times I heard nothing at all. Then the policemen came out, walked passed me like I wasn’t even there, and left. My mom came out a couple minutes later, looking more exhausted than I’ve ever seen. She said to go back to bed, and I did because I could tell she would tolerate no more arguing. Then she came into my room a couple minutes later and told me what I saw was a dream.

Every night from then on, I’ve woken up at two in the morning and haven’t been able to go back to bed until I’ve written down what happened. I don’t know why, but I have to. It doesn’t make me feel any better, but it’s the only way my body lets me go back to sleep. I have notebooks full of this same story. Full of this same sentence. And all these pages live under my bed.

My mom found a stack of them one day and threw them out. Then she came into my room and stared at me for at least an hour; half the time in silence as she scanned her brain for the right words; and the other half with only the sound of her crying. Right before she finally gave up and left, she said that if someone ever knew what was happening, I’d be sent away. She added, as she walked out the door: like, to some home for loonies or something.

But now I’m not so sure that’d be a bad thing. Maybe the loonies are the only ones who know the truth. Who cracked the code. Maybe I’m the kind of person who they sit around all day and make fun of because I still haven’t figured it out yet. It’s so obvious, isn’t it? I’m sure they’d laugh and laugh if they ever heard about me.

But I hear them laughing all the time, so maybe they have. It’s loudest when I see myself in a mirror. Sometimes I’ll just stand in front of the sink in the bathroom for hours. Listening to them. Staring into my eyes. Thinking of ways that I could kill myself. I know it’s selfish, but does that even matter? Because, if nothing’s real, then it wouldn’t be selfish at all. It’d be nothing. Only a possibility that occurred. Meaningless to everyone but me. Just like Toby.

Just like this story.

Peas and Carrots

 Jack pulls into Maddi’s driveway about five minutes earlier than she told him. He hadn’t prepared for this, but now knew he had two options. Either go around the block until it was time or call and say he’s here already. He knew which he should probably choose. One was obviously braver than the other. But Jack had been brave last night, weathering another storm of Maddi’s tears – the second one this year, and it was only July. Plus, he had just finished a six-hour shift. Putting his car into reverse, he tells himself that he doesn’t need to prove anything. We all deserve an occasional five minutes of weakness. And anyways, all he needs is a second to collect himself. This whole Maddi thing has gone on for too long. He’s ready to officially end it.

As the front tires roll off the curb, he hears his phone buzz. There’s no way. He focuses on the windshield and putting the car into drive, trying to shut out the phone’s vibration against the coins in his cup holder. But when the car gets going straight, he can’t help himself. He looks down and sees Maddi’s picture, lighting up the screen. Somehow he knew this would happen. After a deep breath, he clenches his hand into a fist and smacks the steering wheel. Then he answers.

“Were you just in my driveway?”

“Uh,” a chuckle shoots through his lips, “yeah.”

“Just,” she sighs, “just come in now.”

“I wasn’t sure because you said four. And it’s only…”

“Oh my god.”

“I didn’t know if you wanted me to – well – come in or,” he tries holding out this last syllable, but his voice deflates immediately.

“Just come in and get your shit.” She hangs up.

Jack knew he was off to a bad start. But there really wasn’t such thing as a good start with these types of things. All he could do was swallow all the spit he forgot to swallow while on the phone and buck up for a couple Mad Maddi minutes. Mad Maddi is the nickname his friends gave her whenever he explained one of her dramatic outbursts. (It is also his least favorite version of her.) He takes one more deep breath after he pulls into her driveway again. Then another when he shuts off the car.

He wonders what her friends might’ve nicknamed him. It would depend on how much they know. And how much Maddi knows. Another breath. Is there such thing as having too much air? Being too oxygenated. Was that a thing? Because he felt like an overinflated balloon, wishing he could burst.

Walking to the door, he sees her body through the frosted glass. How perfect. The glass conceals just how mad Mad Maddi would be this time. There is no way to prepare himself before contact. Nice touch. She’s getting better at this whole little act.

Once Jack gets close enough, she turns the knob and lets the door’s momentum carry it the rest of the way. When he’s inside, she is already at the kitchen sink, finishing up with a dirty plate. He stands in the foyer and listens to the rushing water. She looks back at him. He looks at her. He takes a couple steps towards the kitchen, stops, then backs up. If she wants to put on this little show, acting out some breakup scene where he’s the villain, then he would let her.

