I woke up to the sun shining through my east window. It took me a moment to remember what my other self had lived through the night before. From my activities, it had been Theodore’s turn. I looked next to me and saw the elongated frame of Gared, stretched out in blissful sleep. I sighed.
Theodore was lucky in finding Gared. Not many guys could handle the whiplash of a Midsummer Night’s Dream date with Theodore, and then being thrown out on their ass by Ted in the morning. That was the only time we could ever get Ted to do any laundry. Given, usually he threw the sheets away instead of putting them through the wash. As long as they weren’t Theodore’s Sferra Capris, life went on. Gared rolled over and opened his eyes. I looked down at him, remembering again where I was and who I was supposed to be. Men weren’t really my thing, but Theodore already had to deal with Ted’s apathetic responses. Time to act out the part.
“Good morning, love.”
He smiled. “Morning.” His face paused, wondering what to expect this time around.
I tried to reassure him. “Don’t worry. I’m Dr. Jekyll today.” He laughed.
I leaned down to kiss him, lightly. He responded, but pulled back. His hand brushed my arm as he spoke. “What are your plans for today?”
I stared off into space. Thought of how innocent such a phrase was. But any day I was allowed, was a gift. I was only given stolen time, so I tried to make every second count.
“I don’t know. Walk out the door.”
He tilted her head and looked at me. I stared back down, afraid that I’d said too much. Gared was smart, and I sometimes wondered if he saw through us all.
Wordlessly he took my hand and led us toward the shower. I shed his clothes, leaving kisses in their absence, like Theodore would do. The water was warm, and his skin warmer. He began to draw pictures with the soap on my chest, smiling and blinking away water droplets. I just held his face in my hands, feeling guilt for stealing this morning from Theodore. Under the burning spray, he laughed.
“You amaze me, Theodore”.
There were times he amazed me too.
Gared had left for his art gallery. I dressed and did exactly what I’d told him. Stepped outside and stared, wondering what I wanted to do today. Driving through downtown Seattle, I stopped at a flower shop, and greeted the florists as a bell rang out my service. I took my time, wondering if I should bring something home. But doubtless Ted would forget to water anything I bought. I chose several different bouquets and on the way out, found a tiny cactus. Perhaps this could live through a few days of abandonment.
I drove until I found the first cemetery I saw. Stepping out with my dissected garden, I walked up to a headstone and laid a flower at its base. Jonathan Wonders, 1979-2015. Well John, you got in a few years at least. Lucky bastard. That was another area I’d always wondered about. Technically, we were all 35 years old. But our actual conscious lifespans were much shorter. The switch happened randomly, I could be given a week, a month, or an hour. But were you to evenly divide our years between us, we would be children. Of course, we had each other’s scraps of memories, so it evened out somewhat.
“John, what is my tombstone going to read? Probably Theodore Moreno, legally. We’ll be able to save on space, only needing one grave. But what will people think when they don’t recognize anyone who comes to the funeral? Anna won’t know who my friends are, if any of Ted’s exes show up we’ll really be in trouble. And what about heaven? I can’t imagine Ted being allowed up there. But Theodore couldn’t possibly end up in hell, he’s rescued too many stray cats”.
I left Jonathan to his peace and continued my gift giving until I felt my vision going, the feeling of losing myself. Looking at the last grave, I wondered if this was what death felt like.
“Ugh.” I groaned as I slowly pulled myself together and managed to stand on solid ground. Switching selves reminded me of the rougher benders I’d been on before. I looked around.
“Great. Of course Theo would choose to spend his few hours in a graveyard. I swear, I get my psychological disorders from him.”
Throwing away the rest of the bouquets—really, what grown man goes out and buys flowers for himself—I found our car and got the hell out of dodge. I looked at my phone. Given the unreliability of our lives, we made it a priority to record whatever misfit schedule we had down to a T. It was almost time for my bar shift at The Lucky Hare. Shifting gears, I sped through downtown.
I walked in to the familiar smell of grease and old beer. Flirting with a couple servers, I ducked behind the bar and checked my inventory for the night. Let’s see, it was Friday. It was difficult for us to keep our regulars, since there were times Theodore would charm an old couple with his Latin incantations of Shakespeare…and then I had my lonely hearts who I made feel like fresh kittens, instead of dusty cougars.
A few people jumped on my rail, a couple carry outs and the usual drink orders came in.
A ginger sat down at my rail, frowning. Generally, my rule was to stay clear of that lot. Red headed devils, most of them. Better to stay clear of any trouble.
“Hello darlin’. What can I get you?”
No magic was working. “Club soda, please, and lime.”
I gave her a look. “You know you’re in a bar, right?” That got me something. She grabbed her sidebag and started to leave. “All right, wait, stop. Sit down, I was just messing with you. Fizzy water it is.”
She rolled her eyes. “I don’t want my mouth to taste like ass and dream of throw up in the morning.”
I winked. “I promise not to get you pregnant. Tonight.”
“But that doesn’t mean I’ll go easy on you. Alcohol isn’t some stereotypical pastime for frat guys. It’s your helpful jiminy cricket. You experiment, find your favorite type of liquor. Then you try different brands and strengths. Finally, find the perfect accompaniment: diet, tonic or your favorite little fizzy drink. It’s a melody, not punk rock.”
