|Primary Characters:||Mikey, Elisa, Jill|
|Description:||Mikey meets a girl. Elisa doesn’t like it. But she doesn’t know half of the problem. It’s up to Elisa to save Mikey again and before he does something rash.|
Elisa was smiling as she turned the key in the lock. She’d brought a small surprise gift for Mikey. In case he didn’t remember, it was their one year anniversary as room mates. It was nothing much, but she was sure he’d like the little trinket she’d picked up in one of her favorite stores in the Village.
She stopped and looked around. The apartment was dark, and quiet. No one was in. Barto wasn’t there and she hadn’t expected him to. He had a test, then a date. But it wasn’t Barto she wanted to see anyway. Where could Mikey be? As far as she knew, he wasn’t working late tonight.
In the meantime, she’d just get some dinner ready. It was her night to cook, so she wasn’t going out of her way to spoil Mikey. He was spoilt enough as it was. She couldn’t help smiling again as she thought of her cute room mate, turned part time lover, turned room mate again. At times he could be absolutely adorable. Then again, at other times, he could be totally obnoxious. That was Mikey. All sweet or all tiresome. Nothing in between. And that was what she loved about him.
By the time dinner was ready, she paused and wondered if she ought to just eat while the food was still hot, or wait a little while longer. She was still deliberating when she heard someone at the door. Turning to greet her late, but no less welcome room mate, the smile froze on her lips as she realized it was Barto, not Mikey.
“I already ate at – Whoa, that looks delicious. Is there enough for me?”
“Sure. You wouldn’t happen to know where Mikey is?”
“Didn’t he tell you? He’s got a date.”
Barto totally missed the changed inflexion as he sat down and helped himself to some of Elisa’s cooking.
Of course it was silly of her to feel this way, this – disappointed. Mikey was the way he was. No use being upset. But she’d lost her appetite, and it was getting late. She might as well go to bed. There was work to consider.
“I’m going to bed.”
“Right. See you in the morning.”
When she got up, Mikey was still in bed, presumably alone, but still, nowhere to be seen. Elisa was debating with herself if she should leave the present for him, or wait until he had time. In the end, she decided that he might as well wait for it.
Today, she only worked half a day, since she had research to do, that might as easily be done at home. So she walked in to meet Mikey on his way out. He looked so happy, Elisa felt her tension melt away. That smile could melt an iceberg, and she didn’t feel that cold, not even close.
“Hey. Barto told me you’d made dinner for us. Sorry I was late. But you won’t believe what’s happened. Julie’s the most wonderful girl in the whole world.”
That hurt a little. Once or twice, Mikey had used those words about her, looking exactly the way he was now. Now, apparently, she was just the understanding room mate. But she forced herself to smile and listen to the rest of Mikey’s story.
“Julie’s a stockbroker. She’s smart, sexy and – she’s crazy about me.”
A slight frown appeared on Elisa’s face. No way was a stockbroker who was sexy and smart going to go for a guy like Mikey. She was inclined to believe that the girl worked for a bank, maybe did research for clients, but that was as far as it went. Either she had a tendency to exaggerate her own importance, or Mikey had quite simply misunderstood. At least she hoped that was the explanation.
For some reason warning bells went off in her head. Something didn’t feel quite right about all this. Sternly she told herself not to be silly. There was absolutely no reason for her to react this way. If Mikey was happy, she was happy too. Right? Of course she was.
“That’s great, Mikey. Here. A little something I picked up for you yesterday.”
“A gift? Thanks.”
He looked just like a little boy as he was tearing the wrapping off the small package. When he caught sight of the alarm clock in the shape of a computer, his face lit up even more.
“It’s perfect. Thanks.”
He walked over and gave her a quick hug.
“I have to go, Julie’s meeting me for a late lunch.”
“Yeah, well, I have work to do. Have fun. Be good.”
“What? Oh, I’ll try.”
And he was gone, out the door. The room suddenly looked grim and dull. She couldn’t stay in here. It was snowing outside, and it was freezing, but she had to get out. Work could wait a while. She needed to talk to someone. Or maybe – Just have a bit of fun. She had been working too hard. Why should she feel this way over Mikey? He was sweet, he was cute, he was crazy, but he wasn’t mr Right. Mikey was just a boy, and she needed a man.
After spending the day outside, Elisa felt a little better, even if she was also numb with cold. By that time, she’d tired of walking around, window shopping and browsing through bookstores. On the way back, she realized that it would either be Mikey’s or Barto’s turn to cook dinner, so she changed her mind about going back home. Instead, she searched her mind, trying to think of a good, not too expensive restaurant, where a girl might dine alone without attracting too much attention.
Outside Mario’s, she ran into Jack and Jill.
“Hey. I didn’t know you were eating out tonight. I thought you’d be home doing research.”
Elisa made a face, and Jack immediately read the look and decided that Elisa had played hookie. Fine. Nothing wrong with that. She’d done that a time or two, herself.
“Are you having dinner?”
“Oh. Well, have fun.”
“Are you leaving again? I thought you just got here. Why don’t you eat with us? You don’t mind, do you, Jill?”
“No, of course not. Don’t be silly, Elisa. Let’s have dinner together.”
He sounded as if he meant it too. They really were the nicest couple. Elisa smiled and let herself be persuaded.
They spent the evening pleasantly enough and neither Jack or Jill made Elisa feel like she was gatecrashing. Dinner was at least better than anything one of the guys back home could have come up with, assuming either one of them even made it back in time for dinner. Suddenly, Elisa felt an urge to find a place of her own. Was this really what she wanted? Spending her best years babysitting two guys who would move out and leave her the second their girlfriends wanted to move in with them.
But she’d tried that before. Good apartments with afforable rent didn’t grow on trees. She couldn’t share with Jack anymore and who did that leave? Audrey? Elisa made a face. No. Not Audrey. Of course, she might just place an ad and see what happened. If she found a nice girl or a gay guy to share with, that might be ok. Gays would be neat and cook great dinners, right?
“What was that?”
“I was wondering what was on your mind, Elisa. You made this funny face.”
“Oh. Well, I’ve been thinking about getting my own place.”
“Really? But you couldn’t afford one of your own, right?”
“I might share. If I put in an ad -”
“Ok, what’s he done now?”
