Volume 2, Number 8
August, 1997

Buy a Damned T-Shirt!

Blood Poisoning - Part III

by Greg Tennant

- 6 -

Will lets himself into his apartment, four or five magazines and a tall bottle of spring water now in his possession. A third of the bottle is already gone, and he swigs some more.
He flops the mags onto the coffee table, takes up a previous stack of several and moves them to a cabinet where he keeps many others.
He turns on several forms of electronic media (TV, tape, radio). Sitting in front of a late-night news report, he drinks some water and opens the first of his magazines.
These are fashion magazines. Women's magazines. He pages through to the advice columns, the letters, "What should I do with my boyfriend when he pisses me off?", the advisory articles, "Ten things never to do on a first date;" "What really to look for when shopping for a man;" "How to tell if he's lying." He might even take notes on a pad of paper he keeps in the cabinet with the other volumes.
He takes notes diligently, switching channels between C-SPAN and Spanish movies and Chinese adventures subtitled in Cantonese, but as he reads, he still can't help muttering disgusted reactions like "Give me a break," and "Oh brother" and such to the advice the magazines are giving. In fact, he actually gets fed up at one point, and throws down his pencil with a shout: "I hate people!!"
He gets to his feet, and pacing around his apartment, yells, "You're all such losers, children, immature babies! You're scared of love, scared to be revealed, in love with your anxieties!"
He says all this as he goes back into the bathroom. Once there, he takes a glassful of cold water and gulps some of it down, then crawls into the bathtub and pours the water trickling over the top of his head.
"Clean..." he mutters to himself. "Clean..."
This Will Geist, he's an odd bird.

