by Sophie Guan
Art by Cynthia Chang
Issue: Scintilla (Spring 2019)
Travis and Jared had been friends for two and a half years now, and sometimes it was hard to remember how they met when memories jumbled up with myth and stories into a hardened mess. Somewhere on a playground, a bruised knee, a bully, and a heroic rescue; a brief history that neither wanted to revisit. Jared preferred to think that their friendship was not based on Stockholm Syndrome. Frankly, Travis agreed. The past should just stay in the past. What mattered was the here and now.
“Remind me why we can’t just sit at home and play that serial killer game?”
“PUBG is not a serial-killer game,” Jared defended.
“You massacre people—that’s pretty serial killer-ing, I’d say.”
“There are different levels of serial-ness to serial killer-ing, my young apprentice. Come to the dark side, I shall teach you all about it.” Jared winked. “Admission is free and we give free cookies to first-timers. Oh, and, in case you haven’t heard, the dark side now supports gay marriage as well. Our goal is to get them to adopt little orphans and develop a generation of loyal dark side followers.”
“I’m sold. Sign me up.”
“Happy birthday, Jer.”
The bag was shoved into Jared unceremoniously, the scent of McDonald wafted through the air. His friend peeked inside, inhaling it as if fried chickens were equivalent to ecstasy.
“Aw, you shouldn’t have,” Jared said, grinning.
“Well then.” Travis made to snatch it back. “I’ll take it back.”
“Hands off, it’s mine.”
“You just said—”
“Anyone with basic human decency will know better than to touch Jared’s fried chicken. Thou, my young apprentice, might be my friend, but I shall not spare thee from my wrath.”
“…Is that a Star Wars and Shakespeare crossover?”
“You bet it is. Now—thanks for the offering—what is it that thou want? Ask, and thou shall receive.”
On a clear blue Sunday morning, Jared accidentally set their garage on fire. Travis was forced to promise to never disclose the full story.
Jared had problems with his family. His parents were filing for divorce. They didn’t have enough common sense to not argue during the middle of the night over the custody of their furniture. Sometimes, Jared would creep into Travis’s bedroom at the middle of the night through the window. Travis, after a while, just left his window slightly ajar so that Jared could find a better handhold.
A light shone dimly in the darkness, accompanied by a mumble. “Go to sleep, Jer. It’s midnight.”
“I was thinking…”
“Stop that, you’ll hurt your brain.”
“Maybe I should move in with Jack.”
Jack was Jared’s older brother, famously known to Travis as the adrenaline junkie.
“Dunno, man, I just kinda don’t want to stay or live with any of my parents.”
“You can come stay with us. I think my parents like you more than they like me.”
Jared laughed and Travis quickly shushed him. It was midnight. His parents didn’t need to know that Jared had come over. Again. Something about windows weren’t secure. What if some thief came in the same way, his mom once asked him. Well, mom, guess they were just gonna die then.
Quietly, Travis snorted. The lingering amusement did nothing to ease his other worries. For the rest of the night, sleep eluded him.
There were times when Travis felt that the confinement of his house was comforting rather than restricting. He supposed it all had to do with the perspectives. Travis was scared. Not of a monster, or a beast, or any other heroic things to be scared of, but of Jared. Jared his friend, his best friend.
As senior year reached its peak, emotional tensions and stress ran high. Schools, academics, extracurricular, it was hard to balance everything. Or so he tried to lie to himself. Travis checked his phone again with a sigh. There was a muffled silence in the room as his heart sank. The dot on Jared’s profile had yet to light up to green. Travis was still waiting for Jared to text first.
Maybe Jared just wanted a break. Ha, Jared wanted. It sounded as if Jared was the one at fault when it was Travis who had hurt his loyal friend. Travis never wanted this, but inevitably, like relationships, things sometimes just started tearing at the seams. A bad mood and a few curt words, and here they were.
Not wanting to sound too desperate or too affected by this rift between them, he sent a purposefully misspelled text. “Ho.” He then pretended that it was unintentional and added, “Ho ho ho. Merry Christmas.”