“Mikey. Or was it Barto this time?”
“No. It’s not that. Well, most of the time it’s my turn to cook dinner, even if it was one of them. So you see, it’s not really working out.”
“I thought you were crazy about Mikey?”
“I am. But I guess sharing a place with him is getting old.”
“Are you sure it’s a good idea, though? Sharing with a total stranger?”
Jack looked concerned.
“We’ll ask around. Maybe we’ll find someone who wants to sublet.”
“If you could find something, that would be great. But I can’t sit around waiting for that. I’d better do something myself.”
“Ok. You’ll ask around too, won’t you, Jill?”
“Sure. Absolutely. I’m sorry it isn’t working out. But you know Mikey. He can be such a slob.”
Elisa opened her mouth to protest. No. Mikey wasn’t a slob. He was sweet. Adorable even.
But Jill already saw his mistake and shut up.
“Anyway, I’ll see what I can do. Why don’t you ask Barto too?”
“Because I’m not going to share with a med student who brings home poor little animals to dissect and who knows what else.”
“Audrey might know something.”
“You’re the best, both of you. Thanks. Now I’ll leave you alone. It’s time I got back. I’ve got a ton of research to do before tomorrow.”
“Don’t overdo it. That story isn’t due until Friday.”
“I know. Thanks. It’s been fabulous. See you tomorrow at work.”
After Elisa had vanished into the falling snow, and the deepening darkness, Jack turned to Jill, a worried frown on her face.
“What do you think is really up?”
“I have no idea. But it doesn’t take a genius to figure out it’s Mikey’s fault. He must have done something or said something. Poor Elisa.”
“Yes. Maybe you should talk to Mikey?”
“Nah. It’s no use. He’ll never listen and even if he did, he wouldn’t understand. I have to admit, I’m don’t get it either, half the time some girl’s upset with me.”
The look Jack shot him was enough to silence Jill. They were going home and to bed. If Jack was in a bad mood, he’d sleep on the couch tonight. Bad idea.
During lunch the next day, Elisa decided to go right ahead and place that ad, before she weakened. Mikey always tired of his girlfriends. There was no reason to believe it would be any different with this one. Julie? For some reason, Elisa didn’t like her, even if she knew next to nothing about her. She shook her head. Jealousy was so pathetic. Mikey and she had never really been involved. They were friends who had ended up in bed together a couple of times, that was all.
Before she made up any more excuses, she called up the paper and placed the ad. For all she knew, some really terrific room mate might be out there right now, looking for a place to live.
Mikey had come in so late last night, she hadn’t even seen him. Or maybe he hadn’t come back at all. Considering how late she’d been working, it was strange that she hadn’t seen him come in. Was he spending the night at Julie’s already?
Elisa bit her lower lip. What if this Julie person was the one? That was something she really didn’t want to contemplate, so she resolutely put that thought out of her mind and went on with her work. She didn’t really have much appetite today anyway.
That evening, she found herself hoping Mikey would be there, just so she could take a look at him and talk to him. Maybe she’d be able to read between the lines and get a hint of how serious he was about that girl.
But Mikey wasn’t there and neither was Barto. Despite the work that was waiting for her, Elisa decided to cook dinner, no matter whose turn it was. When the pasta dish was ready, she ate by herself, not waiting for her room mates to show up. She left enough for them, if they should want dinner when they got back, but if they didn’t, she’d have the rest for lunch the following day. She’d have to stay in all day, and finish that research.
Around nine, the front door opened and Elisa stared hopefully at it, expecting Mikey. But just like the last time she’d been waiting for him, it was her other room mate instead.
“Oh, hi, Barto. Have you seen Mikey?”
“No. Hasn’t he called or been back here?”
“Not that I know of. He wasn’t in when I got back and I don’t think he slept here last night.”
Too late, Barto realized that Elisa wasn’t one of the guys. She might not understand guy things. Like being happy for a buddy when he’d scored. What little he’d heard about Julie made it likely that she was a real knockout. Lucky Mikey. Who would have thought a babe like that could fall for a guy like Mikey?
“I mean. Oh. Right.”
Elisa glared at him, but didn’t comment. What was the point? Guys were guys. And Barto a little more than most guys.
“There’s dinner if you want it.”
“Great. Thanks. I made something last night, but you didn’t show up so I put it in the freezer. You said to do that, right?”
“Yes. Good thinking. If you leave anything you could do that with the pasta I made too.”
Barto throw his backpack down on the floor and went into the kitchen to heat up his dinner. Sharing with a girl was so cool. Most of the time, she’d cook and she’d know useful stuff about housekeeping. The only problem with Elisa was that she wasn’t crazy about doing the dishes and she never did her room mates’ laundry, unless she did Mikey’s. He’d never thought to find out. If she did, she might as well do his as well. It would be unfair not to.
After dinner, Barto forgot all about the dishes and vanished into his room.
Elisa went back to work, but found it hard to focus on the story. She felt tired and was beginning to consider going to bed. If she got up early in the morning, she’d have time to finish her work.
That was when the door opened for the second time. Mikey walked in, a dreamy look on his face. There was something odd about that look, Elisa thought. He didn’t look happy as much as vacant. As if his mind was on something else. Not the usual buoyant Mikey at the beginning of one of his brief affairs.
It was a while before he even registered that someone had said his name. When he finally did hear her, he smiled at her, but the smile only lasted a few seconds.
“Hey. How was the date?”
“Oh. It was fine. How are you doing? Busy?”
“Sort of. Why? Did you want to talk to me about something?”
Again, he paused before replying, but Elisa didn’t get the impression he was considering her question. It was more as if he wasn’t listening.
“Never mind. You seem tired. Maybe you should go to bed.”
“Yes. Maybe I should. Good night, Elisa.”
“Good night, Mikey.”
Elisa couldn’t help thinking something was wrong. Mikey wasn’t acting the way she’d expect him to, if he really was happy with Julie. Or was she totally wrong? Maybe he was already over Julie and was seeing someone else? A couple of days was nothing unusual for Mikey. He could be all worked up about a girl one day, and be over her the next. Or was he worried about something else? Maybe she should ask him straight out if anything was wrong.
