I wake up to the blinding brightness of day coming through the living room window and fumble for my phone to check the time. I feel more out of it than usual; maybe I’m still a little high, but it’s unclear. I stay still for a few minutes and float, which is something I like to do when I wake up hungover. When I feel like my head is drifting through the universe, if I stay still, I feel my body going with it, and I’m weightless. It can be a little nauseating, though, so after a few minutes, I sit up and become one with my tired body. My feet hurt, as usual. My spine aches at the top, where my shoulders connect, and I wonder, briefly, if I could ever maybe swap it out with a new body. That would be ideal.
To re-orient myself with life’s tangibility and the oppressive gravity, I drag myself into my leather chair. It is always comforting to have a thing surround your body with so much familiarity. As I sit, dazed, staring at our faded blue carpet, I muddle through the events of last night in my mind. The memory of arguing with Olivia makes me giggle. What a strange girl. Or am I strange? Either way, I’m glad I didn’t end up finding out what the night had in store for her and her bruiser friend. If Hem had met her, we would have run our fingers through our hair in true chola style.
Well fuck…I start to wonder about Jed. Does he really think we’re going to Canada? Is it even safe to travel with a drug-addled dude I barely know? Should I actually just go back to work? The idea of passing chef’s black pepper challenge makes me nauseous. Fuck that…Maybe I should go to Canada pending Jed’s current state. My stomach starts yelling at me, and I realize I haven’t eaten in a while. I don’t think I have any food, but I shuffle to the fridge and open it anyway. As I stare at its contents, I blank out and fall into a daze. The sadness of Jed’s story creeps back up in my chest, and I lose focus, seeing only the dish of pills he had pulled out last night and hearing his tired voice say, “they were gone-gone…they were gone-gone…they were gone-gone…”
“Gretchen!” I’m startled by Vanessa’s energetic voice, and I come out of my trance fast, overtaken by the sudden urge to poop.
“Uh…hey, V…What’s up…”
“Ermagerd…you look exhausted! What is wrong? Have you slept this week? Have you been hanging out with Hannah again?”
“Uh…no…I just didn’t sleep well, and I’m kind of hungry.”
“Gretch, like, why were you sleeping on the couch, though?”
“I dropped off my laundry yesterday and haven’t gotten my sheets back yet,” I bluff.
“Don’t you have another set to change them out?”
“Do you want a smoothie? I’m about to try this new recipe I found online. Oprah recommends it as a great energy booster for when you’re trying to lose weight. I mean, not that you need to lose weight or anything…I do…I still need to drop that pound and a half I gained over the holidays…I’m so jealous you can stay as small as you are and be a chef and all that. It’s totally not fair. Do you have thyroid problems? Because if I had thyroid problems, I would definitely not do anything about it if it was working in my favor. I know it’s not healthy, but let’s be serious. Some comedian once said that if AIDS was curable, women would get it on purpose to lose weight, and I’m not gonna lie…I totally agree with that. Well…maybe. So do you want a smoothie?”
I am not prepared for this burst of energy, but I oblige out of fatigue and ambivalence: “Yeah…sure…does it have kale, though? I don’t want a leaves smoothie.”
“No, but it has spirulina powder. It’s algae. Is that OK?”
“Sure.” As Vanessa starts pontificating on the benefits of consuming algae, I wander to the bathroom. My guts feel disoriented and weird. As I sit, mentally discombobulated, on the toilet, I wonder if I should have declined the smoothie. A bagel sounds much better than algae at the moment. I take a picture of my dropped pants and send Hem a Snapchat captioned “pooping.” Oh…fuck…I sent it to my mom by mistake…Well, these things happen. She may not even know how to open a Snapchat.
“Smoothies are ready! It’s so good!” I hear Vanessa yell.
“Coming…” I walk out, and Vanessa is holding out a tall glass of blue-brown puree. It looks gross, but I really don’t have the mental capacity to decline. I take a sip, and it’s odd, but the cold feels good. “Is there carob in here?”
“Is there cayenne in here?”
“Ermagerd…only a little! You’re good!” I cough at the spiciness and try to ignore the fact that the smoothie tastes a little like cold barbecue.
“Thanks, V.” Just as I prepare myself for the second sip, there’s a knock on the door. “You have friends coming over?”
“No. Do you?” My phone buzzes as I head to the door. It’s a text from my mom that says, “why are you so disgusting!?” Oops. There’s another knock, so I put my phone in my pocket and open the door.
“Buenos dias, Gretchen!” It’s Jed. Vanessa looks confused.
“Vanessa, this is Jed. Jed, this is my roommate, Vanessa.” A door opens behind me, and Eddie emerges from his room. He looks up at all of us, surprised to be greeted by a group, and nods while ducking into the bathroom in an effort to expediently hide his morning boner. “That’s Eddie.”
“Gretchen and I are going to Canada today,” Jed announces, looking excited and more energetic than he was last night. It actually looks like he showered, but his hair still looks a little gross. Maybe he just changed clothes.
“You didn’t tell me you were going away!” Vanessa exclaims, looking hurt to be left out but also excited.
“Um…yeah, well, it was a little last minute.”
