I’d taken just one step away when a voice struck me.
“So, are you gonna bang her?”
It was only as I turned that I recognized the voice as Alan’s. He stood with his arms crossed, and a broad smile painted his face.
But his stare was as blank as always.
“How much of that did you see?” I demanded.
“You should, man. I would. But I’ve been gettin’ more than my share of tail lately, so I’ll leave this one to you. Slick way of gettin’ her to your place, too.”
Words tinged with admiration. Then, puzzlement.
“Don’t you want to bang her?”
“No, of course not.”
“You can’t lie to me, man. Your face is still red from when she took your notebook.”
He’d seen as much as I feared.
Despite my still considering Alan a friend, we’d grown apart as we matured.
As I matured.
Then again, he would say the same thing.
Friendships always begin with the potential for antagonism built into them. After all, you can’t play Cops and Robbers without someone to be the cop and someone to be the robber. And in adulthood, those games often evolve into intellectual sparring.
“Well, OK, fine. Yes. But not in some mad, carnal rush. Eventually. After proper steps have been taken in proper order.”
“‘Eventually’ doesn’t cut it, man. How many humans are there in the world?”
“About seven billion, I think.”
“Wrong. I mean, the number’s right. Probably.”
Math was not his area of expertise.
“The correct answer is ‘not enough.’ That’s what your DNA is sayin’, man, that’s what it’s shoutin’. It’s the selfish gene! The whole purpose of humans is to make more humans.”
Sounds like Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Sex is on the lowest level, along with water, shelter and sleep. But it’s not the nurturing, child-creating kind.
There’s the mad, carnal rush.
Right there at the bottom of the pyramid.
But it says nothing about purpose. You can’t read purpose into genetics; it can’t see the future.
“So then, where does it end?”
“Hell, I don’t know. Overpopulation, global starvation, pestilence… -ation. Solutions are hard, man. But it was a sweet ride while it lasted, right?”
“I don’t think I’ve ever heard you take the long view on anything.”
“I don’t think I ever will, man.” He thumped his chest with a hand. “‘Instant Gratification’ is my middle name.”
“Well, then ‘Eventual Gratification, Maybe’ is mine. I’ve gotten very good at doing without. It just feels weird receiving things I haven’t earned.”
Which always did make for awkward Christmases.
“It’s not real, man,” he said.
“Earnin’, I mean. It’s just a construct, it’s perception. So many things that you think are real just come down to chemicals in your head.”
“I’m rather fond of my head chemicals.”
“Speakin’ of chemicals, man… You need any? Uppers, downers, in-betweeners? You finally gonna take advantage of my friendship discount?”
But friendships stay close only if there’s mutual respect. And neither of us respected the other’s worldview, not really.
Our shared interest in all things chemical had taken us down two very different roads. If I were in a charitable mood, I could describe it as simply the difference between theory and practice. A more accurate description would have to go back to our late high school years.
I was constantly buried in books and beakers. SAT practice exams occupied my weeknights, and community service filled my weekends. Every cord that accompanied my cap and gown would be worth thousands of dollars when it came time to apply for scholarships. But, Alan… first he got the money, then he got the power, then—if his outlandish stories were to be believed—he got the women.
As months passed like this, I found myself resenting him more and more. Not because of the criminality of what he was doing, but just because I felt it was… unfair.
That he was cheating.
That he was taking shortcuts.
Ones that were denied to me only because I was unwilling to take the risk.
But, despite that, we were still the same people. Inside. And much of what had made us friends earlier in life still applied.
“Didn’t we just finish talking about taking the long view? I don’t want that. I’m high on life, ‘man.’”
“Oh, you’re somethin’. But it ain’t high. And you’re missin’ out on so much, I’m not even sure it’s life, either.”
“Saying no a thousand times doesn’t count?”
“You can say no a thousand times, but say yes once, and you’re mine forever, man.”
The last honest businessman.
“You’re a bad influence. I should go.”
“Yeah, but I’m so good at bein’ a bad influence.”
I turned to leave.
“Hey, wait up,” he said. “Before you go, take this.”
As I turned back, Alan tried to put something into my hand.
“I told you, I don’t want—”
But he slithered up and slipped it into my shirt pocket.
“It’s not for you, man, it’s for her. See how you feel about ‘proper steps’ when you wake up next to her tomorrow morning!”
Two finger-gunshots, a double-thumbs up, a wink, and he was gone. The ability to disappear quickly must be an asset to a man with his profession.
I reached into my pocket and pulled out a small vial.
After dropping it to the floor, I smashed it under my—
People would find it. People would have questions. Ones that would be difficult to answer.
And I’d already gotten my fingerprints all over it.
I held the vial up to the light. Glass, with a black, rubber stopper. All very ordinary. All very standard. I handled thousands like it every week in labs across campus. What made this one different was the contents.
Just a clear liquid. I couldn’t identify it from just that.
A perverse part of my brain wanted to open the stopper and smell it. By wafting, of course. Every chemistry student has heard the usual horror stories of burned-out sinuses and perforated septa from overeager sniffing.
An even more perverse part of my brain wanted to use it.
It wasn’t a part of my brain that I liked.
I couldn’t just pour it down a drain, either. I’d have to think of some safe way to dispose of it later. Safe for wherever it ended up… but mostly safe for me.
Why do you put me in these situations?
But he was right about one thing.
I still had goose bumps from the last time her fingers touched mine.