But the next day, Mikey seemed his usual cheerful self and Elisa told herself she’d been wrong. She wanted to find fault with Julie, but that didn’t mean there was any dirt to find. Julie might be a perfectly nice girl.
Before the end of next week, Elisa was to find out. Mikey brought Julie home with him. He hadn’t let anyone know, and Elisa wasn’t sure there would be enough dinner for all of them, especially if Barto was going to show up later, but she shouldn’t have worried.
Julie turned up her nose at the apartment, the cooking, even Elisa. She looked at the furniture as if they’d found it in a dumpster and she even seemed to stare suspicously into the corners as if she was looking for cockroaches or rats. Elisa found herself disliking this girl even more than before, when she’d just heard about her.
Julie seemed to be about thirty, quite a bit older than Mikey, but Elisa didn’t think that was the problem. She was dressing quite expensively and her hair was so blonde, Elisa was sure it had been dyed. Despite everything, Elisa forced herself to be polite to the girl Mikey clearly thought so much of.
“Hi, Julie. Mikey’s talked about you a lot.”
“Really? You must be Elisa.”
Judging by her tone, she didn’t feel a bit pleased to meet Mikey’s room mate.
“That’s right. Pleased to meet you.”
Julie stared pointedly at Elisa’s outstretched hand but ended up not taking it. Instead, she let her eyes move across Elisa’s clothes. Since she’d had a long day at work, Elisa had changed into a pair of jeans and a t-shirt. It was an old one, and it had lost some of its original color.
“What do you call that?”
“That – style. Nouveau grunge?”
Elisa was about to say something, but she couldn’t think of anything that wouldn’t be decidedly rude. In any case, she was too late. Mikey returned from his room, bringing a backpack. Was he moving out and in with Julie?
“Are you finished? Because I’d really like to get going.”
Elisa felt a chill go down her spine. Julie’s tone didn’t change more than marginally when she addressed Mikey. If anything, the voice held more contempt now.
“Nice to have met you.”
That couldn’t be further from the truth, but Elisa didn’t want to let Julie have the last word.
“It’s been interesting. How quaint. I didn’t realize people still lived like this.”
“Mikey? Are you moving out?”
Was his mind always on something else, these days? At first Elisa didn’t think he’d reply. His eyes were glued to Julie and the puppy look tore at Elisa’s heart. That girl had to be completely without feelings if she could remain unmoved by that look. But she wasn’t even looking at Mikey. She’d already moved on and was fidgeting by the door, casting impatient glances over her shoulder.
“What? No. Of course not. I’m just picking up a few things.”
Elisa wanted to ask him if he was alright, but Julie was waiting and Mikey’s mind didn’t seem to be focusing on his room mate anymore.
“See you soon.”
But Mikey had already caught up with Julie by the door. The sound of it closing behind them gave Elisa a bad feeling. As if somehow, this would be the last time she ever saw Mikey.
Her premonition almost seemed to come true, because that visit was the last one in a very long time. Mikey didn’t come back, at least not when Elisa was there, and he didn’t call, or send her any message. Barto was busy chasing after Audrey, and studying, and he had very little to say about Mikey.
When Elisa asked Jill, he didn’t seem to understand her concern. He was irritated with Mikey for failing to show up at the @-bar for many of his shifts. As far as Jill was concerned, this was just a typical example of Mikey’s irresponsibility and nothing at all to worry about.
Jack too, seemed strangely incapable of seeing Elisa’s point of view. To her, Mikey was just a tiresome brat, more or less. Someone who meant something to her boyfriend and best friend, but not much more. Instead, she focused on helping Elisa find a new apartment.
That proved more difficult than she had expected. Elisa was beginning to give up. Perhaps staying with two guys she knew, of which one wasn’t even around anymore, was better than trying to get to know and trust some new person.
To Barto’s disappointment, Elisa decided to change the rules for their co-habitation. From now on, anyone who wanted something to eat would cook. When something was missing from the kitchen, it was the responsibility of each person to buy new supplies. If that meant sometimes buying double of something, like cereal, tomato soup or coffee, then that was ok. Tidying, doing the dishes or laundry would from now on be up to each person living there.
Elisa wasn’t the least bit moved by Barto’s dismay. If he wanted to live with her, he could follow her rules. Otherwise, he could try talking Audrey into letting him live with her. But what little gossip about Audrey and Barto that reached Elisa seemed to hint at trouble, or at least no further development.
It wasn’t as if Elisa cared much either way. Neither Barto, nor Audrey had ever been close friends of hers.
A couple of more weeks passed, in which Elisa felt increasingly concerned about Mikey, but at least marginally better about her living arrangements. Since the ad hadn’t produced any more result than Jack’s and Jill’s help with her search, she decided to put her plans on hold.
Her fears on Mikey’s behalf drove her to hang out in the @-bar a lot more than she usually did, but it was only rarely that she caught sight of her room mate and friend. When he was there, he was alone. No sign of Julie, but Jill told Elisa that according to Mikey he was still seeing her.
Mikey still said hi, when he noticed Elisa, but alarmingly often, he seemed withdrawn and vacant. Elisa didn’t think he was on drugs, but she could be wrong. There was definitely something unusual about Mikey’s behavior. He just didn’t seem to be all there.
As always, since Julie had come into his life, there was a long pause before Mikey replied.
“How are you doing?”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes. Just busy with work. Jill’s keeping me on my toes.”
“How are you?”
“I’m fine, Mikey. You look tired -”
“What? Oh. I’m having a little trouble sleeping. It’s nothing.”
He smothered a yawn and got up, to get back to work.
“Sorry. Jill’s waving impatiently at me.”
On an impulse, Elisa called after Mikey as he was leaving.
“How about lunch tomorrow?”
At first, she didn’t even think he’d heard her, but eventually, he turned to face her.
“Lunch? I’m sorry. I don’t think I can. Too busy. Some other time?”
“Of course. I won’t keep you any longer. Go on.”
What was wrong with him? Mikey’s eyes used to sparkle. Now they looked like dull, lifeless pools in a forest. There had to be something behind the change he’d undergone and Elisa was going to find out why. If only she hadn’t been so busy herself. It was time to go. She’d already wasted enough time waiting for Mikey. When she had a minute to herself, she’d try to dig up something about that Julie person.
