It occurred to me at some point during our second date that Mike might not exist in real time.
When we first met, he seemed friendly—cruelty-free, like a human-sized rabbit. We ate at Lenny’s Subs off I-35. On the way, he wheeled his big, white Texas truck backwards through the drive-thru of a shuttered restaurant. It seemed like the perfect accident—a ploy to make me accept his wonky habits.
Waiting in line at the shop, he cracked jokes that made me roll with laughter. I told him I used to work there—that I was once a struggling sandwich artist who was so busy fixing cold cuts and meatball marinara, I hardly had time to sit down and eat them.
“Order like you used to work here,” he said, watching me tell the man behind the counter I wanted a six-inch sub on wheat bread since I was vegetarian. Mike chose a foot-long that was heavy on ham and salami. He asked me to pay when we got to the register, promising to cover the next one—pay it forward, he said.
Grabbing a booth, we sat on opposite sides. Mike unwrapped his sandwich and began taking neat bites, which made me jealous. It was like he was making love to it.
“You were pretty easy on that guy,” he said. “I thought you were going to give him a hard time.”
“Working here wasn’t that bad.”
It turned out we had the same tastes in music—old-school rap like Snoop Dogg and Outkast and ‘90s dance/techno. My favorite show was Twin Peaks. He thought I meant the restaurant where girls wore low-cut tops and short skirts. I could have taken that as a warning, except it seemed more due to him being awkward than untrustworthy.
Afterward, I offered him a wet wipe from my purse. He accepted and ran it over his hands.
“This is pretty moist,” he said, tossing it onto the empty wrapper.
I stared at the table in response.
“It is a wet wipe,” I said.
We were flirting and it couldn’t go anywhere since we were co-workers, but I still liked him. He seemed to appreciate that I wanted to excel at work, even though I styled my hair and wore makeup and trendy clothes.
When the topic of work surfaced, he smiled, never saying much.
The Saturday we spent in the park was when I realized he might have multiple personas—what my roommate once termed an inconsistent character.
Ambling along the sidewalk where people fed the pigeons, we stopped beneath a grove of manicured trees. I studied him in the crew-cut sweater, hands tucked neatly into his pants pockets and face sewn into a peaceful expression.
Moments later, a kid’s voice rose somewhere on the opposite side. I turned my head in that direction, and when I looked back, Mike was gone.
My eyes followed the birds to where they pilfered hunks of bread off the concrete. They turned their heads to cast me that universal avian look, as if seeking the inspiration to remain on earth like other creatures did.
Where did he go?
Maybe Mike was a time traveler. Time travel didn’t seem like far-off technology anymore. Flying cars would come soon, I sensed. That he could teleport wasn’t that difficult to fathom. Or maybe he was really an electro-simulation or hologram. He did work in software development.
Still, I knew it was more likely he’d wandered to another spot while I wasn’t looking. I began perusing the whole area, expecting to find him hiding behind a tree or somewhere obvious.
After searching for more than a half hour, he was still missing. Then, all of a sudden, he reappeared over my shoulder, wearing a look like he’d been there the whole time.
“Where were you? I searched everywhere.”
“You didn’t see me? The sidewalk winds into a trail that leads up to the road.” He traced a route with his finger, not averting his eyes. “I went over there.”
“I didn’t see you leave.”
“I’m quick on my feet.”
My eyes narrowed as he sensed my distrust.
“I’m not lying. I get antsy sometimes.”
No. You’re not lying—just being an inconsistent character.
Seeing him around the office in the following days and weeks, it was difficult to concentrate on anything else. Before, he seemed cute and innocent. Now he appeared more robust, with muscles flexing beneath short-sleeve shirts. I imagined his figure blown up to the size of one of the highway signs—a blinking, swaggering cowboy outlined in neon.
I glanced over to where he sat staring motionlessly at his computer screen. I swiveled in my chair, glancing away. When my gaze returned, his cubicle was empty, headphones laying on the desk and chair spun around. It was as if he’d vaporized into thin air.
