High School Friends
Jennifer L: hey, what’re you up to tonight?
Andrew N: nothing really, i just finished up dinner w/ my parents
Jennifer L: oh, so are you in DB?
Andrew N: yeah
Jennifer L: wanna smoke?
Andrew N: yeah i’m down
Andrew N: give me like, 20 though
Jennifer L: where should we meet?
Jennifer L: i can meet you in DB
Jennifer L: i live in Brea now, it’s closer to you
Andrew N: where in DB?
Jennifer L: the one spot by AQMD?
Jennifer L: or the one by the warehouses?
Andrew N: that one
Andrew N: AQMD
Jennifer L: okay!
Jennifer L: i’ll see you around 11:20?
Andrew N: yeah forsure, see you then
Jennifer closed her computer which made the room dark. She turned on a light. Jennifer walked to her closet, shoulders and arms drooped in front of her. She scratched her arms in the nervous way she did around people she didn’t know. Jennifer never knew what to do with her hands. She looked for something warm, but not too bulky. She didn’t want her frame to look any larger than she believed it to be. She decided on a thick light-gray cardigan. She liked the way it fit snugly on her slender arms and how it ended at the base of her hips. Jennifer brought herself closer to the mirror and moved her face forward so that her reflection was eight inches from herself. She inspected her skin for a moment. Her eyes moved to her hair. She ran her fingers through her hair, so that Andrew wouldn’t know she had been lying in bed for the three hours prior to their meeting. She adjusted her bangs so they neatly covered her forehead in a straight line that stopped above her eyes. She stepped back and straightened her back. As she stared into her mirror, she broke down her body into separate pieces and graded each piece separately. Jennifer felt pretty and wondered why she couldn’t look pretty when she really tried to look pretty. She figured it was the lighting.
She left the freeway at Grand Avenue. She pulled into the office complex where the Air Quality Management District office was located. The spot Jennifer and Andrew frequented wasn’t in the AQMD parking lot because they were too afraid to smoke weed next to a state agency. Instead, they parked in the lot of an insurance company one terrace below. Jennifer parked her car next to Andrew’s. The two cars were pointed forward toward the entrance, so that if a security officer pulled in, they’d see him, wait for him to go the other direction, and then leave the complex. This had never happened; it was just a precaution.
They both stepped out of their cars. They smiled at each other.
"Hey," said Jennifer. She noticed that Andrew was wearing a t-shirt. It was forty-eight degrees outside.
"Hey dude. Damn, you got here pretty fast didn’t you?"
"Yeah, Brea really isn’t that far and there wasn’t any traffic." Jennifer never knew what to say in these situations but her friends would tell her she was good at small talk, though their reassurances didn’t do much in quelling her anxiety over the subject. She put her hand into her purse and pulled out a silver-blue box of Dunhill Lights. She pulled out two cigarettes.
"Do you want one?" She extended both of the cigarettes toward him, splaying them so that one faced him and the other faced her.
"Nah, I’m good for now," Andrew said.
The flame from Jennifer’s lighter kept flickering out in the breeze. It took a few tries to get her cigarette to light. Jennifer liked how smoking gave her something to do with her hands.
The light from the buildings around them provided enough light so that they were able to see the details of each other’s faces. Despite their precautions to remain out of sight, the smoke from Jennifer’s cigarette stayed illuminated twenty feet above the parking lot.
"How’s school going?" Jennifer asked.
"Cool I guess, you know. I’ve been studying a lot because of midterms."
"You have midterms already?" Jennifer was trying to appear interested. She truly was interested, but not in midterms.
Andrew replied, “Yeah dude, quarter system, remember?”
"Oh," said Jennifer. "How are Joseph and Brandon?"
"They’re good, just stressing about midterms too."
They talked more about their specific classes, and the difficulty of Andrew’s midterms.
Jennifer lit another cigarette. “Have you taken any photos lately?”
"No, not really," Andrew replied. He was staring into the pavement.
Jennifer asked after she exhaled, “Oh, well have you been working on anything new? I really like your paintings.” Jennifer sincerely liked his paintings. She knew he wasn’t particularly skilled but she liked the idea of being able to see into Andrew’s head. She appreciated everything he created.
