DO YOU SEE THAT UNSHOWERED, unshaven heap on the couch? The guy in the dirty gray T-shirt and ripped sweatpants?
That’s me, Drew Evans.
I’m not usually like this. I mean, that really isn’t me.
In real life, I’m well-groomed, my chin is clean-shaven, and my black hair is slicked back at the sides in a way I’ve been told makes me look dangerous but professional. My suits are handmade. I wear shoes that cost more than your rent.
My apartment? Yeah, the one I’m in right now. The shades are drawn, and the furniture glows with a bluish hue from the television. The tables and floor are littered with beer bottles, pizza boxes, and empty ice cream tubs.
That’s not my real apartment. The one I usually live in is spotless; I have a girl come by twice a week. And it has every modern convenience, every big-boy toy you can think of: surround sound, satellite speakers, and a big-screen plasma that would make any man fall on his knees and beg for more. The decor is modern—lots of black and stainless steel—and anyone who enters knows a man lives there.
So, like I said—what you’re seeing right now isn’t the real me. I have the flu.
Have you ever noticed some of the worst sicknesses in history have a lyrical sound to them? Words like malaria, diarrhea, cholera. Do you think they do that on purpose? To make it a nice way to say you feel like something that dropped out of your dog’s ass?
Influenza. Has a nice ring to it, if you say it enough.
At least I’m pretty sure that’s what I have. That’s why I’ve been holed up in my apartment the last seven days. That’s why I turned my phone off, why I’ve gotten off the couch only to use the bathroom or to bring in the food I order from the delivery guy.
How long does the flu last anyway? Ten days? A month? Mine started a week ago. My alarm went off at five a.m., like always. But instead of rising from the bed to go to the office where I’m a star, I threw the clock across the room, smashing it to kingdom come.
It was annoying anyway. Stupid clock. Stupid beep-beep-beeping.
I rolled over and went back to sleep. When I did eventually drag my ass out of bed, I felt weak and nauseous. My chest ached; my head hurt. See—the flu, right? I couldn’t sleep any more, so I planted myself here, on my trusty couch. It was so comfortable I decided to stay right here. All week. Watching Will Ferrell’s greatest hits on the plasma.
Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy’s on right now. I’ve watched it three times today, but I haven’t laughed yet. Not once. Maybe the fourth time’s the charm, huh?
Now there’s a pounding at my door.
Frigging doorman. What the hell is he here for? He’s going to be sorry when he gets my Christmas tip this year, you can bet your ass.
I ignore the pounding, though it comes again.
“Drew! Drew, I know you’re in there! Open the goddamn door!”
It’s The Bitch. Otherwise known as my sister, Alexandra.
When I say the word bitch I mean it in the most affectionate way possible, I swear. But it’s what she is. Demanding, opinionated, relentless. I’m going to kill my doorman.
“If you don’t open this door, Drew, I’m calling the police to break it down, I swear to God!”
See what I mean?
I grasp the pillow that’s been resting on my lap since the flu started. I push my face into it and inhale deeply. It smells like vanilla and lavender. Crisp and clean and addictive.
“Drew! Do you hear me?”
I pull the pillow over my head. Not because it smells like…her…but to block out the pounding that continues at my door.
“I’m taking out my phone! I’m dialing!” Alexandra’s voice is whiny with warning, and I know she’s not screwing around.
I sigh deeply and force myself to get up from the couch. The walk to the door takes time; each step of my stiff, aching legs is an effort.
I open the door and brace myself for the wrath of The Bitch. She’s holding the latest iPhone up to her ear with one perfectly manicured hand. Her blond hair is pulled back in a simple but elegant knot, and a dark green purse hangs from her shoulder, the same shade as her skirt—Lexi’s all about the matching.
Behind her, looking appropriately contrite in a wrinkled navy suit, is my best friend and coworker, Matthew Fisher.
I forgive you, Doorman. It’s Matthew who must die.
“Jesus Christ!” Alexandra yells in horror. “What the hell happened to you?”
I told you this isn’t the real me.
I don’t answer her. I don’t have the energy. I just leave the door open and fall face first onto my couch. It’s soft and warm, but firm.
I love you, couch—have I ever told you that? Well, I’m telling you now.
Though my eyes are buried in the pillow, I sense Alexandra and Matthew walking slowly into the apartment. I imagine the shock on their faces at its condition. I peek out from my cocoon and see that my mind’s eye was spot on.
“Drew?” I hear her ask, but this time there’s concern woven throughout the one short syllable.
Then she’s pissed again. “For God’s sake, Matthew, why didn’t you call me sooner? How could you let this happen?”
“I haven’t seen him, Lex!” Matthew says quickly. See—he’s afraid of The Bitch too. “I came every day. He wouldn’t open the door for me.”
I sense the couch dip as she sits beside me. “Drew?” she says softly. I feel her hand run gently through the back of my hair. “Honey?”
