She hadn’t seen or talked to Arlene since high school graduation. This left a good a five years of leeway, time spent rationalizing the inner-workings of one’s brain amidst common tongues and paranoia. Election fodder, firearm coercion, socially-defunct rants and the inevitability of small towns; Selina was constantly adjusting, forcing herself to remain somehow aware of her surroundings as they shifted without warning. Her bedroom hadn’t changed much, the same crooners tacked to wallpaper, properly dressed for intercourse. She’d still sleep with all of them, a thought that made masturbation almost easier under her father’s roof.
Arlene’s text was brief, but contained the necessary info. “Yeah, we’re all good. What do you need?” It’d been almost a year since Selina had bought any for herself; a Friday night usually consisting of Burt’s couch, two joints, Netflix and whatever came next. She didn’t miss the sex, a brief but often stimulating affair. No, mostly Selina missed the way he woke up early, sometimes made breakfast, and usually left her a gravity bong before work. She’d grown accustomed to the high, how it slowly wore off as her eyes strained from the computer screen.
The last two weeks had been unsavory, Selina scrolling through the feed in search of answers. Arlene’s dark sunglasses and sunken smile made her curiously reminiscent. This old acquaintance had to be holding and possibly with brighter connections on the outskirts; a cute boy lost without conviction or an old head on the verge of sanity. Possibilities were limited, but enough character remained in the surrounding boroughs to warrant at least another year of healthy indecision.
They quickly worked out the details before Selina reheated leftovers and settled in front of the television. Dear old dad often deleted her TiVo selections in favor of monochrome history and softcore pornography. There weren’t many storylines worth following, the good guys dying for shock value or sulking in obliviousness while their significant others cheated without regret. Syndicated reality made the outside world seem just a tad inconsiderate, what with shifting weather patterns and a constant struggle amongst damaged souls.
Selina’s back ached slinking out of the blue arm chair, then checking her complexion and wallet for funds. Somebody would have to buy her at least one drink that evening to make socializing feel normal again. A quarter tank could last until Monday, the reliable fuzz of her tape deck making every passing distraction somehow sincere. They shined a little brighter when Burt drove, high on prescriptions and masculinity. He was her big dumb man for gawking spectators and their gossiping cronies, but now she’d leave them guessing at the evening’s descent.
“Hey bitch,” Arlene swung her screen door open, a tanned mystery in tie-dye and cut-offs.
“Yo,” Selina stepped inside with a waning grin, falling into the living room couch and crossing her legs. “So how long have you been here?” she asked
“Maybe a year,” Arlene sat Indian style in front of the coffee table and rummaged through a shoebox underneath. “Everything’s falling apart in this shithole, but I’m kind of used to it now.”
“I think it’s nice. You’re really tucked away up here.”
“Just another temporary residence. I’m getting the hell away once I save up enough.”
“Probably a good idea.”
“So here’s this then,” Arlene set the plastic bag down as Selina observed its contents, then paid, unnaturally nervous.
They got high and listened to contemporary noise, discussing past graduates in one-word sentences. “Gross!” Selina stuck her tongue out. “Didn’t he used to bite and save fingernails in his desk?”
“I don’t remember ever hearing that,” Arlene said. “Either way I’m sure he’s grown out of it at this point.”
“Either way, not my type.”
“Well, I guess they can’t all be shining examples like Burt.”
“Don’t bring him up.”
“Okay, although I did run into him last night with this girl, Krysten. I don’t know if you know her.”
“What’s her last name?” Selina asked, startled.
“Don’t know. She’s kind of short, bleached blonde, but with freckles. It’s really not a good look.”
“I’m not sure who you’re talking about, but whatever. We’re broken up anyway.”
“Yeah, but how long has it been?”
“Maybe three weeks now.”
“He moves pretty fast,” Arlene observed.
“Yeah, I guess,” Selina sunk an extra inch into the cushion.
“Maybe Krysten was like his back-up.”