Andrew replied, “Yeah, not lately. Too busy with school shit I guess.”
"Oh, well that’s fine. I’m sure you’ll start again in the summer."
"Yeah, you’re right. I will. What about you? Have you written anything lately?"
"No, I guess not." Jennifer was unaware that she was staring down at her cigarette as she said this.
You guess not?”
"Well, I guess I did something for that writing class."
"Oh, the one with the professor that you hate?"
"Yeah, that one." Jennifer dropped her cigarette and stepped on it.
"Well, what is it? Is it good?"
"No, it’s really not. He gives us the stupidest assignments. Like, the assignment was to write about a situation where two strangers meet at a public place. I wrote about someone running into an old friend from high school at a gas station. Like, it was pretty boring and unoriginal. I feel like running into an old friend as a story is a trope and I never really like it."
"Do friends count as strangers?"
"You said the assignment was to write about strangers."
"Yeah, I guess I didn’t really follow the directions." Jennifer was upset that Andrew decided to call her out on not following directions, rather than chide the professor for giving a stupid assignment.
"I’m sure it’s good dude. You should send it to me"
"It’s really not but I’ll email it to you when I get home." She didn’t really want him to read it and hated everything about it and hated everything about her writing professor. She hated that instead of an MFA, he had a Masters in Professional Writing from an expensive private university known for football and the Nixon administration. She hated his stupid noir-themed protagonists and how his stories always utilized dead women as pieces of evidence. She really really hated his four elbow-patched tweed blazers that looked brand new, and every class session, she would check to see if he had bought a new blazer because she was sure that whenever he bought a new blazer, he stitched elbow patches on them immediately when he arrived home.
"Cool, I’m looking forward to it." Andrew was rubbing his arms.
Jennifer noticed that each of Andrew’s thin arm hairs were sitting atop a raised nodule on his skin.
"It’s cold as fuck, can we sit in a car?" Andrew said, rubbing his arms.
"Yeah, yeah, no problem, we can sit in my car."
Jennifer regretted this offer immediately because she had just been listening to the same Belle and Sebastian CD that she was listening to the last time she and Andrew had met. She had been listening to the same Belle and Sebastian CD week after week because her iPod radio transmitter broke when she pulled it out of the cigarette lighter too fast. She didn’t want Andrew to think she was a weirdo who listened to Belle and Sebastian week after week. Jennifer turned on her car to crack the windows and turned off the CD player as quickly as she could.
Andrew was still rubbing his arms. Andrew reached into his pocket and pulled out a long matte-black cylindrical piece of metal with a plastic mouthpiece. It was a vaporizer. He dug further into his pocket and brought out a clear circular container that looked like a small petri dish.
"Is that hash?" Jennifer asked.
"Nah dude, it’s wax," Andrew replied.
"Oh shit, nice!" Jennifer tended to add profanities to her speech around her male friends. She thought this made her appear less pretentious or more approachable or something. None of her friends thought she was pretentious, but they probably would if they knew she consciously changed her speech patterns to appear less pretentious.
"So how do we smoke this?" Jennifer asked. "Do you just put it on top of a bowl like hash?" Jennifer knew how to smoke wax but she liked to ask questions she already knew the answer to. She figured that maybe her friends thought she was good at small talk because she never appeared to know anything more than they did. At one point in her life, she thought that these kinds of thoughts might make her a sociopath. Years later, she realized she wasn’t smart enough to be a sociopath, not that she thought sociopathy was something to aspire to be.
"Here, I’ll show you." Andrew held a mini screwdriver built for repairing eye glasses. It was attached to his keychain. Andrew opened the petri dish and scooped out a small piece of the soft golden-brown substance. He unscrewed his matte-black metal pen and tried to softly place the wax on a metal coil. This took a few attempts and when he did it correctly he softly said "yeah" in a long proud tone. He screwed the vaporizer back together and then offered it to Jennifer.
"Here. You just press the button and pull slowly. Like, slower than you would a joint."
Jennifer did as he said, and as she knew. She let out a long exhale that didn’t show much vapor.