Travis waited. The message wasn’t funny at all, but it was something. Two seconds. Three seconds. The clock in front of him clicked and ticked at each passing awaiting agony. Of course, Jared wouldn’t just be staring at his phone like Travis was, Travis explained to himself. His voice sounded like a big fat stupid liar. A blossom of hurt and disappointment was barely squashed down in time before he dropped his phone on the bed and went for dinner.
He missed the moment the dot turned green. The message was read and Jared replied.
The next day, unsteadily then steadily, they got back on track.
It seemed like it was a century ago that they first became friends when in truth, it had only been four years. Looking back, Travis thought he might have made a few more friends, although he might’ve had lost just as many. A lot of things had changed in four years and people came and went like butterflies. What remained constant, however, was Jared and Travis, the two of them against the world (a statement that Travis found that he didn’t mind at all).
Travis was still waiting for that seven-year-friendship milestone. People say seven years of friendship was equivalent to family. While he wasn’t sure what family meant exactly, Travis already thought of Jared as one. He hoped Jared thought of him the same. He hoped he could pause time right here and now.
“Hey Trav”, said Jared. “I can’t come over this weekend. My parents are going to court.”
“But it’s Chicken Sunday.”
“I know, man. Believe me, I’d rather come over than listen to them arguing over who gets the TV and who gets little ol’ me.”
“How self-deprecating of you.”
“Self-deprecation is my talent; took me years to refine it.”
Travis snorted, the sound harbored strained amusement. Sometimes, it was just easier to pretend to not notice the elephant in the room. They walked in silence, feeling the cold breezes of winter cascading down their face like sheets of an icy waterfall. The trees were losing the battle for their leaves, and of the few that still managed to keep them, the lingering greens were already browning and shriveling up. Jared kicked the spiky sycamore balls on the ground.
“So,” Travis said carefully, “will you be moving?”
Jared’s shrug wasn’t very reassuring.
On Saturday, Travis decided to go to the supermarket with Jared.
“Ya know what the sad thing is?” Jared asked as he picked up a stalk of celery. “Neither of my parents wants custody of me; yet when it comes to grocery shopping, I’m suddenly very sought after.”
The off-handed comment caught him off-guard. “Celery brings people together, doesn’t it?”
“How wise, my young apprentice, how wise.” Jared laughed, but it sounded forced. The moment was lost. “Now, what do you think about going to your house and make stew or something?”
“I thought your mom wanted you to buy some instant food.”
“C’mon, who listens to their parents?” Jared sounded almost desperate.
They ended up buying a whole cartload of seaweed, a few cups of instant noodle, and a bag full of pork ribs, eggs, and seasonings. Travis’s parents weren’t home so they invited themselves in.
“Okay, what goes first, ribs or cilantro?”
Water splashed in the pot as Jared dumped a few good chunks into it. “What ‘bout cilantro? Don’t neglect my beautiful baby cilantro.”
“If you’re so attached to it, why don’t you marry it?”
“Will you be the priest officiate dude then?”
“Sure man, anything for you,” said Travis dramatically.
Jared cocked his head with mock consideration. “On second thoughts, nah. Let’s cook it.”
It took them ten minutes longer than necessary due to Jared’s unnecessary commitment to the grocery items. Travis threw a handful of noodle into it as the pot rumbled and grumbled. They cleared the table of the bags of instant food and served it up.
“This is good,” Jared said with a deep inhale.
“I know, I’m amazing.” Travis passed him a fork and a spoon.
“I’m going to miss this.”
Travis refused to take the sentiment in Jared’s tone as anything other than what it seemed like. “The noodles? I’m sure you can buy more. If you want, you can just come over every afternoon and I’ll cook it for you.”
“Maybe not every day because it’s always gonna be chicken on Sunday.”
Jared grinned and slurped. “Alrighty, I’ll hold you to that promise.”
Travis ate his chicken. It was still steaming hot from the oven and sauces dripped from the wings. The smell and aroma permeated the room, slowly and drowsily.
“Jared is late,” his mother said. “Is something up? Did you have another fight?”
“I dunno—no, we didn’t fight, mom, stop giving me that look—I’m gonna call him.”
