Brian was bored at work when he got the call. He otherwise wouldn’t have answered, but his phone was already in his hand and the only pressing things on his plate were a page on IGN that wouldn’t read itself and some spreadsheet he had to get a vague understanding of before he could get a vague understanding of whatever poorly thought up plan his struggling employer was cooking behind the scenes.
The name that popped up was unexpected, a close friend in high school nearly ten years prior who had drifted as they’d aged. Some people grow up, Brian remembered explaining to his parents when they’d asked why the friend wasn’t coming around anymore. He just got taller.
“Brian!” The voice nearly ruptured an eardrum, and one of Brian’s work-proximity-associates gave him the eye. “Brian! It’s been way too long, man. Let’s get dinner!”
If there was one thing Brian hated, it was an unannounced phone call. If there was another thing, it was being forced into plans, especially with someone he hadn’t spoken to in years.
He made it sound like he was really disappointed. “Sorry, I’m busy tonight.” Busy sitting on my ass eating a pint of ice cream and wondering why I haven’t gone to the gym in years, but I’m still busy.
“Then tomorrow,” the friend said.
Brian took a big sigh like he was thinking over his schedule. “Booked up tomorrow too. Let me check when I get home and see if I can come up with a day that works.” Or, just hope you get the hint.
“Okay, man.” The voice on the other end was disappointed. “I was just thinking about high school the other day. Remember when you did that flip off the roof of the dock into the lake? My parents still talk about that.”
Brian remembered that day. It was cold for June, and he hadn’t been there for at least a year. They’d already drifted by then, different sports, different friend groups. It would have been forgettable other than the flip off the dock. He’d wanted to try it for years but never had the balls and realized it might have been his last chance. It was the pinnacle of his adolescence, but in the back of his head he’d started realizing it was just the pinnacle, period.
“Tomorrow works,” Brian said. “Text me the place.”
They met at a sushi joint up close to Brian. It was a long drive for his friend, but his friend had suggested it, so Brian figured the guy was just desperate.
His friend was already sitting when Brian arrived and Brian’s already creeping anxiety spiked as he walked to the table, both for not knowing exactly where this conversation would go, but also because he didn’t know if they should shake hands, hug, or if he should just sit down.
They hugged. It was awkward, forced. A quick around the shoulders and then arms straight out to the sides like they were allergic to the cotton on the other one’s shirt.
“Sorry I’m late,” Brian said.
“Oh, I just got here, so don’t worry about it.” His friend wore a loose V-neck that showed a suntan from working outside all day. “I’ve never had sushi so I didn’t know what to get, but I knew you liked the place.”
Brian didn’t know if he should be alarmed or feel sorry for him.
“Yeah, this place is good,” Brian said. “They have some really good rolls.”
“Just order all the ones you like, and I’ll take half.”
That caught Brian by surprise. What kind of sushi order is that? Then the realization hit him. Thinking of me. Calling me for no reason and then asking me to dinner. His cheeks went flush. Am I on a date?
The conversation jumped around. His friend owned a small business as the only employee. His parents were still doing well, living in the same house on the lake. He wasn’t married, hadn’t dated anyone in years.
Brian nervously fidgeted with his jeans under the table and his eyes kept shifting to the window where he could see his car parked outside. It wasn’t nice by any means, but with every new topic he was feeling more trapped, like they were dancing around this elephant neither knew how to broach.
“So how’s work for you?” his friend asked as the waiter set their sushi down.
“It’s a shitty startup, honestly.” Hopefully he’ll be too embarrassed by me to go through with it. “Company has no idea what it’s doing, their product isn’t selling, and they’ll probably be out of business by the end of the year.”
His friend wore a pained look on his face. Brian felt sweat on his own. Oh no, it was too pathetic and now he feels sorry for me.
“That’s how it goes. They take a hard-working man like you and run them into the ground.” His friend took a long drink, his eyes never leaving Brian’s. “And that’s actually kind of why I wanted to see you.”
Brian’s leg started bouncing under the table, a nervous tick, and his face twisted into a forced smile. “Why is that?”
“Well, you know, for a long time I didn’t really have anything to keep me going,” his friend said.
Brian shifted in his seat, unsure of what was coming next.
“I just didn’t have anyone, or anything, really.”
“But your business?” Brian said.
“This was before. Before I found my reason for getting out of bed in the morning.”
Brian raised an eyebrow, his leg suddenly stopping its pat, pat, pat under the table. Wait, this isn’t a date. Is he telling me to come to Jesus? Is he giving me career advice because he feels so sorry for me?
“Sorry, I thin—”
“I just thought,” his friend said, “that you could benefit from what got me through the tough times.”
“And what is that?” Brian asked through a tremor in his voice.
“You ever thought of investing in crypto? I just got into a new one, and I think it could really pop.”
Not a date. No apologetics to Jesus.
But it was somehow even worse. Brian could barely breathe. He fought back the urge to scream.
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