“YEAH! THEY’VE SACKED ME! What the hell am I supposed to do now?”
Ethan peeked up at Nick and felt a slight twinge of guilt. Though it was no fault of his that best friend had lost his job at the magazine, Ethan felt somewhat responsible for Nick’s wellbeing. He figured he should overlook his own windfalls for the moment and focus on his friend’s troubles.
“That’s bollocks,” he muttered, though the displayed anger was partly forced. Nick was a great journalist, but rarely did anything that happened to him come as a shock to Ethan. “Are you sure you’re sacked? Did they say, Nicholas Wagner, you’re fired?”
Nick rolled his eyes at Ethan and hoisted himself up onto the hideous indigo, crumb covered kitchen counter. He gazed down at the linoleum flooring for some time and then looked up. The glint in his eyes and the twinge of a sneer that had overcome his face were enough to bring Ethan to sit down in a kitchen chair. This was going to be good.
“It wasn’t like that,” Nick said. “This isn’t a movie, you know. The fucking president of the magazine, you know—Burt Higgins, and two security guards, walk up to my desk and ask me to accompany them. It’s like they felt they had to escort me out of the building because he thought I’d go on a shooting rampage or something.”
Ethan peered down at his hands, unable to handle the pathetic look that Nick was giving him. “So, why? What was their reasoning?”
Nick gave a short maniacal laugh and brushed both hands through his hair. “I don’t know. It couldn’t be my writing, could it? Did I not just write the best damned article on the key differences between the roles of the monarchy and the government throughout the centuries? We’ve gotten loads of positive responses from it!”
“Yeah, mate, it was brilliant,” Ethan replied, having proofread the article twice. There seemed, however, to be an underlying factor to all of this mess that Nick was hiding from him. He could feel it in his spine; he had known the man far too long to believe that, on this occasion, he was just another victim of bad luck. Nick had always aided in his own misfortunes. He seemed to have an affinity for chaos. “What’s the real reason you were sacked? I can see you’re lying to me like I see through glass.”
Nick shook his head but looked down with a smirk. He knew he had been caught, and judging by his expression, he had done something horribly wrong.
“Oh, boy,” Ethan said. He closed his eyes in disbelief. Though Nick was an intelligent man, he possessed about as much common sense as a dinner plate. His friend never ceased to astonish him. What could he have done now?
Nick sighed. “Well, it might have been a teensy little slip-up.”
“So, what is it? Teensy, yet you’re sacked. Spill it,” Ethan demanded. He leaned back in his chair and crossed his arms, aiming to brace himself for what was to come. “It’s something really daft, isn’t it? I mean you must have done something bad enough to justify their escorting you out of the building.”
“You could say that,” Nick said. “You know how I’ve been talking about this bird, the one that works in human resources?”
How could Ethan forget? Nick never shut up about her. Day and night, their conversations always seemed to head towards Erica; how beautiful she was; how intelligent she was; how drop-dead-sexy she was. Yet, Ethan had never met her, nor had he seen her from afar. He sometimes wondered if the woman was a mere fabrication of his friend’s imagination.
Nick nodded. “Yeah, Erica. Well… she and I… well… we—”
“Spit it out!” Ethan exclaimed.
“We copped off in the storage room this morning.”
Ethan felt his jaw drop and a cry of shock escaped his throat.
Nick peered up at the popcorn ceiling, yellowed by the previous renters’ nicotine habits, with a sly grin on his face. “And I swear to you that that was the best sex I’ve ever had in my life! There’s just something about knowing that you could be caught at any moment… It just fires you right up! It’s true what they say.”
Ethan let out an incredulous laugh, rose from his chair, and rubbed his hands over his face, his palms grazing the bristles that were the result of his five o’clock shadow. “I don’t… I don’t believe you. Who caught you?”
Nick’s smile faded. “That little weasel, Brent Duncan, just as we were finished. We’d locked the door and all, but he must have found a janitor with a key… No good son of a bitch…”
“Was shesacked? Erica?”
Shaking his head, Nick said, “Of course not; she’s Higgins’ daughter.”
Ethan’s hand slipped off the counter and he lost his balance. “What? Give over! You’ve never mentioned that small detail have you?” Ethan laughed again but with a lack of humour. How dumb could any one person be? “You got a leg-over with the boss’s daughter, at work, no less, were caught, and then you actually expected to keep your job? Have you lost your fucking mind? What did you think was going to happen?” Ethan sat down and freed a whooshing sigh. “Jeez, mate, you can be really daft sometimes!”
Nick shook his head. “I’m never going to get another job because of that, you know! Oh, I see you were sacked from your last job! What will I say? That I shagged the boss’s daughter behind a crate of toilet paper, or that my writing is shit? Neither is bound to land me a job, is it? I’m only twenty-eight and I’ve gone and tossed away the best fucking job of my life!”
