“That’s way beyond me,” Steve said to Adam, staring at his friend from across the dinner table. “And you should know better than to ask for it.”
There is a certain futility to expecting change. Adam had a lot of futility, tonight, it seemed.
“Well I know, but what else am I supposed to do?” he said.
“Finish your fucking assignment, that’s what!” Steve said, passively. He picked up his fork and drove it into the steak in front of him, piercing the flesh solidly.
Here, catch up: Adam didn’t finish the term paper for the joint course on chronic drug abuse. Steve did. They may have been friends for years, but Steve has always been uber-protective over what he considers his. Especially when it comes to school. Adam, the easier going of the two friends, hasn’t always been the most studious of students. This situation has played out many times before. This is simply the latest in a series of confrontational dinners the two friends have had. And it’s the beginning of the end of the friendship, in all reality. The two just don’t know it yet.
“I tried, but I just can’t! I’m exhausted,” Adam retorted. He noticed how hard that fork struck the meat. He knew that was like digging into the sand.
“Bullshit. You haven’t tried at all. I saw you playing Halo for hours last night. You sat on your ass while I fucking slaved to get done. And you know what I’m going to do tonight? Fuck all! That’s what! Because I’m finished!” Steve answered.
Adam didn’t have more to say. He’d tried this line of reasoning many times before. It was true. At Halo, he was an excellent player. Efficient, clean, direct. Academics, not so much. Borrowing from others, as in Halo, Adam excelled. Just that Steve wasn’t that other.
Adam cleared his plate into the sink. He didn’t bother rinsing it off. He stormed down the hall and slammed the door to his room. Steve opened his mouth to yell, but stopped himself. This tension had built for weeks. It wasn’t the assignment, Steve thought, it was something else about their friendship that was culminating in this current strain.
Steve shrugged to himself and let out a loud sigh, hoping Adam would hear it through his shut door. He finished his meal slowly, pausing and resting his fork after every bite to chew an appropriately high number of times. He put his plate in the sink above Adam’s, careful not to have them hit together, and ran some luke warm water from the faucet over them. Shutting off the light in the kitchen, he went to the den of their shared apartment and turned on the TV with the remote left on their ragged but comfortable couch. An infomercial for some new exercise routine was playing. Steve flipped through the channels, the noise of random car crashes, dialog or shitty background music filling the otherwise empty air in the apartment. Finally, he settled on a rerun of some old movie. It might have been half over; Steve didn’t really mind. He wasn’t paying attention to it anyway.
Adam looked down at his desk. Scattered amongst a few plates covered with crumbs, ketchup and pizza crusts, papers stained with the rings of coffee mugs looked up at him with disgust. Adam hadn’t finished an assignment on time for most of his college years. Tonight would be the same. The subject matter at least interested him, but it wasn’t his conviction to hunker down and tear through the writing that was needed.
Adam looked at the laptop. Three instant messages sat unanswered. Two were from girls from school he was busy flirting with, the third his younger brother. He clicked through the first one: “What u up 2 tonite?” He closed the message box. The next: “Are you finished this assignment for psych?” This was from Samantha. “No,” he typed back. “Any ideas?” He waited a moment, but there was no reply. Must have gone offline. The final one, from his brother: “I whooped your ass last night,” referring to their Halo match. Adam closed that box as well. Underneath the instant messaging program lay open his word processor. Four short paragraphs sat on the screen, unedited quotes lifted directly from the readings scattered across the desk and the floor of his small bedroom. This was going to take some serious work.
Adam looked away from the screen and to his window. He could see his reflection, a tired and pained face, a man with too little sleep, a worried soul. Why do I always have to fuck this up? He thought.
Steve’s anger had dissipated a little, but the movie didn’t hold his interest. He stared at the screen, trying to grasp what was going on. The characters were so rigid and stiff, he thought. There is no real emotional connection between them. Why does anyone think these movies are any good? He thought. He was trying desperately hard to focus on his evening. His assignment complete for a full day, Steve actually had the night to relax. But one of his greatest obstacles was that he didn’t really have anything to do right now. Usually it was Adam who would entertain him on a night like this, taking him to a pub, or a party, or challenging him to a video game or something. Why does he fucking always have to be behind on his schoolwork!?
