conspicuous by phoenix.writing

11 Apr

“Hey, Angel, question for you.”  Jo attempted to sound casual and thought that she nearly managed to pull it off.  Since Angel was reading the most recent edition of Watercolor Artist, she wasn’t paying that much attention to Jo anyway.

“What’s up?”  She didn’t even look up from her magazine.

“If a guy starts taking a while to return your calls, ducks out on your dates early, or calls to cancel with really flimsy excuses, those’re all indications that he wants out, right?”

“Yup.”  She didn’t even think about it.

Jo suppressed a sigh.  “Yeah, that’s what I thought.”

The magazine shut with a slither of pages, and Jo found herself suddenly pinned with piercing stare.

“Hold on, are you talking about Chris?”

Jo considered dissembling, but Angel just wasn’t that stupid.  She offered a short nod.

“Then you guys are right about all that sci-fi stuff.”

Jo blinked at the non-sequitur.

Angel’s expression had hardened.  “Because he has been kidnapped by aliens and replaced with a crappy copy.  There’s no way that Chris wants out.  He’s totally crazy about you.”

“Not anymore, apparently.”

“This bears further investigation.”

“But you just agreed—”

Angel waved this aside.  “Totally different when it’s Chris.  You’ll have to explain it all to me.”

For a moment, it looked as though she was going to demand that Jo lay it all out in the middle of their shift, but then she added, “Come over after work.”

“We’re going to a movie.” Jo sighed again, just a little.  “I’ll call when he cancels.”

<><>

They actually made it halfway through the movie before he took the call that had him apologizing, muttering about an emergency, and leaving.  He'd insisted that she stay to watch the rest of it, but after not taking a single word in for about five minutes, Jo headed to Angelica's and found herself explaining how five really awesome months had led to the last three weeks of what could only be described as ridiculousness, like moments out of a bad film.

But she'd been really happy, and now she was kind of miserable, and it was hard to keep everything in the proper perspective.

Angel considered it all with a much more serious expression on her face than Jo was used to seeing.

"Have you checked his apartment for needles?"

"Angel!" Jo exclaimed, but she couldn't help but laugh a little, and Angel smiled at her.

"Sorry, but it seems pretty clear that something mind-altering is involved.  Maybe he has a thing about six-month anniversaries?"

"Maybe he's just not interested anymore."

"Secret agent who's been pulled in for an important mission?"

"Or bored," Jo pointed out, trying to cling to reality.

"It just makes no sense," Angel declared definitively.  "There's something weird going on."

"But he says everything's fine."

"Yet another indication that something weird is going on."  Angelica sounded triumphant.  "Don't worry, I'll get to the bottom of it."

"No," Jo protested immediately.  "No, you're not to do anything, Angel."  The other woman opened her mouth, and Jo continued, "It's my relationship.  I'll get it sorted myself."

She still looked rather mutinous, so Jo added, "Please."

Angelica let out a huff of breath, but nodded, finally, and Jo dropped the matter with relief.

<><><>

She actually believed that Angel had let it go right up to the point a week later where the woman passed her a folded slip of paper.  Opening it, she found an address written on it.

"What's this?"

"It's where he goes when he leaves you."

Jo's fingers tightened around the paper, crushing it.  "Angel, you said you wouldn't interfere."

"Who was interfering?"  The voice was carefully nonchalant.  "It's a free country.  If I happened to be walking in that direction and he happened to be walking in that direction, it's a coincidence."

"Except for how it isn’t,” Jo pointed out sourly.

She tried to give the paper back to Angel, but the other woman wouldn’t take it.

“I didn’t hang around,” Angel pointed out.  “Ball’s in your court, Jo, but you want options.  There they are.”

There was really no point in getting upset with Angel; she had done what she thought was right, had actually refrained from confronting Chris, which was a minor miracle, and she had left it up to Jo.  There was no need for Jo to do anything about it.

<><><>

Jo lasted another week.  But Chris was still his new super-flaky self.  He still refused to acknowledge that anything was wrong, and that damn piece of paper that Jo couldn't quite bring herself to throw out was burning a hole in her pocket.

Which had led to her staking out the damn building where Angel had seen Chris go.  It was a residential area with rows of small apartment buildings, and it was easy for Jo to tuck herself into the corner of one of the sets of stairs leading down to the lower level across the street.

She thought she looked ridiculously obvious, but no one else seemed to notice; perhaps people did this all the time.

