thursday morning gabe awoke to discover a pair of gift-wrapped presents atop his highlighted copies of the inferno and through the looking glass. orange paper, no bows and a greeting card: “happy birthday, mom’s getting a new car and you get the minivan!” both names were signed in the same handwriting.
the first gift was the key to the minivan. the second was an iphone.
edgar said good morning, but it sounded like “ood orming, ood orming, ood orming.”
gabe rubbed his eyes, stood up and meandered through shafts of sunlight and moguls of discarded clothes. “can you say happy birthday?” he asked when he reached the cage.
the crow cocked his head, then jumped from the perch to the door and squeezed his beak between the bars to peck the latch.
“here you go, little man.” gabe opened the cage and edgar fluttered first to his finger, then his shoulder.
gabe turned on his computer and projector. he shied from edgar’s pointed kisses and logged into his email account.
one message. a note from rose. the subject line read, “sorry about that...” and he held his breath and clicked to open the note.
“hey gabe, so sorry for standing u up the other nite! :( its not like me 2 do something like that..... but u gave me the PERFECT idea for this months photo assignment about real emotion and i couldnt resist. dont b mad, k??
i attached the photos. let me know what u think! :) i would never use them without ur permission but it makes an incredible series and i think its some of my best work.
also.... i have a boyfriend. but ur a cool guy and a great listener. see u monday nite? :)
the pics appeared in a vertical column at the bottom of the email. the first photo depicted gabe sitting at the table through the wall-sized window. the lighting was beautiful, reflecting off the table’s glossy veneer and illuminating his anxiety. the next photo was the exact same shot, but there were two empty glasses instead of one and the rose had become more prominent in the frame. by the fifth photo, gabe had a leaning tower of cups and silverware; by the seventh, rose captured his heartbreak. he didn’t remember making the face; downturned eyes, the corner of his mouth pulled back, an elbow on the table with a hand ruffling his hair, eyes gazing out the window... he was practically looking at the girl who stood him up.
the last photo depicted a empty booth and a stack of glasses beside the abandoned rose. how poetic.
gabe didn’t reply. he closed the message, pulled his slight overbite behind his bottom teeth, and clenched his jaws together until his cheeks burned.
screw ‘em. he was never going back to that class.
edgar hopped to the desk. his nails clicked against the wood and scratched gabe’s art, then he nibbled the marker sketch of john.
“scat!” gabe said and shooed edgar away with the back of his hand. he studied his drawing. he felt sick when he looked at it.
sick was good.
with john gone, nobody in the chat room would give a damn about his birthday. he logged in anyway. anything—even the collective anger of the online community—was better than DWELLING.
“00sexboy00” was the only screen name that gabe recognized.
00sexboy00: danteeeeee whats up
dante_fire18: bored out of my effin’ mind. where’s butterfly?
00sexboy00: do i look like her mom?
dante_fire18: i’ve never seen you. maybe you do.
00sexboy00: F U. need a shoulder to cry on cause that bitch stood u up?
dante_fire18: just looking for somebody to chat.
00sexboy00: lookin for a pact?
gabe furrowed his brow and typed “no” into the text box. he paused, then reread sexboy’s question, “lookin for a pact?” he stood from his chair and walked to the foosball table. edgar followed with a swoop and perfect landing on the plastic head of a miniature soccer player.
gabe looked into the crow’s eyes; wet, black, pearl eyes.
he turned back and sat at the desk. he focused on the keyboard, then cautiously pressed each letter between moments of deliberation.