Adam looked back at the screen and exhaled. He raised his fingers to the keyboard and typed. “Chronic drug abuse has been a problem for all of human history.” He wrote. “Since the first time man discovered hallucinogens, he has also found what it means to be addicted.” There. a start. two sentences. Shit. This paper is not going to write itself, he thought. Adam turned around in his desk chair and got up. He walked over to the stereo on the shelf near his bed and turned it on. A hard rock radio station played loudly. He pressed a button and it switched to a CD. Some new soft rock band Steve had lent him. Not exactly his cup of tea, but good background music. He turned it down so it was audible but not disturbing. He looked around. The bed, unmade, really needed to be washed. There were clothes scattered across the floor, CD cases strewn around the shelf in no particular order, and a poster coming unhinged from the wall from its top corner. This place is a mess, he thought. Adam picked up a couple of the CDs and stacked them next to some old textbooks on the shelf, and threw back the cover of the bed to give it a slightly better appearance. He picked up a couple socks and pieces of underwear, a sweater and two t-shirts and threw them in the corner of his room next to the closet. A porno, half exposed now under his bed from where a t-shirt lay, looked out at him. Adam picked it off the floor and stuffed it behind his bed. No need for distractions tonight. Must write this fucking paper.
Steve’s eyes glazed over as the movie took a predictable turn and the credits went running. This night sucked. His best friend was pissed off at him, he had nothing to do, and he felt really lonely. Sitting there on the couch, Steve’s face sank. He didn’t feel good. He wanted to at least understand what was going on here. He didn’t mean to piss off Adam, but goddamnit, why did he have to procrastinate his school work so much? It’s his fault we can’t do anything together tonight. If he’d stop being so lazy about school, the two of them could be doing something besides sulking in separate rooms. Steve didn’t really care all that much about this particular assignment. Maybe I should just go and help him. No, I can’t. He’s got to write it on his own. It’s the only way he’ll ever learn.
It was a hard thought for Steve to appreciate. Even if he knew it was right, he didn’t want to believe it. He wanted to help Adam change. He wanted to show him how, if he just managed his time a little better, he could be more free to do the things he really wanted to do. Adam just needed to be reigned in a little. That’s all. He just needs a bit more self-discipline.
Adam sat down at the desk again. The cursor blinked back and forth after his two sentences. He started to type. “So, if abuse of drugs has been a character trait of man for all of time, why do we not have better ways of treating chronic users?” Three sentences. In the month leading up to tomorrow’s deadline, Adam had crafted three shitty, pathetic sentences. He knew Steve could help him focus his thoughts. He just didn’t want to go there again. He had asked for help so many countless times before that he felt he had pushed Steve perhaps one too many times. It wasn’t like tonight’s reaction was the first time he had been yelled at. But he also knew that perhaps Steve was growing tired of always bailing him out with school.
Mind you, Adam thought, I’ve always been there to bail him out of his own shit. Steve was a total introvert, and Adam was always more than happy to push him just a little to get out there and have a good time. That is how their friendship had remained balanced; one pushing the other, each in his own way, to make the small changes necessary to do a bit better in life. Not that either had succeeded greatly. Adam still took forever to finish his homework; Steve still sat around aimlessly without really socializing too much outside of Adam’s group of friends. And even then, he was only doing that when Adam brought them by or invited Steve out with him. Adam sighed. The screen hadn’t filled itself with any more writing.
Steve got up from the couch and went back to the kitchen, after a half an hour or so had passed. He took the kettle off the stove and filled it with water from the tap, turned on the element and waited for it to boil. In the meantime, he found a box of tea from the cupboard and picked out something with a green label. He thought he heard a stirring, so he turned around. Adam was standing in the door of the kitchen.
“What’s up?” Steve said, a bit startled. Adam just stared at him, deep into his eyes. “What, what are you looking at?” Adam didn’t reply. He waited a moment, in total hesitation. Then, he moved quickly. Almost too quickly. He saddled up to Steve, grabbed the back of his head with both of his hands, and laid a giant kiss on his mouth. Steve, startled, also hesitated, and then after a moment, kissed back.
Adam pulled away. “You’ve wanted that for a long time.”
“What the fuck are you talking about?” Steve replied, totally unbalanced.
“I know you. You wanted that, and you want a lot more. And that’s fine. I’m okay with it, Steve. Just that I’m not into you. You know I like chicks. But I’m totally okay with you,” Adam said.
Steve stood silent. He looked down at Adam’s arms. They were relaxed at his side. A moment passed, what felt like eternity. It was a moment of acknowledgment.
“So you want help with that paper or what?” Steve said, finally.