This happened multiple times. The office wasn’t that big. I always ran into him on the way to the bathroom or parking lot. I wanted to tell him he was really good at disappearing, but that would have been too obvious, so I just smiled and continued walking.
Naturally, I desired him the more elusive he became. I studied his fine blond hair when he wasn’t looking, admiring how it swept neatly back to his temples, the way he seemed to know what he was doing at all times.
I wouldn’t fuck him, though, I decided. I’d known guys like him—the calm, collected types to whom coming on too strong might spell sudden death. I knew I had to pace myself—to refrain—if I were going to hold his interest.
So I lost myself in mindless diversions—things like flickering light bulbs, tears of wine on tablecloth, and water drops suspended on faucets. Renewing my focus on photography, I wandered around with my lens capturing myriad objects. At night, I lay in bed staring up at the ceiling fan, remembering how when I first opened my eyes, the world had only wind-blown features. Later came form and feeling: a boy’s lips pressed against mine as we sprawled in the field, the sensation of deer watching from the woods, their eyes glinting in the moonlit dusk.
As much as I tried, I couldn’t seem to stop thinking about him. Even my innocent daydreams became tinged with desire, slip-sliding into fantasies of us making out in the break room when no one was around.
Another night after we hung out, I fell asleep to awaken later from a dream and feel something between my legs. Looking past the mound of my breasts and belly, I was surprised to see his head poking up from my thighs, wearing an attentive stare.
I blinked several times to confirm he was actually at the end of the bed eating me out.
“Don’t be nervous,” he murmured into the curve where my leg joined my hip. “You have a very nice body.”
It was Mike. I wasn’t imagining things.
How had he gotten there?
My mind spiraled back to several hours before when we ate at another restaurant. I’d been anxious. Not about the date—that was going well. It was anxiety about the world. The same panic I’d felt since I was a kid and random things started making me upset—the sight of heavy machinery and forklifts stirring up dirt along the side of the road, or XXX signs and factories pumping smoke into the air. The world to which I’d been introduced that Mike seemed so well adjusted to, while I struggled.
Maybe the reason was I felt like my body—however nice it was—would somehow never be good enough simply because it was female. While his words were reassuring, I wasn’t sure how much they’d help my self-esteem.
We returned to the park after dinner, where the birds were profuse—dirty white and black things that flapped their wings in my face. I brushed them away. One couldn’t be afraid of getting dirty in parks. Besides, I had to remain alert, or the birds might sweep him up and cause him to vanish again.
Now that his face was buried in my lap, I was enjoying the sensations. More than that, I liked the reassurance that he wasn’t going anywhere—at least, not for now.
Turning my head to the side and gazing out the window, I glimpsed the highway ribboning down the hill, smelled the acrid-sweet smell of exhaust and tobacco and something like fermenting syrup that pervaded its atmosphere. The same road we’d been on just a few hours before.
While the road was circuitous and austere, the space we shared in the room was intimate—a secret between the two of us. As Mike worked his tongue against my folds, I began to sweat. The smell of his cologne mixed with the aroma. It was damn fine and sexy. I was losing control—the whole lower half of me expanding and becoming like a separate organ that was still somehow part of me.
He was good, caught up in the moment. My head craned back as I climaxed. I pictured us scaling mountains and exploring starry canyons, staying in a tipi, a flying saucer, or an Airstream out in the desert where the sand blanketed the ground like lavender.
As I finished, my body fell back against the mattress, where I lay for several seconds.
Mike was gone when I looked up again, the space between my legs empty. I wasn’t really surprised. My roommate was right: Some people were inconsistent characters.
What did surprise me was that a small, white rabbit was left in his place, its wet nose sniffing furtively around the hills and valleys of the sheets.
Katie Nickas writes literary fiction with atypical, futuristic, and gender-fluid themes. Her work has or will appear in magazines including Asymmetry, formercactus, Literally Stories, The Oddville Press, Red Queen Literary Magazine, Reflex Fiction, Sidereal Magazine, Soft Cartel, and STORGY.
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