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Standing Together, Somehow

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Originally, Randall had thought he’d just been invited in to help his neighbor and hopefully-best-friend Mya set up some wobbly folding tables and snack things for her coworkers.  They were coming over that night for a going away party - something small and full of complicated board games, it looked like - for a guy Randall had never met.  Mya’d come stumbling up the stairs of their apartment complex with bags strung on her arms like painful, wavery plastic bangles.  They were hanging heavy with all sorts of stuff - soda and frozen pizzas, chips and pretzels and a bunch of air freshener sprays to help with what she called the “Apartment’s Natural Ooze.”  You know.

Throwing the party had been Mya’s idea... Ah, Randall wasn’t surprised to hear that.  She worried a little about everyone around her, Mya.  She’d looked indignant, telling him about how this particular coworker hadn’t even expected them to scrounge up a Hallmark card to wish him well as he moved away.

Randall didn’t mind helping carry borrowed tables, and he didn’t mind keeping Sausage the cat from trying to bat and chase the paper napkins around.  Honestly, he was sort of relieved when Mya had asked if she could borrow a little of his time.  Relieved to be involved, relieved to be wanted, though he wasn’t completely sure he was keen on going to the actual party.  He had brushed his teeth that morning, and his sweater was newish and still mostly smelled like laundry soap... But even so.  It wasn’t like he would know anybody there but Mya and sort of that Stuart person...  Maybe it would make her feel awkward trying to stir her friend groups together.  It still felt warm and funny thinking about being one of somebody’s Friend Groups, but Mya had called Randall her friend so many times, now.  He was beginning to trust she wouldn’t change her mind.

Mya beamed when Randall reached out for her keys, offering to open the door with a vague half-smile.  She was holding so much stuff, so...   It just made sense.

“You’re a lifesaver!” Mya said, anyway, and Randall felt far away for a second.  Part of him wondered - just a little, humming under the surface like a creature gliding oil-slick through dark, cold water - what his aunt and uncle would have thought hearing someone talk about him like that.  Mya’s warmth, in that shambling, dirty place.

It didn’t feel like the sort of world his aunt and uncle could’ve possibly believed in, did it?  Mya’s apartment smelled like sugar cookie candles, and even though a grimy grey rain was falling outside Randall only shivered a little bit.  Mya shook her bags out in the hallway so she didn’t track a ton of water inside, and she slipped her wet boots off at the door. Her socks had little red strawberries on them, that day.

Randall knew where his aunt and uncle were, now, though why they were there...  Ah.  He’d read newspaper articles, and looked over awful hospital records with his new doctors. The knowing didn’t feel real.  It felt like falling and falling; it felt like a dark basement labyrinth unfolding in his mind, full or memories he didn’t want to reach for.  Blood stringy and dripping between his fingers.  The smell of cigarette smoke in his hair.  Unreal. Impossible.

Randall and Mya had gone to see his aunt and uncle’s graves, though they hadn’t brought flowers or pretty words or anything.  They’d gone as the sun was setting, just before the cemetery gates swung closed.  Didn’t want to run into too many people.  There had been dizzy flies in the air and stone angels with hollow smiles and cracked hands.  The grass had been very green and plastic-y, crunching under Randall’s feet like a dull murmuring voice he couldn’t quite make out.  Mya was willing to stand next to him in front of those tombstones even though she’d read all the same newspaper articles as he had, though. That counted for something.

That counted for so much.

Mya had been living in Randall’s apartment building for months and months, by that point, and she still went with him to pick up his prescriptions now and then, after the first time that pharmacy had been closed when it wasn’t supposed to be.  He’d told her as much after failing to get his meds, and she’d shrugged, said, “We’ll just have to figure this out some other way, then, I guess.  Take a bus to your doctor’s house, right?  ... I’m kidding. Probably.  Come on.”

Mya had swatted flies away from her face, shifting her weight from foot to foot on the brittle cemetery grass.  She hadn’t known what to say in front of graves like that - in front of knowing like that - but Randall wouldn’t have expected her to say anything at all.

In the present... In what had to be the present, no matter how time dripped strangely and seemed to fall away through Randall’s fingers sometimes... Mya grabbed a plastic cup out of the pack she’d just bought and scribbled Randall’s name on it.  She asked what he wanted to drink, and whether she should mix up a medication-friendly version of one of the literary cocktails some of her bookstore coworkers were into.  They followed Mya’s sister Amy’s dip recipe together, then, and Randall imagined the cup with his name on it sitting next to a bunch of other plastic cups, at a party.  With friends, and cocktails based off books he’d never read, and Mya who had chosen to bring him.

Mya said Randall was welcome at whatever party she threw - whenever, it was fine, just come on in!  Obviously! - but that she might also like to try some of the games she’d dragged out from storage with just him, either before the party or after everybody left.  She didn’t have a ton of people in her life to play those things with regularly, anymore.  Would be nice.

They spread out one of Mya’s games over the floor before they’d even finished setting up all the tables, honestly.  Just a quick game, Mya said, and then she’d be back to work.  The scheming, playful look in her eye reminded Randall of how she’d staked out their unfairly handsome neighbor Tom’s apartment way back when.  A new kind of familiar, and one that might’ve felt as impossible as his cup surrounded by other cups at a party, once.  The rules to the game were complicated and Mya explained them pretty quickly, but Randall figured he’d just try his best and see what happened next.