I realize that this scenario is completely nonsensical, but the idea popped into my head one day and didn't leave. Enjoy.
"I'm gonna throw up," I moaned, rubbing my temples.
David set a cup of coffee in front of me. "Yet another night of debauchery?"
I nodded and pull the mug close. Sweet life-giving brew. "I had to take a fucking bus downtown to get my car. Again. And my shirt smells like sandalwood."
"Ah, so the mystery masseuse is back," David joked. "Got oil on your dick?"
"No, dumbass. And I told you that I don't remember anything." These blackout nights didn't happen every weekend; more like a monthly occurrence. It wouldn't be weird given how much and often I drank, but I always woke up at home, showered and in my pajamas, and I always smelled of incense. I didn't burn incense and I never wore pajamas any other day of the year. Weirder and better still, I woke up feeling like my balls had been completely drained. It was as though I'd had amazing sex in my sleep.
"Maybe if you quit getting stoned every time you drink you'd start recalling shit. Like a massage hooker." David tapped my desk. "I need that concert review today, junior."
"You're a fucking idiot. And I only had the one joint. I think." Staring at the screen was going to make this hangover worse. Thinking about the previous night could make me hurl.
"G'morning Gary," David addressed an approaching figure. "Nicky here is attempting to reconstruct the events of last night to prove that he does get laid on the occasion."
Gary, ever the awkward soul, blushed to nearly the color of his hair.
"Don't believe him, Gary. I got pussy aplenty last night. I can feel it in my bones," I declared between sips of coffee. Gary looked tired. "Did you go out?"
He paused. "You don't remember seeing me?"
"Oh, um..." Gary scratched his head. "I guess you were pretty wasted."
"Don't remember a thing past the beginning of the after party."
"Oh, uh, of course. Right."
David and I watched as Gary turned tail and scurried off to his IT annex. So weird.
"You know," David commented, "I think you make him nervous."
"No, your ugly face makes him nervous," I grumbled.
David kicked my chair before settling at his desk. "I'm serious, bro. He doesn't act like that around me. He's all chatty until you walk in the room, and then he clams up like a dry twat."
I don’t think I care."You have such a way with words, Señor Editor."
"Maybe you were an ass to him," David suggested.
I groaned and scrubbed my hands over my face. "Dave, when would I even have the opportunity? I'm never around the guy. Gary's just kind of squirrel-y."
"Apparently you saw him last night."
Directing a glare at my supervisor, I pointed my coffee mug at him. "Lay off me, douchebag. I don't need to be his friend."
"When you say shit like that,” David said calmly, “you sound like a fucking asshole."
"Fine, mother, I’ll talk to him! Fuck!" Why did it even matter? I had a hangover, blank spots in my memory, and an article to write. David was a good supervisor and better friend, but he was nosy as hell.
David shook his head. "Geeze, touchy."
I kind of felt bad for snapping at David, so I resolved to do what I promised and talk to Gary. But how should I even bring up some transgression that might not have happened because I can’t even remember it? Lucky for me I didn't have the opportunity to do so. I could have worked it in when he came to show me what was wrong with some of my HTML formatting, but it felt awkward. He was all nervous, and I was incredibly conscious of the sandalwood emanating from my shirt.
It wasn't until we were leaving that I said more than two words to him, all because his damn car wouldn't start. David and I were the last two out of the building as usual, nearly an hour later than everyone else. We weren’t five feet out the door when we heard a resounding “Shi-it” as though one syllable wasn’t descriptive enough. Scared the crap out of me.
“Gary? You're still here?” David asked. “Something wrong with your car?”
Gary scrubbed both hands through his hair, but answered, “Oh, no, it’s fine, I just…my car won’t start, even with a jump.” He gestured at the lump of rust he drove.
David elbowed me hard in the ribs. Wishing I could shut him up with my mind, I spoke up. “Er, do you need a ride somewhere?”
Eyes wide, Gary waved wildly in front of his body. “No, no, no I…no. The tow truck should be here in five minutes or so, and my buddy gets off work in an hour. He’ll pick me up.”
“Okay.” I shrugged. Panic hadn’t been the reaction I expected, but maybe Gary had social anxiety. Whatever.
“An hour?” Dave interjected. “It’s freezing out here, man. One of us can take you home.”
Godammit, that meant me.
“I couldn’t possibly,” Gary protested. “I live all the way out by the Southland Mall. I know you’re up by Memorial.”
David clapped me on the back. “You’re in Nicky’s neck of the woods.” He turned to me with false innocence. “You wouldn’t mind, would you?”
Gary looked like he was about to wet his britches. “Nick, you really don’t have to.”