“How do you mean?”
“Like, ya know, waiting in the wings in case tragedy should strike.”
“So you think he was talking to this chick while we were dating?”
“Oh yeah, definitely.”
“And yet I have no idea who she is?”
“It would appear that way. Let me see if I can find a picture.” Arlene pecked away at her screen, scrolling then enlarging. “Here, I think this is her.”
A bit unearthed, Selina took the phone and tried to pinpoint a time or place where this girl would have made an impression. There were weekends away from each other, both blaming the occurrence on unsettled friends. She wanted to text Burt’s at that moment, to ask about Krysten’s doughy eyes, fat cheeks, short dress and pock-mark nose stud. Any one of his so-called bros would sleep with her given the opportunity, although sharp choices often left scars.
“Ya see, this is why I’ve been avoiding social media lately,” Selina handed the phone back.
“You’re not missing much,” Arlene scrolled a bit.
“So that’s like a thing, huh? Guys have back-ups.”
“It’s not gender-specific. People have back-ups. You don’t have back-up?”
“You mean like somebody I could sleep with now that I’m single?”
“Sleep with, hang out with. Maybe go antiquing. Back-ups are a good thing to have.”
“Yeah, but then you’re never really devoting yourself to anybody, cause it’s like one foot’s always out the door.”
“Not necessarily. It’s loose terminology to begin with, so you can sort of take it at face value.”
“Okay, who’s your back-up?” Selina asked.
“I’d rather not say,” Arlene smirked.
“That means it’s somebody I know, right?”
“Yeah, I think so.”
“Well why don’t you just tell me? I mean, I’ll tell you mine if you tell me yours.”
“Up until two minutes ago the concept of a back-up was somehow foreign to you.”
“Yeah, but now that I’ve thought about it, I’m pretty sure I’ve had one this whole time.”
“Bullshit,” Arlene glared from the floor.
“Ya know what, this is stupid. It doesn’t matter who either one of our back-ups are, because if they were in the least bit important to us, we’d be hanging out with them instead of each other.”
“You just came over to get weed, remember?”
“And I’ve somehow managed to sink into your couch,” Selina smirked.
“I know,” Arlene chuckled. “It has that effect on people.”
“What I was trying to say is that we’re two single, independent ladies. We should be out on the town, letting the guys come to us, right?”
“You mean like bar scum?”
“No, we can go somewhere classy maybe. I just think we should do that soon though, ya know, before all the good ones are gone. What time is it?”
“Quarter after seven.”
“Did you eat dinner? I’m gonna make something, do you want anything?”
“I ate already, but am still kind of hungry.”
“Follow me.” Arlene bounced up from the living room carpet and grooved to the kitchen.
It took Selina an extra moment to balance, her prescription fuzzier by the day. Arlene’s guided tour of the refrigerator was a bit lax, the individual ingredients far from essential, but still quite necessary. The guest watched her hostess perform pan-fried magic tricks for a good two minutes, before checking her feed. Sure enough in the corner sat a message from Chas, a mess of bad intentions at some neon excuse for a nightclub. “Hey, it’d be cool to hang out sometime, right?” She’d met him twice, but they’d only really talked the once, when Burt was being a dick at The Blue Tavern. Her ex-boyfriend didn’t even really know him.
Hitting the button she sighed. “Not back-up material.”
Christopher S. Bell has been writing and releasing literary and musical works through My Idea of Fun since 2008. His sound projects include Emmett and Mary, Technological Epidemic, C. Scott and the Beltones and Fine Wives. My Idea of Fun is an art and music collective based out of Johnstown, Pennsylvania. (www.myideaoffun.org). Christopher’s work has recently been published in the Madison Review, Kentucky Review, Red Rock Review, Commonline Journal, Crab Fat Magazine, Crack the Spine, Foliate Oak, The Gambler, and Talking Book among others. He has also contributed to Entropy and Fogged Clarity.