Still, every moment she had, she was drawn back to the @-bar and her presence seemed to puzzle Jill a bit.
“I didn’t know you liked the bar so much. How do you like the new look?”
“It’s fantastic. I don’t know. It’s just nice, I guess. Listen, David, do you have a moment?”
A moment was about all he had, but he’d never say no to Elisa. His ex was a really terrific girl.
“Have you noticed something odd about Mikey?”
Jill was about to say something about how Mikey never was anything but odd, but stopped himself in time. Elisa cared about the guy. So did he, of course. Mikey was an idiot, but a good guy at heart. But how could you tell if there was something strange about his behavior?
“No, not really. Why?”
“He’s not himself. Haven’t you noticed that he never smiles anymore? And his eyes -”
“What about them? Do you think he’s on drugs or something?”
That was something Elisa was getting increasingly worried about. But she’d seen nothing definite to point that way, except for one thing. Nowadays, Mikey seemed to be almost hysterically active. Always running from one place to another. And he’d lost weight. Elisa had seen people she knew succumb to drug use, but something about Mikey seemed different. She couldn’t guess what was wrong, but she was getting more and more certain that something was.
“No. Yes. Maybe. But that’s not what I meant. He’s so sad.”
“Sad? Mikey? Elisa, please.”
“Yes. Sad. Or defeated. Like he doesn’t care anymore.”
She could tell Jill didn’t have a clue what she was talking about. Why were men so blind? If he’d cared as much about Mikey as she did, he would have paid more attention.
“He’s just busy with that girl Julie.”
“I know, but if he’s so happy with her, why doesn’t he seem happy at all? He’s so -”
“Ok. He doesn’t seem all that happy, but he’s probably tired -”
The grin on Jill’s face made Elisa want to shake him. Did he feel the same way Barto did? How cool that one of his gang had scored? Men. There were times when they could be so – simpleminded. That was it.
They had one track minds. The only thing on it was sex. And then more sex. Not that sex wasn’t great at the best of times, it just wasn’t the only thing in the world. But apparently to men, it was. Along with sports. And cars. She sighed in exasperation. If anyone was going to help Mikey it would have to be her. No one else cared.
“Yes. He seems tired. Or -”
Elisa had suddenly caught sight of Mikey across the room. She hadn’t really expected to see him for a while yet, since he’d worked late last night and after that gone back to Julie’s, presumably to sleep. Anything else would have made Elisa’s head ache with dismay. But if he’d worked the late shift, then why was he here now? Normally, he’d only begin his next shift around six in the evening.
Elisa’s lunch hour was rapidly coming to an end, but she couldn’t tear herself away. There was something new in Mikey’s behavior now. He seemed to be so – Elisa failed to come up with a word that properly described Mikey’s current behaviour. Overenergetic was one that suggested itself, but she didn’t think that covered it.
She had to see him up close and look into his eyes. If what she suspected had left any traces there, she’d know.
“I thought you were working late last night.”
“I was. Excuse me.”
He rushed off to finish another task that Jill had been expecting him to do in the evening. Elisa couldn’t stop herself from coming along. He didn’t seem to notice her until he bumped into her. She grabbed his upper arms and held him away from her so she could look into his eyes.
“Take it easy. How are you feeling?”
“I’m fine. Excuse me.”
Again, he rushed off to do something that didn’t seem all that urgent to Elisa. And her suspicions seemed to be confirmed. That look in his eyes wasn’t normal. And the red edges weren’t either. Looking like that, he couldn’t possibly be this hyperactive. He was on something. Caffeine pills? Something stronger? Elisa knew she wouldn’t rest until she found out the truth.
As she as leaving, she bumped into Jill.
“You’re right. That is unusual. Mikey working for a change. But I’m not complaining. I guess he felt he had to make up for all those days he never showed.”
“Maybe. But I think -”
“I’m sorry. I have to go to the bank. Now that Mikey’s here, he can handle things for a while.”
“I’ll walk you out.”
Elisa had a lot on her mind, so she merely nodded to Jill as their paths separated. This was exactly what she’d been worrying about. Something definite. Now she had to do something. She wasn’t sure where to begin, but she knew she’d think of something. This had to be that Julie person’s doing and she was going to pay for it. No one treated Mikey that way.
She made a few calls, and asked around. It now occurred to her that she’d never heard Julie’s last name, and she had no idea where she lived. Not where she worked either. Mikey hadn’t been specific. Either he hadn’t found that important, or – he might not even have known. Could Julie have kept him in the dark deliberately? If so, what was she hiding?
Elisa’s private research didn’t yield anything that afternoon, but at least she felt marginally better, now that she’d made a start. In the meantime, she’d go back to the @-bar and see if Mikey was still there. Maybe she could corner him and find out more.
To her relief, he was still there but though by now, he’d slowed down a little, he still had that unnatural way of rushing from one chore to another.
“Could you sit down for a moment? Look. The bar’s nearly empty and everyone’s fine. Take a break.”
For a second, it looked as if Mikey wasn’t going to accept her suggestion, then he appeared to change his mind. He sat down on the edge of the chair opposite Elisa. His eyes hardly met hers. Instead they were darting back and forth across the room.
Now Elisa had had it with that hyperactivity. Her hand shot out and she grabbed Mikey’s jaw, holding him still, forcing him to face her.
“Slow down a bit. You’re scaring me.”
Touching his face had alerted Elisa to another change that had come over him, which she really had noticed all along but not registered until now. He’d lost so much weight. His eyes looked enormous and his face was more jagged than it used to. She let go of his chin and took his hand. It was so much thinner than it used to be.
“Elisa – you’re beginning to scare me. Let go. What’s wrong?”
“That’s what I’d like to know. Look at you. You’re a totally different guy. Aren’t you eating enough?”
He tried smiling, but the way his lips moved didn’t have any resemblance to a smile.
“Yeah. Of course. It’s very sweet of you to worry, but I’m fine. Elisa. Honestly.”
“You don’t look fine. Mikey, what’s going on?”
His eyes looked away. She’d been right. There was something going on and he wasn’t going to tell her. She sighed. It was too late and she was too worried to argue with him. If he didn’t want to tell her, this wasn’t the time to make him.