“How do you two know each other?”
“Jed actually lives next door.”
“Wait, you’re the guy who gets all the tiny packages in the mail all the time?”
“Yes. I collect Pokemon merch.” Vanessa is starting to look judge-y, so I take her into my room to talk.
“Vanessa is gonna help me pack real quick, Jed. Sit down for a minute, I’ll be right back. Here! Have this smoothie.” I’m glad to be able to pawn off the beverage now that I’ve decided it’s not palatable in my current state.
“Gretchen, when did you meet this Jed guy?”
“You can’t go to Canada with him!”
“Yes I can.”
“What about work?”
“I left Downton yesterday.”
“I’ll find a new job when I get back. I have enough money for next month’s rent. Don’t worry.”
“I don’t care about that…I mean, I do…but isn’t it kind of stupid to be going on a trip with this stranger? He looks kind of grimy…”
“He doesn’t have anyone, V. I feel like this would be good for him. I’m not stupid…I’ll be careful. But I think he’s really harmless. And he’s sweet. I get him.”
“OK.” I grab up a couple outfits and stuff them in my backpack. I don’t really know how long we’ll be away, but I’m sure I’ll be able to make it work.
“Jed, how are we getting there?”
“I’m using Bobo’s car.”
“Who the fuck is Bobo?”
“My boy from the grocery.”
“The drug dealer? Are we gonna get followed by the cops?”
“No. Chill out. It’s fine. I booked a hotel in Montreal through Wednesday.”
“OK.” I realize that Jed has artfully dumped the smoothie and washed out the glass. Lucky me. I guess I’m not going back to Downton, so I text Chef, “I’m not coming back. Sorry.” And put my phone in my pocket. “Bye, V. I’ll see you on Thursday, then.
“OK…Have fun and be safe. Text me when you get to the border. And then when you get to your hotel. Will you call me later?”
“Sure.” I walk out the door, and Jed closes it behind me. “I can’t believe we’re actually doing this!”
“Trust the adventure, right?”
“I fucking guess so. Have you ever been to Canada?”
“Me neither. Can we go get a bagel before we leave?”
“Sure. Let’s go to Bean Bros.” We walk in, and José is at the counter.
“Hey, José. How are you?” He looks right past me to Jed.
“Jed, brother, what’s up? Ishan! Jed stopped by!” What the fuck…Ishan emerges from the back.
“Jed! What’s good?” Lots of fist pounding takes place, and suddenly I feel like the outsider in my own bagel shop. Without even taking our order, the boys put together a medium coffee with milk, a cappuccino, an untoasted poppy bagel, and a toasted everything bagel with bacon-scallion cream cheese. No charge. Jed and I thank them, and then we head toward the door.
“Sit down or hit the road?” Jed asks.
“Let’s hit the road. Doesn’t it take forever to get there?”
“I guess we’ll see.”
“So, how do you know them so well?”
“Ishan is a customer, you know. And sometimes I give José a bunch of money to do hand-offs to my customers at the bagel shop.”:
“The bagel shop traffics drugs?”
“We all benefit. And you know, there are no real cops in Queens.”
“Just garden gnomes that ticket cars!”
“Exactly.” He hits the unlock button on his keys when we near a dark blue van.
“We’re taking a kidnapping van to Canada?”
“It’s a good car.”
“We’re gonna look like Bonnie and Clyde meets the ice cream man.”
“I like the sound of that, though. Don’t you?”
“Sounds like a good premise for a band, anyway. Alright. Let’s do this.” I dump my belongings in the back and climb into the passenger seat. It’s a tall car for me to get into, but riding high up always makes me feel powerful. After I settle into my seat, I text back my mom, “whoops, wrong Snapchat.” C’est la vie. “Oh, by the way, Jed, I can’t drive, so I hope you got all the coffee you need.”
“Even if you could, Bobo made me swear not to let anyone drive his car, so it’s all good. Why can’t you drive?”
“Ah. You shouldn’t leave Queens! There are cops out there.”
“Speaking of leaving Queens.”
“Yes ma’am.” Jed puts the key in the ignition, starts the van, and pulls out of the spot as he takes an overzealous bite of his bagel. Cream cheese oozes out and falls onto the seatbelt. “Ah, fuck,” he licks it off.
“What? It’s delicious cream cheese! I’m not letting it go to waste. I’m trying to forget what that smoothie tasted like!”
“True. I’m sorry I tried to give it to you.”
“You’re forgiven. Put on some music. Your choice.” I turn on the radio, and Guns ‘n’ Roses’ “Rocket Queen” comes on. “Did you know Axl Rose brought a girl into the studio and fucked her for the sex noises in the background of that bridge?”
“What if I told you that was me?”
“Right. And how old are you again? Eighteen?”
“Twenty-four. OK, it wasn’t me. But it’s still cool.” I rip off a piece of my bagel, spilling poppy seeds all over the floor of the car. I would feel bad, but there’s still cream cheese on his seatbelt, so fuck it. I rest my head against the window and listen to the music as we drive off, as Axl Rose sings, Here I am, and you’re a rocket queen…I might be a little young, but honey, I ain’t naive…