If I Stay Online - Evan Reeves

ONE

“It's official,” Brandon sighed, shutting his laptop with an almost mournful look in his eyes. “I will never in this lifetime be as hilarious as Nicolas Cage.”

He blinked at me, my lifeless body still curled up on his bed. Clad in my only pair of flannel pajamas and probably appearing like the utterly pathetic loser that had managed to eat any last shred of my once beaming personality.

“Gemma,” he said, poking me in the forehead with a pen. Likely one of the few hundred that he kept scattered all over his bedroom floor. “Gemma, don't be like that. Don't be all dead and corpse-like. It's weird.”

“What was that?” I finally asked. “I'm sorry. I couldn't hear you over the sound of Nic Cage losing his shit.”

Slinking over from his L-shaped corner desk, he plunked down next to me, the mattress giving way and sinking slightly under his weight. Then, as not so unusual for Brandon to do, he seized me by the shoulders and I braced myself for a merciless shaking.

“GEMMA. Earth to Gemma! It's time for you to drag yourself out of bed and get out of the apartment. I swear, how long have you been wearing those pajamas?” He stopped, narrowing his eyes, a small grimace sweeping over his mouth. “When is the last time you, you know, actually took a shower?”

I rolled over, looking at him, my unruly strawberry-red hair unquestionably reminiscent of something out of a B-list horror flick.

“Toby,” I finally choked. Brandon groaned.

“Oh, you mean that dude with the perpetual need to stick his penis in anything with a vague pulse? Yeah, I remember that guy. He's a douche-bag. And you shouldn't be wasting yourself away in here over him. Not. Worth. It.”

Brandon kept talking, but truthfully, his words were more like static and white-noise. Some sort of foreign, garbled collection of clashing nonsense that I could only barely focus on as I fixed my eyes on the cardboard cutout of Nicolas Cage that stood in the corner of Brandon's room, right next to his computer. Nic was wearing a bright-pink tie belonging to Brandon, which might have sort of clashed with his otherwise business-like ensemble. But whatever. Why did this even matter?

It didn't. Not really. Not in the midst of the recent monotonous chaos that was my life. Work. Sleep. Work. Sleep. In fact, I'd spent about the entirety of my Christmas break working hours so long at the local retail giant that I could barely keep my eyes open during the drive home, trying to pull together whatever cash I could for the bills – and the rest of the time, well. It was consumed with a whole lot of nothing. And ice cream. Mostly ice cream.

You're over him. I told myself. So why are you still doing this to yourself?

Brandon was leaning over me; his inky-black hair swooped over pale blue eyes. Really, Brandon was gorgeous. A total catch. However, it would never work with him. I mean, setting aside the fact that Brandon had zero interest in the female anatomy; he was also sort of a train-wreck. In the most hilarious way possible, sure. Nobody could make me laugh like Brandon. But still. His room was a mess of Teen Zeen magazines, Justin Bieber posters, and alongside his coveted cardboard cutout of Nic Cage, there was also one of Obama. Except Mr. President's tie was green.

“I'm not taking advice from the twenty-two year old with Justin Bieber posters on his bedroom wall,” I muttered. “I think I'm just going to go back to bed.”

“Oh, no you don't.” Brandon grabbed me again, tickling me until I started squirming like a total lunatic. “We're going out. Last semester of college starts tomorrow, angel darling face. We're doing this right. And, if we're lucky, maybe you can find some lucky gent to ease your wounded soul for the evening.”

By easing my wounded soul, Brandon meant a sub-par decent fuck. Still. He had some point, even if he struggled to convey his thoughts in a manner fit for the most eloquent of high-school teens. I looked at him, trying to give him my best genuine smile, but it just came out crooked and awkward and likely very hideous.

At least I'd been keeping up my dental hygiene.

“You're over him.” Brandon gripped my shoulders; his fingers calloused from spending more hours than I likely ever will playing bass, which was a favorite past-time of his. And a total Boy Magnet. Everyone loves the guy who plays guitar.

Toby. Toby