"Oh yeah, it might take a bit for it to heat up. Try it again," Andrew said.
Jennifer tried again, doing exactly as Andrew, and a boy months earlier, had taught. She let out another long exhale and this time, the vapor poured from her pursed lips.
"Damn, nice," Andrew said.
"Oh wow, I could barely feel that. Like, that was a lot, right?"
"Yeah, it was a nice hit." Andrew took the pen back and took a hit of his own. He handed the pen back to Jennifer but no vapor poured out of her mouth.
"Shit, did I break it?"
Andrew noticed the anxiety in her voice and tried to reassure her that she was doing nothing wrong. "Nah don’t worry," he said softly, "it’s probably just out."
He took the pen back, unscrewed it, and pressed the button that powered it.
"Damn, it’s not working," he said. "But uh, don’t worry, it’s not your fault, this happens all the time."
"Shit, I’m so sorry." Jennifer really was sorry, partly because it meant they couldn’t get any higher.
"Nah, don’t even worry about it, I have something else," Andrew assured.
Andrew stepped out of Jennifer’s car and opened the driver-side door of his car. He turned on his iPhone light and searched for something.
Jennifer sat in her car and stared at her hands on the steering wheel. She didn’t really like her hands and wished they were smaller. She contemplated turning on the radio but she was afraid “To Be Myself Completely” was going to immediately start and that Andrew would hear it and think she was a weirdo who only listened to Belle and Sebastian. Jennifer wanted to listen to music though because she was tired of staring at her hands. She turned on the radio and changed CDs. Sam Cooke started singing. She liked to imagine herself sitting in the back at the bar of a crowded club, smiling toward the stage as Sam Cooke sang to her, and only her, though she knew Sam Cooke would never sing to a tall Jewish woman with large hands.
Jennifer heard Andrew close the door to his car, and the sound made her feel a little more sober. Andrew opened the door of her car and stepped in. He was holding a three inch long glass tube with a hollow bulb at the end.
"Nice music dude," Andrew said.
"Is that a crack pipe?" Jennifer asked. She knew it was a crack pipe but felt she had to address it.
"Yeah," Andrew said in a long embarrassed tone. "They’re actually pretty solid for wax, just trust me."
"Nice, yeah, I believe you." Jennifer felt like any protest against the crack pipe would have been for the wrong reasons.
Andrew took a small piece of wax with his screwdriver and placed it at the bottom of the bulb. He held his orange Bic lighter underneath the bulb and after a few seconds, vapor started to fill the pipe. He put his mouth to the tube. While he held the lighter underneath the bulb, he slowly pulled the vapor into his mouth. As he exhaled, he let out of rough cough.
"Fuck that’s hot," Andrew said. His voice was strained. He passed the pipe to Jennifer.
Jennifer did as Andrew had and held the vapor in her lungs for a long second before exhaling. She coughed just as loud as Andrew had.
"Oh shit. I think I’m really high now," Jennifer said, confused. She couldn’t think of the right inflections to put in her speech.
They each inhaled from the crack pipe twice more until there was no more wax left. Together, they stared at nothing for five minutes, listening to Jennifer’s CD of R&B. They were both thinking their own thoughts. Jennifer tried not to stare at her hands. She was anxious because of the silence. She wondered if Andrew was annoyed at her silence. She wanted to make conversation.
"It’s too bad about Christine," Jennifer said. She felt more comfortable talking about other people than herself.
"Yeah man, I don’t know what’s up with her," Andrew said. "I feel like she’s trying to prove something. Like, really dude, all you can think about is stocks? That was probably one of the last times we were going to have all of us in one room for a long time. Like, we were all trying to have some real talk and she’s just staring and pulling at the carpet."
"Yeah, it seemed off," said Jennifer. They were both animated now that they had someone else to talk about.
Jennifer added, “I was trying to get her involved in the conversation when I asked her, ‘What are you thinking about, Christine?’ and her reply was ‘stocks.’ Literally, one word.”
Andrew replied, “Right? Like how many stocks can she possibly have? She was an intern at a startup for a few months and now she has this huge amount stocks that she needs to worry about?”
