“Nope, not yet.”
“You want to meet me there Saturday? I’ve seen it, but I’ll watch it again with you.”
Joe told her that he would, and they agreed on a showing time.
They shared a coke. Joe bought one for himself—Evy said she didn’t want one—but she changed her mind once the movie started and had some of his. During the movie, Joe glanced over at her without her noticing, at how the light from the screen intermittently illuminated her profile. He didn’t try to put an arm around her, hold her hand, any of that. He had given that up—he would just be the friend he knew he could be. He’d do well at that.
“About what you asked me the other week,” Evy said as they walked out to their cars. “I’m sorry it took me so long, but this is a very belated yes.” She stood by her car, looking at Joe uncertainly.
Joe was exultant, but he didn’t know how to react or what would be the appropriate thing to say. He was happy, but he didn’t seem to have control of it—even just enough control to put it into words. “Oh, okay,” Joe said. His voice sounded flat to him. “I’m really happy to hear you say that.”
“Let’s meet up again soon?” Evy said.
“Yeah, of course.”
She walked over to Joe and hesitantly wrapped her arms around him in a hug. He hugged her back, feeling the light presence of her head against his chest.
Saturdays were usually the nights when Joe would hang out Arthur, so when he pulled back into his driveway at 10 pm, he glanced across the street at his friend’s house. Arthur’s parents’ car was gone, but her car was there. She wasn’t Arthur’s girlfriend. She was Jamie, the girl Arthur fucked. It was already late; there were no lights on in the house, and Joe knew there would be no fire that night or walk around the village, no way he’d have a chance to tell Arthur about Evy. He felt sick that a girl who cheated on Arthur and didn’t even seem ashamed of it took priority over their usual weekend plans. But that was just how it was, he supposed.
Joe didn’t want to go inside and do nothing until he fell asleep. He called Denny and drove up to his apartment, grabbing a six-pack of beer on the way.
“Wanna play some Hold ’em?” Denny said. He had just bought a new set, shiny plastic chips, felt mat, and all. Maryanne was sitting in a bowl chair nearby, reading something on Denny’s laptop, by the looks of it.
“Sure thing,” Joe said. He didn’t need to talk to Arthur about Evy, or talk to anyone about her for that matter. He could just be happy and play poker and leave it at that.
“Can I have one of those delicious things that you brought into my home, Mr. Joseph?” Denny was looking at Joe’s beers.
“Of course you can. I’m not an asshole.”
“Thank you so much, man, and you can try one of mine if you’d like.”
Joe did try one of Denny’s, and he also had the other five of his. In what felt like very little time, Joe and Denny had played six games of Hold ’em and it was after five o’clock in the morning. At some point he realized that nothing had changed. This could have been the same night last summer, or the summer before. He was wasting time with the same people, drinking the same beer. It didn’t matter that Evy told him yes, or that she put her arms around him. Joe didn’t know when he’d see her again, or if she’d change her mind about it before he even had a chance.
There was a knock at the door to the apartment.
“Hello?” Denny said, cautiously.
“Come in, man,” Denny said.
When Arthur came in, he saw Joe sitting by his poker chips. “Sorry, Joe,” he said. “Some shit came up last night, so I wasn’t able to hang out. Thought I might find you here.”
“I’m sure some shit came up,” Joe said, standing up and sliding his shoes on. “I was actually just about to head home. My car’s right out there.” Maybe it was the beer, or a combination of the beer and his exhaustion, but Joe had to lean on the back of his chair for support.
“You can’t drive,” Arthur said.
“I’ll just fucking walk, then.” Joe realized he sounded mad, and didn’t want to, so he put on a smile. “It’s not even that far, and it’s a good night for a walk.”
“Alright,” Arthur said. “I’ll go with you. But I’m not sure we can call it night anymore.”
“Fine,” Joe said. “Whatever.” Something in Joe’s tone of voice was funny—as things can only be funny after staying up all night playing Hold ’em—and they all started laughing. “Anyway,” Joe said, in his most amicable of voices, “thanks for playing cards, Denny. Good to see you, Maryanne.” Joe shook Denny’s hand and stepped outside with Arthur, pleased with himself that he had salvaged the situation.
And there it was. As Joe and Arthur stepped out into the front lot of the apartments, Joe saw the sun rising, turning the eastern sky a lighter shade of blue, obliterating the stars. Joe already felt the pressure rising in his head along with the gradual increase in light and the excited chirping of the birds. Watching the sunrise that morning, Joe felt with undeniable certainty that he had failed to turn himself around. He had failed to be disciplined, moderate, to smile enough.
