Hayley texts me: “We need to talk. Call me when you can.” I understand the significance of her phrasing. I select 'Contact' above the text and press the green phone icon. The electronic ringing fills my ear holes as I exit the room, leaving my roommates on the couches that border the spot on the floor where I’d sat painting as a way for me to maybe make a few extra dollars on my next visit to Hayley’s.
Last time I was there, Hayley got work off and we walked Venice Beach, past the vendors selling handmade shit and pot prescriptions. We stopped because Hayley wanted to get a tattoo. Her impulse excited me. I thought I’d get one too until I realized she meant henna. She got a symmetrical tree with roots mirroring branches. I used her camera to snap a picture of the crusted mud on her forearm. I might see the picture years later as part of a photo collage she might post on Facebook to document the time she’d spent dating her next boyfriend, after he proposed. But then, I was documenting us.
I’d come to Venice Beach before. On my last visit, when Greg, Casey, Amy and Erin stayed with Erin’s cousin, I stayed with Hayley. She dropped me off at the Erin’s cousin’s every morning on her way to work. I played human wake up call to my friends on that trip and Hayley was jealous she didn’t get to come on our daytime adventures.
That trip to California was with the same group of friends, if only a portion, came with me on the camping trip to Zion where Hayley and I first met. We had four carloads of friends—or potential friends, or potential future exes—in our one, seven-person-max campsite. I slept in the foldout bed in the back of my Volkswagen Bus that seven of us had driven there in, that the entire group would drive from hike to hike in. Jordan slept in the van with me and we talked about how neither of us had noticed how hot Hayley was until earlier, when we jumped a fence to bathe in a hotel swimming pool. We’d both noticed her lying out in her bikini to dry while a bar of soap was passed between naked men.
On the last day at Zion, Hayley told me our mutual friend, Rory, had showed her the Facebook pages of everyone who would be coming on our spring break escapade and when they got to me she stopped. She said, “Who’s that beautiful man?” Rory thought she was joking.
When I decided to make that image of me leaning forward over the back of an office chair with an intense facial expression my Facebook profile picture, it wasn’t to lure in any potential girlfriends or hookups. Maybe it was because I felt like it showed off the arm muscles that my time climbing rocks had provided. But mostly it was because I had to delete an old one; a shot of me with an ex who I didn’t want to see myself with anymore. The picture had been up too long and the change wasn’t for Hayley. She didn’t exist yet.
But now I’m walking outside and crossing my street into the illuminated circle beneath the streetlight, to take center stage in my dramatic role, away from the crumbling house, away from my roommates. Hayley answers the phone. She talks. I collapse and the moisture of the gutter seeps into my jeans. Somewhere in the dark sky the humidity breaks and I see snowflakes in the streetlamp’s glow. A car passes. Its red lights reflect off the pavement—still too warm for the snow to stick—as it slows for the stop sign at the end of the street, never noticing me, crumpled, elbows on the curb.
Steve E. Richardson lives in Utah where he recently graduated from the University of Utah. He shares stories of pizza delivery on his tumblr, everypizza.tumblr.com, and has been published in Electric Cereal, Purple Pig Lit. and Enormous Rooms.