“So,” she’s still turned the other way from him, “it looks like you got what you wanted, huh?”

“What do you mean?”

“This.” She inhales deeply and holds it. Then she drops the dish rag and plate to the counter and says, “I let you use me again. I can’t believe I let you use me again.”

“Madeline.” He steps closer.

“No.” She finally faces him. “Don’t call me that. Never again.”

He realizes she hasn’t done her make-up yet and is still in shorts. He takes another step. “It’s not like I planned any of this.”

She shakes her head and brings her hand to her forehead, making a visor to shield her eyes. She says, “Whatever,” as she passes Jack to the stairs.

He watches her as she jogs up. Near the top, she looks back down and tells him to come on already. He follows, but really wishes he could stay put.

“Oh, and could you take your shoes off?”

He nods and steps back to the bottom. She goes into her room, then pokes her head out and says, “Sorry. Could you please take your shoes off?”

“Thanks.” Jack gives her a half smirk as he undoes his laces.

She goes back through the door. “Wouldn’t want you to keep thinking I’m some selfish, demanding bitch.”

He laughs to himself. This is so typical. Exactly why he didn’t want to go upstairs in the first place. He’s so done with this. With her. With everything. This really was the best choice. And in only a couple more minutes this will all be over. He fantasizes about the moment he’s back at his house. Maybe he’ll even smoke some weed when he gets home just because he knows how much it pisses her off.

When he gets into her room, she’s tossing another one of his sweatshirts onto an already big pile on the floor. Her breathing is loud and rapid. If she wants to stress herself out, then he will let her. This is, after all, her show.

Maddi stops, still facing the clothes in her closet. “If you keep staring at me, I’m going to cry.”

Jack’s eyes dart to the floor. Maddi glimpses back, then keeps tossing the last of his sweatshirts to the floor.

He bundles up the pile, but a maroon one drops. Picking it up, he realizes it’s one of hers. She’s being so dramatic that she can’t even think straight. Fucking ridiculous. He folds it into a small square and places it on the ground next to her. After searching through her closet for a little longer to be sure she hadn’t missed anything, she sees the sweatshirt. She looks at it, then back at Jack. She mumbles, “Sorry,” and hangs it up.

“It’s okay.”

Maddi exhales and shakes her head. Then she crosses the room to her desk. She opens the little drawer and takes out a soft pink envelope. “Jack” is written on the front with a heart. She walks over to him and places it on top of the sweatshirts.

“What’s this?”

“I thought we’d still be together next week.” She rolls her eyes. “Stupid me.”

He stops his hand from moving to her shoulder and nods, sucking in his lips. He knows what’s inside the envelope. He remembers how they had decided not to count the breakup before because it only lasted for a couple weeks. It was his idea.

She goes to say something else, but gets choked up and stops. After running her hand through her hair, she says, “All right. I think you should go now.” She heads back towards the stairs and he walks behind her.

Back at the front door, he stuffs his feet back into his shoes. She throws the door open again and stares at him. Right as jack is about to step out she stops him. “I just,” she touches the letter, “I just can’t believe this.”

They stand there for a moment, looking at each other. Jack turns to leave, then back around. “Look, Madeline.”

“Stop. I don’t want to hear it. I don’t want to hear anything from you.” She turns her head away, her nose pointed to the ceiling.

He doesn’t move. Then, “Look, I still care about you, Madeline. A lot. I’d really like it if one day we tried to be friends again.”

She doesn’t say anything. She shuts her eyes and nods slowly. Up. Then down.

Jack watches her for a little while longer. Then he finally decides to go through the door and make his way to the car, glad that’s over forever. When he gets inside, he throws his sweatshirts onto the passenger seat and notices the letter again. He opens it to reveal a card.

On the front is a cartoon of an old man and woman, rocking on a bench at a nursing home. They’re laughing. On the inside, in Maddi’s handwriting:

Jack,

Happy one year! I can’t wait till we’re this cute old couple. I know you’ll be in my life forever.

Yours,

Madeline.