Christopher Edelen

No Access After 5:30

There’s a little yellow LED shining in the top left corner of the key pad that tells me straight away, my car is stuck in there. Either that or it’s been towed. As a first thought, I hop the cement wall and lower myself down onto the entrance ramp. I’m not optimistic. As soon as my feet are planted I look to the left, to where I had pulled in a few hours earlier. My demise takes the form of one of those roll down security gates you start seeing when the mall is closing. I get a text from my roommate:

Charlie: Everything okay?

Me: Um… Maybe not actually, hold please.

I want to let them go. The whole reason I’m discovering this little hiccup now is because I don’t at all want to go to the coffee shop Charlie and Em are going to. When I found out everyone else bailed on the show I almost cancelled altogether. I should have. Look at me now, my car is stuck in a garage. Ballet, and dinner, and coffee would be way too much time spent with these two particular people. Besides, I have a dog to feed at home.

It’s cold by southern California standards, maybe mid-forties, and now I don’t have a ride home without them. I’m shivering because Charlie has my jacket, which I draped around her shoulders in a fit of chivalry. This, both in spite of and because of the fact that she thinks she’s coming down with something, which I hate. But then, she always thinks she’s coming down with something. She’s only right about 75 percent of the time, so I don’t feel like my jacket is at any great risk of becoming infectious.

Still though, have to try and figure this out. There’s a number for the towing service on the gate. I can’t see my car in there so I call the number. Nobody answers. I walk the long way around, messaging Charlie and Em with our own semaphore of scrunched up faces. I finally look at the building under which I might still be parked. It’s a library. That explains the hours. An old man is sitting next to the locked down entrance, dressed in full winter garb. He has a rolling suitcase and an open book. He looks up and smiles as I scour the bills posted on the library doors for any relevant information. There’s a number for the library that I call. Again, not optimistic. Rightly so, as it turns out.

“You parked underneath?” the man asks. He’s homeless, and yet very clean and clearly spoken. His keeps his eyes in his book as he beckons. I decide he must live here.

“Yeah, I am,” I answer. “Did you see any cars get towed out of here?”

“No. They really only tow if a car has been sittin there for a few weeks. Yours’ll be safe down there, but nobody’s gonna come open it till tomorrow mornin to be sure.”

“When?” I ask, frightened. Tomorrow is Sunday. The paper on the door says the library won’t open until one in the afternoon.

“Well there you’re in luck. There just so happens to be a monthly farmer’s market tomorrow, so they’ll be op’nin up round six-thirty for those folks to load in. You live around here?”

“No I live… well I’m in West Hollywood right now, house sitting at my uncles’ place.”

“Oh! that’s not too far!” he chuckles. It’s twenty miles. That’s a huge favor to ask of someone, or one super-expensive Uber.

“Right right,” I nod, “thanks for the info. Guess I’ll be back in the morning.”

The old man nods and keeps reading. I cross the street to where Charlie is parked. She rolls down the window, protected from the chill by my jacket.

“What’s wrong?” she asks.

“My car is stuck in there.”

She motions me in. Of course they’ll drive me back to my uncles’. They can say hello to Bumper. Charlie misses him pawing around the house already. Em has a cursory but loving knowledge of him. He’s old.

Of course this means I’m going for coffee. Charlie makes the joke she always makes, which has started to grate on my nerves. “Every time we go out I end up kidnapping you!”

The place we go specializes in twelve dollar lattes with art in the foam. Drawings of faces, cursive letters in cinnamon, bears, leaves, and around this time of year Christmas trees with sprinkles for ornaments. Em offers to pay for mine, given the circumstances. I decline. I don’t have a lot, including my car suddenly, but I do have enough money for a hieroglyphic coffee.

Charlie stays in my jacket. The lattes, by nature of their artistry, take forever. In my phone I jot down the address of the library, as well as the words “Six thirty / farmer’s market.” Charlie asks if I think my car got towed, Em asks if I went up to the gate and looked for it. I tell them about the homeless guy, who no doubt knows the deal. Em and Charlie are best friends.

***

I was in the kitchen, barely dressed, and wearing a silly mustache. Commando in a pair of girl’s volleyball shorts and nothing else but a tank top I had cut from an old shirt. The windows were open to ward against heat and smoke. Traffic roared by on the street outside. The vent over the stovetop roared inside. Both my hands were wrist deep in the slimy cold of raw chicken. Both my feet were barefoot, tracking two coagulated piles of dog hair across the kitchen floor.

Charlie rushed to answer the door. Half dressed, hair half done. She takes pride in being chronically late. From the kitchen I heard the door open. A voice full of laughter floated through the house, one atmosphere above Charlie’s own gravelly warble.

“Jaron! Entertain my friend!” Charlie trailed, disappearing back into the bathroom.

Em poked her head around the corner. “I’m Em.”

“I’m… covered in chicken,” I answered.

“That’s quite a name,” she said.