Jo spent a lot of time telling herself that she was an idiot and she was going to feel horribly guilty when it turned out that Chris's grandmother was sick or something.  He didn't have to tell her everything, after all, was entitled to his privacy. She’d be annoyed, wouldn’t she, if she found out that he was following her, that he didn’t trust her?

But she wasn’t the one who had basically absented herself from their relationship but kept insisting everything was goddamn fine.  It wasn’t fine, and even if he’d just told her that he was having a personal thing and needed a bit of space, she would have taken that.

It wasn’t like she expected him to spend every minute of his time with her.  She fully accepted that he had other friends and other calls on his time.  But they’d gone from spending half their time together, from ridiculous Stargate marathons and in-depth discussions of Star Trek plot holes to barely managing dinner once in a while, and he wouldn’t even admit that anything had changed.

And now she was standing here on the side of the street doing a good imitation of a stalker.

It grew later, and Jo started to think that maybe he wasn’t here.  He’d blown her off again, but he could be anywhere, he could—

He could be walking down the sidewalk with someone who was easily one of the most beautiful women Jo had ever seen.

Not his grandmother, then.  Their arms were linked together, and it was clear that they were close, but Jo chastised herself for her first suspicious thought.  What, he wasn’t allowed to have female friends?  Or no beautiful female friends?  She knew she wouldn’t have felt as suspicious had the woman been less pretty, and that was really quite ridiculous; obviously, pretty people had friends they weren’t having sex with, and Jo was being ridiculous and paranoid, and—

And they had stopped outside the building opposite Jo, and all her hopes and excuses and guilt had evaporated.  Because there was really only one type of person that you kissed like that, and up until about five seconds ago, Jo had thought that she was the only one currently in that category for Chris.

But the beautiful blonde had tugged him closer and kissed him, and Chris had wrapped his arms around her and kissed her back.  And while it was, admittedly, a little difficult to tell from across the street, Jo was pretty sure that he was exhibiting at least as much enthusiasm as he ever had with her.

She really didn’t want to keep watching this, but was worried that if she moved, he might notice—perhaps just almost wishful thinking on her part given how absorbed he appeared to be in the woman in his arms.

The blonde drew back, said something that Jo couldn’t hear, but the invitation was plain, and Chris followed her inside without a backward glance.

Jo was left standing on the sidewalk breathing in great lungfuls of air and feeling like the world’s most classic fool.  Jo’d come to her own conclusions and hadn’t wanted to believe them, but she had gone to Angel because she had known that the woman was going to confirm her suspicions, was going to tell her that she was on the short street to Dumpedville.

Only Angelica had tried to talk them out of that explanation, and Jo had somehow almost let her, had told herself that she didn’t believe any of those ridiculous excuses, only it seemed that she had, or at least that she had really wanted to.

There wasn’t any mystery.  It was all quite classic, all quite ordinary.

All quite enough to make Jo feel as though she’d been punched in the gut.  Something she couldn’t unsee, and consoling herself that it was better that she knew the truth somehow didn’t make her feel a lot better right now.

She was going to have to think of something clever to say to Angel or the woman was probably going to try to commit murder on her behalf.

Of course, she now had a good excuse to never ever let Angel set her up again.  Somehow, that didn’t make her feel better right now, either.

She would go home.  She would tell herself that crying over someone who was clearly such a waste of her time was stupid, and then she’d maybe cry a little anyway.  She would tell herself that this was life and this sort of thing happened.  It sucked, and then you moved on.

Maybe, eventually, she would believe it.

With a deep breath, Jo walked away.

<><><>

Link to The Dangers of a Red Shirt.

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7 Responses to “conspicuous by phoenix.writing”

  1. juleshg April 11, 2010 at 9:33 pm #

    I am left sitting here, desperately hoping that Chris has a twin

  2. jmforceton April 11, 2010 at 10:06 pm #

    Again a great read from scene to scene. Jo’s now available, Chris is a player and a creep, and why hasn’t Angela done something personal about it.

  3. Parenthesized April 13, 2010 at 3:48 am #

    Oh, poor, poor Jo. I found your description of her stalkerish tendencies hilarious.

  4. ingridfnl April 13, 2010 at 10:14 am #

    Great writing. I really enjoyed this and was really pulled along from scene to scene… Like Jules I keep hoping for the twin option too.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

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    […] members of Brian's family can be seen (or heard) in: The Dangers of a Red Shirt, Conspicuous,  Consequences,  Falling-Out, The Uses of Math, and Subliminal […]

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