Her voice is so achingly worried, she reminds me of my mother. When I was a boy and sick at home, Mom would come in my room with hot chocolate and soup on a tray. She would kiss my forehead to see if it still burned with fever. She always made me feel better. The memory and Alexandra’s similar actions bring moisture to my closed eyes.
Am I a mess or what?
“I’m fine, Alexandra.” I tell her, though I’m not sure if she hears me. My voice is lost in the sweet-scented pillow. “I have the flu.”
I hear the opening of a pizza box and a groan as the stench of rotting cheese and sausage drifts from the container. “Not exactly the diet of someone with the flu, Little Brother.”
I hear further shuffling of beer bottles and garbage, and I know she’s starting to straighten the mess up. I’m not the only neat freak in my family.
“Oh, that’s just wrong!” She inhales sharply, and, judging by the stink that joins the putrid pizza aroma, I’m thinking she just opened a three-day-old ice cream container that wasn’t as empty as I’d thought.
“Drew.” She shakes my shoulders gently. I give in and sit up, rubbing the exhaustion from my eyes as I do. “Talk to me,” she begs. “What’s going on? What happened?”
As I look at the troubled expression of my big bitch of a sister, I’m thrown twenty-two years back in time. I’m six years old and my hamster, Mr. Wuzzles, has just died. And just like that day, the painful truth is ripped from my lungs.
“It finally happened.”
“What you’ve been wishing on me all these years,” I whisper. “I fell in love.”
I look up to see the smile form. It’s what she’s always wanted for me. She’s been married to Steven forever, has been in love with him for even longer. So she’s never agreed with the way I live my life and can’t wait for me to settle down. To find someone to take care of me, the way she takes care of Steven. The way our mother still takes care of our dad.
But I told her it would never happen—it wasn’t what I wanted. Why bring a book to the library? Why bring sand to the beach? Why buy the cow when you get the milk for free?
Are you starting to see the picture here?
So, I see her beginning to smile when, in a small voice that I don’t even recognize, I say, “She’s marrying someone else. She didn’t…she didn’t want me, Lex.”
Sympathy spreads across my sister’s face, like jam on bread. And then determination. Because Alexandra is a fixer. She can unclog drains, patch dented walls, and remove stains from any rug. I already know what’s going through her head at this moment: if her baby brother is busted, she’ll just put him right back together again.
I wish it were that easy. But I don’t think all the Krazy Glue in the world is going to piece my heart back together again.
Did I mention I’m a bit of a poet too?
“Okay. We can fix this, Drew.”
Do I know my sister or what?
“You go take a long, hot shower. I’ll clean up this disaster. Then, we’re going out. The three of us.”
“I can’t go out.” Hasn’t she been listening? “I have the flu.”
She smiles compassionately. “You need a good, hot meal. You need a shower. You’ll feel better then.”
Maybe she’s right. God knows what I’ve been doing for the last seven days hasn’t made me feel any better. I shrug and get up to do as she says. Like a four-year-old with his wooby, I bring my prized pillow with me.
On my way to the bathroom, I can’t help but think of how it all happened. I had a good life once. A perfect life. And then it all got shot to shit.
Oh—you want to know how? You want to hear my sob story? Okay, then. It all started a few months ago, on a normal Saturday night.
Well, normal for me anyway.
Four months earlier
“Fuck, yeah. That’s good. Yeah, like that.”
See that guy—black suit, devilishly handsome? Yeah, the guy getting the bl*w j*b from the luscious redhead in the bathroom stall? That’s me. The real me. MBF: Me Before Flu.
“Jesus, baby, I’m gonna come.”
Let’s freeze-frame here for a second.
For those ladies out there who are listening, let me give you some free advice: If a guy who you just met at a club calls you baby, sweetheart, angel, or any other generic endearment? Don’t make the mistake of thinking he’s so into you, he’s already thinking up pet names.
It’s because he can’t or doesn’t care to remember your actual name.
And no girl wants to be called by the wrong name when she’s on her knees giving you head in the men’s room. So, just to be safe, I went with baby.
Her real name? Does it matter?
“Fuck, baby, I’m coming.”
She removes her mouth with a pop and catches like a major leaguer as I jizz in her hand. Afterward, I move to the sink to clean up and zip up. Redhead looks at me with a smile as she rinses with a travel-sized bottle of mouthwash from her bag.
“How about a drink?” she asks, in what I’m sure she thinks is a sultry voice.
But here’s a fact for you—once I’m done, I’m done. I’m not the kind of guy who rides the same rollercoaster twice. Once is enough, and then the thrill is gone and so is the interest.
But, my mother did raise me to be a gentleman. “Sure, sweetheart. You go find a table, I’ll get us something from the bar.” Redhead put in quite an effort sucking me off, after all. She’s earned herself a drink.