As Nick spoke, something rather significant crept into the forefront of Ethan’s mind. Before the words touched his lips, Nick interrupted him.
“I know what you’re thinking, mate.”
Ethan glared at him. “Yeah, you’re damned right. How are you going to pay for your share of the rent for this god-awful flat? I can’t—in fact; I refuseto pay for this place all on my own. You’re my best mate, Nick, but I can’t support you on what I make.”
“I realize that,” Nick replied with a scowl. He slunk off the kitchen counter and into a chair. “That’s why I’ve decided I’m moving out.”
“What?” Ethan gaped at his friend in disbelief, praying this was all just a ruse to pay him back for his recent gloating. “Like hell you are!”
“I can’t afford to live in London, and you can’t afford to support me. I’m moving back in with my folks, at least until I can find another job. You can find somebody to take my room. It’ll be easy, I’m sure it will.” Nick stood again and snatched a beer from the refrigerator. He popped the top, took a swig, and clutched it tight, as though he were terrified that it too would be ripped away from him as easily as his job had.
“You know I can’t live with an absolute stranger,” Ethan scolded. “I’m too flaming old for that!” He shook his head in frustration. When it rains, it pours. He glowered at Nick’s beer and was tempted to grab one of his own. If he could not resolve these problems sober, maybe he could wash them away with some sweet amber ale. “You just fuck it all up for everyone, don’t you?”
“Yeah, well,” Nick said, taking a swig, “that’s me, right? Nothing ever goes my way. Look, it was bound to happen one day, wasn’t it? One of us would eventually get married and move out. Hey, maybe you can find a fit university girl to live with you.”
Ethan growled and stabbed his fingers through his curly locks of dark brown hair. “I don’t want to live with a girl from uni’, all right? I’ll be twenty-nine soon enough; I don’t need some little… child and all her little friends running about, chasing after me, and having sleepovers, for God’s sake.”
“And what the hell is wrong with that, my friend? You should be thankful you’re as handsome as you are. You could get any woman if you just put a little effort back into it. Besides, there’s nothing wrong with a little fresh meat.” Nick swallowed another mouthful of beer and slammed the can, now covered in dewy condensation, down on the counter. Droplets flew upwards from inside the can and the remaining drink began to fizz, overflowing onto his hand. “Bleeding Christ.”
“Hold it over the fu—the damned sink,” Ethan muttered, stopping himself before unleashing a slew of curses that he would inevitably regret. Unable to think straight, incapable of forming a rational point, he trudged to his bedroom, certain that if he spent another agonizing moment in that kitchen he might just attack his roommate. Today was not a day to wind his already frayed nerves. It had been stressful enough with worrying that he might make some infinitesimal mistake that could cost him the promotion. To end a long day wrought with uncertainty, now there was Nick’s lack of future rent checks to contend with. It was one thing when his childhood friend screwed up his own life, but when he messed around with Ethan’s perfect balance… he had a big problem with that.
He needed to be somewhere he could just be alone, somewhere to hide from his life, somewhere serene that held no meddling characteristics, like a meadow or a forest, wherein nature might remind him of the simple joys in life. This was just a bump in the road, such an insignificant event in the grand scheme of things, and within a few days, his life would be back in order.
Nonetheless, current situations now required he strategise his next few months, something he had never had time to do with his profession. He had always taken things in stride, one day at a time, caring only ever for the current task at hand.
“Where are you going?” Nick called. Ethan could hear him slurping up the beer that had spilled onto his hand.
“To bed, if that’s all right with you.”
“But the match is on!”
Ethan shook his head, feeling overwhelmed and defeated. “Ask me if I care!”
Nick scoffed at him. “Whatever, mate. I’m packing tomorrow, so you know. I’ll be out by Wednesday; that’s month end.”
Ethan felt his body pull a one-eighty, as though he were a marionette controlled by actions other than his own. “You mean you can’t even afford to stay onemore fucking month? Not even while I put up an ad so I don’t have to pay for this place on my own?”
Nick shrugged. “I’m sorry, mate, I really can’t. Besides, even if I could, I already promised my mum I would be back in Southampton by Thursday so I can help my folks with the addition.”
Ethan felt just then as though he had swallowed a stick of dynamite and the fuse was burning alarmingly quick. He closed his eyes and focused for the moment on taking one large, deep breath and then letting it go. Extinguish the flame. It would be in everyone’s best interest for him not to speak; he had learned from experience how his mouth could get him into trouble. He turned around, glided through a thick fog into his bedroom, and with little effort required, slammed the door behind him.
From out in the hallway, he heard Nick shout, “All right, maybe I can sway my mum into giving me the rent for next month. That’ll hold you over at least. After that, you might just have to dig into that massive savings account of yours. You’ll have to use it for something!”
© Lindsay Mawson 2010