“It’s more of a lifestyle really.”

***

The bedroom I use at my uncles’ place doubles as an office on the rare occasion that anyone but me is in town to use it. The bed itself is one my uncle made in a fit of HGTV fury. I like it because it’s only a foot and a half off the ground, and the mattress is firm. Bumper and I are in it. He’s letting me scratch his belly, shifting around with his his nose pointed straight out like Snoopy.

Charlie can’t get comfortable at the desk, so she crawls bed with us, making sure to use Bumper as an appropriate barrier. Em has her feet on the foot of the bed already, the rest of her body occupying the reading chair. It’s a small bedroom. They keep apologizing about the car.

It becomes clear they aren’t leaving anytime soon. I pour us three gin and tonics. Charlie starts in on a game we play. She must play with Em too because she never explains the rules. Basically Charlie poses a question and everyone in the room takes turns answering.

“Tell me about every time you can remember having sex in a hotel,” Charlie asks. Em and I exchange glances to see who’s up first. She brings her drink to her lips slowly enough that I pick up the cue. I take a swig and sigh deeply.

***

Charlie and I were watching Fantasia with the lights out. We laid perpendicular on our sectional, each in our assigned seats. I got some work done while she fell asleep. Just as all those hooded silhouettes drifted through the woods to Ave Maria, Charlie drifted awake and kicked me from where she lay on the couch.

“You should ask Em out,” she said.

I responded the only way I could think to at the time, which was: “Is that right?”

I picked Em up at her house. She invited me inside. I met her mom, two dogs, and two foreign exchange students they were hosting. All of us sat in her living room while Em’s shoes finished up in the dryer. The gaps in our conversation were filled with the sound of rubber soles smacking rhythmically into the drum.

She made me stop at a 7-11 for snacks, where she grabbed canned coffee and started drinking it before we’d really bought it. I followed as she wandered the aisles, picking up bags of chips and then putting them back down. “Not that one either eh?” I smiled. The coffee turned out to be all that she wanted, so we approached the cashier with nothing but the empty can.

We were almost alone in the theater. Another couple, a real couple, came in at the last minute and sat strangely close to Em and me. They were easy to ignore. Em was not. She slouched beautifully in her seat with her legs kicked up. Her blonde hair didn’t come down past her chin, all of it pushed over her face by the seat-back. Every so often, she puffed out her lower lip to blow the hair out of her face. The shirt she wore exposed her navel, which I would have guessed was pierced, but it wasn’t.

As soon as the movie ended the only other guy in the theater shouted, “What in the fuck did I just watch?” He earned a laugh from Em and his girlfriend, but I just made a face. Admittedly it was a pretty difficult movie to follow, and admittedly I’d seen it once before bringing Em. She told me about how she’d read up on the meaning, and ran her understanding of it by me with something short of enthusiasm.

“Why did you buy a stick-shift car when you knew you were moving to LA?” she asked.

“It was actually a few thousand dollars cheaper than the same car automatic.”

“Did you know how to drive stick before?”

“Yeah, I learned on a stick. I failed my first driver’s test because apparently you’re never supposed to be in neutral.”

“Really?”

“Supposedly. You know how?”

“I learned once, but I’ve never really done it.”

I handed her my keys. “Think you can get us home?”

She laughed and said no, but took the keys. “Let’s just see if I can get us around the parking lot,” she said.

***

I shake Charlie awake while Em looks on, chuckling. Thankfully my roommate has a penchant for keeping her glass upright when she falls asleep drink in hand.

“Let’s get you home,” Em suggests, sparing me the trouble. Charlie scoots across my bed while Em ruffles through her purse.

“What time am I picking you up in the morning?” Charlie asks, coming to a sudden alertness.

“No no, I’m gonna have a friend take me. He lives just a few blocks over. Much closer than our place.”

Charlie glares for a moment. She knows I’m lying, but she’s too tired to argue about it. She walks out the door without another word.

“It’s unlocked,” Em tells her. She’s crouched down, saying goodbye to my dog. She pushes the door almost shut so that we’re out of Charlie’s sight. “Really though, I’ll take you back to your car. I don’t have anything going on tomorrow.”

***

I was sitting at my desk, in our apartment, when Charlie told me how the date went. We never knock, so she came in and smacked the back of my head before plopping down into my reading chair.

“How do you think it went?” she opened.

“Apparently not well.”

“She said you were an asshole.”

“That’s fair.”

“What’d you do?”

“Nothing out of the ordinary I think.”

“To be honest”—Charlie shifted in her chair—“she’s really insecure. You can’t just make fun of her like you do with me. I’m telling you this because she chalked it up to nerves.”

“Who’s?”

“Hers, yours, she didn’t say. Anyway she’s willing to go out with you again to see if you’re any nicer.”

“I don’t think I could be, I was just being myself.”

“Well, be nicer anyway. She’s my friend. You don’t have to go out with her again.”