"You’re right. How many stocks do you think she has? It can’t be that many." Jennifer then tried to think of just how many stocks a startup would give to their intern. She didn’t know anything about startups but she assumed that if the stocks were valuable, a company wouldn’t hand them out like that to a college junior. She then thought that maybe the stocks were very valuable and that Christine was actually very good at what she did. Jennifer wished she had stocks to think about.
"Yeah man, I don’t even know," Andrew said. He rolled down his window and stared into the office windows above them. The cleaning crew was visible. They were vacuuming the second floor.
After a few seconds of silence, Andrew said, “Hey, I probably should head back to Riverside. It’s getting pretty late.”
"Oh, I didn’t know you had to drive back to Riverside tonight." Jennifer was deflated. She wondered why he wanted to leave. Maybe she was boring to him. She often worried that she was boring to her friends.
She asked, “Are you going to be okay driving? I mean, it’s sort of far.”
"Don’t worry dude, should only take forty minutes or less."
"Wanna smoke a cigarette before you leave?" Jennifer asked. It was a way to buy more time.
"Yeah, that actually sounds nice."
They both stepped out of the car. Jennifer pulled out two cigarettes and handed one to Andrew. She offered to light his cigarette but instead Andrew lit hers. Jennifer really liked it when other people lit cigarettes for her.
The smoke from their cigarettes again made them obvious to any would-be onlookers. Jennifer knew the cleaning crew from the office building could see them.
"So do you think she was really thinking about stocks?" Jennifer asked Andrew. Jennifer really didn’t know what to talk about.
"Huh?" replied Andrew. He was rubbing his arms as the hairs sat on raised nodules again.
"Like, do you think she was actually thinking about stocks?”
Andrew replied, “I don’t know dude. Maybe she was just trying to play it cool. Like, thinking about something else but then you caught her off guard and she was too embarrassed to actually say what it was she was thinking about, you know?”
"But what if she was really thinking about stocks. Like, maybe she was truly concerned about the state of her stocks and maybe that’s why she was picking at the carpet and not talking." Jennifer was now thinking about what Christine was really thinking about and liked Andrew’s explanation more than hers.
"I don’t know dude, I still think it’s bullshit. She really can’t have that many stocks, you know? Like why would she be so concerned about her like, ten or whatever stocks." Andrew sounded like he didn’t want to talk about it anymore.
Jennifer now regretted bringing up Christine again because she knew it made her sound like a bitch who only wanted to talk about other people’s problems. She often wished her self-awareness would come to her sooner.
Jennifer noticed that Andrew was staring into the lit office windows above them.
She desperately wanted to change the subject. She asked, “What are you looking at?”
"I think that guy is staring at me," Andrew replied.
Jennifer turned around to look up into the windows. One of the cleaning workers on the third floor was staring at them.
"Yeah, he’s totally staring at us," Jennifer said.
"Shit, do you think we should leave?"
"Yeah, I guess we should leave," Jennifer said, trying to sound less deflated than she felt. "I don’t want you driving too late."
"Yeah, you’re probably right. Thanks for the cigarette."
"No problem." She was smiling. "Are you going to be in Diamond Bar tomorrow too?"
"I don’t know, but I’ll let you know," replied Andrew.
Jennifer stepped toward Andrew and hugged him. Andrew opened his arms at the last second to not make the hug awkward.
"Drive safe, yeah?"
"Of course," Andrew said.
They both stepped back inside their cars. They started their cars within seconds of each other. Jennifer looked to her right towards Andrew and smiled but he didn’t look back. He was adjusting his radio. Andrew put his car in drive and pulled out of the complex.
Jennifer switched her CD player back to the radio. She turned it on and changed it from 89.3 to 88.9, expecting music. But instead, there were four young voices talking, sometimes over each other, about how terrible they thought Gangster Squad was. Jennifer listened to this for a few minutes, while her car idled in the parking lot. She noticed someone walk out of the building and toward her car. She knew he couldn’t do anything serious. She knew he couldn’t arrest her. Jennifer didn’t want to talk to him though, so she turned on her lights, put her car in drive, and drove out of the complex, driving toward the 57 south.