The phone rang for a few long beats before the voice picked up. “Hey, this is Jared. If I’m not picking up it means I’m either taking a long shite or something requires my full utmost attention. Leave a message.”.
“Is he sick? Did something happen?” asked his mother when he returned.
“Probably got busy with his parents’ problem again.” Travis shook his head. “I’m gonna go drop by his house later.”
His mother nodded and began bagging some of the chicken up for Travis to take with him. “Tell him he’s welcome in our house anytime.”
Travis put on his coat and his shoes then took his keys before leaving the house. It was six in the afternoon, and the sky was ashen and engulfed by the rising darkness. Travis hugged the bag to his chest; hearing the plastic rustling somehow brought comfort.
Jared lived only half a block down. Their small single house was surrounded by others of the same design. The lights were on and a shadow moved behind the closed curtains.
It was unlike Jared to forget Chicken Sunday.
So Travis knocked on the door. Once, then a few more times. He heard Jared’s father grumbling in his baritone voice. “Chill the eff out, I’m coming.”
The door abruptly opened and Travis offered the man his best tight-lipped smile. “Is Jer around?”
“Jer? Jared?” The man’s crumpled suit and appearance reeked of alcohol. “He isn’t around.”
The man made to close the door but Travis held it open with a hand. “Do you know where he might be?”
“Ain’t around here, for sure.”
“It’s Chicken Sunday. Jer doesn’t miss Chicken Sunday.”
“People change, eh? Now get your hands off my door or I’ll call the cops.”
Stupidly, Travis stood his ground. “You have absolutely no idea where he went?”
The man shut the door in his face.
Jared disappeared after that.
“Hey Trav, it’s Jer here. Jared Jericho numba twoooo. Sorry, I drank so much coffee this morning. Ugh, it’s not morning anymore, but I’m still, well, like this.
I just want to let you know that I’m doing okay and that I regret missing that Chicken Sunday. I didn’t know how to tell you before but you probably already know by now: my mom got custody of me and my dad drove us out of his house. We had to move and…yeah, we’re in Texas now. I’m really sorry that I didn’t tell you on Saturday. I guess I was…scared.”
See, the thing about long-distance friendship was that it was unstable. Like magnets, the farther they grew, the harder it was to hang on. As time grew, Travis guiltily found solace in new friendships. It was like Jared and he couldn’t find commonality anymore. Without history rants, BB-gun raids, or pointless bickers to fill the hole left behind, their daily calls turned irregular before turning into text.
He graduated. Jared wasn’t there. Part of Travis held on but the other was winning. The clock had stopped. Five years of friendship and…here they were.
In his second year of college, Travis met a girl and then he wished he hadn’t. Love wasn’t the same as friendship. Love was somehow…faker than he had anticipated.
“Nobody’s gonna wait for you to forget your past,” she said when they broke up. “Nobody wants to be the second choice.”
It was winter again. His fingers were numb from the frost. It snowed yesterday and Travis spent his Saturday morning building his first snowman. Here was so quiet, so calm, and so fragile like a single warm touch would shatter whatever shield that was laid on top.
Sitting in front of his heater and watching the snow falling, Travis started writing. He wrote the first word of his first novel. Two words in, he paused. It was funny how all the stories people wrote resemble their life and dreams and wishes. Travis was tired of writing stories with those same two boys on an endless field of happiness. No losses, no heartbreaks, just a stream of utopian joy.
Spring came and went, and then suddenly it was summer. Summer was like a soft breeze of relief, bringing the sweet sensation of nostalgic freedom. The first day of summer was a Sunday. Chicken Sunday. Travis had maintained the tradition, but it wasn’t at his apartment anymore. Instead, he found himself sitting alone by the table in the park, acting the part of a lone man shadily munching on a box of chicken wings and flipping through the papers. He had drafts to write, stories to invent, and things to forget. A lot of things to forget, because summer was associated with a playground, a bruised knee, a bully, and a heroic rescue. His stories needed to be something more than that. Something more realistic. Something that didn’t reflect his childish daydreams.
Opposite to him, someone sat down.
“How awful of you to not invite me to Chicken Sunday.”