“So you consider yourself a composer. Well maestro, can you inspire people with your music? Make them feel like they’re experiencing something for the first time? Because that’s what a symphony does, or a drummer at a rave. Liquor? It’s a way to forget, to blur away a life rather not remembered. Do you feel so fulfilled every day to where you can make that sacrifice?”
I looked at her rainforest green eyes, flecked around the edges with a gold/brown mixture, wondering. I cleared my throat. “Well, I do play the guitar.”
She smirked. “At least you have that.”
I pulled out a glass and set it with a cling on the counter. In one hand I held my soda gun. In the other I pulled out a bottle of London Dry. Pouring both, I looked up. She hadn’t stopped me yet. A little lemon juice, simple syrup, and…
“Voila! I have your date tonight. Mr. Tom Velvet Collins.”
Her arms were folded and her face—a Michelangelo statue.
My shoulders slumped. “Okay, moving on.” I knocked the drink back. That got me a little face of surprise. I gave her the puppy dog eyes. “Can I at least get a name before I drink myself to death trying to please you?”
She smiled. So she did have that expression.
Eyebrows rose. “I’m killing myself to impress a Maggie? What, did your parents want to disgrace you from birth?”
She threw an ice cube at me. “It’s a family name, get over it. And let me guess. You’re something modern and exotic like Maddox or Zane or some shit.”
I did the fingers-comb-hair thing. “It’s complicated. I’m just your average favorite stuffed cuddlebug. It’s Teddy. Like teddy bear. Like take me home tonight and cuddle my soft fur. If I had it, which I don’t. I shave.”
Maggie tilted her head. “You think you’re cute.”
“That’s what they tell me. And ‘they’ means my loving old, old grandmothers. Not my past lovers. Because I’m a virgin. Obviously.”
Another laugh. And the frown came back. “I’m going to need some more evidence. That you really are a Build-A-Bear and not Grisly out to maul me in the woods.”
I reached for my mixer. “I can’t promise on the woods part. I’m actually homeless and intend to take you, right on Nature’s mossy pubic hair.” I leaned in and whispered, “You see, they never see it coming if I get them drunk first.” My usual charm wasn’t working. Time to try the other angle, pissing this chick the fuck off. I set down a hot pink Cosmo in front of her. There we go, she gave me those beady eyes. See, now she didn’t know. I had already revealed my evil plans to murder and hide the body. There’s nothing left on the table. Which must mean he’s trustworthy. I always attempted to throw Theo and Dore a few glimpses of my wisdom. To get a woman—you have to be as mind fucked as they are.
Surprisingly, Maggie finally started down on her drink, as I crossed my chest and glanced to the ceiling. She threw a coaster at me, but I got a laugh out of it. I started to wipe down my rail. A few more guests sat down, ordering drafts. I leaned over the counter.
“So what’s a Baptist like you doing in a dump like this?”
She smirked. “I’m working on my thesis paper.”
“Really. Let me guess.” I squinted, giving her a once-over. “Economics.”
No dice. “Do I really look like the desk job type?”
I rubbed my smooth chin. Dammit, Theodore must’ve shaved recently. Maybe if I dropped hints of a cutting phase, they would ditch the razors.
A hand with delicate fingers waved in front of my face.
“Hello? Teddy. Please don’t tell me you’re fantasizing about me on a desk.
You’re not missing out, I promise.”
Well shit, now I was. “Hardly. I go straight for the rolley chair. All right, you seem pretty educated about chemistry. All that, bonding. And stuff.”
She snorted. “Close. It is a science. Psychology.”
I stared at my towel and didn’t react. A hot, fucking shrink. Well, just look at that.
I tried to hide my ‘hopes’ as much as possible from the others. We all wanted to know what the hell was going on, but I was the only one who saw the big picture. None of us enjoyed the half-lives we’d been given. Theo and Theodore were just as avid as I was to Sherlock this whole business. However, I was the only one to imagine the ending to our shit story. Three personalities and one body. I could do the math.
“That is very interesting. What’s your thesis going to be about?”
She bit the end of a pen. “Working on that part. I figured a little external stimulation could jump start my cerebrum.”
“I do love a woman who speaks geek. And I can help you out with that.”
She smirked. “Thanks, but I really do need to focus on this.”
I leaned over. “I know. I have an idea for your argument.”
Maggie squinted in confusion.
“Ted! Can I have another one?” I left her to fill up my guest’s beer. Unfocused, it took me a moment to notice the white head billowing over.
I glanced over my shoulder. “Give me a moment love, keg needs changing.”
I pushed open the doors to the bar back. My eyes flashed from the dim bar to sudden fluorescent lights. My legs went numb, and the room turned sidewise.
Dammit. Not now.
I distantly heard empty bottles breaking under me.
Please Christ, let it be Theo who wakes up.