***

The plans that fell apart were intricate. I booked the hotel room for a week, two beds. I had a lot of work to do and needed plenty of space to do it in. That part worked out really well actually. I spent three uninterrupted days locked away accomplishing things, ignoring texts from Casey as he tried to explain why he hadn’t shown up yet. The comp was just down in Santa Ana, he’d drive down when he could.

Charlie and Em were going to meet us there. They were going to Disney for dapper day. Charlie wanted to shack up with Casey and me in the hotel the night beforehand, so they wouldn’t have to make the drive from LA in costume.

Casey never did show. Charlie called and told me she got sick again and wasn’t coming, but was it okay if Em did? Yes. Could I go to dapper day with her so she wouldn’t have to go it alone? No.

I walked out to meet Em in the hotel’s parking lot, showered and dressed for the first time in days. She handed me a rubbermaid tote full of her outfit and beauty products.

“Really going in for dapper day huh?” I asked.

“I like to look nice sometimes,” she mumbled.

Right, be nicer.

“Have you been getting a lot done?” she asked, getting settled into the room.

“I have actually. My friend bailed so I’ve been super productive.”

“That’s good. Not that your friend didn’t come, but that you’ve gotten work done. I’ll try not to be a bother.”

“Oh no worries. It’s nice really. I literally haven’t spoken to anyone in four days so…”

We walked to a Mexican restaurant that we found online. An overpass took us right over the 5. We both stopped to look out over the crawling traffic. One river of yellow headlights heading south. Another of red taillights heading north.

“What time are you leaving in the morning?” I asked.

“Probably early, like nine.”

“Are you gonna be all by yourself?”

“No. I thought I was, but I’m having a friend from Anaheim meet me there.”

That night I wasn’t sleeping well, I didn’t want to burp or roll over or do anything else that would make too much noise. Em got up to use the bathroom. On her way back she stopped at the foot of my bed. I remembered my heart beat. She crawled in next to me.

“Wait, so then did you two hook up?” Charlie later asked, sprawled out on her side of the sectional.

We didn’t. That night Em and I lay face to face for a while, considering one another. We were uncomfortable in each other’s arms. I resolved to fall asleep that way. After too long a time laying there she grabbed the back of my head and tried to bring my lips to hers. I couldn’t kiss her, but neither could I put my hands up to protest. All I had time to do was tense my neck and look down so that her parted lips closed gently for a moment on my eyebrow. I hadn’t been shaving, so I guess its understandable that it took her several seconds to realize what her lips were pressed against.

But I didn’t tell any of that to Charlie. Charlie, I just looked at. I dropped my head with my eyes still trained on hers, implying that she knew the answer.

***

I always stand outside to wait for an Uber, even when the meet up point is my address. It just feels more polite, and expedient. The drivers aren’t hourly after all. Bumper’s barking up a storm because he can see me from the backyard. It’s only 8am and there’s a thick fog hanging over Los Angeles. A still and quiet grey from which I’m waiting for a Rav4 to emerge.

The first thing I see when I get to the library is that homeless guy. He’s right where I left him. Sitting in the same position, reading the same book. I imagine he’s not on the same page, but there’s no way to tell. I keep my eyes on him as I walk past, ready to give him another nod of gratitude if he recognizes me from last night.

The gate’s wide open, just like he said it’d be. Sure enough, the garage is bustling. SUVs with their trunks open line the rows of parking spots, their owners unloading home-grown crops and promotional pamphlets. What I don’t see is my Jetta.

I press the lock button on my key fab to honk the horn and flash the lights. My car sounds off somewhere to my left, and I look down to see my headlights flash between two pickups. I feel sick to my stomach as I make my way there, praying that my car isn’t wearing a new boot or a shiny parking ticket. I feel even sicker when I see that there is something under the wipers.

It’s from the police. It has a case number and phone number to call for the local department, and I quickly see why. I run to where the passenger side window was and pull the remaining glass out of the door so I can lean in. The stereo is still there, but the AUX cord I had plugged into it is gone. That cord was about all I kept in my car. I check the trunk for my skates. Everything’s still there too. Whoever smashed my window in only got a two dollar cable for their trouble. All I have to contend with are the millions of shards, the jagged fragments and pebbles of beaded glass in my seats.

Wrapping my hoodie around my hand, I hastily brush off the driver’s seat. The glass just ends up on the floor. My boots can deal with that for the time being. I guess I’ll see if I can get it in the shop and get a rental. But, I’ll do all that closer to home.

~~~

Christopher EdelenChristopher Edelen was born in Boston, MA. He writes fiction and poetry, and writes for the web series “Pretty Dudes.” Christopher currently lives in Los Angeles with his dog. Most recently his work has been featured in the Twisted anthology from Medusa’s Laugh Press, Harper Palate, The Helix Magazine, and is upcoming in FORTH Magazine. Follow him on twitter at @EdelenAuthor.

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