Chapter 5 by Matt Fudge
His phone, still sticky, buzzed. The sides were marked with the faint, crusting smears of chocolate, one of the few vices he had left. Rob groped around for the phone, knocking an ashtray half-off the coffee table so that it teetered over the edge. He wouldn't notice until later when he would knock it off completely. He picked up the phone, scrolling his notifications, (such as they were) with a sort of determined detachment. MyFitt wanted him to "FIND HIS FIT TODAY!" His grandma had called - well, good for her, she was figuring out the new phone. Jules (Or was it Julia? Julianna?) had snapped him; ahh, he hardly knew her anyways, and if he wasn't gonna get laid, she wasn't worth the effort. And... Nothing from Nadia.
He thought back, to a few days before quarantine started. It felt like thinking way back, like thinking back into middle school or the summer of '15. A few weeks ago, he'd been riding high -- figuratively and literally. Nadia. That girl... she was one of those, and he knew it. He shook his head and laughed at himself, disparagingly, and thought back to '15 after all. He'd never change, not in five years, not in a hundred. She wasn't the first of those girls, and God knows, she wouldn't be the last, but she was one of them. One of the ones that hit like a light post at 120 kph: which is to say, he wrapped his head around them. Couldn't let go of them. He laughed again and tried - and failed - to roll off the couch. But he'd been making advances. The wheels had been turning, the engine had been running, the river had been flowing. In the first two and a half years of their acquaintance, he'd been an extra, he felt, in the grand epic that was the life of Nadia, the one, the only. But now? Well okay, he'd been playing a supporting lead at very least. That had been weeks ago. Worse, he'd gotten off on a heavy load to celebrate -- he'd been so high, he'd thought Adi had been kicking around in his apartment, how loaded was that? - a heavy load that had made itself known, fivefold, when the lockdown hit for real. After that, he'd have killed for any kind of score. Hell, even the cough syrup he'd picked up with his groceries (if you could indeed call them "groceries") had seemed like a wild ride the night before. A sort of schoolyard high, but it hadn't even worn off yet, and he was a little slow-moving this morning, to say the least. Maybe that's why he didn't feel it - the beginning of something, something he was gonna be afraid of. Not yet, no. But soon. Was it morning? He lost track of the hours wondering about Nadia. Had he said something wrong? Probably. Maybe she was dead. That cracked him up all over again. More likely that Adi guy had called her off it; heard them on the phone or something and talked her out of it. Yeah, it happened. That bio guy, what a type. He could make a hell of a lasagna though, that was true. Rob got up. Easier said than done, with the last of the 150-odd milligrams still swimming around in his veins, but he did it. Maybe he'd get himself an omelet. Yeah, chop up some greens, pour some milk, turn this thing around. Do some push-ups. Read a book. Man, today was full of laughs. She'd been on the call the other day, that much was true. For once, he'd been glad he was so sober; he was used to hanging out with those guys on his own terms when he was expecting it. They were good company, those three, even before he'd staked out Nadia as his kind of girl. That sounded so predatory, goddamn. He wasn't that bad-- even before he'd noticed Nadia as something more than a friend. But he never really had them over. He'd always have to stow all the ashtrays, like a damn flight attendant. Half the time he felt as if he was wearing one of their little collars too. They were adults, but somehow, it wouldn't feel right sitting around and burning some hay with them. If they didn't report him or something.
He got another chocolate bar and sat down again, this time, in his armchair. "Indubitably," he muttered, feeling like his old man. The phone went off again. An email. An email? It was anonymous, carrying all that air of vague professionalism that emails implied to him. Had he applied for a job he forgot? This was a new email, he doubted he'd have too many fliers coming in yet. As it turned out, it wasn't a flier, nor an add. Well, he thought it was, but he didn't have a choice to buy, not really. Quite the opposite. He'd been bought, in a sense. Bought, and he didn't even know it. Did he? was there a new heaviness in his already leaden arms? Were his eyes just a bit drier? Did he slump down, even just a bit further? Maybe. Maybe he did. But he thought it was just an add. "We want YOU! Support your nation! Beta tests running now -- sign up to earn a moderate paycheck and do your part against the virus!" It was blocked, in bold, over a stock image of a smiling doctor. This was the kind of thing Adi would be running, that he was sure of it. Should he sign up? Ah, what the hell, cash was cash. Maybe he would. For now, he figured he'd finally work up the courage to call her... Had he said something wrong? Tara could tell him. Yeah, he'd call her first. Okay. Okay. Call one, get the other. Call one, call the next, tell her all about it... and in a week or two, it's you and Nadia, right here in this chair, how about that? Indubitably, yeah, that could work. He dialed her up, and wondered if he ever would change. Nah. It may as well be '15.