“We had a fight last night that lasted for hours,” Arthur said. “I said I just wanted to have sex and that was it, but it’s bullshit. I can say whatever I want, but as soon as I’m in the same room with Jamie, I’m her boyfriend again like nothing ever happened. Well, not like nothing happened, but just that nothing’s that different. I still care about her I guess, you know?”
But Joe wasn’t paying much attention. He was focused on putting one foot in front of the other on the sidewalk, praying that if he only looked at the concrete, and not at the sky, the sun would slow its ascent just this one time. “Yeah, Arthur, I get it.”
“She said ‘I love you’ after we finished, and that’s when the fight started.”
“That’s rough,” Joe said. He wanted nothing more than to lie down in somebody’s front yard and cry, if for no other reason than that Arthur might understand how he was feeling. But Joe settled for quietly letting the tears run down his face, unseen by Arthur in the half-light. Joe kept talking, no longer about Jamie, but rather simple nothings that would be lost along with the rest of the night.
Joe decided not to go to bed. It would be almost like turning back time if he just never went to sleep, like Superman flying around the world in reverse to save his Lois. Joe thought he might be able to save his summer, that he could make friends with the sun and convince the burning thing to take it easy on him.
When Arthur and Joe got back to their street, they sat in Arthur’s yard by the cold fire-pit until the morning was in full-stride. They talked about Gatsby and about literature, and about how movies are sometimes better than the books but worse at the same time.
There was a lull in the conversation. A jogger plodded by on the street. “So I guess I’ve got a girlfriend, now,” Joe said.
“Oh?” Arthur said. “That’s kind of a big deal. You could have opened with that, you know.”
“I don’t know.”
Joe did sleep, but not until about noon, and only for a few hours then. When he finally rose, he thought of how he talked with Arthur until he didn’t even know what he was talking about anymore. He thought about Evy’s tentative form against his, and he realized that things weren’t so bad as they felt when the sun first broke the horizon. Thinking back to his Irish literature class last semester, he remembered there was a man in one of the novels who said: There comes a time when you either run amok completely or try to make a go of it. Joe figured he would make a go of it. It didn’t matter if he slipped once in a while—he could still keep trying. Tomorrow was Monday; there would be lawns to mow, and he would mow them in smooth lines of light and dark.
Because it was well into the afternoon when Joe finally rose, it seemed as if the sun set remarkably early that day. It was the kind of summer evening that Joe could say he enjoyed, without even pretending. And that Sunday night, he and Arthur went for a walk when the sun had completely given way to the crisp, cool night.
“She’s not coming back.” Arthur said. “She made that clear, and I feel okay about it.”
“Yep. I’ve got a plan. I’m gonna see if I can get back into school this year.”
Joe said that sounded like a good road to be on, that he would be happy if Arthur found something he really enjoyed and was skilled at. For a while they walked quietly, then they came to the place where they would normally cut through the backside of an overgrown used car lot. There was a tractor-trailer truck sitting in the lot that night. Its windows were dark, and there may have been someone sleeping up there, but Joe couldn’t tell.
“Look at this,” Arthur said. He paused as they passed the truck, holding his hands out toward it. “It’s funny how some things can look so impossibly big sometimes. Like, I realize that this is a large truck anytime, but it’s really large right now. You know?”
“Yeah,” Joe said. It made perfect sense to him. If he could smile one day and cry the next, if Evy could be in his arms but feel so beyond his reach, that truck could be normal one day and goliath another.
Joe stared straight up at the stars as they stepped across the railroad tracks. He would have been afraid of tripping, but they had walked this shortcut so many times that he didn’t need to watch his step. It was one of those crystal-clear nights when the Milky Way is visible—when the stars seem to meld into one bridge arching over everything. Joe thought of that common sentiment, that we could look to the night sky to make our petty concerns and problems fade away—we were insignificant compared to the vastness of space. But Joe felt the exact opposite as he stepped over the rails. Looking to the stars, he could be endless, at least for a moment.
Jim Ryan is a senior creative writing major at SUNY Geneseo. He is from Avon, NY, the home of a pasta factory, a drive-in theatre, and countless seven-year-old pickup trucks. He owns two guitars and enjoys playing them late into the night.