“I’m ok. Really. Listen, I need to get back to work. Jill will -”
As if that had been his cue, Jill now pushed open the door and stormed inside. Ignoring the two guests who were seated at the far end of the room, he cornered Mikey and grabbed his t-shirt, pulling him to his feet.
Elisa couldn’t stop a scream of protest.
“Hey. Let go of him. What are you doing?”
“That’s what I’d like to ask him. What have you done? I must have been crazy to trust you.”
Elisa got up and tried to make Jill let Mikey go. He merely brushed her off, hardly noticing.
“I had to go and see mr Spaulding at the bank. Guess what he had to tell me? Mikey? Look at me.”
But Mikey didn’t want to look at anyone or anything. Unhappily, he hung his head, and made no attempt to break free of Jill’s grip.
“David. Let him go. If you have something to say to him, let’s go into the office.”
There was no way she was going to let Mikey face Jill’s anger on his own, no matter how private their business was.
This time, Jill at least heard her and seemed to be considering her suggestion. Finally, after looking around the room, he nodded.
He walked over to the two guys in the corner, hoping they wouldn’t be looking at anything illegal. For about two minutes, he spoke to them in such a soft voice, Elisa couldn’t hear a thing. Then the two guys shrugged and got up. Thirty seconds later, Jill locked the door behind them.
“There. Now – What do you have to say about the missing money? Mikey.”
“Missing money? What’s the problem?”
Jill looked at her, with such anger, Elisa involuntarily took half a step backwards, but she realized that the anger wasn’t aimed at her.
“I’ll tell you what the problem is. Mikey, your little darling here, has taken his part of the money we invested in the @-bar. It’s gone. If I can’t replace it by the end of the week, we’re out of business. Even if I can get a temporary loan, it will only postpone the inevitable. What have you done with our money, you little rat? Look at me when I’m talking to you.”
“How much money are we talking about?”
Elisa didn’t think the knowledge would change anything, but she wanted to know anyway.
During this exchange, Mikey had remained silent. He’d sunk back down onto the chair he’d been sitting on when Jill had pulled him up so abruptly. To Elisa’s eyes, he looked small and helpless. How could Jill be so harsh? This was his best friend. That financial stuff could be worked out, somehow and even if it couldn’t, wasn’t friends worth more than any money?
“More than I can find in the time I have. Besides, that’s not the point. The point is, this weazel stole our money. What have you done with it? I want it back. Now.”
Again, he grabbed Mikey and began to shake him so violently, Elisa couldn’t stop herself from interfering. She grabbed Jill’s arm and yelled at him to let go. Unlike the last time, Jill actually did as she demanded.
That was all it took. Like a hunted animal, Mikey twisted away and vanished into the office. By the time the stunned Jill and Elisa were standing there, Mikey had vanished.
“The back door – he ran out on me. The bastard. How could he do this to me? He’s betrayed me. I thought I was his friend. Look how he repays me for that friendship.”
“Can you blame him for running? You were hurting him. How could you? Whatever he’s done, he’s still your friend -”
“Not anymore he isn’t. If I never see him again, it will be too soon. The traitor. And you -”
Jill was so upset, words failed him. He shook his head in disbelief.
“I’m sorry you feel that way, David. I have to go and find Mikey. How would you feel if something happened to him because of your outburst?”
She stared at him unrepentantly. Who was he calling a traitor? At the door she stopped, when she realized it was locked.
“Let me out.”
Jill walked over, face white with anger. He didn’t say anything, but he unlocked the door and stepped aside to let her out.
Running down the street, Elisa tried to think where Mikey could have gone off to. To Julie’s place? If so, she was in trouble. How could she find him there? Back to their place?
She had to call someone, but at the moment, she couldn’t figure out who. No one cared about Mikey but her. Who else would help? No. She was on her own in this.
Not knowing where else to go, she returned home. It was no use running around the city, without a plan. Among all those millions of people, how could she find the only one she was looking for?
She burst into the apartment, only to find it empty again. Barto would be working late as usual, unless he was out partying with the other med students. Whatever. He wouldn’t be of any help.
Elisa looked around the room, wondering what to do next. Did Barto know Julie’s last name? Probably not and anyway, by the time he got back, it would be too late. She had a horrible premonition that she was running out of time. Mikey had looked so distraught as he ran away from his best friend. What if he was planning something desperate? That thought wouldn’t leave Elisa alone, so she ran out again, acting totally out of character. Normally, she’d never do anything rash.
Outside, she ran into the janitor, Felipe.
“I saw mr Russo go up to the roof.”
“It was maybe – half an hour ago, maybe a little more. He was acting strange, so I thought -”
“Thanks, Felipe. I’ll go up and talk to him.”
“Yes. Ok. Be careful. There is no railing.”
“Thanks. I will.”
What could Mikey be doing on the roof? Surely he didn’t plan on – But if not, why had Felipe mentioned that he was acting strange? Strange in what way? She wanted to call back and ask the janitor, but she decided against it. That would only waste time. In a minute, she’d know anyway.
She opened the door, and stepped outside. It was freezing and to her alarm, she now realized that the floor was quite slippery. If Mikey was over by the edge –
Somehow, she knew it would do no good calling his name. If he’d made his decision, hearing her would only rush him. As silently as she could, she began searching for him.
There wasn’t much room up here, so it didn’t take her long to find him. Just as she’d feared, he was standing so close to the edge, she nearly called out in alarm. Biting her lip, to keep quiet, she inched closer.
Now she was close enough. If he hadn’t heard her approach now, she might as well call his attention to her so she didn’t startle him.
Her voice was so soft, she was afraid he wouldn’t hear her, even at this distance, but eventually, he turned to look at her. She gasped. There were tears in his eyes. There was enough light to see the reflections. And if she wasn’t mistaken, he’d already cried. There were wet patches on his face, that couldn’t just be a trick of the light.
“Elisa. Tell Jill I’m so sorry. I never meant for this to happen. He was right to yell at me. I’m surprised he didn’t beat the crap out of me. I deserve it.”
“Don’t say that. David was being unnecessarily hard on you. Whatever’s happened can be straightened out.”
“No, it can’t. It’s too late. The money’s gone. I don’t have it anymore.”