“It’s fine, really. Give your friend a call on the way.” I was going to kill David when I had the chance.
David hung around to make small talk until the tow truck arrived, then scampered off while I let Gary into my truck.
“Sorry, my car smells like sandalwood,” I apologized. “Seems to be my cologne of choice whenever I’m drunk.”
“I don’t mind.” Gary glanced at me. “Do you not like it?”
I waved a hand dismissively as we buckled ourselves in. “Naw, I like it, but I think I put it on a little strong or something.” Why was I making shit up? I didn’t know why I smelled like a massage parlor.
Fuck, this is awkward.
I had no idea what to say to the guy, but there was an incredible pressure to talk to him. I thought Dave had been talking out of his ass, but now that I was in close proximity to Gary I could see what my friend had meant. He didn’t look at me. He sat with his knees together and his hands clasped, looking out the passenger window and chewing on his lower lip.
“Er, you live on Vidalia, right?” I said casually.
“You remember?” Gary sounded shocked.
I flipped the radio on just to relieve the tension. “Let me guess, you told me when I was drunk.”
He shifted in his seat. “Yeah.”
“You know, getting shitfaced all the time and then remembering stuff later is like having a secret encyclopedia in your brain,” I informed him. “I don’t know how I know something, and then I get to feel psychic.”
Gary nodded. “I can see that, but then you look like an idiot when you can’t recall the rest of it.”
Was he joking or or chastising me?
“Right. Um, did you have fun last night?”
The man's head snapped around so fast it’s a wonder he didn't get whiplash. “What?”
What the hell was wrong with him? Or with me, that he freaked out so much at a simple question?
His body relaxed immediately. Looks like I wasn't the only one who had a night of debauchery. “Ah, right. Yeah, of course. The venue turned out to be a little cramped for the sound, I thought.”
“True,” I agreed. “The reverb made everything sound all mushed. But the set was good.”
“Yeah, that lead singer—what’s her name? Angela? Angelea?—sure has a some of pipes for such a tiny body.”
“I know, right? Like an elf singing opera or something,” I chuckled. “Oh hey, if you need to call that friend—"
“Ah, right! Thanks, I almost forgot.” Gary pulled out his phone and hit a speed dial number. “Hey, it’s me. No, I got a ride home. Yeah, a coworker’s driving me back now. No, David’s my boss. I’m in this guy Nick’s car…Steve, no.”
Gary looked over at me and I pretended to be very focused on changing lanes. In a lower voice he argued, “It’ll be fine. Stop it. I’ll call you later. Okay.”
The secret encyclopedia suddenly opened to the entry titled "Gary." I knew that Steve and Gary were or had been together. Gary was gay, and he was uncomfortable around me because of it. Maybe I had said something stupid last night and given him the impression that I was a homophobe.
“Hey Gary,” I said when he hung up, “I’m cool, you know, with your, uh orientation or whatever. I mean, I hope you know that I’m not going to give you a hard time or anything like that.”
Gary’s head turned towards me, and I think he smiled a little. “I know. Or, I didn’t think you would.”
"Okay. Cool." Smooth, me. It was nice to know that I came off as the unbiased type. “So, is Steve really just a friend, or is that what you tell all the bigoted straight people?”
Gary chuckled, “I’m not that bad. He really is just a friend. We went out for like, three months way back in high school, but that was it.”
“He seemed pretty concerned about you.” My shoulders were tensed; I didn’t know why. “Wait, have I met him?”
“The psychic genius makes itself known,” Gary joked. “Yeah, he was there last night.”
“Was I an asshole to you guys or something?” I asked, trying hard to recollect any memory of seeing Gary and Just A Friend. All that surfaced was the taste of beer and the sound of terrible electro pop beats.
Gary shook his head. “Naw, Steve just takes himself too seriously.”
“Oh my god, I was an ass,” I groaned.
This time when Gary laughed I looked over. He had that kind of funny guffaw that would have made anyone around him smile.
“What?” I grinned.
“Nothing it’s just, um,” he shook his red head and chuckled. “I guess I didn’t believe you really could forget everything until just now. Or that anyone could get so intoxicated that they remember nothing of an entire night. I mean, I think I only talk to you when you’re drunk, so…”
I tried to scowl at him. “You’re going to blackmail me.”
“We’ll call a ride home even,” he said with a lopsided smile.
We couldn’t find much else to say after that, but least the relative silence in which we rode didn’t seem so uncomfortable. It didn’t hit me until I pulled into his driveway that Gary hadn’t given me any directions. I knew how to get here. I could have walked to my apartment in twenty minutes.
"I feel like I've been here before," I commented. The house was eerily familiar, like something from a dream, or remembering events from a blackout drunk night. Blackout. “Have I?”