“Ow.” I woke, disoriented, having been so long out-of-phase. Confusion and fear spread through me. Somehow, Ted had landed us in a dark room, lying in broken glass, the smell of old beer soaking through—
Well. Theo must have dressed us this morning. We only looked like a broke college student, instead of Ted’s degenerate, liberal prick vibe. Regardless, the blood and beer stains were probably for the best. I was wearing Theo’s favorite pair of jeans, which I had been trying to be subtle in throwing out. The two of them were hopeless when it came to laundry hacks, a benefit at times.
Picking myself up, I sauntered to the bathroom, attempting a somewhat decent appearance. I always anticipated these things to happen. Our medicine cabinet contained my favorite brand of pomade and cologne, and in the back room—three separate outfits, depending on the season, of course. Stripping, I added the last touch of exchanging boxers for briefs. I could usually get Theo to side with me on most issues, but I always lost this one.
Now. What on earth had Ted been doing back here? It was always a possibility he was on another suicidal bender. Theo and I had been worried at first when we found out he was bartending. Most of the inventory looked stocked…
Ah, one of the kegs needed switching. I hurried back out to our rail.
“Thought I’d scared you off for a minute.”
There was a ginger smiling at me. Strange, Ted usually held superstitions about them?
“I remembered that the real world was wide, and that a varied field of hopes and fears, of sensations and excitements, awaited those who had courage to go forth into its expanse, to seek real knowledge of life amidst its perils.”
Well, rough crowd today. The young lady just stared at me.
I decided to talk a little slower for her benefit. “I apologize, my dear. I like to practice my British accent when quoting Brontë. Her suspiria de profundis overwhelms me at times, I must admit. What a voice!” I stared off into space a bit, with a silly grin.
“Hey Ted! Can I get another beer, or did you down the last dregs?”
I huffed and muttered while turning to grab a pilsner. “Uncultured little dears, only have the time of day for a hops and malt.” I turned to Ted’s ‘guests’ while pouring. “You know, it wouldn’t kill you to try a nice red wine now and then! There’s been some enlightening findings from the American Heart Association. And we just got this lovely case of Italian Casanova di Neri—“
“Hey Ted, buddy. Have I ever told you I like you better as a drunk?”
I turned back around as laughter spread along the rail. “Fine. Just fine. You try to add a little aestheticism around here, and this is what I get for it. Lord have mercy on my soul, oh why couldn’t Ted have gotten a little gig over at Mark Ryan’s?”
I looked over my shoulder. “Settle it down there, eyeball queen, I’ll grab you another Cosmo in just a hop, skip and a jump.”
I saw the girl drop her jaw before I moved on down the rail. Honestly, they should all be worshipping me after having to deal with Ted all night. I never understood his appeal, the little lounge lizard.
“So, is this some kind of reverse psychology? Playing hard to get now? It’s really not your thing.”
I turned and rolled my eyes. “Sweetheart, trust me, he’s not worth it. He’s all hard, and no get.”
A couple servers came over to grab their drinks, and a new one at that. I loved this generation. The boys just kept getting cuter by the day. He went to grab his Sierra’s as I picked them back up.
“Let me get that for you. Wouldn’t want a spill to get you all wet. Yet.”
New boy paused. “It’s Ted, right?”
I leaned over the rail. “I prefer Theodore. Have to respect mother’s wishes, god bless her soul. And you?”
He shifted his eyes. “You told me yesterday never to say my name in front of you again. ‘Its gayness makes your ears bleed?’”
I was going to kill Ted. “Ahem, I apologize about that. Off my meds, you know, ha ha. Maybe I can show you around the place a little bit on break? Either up in front, or in the back. Whichever you prefer.” I gave him a little wink.
Ugh, I forgot about that ginger. Well, payback is a bitch brother. I smiled and returned to her spot. “Darling, I’m going to do you the biggest favor you’ve ever gotten. Let’s be clear. You’re looking at the Rump Thumper. Sappho Daddy-o. Nine-dollar bill.”
Ted’s conquests always looked so cute at this point, deer-in-the-headlights, and all.
I took her hand. “I ride the rainbow, sweetheart. It’s just not going to work out, I’m sorry.”
She sat there for a minute before grabbing her stuff and headed out the door. I laughed inside, and began to wipe down my rail.
Bugger, one of her papers had fallen on my side. I picked it up and paused. It looked like a print out of some research site: Psychology Today.
I stood still for about thirty seconds before pouring four shots of Crown. God I hated drinking, but right now—I hated Ted more. Usually this worked. Ted had been on enough benders for us to realize how to lose memories. But somehow I had to get in contact with Theo. Idiot! I was an idiot to think the ginger was just another late night tip.
Ted was trying to get rid of us.
“Hey Ted. Ted.”
How long had he been meeting with this girl?
I looked up.
“My beer’s empty! C’mon, get over her. You’ll find another banger tonight. After I’m nice and drunk.”
I stared at the guest for a minute before turning and grabbing my coat. Without a word I headed for the door.
“Hey! What the hell?”
Hand on the knob, I paused. Speed walked back to the bar. Grabbing the bottle of Crown, I left. There was a fair amount of traffic out today. It had started to rain. I gazed across the parking lot. There. A flash of red getting into a blue Nissan Sentra.
I ran to our car and climbed in.