Though Elisa knew the answer, she couldn’t help asking anyway.
“Where is it?”
“I gave it to Julie.”
Of course. Who else?
“What did she need it for?”
“She said she needed surgery.”
“Surgery? What kind of surgery?”
“I’m not sure. Something that would save her life. So I withdrew the money and transferred it to her. Then when I called her, she wasn’t there. Not at work or at home. She’d given notice and moved out. I called the hospital, but they’d never heard of her. I guess – I’ve been really stupid, haven’t I?”
Elisa had to smother a sob. No. He wasn’t stupid. It was just that people like that bitch could make him do anything. He was too kind. That was his problem. Always prepared to believe any sob story he heard.
“Oh, Mikey. It’s not your fault.”
“But it is. I know Jill will never forgive me. Why should he? This was his life’s work. And I took it away from him. That’s why -”
No. Not that. Please.
“He’ll forgive you, I know he will. He has to. Mikey, please. Can’t we talk about this downstairs? It’s cold. You’re just wearing a t-shirt. Let me take you inside again, please.”
“I’m so sorry, Elisa. For believing in her. For letting you down. No one’s ever believed in me, except you. Everyone else just thinks I’m an – But I am. They’re right. I am an idiot. Why did you have to come here?”
“Because I love you. Mikey. Don’t you know that?”
“You can’t love me. I’m not good enough for you. You need someone smarter and -”
“No. I need you. Mikey, please.”
By now, she had stopped trying to hold back her own tears. They were flowing freely down her cheeks and she could feel her nose running in a very unromantic way. But there was nothing romantic about any of this. Mikey was in danger. She had to get him away from the edge.
“Don’t do this to me, Mikey. Come back to me.”
“I can’t. It’s too late. Forgive me, Elisa.”
“Wait. If you do it, I’ll do it too. I mean it. Without you, I don’t want to go on.”
Mikey stared at her, too stunned for words. He’d never known Elisa loved him quite that much. And he’d let her down. How could he live with himself after that? She was crying because of him. It was his fault she was hurting. He had to stop hurting people.
“Mikey, come to me. Please. I’ll never ask for anything else as long as I live. Just come back to me. I’ll fix it. I swear. I’ll make things right again. Don’t you trust me? Have I ever let you down?”
No. Of all the people in the world, Elisa was the one person who had never ever let him down or hurt him. She never lied to him. If she’d said she’d jump, she would. He couldn’t let her do that. Slowly, he turned towards her again, and took one step in her direction. His foot slipped on a patch of ice and he fell. He began to slide towards the edge, but before he reached it, Elisa was there. She held on to his hand so hard it hurt.
Where she was standing, there were some pipes coming out of the wall behind her. She held on to them with one hand, though it was so cold, she could feel her skin sticking to the ice-covered metal. It didn’t hurt a bit. Inch by inch, she pulled Mikey closer. Afterwards, she was surprised that she hadn’t felt anything. Not the cold, or the pain of frostbite. She hadn’t even noticed Mikey’s weight.
There was no way of knowing how much time had passed. In the end, she was sitting with her back to the wall, beside the door. Mikey’s head was resting on her lap. She knew she had to get up and get him inside. It was too cold out here for him. And though she felt no cold, she knew it wasn’t a good idea to sit down on the icy floor.
“Do you think you can get up?”
With her help, he got to his feet again, and they held on to each other to steady themselves before Elisa opened the door. She never knew how they got down the stairs, but finally they were outside their own door.
“Good. You found mr Russo. Is he ok?”
“He’s cold, but yes, he’s fine. We’ll be fine.”
The janitor didn’t move until he’d seen the two tenants disappear into their apartment and the door had closed behind them.
He thought he knew what mr Russo had been about to do. A very serious matter. The kind of thing that left your soul in purgatory the greater part of eternity. Ms Cronkite was a very accomplished young woman. That selfless act would take years off her stay in purgatory.
Once inside, Elisa was relieved to find Barto there for the first time since he’d moved in.
“Good. You’re here. Mikey’s cold. Do something.”
Barto stared in consternation at Elisa holding on to Mikey as if he’d been in some kind of accident. If Mikey was cold, why didn’t he have a cup of coffee or put on something warmer? But as he looked closer he realized that something was wrong. Mikey’s face was so white it looked like the snow covering part of their windows. In fact, it looked as if he was in a state of shock.
“How long was he out there?”
Only now did Barto realize that Mikey’s arms were alternately red and white as if he hadn’t been wearing any jacket. It was subzero out there. What had he been thinking?
“I don’t know. Too long. He’s very cold.”
Barto walked up to Mikey and put a hand on his forehead. Astonished, he pulled back his hand and touched the arm instead. So cold. It had to be a case of hyptothermia.
“Right. You’ll have to undress him. Put him to bed. I’ll get some blankets.”
“Is that all? I knew to do that.”
“Hold on a bit. I’m getting to my medical expertise.”
Elisa decided to stop wasting time. Mikey was huddling in her arms, completely oblivious to what was being said about him. He was shivering uncontrollably, now that he’d come into the warm room. Filled with concern, Elisa led him into his own room, and made him sit down on the side of the bed, after pulling the covers aside. She began to undress him, and found that she was on her own. He didn’t respond in any way.
She was pulling down his jeans by the time Barto got into the room.
“I thought you’d be done by now. All of it. The shorts too.”
Finally, she had all of his clothes off. They were lying in a heap on the floor and Barto walked straight across them. Normally, he’d be embarrassed to see his room mate naked, but the situation wasn’t normal. Right now he felt more like Mikey’s doctor than just a friend.
“Make him lie down. Go on. Pull the covers up. There.”
Now that Mikey was covered up, Barto hurriedly added the blanket he’d brought.
“That’s enough. Too much isn’t necessarily better. Right. I’ll make some hot water. Tea would be best. Or maybe hot chocolate. Lots of sugar. Do we have cocoa? And sugar?”
“How should I know?”
Elisa hadn’t meant to snap at the person who was the closest thing they had to a doctor right now. But she was so tired of being treated as a sort housekeeper or maid.
“Ok. I’ll check. You know, it might be a good idea if you got into bed with him. Hold him. That should warm him up. You’re warm enough, aren’t you?”