Gary was suddenly fidgety. “Uh, nope. I mean, yeah, I think so. Er, yeah, one night after a concert there were like, six of us who came back here for a little bit.”
Unsurprisingly, I couldn't recall any of that. “When was this?”
“Battle of the Bands.”
“Uh huh.” That was nearly a year ago. I had to have been here since. It felt too real. Gary looked completely uncomfortable, but he wasn’t getting out of my car. What was he not telling me? I looked at his small house again, waiting for my brain to churn out tidbits of information and fill in the blanks.
Gary unbuckled his seatbelt. “Well, er, thanks Nick—”
“You have a small bedroom but a giant bed that you had to shove in through the window,” I interrupted, startling us both.
“Oh, um, hah hah, you remember the house tour,” he replied lightly.
A house tour? That wasn't it. What man would ever remember that kind of thing from a house tour? Gary got out of the car and in my desperation to solve this mystery feeling I followed.
I pointed at the window on the left side of the house. “That’s your bedroom. The laundry room is next to it. You have an upright piano, something old, and you have to tune it yourself.”
“It’s called a Spinet,” Gary said.
These were all just details, dumb, insignificant elements, but I knew them. Why? I felt like I could walk in and make myself a cup of coffee without asking were the spoons were. Gary played ragtime and jangly Western swing on the piano because he thought it was funny and apropos. His couch was blue. I knew that I would find recycling bins next to the trash can, and not just because Gary seemed the type. I could almost hear him, using a tone I’d never heard at the office, Good god, you lush, how many fucking times do I have to tell you: Put your bottles in tub. It wasn’t angry or nagging, in this half-memory Gary sounded affectionately exasperated. Were we buddies?
“Okay, well, it’s cold. I don’t want to keep you,” he said quickly. “See you tomorrow.”
My brain whirred as I tried to think of reasons to keep Gary from walking in that door. He came around the front of the car with hurried steps, and my feet took me toward him. Intending to say something not as creepy or interrogative as I felt, I inhaled and—Sandalwood. It isn’t just me, it’s him. Gary smells like incense. I grabbed his arm.
“Hey!” he protested.
"Gary, why do we both smell like a Catholic church, and why do I know what your bedroom looks like?"
He tried to laugh it off. “You mean like a Buddhist temple. Catholics burn frankincense or something.”
“You know what I mean,” I growled. There was no reason for me to be so harsh. Something weird was going on. Damn you, secret encyclopedia. Open.
Gary glanced sideways towards the safety of his house. "Uh, you crashed at my place that one time, and my dryer sheets smell like sandalwood. That’s all."
I clenched my teeth. “But I smell like incense today, Gary. And it’s happened before. You're not telling me everything.”
His muscles bunched in my grip, a familiar feeling. It was too familiar. I had grabbed Gary before for some reason. Had we fought? Come on, fucking brain, help me out. Gary stared at my hand on his arm like he couldn’t decide what he should do about it. I wasn’t hurting him; he could take worse. I thought.
Finally Gary sighed. "It's nothing. I know you don’t want to...” He ended with a groan. "Ugh. Fuck." The last part might have been to himself.
“What, Gary, do I not want?” I shook him a bit. “What?”
“You don’t want to talk about it,” he mumbled.
Frustrated, I demanded, “I can’t fucking remember anything, so how would I not want to talk about it?”
“I don’t want to make you uncomfortable.”
“Please, just tell me.” I need to let go of him. I need to let go of his arm. I couldn't bring myself to look him in the eye.
Gary glanced down the street and lowers his voice. "You. Er. Sleep with—over here a little bit. Sometimes."
“How often is sometimes?” I bit out.
“I don’t know, maybe once or twice a month since that night when everyone came over.”
That sounded like every single time I’ve blacked out. "This has been happening for a year and you never thought to mention it? That's weird. Like, what if I broke something? Or puked on your carpet?"
“You didn’t. The most annoying thing you ever did was go boneless one time when I tried to get you inside.” Gary shook his head and smiled a little at the memory, which just made me more irritated that I couldn’t remember this hilarious rubber legs incident.
"What? Why? Did you give me drugs or something?" I was only half-joking.
"No, nothing like that! You always came to find me to take you home! I didn't even think you were interested; I mean, all you talk about are women." Immediately Gary looked horrified and clamped his mouth shut, as though he’d revealed something terrible.
My stomach sank. No. “What do you mean, that you didn’t think I was interested?” Don’t tell me. Lie to me. Maybe my hangover was coming back. Any moment I was going to puke all over Gary’s driveway. Halfheartedly I shook his arm again. “What do you mean, Gary?”