His friends wanted to go out the next day, and they were enthusiastically discussing where to meetup. Liam looked on in horror as his phone screen scrolled with line upon line of code, all making the messages that tore at him like paper mache knives. Each one was filled with social compulsion, each drawing him like a strings hooked to his skin. They were happy, they were angry, they were sad, they were glad. But in all that, they wanted to go out and have some 'fun'
He'd already planned out his next day, even if it wasn't anything truly important. There were things in his life he needed to sort out, pieces of him he had to sift through in order to figure out what his next step was. Didn't these people realise that there were places he needed to be? Things he needed to do that were more important than some social times replete with saccharine compliments and 'heart-wrenching' goodbyes?
He typed a message to the group.
"Sounds like a great idea. I'm down."
Waffletown, someone said, but was immediately met with another's disagreement, claiming that waffles weren't filling and that they were breakfast food. Pastamania, someone else would throw in, and the entire group would round on that person, jabbing and bullying top relinquish that person from that terrible idea they'd had in the first place. Liam watched them, feeling his wallet in his pants weigh down heavily against his thigh, still light and unfilled from the previous time they'd gone for lunch. Though he did somewhat enjoy their presence, it was difficult to remain friends with them when all of them weren't as thrifty as he was. Or at least, weren't in a position to have to be as thrifty as he was.
Suddenly, they all turned to him and suggested as one,
- the most expensive place possible.
He looked at all of them. His eyes widened in surprise at their unison, his heart pounded as they pierced it with their steady gazes, lips peeled and teeth bared as though snarling at him though he knew they must be smiling. He knew that he had just enough money for the day, and spending beyond that budget was going to set him back for dinner and the next day. He knew that he'd go hungry, if he refused them.
"Sure, it's alright."
They'd eaten their fill, gone through the necessary motions of eating, laughing, talking and paying, and now they sought to enjoy their time together further, though Liam could feel the tension increasing with every moment they spent together. It overlaid all their interactions, like a sickly-sweet honey over the ropes that were meant to bind them together; but Liam was the only one that was truly aware of it.
Liam was tired, and he didn't really want to be outside anymore. It was only late in the afternoon, but heavy spending on steaks and chops had burned through his willpower just like his wallet, and he was thinking about how much energy he'd have to conserve in order to get through the next day of school. But his fellow out-mates weren't thinking about any of that, only deciding where was a good place to further bond over. At least, they were thinking about where would be a place they could show of the closeness of their relationship to others.
He wasn't happy about anything, for right then, nothing sounded more comforting than the four walls of his home. Nothing could be more attractive then saying, right there, we could truly enjoy the time we have together if it was more limited. Let us depart for our various destinations, happy in the fact that at some point, we spent time together.
Wanna head to the arcade? someone said, and was met with a chorus of agreement. They all turned to him, eyes shining in a manner that sickened him to his bone; it was too bright to be genuine, to full of life to be real.
"Yeah, sounds like fun."
They stood in the arcade, surrounded by music and noise that pounded their eardrums relentlessly, going beyond the natural tolerance of any human, but meeting the natural tolerance of those that sought the void of thoughtlessness, or those that wanted to pretend to it. Here and there, Liam spied out degenerates and loners, sitting in their corners with their backs hunched and their eyes lidded, spending away all their money without any concern for the well-being of themselves, or perhaps of others under their care. The slots hungrily consumed the coins like dirty children, slurping up their food with an insatiable desire that resulted in those flashing lights across the screen - temporary and futile.
They walked over to a gun game, fake laughter still in their mouths as they attempted to maintain some semblance of relationship in the cover of that overpowering white noise. They riffled through their pockets, bringing out all the coins that the possibly could to demonstrate their willingness to spend time and money at this arcade station, but they didn't fool Liam. He could see the reluctance in their fingers, the turning of their knuckles, the tightness in their jaws. He knew that none of them were willing to spend, only willing to be there for the sake of the others.
He wanted to interrupt, he wanted to stuff the money back in their mouths and drag them out, listening to them screaming in protest, or perhaps in relief that they wouldn't have to continue this charade any longer. Perhaps then, he would finally be able to get this black feeling out of his chest. Perhaps then, they would finally stop pestering him with their bright eyes, laughing mouths and gaping wounds.
Coins were slotted in, but immediately they turned to him: Want to play first?
"Of course; I'm going to outscore all of you."
He walked into the living room, tired to the bone. His eyes swept the entire length of the area, spying out the dirty dishes, the filthy laundry, the scattered remnants of failed job applications and wanting resumes. It wasn't just his eyes that was assaulted; his nose could detect the scent of unwashed bodies, long overdue for a cleaning that would certainly revitalize her life. Stale food leftover in the dishes also wafted under his nose, and he knew that if he looked in those bowls and plates he left out, he would find that it had been barely touched - perhaps with one or two bites taken out of them.
The flashing lights of the television splayed over the couch in psychedelic patterns, illuminating the thin form of a woman slumped in its embrace, head thrown a little to the side and dirty hair scattered like wriggling worms against the earth of the backrest. Brown, glass bottles were heavily concentrated around her, empty now but once filled with a liquid that not only made Liam's head spin, but made him nauseous as well. He could see that one was still wrapped in the crook of her arm by her side, like a treasured token, or a box of money. She treated them one and the same.
He leant over the armrest, but the woman was silent. He gave her a peck on her cheek, trying not to notice the needle in her arm.
"I love you mom."