“Yes, yes. Ok. Go. No offense, Barto, but shouldn’t we call a real doctor?”
Barto wasn’t hurt. He’d come to the conclusion that Elisa was way too emotionally involved in Mikey to be a mere room mate. Partners of patients were always tricky. They had to be treated with the same bedside manners as the real patient.
“I can do this. Elisa, this isn’t all that serious. He’ll be fine. We don’t need a real doctor. Besides, I’ll have my degree soon.”
He didn’t stop to listen to Elisa’s reaction. Besides, if she was getting undressed, she wouldn’t react favorably to his presence, doctor or not.
It turned out they had both cocoa, sugar and tea. Just in case Mikey should decide to object, Barto made both chocolate and tea, pouring enormous amounts of sugar into both drinks. Yuck. He’d never drink that stuff, but with Elisa’s help, he knew he’d be able to force it into Mikey.
Three tiresome hours later, Mikey was asleep, now warm to the touch, but not too hot either. Barto determined that he’d be just fine.
Elisa climbed out of bed, and tucked Mikey in. She was fully dressed. Barto didn’t know if he was disappointed or not. Elisa wasn’t Audrey, but a girl was a girl. Still, if she’d caught him ogling her wearing nothing but underwear, Barto knew he’d be looking for a place to stay tonight, no matter what he’d done for Mikey.
Surely she couldn’t read minds? Not even Elisa.
“Thanks. I was so worried about him.”
“Well, if he’d been on his own, he might have -”
No. That was probably more information than Elisa needed tonight. She’d only insist on calling an ambulance and there really was no need for all that. Barto knew his patient would recover. Nice work, if he could say so himself.
“Don’t worry about him. Let him sleep late tomorrow if he can. That’s all that’s needed. A big breakfast if he’ll take that. That’s it.”
“Ok. I’ll remember.”
Elisa disappeared into her own room. She was tired. Mikey was safe, and there was nothing she could do tonight anyway. Tomorrow – after she’d called in sick, she’d get to work on that Julie person. If she couldn’t shake the money out of her, she’d think of something. She had promised Mikey she’d fix it, and somehow she would, even if it meant buying two one way tickets to Rio for both of them.
In the morning, when she woke up, she ran straight into Mikey’s room. He was still asleep, but he’d kicked off the blanket. After making sure he was warm enough, Elisa went into the kitchen. Barto was long gone, but at least there were no dirty dishes in the sink.
Bearing Barto’s advice in mind, Elisa made pancakes for Mikey. Contenting herself with some orange juice, she poured syrup over the pile of pancakes and went to see if Mikey was awake.
To her relief, he was. He was looking as if he wasn’t quite sure how he’d ended up in his own room and in his own bed, but he looked pleased to see her and that was a start.
“Good morning. Are you hungry?”
“Yes. A bit. Are all those for me?”
“Yes. Doctor’s orders.”
“Well, Barto’s orders then. He said I should give you a big breakfast and you’d be as good as new.”
Mikey’s smile vanished as he began to recall last night.
Elisa wouldn’t take no for an answer and Mikey soon realized that. He made it through the first four pancakes without trouble, but the last one just seemed a bit much.
“You have it.”
“Mikey, I’m not -”
“But you made them.”
Well, he had a point. With no food in her stomach, how could she face the day? Oops. She’d overslept. It would be way too late to call in sick now. All she could do was hope that her boss would buy her story of working on the story from home. That would mean even more work later, but she couldn’t worry about that right now.
“Ok. Give me that.”
She hadn’t had pancakes for breakfast since she was a teenager. No. That wasn’t right. She had to have been eight or nine. How soon you began to worry about your weight. But after last night’s exertion, she didn’t think this one pancake would cause any major weight gain.
“Mikey. What’s Julie’s name?”
“Her last name?”
“Right. And where did she live? Where did you live with her?”
“Elisa. She ripped me off. If she’s missing now, it’s because she doesn’t want to be found.”
“And you think she’s better than me? I’ll find her. Somehow. And when I do, I’ll shake that money out of her. You just watch me. Nouveau grunge, indeed. Quaint.”
“What? Did she say that to you? Why didn’t you tell me?”
“Oh, Mikey. How could I? Would you have believed me?”
Would he? He wasn’t sure now. Julie had had some kind of hold on him. For a while, he had been about to lose himself. Nothing had mattered, except what she wanted.
“What kind of pills were you taking?”
“Just caffeine. I swear. Jill was upset about me not showing up for work. He was right. I didn’t pull my weight on the job. Julie -”
“I know it was her fault. So you took those pills to be able to continue working all night as well as all day?”
“Well, I had to do something. I didn’t want to let Jill down. But I did. He’ll never forgive me.”
“If he doesn’t, then to hell with him.”
Mikey stared at Elisa as if he’d never seen her before. She was furious with Jill. Not with him. No matter what he did, no matter how many stupid mistakes he made, she was there for him. How could he have forgotten about her? Julie was – Compared to Elisa, she was nothing.
“I’m sorry. Can you ever forgive me?”
“For the money?”
“No. I mean for falling for Julie.”
Elisa shook her head and smiled sadly. How could a guy fail to be taken in when someone like that got to work on him?
“Barto was drooling at the mere thought. David too. Any guy would have.”
“I shouldn’t have. Those guys don’t have you. I did. Jill’s right. I am an idiot.”
“If you are, then so is he and Barto and every other guy I know. Forget it.”
“How can I? But I swear I’ll never look at another girl again.”
“Don’t promise anything you can’t keep.”
But secretly she was pleased. There was no more risk that Mikey would betray her than that any guy in the world would. They were all the same. Mikey was the one she wanted and if he let her down again, she’d worry about that if and when it happened. For now, he belonged to her again. If she could help it, she’d never let him go.
“Tell me everything you know about Julie. Where she worked and so on. We’ll have to find her.”
“I gave her the money. Even if we find her, she hasn’t broken any law.”
“We’ll see about that.”
Elisa was hoping she’d be given a few moments alone with Julie. Then they’d see about quaint nouveau grunge and who looked the least sophisticated after they’d cleared the air.