- 7 -

Monday. It's cold outside as Will wakes up.
Your story's sort of come to a halt all of a sudden, hasn't it, Will? You don't really know what to do next. You managed to get a girl interested, you drew her in enough to leave her on the step the other night. She was ready to bring you inside, but you set her adrift. Was that what you were after, my friend?
Not entirely, I don't think. I'll bet there's more to this story than that. You're too good a guy to do something like that just for the sheer evil thrill of it, aren't you, Will?
Although, it felt good to be able to do that, didn't it?
But we don't need to get into that now. There's work to be done. It isn't tasteful work, it's drudgery -- because now it becomes hard. Now you have to wonder what she's thinking. What did she think of you doing that to her? Was she impressed? Or was she offended? What if she doesn't want to see you any more, because she thinks you're not interested? Or what if she's not interested, having realized that in the rush of the moment she gave you more credit than you really deserve? She's had time to reflect on you now, and more importantly she's had time to reflect on her own actions. Now you have to wonder if by casting her adrift you've lost her entirely, or if she'll come swimming right back to you. Or, worse, if she's expecting you to reel her in again, and intends to put up a fight, even if just for sport.
The work is all yours, Will. You've got some reconnaissance to do, so brace yourself. Don't let the windstorms blow you down.
It's odd how everything sort of seems to happen in a wave, when you don't know how it'll come out and you're dealing with dangerous expectations. That's why when you gave Cassia the orange rose today at work, you didn't really know how to take her odd reticence. "Thank you," she said, with a little pleasant surprise in her voice. You knew something was amiss, so you hung around a sec. "So how are you?" you asked. "Oh, fine," she said, holding back something you were increasingly interested in, yet wary about discovering.
"Everything okay?" you asked again, Will, because you figured you might as well get to the bottom of it.
"Sure," she said, crossing her arms rather tightly and leaning forward on her desk.
Remember the magazines, Will, and the evening television dramas, how they act there.
"Want to get some lunch today?"
That was a risk. You were supposed to back off. She's giving you back-off signals.
"Oh, you know, I can't, I'm supposed to meet Jughead today."
Now, this is a surprise. Maybe they aren't so broken up after all. Will hesitates before speaking. "You talk to him yesterday?"
Will pauses a second, then says "Okay," doing the I'm-acting-like-I-don't-mind-but-I-really-do routine. "Good luck," he says, and away he goes. I think Cassia is a little embarrassed about things, not knowing just what to say. Hard to have a lot of suitors at once, I suppose. Can't please 'em all, most times.
Well, that was a blow. She has to meet Jughead? Sounds like "Back Off", in plain English. Pretend-plain English, that is.
Back at his desk, hiding against the cubicle walls, Will has a new thought in his mind to add to the other questions he's been asking himself. Did Cassia show interest in him the other night just because she was in a fight with Jughead, and she wanted to console herself? Or, worse, did she just find him a handy way to make Jughead mad, in order to get back at him for whatever they were fighting about?
This would indeed be bad. Not merely because of the personal slight he'd feel, but also because it turns the tables on the power arrangement Will thought was in place. It would mean that he didn't hold such a strong hand over her, and in fact maybe she holds the power over him. That wouldn't be very nice.
And, of course, to some extent there's the personal feelings bit. He actually liked spending some time with Cassia, and he did in some way feel attracted to her. Maybe there really was something to look into there.
But, that's just Will Geist's problem. He takes things personally. It's hard not to, really, and sometimes it's even a good thing. It's just hard when you can't tell whether the other person is taking things personally. And now it appears like she may not have been.
Now they're sitting around reading fashion magazines in that break room again. Will isn't part of the talk, though, he's kind of holding back from the group, which is fine, you don't always have to participate. No one's making him.
He's got his eyes trained on Cassia much of the time, and you'd think he's brooding on something, which he is, and likely Cassia knows it too. But she doesn't acknowledge it. Maybe Matty realizes it too, but now's not the time to get involved.
Never mind. The magazine articles are stupid anyway. And Cassia's giving her opinions about them, pointing out how dumb they are. You'd think she knows better, having never sent conflicting signals herself.
"It's better to talk straight, speak your mind clearly," she says. "No wonder these people have problems. They don't speak their minds."
This kind of makes Will a little hot under the collar. As if she knows so much! Practice what you preach, you stupid idiot, is what Will's thinking. She talks a good game.
So they head back for their desks. Or Cassia does -- Will makes the bad decision to go flag her down. Have to speak straight, after all. Right?
"Are you with Jughead or not?"
"Maybe, I don't know. Why?"
"What do you mean, 'Why?' You think I'm not interested?"
"I don't know what you are."
"Didn't the other night mean anything to you?"
"Mean anything? We didn't do anything, you left me on the door step."
"We had a whole night together."
"It's not like we were the only ones there, there was a whole crowd! I wasn't just with you!"
He stares at her, amazed, trying to fathom her thoughts. It takes a moment.
"Are you embarrassed that I didn't want to come in?"
"I wasn't trying to prove you morally inferior, you know!"
She wasn't trying to say that! "You treat it like some big thing!"
"You said you hoped things were starting."
Now she tries to get out of it. "I had too much to drink."
"You assured me that wasn't the case."
This is getting acrimonious. What's in her mind? I think she was embarrassed that he said no, which did make her feel a bit like a slut. Now she feels she has to live it down. Plus she's got Jughead coming back at her. How is she supposed to deal with him?
She's not very adept at juggling, I'm afraid. Things just seem to go wrong all the time.
"Look, if you're back together with Jughead, then that's fine, I won't try to interfere."
"No -- I'm not back together with him."
He squints at her. "You're not."
"No. We didn't get back together."
"Well what is it then??"
"Well I don't know, am I supposed to pledge myself to you or something?"
"I didn't ask you for that."
"So what are you asking me for?"
His lips curl back from his teeth, which are set on edge. He hates this question. "I'd like you to speak the truth, or keep silent."
She doesn't really know what to say to this. "That's pretty vague."
"It's at the bottom of all things," he returns, rather sternly.
This is enough to make her want to bail on this little talk. He's saying weird stuff. "Maybe we can try this again when you're a little less angry," she says, and suddenly am-scrays.
Will remains steaming. You'd think pieces would start flying off or something. Good thing nothing fragile's in his way or he'd probably break it.
Cassia hides out at her desk, but Will comes over anyway just because he has something else he's going to say to her.
"You know what your problem is?" Yeah, I'll say he's mad.
She turns around suddenly to face him. She's going to let him put his foot in his mouth, hang himself with his own rope, whatever else, so she faces his silly onslaught and takes it head on. "No, what's my problem?"
"You need people to come out of a catalog. You look up their behavior in a book, check it against the price tag, keeping an eye on what's fashionable, and then you make your choice. And if anybody doesn't perform according to the spec sheet, you send them back for a refund! 'Send me another, this one won't act right.' You're like Scooby Doo in a hamburger joint, 'Gee, I don't know, lemme try another one... hm, no, still can't tell, lemme try another one, and another one until I'm just too full to eat any more, then I'll decide whether I like this place or not.'"
"That is so clever," she interjects.
"You're a joyrider! A party-girl slopping at the trough!"
"I've heard enough," she says, turning her back on him in her spinning desk chair.
"I'll bet you have. It's a shock to hear what people really think, isn't it. You ought to try it more often."
Everybody's watching them. It's a bit pathetic. Management better get involved; maybe a lawsuit would do, or at least a firing. This kind of thing doesn't look good.
Jason appears at Will's elbow as he walks.
"Will, man, what's the problem?"
"Nothing." This said sharply.
"Will, you better settle down. Come on, man, this is personal shit, you gotta keep it under wraps. It doesn't look good."
Will turns and is now an inch from Jason's face. "What's my closing ratio? Is it low? Is it?"
"I don't know -- "
"Is my correspondence up to date? Have I been pleasant on the telephone? Have there been complaints from customers?"
"Has anyone in this company complained about my behavior?"
"Not yet."
"Well until they do kindly get the hell out of my face."
Of course, Jason isn't too pleased with the way he's being treated at the moment. But at least he's able to keep his cool, and he doesn't say anything more. So Will backs off and goes back to his little desk.
Quite a scene, eh? Overdone, really. This shows there is a deep dangerous well just under the surface which these people hadn't known about before. They are now worried about Will. If he really wanted to put people at ease, he would make a public apology and disavow the emotions which gave rise to the outburst. Of course, he feels it would deny his true self to do so, and it would make him feel like a polyethylene prop, but it would settle everyone's mind.
"Why don't you take the rest of the afternoon off, Will?" This is the president, speaking quietly at Will's desk.
Will looks up. He really isn't feeling that great. Maybe it would be a good idea.
"I know we've been working you extra hard since you got here. No shame in taking a break, huh?"
"I'm fine, I don't need to leave."
"I know, I don't doubt you. But a fresh start in the morning could do you good. Go ahead take the day, we'll see you tomorrow."
Sure, fine. Why not. If he's being nice about it. Why not.
To be continued...
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