In the end, Mikey told her everything she wanted to know. The information wasn’t enough to find Julie. She must have planned the whole thing from the start. Knowing Jill was already involved with someone and probably more suspicious than poor Mikey, she must have picked as her target the guy she felt was most likely to fall into her trap.
What Elisa eventually learned was that she’d been right about Julie’s profession. Whatever her education was, if she had one, she certainly wasn’t a stock broker or anything even close. Her real job had been as a secretary. That was more or less all Elisa could find out. There was no trace of the woman herself.
Elisa realized that she was beaten and decided to postpone her confrontation with Julie. For now at least. If she didn’t do anything right away, Jill and Mikey would lose the @-bar, and she knew Mikey would never get over that. In her desperation, she called the bank and asked for a loan.
To her astonishment, she found that her salary was enough to warrant a loan big enough to replace Mikey’s investment. It would take her ten years to pay off the loan, but at least the bar would be saved. Just in case, she decided not to tell Mikey about it. She wouldn’t let him stop her, but it would be so much easier if he didn’t know.
Now it was time she talked to Jill. She didn’t dare to leave Mikey alone, but fortunately he was watching tv in the other room, so she could call Jill.
“The @-bar. Jillefsky.”
“Don’t hang up, David. At least hear me out.”
“Elisa, I’m sorry about last night. I shouldn’t have taken it out on you. It wasn’t your fault.”
“No. But it wasn’t Mikey’s fault either. It was that Julie creature. Yes, the one you and Barto were so crazy about.”
“Julie? Are you saying she stole the money from Mikey somehow?”
“Never mind. Do you want to save the @-bar?”
“Of course I do. I can raise part of the money. They’ll give me a new loan. But that won’t be enough.”
“I know. Let me help you.”
“You? What are you talking about?”
“I’ll give you the rest of the money.”
“I’m taking out a loan.”
“Elisa, it’s very kind of you to want to help, but I can’t accept that.”
“Why not? If you don’t get the money, you’ll lose the @-bar. And you’ll never forgive Mikey.”
“How could he have been so stupid? I mean, I understand that he was crazy about Julie. But to let her have all that money was incredibly dumb even for Mikey.”
“David – I’m not discussing Mikey with you. You’ve heard my offer. Take it or leave it. If you take it, you’ll forgive Mikey. He’ll be miserable for the rest of his life if you don’t.”
“Yes or no? And before you decide, listen to this. Last night, Mikey tried to kill himself.”
Jill almost dropped the receiver. If that was true – Elisa didn’t lie. She never lied. Mikey had tried to kill himself, because his best friend had told him –
“Is he ok now?”
“Yes. He’s fine. Physically.”
Jill had to sit down. He’d been so furious with Mikey last night. But today, he knew that if he’d lost his friend over some money, he’d never have forgiven himself. Nothing was worth a friend’s life. Nothing. Not even their life’s work.
“I don’t know what to say. Do you think he’ll ever be able to forgive me?”
“He thinks you’ll never forgive him.”
“But I will. Can I talk to him? No, wait, I’ll come over.”
“What about the bar?”
“I’ll let Rose handle things. She’s terrific. And Andy’s here too. They’ll manage.”
“Ok. So how about it?”
“I don’t want to let you do that. You’ll be in debt for years.”
“Yes or no”
“Yes. I’ll accept your offer for now. When I have time, I’ll fix something else. I’ll pay you back, I swear.”
“Cut me in.”
“Just one thing -”
“Don’t tell Mikey about it. Say that you got the money from your mom or – I don’t know. Just tell him something.”
“Ok. Anything. I’ll be right there.”
Half an hour later, Jill was ringing the doorbell, impatiently. He had to see his friend, and make sure he was ok. Elisa never lied, but he’d feel a lot better if he’d seen Mikey with his own eyes.
Mikey opened the door. The pain in his eyes made Jill feel cold all over.
“Jill. Please listen to me. I’m really, really sorry. If you’ll hate me for the rest of my life, I’ll understand.”
“Forget about it. Are you ok?”
Now Mikey looked embarrassed. Of course Elisa would have told Jill about his – breakdown last night. He didn’t remember much of it, but he knew he’d been about to jump.
“Yes. I’m fine. Thanks to Elisa.”
Jill looked over Mikey’s shoulder and saw Elisa.
“Barto? What’s he got to do with it?”
“Mikey was suffering from hypothermia. He left his jacket at the bar, remember?”
Jill didn’t even want to know where Mikey had gotten so cold. Down by the river? In the park? There were tears in his eyes as he reached out and pulled Mikey into his arms. He held his friend for so long, Mikey began to squirm like a kid in his grandmother’s arms.
“Mikey, don’t ever do that again.”
No need to ask what ‘that’ was. He’d come so close to dying, he never wanted to face that again. At least Jill was upset about it, so maybe he still cared.
“Ok. Anyway, I couldn’t. Elisa -”
Jill almost smiled. Elisa and Mikey. How on earth had that happened? He could hardly imagine two people less suited for each other. But obviously he was wrong.
“So do you forgive me?”
“Of course I forgive you. It will work out somehow. Don’t worry about it, Mikey. Take a week or two off and get some rest. When you get back, I’ll have worked something out.”
“Are you sure?”
“Positive. Let Elisa take care of you. And Barto.”
Jill couldn’t help laughing at his other friend acting like a real doctor. But maybe it wasn’t such a joke. Soon Barto would be a real doctor. And maybe he’d helped save Mikey’s life. He’d have to remember to thank Barto for that.
“I guess – And you really, really forgive me?”
“Yes, Mikey. I do. Honestly. It’s ok. I’ll manage. We’ll manage. Go on. Get some more rest. I’d better get back. See you later, pal.”
Mikey couldn’t figure out exactly how Jill was going to fix things, but he knew his friend was much better at stuff like that. If Jill said he’d do it, he would, just like Elisa. He was so lucky. How on earth could a girl like Elisa love an idiot like him? But he wouldn’t question his luck.
Jill liked him again and Elisa loved him. That was far more than he deserved. If someone like Julie showed up again, he’d look the other way. He’d learned his lesson now. Now that he’d been given a second chance, he wouldn’t screw up again. He couldn’t let Elisa down. Or Jill.
“You see. I told you it would work out.”
“Yes. You did. I love you, Elisa.”
“I love you too, Mikey.”